“I’d prefer Assad to win.” Not his actual words, but that is the only conclusion to be derived from the suggestion of Boris Johnson, the London mayor, that arming the Syrian opposition would lead to British weapons in the hands of “al-Qaida-affiliated thugs”. With 93,000 of Syria’s citizens dead, a kill rate in the country higher than in post-invasion Iraq, and one of the world’s most murderous and tyrannical regimes poised to win a historic victory thanks to western inaction, Johnson can only fret about hypothetical dangers.
In fact, it is the west’s failure militarily to support the Syrian National Coalition and its principal military counterpart, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), that is strengthening the hand of al-Qaida in Syria.
Continue reading at The Guardian, where this article was published on 18 June.
According to the dictum attributed to Edmund Burke, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Yet evil will triumph even more easily if good men help the evil-doers. In the Syrian civil war, with more than 80,000 dead and no end in sight, that is what the European Union has been doing, by upholding an arms embargo on the supply of weapons to all sides.
This in practice assists Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship; freezing in place its military superiority over the poorly armed Free Syrian Army, and enabling the dictatorship better to massacre its own citizens. FSA soldiers, demoralized by their shortage of arms, have been responding by defecting to the relatively well-equipped Islamist militia Jabhat al-Nusra, whose leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani had pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda.
Meanwhile, Iran systematically violates the arms embargo by sending arms to its Syrian ally.
Continue reading at Left Foot Forward
Before the last British general election, I expressed the hope that under David Cameron’s leadership, the Conservatives might become a centrist counterpart to New Labour. In retrospect, this was very naive, and the left-wing Cassandras were right: whereas Cameron’s coalition government has followed a generally progressive, Blairite foreign policy, its domestic policy has been aggressively Thatcherite; arguably more so than was Thatcher’s own. The dynamic at work within the Conservative Party appears to be the opposite to that within the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock, John Smith and Tony Blair in the 1980s and 1990s: instead of a moderate leader reining in the radicals, the radicals are pushing the leader away from the centre ground. In the words of the Daily Telegraph‘s Peter Oborne, the Conservative Party is ‘out of control’. Cameron appears to have wanted to temper his government’s economic Thatcherism with some socially and constitutionally liberal policies such as legalising gay marriage and House of Lords reform, but this is not being permitted him by his party; a party that did not even win the last election, but behaves as if it has a mandate to reshape the country according to its own image.
Indeed, what is striking about this contemporary Conservative Party is not merely its actual politics, but the arrogance and sense of entitlement that its politicians and supporters exhibit. My own experience in working with a Tory-dominated organisation, the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), which I left at the start of this year, has confirmed me in this view. The HJS is a registered charity that describes itself as a ‘think-tank’, and is perhaps the loudest voice in Britain in favour of war with Iran, if necessary to prevent the country acquiring nuclear weapons. But over and above this, it acts as a network for members of the British elite, particularly Tories, in which – to put it tactfully – boundaries become somewhat blurred.
Aspiring Conservative Party politician Alan Mendoza is a director of at least six registered companies, including the Henry Jackson Society. He received £75,000 in remuneration in 2011 for his work as Executive Director of the HJS; it was an increase of 63.64% on the £45,833 he received for the job in 2010. Mendoza is not only the HJS’s Executive Director, but also one of its trustees, therefore a member of the body that determines his own remuneration. Meetings of the HJS’s board of trustees are quorate with only three of the eight members present, and Mendoza is the only trustee whose signature appears on the trustees’ report and accounts for 2011. The HJS is currently advertising for a personal assistant for Mendoza, with a salary of up to £30,000.
Mendoza is not the only HJS trustee to enjoy also a staff position in the organisation. Lady Caroline Dalmeny was appointed to the board of trustees in July 2010. She was formerly of Saatchi and Saatchi and the Conservative Central Office, and was political assistant for Michael Portillo when he was Secretary of State for Defence and for Lord Strathclyde, Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords. According to Tatler, ‘Auctioneer Lord Dalmeny’s wife hosts fabulous shooting weekends at their Scottish estate, Dalmeny House. She also once played a cameo part in a film, Scooterman, alongside Ed Stoppard, and has written about the joys of having a “manny” – she’s a mother of five children under 10, including triplets. Makes cracking roast beef.’
During 2011, Dalmeny’s husband, Lord Harry Dalmeny, UK deputy chairman of Sotheby’s, donated interest-free loans totalling £250,000 to the Henry Jackson Society. In 2012, Lady Dalmeny was appointed Associate Director of the HJS, therefore Mendoza’s immediate office subordinate. She has a BA (Hons) from UCL, and is in the process of completing a postgraduate degree at King’s College London. The HJS website describes her as ‘an expert in defence, military history and international relations, an activist for the rights of women in failed states [who] is currently focusing on Afghanistan, Pakistan, East Africa and US-UK relations.’ Her work has not yet appeared on the HJS website.
The HJS is a registered charity, and according to the Charity Commission’s guidelines, ‘a charity cannot exist for a political purpose, which is any purpose directed at furthering the interests of any political party, or securing or opposing a change in the law, policy or decisions either in this country or abroad.’ Nevertheless, when Mendoza was asked in July 2008 by the organisation ConservativeHome ‘to offer 100 word thoughts on how the Conservatives might make some ground on foreign policy’, he responded in his capacity as Executive Director of the HJS, asserting that with ‘Labour heading down the route of international irrelevance, Conservatives should have the courage to explore where to stand on’ various issues.
It is a moot point whether the Charity Commission will ensure that the HJS will abide by its guidelines. The Charity Commission’s new chair, William Shawcross, told the Civilsociety.co.uk website this month: ‘Most of the 160,000 registered charities don’t require regulation – they’re small and they get on with their work properly and independently and it’s only a few that do require to be looked at.’ Shawcross is politically somewhat to the right of Lord Voldemort, and on 19 October 2011 was appointed a member of the board of directors of none other than the Henry Jackson Society.
Shawcross agitated for a Conservative victory in the last general election, on the grounds that ‘New Labour has forced Britain to become a mere piece of the bland but increasingly oppressive Bambiland of the E.U., promoting such PC global issues as gay rights (except in Muslim lands) and man-made climate change’, and ‘Those who hate the rise of the British National Party should blame Labour, not the poor white voters whom Labour abandoned and whose lives have been changed forever by uncontrolled immigration. Last week, two London taxi drivers told me that they were going to vote BNP because it’s the only party that cares at all about them.’ Shawcross has described Guantanamo Bay as representing ‘model justice’ and as being ‘probably the best-run detention centre in the world and with more habeas corpus rights for detainees than anywhere else’, and has claimed that ‘Rupert Murdoch has been the bravest and most radical media owner in Britain in the last 40 years’, whose ‘real crime is to have challenged liberal conventions in the US and here.’
It was announced on 29 August 2012 that Shawcross was the government’s preferred candidate to head the Charity Commission, and he was elected to the role at a meeting of the Public Administration Select Committee of the House of Commons on 5 September. At the meeting, his membership of the HJS featured prominently in the discussion. One of the participants, Labour MP Paul Flynn, had this to say: ‘A pre-appointment hearing to decide whether William Shawcross is sufficiently politically independent to do the job as head of the Charity Commission. Three of us thought he was not. Four Tories thought he was.’ The chair of the Public Administration Select Committee was Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, himself a member of the Political Council of the Henry Jackson Society, for which he has contributed analysis. Another Conservative member of the committee that elected Shawcross was Robert Halfon MP, who declared ‘that I was a founding patron of the Henry Jackson Society when it was first set up and I am fairly involved with the organisation.’ Halfon is also a member of the HJS’s Political Council. In the view of Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, Shawcross’s appointment was a ‘declaration of intent’ on the part of the government to deal with ‘Labour’s new fifth columnists’ in the ranks of the charities.
Flynn said during the meeting that ‘The Henry Jackson Society is a promoter of a particular view in this House, which is representing rightwing American opinion.’ Shawcross promised that, were he elected chair of the Charity Commission, ‘Obviously I would wish to resign all my memberships of the Henry Jackson Society and other charities with which I am involved.’ Since his election, the old HJS charity has been formally dissolved and a new HJS charity has been registered, of which Shawcross is no longer listed as a trustee. However, he was until recently still listed on various corporate databases as a member of the board of directors of the Henry Jackson Society registered company, whose membership is otherwise identical to the board of trustees of the registered charity.
