“And if Scotland’s seats were removed from the Westminster parliament, the Conservative Party’s structural advantage in England could tip the political balance decisively to the center-right.”—Save us! (Ashley has more.)
“It is also striking to observe that virtually all of the Muslim deaths were the direct or indirect consequence of official U.S. government policy. By contrast, most of the Americans killed by Muslims were the victims of non-state terrorist groups such as al Qaeda or the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.”—Walt
“I predicted weeks ago that the result of the strategy review would be a decision to add 30,000 or so troops, it wouldn’t work, hawkish critics would give Obama no credit for the decision, and next year we could have the whole argument over again. Here’s to hoping that Obama’s speech next week proves me wrong.”—Lynch, bang on the money
“Yes when voters are unhappy it’s something the opposition party [can] point to which suggests that politicians are somehow being irresponsible, but if voters are happy it moves back into the “abstract concept I don’t give a shit about” category.”—Atrios on deficits
“Officials of one allied nation who have been extensively briefed on the president’s plan said […] that Mr. Obama would describe how the American presence would be ratcheted back after the buildup, while making clear that a significant American presence in Afghanistan would remain for a long while.”—NYT. How long will be the British ‘while’? As long, I suppose, as our relationship is special.
Johann Hari has a necessary column about the treatment (and conduct) of boylove by eminent adult males. (I’ve discussed Bennett elsewhere.) Despite the heading I don’t think it is dark enough: I think that in striving for sympathy it shortcircuits empathy. It does not, that is, admit enough of the Id.
Hari’s tentative case is that men abuse (or touch and snuggle, in fantasy or fact) the children they abuse out of a dewy nostalgia for boyhood innocence. And this is plausible. Hari says too that paedophiles he has talked with view themselves this way, which means they have told him they viewed themselves this way, and perhaps that they have told themselves that, because it is plausible. And it may be true! But there’s something of a crevasse, isn’t there, between melancholy yearning after a boyhood lost and groping as an adult prepubescent cocks and balls?
What is ‘groping’? It is an instance of lust. These men find the boys they touch and contemplate touching beautiful. Many will want to fuck them: there is no reason their feelings of lust should be different from other adults’ for adult partners. If there is a link between that lust and their nostalgia for boyhood it is not a rational one. We may say that adults violate boys from a wish to recover innocence by pursuing and possessing it where it thrives; or from a desire vengefully to soil it before its time and rob it from the boy that is its finest expression. Or equally we may tell a modern kind of story and say that these abusing men at base want to find the purest hole and set up camp in it – allowing that the sex-drive in homosexuals is not just because they cannot procreate (which the masturbator knows too) severed from the will to procreation, to plant a genetic flag where it is beautifully evident no one has before.* And such a concocted evolutionary-psychological account is no less plausible, and no less rational, than the literary one whose romantic shade, even in Hari’s admonitory piece, lends it extenuating force that account precludes. They are rationalisations all. Be frank about lust.
* I’d associate this with The Guardian's: ‘The report warns of a culture where a “homogenised, pre-pubescent genital appearance” is therefore being perceived as the norm’: people are not in their compromises but are they a standing army of eugenicists?
