Archive for the ‘News from Abroad’ Category

On tribal segregation and liberal hypocrisy

January 13, 2014 1 comment

Amongst those interested in the South Sudan turmoil, this picture of upfront tribal segregation in a UN refugee camp has caused some debate:

View image on Twitter

My first reaction was one of concern, similar to that of  Sudan/South Sudan-focused journalist Bec Hamilton (@bechamilton) who tweeted:

Ethnicity is used readily enough by unscrupulous elites right now. No need for the UN to add to it……..The UN has a choice. A choice not to reinforce harmful &, more to the point, inaccurate divisions.

But perhaps it’s not that simple, I thought then, and emailed the photo to my wife – who has worked in (pre-independence) South Sudan* and also managed a large refugee camp operation during and after the Rwanda genocide of 1995.

Her response when she got home was salutary, and went something along the lines of:

Yes, I can understand exactly why they’ve done that, and while I don’t know the details, I may well have done exactly the same.  You have to understand, you liberal, wishy-washy buffoon, that this place is catering, at short notice and on a make-it-up-as-you-go-along basis, for women and children who are traumatized by the recent carnage and may have walked for several days to find this makeshift security and shelter.  What they want and need is immediate shelter, water and food, free from fear of violence, and if the best way to do that is via temporary segregation, so be it. And here are you worrying about whether the UN is reinforcing tribal division stereotypes, you total numptie.  Have you never bleeding read Maslowe’s hierarchy?

That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be efforts at inter-tribal communication and as needs be reconciliation, via a safe central area, given that until a month ago the Dinka and Nuer lived quite happily alongside each other**, and to this extent Bec Hamilton is probably right to point out that the current ethnic violence has been stirred up by self-interested elites within and around the new government structures, but the immediate priorities of shelter and security clearly come first.  I mean, are you on fuckin’ acid, or what, you bleedin’ hippie?

Well, I paraphrase somewhat, but that was the general gist.

Somewhat chastened, I reflected on how, in very different circumstances, the debate about immigration is going in the UK, and about my take on it.  My take on it goes roughly along the lines of: economically and philosophically, free movement of people is clearly a good thing, but we do have to take on board the fact that the British working class has for a long time now been subject to a virulent anti-immigrant EU discourse, and it is therefore entirely appropriate – in order not to come over counter-productively as an elite ‘expert’ to find a route through which takes expressions feelings of insecurity as legitimate, and to seek to negotiate a new settlement for the long term.  Here’s one I made earlier.

Yet, on the other hand, I find myself unprepared – at least as a first instinct – to take on board the need for immediate security of South Sudanese women and children because. if I do so, they might fall into some long-term error of tribal distrust.

Really, I’m surprised at myself.

* Strangely, it’s not out of the question she may find herself back in South Sudan soon, as with he kids big enough to look after me now, she’s going on the International Emergency and Trauma Register, ready to fly off a a day’s notice to the next trouble spot, and given her experience in South Sudan, I guess she might get the call, in which case expect more blogging on this subject.

** Depressingly, the comments under the line of the New York Times article I link to above focus on the fact that the Dinka and Nuer have ‘traditionally’ had a war-based relationship, reflective of a pre-market pastoral society in which cattle-raiding is a key economic activity.  EE Evans-Pritchard 1940′s seminal study The Nuer even gets a mention.  It seems to me that arguing that tribal segregration is justified on the basis of a study of society three generations ago is a bit like arguing that we should restrict EU-migration because, you know, the second world war.

Categories: News from Abroad

William Hague vs the French military

February 12, 2013 Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago in a radio interview, William Hague defended the UK intervention in Libya, with reference to Mali:

Well we were involved, if you recall, in saving lives in Libya, not in…..Ghadaffi was overthrown by his own people, and I think actually if we hadn’t been doing that, because what we did, really, shortened the Libyan conflict, these problems would have been even greater. If the conflict had gone on for longer there would have been an even greater flow of weapons and an even greater opportunity for extremists to take hold in Libya. So while the Libyan situation may well have contributed to what’s happened in Mali, I think that the action that the Western world took in Libya, if anything, mitigated that.

It’s worth comparing that with what French military strategists are now saying about the Libyan intervention.  According to Isabelle Lasserre in Le Figaro ($):

Des stratèges militaires considèrent que l’intervention au Mali est une conséquence directe de la guerre en Libye, qui, parce qu’elle a fait l’économie de troupes au sol, n’a pas été menée à son terme. Avec la chute de Kadhafi, l’ordre politique s’est effondré sans être remplacé par une nouvelle autorité digne de ce nom. Les mercenaires touaregs qui combattaient aux côtés de Kadhafi ont rejoint leur Mali d’origine. La Libye est devenue un arsenal à ciel ouvert pillé par les groupes armés du Sahel. Aujourd’hui, Benghazi a été évacué de tous ses ressortissants étrangers. Quant au sud du pays, il est devenu, selon le même haut responsable français, « une nouvelle région de déstabilisation ». Et, pour Paris, « un vrai sujet de préoccupation ».