Shawcross’s biography on the Charity Commission’s website makes no mention of his past involvement with the HJS. However, the website still lists him as the sole trustee of the charity ‘Response’, as does his personal website. Shawcross has a somewhat uneven record as regards respecting Charity Commission guidelines; he chaired Response for 23 years, but as the website Civilsociety.co.uk revealed this month, he ‘did not bother to file its annual update within the recommended good-practice deadline for four out of the last five years… the charity, Response, only filed its updates for 2011 and 2012 five days before Shawcross was announced as preferred candidate for the job [of Charity Commission chair], and the updates for 2010 and 2009 were submitted in June and May of this year.’
Still, no doubt all the rules are being obeyed to the letter.
Update: Since this article was published, Shawcross’s resignation from the board of directors of the HJS has been published as having occurred on 30 September 2012. This article has been modified accordingly.
Below: Alan Mendoza turns on the charm in a debate over Iran at the Cambridge Union Society.
The sequel to this article is: Alan Mendoza’s Henry Jackson Society and William Shawcross’s Charity Commission
Earlier this year, I resigned from the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) and requested that my name be removed from its website. The HJS is a UK think-tank frequently described as ‘neoconservative’. It includes among its Trustees Michael Gove, the current Secretary of State for Education, and it is alleged to have influenced the foreign policy of David Cameron and William Hague. It currently serves as a secretariat, at the House of Commons, to the All-Party Parliamentary Groups for Transatlantic and International Security and for Homeland Security. I had held a senior post within this organisation for seven years, first as Greater Europe Co-Director, then as European Neighbourhood Section Director. However, I reluctantly had to face the fact that the HJS has degenerated to the point where it is a mere caricature of its former self. No longer is it a centrist, bipartisan think-tank seeking to promote democratic geopolitics through providing sober, objective and informed analysis to policy-makers. Instead, it has become an abrasively right-wing forum with an anti-Muslim tinge, churning out polemical and superficial pieces by aspiring journalists and pundits that pander to a narrow readership of extreme Europhobic British Tories, hardline US Republicans and Israeli Likudniks. The story of the HJS’s degeneration provides an insight into the obscure backstage world of Conservative politics.
There are three factors that define this degeneration. The first is that almost all the people who founded and established the HJS have either left or been edged out of the organisation. According to its Wikipedia entry as it currently stands, ‘The society was founded in March 2005 by academics and students at Cambridge (mostly affiliated with the Centre for International Studies), including Brendan Simms, Dr. Alan Mendoza, Marko Attila Hoare (who has since severed his links with the society), Gideon Mailer, James Rogers and Matthew Jamison.’ The list should include also John Bew, Martyn Frampton and Gabriel Glickman. None of these people are now left, except Mendoza as Executive Director, and Simms as nominal president (or possibly president of the Cambridge branch; the website is ambiguous on this point, probably deliberately). Simms is the only intellectually serious figure still attached to the organisation, but no longer has much – if any – influence over it.
The second factor is that there is absolutely no internal democracy in the HJS, nor any transparency or rules of procedure. Absolutely none whatsoever. Less than in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Probably less than in the Syrian Arab Republic. As someone with an early background in far-left politics, I grew up with groups like the Socialist Workers Party, in which total power is held by one or two leaders, but the totalitarianism is disguised by window-dressing consisting of branch meetings, annual conferences, meetings of the Politburo and the like. Well, the HJS is like that, but without the window-dressing: there isn’t even the pretence of democracy or consultation. Instead, the organisation operates on the basis of cronyism and intrigue. Sole power is held by one individual – Executive Director Alan Mendoza. He was not elected to the post and is not subject even to formal or technical restraints, nor to performance review and renewal of contract.
The third factor is that, although the HJS was intended to be a centrist, bi-partisan organisation, its leadership has now moved far to the right, and abandoned any pretence of being bi-partisan or pro-European (its Associate Director, Douglas Murray, is on record as having stated that ‘the EU is a monstrosity – no good can come of it… The best thing could just simply be for it to be razed to the ground and don’t start again [sic]’). Most of the people who left or have been purged are of a broadly centre-left outlook and background: Rogers and Jamison are Labour Party supporters; I came from an early background in Trotskyist politics; Mailer and Bew also came from left-wing backgrounds.
Things were not always this way. When the HJS was founded on the initiative of Brendan Simms back in 2005, it was an organisation intended to transcend the left-right divide, uniting Labour and Conservative supporters on a platform of supporting a progressive, forward foreign policy, involving the promotion of democracy and human rights globally. It was set up as a reaction against the conservative-realist right and the anti-imperialist left, whose hostility to the idea of progressive intervention abroad led them to line up behind dictators such as Slobodan Milosevic and Robert Mugabe. The HJS was supposed to be both pro-American and pro-European. It was Simms’s insight that, in order to be an important player on the world stage, Britain had to be centrally involved in European affairs. As he explained in his book Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire, 1714-1783 (Penguin, 2008), Britain’s defeat in the American War of Independence and loss of its American colonies was the direct result of its withdrawal from European affairs.
The HJS’s members were young academics, most of them graduate students of Simms’s, and it was run in a collegiate and democratic manner. There were regular meetings at which policy and organisational activities were discussed. Simms was the de facto leader, by virtue of being the founder and the oldest and most senior individual, but everyone was free to participate and express themselves, it being recognised that there were significant political differences amongst us, and that this was a good thing, since the HJS was supposed to be a broad church.
In those comradely early days of the HJS, it was difficult to appreciate just how important it should have been to establish clear rules of procedure, rights of membership and good governance. Unfortunately, this was not done, and the organisation grew exponentially while remaining dangerously informal and opaque in its internal organisation. When, after all the hard work and efforts of the founding members, the HJS was able to acquire a London office, it was at once the mark of its success and the start of its internal degeneration. It was now no longer so easy to assemble the still mostly Cambridge-based team for regular meetings. The move to London occurred shortly after Brendan Simms, the HJS’s President and founder, opted to retreat from day-t0-day management of the organisation, while James Rogers, the Director of Operations, scaled back his activities. Mendoza, the Executive Director, took over the central role in managing the organisation. By default, power fell into his lap.
Alan Mendoza is an ambitious young professional politician of the Conservative Party and a former Tory local councillor in the London Borough of Brent. According to his HJS page, he is ‘Founder and President of the Disraelian Union, a London-based progressive Conservative think-tank and discussion forum, and has worked to develop relationships and ideas between political networks in the United Kingdom, United States and Europe. He is also Chief Advisor to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Transatlantic & International Security and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Homeland Security’. However, unlike Rogers and Simms, Mendoza is not someone with a grand vision or a developed geopolitical philosophy to put forward. He has not produced much in the way of analysis, and did not contribute to The British Moment; the HJS’s manifesto, published in 2006 and still one of the very few genuine publications that this think-tank has produced. The HJS website, at the time of writing, contains only two articles by Mendoza – one from March 2011 and one from May 2012. Instead, Mendoza’s field was administration: he had helped run such bodies as the Disraelian Dining Society and the Cambridge University Conservative Association. Once he took over the running of the HJS from Rogers and Simms, Mendoza had his hands on all the levers of power within the organisation, of which the most important was control of the website. Mendoza set about converting the HJS into his personal fiefdom, packing its staff with his own apparatchiks recruited via his personal network.
The practice of regular staff meetings was now ended, and staff members were no longer consulted or even informed about major policy or organisational decisions. In practice, Mendoza just did whatever he wanted to, adding or removing staff to and from the website and inventing or erasing their virtual job-titles as and when he felt like it. For example, a certain Duncan Crossey was one of two founders and co-presidents of a Conservative organisation called the Disraelian Union. The other founder and co-president was Mendoza. It was thus perhaps not entirely for meritocratic reasons that Crossey was appointed for a while to the grandiose but meaningless title of ‘Political Director of the Henry Jackson Society’. I’m not aware of him having done much political directing while he held this virtual title, but it’s something he can put on his CV.
The other Old Bolsheviks lasted only until they had outlived their usefulness, and until Mendoza was in a position to get rid of them. In my own case, Mendoza once informed me that having established experts such as myself in the HJS allowed it to ‘punch above its weight’ as a think-tank. He needed my name and reputation as a Balkan expert to lend credibility to the HJS, while it was still in the process of establishing itself.