“‘Practised ease’ is very nasty, and it’s hard to imagine anything more sanctimonious, or devoted to what we might think of as the snobbery of suffering. But this is the writing of a man who thinks he has a vocation for unhappiness, who thinks unhappiness is a genuine vocation, and surely horror must await such a man if he wakes one day to see he is mistaken.”—Michael Wood
Only climate scientists know enough about climate science to say with confidence whether claims that derive from it are true or false. Therefore I (for example) cannot say that global warming is true, only that a majority of climate scientists think so. While it seems likely, I don’t know and I haven’t felt able definitively to judge they are right. And since I would say with great confidence that as a species we will fail effectively to address as manifold a problem before it’s too late, in the interest of my own equanimity I welcome credible arguments from creditable sceptics. But, observing the debate with a pessimistic eye for comfort against the foreboding consensus, the nonscientist will swiftly take surprise at how many soi-disant sceptics are nonscientists too, and how many of those who aren’t specialise in irrelevant fields. In a grimmer way it is surprising how uncritically the scepticism one meets with begins to reflect the shrunken sense of ‘sceptic’ that is idiomatic to this conversation, manifesting rather an incorrigible prejudice against any IPCC-like consensus than the classical sceptic’s unfeeling openness to empirical pressure. And so we hear Melanie Phillips on Question Time this week stating with rueful certainty, around minute 23,
The fact is I’m afraid to say and you may find this a little hard to understand and to take because certainly the BBC isn’t telling you this but there is no evidence for global warming …
Again, I’m incompetent to say that she is wrong. But how implausible this is! The mind that believes it can hardly call itself sceptical, because the interacademic conspiracy it entails is vastly more repellent to common assumption than are the instances of mainstream climatology, even if likewise uncorroborated. The most she can say, herself being an English graduate and opinionwriter, is the consensus according to X misinterprets dataset Y, not that no item of evidence cited by the IPCC, interpreted correctly and free of bias, underwrites the warming hypothesis – nor indeed that every such item falsifies it. Of course it’s possible the scientists are wrong; it is just impossible that they are absolutely wrong and Melanie Phillips knows by a journalist’s intuition what none of them has found or owned to finding: the reason why. The claim to scepticism and the concurrent abdication of it as regards that which it implies in this unique application is neither sceptical nor rational. I don’t know why Phillips has arrived there. Perhaps the resistance she conceives herself waging in the shadow of the leftist-authoritarian behemoth (she imputes to climate scientists ‘totalitarian’ zealotry in the linked programme) countermands in her psychology the soft power of reason (with its theatre of whispers behind the palace doors). I doubt she is lying. But she is full of all conviction.
Update: Steven Poole, whose whole blog is excellent, does this better here.
“There’s nothing McChrystal’s non-Pashto speaking soldiers can say or do to counteract a simple Taliban-to-villager one-liner “we’re in a jihad to throw out the foreigners”.”—Escobar again. It’s amazing how cheaply western discourse summarises the unassimilable for its bipolar template
“skilful management cannot resolve Karzai’s main dilemma: any bargain he strikes is good only so long as his US backers remain in place. Both Karzai and his opponents know that the surge of 40,000 extra troops proposed by US General McChrystal is unsustainable, and that any agreements dependent on battlefield advances will be short-lived at best.”—Alex de Waal
Richer than absolutes, we should take solace in true inevitabilities. We neglect them too much. This one elicits a cold awe: There will be a concluded history of man. Barring interplanetary or interstellar expedition — granting hard limits to the capability of the technology we create — which both we may well bar, and well grant — to humanity’s history there is an inevitable end. While it cannot be written, this future will exist to be known: it is inevitable I will never know it.
As if a poet retreading a difficult phrase for the fiftieth time, one has to estrange oneself into this thought. It is like the fact that, this century, there will be vastly more us coexisting here, and on a decreasingly habitable planet, than ever before. Which is a new thing. I want to know what I can’t: What on earth will happen?
“What Obama seems to have discovered is that this is no longer the war that began eight years ago. That war was an act of retribution and prevention. But now who are we punishing? What are we preventing? […] The fifth war is becoming a sixth.”—Hertzberg
Let’s see, can’t have ‘punctuate’, that’s a cliché and Martin’s got a war on against those, how about – wait – where do we find punctuation? Paper. And what are all the other little black dots we find on paper called? Which look like full stops. Like holes punched through, at points. P – pate – p – perforations! That’s it, James: good prose. Pressurised, interesting prose. No unthinking clichés from me – I trick mine out. Now, why not go back to showing Rory how to make an iffy close-reading bear undue weight?
But once again we’re fighting in remote provinces against an enemy who can bleed us slowly and wait us out, because he will still be there when we are gone.
Once again, we are caught between warring factions in a country where other foreign powers fail before us. Once again, every setback brings a call for more troops, although no one can say how long they will be there or what it means to win. Once again, the government we are trying to help is hopelessly corrupt and incompetent.
