More on Blairism and bloody reality

Posted by Ivan Rendall on Saturday, 27 April 2014 in Blogging


Tony Blair thinks that Islamism is the greatest threat to the west. Specifically to its values. OK, it’s a threat.

Adrian Wooldridge (Sunday Times Op/Ed today) suggest that the bigger threat is China but he emphasizes economic values, and I suspect TB was emphasizing more general, cultural values. OK, China is a threat, probably to both sets of values.

Blair is a bit late: Islamism, while not remotely tottering, has been given a bloody nose. This has not been achieved by anything dramatic, by asserting interests and rights or  spouting “democratic values.” But, like those leaders who fought the two World Wars, leading genuinely democratic countries, and the people they led, it took time for them to get roused and fight their wars for the preservation of values. They did so slowly, cautiously and with consent. They had to, but it worked. It still can. It still does.

Islamism is putting more weight on its back feet because of two major failures: its lack of widespread support by ordinary folks, including most Muslims, and its doctrine of brutality, which hasn’t cowed the west, rather the opposite. Good.

That’s not to say the west doesn’t have problems, some of them self-inflicted and some of them as a result of Islamism, or Wahabism to be more precise. The same applies to neo-Sovietism, Sino-capitalism and Russian/Chinese expansionism. But they are threats that should not be feared, they should be met and vigorously challenged.

We must not fear “isms”, we should gird the loins and grind them down by simply having a better way of doing things: unspectacular, innovative, psychologically imaginative ideas and action. We have our own “ism”: liberalism. Flaunt it.

Islamism cannot be beaten by making it a security priority for western countries. That isn’t how it works, that kind of change takes generation(s). 

Mr Blair might profit from talking to General Sisi, Henry Kissinger, and consulting President Eisenhower’s library.

The Middle East is changing. (So is the world; it’s a nasty habit, Mr Blair) Of course it is, the “Peace Process” has been a stuck record since 1917, 1948 or the mid 1990s, take your pick.

Barack Obama has de-emphasised the region to concentrate on the US, the Pacific and China’s muscularity. Good. But a side effect is that even the slightest move away from the ME by the US causes lots of hand-wringing because there are so many individuals and states (and non-states) for whom the US gravy train and being a priority, whether in money or arms, is in decline. There are a great number of people who have a vested interest in ME strife and then getting US (and EU) to go on processing peace. But Obama is not kidding, he’s doing it; it’s not a matter of choice for TB or ME states and non-states. It’s a fact. Good.

And, you know what: Israel, the Palestinians, the bloated rulers of Saudi (who are in fact the source of much of what TB is worried about), Iraq, Iran, even Lebanon and Turkey, especially Turkey, are going to have to deal with Islamism if they want peaceful, stable, secure societies.

It is probable, highly likely even, that some pretty brutal folks will come to power during the period of change. That’s not good. But if they take a very tough line with Islamism and its proponents, beating them in their own religious, social and political milieu, then its better than the west consistently failing to do so and failing at the cost of western lives, hard currencies and political capital.

Those ME states must, however long it takes, prepare for a long-term future on their own, and not for one that continues to float ever upwards on an ocean of recycled petro-dollars (as it has done for around half a century). It was always a bad idea, but now we can’t afford it. Good.

The power of the region is slowly changing too: carbon fuels are too pricey and alternatives, green and dirty, are being sought.

It’s time the Middle East, or at least its so-called leaders, went into rehab. Their rehab cannot be entrusted to Mr. Blair, they need a dose of real market values and not a twisted and tortured version of Victorian capitalism.

They need to do it themselves and some of the existing ME leaders need to go, at least as far as Geneva or Cote D’Azur. Real people need to do it, not popinjays among whom are lots of Blairs, their bag-carriers.

The “Peace Process” winds up today, but will its processors,  paper-shufflers and expensive speechmakers be signing on for the dole? The real question is: would the Palestinians or Israelis continue the stagnant argument if the US/EU was not picking up the bill?

Finding the answer will be nasty, costly and almost certainly violent. (TB is not a man with a non-violent plan, he’s just a man.) But nastiness and violence is what has been happening in ME anyway, and the ME folks have to stop it, not TB.

Which brings us to the threat from China. China did what it did economically in the last forty years largely by its own efforts or, for pedants, after Nixon and Kissinger gave them the spur. They bent the rules wildly, but the west just looked on and revelled in the (puny) opportunities of western business to dominate the Chinese economy as they then tried and failed to do in Russia.

(Who said: “if we could only sell every Chinese person an aspirin, Nixon/ Kissinger would be worthwhile?)

Now, with all those Chinese-earned dollars piled up in Chinese and foreign banks it is, like the Middle East, fending off reality by creating a rich, corrupt elite, doing what all other rising powers have done. It could be imaginative and engaging, but don’t hold your breath unless you want to suffocate.

Yes, China needs (home-produced?) carbon fuels to keep growing, but it seems to have mastered that market for the longer term. The Chinese economy maybe a bit poorly at the moment, but it is growing very nicely despite its rising costs. Obama wants to counter that, or “re-balance it in now speak, for the yen to rise to market levels. Hence his visit to cook up political and trade deals. That, and to make new, and support old, US military friends in the region such as Philippines, S. Korea, Japan, etc. Good.

