For a rollicking sea yarn it is hard to beat ‘Master and Commander – the Far side of the World’ by Patrick O’Brian. The film starred Russell Crowe as the Captain of HMS Surprise, fighting the old enemy during the Napoleonic War. In one scene the ships officers are sat around the dinner table, when Captain Jack Aubrey asks the ship’s surgeon his opinion on two weevils that have emerged from the hard-tack on a plate. Doctor Stephen Maturin, who is also a naturalist, ventures a description of them with the opinion they are identical. Captain Jack presses him to say which one Stephen would choose. Forced to make a choice he goes for the slightly fatter and longer weevil. “There I have you”, declares the Captain, “do you not know that in the Service one must always choose the lesser of two weevils”. With much laughter the officers toast, “The lesser of two weevils”.
This play on words of the maxim ‘the lesser of two evils’ has been proved to be lost on NATO politicians when it comes to the Middle East and in particular Syria. The UK and US in particular have let their obsession with ousting President Assad undermine and override the fight against barbaric ISIL. In this they are totally at odds with public opinion where common sense has prevailed because it is patently clear that whatever faults the Assad regime has, Syria was a modern and pluralistic society that respected the rights of religious and ethnic minorities. In no way is this intended to condone the repression of political opponents by the regime (which coincides with the various Muslim denominations), but this does not justify the obsession of the UK and US with regime change and being the champions of democracy that must be forced on peoples no matter what; even when they are not ready for it or it does not fit with their national psyche. After all, regime change (for which the UK and US have form) is strictly forbidden by the UN Charter. They may have relaxed their demands that Assad must go, but it is still their ultimate aim, and it is clear they have not thought through the end-game.
We eagerly await the results of the current Strategic Defence Review in the hope that this time it will be a genuine review of the real threats that face us. The SDR five years ago was a complete sham intended to cut the cost of defence, that resulted in the premature scrapping of valuable assets and a reduction in manpower. The main threats identified five years ago were terrorism and cyber attacks. Russia was not then a threat, but leaks indicate this time Russia will feature on the list. If this proves to be right, it will confirm that the Cameron Government has lost touch with the British public who do not see Russia as an enemy or a threat. What they can see, despite the spin and propaganda, is that Russia has built up its armed forces from a low-level since the 1990s and the collapse of the USSR in order to assert itself and its interest against the threatening encirclement of NATO and the EU that was taking place in Georgia and the Ukraine. Vladimir Putin has made it a matter of honour to support ethnic Russians living outside Russia, but in the process has made some errors. However he can with some justification occupy the moral high ground and point to the overthrow of the legitimate government in Ukraine, followed by anti-Russian decrees aimed at those ethnic Russians in the Donetsk regions of Eastern Ukraine. The para-military on both sides of the conflict bear much of the blame for their provocative actions that have inflamed the situation. Any indication that they had been brought under control was dashed this weekend when Ukrainian and Tartar nationalists blew up power lines and pylons supplying electricity to the Crimea, leaving it blacked-out.
The imposition of economic sanctions on Russia has not had the intended effect. They are perceived as an act of aggression. They are also more detrimental to the West as Russia has responded with its own sanctions. Given the massive natural resources of Russia they can afford to sit it out and will not have to resort to any military action. In fact Putin has played his hand in a masterly fashion, and with his support for and intervention in Syria has swung public opinion in the West in his favour. Within Russia his satisfaction rating is extremely high, at levels that Cameron and Obama can only dream of. He has also courted French Parliamentarians who have called for the sanctions to be lifted. His support for France and the fledgling military alliance starting to emerge should be ringing warning bells in Whitehall and the Whitehouse. What we are witnessing is the emergence of a new Entente Cordiale that could rival the UK and US special relationship.
One of the criticisms of Putin is that he is not legitimate due to electoral fraud. In other words, that Russia is not democratic – the worst sin in the eyes of the UK and US who have vowed to spread democracy across the Globe. Carousel voting is cited as an example. This seems to have happened and is a variation of the ‘vote early, vote often’ tactic – except on an industrial scale where voters were bused from polling station to polling station. Christine West, our Leader, has confirmed on the basis of her experience living in East Germany that this is plausible. There people were forced to vote, with lorries being sent to take them to the polling stations. In any case there is a strong body of opinion in the US that claims Obama is not legitimate as his candidacy was not in accordance with the US Constitution. At the last Presidential elections it is claimed that there was massive voter fraud, such as manipulation of the voting registers and voting that exceeded the number of registered voters – a 125% turnout in one case. Some successful prosecutions followed, but none of the results were overturned. It was also reported that computerised voting machines had been programmed with a default settings, where voters saw their vote for Republicans changing in front of their eyes to Democrat candidates. In the UK we have had the scandal of the abuse of the postal-ballot, that a Judge declared worthy of a banana republic. And any electoral system that sees millions of UKIP and Green Party voters left disenfranchised is not worthy of the description – democratic. To be clear, we believe that democracy is the best system of government when it is not gerrymandered and the collective voice of the people prevails.
Vladimir Putin’s intervention in Syria has been a game changer. He also holds all the aces as he can claim that Russia is the only country invited by the legitimate Syrian government to enter their country. It is to be hoped that he and his advisers have given some thought to the future of Syria once ISIL is defeated. How is the aspiration of the Kurds for recognition and statehood to be met, given the vital role that the Peshmerga has played on the ground. The interests of Christians and the Yazidi, which was protected by the Alawite and Shia must be rebuilt. They must all be accommodated, not forgetting the Turkmen and the defeated Sunni allies of ISIL. Then there is the meddling of Turkey to contend with. The peace is going to be more difficult than the war.
These links from this weekend are worth viewing:-