And once again, a President pushing for critical change at home is being pressured to stop dithering, be tough, show he’s got the guts, by sending young people seven thousand miles from home to fight and die, while their own country is coming apart.
And once again, the loudest case for enlarging the war is being made by those who will not have to fight it, who will be safely in their beds while the war grinds on. And once again, a small circle of advisers debates the course of action, but one man will make the decision.
We will never know what would have happened if Lyndon Johnson had said no to more war. We know what happened because he said yes.
I’ve been worrying at this question. I think (yeah, it’s pretty well a priori): insurgencies like that of the Taliban are categorically difficult to win against, such that it is essential for politicians (and fair) clearly but not brazenly to redefine ‘victory’ in a campaign they will lose in the usual sense of loss.
Conventional-war victories are actually surrenders – that is the cessation of fighting by a military (or country) so compromised it can fight no more. But fighting in a theatre that consists wholly of the territory of which your opponent wants to retake control means: (a) an ‘insurgent’-fighting force is by default, and perhaps definition, an occupying one too, and its simple presence in the theatre occasions resistance so that (the ultimate incoherence of one’s enemy aside) there can be no irrevocable post-surrender condition, and no stable one immediately after – any withdrawal can reverse the victory-conditions that triggered it; (b) one’s simple presence in the theatre ensures that there is nothing coherent that might surrender to one – one cannot eradicate, and Yglesias has said this many times, every armed citizen who opposes what they believe to be an occupier – at the moment we invaded, did not most Pashtuns become in potential ‘Taliban’? It is a problem of geography. From the fact of one’s prosecuting this kind of war it follows one has nothing definitive to win against. The only means to a decisive victory in the environment is to commit vastly more human hardware to the war, which is politically impossible and anyway would be crazy.
To avoid fomenting resistance in a territory that is a theatre of war one has visibly to limit or renounce violence. Since the cardinal purpose of the war in Afghanistan is counterterrorism, there are limits on what we can limit. COIN, which also involves lavishing various tribes with money and building a nation with the power of cash, is a way for domestic politicians to redefine victory in the context by strategising such a reduction of violence so it doesn’t look like our relenting – a way of acting rather than playing the benign humanitarian uncle (with jets) long enough for violence to subside so we can withdraw with arguable honour. Though it may make violence likelier to break out once we do, politically it would recalibrate our apparent responsibility for that.
Victory here is accepting we can’t win. And it matters we end this well.
I just finished for good 26 000 words about the reception of Geoffrey Hill that I hope to be published (in some form) and admired. When a writer makes a dent in you, a deep dent, you’ve got to feel it out, and this is that work. It took some time. But I think it has FLAWS GALORE.
Its empirical, empiricist cheer reflects my own. In the cause of openness then I will recount here what I believe to be the essay’s severest shortcoming:
I am guilty of shutting my eyes (‘He shut his eyes’) to Hill’s world. I neglect to make the fair distinction, with evidence from the work, between (1) Hill’s conception of his own reception, (2) Hill’s conception of others’ reception and of reception in general and (3) Hill’s conception of the outside world and of the ‘not-self’ in more general general (should a ‘distinction between’ have just two prongs?). This lapse is what legitimates my critical position against Hill.
“She also includes a single, dry 261-word passage on the September 11 attacks, the most crucial foreign-policy event of the past 20 years […]. (For contrast, a letter she pens in the voice of her son Trig’s “creator” drags on for 623.)”—FP
“Everyone keeps saying that America is not an empire, but our military finds itself in the sort of situation that was mighty familiar to empires like that of ancient Rome and 19th-century Britain: struggling in a far-off corner of the world to exact revenge, to put down the fires of rebellion, and to restore civilized order. Meanwhile, other rising and resurgent powers wait patiently in the wings, free-riding on the public good we offer. This is exactly how an empire declines, by allowing others to take advantage of its own exertions.”—Robert D Kaplan
All I know about this war is what reporters tell me. I don’t have expertise, I follow the news and the blogs. And when I, an observer with only my own scepticism to resort to, double-take the terms in which more knowledgeable writers are defending the war, they disintegrate with a queasy swiftness.