On 31 July 2007, James Rogers had a letter published in The Times, arguing in favour of Britain’s signature of the EU constitution treaty. He signed the letter ‘Director of Operations of the Henry Jackson Society’. This letter provoked the ire of one the HJS’s right-wing Eurosceptic supporters, who sent a complaint to the Society about the pro-European line it was endorsing, along with an ultimatum that Rogers’s letter be repudiated. The gentleman in question was oblivious to the fact that the HJS’s statement of principles explicitly supported European defence integration. Nevertheless, Mendoza published a ‘correction’ prominently on the HJS website, stating that Rogers had incorrectly and wrongly attributed his personal views to the HJS as a whole. Mendoza did this entirely on his own initiative, without consulting Simms (who was out of the country at the time) or Rogers himself. It was a very public repudiation by the HJS of Rogers – the man whose hard work over a long period had done more than anyone’s to launch the Society – and prompted his resignation as Director of Operations and withdrawal from virtually all HJS activity.
In reality, Rogers had not violated the HJS’s rules and procedures, which did not exist in any written or codified form. He had, in fact, previously published several letters in British newspapers on his own initiative, signed with his HJS affiliation, without being so much as criticised privately by his HJS colleagues, let alone publicly repudiated. The ‘correction’ was simply an expression of Mendoza’s personal policy and control of the website, and his desire to appease a relatively minor Conservative Party figure. In the years to come, Mendoza would do much more on his own personal initiative than simply publish a letter in a newspaper, but would issue policy statements, merge the organisation with other organisations, and change senior staff members’ job titles or purge them altogether – all without consulting his colleagues.
The HJS was organised on the basis of ‘Sections’ for different parts of the world, with ‘Section Directors’ responsible for analysis in their own area. Soon after the HJS’s creation, Simms and Rogers devised a scheme, whereby Section Directors would, every month, write one report in their field and republish one other article from an external website or author. Eventually, we would receive in return a nominal payment of £50 per month. Section Directors could post their articles directly onto the website. While it lasted, this system ensured that the HJS’s analysis did not represent the views of just one or two leaders at the top, but rather those of a range of regional experts. It guaranteed the organisation’s pluralism, but only until the Section Directors had served their purpose, Mendoza’s personal fiefdom had been established and he could jettison them.
One example of how this jettisoning was done was the case of Matthew Jamison, Section Director for Britain. Jamison had been centrally involved with the HJS from its foundation, and organised the very first meeting of the embryonic society at Peterhouse, Cambridge in autumn 2004. He was a principal organiser of many events and roundtable discussions and seminars, including the HJS’s Westminster launch in November 2005 and the book launch of The British Moment in July 2006. However, he was never paid for any of the work he did, nor did he receive expenses for the times he hosted guests of the Society for PR purposes (though the guests’ meals were paid for). He did not receive payment for the analytical pieces he wrote for the HJS either. In effect, he subsidised the HJS over a period of years. But this effort was not rewarded or appreciated – on the contrary. One day, Jamison woke up to find that on the HJS website, he was no longer listed as ‘Section Director for Britain’, and that someone else’s name appeared in his place. This occurred without any prior warning or consultation; it was simply the personal decision of the Executive Director. Eventually, Jamison’s name would be removed from the website altogether – again without any prior warning or consultation. This sort of treatment has been the norm.
The people who replaced the HJS founders at the head of the organisation were staff members of another think-tank: the Israel-advocacy organisation ‘Just Journalism’, of which Mendoza was a member of the Advisory Board and which shared the HJS’s London office. At the time of Just Journalism’s launch in March 2008, the Spectator columnist Melanie Phillips wrote of it that ‘A very welcome and desperately-needed initiative has just been launched to monitor distortions, bias and prejudice in British media coverage of the Middle East.’
(Following the international recognition of Kosovo’s independence in February 2008, Phillips wrote in the Spectator: ‘It was at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 that some 70,000 died to keep the Islamic Ottoman Empire from advancing further into Europe. What is the point of fighting the jihad in Iraq when we are cheerfully opening the door to it in that very same place?’ Despite, or perhaps because of such a worldview, Phillips’s books were until recently advertised on the HJS website).
Just Journalism was forced to close in September 2011, only three and a half years after its launch, due to lack of funds, but not before this financially destitute outfit had taken over its financially thriving room-mate. Just Journalism’s Executive Director, Michael Weiss, joined the HJS staff in March 2010. His title has been redefined at least a couple of times and at one point he was ‘Acting Director of Research’, then as ‘Director of Communications and Public Relations’.
Image: Michael Weiss
Some months before Just Journalism closed, Weiss had ceased to be its Executive Director, serving for a while as its spokesman. He says he was taken by surprise by the news that the organisation was to be closed. However, by that time he was safely ensconced in the HJS. I was aware that he had joined the team but otherwise knew nothing about him, though I had accepted his ‘friend’ request on Facebook (temporarily, as it turned out). I became rather more aware of him last autumn, when he tried unsuccessfully to prevent me publishing my regular monthly report on the HJS website, on the grounds that, as ‘Acting Director of Research’, it was up to him to decide what was published there. I had by then been contributing articles to the HJS website for six years, and that was the first time I had ever heard of that rule, or of that title. (‘Acting’ was the operative word, for Weiss didn’t appear to direct much in the way of research while he held that virtual title. This virtual title was short-lived, and Weiss was then listed for a while as ‘Director of Communications and Public Relations’, while the HJS apparently managed to function without any ‘Director of Research’, ‘acting’ or otherwise. Now Weiss is again listed as ‘Director of Research’, though it is possible that his title will change again in a couple of months).
Since the report that I had written and that Weiss tried to veto was scarcely out of keeping with the HJS ‘line’, and since I had never had any previous dealings with Weiss, I do not attribute his behaviour to political or personal differences with me. Indeed, the report was subsequently republished by The Commentator, the website of senior HJS staff-member Robin Shepherd. Weiss was either attempting to throw his weight around in the section of Mendoza’s fiefdom assigned to him, or was enacting Mendoza’s policy of squeezing out what remained of the other HJS founding members.
On the occasion in question, Mendoza overruled Weiss, and agreed to publish my report on the HJS blog. Given that the HJS had contracted me to write a monthly report, he may have been legally obliged to do this. But at our last meeting, Mendoza did confirm to me that it would henceforth be up to ‘them’ to approve who published what on the website. Under Weiss’s direction, the website has been not entirely ungenerous in providing space for the promotion of his own work: at the time this article was first drafted, no fewer than five of the ten ‘commentary’ articles and three of the ten ‘blog’ articles on the HJS website were by Weiss. And Weiss is not, be it remembered, an academic expert on Syria and the Middle East in the manner of someone like Daniel Pipes, but merely an activist with strong views who follows events there closely.
Recently, Weiss has reinvented himself also as an expert on Russia – about which he has no more academic expertise than he does about the Middle East – using as his launch-pad the HJS website. The latter now hosts a Potemkin-village ‘Russia Studies Centre’, which describes itself grandiloquently as a ‘research and advocacy centre’, but is really just a website where Weiss blogs about Russia. Such amateurism is now the norm: of the staff members listed for the London office, Mendoza alone appears to be educated to PhD level, while the average age for those working there is below 30. The website has even started to include anonymous blogger types among its authors, at one point including a certain ‘Brett’, whose surname wasn’t listed.
In addition to Weiss, two other members of Just Journalism’s Advisory Board joined the HJS’s senior staff: Robin Shepherd as ‘Director of International Affairs’ and Douglas Murray as ‘Associate Director’. Thus, four of the six top posts in the HJS are now held by former managers of Just Journalism. They have ensured that the HJS’s political goals have departed radically to those with which it was founded.
Murray was and is also the director of another outfit, the ‘Centre for Social Cohesion’. Or rather, he is the Centre for Social Cohesion: the ‘About Us‘ section of its website says only that ‘Douglas Murray is the Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion. Murray is a bestselling author and political commentator who regularly appears in the British and foreign press and media. A columnist for Standpoint magazine, he writes for a variety of other publications, including the Sunday Times, Spectator and Wall Street Journal. He is an Associate Director at the Henry Jackson Society. As of the 1 April 2011 CSC personnel has joined the Henry Jackson Society. CSC will continue to operate as a non-partisan independent organisation specialising in studying radicalisation and extremism within Britain.’ That is how the organisation defines itself.