Yes, Beijing has substantial (but by no means universal) support from Chinese folks at home and in the Diaspora. But it’s policy of threatening to occupy barren islands is not making many friends in South East Asia at the moment, excluding North Korea.

Tensions are also rising in mixed Asian societies, particularly with India at economic and security levels.

It’s much the same as is happening in Crimea and Ukraine: political advantage masquerading as protecting its nationals or linguistic comrades but without the people.

(In Russia’s case, it Kazakhstan next? It’ll be costly.)

The difference is, as always, money. China can afford a space programme, an expanding military and naval industrial sector, a New People’s Army to go with its products, and a new middle class to fill Bond street.

Like Russia, China is looking to expand: it has the cash; Russia does not. (Is Russia, is Neo-Sovietism a threat? Not at the moment, but it could unless we embrace Russian liberals.)

Chinese expansion would be at the expense of Japan, but also in countries with small or substantial Chinese populations: Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, (oil), and other, smaller, states in the region, particularly Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, all in the US informal empire, then all the way round to Kashmir. (Familiar political territory, Mr Putin?)

India is different, but a war there would be about its small Himalayan neighbours, not India itself, except to destabilize it by proxy, as with Nepal. (Familiar political territory to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama?)

China and Russia both want empires. They want them for ’security’ reasons, they want them so they can rise in the political pecking order, they tell themselves (and their folks) they need them for economic advantage, and they want them in pursuit of nebulous concepts such as destiny. (Kaiser Bill wanted “a place in the sun” in which to spread his barbaric  “Kultur.”) (Familiar territory, Putin.)

But having empires is fun for those in the top 1% who run them. For the 1%s in countries that haven’t got one, they want one. But for most of the folks subjected by imperialism they are bloody in both senses of the word.

Are we going through globalization, or is it just a glossy word for a new form of imperialism?

If it is the latter, be it Islamic, Soviet or Chinese, then history has consistently made sure that having an empire comes at a high initial cost in blood in treasure.

History is equally consistent that after a while, maintaining the empire and its perceived geopolitical advantage, starts to drain away. So does the treasure, and the place in the sun, and suddenly it’s time to pack away the sun-tan lotion.  

Russia was viciously exposed to the cost of empire building from 1917, then the huge cost of its dismemberment in 1989. Britain was exposed to the same process starting in the 1760s and ending in the 1960s.

America is not finished yet, but it has recently begun to feel the full cost of maintaining its empire: the Middle East looks increasingly like one of the first casualties of this (economic) wind of change.

Re-establishing declining empires is even more difficult, and history is eloquent here too. Will Ukraine turn out to be Russia’s Dien Bien Phu: a small battle which France could not afford, followed by big military humiliation and the ushering in of a new world order based on US rather than European imperial power. (It was America’s failure to keep paying the bills for a French war of RE-CONQUEST, that precipitated everything that followed, including their own Vietnam war).

China has yet to be exposed to any such true costs of building and hanging on to an empire. (It is, of course, like Britain, already an empire internally.)

The same is true of re-establishing the Islamic caliphate/ empire). And Russia, which is trying to re-establish an empire, seems to be in a hopeless position.

What Tony Blair, and others, need to worry about is not “Islamism”. That, mate, is the easy bit: speaking nonsense for millions of dollars in cushy hotels and sliding the lizard skins round Davos lounges.

Western values are built on something sterner and more difficult. They are a mixture of ideas, freedoms, technologies, institutions, laws, communications, many of them global, and on being reasonable to, and tolerant of, each other. That is difficult stuff but it’s better than servitude.

Al-Q, Boko-Haram, et al, are not long-term threats to liberalism. Don’t get down with them, Tony, we are not on the brink of a New Dark Age. We just need to be strong and clever.

The paradox, that benign values need to be defended with violence, is what TB is struggling to articulate. But not trying to sound violent is getting in the way, as is trying to preserve the status quo for local tyrants, peace mongers, and world statesmen: beat Islamism, they all say, and it’ll be OK.

No it won’t: there’ll be another “ism” along in the morning, recycling aid, drug money, petro-dollars and corrupt profits, or untaxable “gifts”.

Carpet-bagging is not a modernist phenomenon, it’s been around for millennia. But, progressive minds persist and change, like stuff, happens.

Tony – stop peddling simple, or singular, ways forward. It’s bad for the dogs and frightens the horses!

If you want to spend your time under the Middle Eastern sun then do something useful: argue on the streets of countries from Persia to Morocco and from Nigeria to Yemen that folks need to take on their own problems, of whatever kind, but especially and first, crush their thugs, the men who steal, rape and kill their schoolgirls, who enslave millions directly and millions more indirectly, who bomb and massacre people who go out shopping, who shoot hotel workers and soldiers in Kabul, all of whom have families, etc., etc.

They are, or should be your audience, not the Davos Divas. It’s hard work. It’s not well paid. It rarely carries any status. Talking to real folks is like that, uphill all the way.

But Muslim families are just like yours and mine: they simply want to live in security.

They are worn out by war, by words, by easy promises and lies. They want real security, of health, employment, education, housing, clean water, food, etc., and they want that security made inherent in their communities and wider societies. They do NOT want the kind of contingent security that is inherent in perpetual dysfunctionality, societies that depend on appeasing mafiosi, only work through official corruption, on fair-weather friends, OR, crucially, on the crisis management skills of outsiders, on rich, so-called statesmen.

Give me a call, Tony, and I’ll give you a job.

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