Paddy Ashdown, for example, whom I quote below and according to Oliver Kamm ‘a figure of real stature’, in his column forecasts a series of baleful scenarios that British ‘failure or withdrawal’ would bring about. First, and ‘inevitably’, there’s the ‘certain fall of Pakistan’ – and perhaps a jihadi nuke. What I want to know is inevitable about the fall of a 600 000-strong army to a guerrilla group intent primarily on winning back power in the neighbouring country whence they originate? Ashdown doesn’t show his work. And he forgets the Americans, who would not in even their dovishest future allow the transfer of Pakistani nukes to Islamists of any shade. Which countries in the region itself could find this tolerable? Here is David Rothkopf on the matter of Pakistan:
Afghanistan is only relevant relative to Pakistan. Does that make Afghanistan important? Only if we can use it as a base from which we can contain the threats posed from within Pakistan. But the reality is given the terrain in the mountains on the border, we have spent eight years proving that we can’t really do that. And our friends in Kabul are running such a bogus government that it is unlikely they will prove to be a useful aid in such matters anytime in the foreseeable future. Thus, if Afghanistan is only relevant as far as it can help deal with threats in Pakistan and it can’t really help very much with those, it is actually not that important.
The second foreknown consequence of failure or withdrawal is greater vulnerability to terrorism over here. Recall this enemy, the international terrorist one, is not the other capable of toppling Pakistan, but al-Qaida, a ‘maximum’ of 100 of whom remain in the territory our soldiers die fighting for. Should we withdraw or fail, Ashdown believes, al-Qaida would again have half of Afghanistan to hatch and grow their plots unworried by western predation. This is probably wrong: the US is no more going to let new training camps operate undisturbed than it will be able to empty the extent of rural Afghanistan of all enemies. Indeed, one increasingly popular strategy would restrict the provision of security to urban foci. McChrystal’s rawest dreams would not entertain the conquering for Karzai of all Afghanistan.
Ashdown’s third prediction – failure or withdrawal would damage NATO – is fair enough, but his ‘deadly and probably mortal blow’ (not mortal and probably deadly?) is a weird overstatement, like Con Coughlin's 'the existential threat posed [by Islamist terrorists]': if we withdrew unilaterally, the blow would be less to NATO than to Britain in respect of it.
The fouth and last is plausibly bizarre. Consider the phrase ‘mortal blow’. That must mean our failure in Afghanistan of a government which some attest is just as repressive (‘medieval’) as its predecessor and which is certainly fraudulent would, according to Ashdown, halt forever the modernisation of Islam. Again: the defeat of Islam’s fundamentalists, which I would have considered an intra-religious matter, is the total responsibility of the West – and militarily! They have invented a freedom bomb. Worse than an overstatement, this is a distortion. Jason Burke:
It is almost certain that any stable Afghanistan is going to be much more conservative, much more anti-western and much more authoritarian than we would like.
Ashdown’s murky speculation is not what’s really wrong with the piece. I can of course agree that, ‘These are, to put it mildly, outcomes we should seek to avoid’ (as long as Ashdown agrees we should balance this with an equal determination to avoid the deaths of more troops and foreign innocents). No, his column’s problem is its recommended fix for those dire outcomes: ‘shifting our emphasis from national institutions to local ones.’ That’s it! Read the whole thing. I don’t even know that he says we should do what Obama does (once he decides), it’s not clear, and anyway we cannot not. To recap: for Ashdown, here, occupier-sponsored local government has the power to prevent the fall of Pakistan to militants, finish al-Qaida terrorist operations from Afghan territory, and win back Islam from the fundamentalists.
