The Party Line is………Perception

At any point in the day, our brain receives trillions of sensory impulses from our body which flow from our nerves directly to our brain for processing and interpretation. It is these impulses which shape how we perceive the world, covering everything from pleasure and pain to the baser level bodily functions.

The interpretation of this data by our brain shapes our perception of reality at the sensory level. At a psychological level this shaping is more pronounced, if we have a negative experience of reality we are far more likely to behave negatively and vice versa.

The shaping of reality or perception at a psychological level can be influenced by individuals through behavioural training and learning more about our own character. An entire industry exists, generating millions of pounds, to promote these ideas and to enable individual introspection, character adjustment and behavioural modification with the ultimate aim of becoming more positive and productive individuals.

Take the simple idea of sensory based reality, substitute the brain for the collective consciousness of society at a political and sociological level; you have an almost infinite range of perceptions and impulses, experienced by the society as a whole and reflected in what it does, how it acts and how it responds in the world.

As with the brain, this reality can be shaped, tailored and where applicable manipulated to suit the overriding imperative of the government or society where they are experienced.

So how does a society experience and perceive politicians?

A perception of a politician is experienced at many different levels:  there are the acts of the individual within their local community and how they are perceived, how society perceives them in relation to their wider party affiliation and how they exist in the public eye.

The first two can be controlled, or at least attempted to be controlled, by the politician through the medium of spin.  This is a low-level example of the manipulation of perception to ensure a positive outcome for that individual, in the same way that you would use behavioural training to shape your behaviour.

Spin is a product of the media age and media as a whole contributes dramatically to how a politician is perceived in the public eye. Once an individual enters public life, their life essentially becomes public knowledge, with their every move scrutinised and commented on by countless individuals, even more in the world of social media and the internet. Politicians experience this on a much more fatalistic level, with every misstep potentially contributing to the end of their political career.

Indeed once an individual involved in the political sphere makes a political gaffe, or is involved in a scandal, the media can shape the public perception to such a degree that the individual can no longer function as a politician.

These two necessary functions of modern politics sometimes work in synergy with each other, but the sheer levels of exposure and potential profit render the media far more likely to want to cause damage to a politician than prevent it (as seen this week with the Keith Vaz sex sting scandal).

The public largely perceive two types of politician: the institutional politician and the populist politician. The institutional politician is seen as a stuffy, privately educated individual who is more likely to want to enhance their own position rather than act in the best interests of the people. By contrast, the populist politician is seen as a self-made individual, someone who the common voter can relate to and retain an interest in, a true man or woman of the people.

Go up a level to the international stage and the perception/manipulation of it becomes less obvious, but wider ranging in its implications.  Shaping public perception of the country involved is a national occupation and is vital to the longer term success of that country.

Manipulation at this level involves a more subversive method: that of propaganda.  The use of propaganda has been one of the bedrocks of statecraft for almost 500 years now and is enjoying a renaissance in the age of the internet.

Propaganda can be used to assert, subvert and otherwise engender the ideology of the country using it or be used to destroy the ideology and people of a target country.

Overtly obvious use of propaganda today is largely confined to those restrictive regimes, who need the constant reassertion of their ideology to place their message into the minds of their people, thus shaping their perception to embrace that ideology fully.

In those less restrictive regimes, pronounced propaganda as asserted by a regime or government cannot exist because it would inevitably clash with the fundamental right of freedom of speech, i.e. the freedom to express a contrary opinion to the prevalent political line of that country. The contradiction between these two precepts forces the use of propaganda away from the political sphere and back into media sphere.

As with the politicians, the media can be used as a tool by the government to create negative opinion about opposing countries and regimes, shaping the public perception subconsciously and not endangering the fundamental freedom of speech rights.  Indeed, the media is perceived as the guardian of free speech, despite increasing evidence that it is becoming the mouthpiece of political parties and governments.

The one thing that this manipulation can sometimes struggle to keep up with is the change in political position in respect to a country. For example if a rogue country moves overnight from a totalitarian regime, which is universally hated, to a democratic regime, the government of the opposition country may need to soften its political stance towards it and change its relationship. We’ve seen it recently in the open dialogues between the USA and its old adversaries Cuba and Iran.  The public’s perception, previously shaped to a negative opinion of these regimes, had to be shifted to a positive one in the long-term to ensure the opening of good relations between the nations. Again the media and government play a part in moving this process forward.

Another recent example of this is the softening of the negative opinion on Britain leaving the European Union. During the referendum campaign extremely negative sentiments were expressed about the potential consequences of leaving and our eventual place in the world. Politicians, both domestic and foreign were keen to add their opinions to the seemingly unceasing tide of negative press about Brexit. However once the vote was concluded and the decision to exit confirmed by the UK government, the overriding need to proceed with the publicly voted for mandate prompted an almost immediate shift in media and government communications from being negative about the consequences to active examination and criticism of the implementation process.

The perception that a country has in the world can often have a negative impact on how that nation is treated by its neighbours in the international community.  For example, while the Russian federation does not exhibit any overtly evil or totalitarian qualities, it is perceived as being a totalitarian regime or “evil empire” when in fact the truth can be something entirely different.  This perception and the implementation of it by the other nations of the world causes much of the diplomatic conflict which exists between Russia and the wider community, particularly the USA who has been the historical enemy of Russia for many years.

Another example of this is how the USA is perceived in the Middle East.  With significant interests in the oil rich nations of the middle east, the USA has always been keen to provide stability for the region through support of vassal regimes and clients. Additionally, the USA has been the most ardent supporter of the state of Israel, viewing it as a key ally in the region.

This support and, dare I say it, interference in the affairs of the region, while well-intentioned, does not garner popular support from the various tribes and ethnic groups of the region. Combine that with a secular religion that does not view outsiders as friends and you have a recipe for extremist opposition. A sort of opposition that manifests itself in the various terrorist organisations that operate in the region, opposed to the interests of the USA and their perceived puppet states.

Consider the political effectiveness of a nation if it was in tune with how it is perceived in the world, has full cognisance of the consequences of its actions and is in possession of a coherent and appealing ideological standpoint. Such a nation would have the blueprint for longer term stability and success, effectively making itself immune to all potential issues which would arise in the course of its life.