[Military strategists are of the view that the intervention in Mali is a direct consequence of the war in Libya which, because this was conducted with few ground troops, was not carried through to completion.  With the fall of Khadaf, political order collapsed without being replaced by any authority worthy of the name.  The Tuareg mercenaries who had fought for Khadafi went home to Mail.  Libya became an open-air arsenal pillaged by the armed groups of the Sahel.  Today, Benghazi is totally clear of its foreign nationals.  As for the south of the country, it has become, according to the same senior French source, "a new region of instability.  And, for Paris, a real subject of preoccupation.]

So, for Hague, the swift end to the war brought about by Western  bombing indicates success.  For French military experts, now involved in picking up the pieces in Mali, it’s the very opposite.  I know who I believe.

And so it goes on.

French intervention in Mali means that jihadists are now in southern Libya itself,  with calls starting for further international intervention there (see same article above), while recent reports suggested up to 200 heavily armed vehicles have crossed Niger and Chad and are now in Darfur, Western Sudan.  Unintended consequence maybe, but no less real for the people of Darfur.

Of course I empathise with James Bloodworth’s humanitarian instincts over Mali, just as I empathised with Carl’s over Libya.   Sadly, it doesn’t mean they are right (though, to be fair to James, he is probably more right than Carl was).

For a wider discussion of how the Left might get to grips with the intractable problem of humanitarianism vs. the problems with interventionism see my recent essay here.

Categories: News from Abroad

The British anti-war left and Mali

January 16, 2013 3 comments

Since Friday, when white people started fighting there, it seems anyone who’s anyone in the mainstream media is an expert on Mali.  Funny that.

I’m no expert, but back in April 2012, I wrote:

Meanwhile in Africa, a nascent democracy has fallen, a large part of the country is in the hands of a different number of armed groups with differing levels of affiliation to Al Qaeida, trouble is spilling over into neighbouring countries and refugees are on the move.  All this is happening as a direct result of the UK’s last major military intervention.

I speak, of course, of Mali, and the vast desert area referred to as Azawad by those Tourags who seek its independence.  Over the weekend the major town Timbuktu and Gao have fallen to Touareg rebels, taking strategic advantage of the recent coup d’etat.  This coup d’etat was itself undertaken by a section of the army supposedly as a reaction to the civilian government’s inability to deal with armed rebellion in the North, and that armed rebellion was fuelled by the massive overspill of weaponry from Libya via Niger into the desert regions of Mali.

In the mix are various groups, with confused and confusing allegiance, and including the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the (Islamist) Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) , the (Islamist) Ansar al-Din and of course Al Qaeida Middle East (AQIM), present in one form or another (from bases in Southern Algeria).

More details are here, courtesy of the very excellent Kal at The Moor Next Door. There’s a handy map here.  I don’t pretend to out-analyse Kal on the specifics of what are and what will be in the region, but simply ask the questions: do Cameron and Hague now accept that what seemed like a nice Boys’ Own Adventure is turning out to have very nasty consequences not just for the millions now directly affected (Mali’s population is 16 million to Libya’s 6 million) but potentially for the much of the Sahel and into the West African states?

Nine months on, we know a few more details of those “nasty consequences”.  There is open war in Mali. Ansaru in Nigeria are explicitly linking their activities to Mali.  Senegal is scared of what may be coming.  Mauritania, in its fragile state, is unable to restrict the movements of jihadists through its territories and prey to attack on its own towns, and Niger – already beset by major ecnonomic and environmental problems, will only suffer more from the growing regional instability.

Now if I, from a backroom in Lancashire, armed with nothing more than an internet connection and a keen sense of the unintended consequence, was able nine months ago to predict pretty well  how things would pan out, then it must all have been pretty damn predictable.  You’d have thought, in such circumstances, the anti-war left would have had something to say in the way of prevention.

Yet by and large, none of the people or organisations now so desperate to comment on what are, by any yardstick, serious, bloody events with huge consequences for the people of the Sahel region and beyond, had anything to say as, little by little over the summer months, the groups who had been fighting for territorial independence ceded ground and towns to those with more Jihadi aims, and it became clearer that the assault on human freedoms in Northern Malian desert towns would soon be in assaults in Central Mali.

In the end, I can’t help feeling that while what is happening now in Mali is actually quite welcome news for some on the left, who are happy to use it to reinforce their anti-imperial narrative or whatever, the energies and resources now devoted to commenting on the war, might have been better used more proactively few months ago.

