Corbyn is right; but for all the wrong reasons

Have we really thought this through Mr Cameron or is it about gleefully watching Labour rip itself apart?

MP’s are expected to approve airstrikes against the Islamic State today. In an unexpected turn of events I find myself in agreement with Jeremy Corbyn. He is right, but for all the wrong reasons.

The domestic narrative has been driven by the media and Conservative party into a direct assault on Corbyn’s integrity and worth as a party leader. Unfortunately, the Middle East cannot be distilled down into soundbites and 3 minute Janet & John segments on the ten o’clock news. That approach pretty much created the conditions for ISIS to germinate and thrive in the first place. The general public have become more cynical and suspect about political intentions and smell a rat. At this point, airstrikes can in no way be described as having the support of a convincing majority of voters.

It’s obvious, except to the most clueless and sycophantic Members of Parliament, that additional strikes by the UK with the 5 or 6 strike aircraft that we can muster, (although in addition, 40% of UK airstrikes in Iraq are conducted by unmanned Reaper aircraft), will have little impact on an enemy that occupies territory larger than the United Kingdom.

There is no appetite in the Westminster ‘something must be done’ Brigade to committing ground forces and no long term framework, budget or plan exists for a nation rebuild should ISIS miraculously cease to exist. It seems ground fighting will be left to a shaky coalition of the Syrian Army, the Iraqi Army, the Iranian Army and the Kurds (who as it happens, are far from united themselves).  It’s not even clear if we have the assets to extract any downed airmen from occupied territory, except from Cyprus 500km away, or is that something we leave to the Russians, Americans or French? Instead, we have been drawn into a less than compelling debate that rests on, ‘everyone else is bombing and we should join in.’ No we shouldn’t. The French have committed themselves yet hold a patchy record in their support of previous UK operations. The Russians have thrown their hat in the ring but for motives which are not wholly aligned with our own. In fact, they are not aligned at all as intrusions into Turkish airspace and Syrian radars locking onto Turkish fighter jets prove in a continuing policy of attempting to destabalise NATO. In fact, the Russians are ramping up their involvement with a new airbase opening in central Syria. The Americans will not commit in the force required to eradicate ISIS at this point in the presidential cycle. David Cameron surely knows all this so why the stampede to dust up the odd $1,000 rusty Toyota pick-up truck with £100,000 Hellfire missiles? Frankly, I can’t figure it out.

The absurdity of the airstrike concept becomes apparent when we look back at previous air campaigns. In fact, I can’t think of any that defeated an enemy without significant ground assets except perhaps the final defeat of Japan and no one is going to drop two nuclear warheads, although there would be many who would support such a move. Whilst we have accurate weapons they are only as good as the intelligence from which targets are selected. Looking at the ratio of missiles fired to missions flown in Northern Iraq against ISIS, that intelligence is probably not as complete as commanders would wish. Moreover, the Russians have deployed the S-400 air defence missile system in Syria so we mostly won’t be flying anywhere unless they agree. That’s right, a major international incident could be right down to a half trained Russian peasant pressing the button marked ,’Ogon’!’

Interestingly, while we have conducted 450+ missions in Northern Iraq, Turkey, which has 100 F 16’s, appears not to be striking ISIS at all. The Arab states meanwhile (Saudi, Qatar, Jordon and the UAE), who were initially active in Syria seemed to have stopped their missions some months ago. Am I alone in thinking the UK could get sucked in here and be left holding the can with Russia, (who is using the pretext of attacking ISIS to further its strategic regional goals), on the other side of the table?