With the obvious example of a politician in the public eye being able to shape his or her perception to suit their objectives, you have to wonder why more countries do not employ this sort of perception manipulation in their political armoury.  With so much at stake, can they afford not to?

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Party Line is………. Consequences

As human beings, we exist in a world where we are constantly confronted by decisions. We examine the options involved and once we have decided, we make our choice, one action over another, stay or go, do or do not. These instances of choice shape hundreds of choices which follow the initial one, cascading outwards like the ripples in a pond after a stone is thrown into it.

Without exception every decision we make carries a consequence or in the case of a larger decision a set of consequences which can shape our lives entirely.  Unfortunately, and paradoxically, we cannot understand the nature of the consequence until the action or decision has been made, sometimes far into the future.

In a political world, a decision and its consequences are a more public animal.  The intense scrutiny placed by society on political decisions merely increases our understanding and analysis of the decision being made, and the potential consequences of that decision.  The difference between a political decision and a personal one is that the potential implications and ripples have a wider range and affect more people.

It has been a year of big political decisions with far reaching consequences, some of which we’ll examine here.

We cannot talk about 2016’s big political decisions without addressing the elephant in the room: The EU referendum. As decisions go they don’t get much bigger, especially in terms of the long term future of the population of the UK.  In the aftermath of the vote, you got the strong sense that it was an unexpected choice that none of the politicians were prepared for. This was certainly true in the first 48 hours after the vote, when politicians railed against each other and the premiership of David Cameron came to a very abrupt end.

A quick leadership contest and cabinet reshuffle later and we can finally see the first of the wider implications of that decision as we look to commence negotiations to leave the EU. We face a European bloc eager for us to leave but with a definite resolve to make it the right sort of exit to ensure their long term security. Additionally, we have a new government with a strong desire to enforce the vote of the people but with the added obligation of ensuring that Britain remains a stable economic power as it moves on its own.

Despite the warnings and naysayers, so prevalent throughout the stages of the referendum there seems to be a definite appetite to see things through and no shortage of countries and businesses eager to do business with the newly independent UK.  A period of intense negotiation between the two parties is required, but with the UK reluctant to start negotiations right away this period seems further and further away. Only after these negotiations and the resultant exit period have concluded will we understand the fuller consequences of our decision.

One of the immediate ripples reverberating from this decision was the abortive coup d’état that has engulfed the Labour party for the majority of the summer recess. It began as a concerted effort to remove Jeremy Corbyn from power, but it has spiralled into a second leadership contest in twelve months. The summer months have been characterised by massive infighting and resignations, which only serve to destabilise the Labour party further. If as predicted, Mr Corbyn wins the leadership election in September, then we can expect a winter of discontent within the party and the potential for a split between those loyal to Mr Corbyn and those who are not.

A party in turmoil, members trying to halt an unstable political force that they themselves have unleashed?  You only need to look across the Atlantic to see another example of this; the startling rise of Donald Trump. Known primarily as a businessman and celebrity, the meteoric rise of this plain speaking plutocrat has captured the American imagination in a way which has echoes of a Hollywood movie.

With no previous political experience at all, the Republican establishment must have thought that he was merely indulging in a vanity based publicity stunt and tolerated his attempted campaign histrionics. Now just over a year later, the Republicans must be ruing the day that this egotistical hurricane entered their domain.

Seeing the rise of Trump from political joke to presidential candidate the Republican Party moved to counter, pitting the might and the finances of the Republican establishment against the man from New York.  Leveraging candidate after candidate, they all fell down before the brusque showmanship of the Trump campaign leaving him as the official nominee of the Republican Party and the opponent of the victorious Democratic nominee: Hilary Clinton.

The long term consequences of this decision will not be known until America goes to the polls in November, and it’s easy to think that the brash politically inexperienced Trump will lose against the more moderate grounded Clinton. However, since the Democratic nominee is dogged by accusations of being a corporate stooge, along with allegations of impropriety in respect of sensitive emails, who can say with any certainty who will win? What will that person bring to the White House and how will their presidency be remembered?

Although the civil war in Syria has been the source of much consternation and politicking over the past 4 years, 2016 was the year where the problem became a truly international one with the migrant crisis. Scenes of families and large groups of people making the long march across Turkey and Greece toward Europe are common place and sometimes these migrations have tragic consequences.

One can argue that the migrant crisis affecting Europe is a consequence of the failure of NATO and the west to directly address the Syrian civil war when it began in 2011. This inaction left the Assad regime to its own devices and allowed it to carry out a campaign of terror against its own people, causing them to emigrate in massive numbers to Europe.

The Russian intervention on the side of the Assad regime has only served to exacerbate these numbers and, ultimately, the migration crisis affecting Europe as a whole. As long as there is continued unrest in the region, there is no easy solution to the problem which will allow these migrants to return to their own country.

As free thinking individuals in the world, we deal with the consequences of our actions and hope to learn from our mistakes, trying not to repeat them over again.  Politically we face a harder road, as political society is not endowed with a collective will and is thus limited in what it can do and learn in the long term.

If the recent history of civilised man is any judge of how quickly political society learns from its decisions, consequences and mistakes then we face a far longer journey to the sort of society where decisions made politically do not engender potentially negative consequences.  That is not to say that political society is not evolving in its understanding, but that learning is coming very slowly and at an increasingly high cost to the people of the world.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Party Line is……….Insurrection

People often have differences of opinion, it’s a fact of life. One person says one course of action is good and another says something different. If your anything like me an argument usually ensues.

But fundamentally, differences of opinion are vital for humanity to succeed, promoting agents of change and societal progress. They provoke debate, with each person seeking to prove the legitimacy of their argument.

Politically, we’ve just had a massive debate prompted by a difference of opinion: The EU referendum. Ultimately, one side triumphed over the other and regardless of the tactics used a debate was had and settled in a vote.

The voracity of the debate polarised the UK, splitting the people in two. It was as though some great force had woken up the populous from their political slumber, provoking a furious response. Once this issue was settled, you could sense that the UK had become a more extreme place to live. This manifested itself in an upsurge in racist attacks on immigrants and online abuse of many individuals on both sides.

With so many winners and losers, it’s becoming harder in the UK to find common ground. Political opportunism is becoming the language of the day.

But what if someone decided that they didn’t like the result? Someone with the means, motive and method to effect an insurgency against this political settlement.