In April 2011, the Centre for Social Cohesion merged with the HJS. This merger was engineered by Mendoza without consulting or even informing in advance other HJS staff members; I and others learned about it only from the announcement on the public mailing list. The merger was incongruous, since whereas the HJS was intended to be a bi-partisan organisation promoting democratic geopolitics, Murray’s interest lay in opposing Islam and immigration (thus, a few days after the announcement of the merger, Murray published an article in The Express entitled ‘Britain has let in far too many foreigners’).
‘Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board: Europe must look like a less attractive proposition. We in Europe owe – after all – no special dues to Islam. We owe them no religious holidays, special rights or privileges. From long before we were first attacked it should have been made plain that people who come into Europe are here under our rules and not theirs. There is not an inch of ground to give on this one. Where a mosque has become a centre of hate it should be closed and pulled down. If that means that some Muslims don’t have a mosque to go to, then they’ll just have to realise that they aren’t owed one. Grievances become ever-more pronounced the more they are flattered and the more they are paid attention to. So don’t flatter them.’
‘It is late in the day, but Europe still has time to turn around the demographic time-bomb which will soon see a number of our largest cities fall to Muslim majorities. It has to. All immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop. In the case of a further genocide such as that in the Balkans, sanctuary would be given on a strictly temporary basis. This should also be enacted retrospectively. Those who are currently in Europe having fled tyrannies should be persuaded back to the countries which they fled from once the tyrannies that were the cause of their flight have been removed.’
‘We do have a problem; we have a problem when the failures of Islam throughout the world; the failures of all Islamic societies come here into Britain. Their intolerance of freedom of conscience; their intolerance of apostates; their intolerance of freedom of expression and freedom of speech; their intolerance of minorities, other religious minorities, sexual minorities; their intolerance of gays; their dislike and distrust of half of the population – women; and many, many other things. And they call, what is more, for a parallel legal system within Britain and European societies. This is monstrous; no other group behaves like this – asks for parallel laws. This is a fundamental problem, and it’s one we’re going to have to deal with. It’s a problem between a society – Western Europe – that believes that laws are based on reason, and Islam that believes that they are based on revelation. Between these two ideas, I’m not sure there is very much compromise for Europe. It is not Europe that has let down its Muslims, but the Muslims of Europe that have let down Europe. … It is not Europe that has failed its Muslims; it is Islam that has failed Europe.’
Murray is also on record as saying of Robert Spencer (the director of Stop the Islamization of America, proprietor of the viciously anti-Muslim website Jihad Watch and a loud denier of the Srebrenica genocide): ‘I happen to know Robert Spencer; I respect him; he’s a very brilliant scholar and writer’.
Image: Douglas Murray with Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch
I was shocked that someone with such extreme views about Muslims and Islam should be appointed Associate Director of the HJS. I published an article on my blog explaining how it had been foisted on the HJS without consultation with senior staff members, and condemning his views on Muslims and Islam (after informing Mendoza and Simms well in advance that I would do so). After this article was published, Mendoza phoned me to try to pressurise me to remove it, claiming that Murray would otherwise sue me for libel. By way of warning, he pointed out that Murray had previously threatened legal action against Sunny Hundal, editor of Liberal Conspiracy, forcing him to remove a reference to him on Hundal’s website. On another occasion, he had apparently pressurised the Huffington Post into removing references to him as well. In the words of The Commentator, the website of senior HJS staff-member Robin Shepherd: ‘Murray warned the Huffpo that its time in Britain would be short if it persisted in libeling people in this manner. At which point, the Huffington Post agreed to remove references to Murray from the story.’
I refused to delete or substantially alter the content of my article, but I agreed to make some minor changes. I had quoted some not entirely unambiguously negative comments that Murray had made about the English Defence League (EDL), and at Mendoza’s express request, I agreed to insert into the text a somewhat more negative statement that Murray had previously made about the EDL. The modified article therefore balanced the less-than-negative statements that Murray had made about the EDL with a more negative one, so did greater justice to his vacillating opinion on this organisation. Mendoza also asked me to delete my description of Murray’s views on Islam as ‘bigoted and intolerant’; I agreed to delete ‘bigoted’ but refused to delete ‘intolerant’. Thus, my article about him concluded with ‘I consider his views on Islam and Muslims to be intolerant, ignorant, two-dimensional and, frankly, horrifying.’
Video: Douglas Murray, Associate Director of the HJS, comments on the EDL in November 2011
Murray’s behaviour, in this instance and in the others mentioned above, was somewhat hypocritical, given that he has appeared as a speaker at entire conferences dedicated to attacking Muslims for employing libel ‘lawfare’ to silence criticism of Islam. On at least one such occasion, he did so alongside Mendoza. Or as he put it: ‘If there were one thing I would wish Muslims in Europe could learn today, as fast as possible, it would be this: you have no right, in this society, not to be offended. You have no right to say that because you don’t like something, you would use violence or you would like something to be stopped or censored…’.
In retrospect, I should have resigned from the HJS at this point, but I was encouraged to stay by the fact that all three of the founding members with whom I discussed my article (apart from Mendoza) sympathised or agreed with it. I wrongly believed that this constituted some guarantee that the HJS would remain true to its founding principles and retain a pluralistic character. I didn’t realise the extent to which the Just Journalism clique had expropriated all power within the organisation, and that the other founding members were all now wholly irrelevant within it.
By appointing as his ‘Associate Director’ a pundit known primarily for his polemics against Muslims and Islam, Mendoza signalled a change, not only in the HJS’s political orientation, but also in its tone. Since then, instead of sober analytical pieces providing analysis and suggesting strategy, the HJS website has been filled with republished op-eds of a more polemical nature, seemingly calculated not so much to influence policy-makers as to pander to the HJS’s increasingly right-wing readership. Thus, the HJS has published or republished several articles attacking the marginal, maverick far-left UK politician George Galloway (Douglas Murray, ‘Behind Galloway’s Grin’; George Grant, ‘Galloway back in parliament: Not free from imperialist yoke yet’ and ‘George Galloway is no friend of the Arab world’; as well as a video of ‘Houriya Ahmed on George Galloway’s election’).
Conversely, the HJS’s coverage of more serious international political issues has been less copious. For example, it has made virtually no attempt to provide any strategic analysis, or suggest policy, regarding the Eurozone crisis (James Rogers would have been ideally qualified to do this, had he remained in the organisation). The HJS has effectively given up on analysis of most parts of the world. Its founding member Gideon Mailer was an Africa expert and had written the chapter on Africa in The British Moment, but he too has long ceased to have any voice in the organisation, so the HJS has given up on covering sub-Saharan Africa, except in relation to the Islamist threat. Its geographical focus is now mostly limited to the Middle East and Russia, with some coverage of British and US domestic affairs. The ‘France’ category of the HJS contains, at the time of writing, seven articles: four on the Islamist perpetrator of the Toulouse killings; one in support of the jailing of a French Muslim woman for violating the burkha ban; and one attacking President Sarkozy for his hostility to Binyamin Netanyahu. And the seventh doesn’t say much about France either.
Coverage of the Middle East has, indeed, largely squeezed out the rest of the world, and has become less about policy and more about commentary. But even here, the increasingly blog-like character of the website has taken its toll so far as quality and consistency are concerned. As recently as August, Weiss rejected the possibility of Western military intervention in Syria on the grounds that ‘in contrast to Libya’s expansive geography, Syria is a densely-packed country where the proximity of military installations to civilian population centers is too close to allow for an aerial bombardment campaign without incurring heavy civilian casualties.’ This article has been removed from the HJS website, but is available elsewhere. Four months later, he argued the opposite: that civilian losses could be ‘minimized given the technological and strategic superiority of Western powers.’ Either the second conclusion is questionable or the first was made too hastily.
In exchange for abandoning its geopolitical, policy-making focus and its coverage of most global regions, the HJS has inherited Murray’s obsession with British Islamism and Islam generally. But it has shown no equivalent concern with white or Christian extremism; there are no articles on its website concerning groups like the British National Party or EDL. It has published at least four articles on the Toulouse killings by a lone Islamist, but none on the massacres carried out by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway in July. Actually, as European Neighbourhood Section Director, I did publish an article on Breivik and the European anti-Islamic far-right, in which I concluded that ‘The Islamophobic, anti-immigration far-right is the no. 1 internal threat in Western Europe to European society and Western values today.’ This article was immediately removed from the website and resulted in me having my right to post articles directly to the HJS website revoked.