(It’s odd that Nader Mousavizadeh, who in analysis wholly different to Ashdown’s argues that Afghanistan is undergoing a civil war in which the coalition has taken sides and which it cannot end, offers the same policy advice: ‘What we confront is not, in fact, an insurgency but rather a civil war — one whose resolution can only be found in a new decentralized Afghan politics based on the enduring, if ugly, realities of power there, and not through another decade of Western military intervention.’ But Mousavizadeh’s decentralisation would entail withdrawal: ‘The reality is that the War of 9/11 against al Qaeda and its backers will not be won — or lost — in Afghanistan.’)
Now this is a predicament of rhetoric: Ashdown has the ominous persuasive set-up, but no consoling smart pay-off. If he’s right then we’re stuck with local government as the ‘solution’ to terrorism and nuclear-armed Jihad. This suggests to me that avoiding his four outcomes doesn’t really depend on not withdrawing and not failing in Afghanistan, as he wants to argue. Which is because, he knows, the only eventuality that is sure to prompt withdrawal is the continuation of the loss of public support now occurring. His column is propaganda against that loss.
Malcolm Rifkind shares Ashdown’s intuition. About the political realities he is right: neither Obama nor Brown can withdraw while it looks anything like defeat or surrender. One senses this fear is the decisive reason why we’ll stay. Just listen to Coughlin:
at least he [Kim Howells] now has the distinction of being the first Labour politician of rank to put his name publicly to what could become our terms of surrender.
(We should be wary of such militarism, because if we accept it, we gift the hawks a permanently renewable justification for war, even if McChrystal fails. Is it a surrender if we lose nothing?) It seems obvious Obama will have to give McChrystal a good whack at the surge advocated for and let him show that COIN, suitably adapted from Iraq, can work in even thornier situations, or that it can’t. Brown and then Cameron will consent automatically. I don’t even not support this: my single hard policy recommendation is merely that the British government should bind itself, not necessarily publicly and rather in the style of this reported ultimatum, to troop reductions in the event after three to five years of its own timescale of COIN’s failure. But how does Rifkind make his case?
In his broadside at Howells I think were he honest he would have acknowledged the difference between saying that terrorism as domestic law enforcement (hackishly, ‘fortress Britain’) will be enough, and saying that terrorism as domestic law enforcement will be a substitute for that which our suppression of the Afghan insurgency will achieve, demonstrably. To do Howells’ thinking for him I’ll say he is where he is precisely because he doesn’t believe the Afghanistan war can get us what law enforcement, with its roster of foiled plots, has shown it can.
The sad fact is that about 80% of planned terrorist incidents in this country have originated from planning and training in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We cannot just pull out our forces without giving an unprecedented boost to al-Qaida and their allies.
(The linked story actually says ‘three quarters’.) This is deceptive in two ways: (1) it merges together Afghanistan and Pakistan – how much of the 80% / three quarters is Afghanistan’s share? The Coalition’s MQ-9s are its only troops in Pakistan (perhaps with special forces), because our engagement there is fundamentally politically limited. We can lavish them with armaments but we cannot win their war. And (2) the second sentence is a non sequitur. It is too strong a claim, for its undeclared assumption is that our forces can prevent terrorist islamists planning and training, now or in Rifkind’s desired end-state. But you can plan and train anywhere. Atta trained in Florida! To stop terrorists planning and training, you have to eliminate all terrorists; the US with its satellites and infinite cash hasn’t caught bin Laden eight years after 9/11. Yes, you can make it harder to train, as we’ve already done forcing them out of Nangarhar in 2001 – so the proper question is how much blood we want to pay for how much hindrance.
There’s less to object to in the second half. Rifkind’s ‘The reality is that such a unilateral withdrawal would not only destroy our special relationship with President Obama’ is worrying because I don’t think it’s at all clear that a Britain whose foreign policy is more independent of Washington is weaker and less respected than one that pretty much has to do everything the US wants. What’s ‘special’ about this relationship? Doesn’t it reek of timidity? Matthew Yglesias' anonymous Chinese has the pungent comment, 'over the past decade you’ve spent $1 trillion on Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve spent $1 trillion building the future of China.' I don't think the war has gilded our reputation there (Walt agrees), and I doubt continuing it another five years would change that.