It sounds fantastical I know, but it all stems from a difference of opinion.

Let’s play this little scenario out, shall we?

An insurgency or coup relies on an unpopular decision being made and the popular will to oppose it. If the individuals are rebelling against a popular decision, individual or government then the coup will struggle to achieve the sort of popular support required to legitimise it because they have already lost the battle for public opinion.

Anyone planning this sort of insurgency would have to have large scale support and important allies.

The first being a prominent public figure, someone to serve as a legitimate figurehead to the insurgency. This would most likely be a politician, someone serving on the counter side to the prevailing argument and a well-respected individual.

The second important ally would be the military as they would provide the platform to create the coup, leading the insurgency and once it has achieved its objectives allowing it to stay in power.

There would have to be sufficient military support to both lead the insurgency and then to ensure its long term success, anything other than this and you risk the failure of the coup, as you saw in Turkey.

Speed of movement is essential to the success of the coup, because as soon as you trigger the process mechanisms will work against you to counter your plans almost immediately.

The awareness and preparedness of the opposing forces determines the speed of their response, an unaware opposition being ill prepared to counter and vice versa.

Only if you had a combination of these elements, would your insurgency have some fighting chance of success. But what would a practical coup in the UK look like?

Step one would have to be the securing of London. As its capital city and central hub, London is integral to the UK and would have to be captured and secured before the coup could move forward.

Securing a city like London is no mean feat and would require the cooperation of local authorities, but if these authorities are not privy to the plot, how would you ensure their compliance?

The simple answer is a phony terror plot or state of emergency. This would allow the free movement of the Army through the city under the pretext of preventing loss of life. It would mobilise the metropolitan police, keeping them busy and occupied until the principal targets had been taken.

An additional benefit of utilising the terror plot is the ability to place army personnel close to high value individuals, allowing them to use subterfuge to complete step two.

Step Two involves the capture and forced detention of the Royal family, the Prime Minister and any other high value members of parliament who are otherwise uninvolved in the coup.

By securing these individuals early on in the insurgency, the insurgents would have crucial leverage against any opposition forces that may instigate a counterinsurgency.  They could also be used for blackmail and ransoming should the insurgency fail.

Crucially, securing the Prime Minister would allow them temporary access to the nuclear launch codes that he possesses. I say temporary, because there are redundancies which prevent these from being used in the event of involuntary imprisonment or coercion (Yes, I’ve seen the movies).

Step Three would involve the securing of all the transport hubs in and out of the country, the airports, train stations, ferry ports and most importantly the Channel Tunnel. As the primary entry and exit points, they provide an escape for any high value individual fleeing the country and an entry point for any counter insurgency forces. These must be secured to avoid either eventuality, with the Channel Tunnel being the most likely candidate for destruction.

If steps one through three are achieved, then they will have gone 50% of the way to achieving their aim of taking over the UK.

The remaining 50% of this process is step four: the securing and holding of the UK.

Any individual or group in opposition to the insurgency, not captured or detained by it would immediately become a threat and must be dealt with. The wholesale detention and potentially execution of these individuals becomes a crucial part of enforcing the insurgency on the UK.

Likewise, there must be a concerted effort to prevent external interference from any foreign power, most likely the European Union, who inversely would have the most to gain from a pro-EU insurgency. The difficult thing is utilising already overstretched military forces to combat this while maintaining control of the UK as a whole.

Would the EU welcome a new regime in the UK? Ideologically no, the idea of a coup in a civilised nation such as ours is a complete antithesis to the co-operative community spirit of the EU. However in reality, the interdependency of the nation states of the EU on each other and the UK makes provision for a middle ground/areas of compromise.

This is where the second part of step four comes into play: utilising political means to provide legitimacy to the new regime, while giving the required time for it to bed in and for the people of the UK to adjust.

By providing a public face and voice to the insurgency, the insurgents stop the regime from being considered a rebellion and open up the lines of diplomacy with other nations.

It also allows for that crucial thing: Political continuity. No power vacuum, no alternative means of government just a transition between the previous government and the new. This makes it possible for the completion of step five:  Onward political progress.

I say onward political progress, because as important as it is to conduct the coup and see it done, it is just as important to reinstate the status quo as quickly as possible. The only difference being that the insurgents now sitting at the top of the pile rather than being the unheard minority.

Steps One through Three could be achieved in as little as 5 days, with the right preparation and timing.  It naturally follows that the greatest chance of success would be a coup effected at the weekend as this would maximise the chance of catching the enemy unprepared.

Steps Four and Five would take significantly longer to achieve, but are possible within six months to a year. Longer term success being down to the aforementioned populous and the stability of the new regime. A collection of disorganised and warring individuals is far more likely to collapse than a well-disciplined regime centred around a political figurehead.

At the end of the day, this is speculation and it couldn’t possibly happen in a civilised country such as the UK, could it?

I imagine that the Stuart monarchy felt the same when faced with opposition from Parliament unaware of the civil war that awaited them. Almost 400 years later we are the beneficiaries of that unexpected coup, just as the Stuarts were the casualties almost bringing to an end their short reign.  Things can change just that quickly in the world.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Party Line is…….Summer Holidays

Ah, the summer holidays have arrived for millions of children. For their parents this means six weeks of keeping their children occupied, going on overpriced holidays and long stints out of the office. For me it means more available seats on the train, little kids on bikes doing wheelies down the wrong side of the road and a quieter period at work.

School children aren’t the only ones to enjoy an extended break, as Parliament has closed for the summer. It’s a curious notion, that all politics should cease from July and not recommence until September, with MP’s flying off in their droves to be photographed in their trunks by an unforgiving media.

Even the political commentators have quit for the summer and as their subject matter disappears from view so have they from our screens and newspapers.  What is there to talk about?

The EU referendum? Old hat. David Cameron’s resignation honours list? The establishment rewarding itself isn’t anything new.  Labour leadership election? A foregone conclusion.

It’s a desperate period for the press, who have to provide media regardless of the availability of sensational stories as this preserves their existing readership, attracts new readers and ultimately keeps their profit margin

Newspapers fill this time with stories about heatwaves, miracle drugs, NHS scandals and the always inevitable rehash of some older story like the London riots.

Doesn’t leave much for a political blogger like me, does it?

