Beginning to See the Light; Mistaken, Misguided, Misleading
‘Always in a hurry, I never stop to worry
Don’t you see the time flashin’ by’
Mistaken, misguided, misleading, it’s all just another week in what passes for government.
While Afghanistan burns the foreign secretary was avoiding sunburn in the Grecian sun, leading to calls from all sides of the political divide and the press for him to resign, with comments such, as ‘he has completely missed the boat on everything’; ‘not coming home was his biggest mistake’; ‘lacklustre’; ‘big questions to answer about what he knew when’.
Predictably he hasn’t resigned, and Johnson hasn’t fired him. Instead Raab’s inaction was defended by government ministers and insiders on the basis that ‘it wouldn’t have made a difference’. As the Guardian said, ‘it’s an interesting defence, the notion that things we do are pointless anyway.’
Before we move on, I want to draw readers attention to recent events in Pakistan where police have opened cases against hundreds of unidentified men after a young woman was sexually assaulted and groped by a crowd of more than 400 men in a park in Lahore as she made a TikTok video.
‘The crowd pulled me from all sides to such an extent that my clothes were torn. I was hurled in the air. They assaulted me brutally,’ the woman said in a statement to the police. She said the crowd also stole her money, earrings, and a phone.
‘Raab’s inaction was defended by government ministers and insiders on the basis that ‘it wouldn’t have made a difference’’
The extent of the problem can be gauged by the comments of PM, Imran Khan in June; he seems to believe the rape and assault cases can be blamed on how women dress and behave. ‘If a woman is wearing very few clothes it will have an impact on the men unless they are robots. If you raise temptation in society to a point – and all these young guys have nowhere to go – it has a consequence in the society.’
The only part I agree with is ‘it has a consequence in the society.’ Indeed, it does, it puts you back in the dark ages. Perhaps, Imran, you should have stuck to cricket, with your views that is the only maiden you’re likely to bowl over.
From Pakistan we turn to Afghanistan, and to start, did anyone see this coming and give our leaders warning?
Apparently the CIA briefed both the Trump and Biden administrations that the Afghan army’s resistance to the Taliban could collapse ‘within days’ after an over-hasty withdrawal, according to a former CIA counter-terrorism chief. Whereas recent press accounts of White House decision-making have suggested that President Biden was led to believe that it might take 18-months for Kabul and Ashraf Ghani’s government to fall. Last week, unnamed officials were widely quoted as saying it could be 30 to 90 days.
On Wednesday, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen Mark Milley told reporters: ‘There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army or this government in 11 days.’
Speaking to the nation on Monday, Biden said: ‘The truth is: This did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated’.
‘The truth is: This did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated’.
To add chaos to confusion, Douglas London, the CIA’s former counter-terrorism chief for south and south-west Asia, said ‘So, was it 30 days from withdrawal to collapse? 60? 18 months? Actually, it was all of the above, the projections aligning with the various ‘what ifs’,’
‘Ultimately, it was assessed, Afghan forces might capitulate within days under the circumstances we witnessed, in projections highlighted to Trump officials and future Biden officials alike.’
It sounds to me like the President was presented with different scenarios and asked to pick one, rather than being told ‘this is what we think will happen.’
The next question to be considered is, how justified and necessary was the west’s original intervention in Afghanistan?
22-years ago Tony Blair, in a speech in Chicago, based on his concept of international intervention, in which he wanted the west to invade countries across the world to save people everywhere from oppression. This is little different from Alfred Milner’s Victorian concept of moral imperialism often seen as the acceptable face of empire, and the reason for the UK assuming the role as ‘global policeman’.
People have described the situation in Afghanistan as the ‘decline of the west’, the collapse of US moral authority. Perhaps, but then what right do we have to force our moral values on those who do not share them? This argument ends with people citing Iraq ‘bad interventionism’, and Afghanistan as ‘good’.
Post 9/11 the US government has practised gunboat diplomacy which has turned into a fake morality supporting ‘a trillion-dollar nation-building fantasy.’ The return of Taliban is the inevitable conclusion of this, as the US, aided and abetted by us, committed the biggest error of liberal interventionisms: half-heartedness. The desire to intervene is outweighed by the need to withdraw.
In addition their assumption as global policeman should be based on global consent. This was the whole precept of the United Nations, one that was embedded within their charter, which ‘stated that all members ‘refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another state’.
Instead of global consent as er the UN charter, the US and UK with our assumed superiority of liberal western values, have declared a ‘responsibility to protect’ all those oppressed by their governments.
