Archive for the ‘world affairs’ Category

Syria: Iran holds the answer, not Russia

April 11, 2017

Christopher Lee

London11 April 2017

The White House is confused about Syria. It does not know what it is supposed to think which, is a difficult position for President Trump having ordered the cruise missile strike.

It gives every indication that the President of the United States knows nothing about the Syria Situation and cannot measure up to being a real President – one at whom the buck stops. He can be briefed. But he does not understand power beyond running Trump Property Development.

Here then is a simple briefing for the man who has everything but displays nothing.

The Trump Administration (and it seems the British Foreign Office run by Boris Johnson also) believes that the way to fix Syria is to hammer the Russians and then bring them on board.

Wrong.

The people to be sorted are first the Iranians, then the Saudis. It is true that the Russians appear to be the muscle in President Assad’s punch against the rebels. But the real and long term allies are not the Russians. They could change sides any day. The real war chums are the Iranians.

The Iranians are Shias. Assad through his Alawite family are Shias. Iran is the proxy war fighter of the Middle East. Iran sees the battle with the rebels as a battle with Sunnis – therefore this is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia (Sunni ruled) and Iran.

So how do you fix it?

America has to deal with Iran by saying Assad can stay but must run elections with Iran providing security.

A deal has to be done with Russians to maintain its port, the only constant access it has in Med. That is not difficult. Apart from anything else militarily, satellites can have a permanent watch on the Russians alongside and produce on-the-hour Intelligence of capabilities.

Also, by leaving the Russians in Syrian (they were there anyway) America would be tacitly accept that the theatre map of today is the one to work. A treaty would be produced involving Gulf Council. Syria, Iran, Russia and US and it will reviewed in 2 years.

All sounds simple and of course it is not. It could take another couple of years to fix and the real hope of a solution – a palace revolution in Assad’s own house – has to be hoped for. It is the only chance of a long lasting peace.

There is one simple fact that fed to Mr Trump may give a thought to play with: he believes the sarin attack was bad news. Yes. But every day there is worse. Conventional weapons kill more and maim more than a chemical attack.

Last month the Syrian airforce dropped 495 barrel bombs and killed more Syrians doing so than died in the gas attack. Last year the Syrian airforce delivered 12,958 barrel bombs. Mr President ask why the US (and the rest of us) did nothing.

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Why Trump Bombed Wrong Bomb

April 7, 2017

 

Christopher Lee

London 7 April 2017

President Trump called Prime Minister May and said this is what we have in mind. Prime Minister May said Go for it.

Defence Secretary Fallon took a call from Defense Secretary Mattis who said he was putting 59 cruise into the Homs air base. Defence Secretary Fallon said Have a good one.

President Putin sat by the phone. No one called.

This morning (Friday) it was all done. The newly shaped National Security Council of generals in Washington (McMasters, Dunford, Coats, Mattis) had a good day.

The President needed to respond to the gas attack on Kahan Sheikhoun. He needed to back away from Obama policy of do nothing. Mr Trump was, maybe still is, an ideal man in charge on the day for the generals.

Donald Trump suddenly had his top people asking Mr President, what do you want us to do?

Man alone eats hog, was how Willie McCobb used to say it when he ran the Mississippi Delta. Big appetite for power but it fades when you’re the only one at the hog roast. In crude terms that’s what has happened.

So two questions: who gets what out of the US response? What happens next?

Syria: The destructive power of that attack could destroy President Assad’s palace and bunker in Damascus. Assad knows now that Russia cannot be guaranteed to defend him. There were Russian anti-missile systems at the Homs air base. No attempt was made to fire them. The US isn’t afraid of Russia.

Russia: They read Trump wrongly. His policy on Syria has not changed. Still no boots on ground. But his readiness to do something Obama would not do (one-shot game changing) they never anticipated. Putin will need revenge and that can only be diplomatic and he has no options.

Iran: In the Middle East Iran is the most feared state after Israel. Iran controls or backs policies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen and threatens others in Saudi Arabia and Israel. Iran is protective military cousin to Assad. Iran has failed on this one. It has lost image among other countries. It will try to freeze on bi-lateral agreements with the United States, but Trump is now a tried and tested arse-kicker.