But then again there is the Olympics in Rio.

An epic contest between nations which is all about politics? Yes, that sounds good to me.

The modern Olympiad, which has its roots in the ancient world was envisioned as an environment where nations could compete against each other in a non-violent arena with medals being the prize for the victorious.

Nationalism was ingrained in the contest from day one, with each nation seeking to outdo each other, to prove that its citizens were stronger or better than the rest. In the 1930’s this became more pronounced in the Munich Olympics of Hitler’s Germany.  But in the face of that profound evil, sport proved itself greater than nationalism in the victories of the American Jesse Owens.

World War two put paid to all thoughts of Olympic glory as national contest was replaced with national warfare, but the spectre of nationalism would not easily leave the Olympic experience.

Once the travails of the Second World War were over, a new contest began between the two superpowers: The USA and the Soviet Union for Olympic and World domination. The contest became a means by which nations would attempt to prove their greatness and by virtue the validity of their ideology.  A communist athlete could not be seen to be outperformed by a capitalist athlete as this could undermine communist ideology and vice versa.

A profoundly nationalistic climate such as this produced truly great national athletes like Nadia Comaneci, Mark Spitz and Olga Korbut. They reached the pinnacle of human excellence in sport winning numerous medals and adding substantive weight to their respective nations standing in the world.

However, with every great performance and athlete there were just as many accused cheats and supposed cheating governments, supplying their athletes with performance enhancing steroids. The only difference between this and todays controversy being the absence of sufficient technology and robust governance to prove the allegations.

For many other nations, the possibility of having an Olympic medallist coming from their country is a huge public relations boost enabling them to increase tourism and accrue revenue that the country would not otherwise receive. With the superpowers, there was always going to be more to it than that as past history has proven.

The Cold War rumbled on, manifesting itself in the US led boycott of the 1980 Moscow games and the reprisal boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles games by the Soviet Union and her Warsaw pact allies.

The fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s should have prompted the end of this version of statecraft, but it didn’t. It was merely suborned by a greater spirit of friendly completion and cooperation in the sporting arena.

Such a thing could not last and after a brief lull, nationalism in sport has begun to rear its ugly head again. The crucial difference between the nationalistic meddling that pervaded the cold war Olympiads and the nationalistic meddling that now exists is that it is easier to prove.

A prominent example of this is the recent Russian doping scandal which has overshadowed the build up to the Rio games. This wrongdoing at a national level is made all the more scandalous by the allegations that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency was a willing participant in the very thing it was designed to prohibit.

Add to this a regulatory body riven with allegations of corruption in the IAAF and you have a recipe for a culture of doping and performance enhancement.

Infiltration of Russian officials into testing centres by covert means, widespread tampering with urine samples to induce false results and surveillance of International Anti-Doping agency officials.  Preliminary findings indicate this goes back to the Winter Olympics in Sochi but the uses of these sort of tactics could go back even further.

It all sounds very subversive doesn’t it?

Not when you look at the prime motivator of this action, the Russian premier Vladimir Putin, himself a product of the Soviet Union and more specifically the Cold War KGB. Although the communism that he was raised in no longer exists, Mr Putin has applied his own brand of Russian ideology to his country.

It is an ideology that does not allow for failure and promotes Russia as the pinnacle of nations. As with the Soviets, political ideology has invaded sport, skewing it from being about competition between nations to Russian supremacy at any cost.

This new perspective is already creating tension with the old enemy of the United States in the political arena, but it now pushes the two old adversaries into conflict in the sporting arena.

We’ve seen evidence of it in the early days of this Olympics, with the Russians being branded cheats and ostracised by the other athletes. It has resulted in a lot of negative press for Russian sport and it will continue as long as these alleged incidents of doping go unchecked.

It is always remarkable how something created quite innocently can become a political animal and vehicle for countries to exert nationalistic and ideological sentiments, which in turn can create larger conflict between nations.  A harder line needs to be taken to eliminate political interference in sport, but without a powerful motivating force this seems unlikely to occur in the near future.

 

 

With thanks to Russell McIver for the idea.

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Party Line is……..Purge

Politics and political parties exist in a state of constant flux, where ideas and aims are discussed, implemented and sometimes jettisoned like driftwood.

What works in some countries does not work in others and can often have disastrous results for both the incumbent government and the populous as a whole. It is a precarious balance, that if not maintained allows the country to teeter and slide into disorder and barbarism.

With so much at stake, it is natural that individuals and groups will rail against the authorities that govern them particularly if that government exerts an agenda which compromises the basic rights of the individual regardless of political persuasion.

Over the preceding weekend, a section of the Turkish military attempted to seize control of Turkey by targeting vital infrastructure points around the country. Britain’s news agencies, still primarily covering the Nice attack rapidly received and digested this fluid situation.

And just like that, it was over.

President Erdoğan, forced at one point on Friday night to make emergency broadcasts to the Turkish people from his mobile phone was back in full control of Turkey, to the rapturous acclaim of the general populace. The defeated rebels found themselves the target of a vengeful people and government.

Erdoğan, with the support of a grateful people has begun a wholesale purge of turkey’s social and political structures in an attempt to restore Turkey to her former glory.

Thousands of public servants, military personnel and opposition politicians have been suspended or detained pending investigation on charges of conspiracy to commit treason.

A state of emergency has been declared for the next three months in which the President can enact laws without the need for parliamentary consent and detain who he wants when he wants without political check. The instruments of democracy no longer exist in Turkey.

As an observer and student of history, you cannot but view these events with a sense of fear. Far too often, the action of a purge has been responsible for some of the worst acts of peacetime violence seen in political society.

Think of the Soviet leader Stalin in the 1920’s and you have some equivalent idea of what I’m talking about, the forced elimination of all opposition from the political process.

When a country or government has to resort to such methods to exert its will, it devalues the political process as a whole and more importantly calls into question fundamental freedom of expression.

But what if the coup was engineered with this objective?

The military machine for all its breadth of action is a very tight-knit family with a clear hierarchical structure. Not much is undertaken at the lower levels without the informed consent and knowledge of those higher up in the chain of command. If a small section of the military had seditious intent, the sheer number of people involved makes it highly unlikely that the rest of the military wouldn’t know about it.