The resulting debacle in Afghanistan has made it easy for those blessed with hindsight to blame Biden. Or it’s all Trump’s fault, Obama should have stopped it after Bush Jr never should have started it.
What Biden did was decisive. Perhaps, knowing when to give up is more difficult than the hopeless last stand and death before dishonour. Biden was right when he said that Afghanistan was bound to end chaotically, if the US had stayed, would supporting 20 more years of corruption be better?
‘Perhaps, knowing when to give up is more difficult than the hopeless last stand and death before dishonour’
Which brings us on to the role of a post-Brexit Britain on the global stage, or put another way, do we still have one?
Whilst newly elected President Biden did the decent thing and put us at the top of his call sheet, when it came to the calls that mattered over Afghanistan, Johnson had zero ability to influence the president. Events in Afghanistan were solely dictated by Washington, and we seem to be guessing as to what might come next. All we, and other NATO members can do is protest to the Americans after the tragic event.
Holidays to one-side, there is a simple reality; had Johnson and Raab not been sunning themselves it would have made no difference to the result. In addition, what right do we have to complain about the US after most of our combat troops were withdrawn 7 years ago. In his speech to the Commons Johnson virtually admitted that the ability to influence, or even forecast events in Afghanistan, was beyond the UK government.
Post-WW2 our foreign policy has been to maximise our influence over the US and its global reach by slavishly supporting whoever is President. The most notable exception to this is Harold Wilson’s decision to stay out of the Vietnam war, whereas Tony Blair couldn’t wait to ‘stand shoulder to shoulder’ with America after 9/11, and later he promised George W Bush that he would be ‘with you to the end’ in Iraq.
The contra view, favoured by the left, was that the US is an unbearably dominant power that throws its weight around with reckless arrogance.
Both opposing views have in-common the assumption of US power and the will to wield it.
‘The ability to influence, or even forecast events in Afghanistan, was beyond the UK government’
Should the US become more introverted this will change. As the Observer wrote, ‘President Biden has sown doubt about the bankability of US security guarantees to other allies and undercut his hopes of co-ordinating the democracies to take a united stand against the autocracies.’ The Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan could embolden dictators and wannabe ones the world over to behave more badly to their neighbours or their own people, or both.
In France, President Macron has stated that Europe should recognise that it can no longer depend on the US to provide its security and protect its interests and must strive to achieve ‘strategic autonomy’. Whilst the European powers have the capacity to confront protagonists such as Russia and China, its leaders have yet to show the will do so, as was evidenced by the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, attempt to assemble a coalition of NATO states willing to carry on in Afghanistan. Perhaps, like me, they were unsure we really meant it or were merely posturing.
Brexit has left us alone on the global stage, we no longer have the clout to act alone, and are losing the ability to persuade others to act with us.
‘we no longer have the clout to act alone, and are losing the ability to persuade others to act with us’
We finish this week with the governments’ commitment to carbon zero which looks stranger by the minute. Whilst the government is yet to decide on approving a new oilfield 75-miles NW of Shetland, the PM has hinted that the ‘Cambo’ field which is expected to yield 170m barrels of oil, and is being developed by private-equity-owned Siccar Point and Shell, is likely to go-ahead.
This comes after the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned against that that already-operating fields will produce more oil and gas over the coming decades than can be consumed if global heating is limited to 1.5C.
Although we were the first country to adopt a net zero emissions commitment, it appears that this is a typical smoke and mirrors piece of opportunistic populism.
‘this is a typical smoke and mirrors piece of opportunistic populism’
Buried in the small print of Britain’s statute books is a clause that explains the proposed Cambo development and explodes our climate credentials: ‘maximising economic recovery’ – a legal obligation for the UK government to maximise the extraction of its offshore oil and gas. As has been written several times recently, UK policy remains legally bound to drill all economically resources from the North Sea.
This obligation to maximise extraction offers several subsidies and tax breaks for the producers, e.g., in the 2015 and 16 budgets George Osborne introduced the largest cuts in oil production taxes for a generation with the purpose of ‘extracting every drop of oil we can.’ Petroleum revenue tax is now charged at 0%. This led to a surge in production between 2015-19, and, post-Covid, this is expected to continue. As a result of government policy: according to official estimates, cumulative UK production from 2016 to 2050 will be nearly 3bn barrels higher than it would have been without the recent government interventions.
