Friday, 11 November 2016
Labour's attitude to Russia is infantile
Straight of the bat let's get one thing clear. I do not admire Putin, I do not sympathise with him. He is a bad man doing bad things. For Labour and a surprising number of largely europhile Tories this is reason enough to send us down a particular path that looks very much like a second cold war.
Yet there are other bad men doing similarly bad things, some of whom we supply with massive cahces of small arms, others we lease the most advance combat aircraft known to exist. We've done it for all of my adult life ultimately because if you are a politician it is better to have highly skilled highly paid engineering jobs in Lancashire than it is to have peace in the Middle East. We do it on the basis that if we didn't, somebody else would.
This is one example where we engage with the world as we find it, accepting those things we cannot change. This, for reasons that escape me does not apply to Russia. Russia has invaded Georgia and Ukraine and has taken command of the Syrian situation while jailing journalists and murdering members of the political opposition.
For some reason we take a principled stand against this. So much so that we are prepared to start a new cold war by pouring weapons, men and equipment into Eastern Europe. Over the last three years we have seen a mutual ratchet effect where we could see the stand off last seen in the nineteen eighties becoming the norm once more.
While we averted any direct confrontation it did lead to a number of messy proxy wars and mutual meddling in each others sphere of influence to the detriment of developing countries and at great expense. I would argue that it is a matter of urgency that we do not repeat this destructive cycle and should seek constructive dialogue in good faith even if Putin has ulterior motives. This is not appeasement. It is diplomacy.
The fact is that Putin has rather skilfully played the West. We have been elbowed out of Syria and we might as well admit that EU moves to annexe Ukraine have lead to the permanent loss of Crimea along with a land bridge. We might wish it were otherwise but horses have bolted and ships have sailed. Any aggressive moves to reassert ourselves would most likely result in an unwelcome escalation. And is this capitulation? Yes it is. And that is exactly the case I am making. We already conceded Syria and Ukraine. May as well formalise it.
Putin has rather skilfully exploited the West's inept handing of the middle east and has called the EUs bluff in Ukraine. Putin has shown that the EUs commitment to the defence and integrity of Ukraine is only skin deep and that the fragile EU alliance means that harsh sanctions are simply not going to fly. We've been messing where we should'na been messing and now is not the time to be demanding a rematch.
There is one glaring fact we must acknowledge here. Absolutely nothing is served by an escalation in tensions. We are not prepared for a war, we do not want a war and we lack the necessary social cohesion to fight one. The values that Putin is advertising to the catholic east of Europe are values more in line with them than those of the EU. The idea that the provinces of Poland are salivating at the thought of EU freedoms is an infantile self-delusion. These are countries that have a very active far right.
And by far right I don't mean half a dozen skinheads from Lancashire who spray swastikas in subways after drinking a pack of special brew. I mean straight up fanatical nazis. Nazis who have a lot of tacit sympathy because of events in the last century. Then there are Russian speaking communities who have no affiliation whatsoever with Western liberal progressivism. If the US can't even get a mandate for such values in the USA what makes the EU think they can install them in Poland or Hungary?
The EU in playing its dangerous expansionist games is winding rather a lot of people up the wrong way. And if that is true of Eastern Europe the same can be said of the Balkans which are still as bitterly divided as ever they were. The fact is that these are nations not yet ready to be joining grand alliances while they still have basic issues of self determination to resolve. And why should they take any gambles when Ukraine shows that the EU is all mouth and no trousers?
The fact is the EU has no stomach for war nor is there any particular consensus on a stance toward Russia. At every challenge the EU has folded and Russia wins small territorial gains each time knowing that there is no appetite for retaliation. In this you could either take a chest-thumping bravado line in that tyranny must be confronted but the net result of that is world war three for the sake of some rust belt that has no particular regard for the West anyway. There are times to pick your battles and thus far there is nothing worth climbing off the fence for.
We have to think longer term. Putin will not be in power forever. Moreover, if we apply principle with Russia then that same principle must also apply to Turkey which is engaged in equal and possibly worse conduct. But since the EU does not want an influx of refugees we look the other way. Labour is fine with that but still has it in for Russia.