The largest fault in the debate however, is an incomplete appreciation of the enemy which is not a good basis on which to make decisions. ISIS is not a rag tag bunch of psychopaths  racing around the desert high on religious fervour. They have funds, they hold territory which is divided into provinces, they have received an unprecedented inflow of Jihadists from around the world and have a bureaucracy that is divided into civil and military arms. Many are well educated and among their number they have experienced military commanders. They think on a long term basis and strictly adhere to the precepts embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and pursue a return to 7th Century law and justice. It is wrong to describe ISIS as ‘un Islamic.’ It is very Islamic and therein lies the problem. We attempt to rationalise something that we don’t understand by calling them monstrous murderers or by using other descriptions that fit our terms of reference. In their eyes, medieval treatment of their enemy is the norm. The West has continually underestimated the ISIS threat on an intellectual level which is serious because their doctrine marks all of us, including 200m Shia Muslims and any other Muslim who drinks or sells alcohol,  wears Western clothes, votes in an election and so on, who are not one of them, for death. The caliphate has provided the structure for a rebirth of Sharia but in its most fundamental interpretation.  Caliphate propaganda also alludes to the belief that there will be only 12 legitimate caliphs with Baghdad being the eighth and that the armies of Rome will mass to meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria; and that Islam’s final showdown with an anti-Messiah will occur in Jerusalem after a period of renewed Islamic conquest. They believe they have an obligation to terrorise to draw us into such an apocolyptic  showdown. In that context, slowly degrading ISIS from the air may be the least worst option but that’s not something we have heard from the Prime Minister. Notwithstanding that, you can’t bomb ideas and you can’t bomb beliefs.

Just in case anyone has forgotten; we still have lads in Afghanistan - 2 Scots celebrate St Andrew's Day near Camp Qargha in Kabul.

My view in summary then, stop reflex responses to single incidents and work to create a political framework to commit sufficient international force by ground and air to eradicate ISIS and have sufficient long term funding to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure to sustain it independently. In short, get right everything we got wrong in Iraq.

In this letter to a constituent, Labour MP Andy Slaughter nails it. It is encouraging to read an MP openly articulating his reasoning prior to the vote but somewhat depressing listening to others who are too stupid, docile or misguided to think for themselves.

Dear Ms xxxxx,

Thank you for your email regarding airstrikes by UK forces in Syria.

After much reflection and research, and after listening to the views of many people, including constituents, fellow MPs and the Government, I have decided that I cannot support British military action in Syria at present, and tomorrow I will vote against the motion in the House of Commons that sanctions it.

It is my view that the eradication of Daesh from Syria, Iraq and around the world is a necessary process and one in which the UK should be engaged, including through effective military action.

While I am not currently persuaded that it would be lawful for the Royal Air Force to bomb Syria, I agree that this is arguable and it is not the principal reason for my opposing the proposed military action.

There are three tests that I do not believe the Government have passed, and that the Prime Minister failed to satisfy in his statement to the Commons last week.

First, there is no tactical plan for taking control of the area of Syria currently occupied by Daesh should bombing be successful in dislodging them, (which itself is questionable, given that bombing of that area by 11 other countries has continued for over 15 months). There are not competent, relevant or motivated ground troops who are sufficient to the task at present.

Secondly, there is no functioning international alliance that can turn short-term military gains into a programme for the peaceful governance of Syria. The Vienna talks are a start to such a process, but at present the aims of Turkey, Russia, Iran and the NATO countries are so disparate as to be chaotic.

Thirdly, the permanent defeat of Daesh in Syria requires the end of conflict, which is what allows it to thrive. Any short-term retrenchment will likely benefit the Assad regime, which is itself responsible for seven times as many civilian deaths as Daesh this year. That may mean a shift in the balance of forces, but it will bring us no nearer to resolution.

I want Britain to engage in: a concerted diplomatic effort to wean Russia and Iran away from their support for Assad, and Turkey and Saudi Arabia from giving comfort, if not actual support, to Islamist extremist groups; a peace process that allows non-extremist opposition to talk to the acceptable parts of the Syrian Arab Army and Kurdish forces; and a concerted attempt to cut off the funds and arms sustaining Daesh.

That is a very difficult, perhaps impossible, agenda, but to engage in bombing missions on the basis of ‘something must be done”, or even on the basis of solidarity, without clear objectives does not show sound judgment.

There are other arguments for and against intervention: that our contribution would be small, especially given the lack of military targets without the risk of civilian casualties; that we should support allies, whether they be the Iraqi or French Governments; and that we remain at risk from Daesh attacks on the UK, whether we take further military action against them or not.

However, the three points set out above are my red lines. I will, of course, review my decision in the light of changing events, but given the UK’s poor record of intervention in the Middle East over the past decade, I think that further military incursion should be approved only if a high burden of proof can be established.

Thank you again for taking the time to share your thoughts with me on this most important of issues. I set out my views on Syria and on the current situation in Palestine and the Gulf in a debate on the Middle East in Parliament yesterday, which you can read here.