Rifkind echoes Ashdown’s point that our withdrawal would lose Pakistan’s war for it. My ignorance hobbles me here. Tell me how a force of Pashtuns resisting what they see as hostile occupation with nothing more potent than AKs, rockets and explosives could be willing or able to effect an Islamabad coup. Is the assumption they will when they take power in Kabul go officially to war?
Then comes the policy advice and an Ashdownian disappointment: ‘The proper alternative to the status quo is not unilateral British withdrawal. It is to ensure that, over the next three years, the Afghan army is trained and enlarged to enable it to take full responsibility for ensuring stability and security in their country.’ That’ll do it! A decade-young tribally-compromised army in the fitful control of a corrupt and weak administration will shut down al-Qaida’s planning and training for terrorism on the border, shield our interests and save our reputation, and win Pakistan’s assault on Lashkar-e-Islam. The set-up overshadows the pay-off. It seems if Rifkind’s dystopian outcomes are well foreseen, there’s nothing we can do that will avoid them.
I’d hazard that in the minds of these commentators and sustaining their incoherence is the fantasy of a robust Afghan state that we might given another five or ten years fight into life. Is this impossible? It is not I think but if our eight years’ experience in the country tells us anything it’s that it’s so unlikely we should not invest another eight in the hope. Our politicians’ resolve should (and does) trouble us – what if the fantasy is only a fantasy? Jeff Randall:
What has cracked, however, is enthusiasm for their task, largely because too few of us have the faintest notion of what victory looks like. The idea that, after a bloody military campaign, we can leave behind a “normalised”, democratic Afghanistan, free from the Taliban, with sufficient resources and appetite to police itself, tests credulity to destruction.
Advocates against withdrawal have the luxury of a status quo bias of unusual strength tugging their way: it can always be asked, Well what would you do? and since the alternative natural to war (recall Coughlin) is ‘surrender’, the question can brandish its implied answer like a conclusive argument. Ashdown and Rifkind in their columns assume that withdrawal means an al-Qaida flourishing without restraint and the embarrassment of defeat for Britain. But they must know there is no prospect of this, so their columns have the effect of limiting discussion to a tactically helpful duologue, with non-serious defeatists in rigged subordination to serious duty-bound warmakers. (We can’t lose if we keep going.) America, though I’d guess Obama wants an endgame rather than a functioning nation, won’t withdraw whatever we do at least until McChrystal has had his turn, so their only valid counterfactual is the disruption of NATO. (And that simplified: if Britain wanted withdrawal, it could pursue coordination through private channels, and given failure would not have to do what Canada has.) The real choice, which neither writer addresses or admits, is that between Petraeus-McChrystal counterinsurgency and a more conservative, Stewart-like mission of development and counterterrorism. I can’t see that COIN will not win politically, but in moderation (few think Obama will opt for all McChrystal’s 40 000) and in the short term, so for now pundits will have no difficulty conceiving of their opponents as cowards who want to ignore al-Qaida just until they decapitate the Queen.
52 people died on 7/7, 2005. 409 soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Before they think that they are on the side that wants to win, whatever victory is to them, supporters of the war like Rifkind and Ashdown should ask themselves, looking emotionlessly to the facts, whether carrying on will not become a different and bloodier way of giving up.
Update: It’s a trend: Boris Johnson had a column this morning (9 Nov.) in which the same rhetorical moves compel the same incoherence. He argues in brief: withdrawal would mean ‘military humiliation’, ‘surrender’, hoisting ‘the white flag’. Therefore we should (1) not leave, (2) stay, (3) do what America does and (4) send more helicopters. As I say I think this kind of militaristic framing is risky. Johnson’s fumbled cheerleading flirts with the implication that anything less than his ill-defined win (an event he concedes is likely to occur in the long term – the short’s for making things winnable) would constitute a betrayal of our military dead. But Johnson is conservative. If I fear that some things cannotbe done he has doctrinal grounds to. In the column it’s as though, could one say, ‘What if it’s impossible?’ and he heard, he’d reply, ‘It can’t be.’