UK: Other NATO and European countries did not get the calls from Washington. The past 24 hours showed Washington regards London as people on-side, trustworthy. Downing Street matters. Mrs May did well to be the first into Trump’s Washington. It rings Thatcher-Reagan times.

Next? We are to believe this was a one-off. It happened because Assad, or whoever in his bunker ordered a gas attack and the way the Western world reacted. This in itself compares ideologies.

A gas attack kills fewer people and cause less long term wounds than a 500lb conventional bomb raid.

Yet in the West, still with images of World War One, gas is a far more sinister weapon. It is illegal whereas a conventional warhead that can cause far greater catastrophe is polished and sold to anyone at public annual exhibitions.

Therefore, logically, America should be cruising every Syrian bomber airbase. But warfare obeys made-up rules.

The world doesn’t think about the gassed child who got a shot of atropine in time and will be back at school next week.

The world doesn’t compare that poor wretch with the kid in the conventional and legal bombing raid with both legs blown off for the rest of his or her life and a demolished hospital that cannot save the rest of the family. This is really the story of the past 24 hours. We all got mad with Assad for using a wicked weapon whereas the bigger killer goes unpunished. Trump has not got that far in the moralist’s warfare manual. There may be worse to come.

Trump wanted power. How to respond to the sarin attack was his first experience. It is hoped he did not like it.

Trump: Needs a Good Hair Cut?

March 1, 2017

Christopher Lee

Washington, 28 February 2017

The best barber in London is Trumpers, aka Geo F Trumper. The best President in America at the moment is Donal Trump. Hold that thought for a moment.

So yesterday I watched The Best President address the Congress.  He was presidential. He was not the image at the inaugural last January who made most of us squirm at his sheer grotesqueness. He said a lot of the Okay things this time and as sure as the Tomb of the Unknown Norwegian is still in Lake Woebegone Minnesota, Congress believed him. Even the Democrats didn’t get as far as the angry protest they’d planned.

What’s happened? Simple. Trump got nasty, got elected, got it wrong a few times, got the We-Told-You-So editorials in the New York Times etc and is now listening.  What’s going on?

Trump was never out to become President on a political ticket.  He had no Republican agenda. Health Care Bills etc held no interest. Trump simply wanted to be President. That’s all it was. He has rubbished every institutional leader and policy maker and has proved the most damning and disturbing fact about modern Western government.  We are moving to the point where we no longer need politicians.

All Trump needs is Trumpism that means the senators and congressmen and women can get something for the people who vote for them every time a new Bill comes across from the White House.  It is called pork barrelling. Take defence. $54billion extra means that everyone on the Hill will get something out of it for the small or big defence defence companies in their constituencies. There’s always something to chew in a hog roast – pork barrelling.

Trump has turned the corner into the corridor of the re-electable Presidents.  But in the Nation’s Capital there is a better story than that hoofing along the smart brunch tables of Georgetown.

Maybe Donald Trump only wants a single term. Why? Because he has someone in mind to succeed him.  That person is another who thinks we are done with the need for politicians. Trump knows he got elected in the excitement for something new, something different and something that was not Hilary Clinton or anyone else. So what is the Trump Plan?

He stays for just one term and then his Manhattan born daughter Ivanka runs for President.  That’s real dynasty and if he can from now on get it right it could happen.  Trump’s numbers are going up. Regular Democrats and Republicans are going down.

Now back to the demon barber. Trump’s image is to be changed, slightly. True. You heard it here. He needs literally brushing up.  So where does he go for his makeover? On the day he goes for a state banquet at Buckingham Palace, Donald Trump keeps the photo-op of all photo-ops. He sits in the top right hand chair (the smartest) at Geo F Trumper’s salon on 1 Duke of York Street and get’s his cool all-American presidential short back and sides.

Duke of York Street of course is named after the royal general who marched them up to the top of the hill and marched them down again.   Just what President Trump has been doing.

 

 

Trump: Is he really that scary?

January 16, 2017

 

Christopher Lee

New York, Sunday 15 January 2017

The elite I trust. They taught me, commanded me, trashed me. So when all else has failed I have asked them, read them, listened to them.