Yours sincerely,

Andy Slaughter

Labour MP for Hammersmith

No, We Don't Have to Do Anything Actually

I would have a few questions for these lads..

So the UK is to accept thousands of Syrian refugees.

The media frenzy has leveraged up the emotional blackmail leaving the Prime Minister with no where to turn. He should have turned to the citizens who will again bear the brunt of the influx. If the Government chooses to act on whatever happens to be the latest issue trending on Twitter then good luck to them but it’s hardly statesman like. The dead child on a Turkish beach seems to have been the tipping point. That was the dead child on a Turkish beach proving Stalin’s dictum that ‘one death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic.’ The boy drowned after getting on board a Turkish boat run by Turkish smugglers in Turkish waters under the eyes of the Turkish coastguard. How does that become the problem for citizens in our towns and cities who already are swamped with previous waves of immigration creating overcrowded schools, GP’s and housing lists. Moreover, why get in the boat in the first place? If the family were fleeing war they had succeeded in doing that by being in Turkey. Ifd the father had actred so recklessly in the UK he’d now be in jail awaiting trial.

I have read a number of pieces on the web from locals suggesting that many of these refugees are not Syrian, Afghani or Iraqi but include Palestinians and others. Have you noticed incidentally, just how many apparent refugees are young men aged between 10 and 30 carrying the latest smartphones and wearing spic and span Nike trainers? One could say that anyone living in the Middle East could have refugee status, I wouldn’t want to live there but the line, a line, must be drawn.

Frankly, I do find it somewhat repugnant that we didn’t lift a finger to save the Yazidis when ISIS where hunting them down like animals but as soon as people turn up in Greece on News at Ten ‘something must be done.’

The causes of the crisis are wide and varied. We do know however that ill-advised action in Libya and ill-advised inaction in Syria are big contributors to the problem. Thank you Twitter. I wrote about them here at the time. I’ve also written over the years about the tidal wave of humanity on its way from north and sub Saharan Africa as a result of war, economic failure and climate change. The current problem is characterised by the media, especially the BBC who have lost all objectivity, as an urgent temporary crisis. It isn’t. We haven’t seen the beginning of this yet and just wait till the Indian sub continent hear there’s a new game in town. The UK is going to have to get a whole lot more selfish unless it chooses to completely change its way of life upside down. The Australians have gone down that road, we should urgently consider it.

One thing that Mr Cameron does have right is in focusing on the dispossessed in the camps rather than those besieging Hungary and Austria. That gives some basis of control and screening. Germany may retrospectively be moved to consider this when they collectively  realise that they may have opened the doors to the biggest Trojan Horse in history.

Let’s be clear about one thing. The UK has had open doors for many years but with no planned increase in infrastructure to support the soaring population. In the eighty years between 1851 and 1931 the population grew by about 1m souls and between 1951 and 1991 by 2m. Following the relaxation of controls by the Labour government some 3.6m immigrants arrived between 1997 and 2010. That’s more than the net total in all of our previous history. Thanks Tony.  The Office of National Statistics now estimate that as of last year, 8.3m people living in the UK were born abroad which is around 13% of the population. Don’t let any ranting old pop singer let you believe otherwise.

The lie down and cry Islington Liberals will of course be banging their very big moral drums but they will be the ones least affected. The poor bloody infantry in all this will again be the white working class in our poorest urban and rural areas. School places, accommodation, GP and NHS dentists lists are all already challenging as pressure on public services grows.  Mr Cameron seems to be aware of this given his reluctance to act until pushed to the edge. He should remain so for we are building up problems for ourselves in our social structure which are all of our own making.

Regardless of what they think at the BBC, I’m not alone in thinking this is not going to end at all well.

Understanding War

Bad guys

President Obama has just finished talking at the UN where he said the world must act to "reject the cancer of violent extremism." He also talked about the Ukraine, Ebola and the Israel / Palastinian problem but it is clear that minds are focused on clearing out ISIL.