Of course it’s a big ‘if’, but if leftie commentators, journos and politicos had been demanding answers from the government back in the summer about how it intended to deal with what was unfolding in Mali, then it might just have hit the Cabinet agenda, and it might just have kickstarted an international process of support for regional intervention.  As it was, it was December by the time ECOWAS came to a tentative agreement on use of its regional forces to support the Malian government, and by that time it was too late; French military intelligence clearly saw both that the route South was open to the jihadists, and that the jihadists had the capability and desire to take that road, and that if it didn’t strike now Bamako itself would be under threat (of course it may still be, but in a different way).

Of course the anti-war left is not responsible for what’s going on now – Cameron and co must bear some responsibility for that given that we now know how well briefed they were, or at least should have been, on the likely consequences for its southern neighbours of a changed regime in Libya.

But if the anti-war left is going to get serious about anti-imperialism/promoting the long-term advisability of stopping these continued interventions – we can be  sure enough there’ll be another one along in the non-too-distant future - it had better start by getting serious about its analysis.

Rape and Indian culture

December 31, 2012 13 comments

The appalling gang rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi has created the usual, and somewhat predictable, divisions in the left commentariat.

On the one hand you have Owen Jones:

But, in the West, Damini’s death has triggered a different response: a sense that this is an Indian-specific problem. “The crime has highlighted the  prevalence of sex attacks in India,” says the Daily Telegraph; “India  tries to move beyond its rape culture,” says Reuters. Again, it’s comforting to think that this is someone else’s problem, a particular scandal that afflicts a  supposedly backward nation. It is an assumption that is as wrong as it is dangerous.

On the other there’s Sunny Hundal:

I despair with well-meaning people who say India’s endemic violence against women doesn’t have cultural roots. Desperate attempt to be PC. The debate will go on into the night.  Nothing will be resolved, mostly because both are (only) half-right.

Owen is right to state the obvious – that violence against women remains a massive, under-recognised problem in Western Europe, but Sunny’s argument – that to ‘dilute’ the issue by suggesting that India is no worse than the UK, does a disservice to Indian women – is also reasonable.  (Like Sunny, I’ve spent plenty of time in Indian (and Bangladeshi) houses/shanties/huts and support his view that, quite simply, women have a lower status in many households).  Sunny’s probably also right to suggest a reluctance to pin the blame on Indian ‘culture’ stems, at least in part, from a wariness on the part of lefties of being taken as making racist assumptions about the cultural norms of brown people.

The problem with Sunny’s argument, though, comes in his essentialist use of the word ‘culture’.   For Sunny, culture appears to be a thing, which you have, or you don’t have.  Such a conception leads almost inevitably to the conclusion that, if the position of women in India is to be improved, Indians must lose a bit of their culture.   That, I suggest, doesn’t lead us very far.  Indeed it creates the condition in which the PC-gone-mad lefties like me, and maybe Owen, are tempted to reach for the safety of the ‘violence is everywhere’ argument.

I have a different conception of culture, and one which I think helps us through the current analytical impasse.

For me, culture is the product of a historical process of power struggle.  It is dynamic, and consistently evolving in response to those power struggles.   The biggest power struggle in the history of modern India was British Imperial rule, and this colonial rule had a very large impact on the position of women in India today.  The best analysis of this that I know of is in Varsha Chitnis and Danaya Wright, The Legacy of Colonialism: Law and Women’s Rights in India, 64 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1315 (2007), in which the authors argue that the unequal status of women in India today has its roots in the power struggle between

the native elites and the colonialists [which] was fought on the backs of Indian women because it was the alleged degraded position of Indian women and the barbaric actions of Indian men that justified the colonial mission in the first place. This brings into the picture a third group, British feminists, who claimed a moral imperative to reclaim for Indian women the dignity and rights of Western women (p.1318).

As a consequence, argue the authors:

The condition of the Indian woman, particularly within the home, became the battleground on which the contests of power between Indian and British men and between British men and women were fought…… [O]ne of the post-independence legacies of this complex tussle for power is that even secular laws for women today are either protectionist and patriarchal, or else modem Indian women are not in a position to exercise their legal rights in meaningful ways. Victorian notions of womanhood (chastity, innocence, self-effacement, and passiveness) continue to pervade some laws, and certainly the traditional training of lawmakers and judges in the British legal system allows them to bring their often patriarchal understanding of the historical foundations of these laws to bear as precedents and jurisprudential principles, even when the laws are facially egalitarian (p.1319).