This week, the elite outside continental USA tell me President-to-be -Friday Trump (PTBF) is a scary guy, should not be President of the USA, is grotesque, is intellectually corrupt and we should leave town Friday.

I wonder – meaning: I wondered at their confidence to say all these things and, I wonder if they are right.  After all, the experts all said Trump would never make it to be PTBF.

So this comes from a weekend tour of my Harvard haunts, every column that could be read over Georgetown brunch and a couple of sours in Charlie O’s plus weak tea in the back house in that place on 59 West 44th Street where Joyey Margolies who says he ran for Swifty Lazar has a friend on the Wall Street Journal who knows the real deal on Trump.

Here’s how they tell it. Trump will cancel the even limited 2-way Intelligence Street between London and Washington and the 5-eyes Intelligence network that takes in Australasia even though his people plan a major military deployment in the Southern Ocean.

Trump would/will bomb North Korea’s warhead and rocket development bases even though the immediately retaliation could take out a 30,000 US troop contingent in South Korea.

Trump admires the way Putin has fixed Syria about which he knows little and cares less. Trump will defy US doctrine and team up with Putin to solve global issues.  Russia is on verge of bankruptcy so Trump will lift sanctions.

Trump will threaten but not destroy Chinese military coral reefs in South China Sea and will confirm a major and permanent  bomber and amphibious deployment in Australia’s Northern Territories to which the Australians will agree.  Trump will encourage Japan to scrap restrictions on long distance military deployment and build nuclear weaponry  thus threatening war with China.

The above is just a taster to add to the very European view that the man should never be President.

But pause for a moment. Every single thing Trump scares us with has been, more or less, US policy for the past 40 years.

The US Intelligence people have always ignored the 2-way street.  North Korea has always expected a US attack – part of the reason why it’s building a nuclear arsenal (using the Pakistan model of megatons mean respect).

Every president since NATO’s formation in April 1949 has criticised European contributions and threatened to pull out. And did not Reagan in his October 1986 Reykjavik Zero Zero nuclear summit with Mikhail Gorbachev propose hand-in-hand solving the world gone mad?

But say the experts, especially at Harvard and in Charlie O’s (the connection is a whiskey sour so more obvious than you think) before was all about the nice, reliable guys.  O yes? LBJ? Nixon? George W Bush?

Just read his lips as George Herbert Walker would have said.  PTBF is not saying anything the earlier guys did not say. Maybe he’s got bad manners.  But then so have the guys he’s calling sad sad sad.

Joey Margolies learned from Swifty Lazar to always follow the money. The experts are losers. Joey Margolies is giving 5-4 on a PTBF second term. Mind you, that makes Joey an expert.  Trump is not going to be as bad as the experts tell me. You heard it here. (So be careful).

 

Trump Likes Fake Story Allegations

January 11, 2017

Christopher Lee

11 January 2017, London

Has President-elect Trump been involved with prostitutes? Has Russian Intelligence proof that he has? Answers: No and No. Correction: No one has produced anything but unsubstantiated allegations. Mr Trump says it is nothing but fake-news and US Intelligence was acting like Nazi Germany for spreading allegations.

Did President Putin have anything to do with Russian hackers breaking into last year’s American presidential election. Answer: could be. Not just another unfounded allegation? Seems not. Who says so? None other than Trump’s nomination as US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.

Tillerson told his Senate confirmation hearing that he believed it to be a fair assumption that Putin’s people did hack into the system. Mr Trump told his news conference that Mr Putin should not have hacked into the US and he will not be doing in future.

That is about that. That is all we really know. But could there be something more behind all this claim and counter claim just days before Mr Trump becomes President Trump. Answer: most certainly.

Allegations that Russian Intelligence has evidence that there are Trump-Russia accounts that suggest greater contact with Moscow than Mr Trump has admitted and damning evidence of prostitute involvement are bizarre enough. Suggestions that the FBI believe all this comes in some detail from a usually reliable source Is verging on the unbelievable.

There has never been a lead into a Presidential inauguration like this. There has never been a decline in ratings for an incoming President like this. Mr Trump’s ratings are in the 40s. The out-going President Obama’s rating is 55. There is a steady stream of damning stories, fake or otherwise, that make Mr Trump the most embattled President ever.