I think many Western and Middle Eastern countries view the Arab Spring as a lucky escape. This new and very different fundamentalist threat though has them very concerned. Many players, or the way they present it, view ISIL as a pestilence that can be eradicated. I'm not so sure it will be that simple. What the papers here haven’t explained is that ISIL are well organised and well led to an extent that is little understood. They have a command structure and operate tactically on the ground to a strategic plan with strategic goals. They have many Chechen's in their leadership so any view of them being a bunch of bloodthirsty mad rag-heads is misplaced.  Its going to take a lot more than air strikes to clean this up.

Recent ISW update

Well informed reporting however is difficult for the passing observer to come by, I'm here to help. These guys, The Institute for the Study of War, send regular updates on the situation on the ground. You can also find updates on other security matters pertaining to the Middle East and Afghanistan and also some reports. The one below, A Strategy to Defeat the Islamic State, written by Kimberly Kagan, Frederick W. Kagan, and Jessica D. Lewis, is well worth a read. Knowledge dispels fear!

Syria; Chemical Weapons Disposal

Odd how tense things were a few weeks ago but now the media and politicians have moved on; it's as if the 800lb gorilla never showed up to rain on everyone's parade in the first place. Unfortunately, that much is now beyond reasonable doubt and he's still lurking out there. The issues aren't going away anytime soon no matter how much it would suit Washington.

The percieved relaxation in tension across the political and media environment, and reflected in global markets, is predicated on the agreement by Syria to list and subsequently dispose of its chemical weapons by mid 2014. It is perhaps useful to remember though, that this will very likely take years in practice. Further, it is worth noting that in reality, the manouvering of Russia to outwit and reposition itself against the United States in an effort to regain lost ground since the Cold War is hardly lost on the United States and it's allies.

The preferred method of disposal then is incineration which is a complicated technical process involving the separation of the delivery munitions from the toxic payload. This is made more laborious the older and more unstable the components are. Moreover, it is unlikely to be conducted on site. More probably the munitions will be moved to specialist international disposal sites, of which there are few, and delivering 1,000 tons of chemical and biological weapons to any given embarkation point is expensive, time consuming and requires many specialists, not to mention the security risks of movement in the midst of a civil war.

Destroying them within Syria is an option but would take many, many thousands of men to provide security for the operation in the midst of a civil war. The US DoD estimate up to 75,000 which would probably make Obama choke on his cornflakes. It is possible that destruction could be left to the Syrians with foreign technical help under the watch of UN inspectors. One estimate puts the number of inspectors required at 2,000 and all of those would need close protection. Of course, this option is also fraught with the risk that not all weapons will be recovered and the security of the weapons could easily be compromised during what would anyway, be a long operation.

In summary then, the Syrian chemical weapons problem is not going away. We’re now into a long term phase of negotiated disposal, (to be conducted amidst a civil war). It will be costly in time and money and be fraught with political risk at every level.

Mr Cameron, please note.


"The first such foreign policy defeat since 1782"

Last nights vote against intervention was a victory for Parliament who, for once, listened rather than heard and saw rather than looked. The lack of enthusiasm for catapulting us into conflict without a strong case being made to the country, without limitations and without a clear aim has been greeted with relief. Wisdom and maturity have prevailed.

The problem doesn't go away but there is a clear instruction to the government that having done exhaustive preparatory planning,  they must then engage and explain. We're not going to war off the cuff again. We value our country and the lives of our servicemen somewhat higher than the price of post Prime Ministerial American lecture tours.

The clear loser is David Cameron. The Prime Minister has a reputation in Westminster for being idle. He is thought not to anticipate problems coming down the tracks, (partly through not reading briefs thoroughly). This leads to ill thought out solutions hurriedly thrown together. If he spent more time working hard and less time on the beach, (more holidays than most Prime Ministers in modern times), he might not be so disconnected from the prevailing sentiment of the country, Parliament and indeed his own party. 

As my friend Stephen Lewis, (Chief Economist at Monument Securities), points out, 

"Before Mr Miliband and a number of Tory MP's frustrated his plans,  Cameron argued that any military action against Syria had to be ‘specific’.  ‘This is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war,’ he said.  Whatever the rights and wrongs of Mr Cameron’s stance, one thing is clear.  It would not be for him alone to say whether the outcome would be war.  That would partly depend also on the reaction of Syria and its allies to what they would see as NATO aggression.  One could sympathise with Mr Cameron in the position in which he found himself.  He knows that, to win general support for military action against the Syrian regime, he must at all costs avoid presenting it as the prelude to the kind of adventures Blair initiated in Afghanistan and Iraq.  There is every reason to believe he is sincere in thinking that Syria could be attacked with no further consequences.  Even so, it is disconcerting that he should contemplate action while taking for granted that war will not ensue.  In this, he shares a mindset that has developed within the ruling elite in the developed world.  It does not occur to members of this elite that their decisions might have results other than those they intend.  Consequently, they make no adequate provision for contingencies." 