Of course, blaming the unequal position of women in India on colonialism doesn’t get us very far in itself.  India has been independent for 70 years, and while the effects of colonialism are certainly longlasting and path-dependent, there are of course many other influences.  My point is simply that, if people in Britain are to support in any way, shape or form, the liberation of women in India and elsewhere in South Asia, it will be important to engage in any such action not on the basis of judgment about the inadequacy of Indian culture when compared to Western freedoms for women – that would be, after all, neo-colonialism writ large – but on the basis that we’re doing what we can to help Indian women gain the power Britain arguably denied them in the first place.


Has the IMF changed the rules?

December 5, 2012 Leave a comment

The FT’s Alan Beattie is right to point out to the importance of recent IMF staff paper on the potential for temporary capital controls in times of economic crisis:

The International Monetary Fund has  cemented a substantial ideological shift by accepting the use of direct controls  to calm volatile cross-border capital flows, as employed by emerging market countries in recent years.

Although the fund continued to warn that such controls should be “targeted,  transparent, and generally temporary”, the policy, announced in a staff  paper released on Monday, is a sharp change from the fund’s enthusiasm for  liberalising capital accounts during the 1990s.

This is an interesting enough step back from the IMF’s liberalisation fundamentalism in itself,, but I wonder if it might be the prelude to something bigger, namely a recognition that free trade itself may not be all it’s cracked up to be when it’s between countries with massive imbalances, including within Europe.

Oddly, I hope this might be the case is because of what the paper IMF gets slightly wrong, when it says:

[T]he Treaty on the functioning of the European Union (EU) has established free capital movements as a bind obligation among EU members and between EU members and third countries (p.8).

This is the truth, but not the whole truth.  Article 63 of the [Lisbon] Treaty of the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) does indeed prohibit restrictions on capital flow within member states, but the much-maligned Brussels bureaucracy have sensibly inserted a get-out at Article 64 (para. 3) in respect of capital flows beyond the EU.

Notwithstanding paragraph 2, only the Council, acting in accordance with a special legislative procedure, may unanimously, and after consulting the European Parliament, adopt measures which constitute a step backwards in Union law as regards the liberalisation of the movement of capital to or from third countries.

It’s reasonable to assume that, as and when the new IMF view on the advisability of temporary capital controls in times of crisis gains traction amongst Euro-policymakers, this existing get–out clause may become increasingly attractive (e.g. to stop flows into non-EU safe havens;  indeed, the comments below the line of the FT article are full of (somewhat sarcastic) commentary on how the IMF’s move might be deliberately geared to the next phase of the Eurozone crisis (and what was portrayed part of the problem for developing countries is now magically transformed into part of the solution for Europe).

And if  Euro-policymakers become ready (even keen) - now that the IMF has broken the taboo – to consider this “step back” from the ideals set out in the Lisbon Treaty and its predecessors, then perhaps it’s reasonable to assume that they’ll also start to take note of the other great reversible in the Treaty, namely free movement of goods and services.

As I’ve set out previously, Article 30 of the TFEU sets out the prohibition of customs duties within the single market but Article 32 (d) provides the get-out clause:

In carrying out the tasks entrusted to it under this Chapter the Commission shall be guided by…..the need to avoid serious disturbances in the economies of Member States and to ensure rational development of production and an expansion of consumption within the Union.

Given the choice between the drastic-sounding idea of capital controls as short-term crisis management and the longer term rebalancing effects of allowing export subsidies/import duties, it may well be that the latter is the route chosen*.

Exactly a year ago, blog-economists Chris Dillow and Duncan Weldon pointed out the potential for such ‘artificial devaluation’ within the Eurozone, but both felt it unworkable within the confines of the single market.  Back then, it probably was, but maybe, just maybe, the IMF are changing the rules of the game, with a little help from the Brussels bureaucracy.

The IMF as saviours of Greece; who’d have thought it?


* It is easy to forget, for example, that in the UK capital controls were only abolished in 1979, and what a massive impact that had on investment levels in the crucial deindustrialisation years in the 1980s.  By 1982, for example, British capital outflow was running at three times the rates of inward investment (p.360).  Nevertheless, it is more difficult to conceive of a sudden return to capital controls (anyone remember the Foreign Travel Allowance of £50 per person stoutly defended by Eric Heffer in 1969?) than it is to accept the idea of import duties as a means of ecomomic restructuring over time.




How to establish Labour’s credibility on Europe

November 23, 2012 1 comment

It has suddenly become very fashionable in Labour wonk circles to be a pro-EU-but-very-critical-of-it-in-its-current-guise.  David Clarke, ex-Robin Cook SpAd, is the latest to jump on the bandwagon.

So just by way of establishing my own credibility as a Europe-getting-leftie, here’s what I said back in early 2010:

The issue for here is that a process of technocratic economic management signed into law under the Maastricht treaty, under a particular set of economic conditions which the then policy makers assumed would last for ever, is now adding to an already considerable burden on people who did not make the crisis, and did not gain from the booms that caused it.