But then that is the nature of these times in America. Mr Trump ran a sometimes grotesque election. He won. Mr Trump has faced and denied accusations that if they were true would have the Vice President-elect Pence taking over. But Mr Trump, far from running scared, is using the unsubstantiated allegations to his advantage. His view is that the corrupt state – from the FBI down – is exactly why he was elected.

Some in Washington who know the ways of the Nation’s Capital are putting big bucks on Mr Trump not surviving 4 years. There’s a truth seeker’s adage, always follow the money. On this occasion beware. Those same people who think Trump cannot survive are the same people who thought he could not get there in the first place.

As he ended his news conference, there was a frontier atmosphere that reminded us all that the whole White House thing had change. Mr Trump looked pleased and the news crews were scratching their heads. What should have been the hardest day for Mr Trump since November 8 seems to have been a triumph.

Mr Trump? Not Guilty. Everyone else? Guilty as charged under Trump Law.

A Grotesque Trump:Will he take us to war?

November 9, 2016

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Christopher Lee

9 November 2016

London

Is President Elect Trump as grotesque as he appeared to the rest of the world? So megalomanic that he could press The Button just to prove he could?

Before the pomp and ceremony let is not forget that Trump is still the man who called Hilary Clinton a crook and promised to have her jailed, who called US military losers, who made crude jokes about women, who said Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals.

Is that man also more than half of modern American?

We should answer these questions ourselves because almost all the experts got it so wrong.

When America votes for a President it votes on our behalf because we are tied into every issue faced by the White House. Trump is de facto President Elect of the the lot of us.

So what might he have in mind for us all?

Our first concern is security on its grandest scale. Mr Trump says NATO is a failure against modern security threats and that the majority of member states do not follow the 2pc of GDP defence budget guidelines. He is saying what most US Presidents have said since NATO was formed in April 1949. He is right. If an Alliance territory were to be threatened it would take ten to fourteen days to get a decision on what to do and even then any NATO decision would have to ratified by individual legislatures.

Promises of high ready state for 30 divisions is fine if you have the organisation to make it work and then command it.  NATO does not have that.  Score 1 for Trump.

Vladimir Putin? Mr Trump’s view is that you have to get along with Putin especially in the Middle East.  So watch for an easy photo-call after inauguration day on 20 January next year to say Trump & Putin have a plan to sort the remainder of ISIS. As for the situation in the Baltics? Not many Latvian votes anticipated in 2020 Presidential. Score 1 for Trump.

Big Business? Not surprisingly, Trump’s plans to scrap trade deals unfavourable to the US could have a longer term situation for the rest of the world. He will find that many of the trade deals he dislikes are so tied up that he is not going to get into them apart from a couple of headline incursions but none that will reduce, say, Chinese investments without which many US (and the rest of us) projects would sink.

The fact that stocks throughout the world fell on the news that he had won, can be dismissed.  Anyone with any money should buy all the stock they can today – at rock bottom prices.  By next week they will be where they were so profits all round and even bigger ones on the day after inauguration.

The are two truths to keep in mind: no US president since Lyndon Baines Johnson has made a huge difference to the way in which America is and its relations with its allies. The most important difference most presidents can attempt is the membership of America’s Supreme Court. That is the real guardian of American thought and persuasion and not the incumbent president.

The second truth is a reminder that in spite of headlines about the prospect of Trump’s finger on the nuclear button the Congress (now controlled by Republicans as will be the Supreme Court) can stop a president taking the US to war – and maybe therefore the rest of us.

Here is the warning: Congress has the authority.  The President Elect has just shown us all, including his own Republican Party who did not want him, that Trump does not do authority – other than his own.  A scary time to come especially from pundits who got it so wrong about Trump.

And the most scary question? What sort of America has voted for such a man?

Best go out and by some stock.

 

What Chance Russia & US Going To War Over Syria

October 10, 2016

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Christopher Lee

New York

8 October 2016

Think about the scenario: Putin needs Assad to win his civil war otherwise Russia will be chased out of Syria. So Putin supports bombing easiest and most telling targets – Aleppo hospitals.

US with help from the UK and France says this Russian tactic amounts to war crimes.  Putin gets mad at that and calls off nuclear warhead agreements.