A successful coup d’état could only be launched if the entire military were involved in the plot as control of such a large populist country could only be secured with sufficient forces and the armaments to back them up. The military would not proceed with the coup unless they were absolutely sure of total victory.

The launching of the coup would undoubtedly trigger a quick response from the loyalist factions in Turkey and the fight would be on.

But it didn’t happen, did it? The coup ended as quickly as it had begun in total defeat for the rebels.

The only reasonable conclusion is that the indirectly involved members of the Turkish military were a willing accomplice to the counter plans of President Erdoğan. The speed at which the coup was overthrown seems to bear this theory out.

Would the coup had ended so quickly and as bloodlessly if those military units engaged had the full unswerving support of the whole military?

No, they would have fought to the last man, confident that their overwhelming numbers would win the day. In an army numbering almost 350 thousand men the small number of military personnel arrested and the speed to which the coup was quashed lend themselves to being ill prepared for the lack of widespread support.

Does ill prepared sound like something the military would be?

No, the military are by their virtue always the most prepared for the consequences of their actions, randomness, chance and lack of preparation are completely foreign to them. Everything is accounted for and planned against, with defeat only occurring due to external forces.

This splinter in our mind’s eye, leads us to ever more fantastical thoughts on this subversive style of political will. Were the bombings that occurred in the preceding month’s in Ankara and Istanbul part of an elaborate plan to create the perfect conditions for a purge?

President Erdoğan, in allowing the coup to happen, creates the conditions required to exert his extreme agenda with the support the Turkish public as a whole. He can now arrest who he wants, when he wants and no one will express dissent for fear of being his next target.

A cleaning of house is underway in Turkey and when it is completed a newer stronger nation may arise or in the extreme it may slide into a potential civil war against President Erdoğan, the situation is that tenuous.

Whatever its rightness or wrongness it is taking place and looks set to change the lives of millions of Turkish citizens for the better or for the worse. In our political history we often see the echoes of the past in the signs of the future, hoping to not repeat the same mistakes and trusting ourselves to a higher power, be it a god or otherwise.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Party Line is…………Hindsight

Throughout our lives, there are times when we make the wrong decisions. We choose one course of action over another, we support one thing where another may have been the more correct point of view and we express remorse when our decisions are proven to be wrong.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing and with hindsight I would say that at the time I would never have supported the war in Iraq.

I should qualify that last statement: I supported the British government undertaking to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. I believed that it was a logical and highly justified endeavour, I mean why wouldn’t I? This was a concerted military action to remove a tyrannical despot from power and free a people from a regime of terror that claimed so many of their fellow citizens.  It would also serve to protect us from his potentially hostile intent. I refused to believe those who said that it was an illegitimate war and supported the Blair position in this area.

But 13 years and almost 300,000 deaths later, I can say unequivocally that I was wrong.

The process by which a government admits it made a mistake is a much more complicated one and is generally not legislated for in any constitution. It becomes the province of the individual politician or government to determine the legitimacy or illegitimacy of any action undertaken, they have to be seen to take responsibility for their actions both previous and current. In the continuance of this imperative, the UK government called for a public enquiry into the government’s actions in both the lead up and the aftermath of the Iraq war.

Testimony was taken, evidence analysed, reports written and a week ago the results of this enquiry were made known to the general public and more particularly to the families of those who died as a result of this war.

At 6,000 pages the report is the most detailed examination of the Iraq war to date and its publication has shown the failings and backroom politics of the Blair administration during this period.

So you might be wondering, what else is there left to say that hasn’t already been said?

While the individual truths of the conflict and the lead up to it are slowly being disclosed, the key thing that characterises both the war in Iraq and the lead up to it is failure. Failures of international systems of law and governance and failures of the political process in the UK.

The Prime Minister of the time, Tony Blair has become a scapegoat for the systemic failures that allowed the war in Iraq to take place in the first place. If these systems had been as robust as is intended and portrayed, then war would have been impossible. Any concerted action by the Prime Minister with such a course in mind should have been checked at once by the cabinet, the party and the people of the UK. It was not, and the actions that Tony Blair undertook to force the country to war qualify as an abuse of executive power.

In his eagerness to support our American allies, he became blind to the severely questionable legality of invading a country which posed no immediate threat to the United Kingdom. The intelligence and security services failed to produce significant evidence of any so-called “weapons of mass destruction” and the case for invasion was a fudged coalition of half-truths, presented to the British people as concrete facts.

That is not to say that there was not significant opposition to the potential invasion of Iraq. Four senior ministers within the cabinet publicly voiced their opposition and were forced to resign. Public protests were widespread in both the UK and the US and many of our international partners voiced their opposition in the EU and in the United Nations.

Mr Blair conducted secret meetings with individuals outside of the regular parliamentary system, ignoring political procedure when it suited his aims. Political pressure was brought to bear on members of parliament, by both whip and lobby to force them to vote in the affirmative for war.

This absence of cabinet legitimacy prevented the instruments of government being used effectively once the decision to go to war was taken. As a direct result of this failure to utilise effective government our troops went into the war without the tools to effectively wage it, which contributed to the high number of service deaths in the conflict. Indeed, once the war ended, this failure to use government prevented the ability to produce a coherent strategy for the post war environment, allowing the Bush administration to pursue its damaging policy of complete structural destruction of the Iraqi system of government.

A country should at its heart, not plan for war and should exercise all possible actions to avoid this through diplomatic means. It is impossible to talk about the diplomatic methods to avoid war without addressing the chief diplomatic body of the time: The United Nations.

An organisation of mutual collaboration, designed to provide a check to the dictatorial and despotic ambitions of member countries as the previous League of Nations failed to do. In this endeavour it utterly failed to provide a significant check against the invasion ambitions of the US and UK. Its resolutions, while well-meaning were completely ignored when it suited the Bush administration and by proxy the Blair government. It should have pressed the member nations to exert political pressure on the US and UK and backed it up with the prospect of sanctions, both pre and post invasion. The gesture of placing Weapons inspectors in Iraq was a token one and achieved absolutely nothing but prolonging the period before war was declared regardless.

All efforts at diplomacy failed, but realistically was there any chance of them succeeding at all? Old animosities from the previous Iraq conflict, coupled with the American desire to fight back at the so-called “Axis of Evil” made the chances of a peaceful diplomatic solution very slim.

