Our country is at war.
Historically, that’s what the RAF flying bombing sorties has meant. If this fact now calls for a different interpretation, I’d like to hear what it is.
Until I do I’ll be repeating the same old thing: Britain is at war. And I hope you’ll join me.
By doing so you’ll exhibit more clarity of strategic thought than HMG so far has shown, and it’s not getting much help from our commentators, expert or otherwise.
Witness Paddy Ashdown’s article We Must Embrace Putin to Beat Islamic State.
Unlike most pundits, Lord Ashdown, to give him his proper title, has served in the military. His experience in the Royal Marines and the Special Boat Section (as it then was) no doubt trained him how to slit a sentry’s throat without raising an alarm. But acquiring such tactical acumen evidently failed to sharpen Paddy’s strategic mind.
He begins by informing us that “war is a continuation of politics by other means”, and he graciously attributes this adage to its author, Clausewitz.
Now what? Now Paddy comes up with a truism of his own: military action needs to be backed up by politics and diplomacy to succeed.
So far, so good. It’s the transition from the general to the specific that catches Paddy with his intellectual pants down (British readers will get the reference, others may not, but they won’t have missed much).
According to him, in order to defeat the IS we need to draw both Russia and Iran into a broad coalition that mercifully already includes such powerhouses as Bahrain and Oman.
Russia has ample qualifications to join us at the table because “Sunni jihadism is roaring away in the Russian Islamic republics of Dagestan and Chechnya, almost as much as in Iraq and Syria.”
Strategy apart for a second, this statement is simply ignorant. In Soviet times Chechnya was Muslim as nominally as Russia was Christian.
The nature of Chechnya’s conflict with Russia was ethnic, not religious, and it goes back at least 200 years. More recently, it became ‘ethnic’ as in ‘cleansing’, for that was what the Chechens suffered immediately after the Second World War.
Hence the moment they could declare independence, in 1991, they did. The Russians responded in their natural, time-proven way: with violence.
Two wars later, one that started in 1994, the other in 1999, the Chechen population once again suffered massive atrocities, and Chechen cities – including the predominantly Russian-populated Grozny – were levelled.
As a result, the Chechens indeed turned to Islam in earnest, but it’s sheer folly to describe the conflict in Ashdown’s simplistic terms.
Subjecting a Muslim population to atrocities is a sure way of radicalising it, and one only wishes the Americans had learned that lesson when contemplating the criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Ashdown’s understanding of the conflict in the Middle East is also weak. He, along with HMG, seems to think that our only problem there is caused by the gang of AK-toting, knife-wielding fanatics calling themselves the Islamic State.
Paddy believes that this outburst of Sunni energy is so significant that a) we must do something about it and b) we can do nothing without securing help from Russia and Iran.
To show a certain breadth of thought, he acknowledges the wider conflict between the Sunni and Shiite factions of Islam, which is good. But what makes this our problem?
Divide et impera is the ancient law of politics continued by other means. Hence if one believes that all we’re observing in the region is an internecine war between two types of Islam, common sense would suggest we have nothing to lose and all to gain by cheering from the sidelines.
True, those IS chaps have beheaded a couple of Westerners and are threatening to stage a sequel or two. Two centuries ago this would have been seen as a legitimate casus belli, but these day it clearly isn’t.
In any case, if that’s all that bothers us, a few punitive raids by Western special forces, including those in which Paddy served with such distinction, could take care of it famously.
Russian special forces demonstrated how such things are done back in the late ‘70s, during Jimmy Carter’s pathetic shilly-shallying over the hostage crisis in Iran.
A few Russian hostages were taken at the same time, but there no shilly-shallying ensued: Spetsnaz immediately kidnapped the leaders of the offending tribe. They then sent various portions of the chieftains’ anatomy to their families, threatening to post the unused portions soon. The next day the Russians got their hostages back.
A version of the same approach would work here. Even though Sandhurst and West Point don’t teach their alumni how to detach testicles, this skill can be quickly learned on the job.
So whence this need to form a broad coalition? One would like to hope that, even in their present truncated shape, Nato forces on their own should be able to handle a few hundred eclectically armed and badly trained fanatics.
If we need the help of Russia and Iran for that, we’re in deeper trouble than I thought. But then Lord Ashdown doesn’t think we wouldn’t be able to achieve our tactical ends on our own. He feels Russia and Iran are essential to any post-war settlement in the Middle East.
Obviously the Second World War failed to teach us the danger of alliances with diabolical regimes, specifically Russian ones. Then Western appeasing vacillation in 1938-1939 created a situation where an alliance with Stalin’s Russia became a necessity.
But despots don’t enter alliances for free. The immediate price we paid was delivering half of Europe and much of Asia to the most satanic regime in history, while the deferred price was spending trillions trying to keep what was left.
Putin is now reviving Soviet imperial ambitions of land-grabbing domination. Since the 1950s the Middle East has been of particular interest to the Russians, for obvious economic and strategic reasons.
The strategy of Great Britain, when she still was a world power, was to keep Russia away from the Mediterranean. And now Paddy is agitating for us to advance Putin’s strategic aims – in spite of his nastiness in the Ukraine, which Paddy grudgingly acknowledges.
If Putin is drawn into the coalition, he, unlike Nato, won’t leave when the shooting stops. Invited to act as king maker, he’ll make himself king.
Our whole diplomatic, political and military strategy should be aimed at keeping the Russians out, not drawing them in – and the same goes for Iran.
If Putin’s price for his participation will be Russia’s powerful presence in the region, it takes utter naivety not to realise what the ayatollahs will demand for their help: the West’s acquiescence in Iran acquiring a nuclear capability.
The result of the Ashdown plan would thus be a Middle East dominated by the nuclear-armed ayatollas and Putin, now emboldened to press on with his plans to reverse “the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”
Calling this strategy ill-advised would be an act of charity that would stretch the most Christian of faiths.
A country should go to war only when her national interests are threatened – as are ours in the Middle East. But the threat comes not from the Islamic State but from the Islamic faith.
The fideistic aspect of it is astonishingly weak, but the resultant ideological bellicosity is as powerful as it is anti-Western. Depending on the geopolitical balance, this bellicosity ebbs and flows. It’s now at high tide, and this indeed presents a dire threat to the West.
Rather than encouraging the other deadly threat, that of Russian expansionism, we should stem the tide of Muslim aggressive energy.
If we feel this can’t be achieved by peaceful means, then war is justified because our national interests are clearly at stake.
This takes me back to the beginning: RAF raids on Iraq mean we are at war. We must acknowledge this first and then try to understand what we are fighting for, and against whom.
If we somehow reach the correct understanding that our true enemy isn’t the Islamic State but Islam, the strategy would write itself. We must recolonise the Middle East and keep it recolonised until we’re satisfied it has been pacified for a long time.
We should take over the oil fields, using the revenues to develop the economies in the region, offset the cost of the colonisation and bring the price of hydrocarbons down. That would also quell Putin’s imperial ambitions, or at least his ability to act on them.
It so happens that the vagaries of strategic balance at the moment are such that the West has the tactical wherewithal to execute this strategy. What we lack is the power of our convictions, or indeed convictions as such.
Also in short supply is the requisite common sense – as so persuasively demonstrated by Paddy Ashdown, the terminal sufferer from the terrible cognitive dissonance afflicting the West.