The next stage? America within the NATO system reinforces that area supporting the Baltic States.  Moscow says that amounts to provocation.  NATO says it amounts to a sensible precaution and shows its Baltic allies as well as Russia that it will not abandon its obligations in the region. In other words: come closer Russia and we will push you back.

The next stage (reached this week)? Russia moves an Iskander ballistic missile battery  with a kilotonage level nuclear warhead capability into Kaliningrad – that is, next to NATO allies Lithuania and Poland.  This, as it is supposed to, raises tensions among NATO states in the region who do not know what next to do and mostly want to do nothing.

Here in New York, to use the diplomatic jargon, Russians and Americans are not nibbling the same canapés.  The negotiations over Syrian peace possibilities are abandoned. Even the never ending margin meetings of low level diplomats are nothing more than individuals reporting back to the Lavrov and Kerry front offices on who is saying what in private.

There was a rare weekend meeting at the UN over the weekend.  The French (one of the five permanent members of the Security Council) tabled a motion to stop the Aleppo bombing and open a humanitarian aid corridor.  It would have gone through if it had not been for Russia.  The Russian delegation had instructions from Moscow to veto any cease fire resolution, whatever the motives. Russia vetoed.

The Syrian ambassador Bashar Jaafari got up to speak and in protest at the whole farrago the British permanent representative, Matthew Rycroft led a largely Western walk out.  Rycroft turned on the Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin and told him, thus Putin, that his veto was a death signature on Syrians in Aleppo.  Churkin did not even look uncomfortable.

Talk to diplomats who spend their lives at this level and they talk in whispers, not to be secretive but to reflect the seriousness facing governments seeking the wisdom for solutions rather than the distinctions of triumphalism.

They talk of miscalculation, not in the UN chamber, but on what could become a battlefield.  A Russian or American aircraft shot down when both aircrews fly with instruction not to back off. An artillery commander unsure of his own rules of engagement and so a calamity occurs, such as the shooting down of the MH-17 airliner.

There are two truths whispered in the UN corridors: the Russo-Syrian offensive will succeed without hindrance from the US because no President is likely to commit a military action just as the nation goes to vote and anyway, no Congress would support it.

Secondly, Putin’s shifting of the Iskander launchers into Kaliningrad will frighten most European members of NATO into taking no action.

They say here that Putin can no longer be stopped in his Tsarist ambitions to have the fear driven respect of all the so-called world leaders.

There is a third truth: tsarism, historically, was so very vulnerable to miscalculation. Putin on the edge could turn miscalculation into determination and yes that is when the extra step that Lavrov, Kerry and the Security Council try to avoid will lead to confrontation.  The weaponry of war is this week in place.  The diplomacy appears very fallible.

 

 

 

General Nick Carter leads army into better battle

September 27, 2016

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Christopher Lee

Whitehall, 28 September 2016

The British army without Afghanistan is vulnerable.  Taxpayers ask what’s it for if it isn’t chasing Taliban.  They tend to add: especially as you didn’t get Afghanistan right especially the public image of that decade is charity events for soldiers with one leg. It may be unfair, but public opinion doesn’t do fair.

More is the pity when something close to brilliant is going on in the army and it is being led by one of the best army bosses for some time. To borrow Michael Caine’s script, Not Many People Know That.

The head of the army, the Chief of the General Staff has been for the past two years General Sir Nicholas Carter. He is a man who understands just how conservative is the army.  How it does not like change.  When things don’t move on then the young and good brains do not join the army. The army could  by this standard even become irrelevant.

So when Carter became CGS the importance for the army was that in his past job he was already thinking where does the army go from here and how can I get them to come with me.

For a man who had commanded in Kandahar thinking was not a problem.  In that command he introduced the concept of The Big Idea.  No Big Idea then you might just as well write test papers on why people still support West Ham United.

Carter has given the army the Big Idea. Come January 2017 the public will hear about new Army Doctrine.  They will learn about Carter’s ideas of Integrated Action, where junior and senior officers will ask everyone what will happen if they try something else.  Will it have a knock-on?

The General has already got his new command in one building in Andover and got people used to basic top down management.  If you want an armoured vehicle then you have to buy it yourself.  You need it?  Work out how to pay for it.