If we are going to be hypocrites then we may as well go the whole hog and start cooperating. Russia is a broke ass country with a dilapidated military but it is resource rich and it has plenty of open space. Russia can be far more than it is and if we concentrated the sum total of our foreign aid on Russia in order to cope with the global migration crisis then we could have a major ally and for once Russia need not be the folk demon of Europe. I think an influx of investment would buy us more cooperation than outright condemnation.
I appreciate this is where there is a danger of drifting into political naivety the likes we have seen among left wing intellectualism during the cold war but as a general rule we should always be looking for other avenues than hostility. It's just a matter of finding terms of cooperation that are equitable for both sides. In the end money never goes to war and when goods cross borders, troops don't.
What the election of Trump shows, and to an extent Brexit, is that Putin's robust social attitudes are close to the public's heart than Western liberal elites whose power is on the wane. For sure we do not want to see persecution of homosexuals but when it comes to the jailing of journalists we are halfway there already. I would throw half of the FTs staffers in the slammer on competence grounds alone. (I jest).
The truth is that the West has gone too far down the liberalism rabbit hole and Russia is the equal and opposite reaction. To me this suggests there is room to meet in the middle and devise a new northern hemisphere order that includes Russia. If we are truly interested in peace then the inclusion of Russia should be our holy grail. Especially since the last decade of economic and social isolation of Russia has only made things worse.
The persistent need of the UK left to demonise Russia is to atone for its own sins and it is a means of virtue signalling. The virtue signalling aspect of the Labour centrists is an interesting phenomenon since it derives from a time when marginal voters were not convinced that Labour could be trusted with the defence of the country. To win over Tory voting waiverers it would require a more robust stance on defence and to provide proof that the communist sympathising militants had been well and truly ousted.
Since then we have seen a Labour government more bloodthristy than any since World War Two, and this the new generation of sabre rattlers are in fact not all that far removed from Corbyn in that they are fighting the battles of the 1970's. In the rush to prove that Labour can show muscular resistance to global evils they have become the most bloodthirsty bunch since the American neocons. The recent writings of Left Foot Forward's James Bloodworth (nominative determinism at its best) shows us that the ideological struggles of yore have snowballed encompassing the need to differentiate along with Blair's brand of liberal interventionism.
The result of this is a corp of young turks on the left who have distilled the modern power struggles between the West and Russia down to a simple sentiment. "Russia is bad". Russia is nasty to gays. Russia is nasty to all the favoured liberal causes. And this is what compels them to risk full blown confrontation with a very real military power that could very easily plunge the world into its third bloody conflict. It's infantile.
We saw this best expressed by Hillary Benn, a shadow of a man desperate to distinguish himself from his great father. A man whose insecurity drives him to plea for the useless bombing of Syria in solidarity with the French who are engaged in equally futile gesture strikes over Syria. Russia controls the situation on the ground, they control the airspace and those targets we choose are those targets where the risk of confrontation is minimal and the risk of civilian casualties is zero.
This is the West's new mode of non-intervention intervention. We send out the bombers to give the impression that we are striking at the heart of evil when what we are actually doing is wasting a lot of time and money at the pleasure of the Russians who dictate when and where we can strike. In foreign policy terms we are simply playing at it; playing infantile games with high technology to zero effect. If ISIS is being repelled it is down to the bravery of those Kurds and Iraqis on the ground who have finally got their act together.
What has become clear is that the West has lost moral authority not just in the wider world but at home too. We have substituted foreign policy for charity and virtue signalling and we have lost the ability to act in the national interest. Our strategic abilities are muted and our priorities are skewed.
At the heart of this is the schism between our national destiny and the phoney EU value system. This we have voted to resolve and in the wake of that we must re-evaluate all of our options even if that means doing a deal with the devil in the greater good. One thing is clear though, Labour lost the right to wag the finger at authoritarian regimes the moment it became the unofficial policy to subvert the referendum. If their unstated aim is to undo the biggest electoral mandate for a generation then it seems Labour has far more in common with Putin than they would care to admit.