Mendoza’s last reorganisation of the website, earlier this year, resulted in all the remaining founding members of the HJS being removed from the online staff-list, including myself, Mailer, Bew and Jamison – all without prior consultation or notification. When one of my colleagues, so purged, contacted Mendoza to ask about this, he was told that the HJS was ‘reducing its online presence’, and that he (Mendoza) had written to inform staff members of this, but had forgotten to include the colleague in question’s name on the mailing list. This was false, as none of us had been informed.
My own name nevertheless remained on the HJS’s list of authors, along with my biography and photo; when I wrote to ask about this, I was told I had been assigned a ‘new position’. If this was true, I have absolutely no idea what that ‘new position’ was, and whatever it was, it was certainly not one I had been invited to take up, let alone agreed to do so.
The leadership of the reconstructed HJS does not appear actually to believe in the liberal or democratic transformation of the Middle East – at least if Murray’s views on the subject are anything to go by. Yet its support for war against Middle Eastern regimes, in particular Iran, is very vocal. The HJS has thrown out the progressive and democratic baby but kept the pro-war bathwater.
Update: The right-wing anti-Muslim and anti-immigration views espoused by Murray have not become more moderate since he joined the HJS, and far from being tamed by his membership of this think-tank, it appears that the latter’s staff, above all Mendoza himself, are now espousing similar views.
In March 2013, Murray wrote: ‘To study the results of the latest census is to stare at one unalterable conclusion: mass immigration has altered our country completely. It has become a radically different place, and London has become a foreign country. In 23 of London’s 33 boroughs “white Britons” are now in a minority…
We long ago reached the point where the only thing white Britons can do is to remain silent about the change in their country. Ignored for a generation, they are expected to get on, silently but happily, with abolishing themselves, accepting the knocks and respecting the loss of their country. “Get over it. It’s nothing new. You’re terrible. You’re nothing.”
For what it is worth, it seems to me that the vindictiveness with which the concerns of white British people, and the white working and middle class in particular, have been met by politicians and pundits alike is a phenomenon in need of serious and swift attention.’
At the conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March, Mendoza gave the following explanation for what he claimed was the EU’s hostility to Israel (as reported by the Washington Jewish Week‘s Suzanne Pollak):
‘Immigration is also a reason for rising anti-Israel feelings [in Europe]. In 1998, 3.2 percent of Spain was foreign-born. In 2007, that percent had jumped to 13.4 percent, Mendoza said. In cities such as London, Paris and Copenhagen, 10 percent of residents are Muslim. “The European Muslim population has doubled in the past 30 years and is predicted to double again by 2040,” he said.
For all the benefits that immigration has brought, it has been difficult for European countries to absorb immigrants into their society given their failure to integrate newcomers. Regardless of their political views, Muslims in Europe will likely speak out against Israel whenever any Middle Eastern news breaks, just as they will against India in the Kashmir dispute. Their voices are heard well above the average Europeans, who tend not to speak out Mendoza said, adding that the Muslim immigrants do this with full knowledge that they would not be allowed to speak out like that in many Middle Eastern countries.
Yet another reason Israel is demonized is that it is a nationalist state, but Europe turned against that concept following World War II. “They are supernational, and Israel is just national,” he said.’
(Thanks to JC)
The US and its allies have waged a series of wars over the past two decades for legitimate reasons. One reason has been self defence: the US’s intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 was a straightforward case of a state defending itself from attack. Another has been humanitarian: the interventions in Kosova in 1999 and Libya in 2011 averted humanitarian catastrophes. There is a strong case for intervening in Syria today on the same grounds. A third reason has been to promote progressive and democratic change. One of the ironies of the most controversial of the West’s recent wars – the Iraq war – was that although there were strong humanitarian and democratic reasons for waging it, these were not primarily stressed by Western leaders. Before President George W. Bush, US leaders had pursued the policy of leaving Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in power while strangling Iraq with sanctions over many years – at enormous cost to the Iraqi people. Although the Bush Administration bungled the occupation, the argument that a short war was a price worth paying to free Iraq from dictatorship, sanctions and isolation was not unreasonable. A pity, therefore, that the war was justified on the grounds of the Baathist regime’s supposed development of ‘weapons of mass destruction’. Even before the coalition failed to discover them, the grounds for invasion were not deemed sufficient by international opinion. The war was from the start a propaganda disaster from which the West’s reputation is still struggling to recover.
An Israeli or US attack on Iran would most likely be another such propaganda disaster. It would have no humanitarian justification, nor would it advance the cause of democracy or human rights in Iran or the Middle East. The argument that it would constitute a pre-emptive act of self-defence by Israel – which we shall come to – is not to be sniffed at but is nevertheless misguided. We are left with a purely strategic argument: the need to limit the power of a barbaric Islamist regime with an aggressively anti-Western ideology and foreign policy, that is promoting bloodshed and strife in the region. While this argument, too, is not to be sniffed at, it is not sufficient to go to war, and would not be accepted as such by world opinion.
It has been suggested that Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Arab states would publicly deplore an Israeli strike against Iran while privately rejoicing in it. In other words, Israel would be doing the dirty work for a group of regimes, at least one of which is, if anything, even worse and more dangerous than the Iranian regime itself. Iran promotes regional trouble and instability; it enables the Assad regime’s slaughter of its own people and supports the terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia’s promotion of trouble extends far beyond the Middle East, through its export of Wahhabi fundamentalism from Pakistan to Bosnia. Last October, a locally grown Wahhabi, Mevlid Jasarevic, carried out a terrorist attack against the US embassy in Sarajevo. Osama bin Laden himself was the bastard offspring of the Saudi system. Going to war against Iran with the silent blessing of Riyadh would be like going to war against Stalin with the silent blessing of Hitler.
The idea that ‘weapons of mass destruction’ pose a terrifying threat is a canard. Nuclear weapons have only ever been used once, against Japan in 1945. The Cold War came and went without either side falling victim to them, yet nearly three thousand civilians were massacred in the US in September 2001 by virtually unarmed terrorists. Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons in his genocidal campaign against the Kurds in Iraq in the late 1980s, but a much higher death-toll – up to one million – was achieved by the perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, using much more primitive weapons, in particular machetes. In other words, sophisticated ‘weapons of mass destruction’ are not needed to carry out mass murder, and those regimes that possess them have not used them against the Western democratic world, whose powers of deterrence have been sufficient to protect us from them – though not from more primitive forms of attack.
Israel has very legitimate reasons for wanting to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons: the regime in Tehran has made clear it will never recognise Israel, that it views the state of Israel as illegitimate, and that it seeks Israel’s destruction. Its propaganda systematically demonises Israel and Israelis, and it supports terrorist and extremist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, that are likewise formally committed to the end of Israel. It represents a real threat to the latter – broadly comparable to the threat posed by the Soviet Union to the Western democratic world during the Cold War. Yet the Tehran regime’s stated desire to see Israel abolished is no less utopian than the Soviet leadership’s formal goal of overthrowing world capitalism; it is a crucial part of the self-legitimising ideology and propaganda of a tyrannical regime, not a concrete policy goal.
Against this threat, Israel possesses very effective protection in the form of its own nuclear deterrent. Even were it to acquire nuclear weapons, Iran would be in no position to use them against Israel, or against anyone else, since to do so would lead to its own certain annihilation. It is simply unserious to portray Iran’s leaders as lunatics seeking to commit suicide by launching a nuclear strike against Israel, as opposed simply to cynical, calculating politicians seeking to strengthen their state’s power in the region while exploiting anti-Zionist rhetoric. Former enemies of the West have not lived up to the stereotype of the suicidal madman: Saddam Hussein failed to attack the US forces that were amassing against him in Saudi Arabia in 1990, and instead passively awaited their offensive; Osama bin Laden did not die fighting heroically in Afghanistan in 2001, but scuttled off to Pakistan and hid there until he was hunted down; Ratko Mladic quietly let himself be arrested in Serbia last year. Furthermore, neither Ahmadinejad nor Ayatollah Ali Khamenei possesses the sort of absolute power that Saddam possessed; the Iranian theocracy is far from democratic, but neither is it a totalitarian personal dictatorship. Its regional policies have been evil but sober rather than crazy; it has done nothing even as adventurous as trying to annex Kuwait, let alone launch a war that would inevitably destroy it. We should, perhaps, be more afraid of the nuclear capacity possessed by Pakistan – a highly unstable state deeply infiltrated by extreme, murderous Islamist currents, whose intelligence services are involved in supporting the Taliban’s war against Western forces in Afghanistan.