Whilst Johnson inherited this situation there have been opportunities to reverse this, e.g., in March, the government rejected proposals to join several neighbouring countries in ending licensing of new oil and gas exploration, promising instead just to test future licensing rounds for climate compatibility.
Our pledge to be carbon zero is utterly meaningless, the 282 fields already in production in UK waters contain oil and gas reserves of about 5bn barrels of oil equivalent. Consuming that oil and gas will emit one-and-a-half times as much carbon dioxide as the annual emissions of the whole of Africa.
As if this wasn’t enough, last year the UK issued 113 new licenses to search for more oil, the government aim is to double or quadruple UK reserves to 10-20bn barrels, locking us into a carbon-intensive economy while the climate crisis intensifies.
There seems to be no economic rationale for maximising extraction, as in 2015 and 2016, the UK government lost money on its offshore oil and gas fields, as subsidies and rebates exceeded taxes, whilst this has now turned into a profit is very low. More losses are expected in the coming years as the taxpayer picks up nearly half the cost, over £20bn, of cleaning up the North Sea and decommissioning the oil platforms.
The industry does employ thousands of workers, however, last year survey of C.1,400 oil workers found that over 80% said they would consider leaving the industry, with a majority favouring moving to the renewables sector. Research has shown that if the government were serious about their commitment to carbon zero, for every job lost in the oil sector 3 new jobs would be created decarbonising the UK economy, instead renewables contracts are going overseas, and jobs in the UK have often been low-quality, with some even paying below the minimum wage.
A growing number of countries have ended, or are in the process of ending, new licensing of oil and gas, including Denmark, France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, New Zealand, Costa Rica and Belize. In December, our North Sea neighbour, Denmark, became the largest producer to date to make the same commitment.
Even California, once the third largest producing state in the US, has announced that it would end oil production by 2045.
And so, another week in the life of this government ends in mistakes, misguided policies, and others that are misleading.
This article is dedicated to the late Charlie Watts drummer of the ‘greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world. I love their 70s music, and this is the perfect lyric to finish on.
‘All the dreams were held so close
Seemed to all go up in smoke…’
A truly powerful column from Philip and striking that the enormity of the events he has to commentate upon just keeps escalating.
Mr Raab’s feeble round of media appearances, and determination to cling on to a post that his very presence demeans should shame us all; that those that have lost loved ones or indeed returned from Afghanistan to face a life changed forever can watch the likes of Raab and Johnson without harbouring murderous thoughts is to their eternal credit.
The events that Philip describes in Pakistan passed me by, but with terms such as ‘institutional racism’ firmly in our lexicon, maybe such behaviour needs to be called out for what it is, and perpetrators fingered without bleats about unfairness and profiling.
Philip is adept at knitting together disparate strands to create the whole story, and if empty shelves fan the flames of anti-Brexiteers, it is the UK’s departure from Afghanistan that shows just how far we have fallen.
Biden appears to have made a complete Horlicks of things, and we’re not quite sure what deals were supposedly struck behind the scenes, but the fact that the finest soldiers in the world were depowered and Sec for State for Defence forced to admit that people would be ‘left behind’ is a sorry state of affairs.
If what we are left with is Johnson’s assurance that he will appeal to the Taliban’s better nature to ensure safe passage, Pen Farthing’s mutts seem to have better prospects; it can only be hoped that the fallout from events in Afghanistan are not as horrific as they might be, but the twin suicide blasts since Philip penned his piece are not encouraging.
These events are horrific, so the appearance of a pink table in central London could possibly offer some light relief until it becomes clear that this government’s attitude to its legal obligation to tackle climate change is yet another sham.
Philip’s description of what is really going on, justifies any number of ‘crusties’ besieging the City. In truth, they are nothing of the sort – such is the severity of the crisis that those taking to the streets are scientists and professional people petrified by the fact that this government talks the talk, yet delivers nothing of merit.
If COP26 is the Last Chance Saloon in our fight against climate change, do you really want to sup with someone as insincere and disengaged as Boris; as the placard would have it – ‘there is no Planet B’
We’ll leave it to Philip to close out – ‘Oh, well, it’s all meaningless compared to Charlie Watts death, cool guy. This week we look no further than the Stones…”awwwwrighhhhhtttt! Here, shut-up you lot”!
A couple of Stones anthems – ‘Tumbling Dice’ and ‘Angie’. Enjoy!
Philip is a great believer in meritocracy, and in the belief that if you want something enough you can make it happen. These beliefs were formed in his formative years, of the late 1970s and 80s