As a result there is a real possibility of major social unrest in many European countries, including explosions of racial hatred as workers take it out on themselves; this is the antithesis of what the European Union is supposed to be about.

That, fundamentally, is the stupidity at the heart of the European Union, and reflects the key problem with it.

The European Union is wholly based on the entrenchment of neoliberal norms of which the validity is now widely questioned, but which are set out in permanent form in the Lisbon Treaty and the treaties which preceded it.

Ah, if only the Labour wonkery had listened then, Labour would be in a much better place now; rather than looking opportunistic around the EU budget negotiations, it might look as though we’d thought it all through earlier.

But we are where we are, and David is quite right to follow in my footsteps:

Little thought was given to how the free movement provisions [I assume David means of both capital and people] designed for six countries at similar levels of economic development would work after the EU incorporated the impoverished countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The idea of a social Europe, envisaged by Jacques Delors as a balance to the single market, has been the casualty of a headlong rush towards liberalisation for its own sake.

The reason this is better than some of the other bandwagon stuff is that it’s about the fundamentals of the EU, not about the budget froth, which I’ve already covered in my critique of Will Straw’s IPPR pamphlet.  Labour needs to focus on the fundamentals of European reform.

The key question, though, is how Labour can cut through the media fog to present an proper, fundamental alternative which actually gets heard.  Vague generalities about the need to build a new social Europe for new times, or whatever, are going to cut no ice with an electorate fed a steady diet of Brussels eurocrats, straight bananas, and French farmers living it large from handouts.

There are two specific areas – both headline-worthy, both off the Tory radar – on which Labour should focus its media firepower.  Being wise and all-knowing about Europe, I have already covered both in detail.

First, there’s the obstacle the single market puts in the way of economic convergence between the richer and poorer EU states in a Eurozone situation where currency devaluation is not possible, but where the break-up of the Eurozone would create even more havoc for the poorer states.

As I’ve set out here, the Lisbon Treaty does in fact make provision (Article 32) for the temporary suspension of the single market, and the creation of export subsidy/import substitution mechanisms, such that convergence can occur even within the Eurozone and without recourse to self-defeating ‘structural reform’ of the type imposed on Greece.  While that level of detail may not be very headline-drawing, Labour can sell such proposals simply on the basis of its creativity – using stuff that’s already in the Lisbon Treaty – just as the Tories are thinking of doing on free movement of people, but with a mind to the benefit of the whole of Europe, not just as a populist, face-saving anti-migrant measure.

Second, and more headline-attracting than the first, Labour should promise that, on coming to power, it will work with like-minded governments for the abolition of the Stability and Growth Pact six-pack regulations and the parallel Fiscal Compact bundled together in panic by Merkel and Sarkozy in the doomed attempt to save the Merkozy hegemony.   As IPPR’s Will Straw said in his reply to my most recent piece on Europe:

As it happens the Six Pack includes provisions for a 0.5% deficit cap which is ludicrous and would effectively outlaw Keynesianism.

In fact, the six-pack regulations already outlaw Keynesianism, as they become European law in December 2011.  A campaign Labour for the abolition of these regulations therefore makes economic sense, but it can also be sold on the basis of the sovereignty argument – that the EU should not be telling member states that the only available economic policy open to it is one which embeds neoliberalism.

Taken together, these two initiatives could be game-changes for Labour’s credibility on Europe.

Trust me, I’ve been credible on Europe for ages.

Intervention in Libya: a response to Carl (part I)

July 13, 2012 19 comments

Here’s Carl, defending military invention in Libya, and thereby promoting it in Syria:

Russia, it was said in a recent New York Times editorial, oppose change in Syria, and tried to block change in Libya, on the grounds that “revolutions have completely destabilized the region and cleared the road to power for the Islamists.”

In other words Putin was, and is, willing to see innocent people die for a series of ill-judged guesses about the political trajectory of countries after the Arab Spring. And this is even before we look at Russia’s weaponry client base.

But in Libya it did not happen this way.

I disagree.

Western intervention in Libya is has contributed significantly to regional instability.  Life may well be better for a lot of people in Libya (pop. 6m) but in the north of Mali (pop. 16m) life is suddenly a great deal worse.  As I set out here and here, the arms-and-mercenaries overspill from the messy end to the Ghadaffi regime was an important factor in the rapid formation of the loose Ansar-Al-Din/Touareg separatist (MLNA) alliance, which swept across the North of the country to take advantage of events in Bamako.  The result is that Timbuktu, Gao and other northern towns are now fairly firmly under Islamist Ansar-Al-Din control, with UNESCO heritage sites destroyed as part of that process.