According to a poll carried out last month, 58% of Israelis oppose attacking Iran without US support. This is, after all, not 1967, when Israel took preemptive action in the face of a very real and immediate existential threat. Yet even that stunning victory, like the military victories won by Israel before and since, did not provide the country with lasting security. That can only come with a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement. For the longer this conflict continues, the more likely it is that Israel, not to mention the Palestinians, will suffer a major catastrophe. Meanwhile, as the Israeli author David Grossman argues, the uncertain results of a strike against Iran would have to be set against the long-term damage to Israel’s standing among the more educated, liberal and secular elements in the Iranian population that may one day overthrow the regime and come to lead the country. They would have to be set against the global anti-Israeli backlash that would inevitably occur.
Unfortunately, the same right-wing nationalist Israeli government that is apparently preparing to attack Iran, has shown itself a major obstacle to a peace agreement and to regional normalisation, from its foot-dragging over the peace process and its promotion of settlement-expansion to its obstruction of the wholly legitimate Palestinian demand for membership of the UN and UNESCO, undermining the most moderate leadership Palestine has yet produced. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was the world leader who supported the dictator Hosni Mubarak against his own people most openly during last year’s Egyptian revolution. There is absolutely no reason why Israel, the US and the West should allow themselves to be dragged into a damaging war to serve the reactionary, chauvinistic agenda of this government, which will probably use the opportunity to impose further repressive and discriminatory measures against the Palestinian population of the West Bank. A successful war against Iran would further encourage the Netanyahu government along its self-destructive nationalistic path, making a future peace agreement even less likely and further jeopardising Israel’s future.
Democrats should be deeply concerned at the climate being generated by this government and its supporters as they prepare for war. Nobel laureate Guenter Grass’s wrote a pretty innocuous and banal poem criticising Israeli policy vis-a-vis Iran, containing such lines as the demand that ‘the governments of both Iran and Israel allow an international authority free and open inspection of the nuclear potential and capability of both. No other course offers help to Israelis and Palestinians alike’. He was consequently subjected to hyperbolic verbal attacks by senior Israeli ministers Eli Yishai and Avigdor Lieberman and barred from entering Israel, while a campaign is being waged to smear him as an anti-Semite. If Israel is falling prey to this kind of hysteria, it is time for people who really care about the country to play a moderating role.
There is an Israeli left, and we in the West would do better to support them. The threat posed to the Middle East by Iran’s regime can ultimately only be resolved by a democratic revolution in that country. In the meantime, to weaken this regime, we would do better to concentrate on bringing down its murderous ally in Damascus, something that would not only save lives, but if handled properly might even improve the West’s reputation in the Middle East, instead of ruining it further.
Update: A strong case against an Israeli attack on Iran is made by Shalom Lappin at Normblog.
President Barack Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron, Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have revealed the true face of so-called ‘Western imperialism’ over the past couple of days – not so much diabolical or machiavellian, but small minded and wishy-washy. It should be obvious to all that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is finished, and that even if he succeeds somehow in retaining power, he is too discredited and too clearly rejected and despised by his own people to serve any further purpose as a supposed ‘ally’ of the West. Why, then, the unwillingness to solidarise with the Egyptian people who have taken to the streets to overthrow him; why the reluctance to ask him to step down ? They may be afraid of what will come after; they should rather be afraid of how a democratic Egypt, if it emerges, will remember the West’s failure to support its establishment. To talk of ‘reform’ in Egypt today is a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. It’s a bit late for that now; Western leaders would do better to show that they are on the side of the Egyptian people in their struggle against tyranny.
The Arab world and the Middle East have long presented a sorry story of dictatorship, political backwardness and religious extremism. Now, finally, something is occurring in the political sphere about which Arabs, Muslims and others in the region can justly feel proud. In the Egyptian popular revolt to overthrow the Mubarak dictatorship, a kind of politics is being born that can inspire those in the region who have so long been lacking in positive sources of inspiration. The idea that we should withhold our full solidarity with the Egyptian protesters because we can’t imagine anything better than a corrupt and discredited despot is, quite frankly, disgraceful and embarrassing. Mubarak and his fellow pro-Western dictators are not the alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists; rather, the dictators and the Islamists are two sides of the same coin, feeding off and rejuvenating one another. The status quo is not the safe option; it is the source of the Islamist menace that has produced al-Qaeda and 9/11. Undemocratic Egypt has been a particular incubator of Islamic extremism; the system produced Osama bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. We shouldn’t be afraid of what may come after Mubarak; we should be afraid of the status quo continuing.
Of course, it is not exactly unknown for revolutions to go very badly wrong, and the example of the Iranian Revolution is understandably in the minds of many. The overthrow of the Shah might not have resulted in quite such a disaster if the US had not backed his tyranny to the last and trampled all over Iran like a colonial master. Even an Iranian Baha’i professor I once studied under, who hated the Ayatollah Khomenei’s regime as much as anyone, told our class how he agreed with Khomenei’s famous pre-revolutionary complaint: ‘If someone runs over a dog belonging to an American, he will be prosecuted. Even if the Shah himself were to run over a dog belonging to an American, he would be prosecuted. But if an American cook runs over the Shah, or the marja’ of Iran, or the highest official, no one will have the right to object.’ If we now alienate the Egyptian people, we will have only ourselves to blame if a post-Mubarak government is less than well-disposed toward us.
Rather than being paralysed by fear, we should anticipate what the democratic transformation in Egypt could mean. It could mean that a regime that has been generating Islamist terrorism will be replaced by one that will act as a catalyst for democratic transformation throughout the Arab world and the Middle East. It could mean a decisive shift in the balance between democracy and dictatorship within the Muslim world globally. Of course, this is not pre-ordained, and things could go very badly wrong in Egypt. But let us in the West keep our eyes on the prize, and do everything we can to assist our Egyptian sisters and brothers in their struggle against tyranny. Obama and Cameron should begin by telling Mubarak that it’s time to go.
Let the tyrants tremble – victory to the Egyptian revolution !
Leaders of the US’s East European allies have hailed the move by US President Barack Obama to abandon the Bush Administration’s plans to base an anti-missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The move was made in response to Russian concerns that such a defence system would threaten the security of Russian missiles in the event that they were launched at Polish or Czech cities. ‘In attempting to restrict our ability to slaughter huge numbers of civilians in Eastern Europe, the US was clearly indicating an aggressive intent with regard to Russia’, President Dmitry Medvedev said at a press conference earlier this week. ‘We welcome President Obama’s new readiness to respect the security of Russian missiles aimed at Poland and the Czech Republic.’
US officials had been quick to point out that the planned missile shield was intended to defend against a missile strike from rogue states such as Iran or North Korea, not from Russia. ‘We want to indicate to the Russians that we fully respect their right to launch missiles at our NATO allies’, said President Obama, who has been perceived as eager to distance himself from the hawkish unilateralism of the Bush Administration. ‘It’s the Iranians who aren’t allowed to launch missiles at Eastern Europe, not the Russians. Admittedly, abandoning the missile shield will make it easier for the Iranians to do just that, but we’re vaguely hoping that this gesture will make Moscow more cooperative in countering the Iranian nuclear programme.’
Although they had previously supported the missile shield, the leaders of Poland and the Czech Republic have been quick to hail the US turnaround. ‘We have a long history of problems with Iran’, said Polish President Lech Kaczynski; ‘In 1939, Iran joined with Nazi Germany to partition our country, and massacred thousands of our officers and soldiers at Katyn Forest in 1940. Even today, the Iranians appear remarkably unapologetic about this. With the Russians, by contrast, we have never had any problems. Coordinating our defences with the Russians seems like a really good idea.’