A general staff office of 700 colonels and above work everything out overcoming battles with tribal difference as cap badges matter but do not get in the way. This is an army that is relearning value-based leadership and with even the new command sergeant majors advising up to board level.

At a private evening meeting among army punditry this week, General Carter reminded everyone that unless you grasp change, change will grasp you by the throat.

This soldier has done more for the army than any single CGS in decades. Given the tray has been round with promotions, it  is unlikely he will become Chief of the Defence Staff. But for the moment, the army cannot afford to let him go go until the job is done.

If the general public could understand what has happened they would be amazed (not hyperbole). The UK’s too-small army is more innovative than ever, can teach the world to handle the new asymmetric warfare that is the modern security business.

General Carter came along at the right time. What he has created needs a bigger audience. Sadly one of the army’s weaknesses is the comfortable public relations system. Carter who leads by example proves that peace has its heroes. Someone should think of a way of teaching us how he has made it work.

 

 

Syria:Why Has the US Not Won the War?

August 1, 2016

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Christopher Lee

1 August 2016

New York

Why has the mighty US not won the war in Syria?  Missiles, drones, laser bombs, satellite Intelligence, allies from all over the world and still the war goes on.  Refugees are being abandoned.  Russia is calling the shots – literally.  President Assad Must Go posters in the White House have faded.

With all the military might that could destroy the world in an afternoon’s war gaming (and for real if worry struck) the United States has failed to do what it thought so easy in 2011.

President Assad was expected to step down with a few weeks of the demonstrations that spread from Daraa where the first real signs of protest had emerged.

President Obama had made it clear from day one in the White House that he saw the Middle East as a military and political quagmire where only the legacy of failure would survive. The pressure on America from within the reason was consistent on Obama.  He had to chose sides or risk even greater pressures from US allies like Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, apart from its oil and dollar attractions had become the centre of US military options.  The Saudi’s were and remain America’s political and military landlords in the region.

Obama ran out of stand-off options.  On August 18 2011, Obama said Assad should step aside.  That was not what the rebels not Washington’s allies wanted to here.  They wanted a sharp get out of town notice pinned on the Assad’s Presidential door. Assad was never going to pack his bags. Assad was not Saddam Hussein.  No Colonel Gaddafi.

The protest became an armed confrontation within months.

Opposition groups took up weapons. They killed 120 Syria troops.  The bodies were desecrated. Anyone who wanted to join the fight was welcomed.  The result obvious: a desperate and disparate armed opposition to Assad demanding support – political and financial and military – from the major outside players such as the United States, the United Kingdom, the Saudis, the Turks. Without understanding what they were doing, many of US allies supported the so-called Coalition against Assad. It was called a coalition.  It was nothing of the sort. It was split armed opposition that soon included al-Qaeda and then IS.

What went wrong from the start?  The so-called Western alliance did not understand what was going on.  The leaders, including Obama, were badly advised and no one could publicly at least stick firmly to ambitions because they did not know what they were and how to get to them.  The scale of the conflict demanded on the ground military intervention.  To have made that strategic jump would have meant unacceptable commitments from countries such as the US and UK only just out or still in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Furthermore, none of the apparently sophisticated military outside forces had any idea whatsoever how to fight Assad and gradually they did not trust the side upon which they would have to fight.

The internal coalition of opposition was being seen as a group who would in power run a bloodbath of revenge.  Obama and Co kept out other than mounting distant warfare against Islamist groups and arranging arms to rebels.  The insertion of Western special forces made little difference.

Then of course, the Russians arrived.  They backed the Assad regime, moved without any discretion rebel positions and helped destruct much of Western Syria.

The Turkish war against kurds was but a side show but an example that Syria had become a battlefield of such consequence that apart from downtown Damascus- a futile but telling description – Syria no longer existed.

And what have we got from desolation?  Assad in power. Russia the leading outside power. A proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. A refuge population that the world does its very best to forget – if ever it took notice.

There is one other aspect: the surviving rebel groups whose blatant ambitions neither suited American understanding of the conflict nor made military sense now hope with considerable fervour that Hilary Clinton makes it to the White House. To do what?

Whatever Hilary Clinton’s mood there is no way she wants to get involved in a tough military commitment anyway in the Middle East.  Moreover, Congress will not let her.  Hilary, who naturally thinks two terms as President is fine with that.