The American people, shocked out of their isolation by their biggest tragedy since Pearl Harbour in 9/11 can be somewhat forgiven for having an appetite for revenge. The American congress, however cannot be forgiven for allowing President Bush to pursue this agenda without a clear plan for the aftermath and for allowing their intelligence agencies to manipulate intelligence to suit a flimsy case.

An American politician advocating peaceful solutions at this time would like their UK counterparts be shouted down albeit more vociferously by their own people. In the aftermath of the war, the public opinion changed dramatically, as the US Army and its government became bogged down in the quagmire.

The failure to clearly plan for the aftermath of the War and the rush to utterly destroy the existing political structures of Iraq created the power vacuum and ultimately created the conditions for the Islamic State movement to exist. This is the greatest failure of the war in Iraq and has contributed to many more deaths and terrorist acts over the years following the cessation of operations.

The civilian enquiry into the War in Iraq should be applauded for both being thorough and unequivocal in its judgments, but such a mechanism should be in place in the constitution of this country and should not have to rely on civilian oversight. The problem with this, particularly in the UK is that Parliament is essentially the presence of the Crown in politics and as such cannot be seen to be wrong.

The weight of evidence, high number of deaths and obvious manipulation of government necessitates the need for strong political changes in this area. These changes must occur not just in the UK but in both the United States and the United Nations.

What can we do in the UK to prevent such a situation occurring in the future?

Changes in legislation to ensure that a Prime Minister cannot operate independently of his cabinet, the introduction of large-scale political engagement in the war making process be it from the populous or ministers independent of cabinet and party and the reintroduction of the historic practice of impeachment for those who flout constitutional law.

Additionally, we have to create a mechanism where civilian oversight in both foreign policy and the practice of war making becomes a legitimate function of government. Abuses of executive power should be documented and prevented via legislation and judicial restraints. It should not take a public outcry for these things to come to light, it should be parliamentary practice to review.

We have to create a climate where making war truly becomes a last resort and is conducted as a legitimate constitutional act, controlled by parliament and with the full consent of the people. I do accept that there are always situations where wars do not conform to these sorts of absolute aims, but by maintaining these absolute maxims and conditions we can more effectively manage the hardest duty of any government: declaring war.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Party Line is………..Security

Security. Peace. Freedom to exist without fear of terror. Fundamental truths that exist at the very heart of good government. Fundamental truths which are under threat on an almost hourly basis.

In a globalised world where individuals can move freely between countries, internal security and external security have a symbiotic relationship where one determines the success of the other.

Maintaining this relationship has become a substantial drain on the resources of nation states, particularly those who expose themselves directly in both militaristic and diplomatic actions in those rogue nations and regimes. Exerting this influence leaves them vulnerable to reprisals, both in their spheres of influence and at home.

There are however, mechanisms in place between the various countries in the world to both combat the increasing threats and to disseminate information across the various law enforcement agencies which operate in each nation.

At no previous point in history has there been such vulnerability in international security with truly international threats manifesting themselves around the globe. Terrorist organisations seemingly operating without borders and using increasingly covert methods of spreading their messages of fear.

Intelligence, both for and counter plays an increasingly large part of the international response to these sorts of threats.  Anticipating and countering threats before they occur forms a vital part of this, saving lives and preventing tragedies.

Mutual defence treaties need to be maintained to prevent the rise of a larger foreign power with hostile intent and to provide a check against further acts of terror. 27 mid-size nations defending the interests of a small client nation have a greater chance of stopping a bigger nation exerting its agenda, being hostile or otherwise.

The mere presence of these sorts of treaties and international agencies keeps the complex spider web of international interdependency working.

But with every success using these methods, there are failures like Orlando, Paris and Amsterdam.

Terrorists and criminals hiding in plain sight, integrating themselves surreptitiously within minority communities until the need arises to perpetrate their acts.

Far too often, these individuals exploit legislation designed for altruistic methods, such as the European Union’s free movement of individuals within its borders doctrine. Organisations like Islamic State have used the smokescreen of the immigration crisis and the Syrian civil war to place individuals from their organisations into these countries, exploiting the compassionate nature of the European Union. For every altruistic act, there are those who wish to exploit it, for nefarious and corrupting aims.

Migration of individuals from these at risk countries, is being closely monitored by agencies both foreign and domestic but one has to ask the question, where do we draw the line? When does the terror threat become so severe that we pull up the drawbridge and look to our own security?

It is a political issue that speaks to the heart of every community within the European Union. When does the Union allow too much terrorist activity to occur for it to remain a viable secure entity?

It is a vital issue in government and has been drawn to the heart of the EU referendum debate in the campaigns of both the Brexit and Remain campaigns. Dire prognostications of doom have been made, should the vote lean towards the exit door with assumptions being made that our security services will be unable to cope with ongoing international threats without the support of our partners within the European Union. What they fail to state is that the bulk of the organisations designed to counter these threats do not depend on Britain remaining in the European Union, they are instead internationally independent agencies. The failure of the Brexit campaign to explain this obvious distinction explains why the Remain campaign are winning the security argument.

But in utilising these sorts of sentiments, they are engendering a climate of fear to what should be a legitimate question: Can the EU provide for Britain’s future security, when it perceptibly cannot manage its own?

In a globalised world, we cannot simply baton down the hatches and expect to survive the storm unscathed, we must take a positive assertive role in preserving our own security. International Co-operation and intelligence resource pooling enables us to do this and should form the bedrock of what we do to counter external threats.

Relationships of this nature thrive on co-operation between nations and although the EU referendum may result in us leaving this political union, our greater spirit of co-operation with our neighbours in this area should continue as it is mutually beneficial for all.

 

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

Should Barack Obama have intervened in the European Union referendum debate?

The United States of America has intervened in the political affairs of a foreign power.  These are powerful words, full of intent and purpose. So often in the world the U.S has flexed its political and military muscles to bring about change in a foreign power over the 20th and 21st centuries.

The thing that separates this intervention from the countless others is that this intervention is not in the affairs of a lesser power in a far off land, where the political system is skewed or slanted towards a specific type of politics, this intervention is in a country of similar political and international stature to the U.S.  I’m talking about the United Kingdom and Barack Obama’s intervention in the EU referendum debate.

So why intervene?