That he has failed in his first big test creates a pretty big political problem for him. He is not without enemies within his party and many will now be less timid in articulating their concerns. It should be an interesting party season.

Having put a stake in the ground, perhaps the Americans will now prove to be more supportive going forward on issues like the Falklands and Gibraltar

Markets meanwhile, are somewhat relieved that short term uncertainty is removed yet have still to even countenance longer term political change which may result from the events of this week.

Congratulations though, to all those MP's who had the moral courage to stand up for what they believed in. 

Syria; So What?

Camera's in Westminster; Press Are On The Start Line Then

"UK Politicians . People who don't hesitate to bomb other countries on the flimsiest of evidence but spend years worrying over whether to implement a badger cull . " Army Rumour Web Site

Our Nobel Peace Prize winning President used to think in 2007; Obama:  "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."  With Boehner tearing off a letter signed by 118 Congressmen, (18 Democrats), making it clear that keeping the legislature in the dark is not going to cut it - the UN Sec Gen throwing up obstacles - and now his chief ally Britain having difficulties in going straight to war..... then Barry is taking his time for good reason.  And we should be thankful for his reticence in foreign matters, even if it is indecision.  When Russia and China start sounding reasonable it is time to think again.

We are now in a phase where all involved, on all sides, will seek to confuse, confound and mislead. This is all part of the disinformation and deception campaign which of course, makes perfect tactical sense. This will inevitably create a lot of market noise and markets will ebb and flow with each wave of news, regardless of its veracity. That is, right up until we wake up to hear on the news that Tomahawks are jinking down downtown Damascus.

Surprisingly, Milliband has for once caught the national mood and suddenly become the hate figure in Westminster as a government source tells the Times, 

“No 10 and the Foreign Office think Miliband is a f****** c*** and a copper-bottomed s***. The French hate him now and he’s got no chance of building an alliance with the US Democratic Party”

Why? Here is where things stand this morning. Miliband’s threat to oppose the government means the PM doesn’t have the numbers for military action. Today’s vote will now not authorise intervention, there will have to be a second vote next week if Cameron wants war.” Guido


UKIP Says No To War In Syria

As one chum put it "I never like to see that snivelling millipede score a point but someone had to stop Cameron".  Labour were very close to forcing a major defeat on the Govt which resulted in the motion being moved to one of principle today; but we should expect the Mother of all Parliaments to put on a fine display of calm reason.  Open goal for UKIP as well as Nigel Farage echoes the fine words of Lord Tebbit. (Does Cameron really want to lose his summer of easy victories over Labour and the virtual disappearance of UKIP all in one fell swoop?).

" It was not the Assad government which declared war on the Syrian people. Over the years the Assads, father and son, had been authoritarians but by the standards of the Middle East they had respected minorities, not least the Christians. It would be a gross oversimplification of the very complex religious and tribal and ethnic divisions within Syria to blame the Islamists alone, but it was the more extreme Islamists who became increasingly restive at the deviant tolerance of the Assads and they who incited an undeclared war against it and Assad.

What the British and American governments have to ask themselves is who would be strengthened most by any proposed warlike action. If it were to be designed to weaken Assad, would it be a coalition of the moderates of all shades who might find a peaceful way forward, or the extremists who would more likely want to impose a far harsher regime than that of Assad before the uprising? And if despite the first wave of military action the Assad govt survived but became more & not less intransigent towards the rebels of all shades, what then?"

Of course, Sarin itself has a short shelf life once the precursor chemicals are mixed, and so Saddam theories are discountable. Production of Sarin has been a schedule 1 war crime offence since by forensic thought, we need to find a supplier with a chemical industry that produces organophosphates...such as sheep dip. That opens out the suspects......"