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout agrees: ‘In 1968, the Iranians invaded our country to stamp out our experiment in “Islamism with a human face”. With President Obama’s new move, we feel safer from the Iranians than ever before. We feel that NATO is serving its purpose, and will happily send out troops to fight alongside the Americans in places like Iraq or Afghanistan. Our faith in the US has never been stronger.’
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had some reservations about the US move, but remained positive overall: ‘Despite having been the third largest contributor of allied troops to Iraq, we find that large parts of our country are still under Russian control. But thanks to President Obama, we feel safer than ever before from the threat of Iranian invasion.’
‘Both Russia and NATO have a wealth of experience in missile defence. We should now work to combine this experience’ said NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, while unveiling a statue of Stalin at the NATO headquarters in Brussels last month to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact.
Greater Surbiton News Service
We have long defended the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the face of anti-democratic attacks from the Turkish Kemalist establishment and the ultranationalist right. This government has been a reforming force in Turkish politics and society, promoting democratisation and human rights at home and presiding over great economic growth while pursuing a moderate, progressive foreign policy abroad. The AKP government has improved the rights of women and Kurds, pursued detente with Armenia and Cyprus, tried to restrain Turkey’s hawks over the PKK and northern Iraq, and supported the fragile, threatened Balkan states of Macedonia and Kosova.
Nevertheless, any progressive regime that remains in power too long will cease to be progressive. And the indications are that the AKP government has reached this point. Its initially moderately Islamic ideology mirrored, for a time, the moderate Christianity of European Christian Democratic parties, and provided an appealing alternative Islamic message to that of the Islamists. By challenging the Kemalist establishment over the ban on headscarves in universities and the public sector, the government has simply been standing up for the right of religiously observant women to education and a career. Yet the government, whose public support has been declining and which performed badly in local elections last month, is increasingly slipping down the slope from moderate Islam to Islamic popularism. In January, Erdogan flounced off the stage during a panel discussion with Israeli president Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum, after accusing Peres over the Gaza offensive: ‘When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.’ During the Gaza offensive, Erdogan regularly denounced Israel in Islamist terms, suggesting that ‘Allah would punish’ Israel, whose actions would lead to its own ‘destruction’.
That this had more to do with pandering to Muslim populism and rising anti-Semitism than to any genuine concern at Palestinian suffering is indicated by the fact that Erdogan has not displayed quite the same degree of anger at the crimes of the Islamist Sudanese regime in Darfur. Indeed, Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir was invited to Turkey in January 2008, when he reviewed a military guard of honour in Ankara in the company of Turkey’s president, the AKP’s Abdullah Gul, who described him as a ‘friend’. Bashir was invited to Turkey again in August, despite his indictment for genocide by the International Criminal Court. The Turkish government has extended a similarly warm welcome to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with whom it is developing a close friendship, and who was permitted to put on an anti-American and anti-Israeli display at Istanbul’s Blue Mosque. Ankara is also pursuing an increasingly close collaboration with Russia, and is obstructing the transit of Azerbaijani gas to Europe via the Nabucco pipeline project, thereby threatening a source of energy for Europe that would be independent of Moscow.
Perhaps most worryingly, Ankara has been blocking the accession of Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to become the next secretary-general of NATO, on account of his handling of the Danish cartoon controversy of 2005. In Erdogan’s own words: ‘We are receiving telephone calls from the Islamic world, telling us: “By God, this person should not become the secretary general of Nato and we have to take into consideration all these reactions”.’ The AKP’s Islamic populism is thus threatening the functioning of NATO.
Meanwhile, the Turkish government has hardened its stand on the Kurdish issue, with Erdogan warning the Kurdish people that, with regard to Turkey, they should ‘love it or leave it’, creating major difficulties for the AKP’s own Kurdish deputies in relation to their constituents. This is apparently linked to increasing government paranoia over the role of the US and Israeli intelligence services in the country. This shift may account for the AKP’s poor showing in Kurdish regions in Turkey’s recent local elections.
Erdogan is mutating from a Muslim moderate into a Muslim bigot; his government is becoming a negative force in world politics. It is time for them to go.
It may be that I have spent too much time living in Serbia and studying it, and that some of that fabled Serbian inat, or bloodymindedness, has rubbed off on me (readers may be surprised to learn that, as an adult, I was christened in the Serbian Orthodox Church, something that occurred not because of religious belief – of which I have none – but because I was once married to a Serbian woman). Or it may be just that I don’t like jumping on bandwagons. Be this as it may, I’m not prepared to follow the herd and endorse Obama for US president. That said, there are some powerful arguments to be made in favour of Obama, which I have been hearing from Obama supporters – such as my own girlfriend, as well as my mother – for some time now. The strong reasons for supporting McCain, however, which I have outlined in previous posts, remain. Each of the candidates offers a very different set of advantages and disadvantages, and a US citizen deciding whom to vote for should weigh them up very carefully before deciding.
One of the paradoxes of this election is that Obama is perceived by much of the liberal intelligentsia in the West as being the progressive, anti-establishment candidate, even though his likely election victory will owe much to the fact that his campaign has enjoyed much greater financial resources than McCain’s. The richer candidate is spending his way to victory; even if a large part of this funding has consisted of small donations, the hated representatives of American capitalism have hardly been falling over themselves to fund his Republican opponent. Yet Obama’s greater popularity among the liberal intelligentsia, and indeed among international opinion generally, is undeniably because he is more widely – and unfairly – seen as less quintissentially American than McCain. Obama may be just another liberal Democrat in the tradition of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, but for various reasons – in part because he would represent a dramatic break with the politics of George Bush, in part because he is black, and in part because he is undeniably charismatic – he has been invested with much greater belief on the part of the outside world as a force for change than he probably warrants.
But perception matters. And here is the strongest reason for voting for Obama. A President Obama would restore the world’s goodwill toward the US. The outside world will give him the benefit of the doubt, and the US a second chance to enjoy the degree of international popularity it enjoyed before 9/11. Conversely, a victory for McCain – particularly after such a strong and sustained poll lead enjoyed by Obama for so long – would produce another great outpouring of anti-American bile across the world, and above all from the ranks of the European chattering classes. The Republicans would, once again, be viewed as having unfairly stolen the election; their regime would enjoy little international credibility or goodwill. McCain will be painted as a continuation of Bush, and continue to be punished for the sins, real or perceived, of his predecessor. Obama would, therefore, be better able than McCain to restore the US’s network of alliances and connections, rejuvenating the US’s world leadership, or what is termed on the left as ‘American imperialism’.
Yet the reason why Obama would enjoy such international goodwill, and be able to restore the US’s world image and standing, is also the reason why one should think twice before supporting him: the world prefers soft US presidents, and Obama will undoubtedly be a much softer president than McCain. George Bush Snr betrayed the Iraqi Kurds in 1991 and acted to keep Saddam Hussein in power; Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban, and strove hard to keep the US from having to intervene to stop genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia; yet neither has earned the kind of opprobrium incurred by the current US president for the crime of overthrowing Saddam. Obama has shown himself to be less committed than McCain to the defence of democratic Iraq and of independent Georgia; his restoration of US popularity globally may come at a high price.
Obama’s choice of the tough and experienced Joe Biden as his running mate does something to allay one’s concern at the foreign-policy implications of his presidency. Biden deserves credit for his opposition to aggression and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. But his instincts have not always been so good: he has supported the partition of Iraq. Biden is, like Obama, pro-Greek and anti-Turkish; they would be taking over leadership of the US at a time when, given the threats posed by the hostile regimes in Moscow and Tehran, we need to maintain the Turkish alliance, and at a time when Greece’s merciless bullying of the fragile Republic of Macedonia potentially threatens disaster in the Balkans.
So the choice between Obama and McCain revolves around the question of whether it is better to have a US president who can restore the US’s global popularity and standing but is likely to be less resolute in resisting the enemies of the democratic world, or a president who will be globally unpopular but more determined in resisting our enemies.