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America and the first black man to hold the office is running out of time.  In the waning months of his second term as president, he knows that his time is almost up. The vultures are circling; ready to pick apart the carcass of his presidency once he becomes a private citizen again. He has faced a heavily Republican senate, eager to block any and all legislation, a partisan populous not ready to face the harsher realities of the post crash world and an international community filled with crises and division.

Like a prize-fighter who knows his fighting days are over, Barack Obama has nothing to lose and can throw everything he’s got at his presidency. His conservative, compassionate stance has gone and has been replaced by a rushed desire to achieve lasting impact in his few remaining months as president.  He has vehemently spoken out on gun crime, on international terrorism, the economy and has pushed through significant diplomatic changes to the United States relationship with Cuba, paving the way for the greatest change in political relations between the two countries for half a century.

Intervention in European Affairs

Turning his attention away from domestic affairs to Europe and the UK could be seen by many as a dramatic overstepping of his presidential authority.  Indeed the rebukes since his initial speeches from the Brexiteers have been as stinging as they have been numerous.  By all means intervene in a foreign power, but save that intervention for a third world country or a dictatorship but don’t intervene in the affairs of an international partner, particularly one who you enjoy a “special relationship” with.

It’s easy to rebuke him, call him a hypocrite and ignore him, but as objective individuals we must look beyond the words to the real aims of his intervention in this integrally British issue.

We’ve already mentioned one point that is a key motivator for him: preserving the “special relationship”. The US has a vested interest in keeping Britain strong and an international power because we can achieve what they cannot: we can tread the fine lines of Europe, work in American interests and still be seen as an independent nation.

Our country provides a vital exporting and importing market to the US with many companies depending on British wealth and spending power to finance them.  Should the UK leave the EU, the United States will have to renegotiate its existing trade agreements with a newly independent UK. Renegotiation takes time and could cause damage to world financial markets, particularly across the European Union.

British influence on the EU cannot be understated, we are one of three key leading nations in the greater European alliance, the others being France and Germany. Our voice carries a significant weight and provides additional strength to the EU message.  As a significant political partner, America cannot help but see this and obviously make the logical leap that Britain outside of the EU is a weaker EU.

Playing the long game

You get the sense that America is playing a long game, keeping the EU strong enough while it readies itself for the inevitable confrontation with the newly resurgent Russian Federation.  A strong EU preserving its borders can accomplish more politically than NATO could in military terms, drawing other territories into the union and strengthening its existing members. Other nations in the EU have dithered in the past on larger world concerns like Iraq and Afghanistan but the UK has not, we have been prepared to move forward where others have been reticent to do so.

That voice in the EU could be used to motivate it to pursue the eventual military action which will undoubtedly occur as the two great superpowers continue to butt heads.

On the other hand, President Obama could be a pawn in a European game designed to keep Britain in the EU in exchange for certain US concessions across the territories.  The statements and speeches have been public but the real politics may be completely secret.

Is he right to do so?

Putting speculation aside, the ethics of President Obama’s intervention in this debate are questionable at best. We are not a dictatorship or a totalitarian society, British democracy has been key too much of the worlds greater democracy and indeed the US owes its constitution and political system to our political system.  Intervening in this debate is ill advised and would only be considered by the US if the issue itself were so serious and so game changing that not intervening would be perceptibly catastrophic to American long term interests.

Whether his intervention proves to be a catalyst for a remain landslide or it provokes the opposite response, he has thrown his hat into the centre of the ring and it is up to us now as voters to decide whether this is right or wrong.

What do you think?

 

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

How do we defeat Islamic State?

Baghdad, Aden, Brussels, Jakarta, Istanbul, Paris.  It is a sad litany of names all united in tragedy: they are all cities touched by Terrorism; they have all been successfully targeted by Islamic State.  It is an organisation which has killed almost 50,000 individuals throughout the Middle East and beyond.  Its European, African and Asian activities show a terrorist network which is expanding further and further beyond this area.   Despite the efforts of the international community, despite all of our victories the terrorists are still getting through, still spreading their message of hate, still causing the death of countless numbers.

A key part of the Islamic State machine is its use of Propaganda, from video to social media and beyond. It is how it recruits new members, maintains a political presence and enacts terrorist acts. We cannot simply close down every site or video which they use, as barring the use of media by individuals in the region would stop others in the region from expressing their legitimate opinions.  We must use their methods against them, posting interrogations of captured suspects, illustrating the methods we use to combat their followers. Every defeat of Islamic State must be broadcast on every channel in the region using every media. Illegitimate organisations such as the hacker collective Anonymous have voiced their intention to target Islamic State, most recently in the wake of the Brussels attacks. It is these organisations which should be brought into the fight, be it legitimately or covertly, we can use their skills to remove the ability of Islamic State to broadcast its message of hate or recruit new followers. These organisations can do this effectively without the wider need to cut off legitimate media in the region.

Islamic State purports the idea that it is an organisation engaged in warfare with the western powers only, as it supports its message of Anti-Semitism against non Muslims. The coalition of powers engaged in attacks against them, collectively known as Operation Inherent Resolve has over 30 countries 8 of which are in the region affected and are predominantly Muslim. This should be highlighted and used in propaganda against Islamic State to sabotage their assertion that it is only the Christian nations who are against them. At home in the nations affected and those not affected by terrorist acts, there must be a concerted effort to recruit and support the Muslim community and the local tribes in the combat area. It is these individuals who will stop the beginning of terrorism and fight Islamic State on their own territory. Radicalisation begins at home and will end when the communities themselves take responsibility for their members. We need to show that they are the exception to the rule, not the rule itself.

A propaganda war must be supported by a concerted international effort to combat the territorial and political gains made by Islamic State.  An invasion force, made up of predominantly western nations would ultimately prove counterproductive and replicate the same conditions which allowed Islamic State to flourish in the first place. That being said western intervention is inevitable, however it must be restricted to a support capacity only. The local nations must be seen to be spearheading the efforts; else Islamic State will use its propaganda machine to turn the region against coalition forces.