Mauritania to the West of Mali has been dragged in, with thousands of Malians fleeing over the border to seek refuge and the Mauritanian airforce conducting fresh airstrikes against a newly emboldened Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), but with the inevitable civilian deaths resulting.

Now, with seeming inevitability, the informed talk turns towards anti-Jihadist “Western intervention”, as the Touareg seccessionists (MLNA), presumably deeply regretting their tactical alliance with the Islamist now that they have been driven from their strongholds, reach out for the other obvious source of assistance.

Indeed, the prospect starts to arise – though probably it is still a little way way off – of Touareg mercenary groupings that were once in the pay of Ghadaffi starting to receive covert military assistance to help them fight back against the Islamists, whose hand was strengthened by Western intervention in Libya in the first place and the consequent armed chaos to the South.

It also looks like there is now at least some level of cooperation between Ansar Al-Din/AQIM and Boko Haram, the apparently well resourced Nigerian Islamist group, and if this develops further the potential for wider conflict right across West Africa develops too.

Meanwhile, back in Niger (pop 16m), already terrible food insecurity – drought and locusts both playing their part - is being worsened by the sudden cutting off of remittances from 150,000 or so Nigeriens (again, many armed) who had been in Libya to earn for their families back home, and their forced exit back to a region which already has too many mouths to feed.

All of that looks an awful lot like regional instability to me.

Now, I recognise that some may dispute the precise cause-effect chain I set out briefly here.  In particular, there is the claim that Ghadaffi had spent years supporting the Touarg secessionist movement, and that it is therefore invalid to suggest that a movement he supported might have been unleashed, with the knock-ons I suggest, by his downfall.

Nevertheless, I think there’s a strong case to argue that it is Western intervention in Libya which has triggered the collapse of a fragile sort-of–stability in the Sahel region and made it an easier base for Al Qaeida and linked/supportive forces to operate in (especially as AQIM seeks new safe havens after setbacks in southern Algeria).  You don’t have to like what Ghadaffi did to acknowledge that he had an interest in using his influence to restrain some of these forces as he tried, until 2011, to cosy up to the West.

So why is Carl apparently happy to overlook this set of unintended consequences in pursuit if his argument that Western intervention in Libya was justified, because of what Libya itself looks like now?

It may simply be that he’s not aware of them, because they’re not headline news in the UK, but I suspect the greater reason is that his humanitarian ‘something-must-be-done’ instincts (which I share, deep down) drive him towards the uncomfortable position of having to set to one side inconvenient facts about what really happens when the West involves itself in wars without a plan to clean up after itself.

In part II of this I’ll be looking further at these humanitarian, act-utilitarian instincts – expressed by Carl but shared by many others, and in particular at whether there’s any potential for rapprochement between this position and the more dominant leftwing position (as expressed by Boffy), namely that intervention by imperial powers is always unjustified because those powers, focussed only on the interests of capitalism, can never take a “moral position”.   This won’t be entirely hatchet job on Carl, as I’m also uncomfortable with aspects of Boffy’s logical but uncompromising approach*, and think the answer for the Left lies ultimately in something a bit more nuanced than the one which seems content to ignore the human cost of ideologically pure sidelines-standing.

I’ll probably quote Arendt.

Further reading: an excellent summary and analysis of the current position in Northern Mali and the surrounds by Andrew at Al-Wasat

*A genuine question to Boffy if he’s reading: What does he make of the UN’s military intervention in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo to stop the advance on Goma of an ICC-indicted warlord?  Is that justified/welcome, in spite of the argument that  such intervention may only/mostly be being taking place to defend the routes out from the mineral mines which supply the people who end up making our mobile phones?

Absolutely no evidence at all of the French National Front being full of Neo-Nazis

June 23, 2012 11 comments

Recently I received some criticism for calling the French Front National (FN) a bunch of neo-Nazis.  I was told that the FN leader going as guest of honour to a neo-Nazi lovely ball in Austria was purely circumstantial, almost certainly perfectly innocent, and not a symbolic gesture of allegiance to the ideological roots of her father’s party , as I had suggested.  Even a bit.

Very reasonable criticism indeed, despite the FN’s ever-so-faintly neo-Nazi looking approach to citizenship based on European bloodline, which is probably just ironic, or post-ironic.

Given this, I make absolutely no Neo-Nazi claim about a party with a member like the charming M. Thierry Maillard, responsible for the poster on the left (the one on the right is a 1939 Nazi one, just in case you wanted to compare):

After all, I accept completely the charming M. Maillard’s explanation that it was all the work of a graphic artist working for his ‘educational group’ La France Nationaliste (absolutely no links to the Front National, oh no), and that M. Maillard really had no idea about the poster’s design roots before he was told about them. 