Syrian and US Assets (Bloomberg)

For the moment the Middle East Peace Envoy Tony Bliar (oh the irony -stop it), his press spokesman of old Alistair Campbell and it seems Sam Cam are the main proponents of the school of bomb them back into the middle ages. They might want to just check the above out as this will not be a Libyan style push over.

So who does this crisis help?  Apart from the obvious Sunni/Shia  push and shove; 

1. Obama as he may get his budget/debt ceiling through as Republicans may have to back down in all decency, (ok unlikely but may help if we are being really cynical) 

2. He gets to rig the FOMC again and wave Summers through (again bit of a stretch).

3. Israel as they won't have to be quite so nice to Palestinians in upcoming talks (though I think Netanyahu is right on everyone's case regarding Iran and setting easy precedents)

4. New boy in Iran can't play the peace card to western media and look all normal and nice - which by the way they have in condemning use of chemical weapons.  Unfortunately, they went on to warn Iran will attack and "burn" Israel if Syria is attacked - expect Iran to retaliate via unconventional methods e.g kidnappings via Hezbollah etc

 5.  Erdogan, Hollande and several others with "local difficulties" can divert attention.  As Rahm Emanuel allegedly said never let a good crisis go to waste - always an opportunity.

Meanwhile the US government  are leaking news of impending action on high value targets. The message being delivered to the media and to a public fatigued by war, is that strikes will be limited to high value targets. The last thing Washington wants is regime change because that would create the need for massive resources for a nation building clean-up, involvement in another civil war, another $1tr, probably 5,000 casualties etc etc etc

Obama is due in Sweden on Sep 3rd and then Russia for the G20 on the 5th-6th, the suggestion being that he’d like it all tied up by then, ie limited strike, (Stratfor).

However, other countries are quickly putting the brakes on incl the UK, (above), who at the moment, will struggle to get a vote through parliament without the report from the UN inspectors producing verification, (its not even finished). An attack without clear legal authority would be politically damming both here and in the US and that is thus far, also subject to the UN report. As time passes, domestic opposition here is growing and coalescing across an unlikely collective across the political spectrum.

There is an outside chance that the Russians might cooperate and help remove Assad. Russia still has a large presence in Syria and removing the head but leaving the body in place, (Army, security, intelligence & government), would avoid creating a power vacuum that would allow extremists to flourish. On current form, Putin is unlikely to acquiesce but you never know. For the moment, Russia has announced it is “adjusting” its Naval group in the Med, with Interfax reporting that  they’re sending an additional anti-submarine ship and missile cruiser. Putin and Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, announced they had a telephone conversation yesterday in which they stressed the need to settle the conflict by political and diplomatic means. Meanwhile, the French have dispatched the anti aircraft frigate Chevalier Paul “in the direction of Syria,” which probably means to Corsica for lunch given their parliamentary debate isn’t until next Wednesday. We meanwhile are sending six Tornadoes to Cyprus. Getting crowded down there though and accidents do, unfortunately happen.

Conspiracy theorists may wish to consider this disturbing article.

With regard to markets, an enormously complex geopolitical, religious and civil conflict is not going to be easier to understand over coming days. Markets will continue to trade in an erratic fashion with obvious sensitivity to headlines. Markets will however, want to believe in the “clean and limited,” strike and I tend to the feeling that shares will want to rally short term from here. Having recalibrated down in a somewhat disorderly way they now need to find their levels and re-establish their value based relationships with one another.

However, any rally would have to be quite powerful indeed to overcome the new intermediate downtrend which has taken hold. Much technical damage has been done. In S&P terms, be very cautious if we break down through 1627; above 1640-1643 would probably ignite a short bull run but the dizzy heights of the 1670-80 zone would make me very cautious again. I believe rallies will be sold and the debt ceiling talks, Asian contagion and Europe will all contribute to headwinds for equities. (Europe is the bad boy no one is pricing and crude will impact us all; crude especially is a tax on producers and consumers and spikes in the crude px have usually preceded shares being hammered, (1987, 1999-00, 2005, 2007,).

War lust antidote here.

In summary, the hopes of a clean and limited strike to deliver a bloody nose to the school ground bully but with no fall-out remains possible but is getting ever so more complicated with each day that passes. When I was a young officer cadet we were taught to ask the question “So what?” to every potential action, and then “So what?” to each outcome until we exhausted the process to come to a conclusion. So what? There are an awful lot of “So what?” strands to this wee planning and political challenge. 