Two people know that for sure: Presidents Putin and Assad.  There is nothing that will get home political support that American and her allies can do.  Moreover, there is nothing at all in the latest military adviser’s think tank that will change that.

The armed opposition groups from 2011 are powerless figures at fringe meetings of What To Do About Syria. Today real opposition in Syria are mujahedin groups who have taken the 2011 rebellion much further. The ambition is not simply to unseat Assdad; it is to replace the government and its ways in Damascus with rule by sharia law – the other caliphate; but the commitment of Russia may prevent that.

Barring a palace revolution, the outcome looks simple: Assad stays in a possible split territory with Russia in much the same position as the United States is in Saudi Arabia.

Curiously, Russia’s position may therefore benefit America and her allies.  Mr Putin actually wants what American thought it wanted. The fact that President Assad is still there is therefore what Russia wants and what America cannot publicly admit it wants.

Terrorists: Publish Their Photos or Not?

July 29, 2016

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Christopher Lee

29July London

A terrorist slits the throat of a French priest. Newspapers and broadcasters throughout the world publish and show high definition photographs of the murderer and his partner. We know what they look like, their names, ages, something of their history and a nice quote from the knifeman’s mother who says that at heart he was a good boy.

The leading French daily Le Monde has announced (after the Nice terrorism)  that it will not give terrorists publicity and so will not publish their photographs.  The murder of Father Jaques in Normandy confirms that decision according to Le Monde.

The argument at Le Monde is that by publishing photographs the paper is in some way glorifying the terrorism. The terrorist becomes a celebrity.

By taking such a decision Le Monde’s editors have stepped aside from the code of so-called journalistic impartiality. Most societies regard the hounding, capture and even the destruction of terrorism as a role for the military, the intelligence agencies, the policy and the elected politicians.

By banning pictures – in theory starving terrorism of the oxygen of publicity – Le Monde has joined the fight against terrorism or at the very least changed editorial policy in the hope of helping to capture those who killed Father Jaques.

Le Monde’s editor Jerome Fenoglio says “We have to do this for all victims of the criminal organisation known as the ‘Islamic State’.”

The decision of an admired newspaper to publish or not sets it aside from other papers in democratic society. The Turkish government has this past week ordered the shut down three news agencies, 16 television channels, 23 radio stations, 45 daily newspapers, 15 magazines and 29 publishing houses. It is not uncommon for a government to restrict the media in a crisis.  It is very uncommon for a newspaper to impose self-censorship.  Moreover, the Le Monde decision is not a one-off.  There could be more to come because the editorial board recognise IS and other groups are not passing ideologies.

As Fenoglio puts it, “After the Nice Attack, we are publishing no more images of terrorists, perpetrator of killings and massacres, to avoid potential posthumous glorification. Other debates about our practices [as a newspaper] are ongoing.”

What about other news outlets?  Le Monde has not been followed. Le Figaro says it shall wait and see. British papers will publish everything it can other than the act of killing.  Equally, the head of the Quilliam Foundation (a think tank of radicalisation analysts) says it has been a great decision.It reduces the propaganda value of the terrorist.

So what are the practical ambitions and consequences?

It is a purpose of IS to gain publicity from an act of violence. Publicity tells a global audience that IS can do something and is willing to do something and that no one is safe from such acts.  This induces a varying stage of terror – a large part of any terrorist ambition.

Secondly, by running pictures, names and backgrounds of the perpetrators the news outlet may spread among readers further disgust about what had happened but identity of the terrorist suggests a cause rather than an anonymous event of violence.

Withdrawing names etc reduces any possibility of a neutral public understanding of why as opposed to what has happened. In a bizarre sense, no picture no name removes an imagined chance of hero worship.

Yet all this is an argument of times past.

Le Monde’s decision is taken in an internet age where all is revealed and where there are few rules of what is right and wrong to publish.  The importance of the decision of Fenoglio and his editorial board is that a great newspaper is attempting to take part in what is a state venture – the prevention and eventually the destruction of terrorism.  It is not enough to rant in a newspaper editorial. Le Monde in its honourable way is being counted. Very few in these times will have the moral debate with themselves.