I mean, blond Aryan boys are what you’d expect any graphic artist to put on your campaign poster for you, surely, if you wanted to develop a youth movement committed to your revolutionary aims, aren’t they?

The fact that the poster remains available for download on the group’s website a year after its publication is, I’m sure, a simple oversight, as is the decision by Marine Le Pen’s party not to seek any disciplinary action against M Maillard (other than a suspension for scrapping with a journalist, but that can happen to anyone). 

Mme Le Pen did, after all, take firm action against an FN regional councillor, M. Alexandre Gabriac, photographed giving a Nazi salute.  The apparent discrepancy in approach to the two men clearly has absolutely nothing to do with Nazi saluter M. Gabriac coming from the Rhône-Alpes region (notoriously loyal to Bruno Gollnisch, who lost out to Le Pen in the FN leadership contest and whose supporters are now crying ‘purge’ after several explusions), while M. Maillard is a Le Pen loyalist from the Reims area.

Equally, I accept in full the explanation of Pascal Erre, a member of the FN’s national political office, and a candidate in the recent legislative elections, about his stepson’s interesting choice in tatoo:

M. Erre is categorical in his denial that he knew nothing about the lad’s idiosyncratic choice of ‘blood and honour’ body art, despite his wife’s acknowledgment that she knew all about it, and despite M Erre having driven said lad (also a FN candidate in local elections) to the tatoo parlour several times. 

I mean, asking what kind of tatoo he was getting wouldn’t come up in conversation during the ride home, would it, even if M. Maillard, who also happens to be from Reims, thinks M. Erre lying through his teeth, and that M. Erre couldn’t possibly not have  known what was on his stepson’s back.

What’s that you say?  Confused that someone accused of lying through their teeth about a Nazi poster is accusing someone else of lying through their teeth about a Nazi tatoo?  Well I am a bit too, but I’m sure Mme Le Pen can explain it all:

“Je ne sais pas ce qui a poussé ce jeune homme à faire quelque chose d’aussi affreux. Un Very Bad Trip peut-être ?” [I don't know what made this young man do something so terrible.  Maybe A Very Bad Trip?]

That’s cleared that up, then, It was all just Un Very Bad Trip.  Why she would want to comment on M. Erre’s driving skills, I’m not entirely clear, but I’m sure she has her reasons.

So nothing to see here, people.  No hard evidence at all of hardcore Neo-Nazis operating at the very heart of the FN, deliberately protected by Marine Le Pen.  

Nothing whatsoever to contradict the Daily’ Mail’s view that the FN has been rehabilitated under Mme Le Pen, and has moved on from its “unacceptable past”. 

I’m sorry I even mentioned it.

Why is the British commentariat so ignorant about the EU (updated)?

June 8, 2012 2 comments

Update: Faisal Islam from Channel 4 has responded with civility (see below with my own reply) and I accept fully his assurance that he a) knows all about the ‘six-pack” b) didn’t mean what I was assuming he meant.  I’m sorry that I appear to have misinterpreted what he was getting at.   I  leave this post up for informational purposes re: the SGP etc. (oh, and to show what a nice bloke Faisal appears to be).

Denis MacShane is cross about the British media ignorance of Europe:

I surf continental papers, and the difference between the range of arguments there and the single-voice clamour that it’s over and out for the euro and even the EU that we get from the UK press does not inspire confidence. I don’t know what is going to happen, but when the offshore-owned press, BBC and Sky all shout the same thing, I think I would go in other directions.

He has a point.  Take this latest wisdom from Faisal Islam of Channel 4, in which he argues that Britain may end up leaving the EU if banking union, as opposed to fiscal and monetary union, threatens the City of London (an idea that George Eaton at the New Statesman was quickly keen to make his own).  Of fiscal union, Faisal says: 

A splenetic attempt at that (the Stability and Growth Pact) was made and then ignored in the first decade of the single currency. It is being reheated now as the “Fiscal Compact”.

This is just plain wrong.

The Stability & Growth Pact (SGP) is very much alive and kicking.  In its name, a ‘six pack’ of regulations came into law on 12th December 2011.  I have already covered what is in those regulations (technically, five Regulations and one Directive).*

Furthermore, a ‘two-pack’ of regulations, aimed at establishing surveillance measures for Eurozone countries in relation to the rules set out in the six-pack, are currently under debate in the European Parliament, with the Social & Democratic Group in the parliament making strenuous efforts to ensure that growth measures are sufficiently safeguarded within the surveillance processes.  There is an important plenary vote next week.

This may not be big news, but it is important news, reflecting the change in emphasis towards growth in the last few months, and a serious ideological struggle at the heart of the three main competing EU institutions. 

