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.

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Bugger, blast, bugger.....!!!!

Sometimes, you just have to feel that life is conspiring to make ones unceasing quest for a quiet life altogether more difficult than it might be. I sometimes get to the end of the week feeling like a medieval pilgrim who has reached his journeys end having overcome all manner of difficulties and challenges, most of which seem to come in one form or another from South West Trains.

This week though, this week has been different for things have been breaking and each and every one has been dammed irritating in it's own right. First, something in the back went delivering what felt like 20,000 volt shocks down the leg to a tingling foot. I then naively took the advice of a well meaning friend and went to see a not so well meaning chiropractor. £75 poorer and I now know what a potato feels like when it's being mashed. Still, the pains gone. 

Next, and in no particular order, the internet went at home for which BT are only going to charge me £200 to pop over and see if it's their fault, the spin dryer went apparently, (not sure what that is), the driver belt went on the lawn mower and the dishwasher blew up, (by that I don't mean Mrs Flashbang went bat sh*t crazy; it's just another broken machine in the kitchen). Then the sat-nav went in the Land Rover. I mean for goodness sake, anything but the sat-nav, it's saved my marriage on countless occasions. Quick off the mark, Land Rover said they could fix it in double quick time and promptly ordered the spare part. Yep, they ordered the wrong spare part so I've now got a week to look forward to being navigated around the Highlands by an easily distracted teenager. 

This may explain why, on arrival at our destination earlier, after a 9 hour drive, we guaranteed that having put a bad week behind us at the other end of the journey, we started this week with another irritating little piece of bad luck.

I got pinged by the local polis 40 yds from the hotel after a 565 mile journey.

 

Clearly, the brave boys of the Grampian Constabulary in Banchory have been chatting with the boys of the Hampshire Constabulary in Liphook because they employ exactly the same tactic of pointing their cameras at people driving out of the village, sneakily locating themselves around a corner and under a shady tree. As I explained before, most people might think the sensible thing to do to elevate speed awareness and pedestrian safety would be to tackle speeding drivers entering the villages but no, these boys have obviously thought the problem through and figured out that the best way to raise revenue is to ping motorists on the way out when they're anticipating the higher speed limits, and forget the pedestrians in the village.

At least they're consistent.

 Lets hope the salmon are somewhat less proficient in camouflage and concealment.