Syria; Not Our Sandpit

Keep Calm..............

Syria has long been a rogue state with no love lost between us and them. It was a location for Provisional IRA training camps and a source of weapons for PIRA and indeed other terrorist organisations. Nonetheless, the logic for British involvement is flaky at best. David Cameron and William Hague cannot grandstand and assume moral ascendancy when we lack the resource to back it up. We don’t have the resource mostly because Cameron’s government followed a well established pattern over the past 22 years of squeezing Defence in favour of other departments. Currently, the UK has amongst its local assets Cyprus, but with no aircraft on it and the HMS Illustrious group.... with no aircraft. Interesting that the most vocal opponents of involvement in a barely understood conflict are current  and former people from the military and intelligence community. The most pro is apparently the Prime Minister’s wife.

That much of the current instability can be traced back to our previous interventions seems lost on our leaders. Those interventions, achieved very little indeed, especially Iraq. It’s also popular to make comparisons with Kosovo which is extremely misleading, given the huge difference in size of the countries and the ferocity of the current civil war in Syria as opposed to the low intensity conflict in the Balkans.


aving avoided involvement so far neither the US or the UK really want to become embroiled in an inter Arab 50 year religious civil war. Based on outrage from the most recent atrocities, (although gas has been in use in limited quantities since March), the “something must be done,” calls don’t take us anywhere beyond lobbing some cruise missiles through the ether to “teach them a lesson,” in some fantasy aspiration that only bad guys will die, (including no doubt a bunch of Russian advisors which could be awkward), and the rest will just give up. Given we haven’t even confirmed the “who,” bit never mind the “what then,” part none of this is credible. Certainly, one question that enquiring minds ought to be asking is “who had most to gain,” by murdering innocents by the foulest of means?” Assad? Really, when he was winning the civil war?

The US of course has plenty of war toys in theatre with another 2 carrier groups on route

Attacks on air defences, military installations, command and control centres and chemical storage and production plants from the air don’t in themselves remove bad regimes. That requires men on the ground. There is no appetite for that either here or in the US, (and with an Army falling to 80,000 we couldn’t do it anyway), both populations being tired of constant war for 20 years. Moreover, the scale of munitions required to destroy and suppress such assets is of a much higher magnitude than was used in Libya. Of passing note of course is that hits on chemical sites are likely to release said chemicals into the atmosphere which would create the collateral damage nightmare of all nightmares. Meanwhile, the largest supporters of the rebels, the Saudi’s, will, along with their allies, be nowhere to be seen. The British Army are not mercenaries to be used to further the geopolitical aims of a bunch of rich sheiks in a country that we don’t know, don’t much care about and have no immediate national interest which actually lies in supporting regional allies, not doing their job for them.

An assumption that we can be involved in an attack on a foreign country with no fear of retaliation is just plain stupid. Syria has always had a sophisticated security network and, potentially with the help of Iran, retaliatory action must be expected, both on the mainland UK and abroad against UK and US assets and individuals. Indeed, rumours to the effect that Hezbollah will begin taking hostages are already circulating in Beirut.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll on August 19-23rd found that only 9% of Americans support US military intervention in Syria, while 90% of British people polled opposed any intervention in Syria. While a re-elected second term US president can afford to ignore public opinion, this is not true of a British prime minister, particularly if a single western weapon goes astray.

Those most opposed to intervention then, could God forbid, end up being casualties of war....... in any of our towns or villages. Do not underestimate the violence which these people are easily capable of perpetrating. A senior figure in the Intelligence community told me three years ago that it was only a matter of time before a European city suffered a significant attack from a rogue state or terrorist group using WMD. He then, was counting the years on the fingers of one hand.

Markets, who are smarter than politicians, have figured all this out and its the uncertain path forward and unknown outcome in the Middle East which is increasing volatility across asset classes. European stress points appearing, Asian contagion and budget issues in the US don’t help an already difficult situation. That any action would likely be propped up by more QE is though, slightly irrelevant at this point. Historically, we do tend to sell off prior to conflict and then rally hard during and in its aftermath but that previously was based on quick and decisive victories. This will be anything but.