For a serious economic commentator apparently not to know that it’s even happening, and to suggest that the Fiscal Compact has in some way replaced the SGP (as opposed to being a pre-election stunt by Sarkozy, in the knowledge that the SGP legislation was in train anyway), is really quite poor.

Perhaps Faisal, and the rest of the commentariat, should read Though Cowards Flinch.  At least we try to keep up with actual events, rather than what fellow commentators are saying **.

* For a very good summary of the differences between the SGP regulations and the Fiscal Compact (clue: not that many), see this Institute of International & European Affairs piece.

** Mind you, at least they’re better than Cameron , who yesterday admitted to being “baffled” by EU.  He really just isn’t up to the job, is he?

The 14 prophecies of Christine Lagarde

June 1, 2012 4 comments

George Osborne, you may remember, was a key cheerleader for Christine Lagarde when the IMF boss post was up for grabs.  It was his clever way of snubbing Gordon Brown.  

So did he choose wisely?

Well, Gordon did make a right balls-up when he predicted boom and bust was over.  but his crystal ball failure is nothing compared to Lagarde’s apparent failure to get anything at all right.  Nostradamus she ain’t.

[All translated from Jean-Jacques Chavigné's blog, Democratie et Socialisme (h/t @barsacq).  Any translation errors/interpretations are my sole responsibility].

1.  17th Aug 2007, Le Parisien:

It’s not a crash….What we’re seeing is an adjustment, a financial correction – brutally certainly, but predictable.

Four months later, Northern Rock is nationalised. A year later, Lehman Brothers goes bankrupt, and recessions sweeps Europe.

2.  5th Nov 2007 on Europe 1:

The housing crisis and the financial crisis don’t seem to be having any real impact on the real US economy. There’s no reason to think that there will be any impact on the real French economy.

In October 2008, the US is hit by the housing bubble burst and the banking crisis.  Unemployment rises to 10%.  By the end of 2008, the recession has hit France and unemployment reaches 10% there too.

3.  10th Feb 2008, at G7 in Japan:

We don’t foresee a recession in Europe’s case.

By the end of 2008, recession has hit the US and Europe, and the economic crisis is being felt around the world.

4.  15th May 2008 on Europe 1:

 This morning you have on your programme a Minister for the Economy [Lagarde] who is overjoyed, to tell the truth. I’m especially happy for our country [as a result of a revision of the 2007 growth figure].  By contrast, European predictions for the deficit in France are outrageously pessimistic.

By the end of 2008, the deficit reaches 7.5% of GDP, and 7.7% by the end of 2009.

5.  16th Sept 2008, press conference:

[The crisis] will have no recognisable or calculable effect on employment or unemployment levels.

In 2009, unemployment in France goes above 10%.

6.  10th May 2010 on Europe 1:

We have decided to send an extremely strong signal to the markets to protect the euro. I’m convinced the mechanism will work.

That was when the first rescue plan for Greece was being put in place by the IMF, and before Ireland (Nov. 2010), Portugal (Spring 2011), the second bailout for Greece (end of 2010) and now Bankia in Spain.  

7.  25th June 2010:

France’s AAA credit rating is stable.  There are other AAA rating which are less stable.  I look to the other side of the Channel, for example.  France’s rating is not under threat.

In January 2012, France loses its AAA rating. The UK keeps it.

8. 8th July ’10, Aix-en-Provence:

To the question of “Are we out of crisis?’ I replied in English at the St Peterburg Forum “We are in the middle of the beginning of the end” ; and I think that about where we are.

By the end of 2001, under the Merkozy austety plan, recession is knocking on the door of all European countries once again.  By the beginning of 2012, even Germany is not being spared.

9.  9th July 2010:

I’m convinced that France will keep its AAA credit rating.

In January 2012, France loses its AAA rating.

10. 19th Dec 2010,  De Tijd:

Debt restructuring is not the order of the day within the Eurozone.

By the end of 2011, the Greek debt has been restructured.

11. 25th Jan 2011, Davos Forum:

The euro has reached an important point, and the Eurozone now has the worst behind it.

In May 2012, the Eurozone is on the edge.

12. 13th Feb ’11, to Der Spiegel:

You’re on the wrong track.  As long as I’m in this [ministerial] post, France will never lose its [AAA] status]

In January 2012, France loses its AAA rating.

13.  13th May 2011:

All the indicators are showing green.

By the end of 2011, France is in recession, and unemployment is 10%.

14.  4th June ’11, Télérama:

To protect the weak from the strong. That’s the essence of liberalism.

By May 2012, Lagarde apparently has a different view of the need to protect the weak, when asked about the impact of austerity on Greek children (Guardian interview, 25th May ’11):

Well, hey, parents are responsible, right? So parents have to pay their tax.



Categories: News from Abroad

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