The back burner is a game, and while the Diarists have various ideas about what constitutes winning, they all agree on how you lose: by betraying a level of emotional enthusiasm unmatched by the other party. Everyone’s afraid disarmament won’t be mutual.
To disarm unilaterally is a strategic error on so many levels—it commits you to a degree of openness you might not be able to maintain, and it exposes vulnerabilities that your counterparty might not be able to resist exploiting. It signals desperation, clinginess, high-maintenance. Most of all, it risks exposing the fond hope, better kept to oneself, that one yearns to leave behind the serial fuck buddies, friends with benefits, and other back-burner relationships to which one had, at some significant expenditure of effort, inured oneself.
A few minutes later, he [Lévi-Strauss] was asked to give a little speech. He spoke extemporaneously, without notes, in a slow, stately voice.
‘Montaigne,’ he began, ‘said that aging diminishes us each day in a way that, when death finally arrives, it takes away only a quarter or half the man. But Montaigne only lived to be 59, so he could have no idea of the extreme old age I find myself in today’ – which, he added, was one of the ‘most curious surprises of my existence’. He said he felt like a ‘shattered hologram’ that had lost its unity but still retained an image of the whole self.
If we are going to have a European President, there is a good case for having Blair rather than anyone else – and that is precisely why he won’t get it. For all his faults, Tony Blair is an Atlanticist, who understands the vital role of America in the world. He is instinctively a free-trader. He has earned such phenomenal sums from speaking to audiences of Right-wing Americans that we can safely assume that he is a defender of the Anglo-Saxon market economy. And that is why his candidature – if it ever really emerged – would not get off first base. It is not just that he is permanently and irrevocably identified with George W Bush and the dodgy pretext for war on Iraq.
Can you really imagine Nicolas Sarkozy being willing to share the international limelight with our Tony, when Blair is British, charismatic, and not remotely frightened of appearing in photocalls with people of more than five foot five inches in height? […]
The job will go Buggins-style to some relatively inoffensive Luxembourg socialist or superannuated Finnish environment minister. At which point, of course, the question is posed with even more force. Who is this person? Who elected them? By what right will he or she be purporting to speak for us in the UK?
The first two paragraphs are really odd. Johnson says the reasons why Blair is a good candidate for EU President – that he is Atlanticist and a free-marketeer – are also why he can’t be one. OK, we think, this is guna be counterintuitive, because Europe is currently in a centre-right mood to which both of those Blairite inclinations are quite amenable. Johnson follows: the reason why the reasons why Blair would be a good President are also why he can’t be is that Nicolas Sarkozy would become envious and feel humiliated in his presence (‘Blair is British’!), and will use France’s power to avoid having so to feel.
Here’s what I don’t get. Is Blair in Johnson’s vision supposed to unsettle Sarkozy because Blair’s views are too like or too unlike the French President’s?
I think his intending the former is more plausible but I genuinely don’t know. If he meant the latter, that would betray the same scoffing insularity we hear in his assumption that the Luxembourger candidate would hail from the left. As I said, the political colour of Europe is now bluish. And in Luxembourg itself the Christian Social People’s Party, one of Christian democracy and conservatism, has dominated the Krautmaart since World War II.
“First, failure or withdrawal would mean the certain fall of Pakistan. Pakistan could, of course, fall of its own accord. But it would inevitably do so as a result of failure in Afghanistan. So abandoning Afghanistan doubles the chances of a jihadi government in Islamabad. Would this certainly result in jihadi hands on a nuclear bomb? Maybe not. But do we want to take the risk?”—How does Ashdown know this? Pakistan has an army of 600 000
“I was eating all those Penguins. I couldn’t leave them. Blue followed yellow followed green. An army of Penguins […]. Terrible state they were in. They went in all proud and came out bewildered, like Vietnam vets.”—Russell Brand. Impressive if extempore