Some readers may feel that US domestic policy should count for more in this weighing up. All well and good; I prefer Obama to McCain on domestic issues, but there are 6.7 billion people in the world, and only 300 million of them are Americans. The United States is a sophisticated system of decentralised democracy and constitutional checks and balances, and the battle between conservatism and liberalism will continue to be fought out at multiple levels throughout the country, regardless of which candidate wins. But it is foreign policy where the president’s voice counts for most. I would discount on principle the idea that one should vote on the basis of the candidate’s age or skin-colour; Winston Churchill was presiding over the Normandy Landings when he was only a year or two younger than McCain is today, and was several years older when he became prime minister for the second time, while the social changes that have made it possible for the US presidency to be within reach of a black candidate have occurred, and will continue to occur, regardless of who wins. The fact that Obama supposedly is friends with various dangerous radicals is a big red herring; most of us probably have been, one way or another. But it is no more a red herring than the big Sarah Palin bogey; Palin was brought in by McCain to mobilise the Republican base; she will not determine US policy. McCain might die in office and leave the inexperienced and very right-wing Palin as acting president. But probably not. Finally, I have faith that US capitalism will rejuvenate itself, regardless of who is managing the economy.
So for me, it boils down to a choice between the man who will capture the world’s hearts and the man who will fight the world’s enemies. While there are strong arguments to be made for each, I would always support the candidate who, when the chips were down, defended a small nation against a brutal aggressor, against the candidate who has supported an aggressor against a fragile small nation.
Others may draw the line in a different place.
According to a popular left-liberal viewpoint that has become widespread since the run-up to the Iraq War, US unilateralism threatens an otherwise stable global order that rests on international law underpinned by the UN. The latter, so the argument goes, is the institutional safeguard protecting the world from the unhindered exercise of power by the US; the guarantor of weak or independently minded nations that rightly fear American imperialism.
Some of us, however, suspected that this ‘multilateralist’ viewpoint was, more often than not, expressed insincerely by those who were much more interested in opposing the US than they were in upholding international law. We have only had our suspicions confirmed by the tepid international reaction to the Russian assault on Georgia. This unilateral invasion of a sovereign state, occurring without UN Security Council authorisation, has provoked rather less left-liberal outrage than the US invasion of Iraq, though it represented by any standards a much greater violation of the principle of state sovereignty – involving, as it did, territorial dismemberment and the unilateral redrawing of international borders – and though it was directed against a state that, unlike Iraq, represented no threat to its neighbours and was a democracy, albeit highly flawed. There has been no million-strong demonstration in London against the Russian invasion of Georgia. Still more pointed has been the support for the Russian aggression expressed most strongly by the very states, left liberals might have argued, that are most in need of the UN as a safeguard against the US.
The defection of the Libyan regime of Muammar al-Gaddafi from the ‘Axis of Evil’ has often been cited as one of the achievements of the Bush Administration and its tough policy on rogue states. Yet Libya has welcomed the Russian assault on Georgia. ‘What happened in Georgia is a good sign, which means America is no longer the sole world power setting the rules of the game,’ Seif al Islam al-Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader and head of the Gaddafi Foundation, has been quoted as saying; ‘There is a balance in the world now. Russia is resurging, which is good for us, for the entire Middle East.’ Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who in the 1980s successfully sued the US at the International Court of Justice, is the first head of state apart from Russia formally to recognise the ‘independence’ of the break-away Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, denouncing as he did so ‘political hegemonies’ that were ‘trying to surround Russia’. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has blamed the US, Georgia and ‘Zionists’ for the war in the Caucasus: ‘In our opinion, if Georgian officials had acted properly and not allowed outside forces to interfere, the situation wouldn’t have taken on its current dimensions’. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, too, supports Russia’s dismemberment of Georgia: ‘Russia has recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We support Russia. Russia is right and is defending its interests.’ Chavez has announced that Venezuela will host Russian troops and warships and carry out joint military exercises with Russia. According to Cuba’s Raul Castro, ‘It’s false that Georgia is defending its national sovereignty’; he went on to claim that the ‘Autonomous Republic of South Ossetia historically formed part of the Russian Federation’. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, in the course of offering to host Russian missiles on Syrian territory, stated ‘I think that after the crisis with Georgia, Russia has become only stronger’; furthermore, ‘It’s important that Russia takes the position of a superpower, and then all the attempts to isolate it will fail.’
Thus, far from seeing the UN and international law as desirable safeguards against ‘US imperialism’, those states – one or two of them headed by left-liberal icons – that are actually most in conflict with the latter are rushing to demolish these supposed safeguards. Russia is providing a banner behind which the West’s enemies can unite, even if this means tearing up the UN Charter and colluding in the invasion and dismemberment of a UN member-state.
Yet if the closing of ranks of the West’s enemies behind a nuclear-armed aggressor is a reason for consternation, we can draw comfort from a definite success story: one former rogue state, at least, appears definitely to have reformed. In Serbia, pro-Western parties emerged successful from parliamentary elections this spring; the new government appears to be cooperating with the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague, and has arrested the fugitive former Bosnian Serb warlord Radovan Karadzic; the leading Serbian anti-Western political force, the neo-Nazi Radical party, has imploded. The Serbian case is particularly significant because it is over Serbia that the Western alliance has frequently been condemned for acting ‘unilaterally’; i.e., without UN authorisation. That is, NATO went to war with Serbia in 1999 without UN sanction, then the US and most NATO and EU countries recognised the independence of Kosovo this year, again without UN sanction.
It is NATO and the EU, rather than the UN, than have proved the motors of change in Serbia; the promise of a European future has been the bait that has lured Serbian voters away from the nationalist parties, and the Serbian government toward collaboration with The Hague, while it was the question of whether to support Serbia’s Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU that occasioned the split among the Radicals. Far from the recognition of Kosovo’s independence driving Serbia into the arms of the nationalists, it has hastened the nationalists’ political decline. True, Serbia is still seeking to have the International Court of Justice rule the recognition of Kosovo’s independence illegal. But while we may deplore this move, it nevertheless represents a civilised way of conducting a dispute; a tremendous step forward from the rioting and attacks on foreign embassies that took place in Belgrade in February in response to international recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
The Western approach to Serbia has therefore proved a successful one: stick and carrot; military firmness combined with economic incentives and democracy promotion – mostly conducted independently of the UN. An approach of this kind is often stereotyped by its critics, whether from conservative-isolationist or left-liberal schools of opinion, as amounting simply to military aggressiveness. Yet the military-deterrent aspect of the Western policy that has guided Serbia toward Europe has ultimately proved less decisive than the economic carrot of EU integration. That this is so is highlighted by the failure of Western policy regarding a coutry that should, logically, be firmly in the Western camp but that may be slipping away: Turkey. Although Turkey is a loyal NATO member of long-standing; although it has long been committed to joining the EU; although it has responded relatively well to diplomatic and economic incentives to democratise; and although it historically fears Russian imperialism, yet Turkey is developing increasingly friendly relations with both Russia and Iran. Ahmadinejad visited Istanbul last month, and Ankara and Tehran reached agreements on a number of areas, though a full energy pact was not signed on account of US objections.
Heavily dependent on Russian trade and energy supplies, Ankara has meanwhile refused to support Georgia’s membership of NATO, resisted talk of modifying the Montreux Convention limiting naval access to the Black Sea by the US and other outside powers, and barred two US warships from entering the Black Sea in support of Georgia. Ankara is meanwhile promoting a ‘Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Pact’ that would group together Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – its essential purpose is to enable Turkey to establish a working regional collaboration with Russia that bypasses the US. Ankara’s drift toward friendship with two of the Western alliance’s most dangerous enemies is an all-too-predictable consquence of the declining attraction of the EU option for Turkey, resulting from open French and German opposition to Turkey’s EU membership. Given events in Georgia, the Franco-German alienating of Turkey appears increasingly short-sighted. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, that goes through Turkey, is the only pipeline transporting Caspian crude oil that does not go through Russia. Turkey’s strategic importance is increasing exponentially just as Franco-German cold-shouldering is having its negative effect.
Events on the world stage this summer have shattered the multilateralist, soft-liberal dream of a post-Cold-War world presided over by the UN, in which UN members live harmoniously according to its rules. Instead, the UN is resuming its Cold War role as merely one, ineffectual forum in which the conflict between the Western alliance and the anti-Western bloc is played out. In these circumstances, there is no point in believing in illusions about a UN-governed world that our enemies do not share. As the Serbian example shows, democratisation and integration into the democratic family of nations are the best way to remove the threat from a rogue state; even when not overtly hostile, dictatorships – from Pakistan to Libya – make unstable, unreliable allies. We should be foolish indeed if we were to abandon our support for democracy and human rights abroad, through diplomatic, economic and where necessary military means. The enemies of liberal democracy will always play by their own rules; we should play by ours.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
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