The two key countries to this effort are Syria and Russia. Syria, a country torn apart by civil war and one of the two areas where Islamic State predominantly operate (the other being Iraq) has recently called a cease fire between rebels and the Al Assad regime.  Russian support and political pressure was crucial in making this ceasefire a reality. It is the Russian government which can effectively use its influence over the Assad regime to secure a peaceful transition to alternative government. Assad is a war criminal, guilty of many crimes against his own people and he must answer for them in front of the international community, but great care must be taken in when this transition takes place. A transition which occurs too fast could result in an unstable government replacing a stable one as was witnessed in Iraq upon the transfer of power from the coalition to civilian government. It may be necessary to leave him in power for the moment, but place significant restrictions in place to prevent him from abusing his people as he has done previously. There must be a timetable for the transition of power to occur and this can be achieved by engaging and unifying the legitimate opposition groups in the Syrian political system. Leaving Assad in power for a limited time would conceivably be a workable scenario for the Russian federation as it continues its international political rehabilitation after the Ukraine crisis.  A stabilised Syrian government could turn its attention to eliminating those terrorist elements from their country, chief among them being Islamic State.

As stated previously, Russian involvement was integral in bringing the Syrian civil war to an end but the need for Russia to be involved goes much deeper than that. Russia with its 16 million Muslims has a vested interest in stopping Islamic State and terrorist attacks on its citizens have been met with retaliatory strikes against targets in Syria and Iraq. Russian influence on Syria and Iran can have the effect of concentrating the efforts of these countries in eradicating the extremists.  Its inclusion in Operation Inherent Resolve would bring it into an alliance of co-operation with many countries that it has become estranged from, particularly the USA.  Drawing Russia back into the fold would enable the other coalition partners to impose a crucial distinction on their future strikes, stopping them from attacking legitimate opposition groups in Syria.

One thing is abundantly clear, the international community can do more than it is doing.  The predominantly regional conflict is isolated and it is easier to do less to address a problem when it is not on your doorstep. Additionally Islamic State is like no other terrorist organisation in history, operating without borders or centralised country. What this needs is a leader or a nation to take the lead and make it their primary concern.  Many leaders cannot because of their own provincial concerns/ responsibilities but all it would take is one to lead the way and galvanise international action.

There is no magic bullet that will end the conflict against Islamic State. What is set out here is one potential blueprint. A difficult and uncertain path lies ahead for the World as they tackle this threat. One thing is a given though, we will face this threat together.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

What are the practicalities and politics of preserving the Status Quo?

The world is an ever changing place; more and more people and society as a whole exist in a state of flux. Yet amidst this constant state of change, there is the constancy of the world itself. This world is not a new one and has steadily evolved over the centuries to become the society in which we live.

It will continue to evolve, but as it does it relies on one main thing: The maintenance of the status quo.

By status quo, I mean the steadiness of human society both political and sociological. This steadiness is not a naturally occurring phenomenon and is supported and maintained by the social and political institutions we have created for ourselves over the centuries.

How does this control manifest itself practically?

Firstly in a population which aspires to be more than it currently is, which is in turn far less likely to rebel and cause societal change. By aspiring to be more than we are, we remain caught up in our own personal spheres of influence and are ignorant of what is going on around us.

The idea that we can achieve more than we currently do is supported primarily by our consumerist society. A society which consumes goods in a self perpetuating cycle has the effect of reducing its own net worth while increasing the wealth of those pulling the strings. Goods are purchased then consumed by the society and then the society is forced to create new goods to sustain itself further, distracting them from dissention and societal action.

The secondary mechanism of support is exposing that society to a better way of life. This can be through exposure to celebrity culture/ the more affluent individuals or the promise of a different way of life (for example through a lottery or competition). The exposure to this often leads to a practical desire for members of the society to become these individuals. Like any lottery, the chances of an individual achieving this are remote. The society itself can manifest a mechanism to reduce the chances of an individual advancing, either through sociological impediments like the class system or monetary impediments like lack of affluence. Both of which can stop an individual from achieving their full potential.

And yet, individuals do achieve these feats but only after conforming to the societal model, this could be through the acquisition of personal wealth or greater status. Both of which rely on the consent of the society and the preservation of the status quo.

This can be achieved by the placation of the social group via monetary or increase in status. As long as the individuals involved are placated the method can be anything. They should also have the opportunity to better the lives of those who are less fortunate than they are, when the actual chances of bettering these individuals’ lives are small. This method also serves to placate the less well off on the societal pecking order by making them value their lives and status, however small it is.

Malcontents, or those who choose not to accept the status quo can be ostracised by the societies pre-existing mechanisms, reducing their status to the point where these individuals can no longer affect the status quo in any way. This pushes the individuals out and preserves the status of those who are willing to accept it.

Societal status quo, relies on placing the right people or social groups into the right place for them at the right time.

Governmental status quo is very similar and can be maintained indefinitely by refreshing the various branches of government regularly with new individuals from the same sorts of social groups. This has a double beneficial effect because it maintains the status quo on an ongoing basis and gives the people the idea that they have determined who would be in control of their country, despite the fact that they did not.

Any changes made to the fundamental structure of the government, for example a popular uprising or dictatorial changes would obviously result in some disruption of the status quo, but ultimately the underlying political world would remain the same.

Potentially damaging changes to the status quo resulting from international schisms can be avoided by greater co-operation between international governments. Into this mix of peoples there will always be rogue elements, but as long as a consensus prevails the rogues can be ostracised, their politics ignored and their political status reduced to its lowest amount.

The threat of an unseen enemy, or war allows the government to add new dimensions to its status quo preservation mechanism and gives them carte blanche to do whatever they want. As long as there is a danger, any sort of restrictive or unhealthy policy can be masqueraded by the government as being a security matter and in the national interest.

Additionally the government can employ external agents, in the guise of individuals acting alone or as part of a cell to produce acts of terror, which have the effect of swaying the populations of their respective countries. As long as the involvement of the government remains a secret, they cannot be found out.

Human beings are at their heart agents of change. This change manifests itself both in how we act and how we conduct ourselves in the world, it is this change which has enabled us to rise from apes to humans and will eventually lead beyond. When this necessary change meets something which is immutable, (i.e. the status quo) the most likely result will be the destruction of one or the other. It can be suggested that the continued maintenance of the status quo at the present time is stopping us from changing both ourselves and the world around us. It is stopping us from evolving.

Although evidence for this change cannot be perceived immediately it will eventually be discovered, what we do at this point is up to us. Do we change our world or do we choose to accept it?

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.