Friday, December 04, 2015
Wednesday, December 02, 2015
Of course, the UK is already bombing Syria, as it is bombing Iraq. And this fact is itself part of Cameron's case for war. As he explained, "it is working in Iraq" and so it will probably work in Syria. So what is his mission? To "degrade ISIL and reduce the threat they pose".
Please note the incredibly obvious evacuation of meaning in this appeal. 'Degrade' and 'reduce' Daesh? One is reminded of the rationale given for Clinton's bombing of Iraq in 1998, viz. that it would 'degrade and diminish' Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and his ability to threaten his neighbours. Even if Hussein had still been in possession of such weapons, this rhetoric was meaningless. You can arguably 'degrade' just by breaking a window. You can arguably 'diminish' just by decapitating a passing teenager. These are not precise objectives.
On the subject of Iraq, is it in fact, "working" there? I don't think we should be under any illusion that the superior firepower of the US and its allies, tied to ground forces, can militarily defeat Daesh. And the evidence is that Daesh has lost territory and important supply routes, its footprint is shrinking. Most of these losses in Iraq have not come about through bombing, but rather through the exertions of the Iraqi Army and Kurdish peshmerga. (This is why there is so much emphasis on Cameron's claim that there are 70,000 fighters in Syria ready to support and coordinate with a bombing campaign.) Yet, as in all such wars, the dominant axis on which these matters are settled is political rather than military. And in that light, we have to think about why such gains as are made often seem to melt away astonishingly quickly.
One reason given by the military leadership is what Major General Tim Cross calls the low "moral cohesion" of the Iraqi army. That is to say, even in scenarios where they have outnumbered their Daesh rivals, they have withdrawn from combat rather than being willing to bear losses. US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter likewise blames a lack of "will to fight" on the Iraqi side. This is why the US is escalating its involvement on the ground by deploying "special expeditionary forces". Clearly, this says volumes about the nature of the regime deploying such troops and its ability to summon loyalty, but more fundamentally I suspect that such apparent lack of valour derives from a simple calculus: what will we do once we have taken the territory?
After all, the Sunni triangle was lost to the Iraqi army for a reason: because the government of Iraq has no legitimacy there, having expended all of it in waves of sectarian repression and persistent, structural exclusion. Nouri al-Maliki, under US tutelage, consolidated a sectarian power base in the south of Iraq, while systematically moving to repress and marginalise non-sectarian Sunni opponents. Mass protests in Sunni areas produced no change in policy, and in fact protest was met by torture and executions carried out by Shia death squads. Maliki was elected on a platform nominally committed to opposing sectarianism and the fragmentation of Iraq, but evidently saw no compelling reason to reverse the patterns established since 2003. So, even if the Iraqi army was able to recapture Ramadi, there is no good reason to think they would be able to keep it. It would be something, at least, if there was a sincere Iraqi nationalism aimed at preserving the unity and integrity of the state, but that doesn't even appear to be the official doctrine in Baghdad. And it doesn't strike one as obvious that their soldiers should think of dying just so that Maliki and his patrimonial allies can hang on to another piece of territory. It is for this reason that the fragility of the Iraqi Army is often contrasted with the relative discipline and cohesion of Daesh (who are, to be clear, a motley assortment of ultra-reactionary Islamists, secular Ba'athists, and jihadi tourists).
If we prioritise the political analysis over the military analysis, it becomes easier to understand how this has happened, how Daesh has been able to significantly increase its global recruitment in the context of the bombing campaign, and how it might continue to metastasise globally even if it is deprived of its present territorial resources. This should be borne in mind each time Cameron or a pro-war MP says that the question is whether we fight them here or over there: the answer is that you'll be doing the former more on account of the latter. It also puts the question of 'civilian deaths' in its correct context. This is not only a humanitarian issue - and we should be wary of allowing it to be reduced to such, as the ruling class often proves fairly adept at neutralising and manipulating humanitarian sentiment which isn't appropriately politicised. The murder of large numbers of residents of large population centres by aerial bombardment is, in this context, in this world, precisely what is most likely to galvanise support for Daesh. And it is clear that in Iraq at least, they do enjoy some support.
But Cameron argues that the bombing of Daesh in Raqqa is part of a wider, sophisticated strategy in which, through political pressure and international dialogue, a "new government" will be brought to power in Syria. Leaving aside, for the second, all arguments about the merits of such a policy, the idea that bombing Daesh-controlled population centres in Syria is an essential aspect of relieving Assad of power is absurd. Even if the stated goal of 'degrading' and 'reducing' ISIS suddenly acquired some sort of urgent precision, even if Daesh started to concede territory rather than consolidating their dominion, it is not obvious what effect this would have on the balance of power between Assad and the Syrian opposition, or upon the diplomacy. It is quite possible that Assad would be the major beneficiary by using his superior military clout to take the vacated territory. Notably, this is exactly what has happened as Assad, backed by Russian military clout, took towns near Homs from Daesh - they began to use that territorial gain to escalate the offensive against the opposition in Homs. That leads us to another aspect of the war, which is precisely the Russian intervention on behalf of Assad. There is thus far no sign that this will abate. Indeed, if a new bombing campaign begins and the stakes are raised, it is likely that Russia will intensify its bombing of opposition-held territories. Indeed, there are already claims - denied by the Kremlin - that Russia has despatched ground troops.
So given that there is no apparent commitment to entering into military combat either with Assad or with his Russian backers - and I think that is a good thing - it is not obvious what kind of military yield is expected. There is unlikely to be any kind of convincing breakthrough that will validate the campaign any time soon, and it seems that before long the question of ground troops will be posed.
We are still, then, left with the question we began with. The explicit rationales offered for the bombing campaign plainly make no sense, and the government's propaganda looks incredibly shaky around it. It seems to me that there is a logic to the bombing, but it has far less to do with Syria than it does with: i. the calculus of consolidating the Conservative leadership in parliament, reversing the setback in 2013, and weakening the opposition (which, mission accomplished); ii. the domestic politics of putting any potential anti-austerity alliance centre on the Corbyn-led Labour Party on the back-foot; and iii. the geopolitics of augmenting the global prestige of an imperialist military. This can be done in a low-cost way (the estimated tens of millions of pounds cost being insignificant in government spending terms), and in an era when the government has been significantly cutting the military budget. It is also easy to effect, as the bombers will simply be diverted from their existing missions in Iraq as of tomorrow.
It is not that imperialist states would not have good reason to want to destroy Daesh. Of course they do. They don't appreciate massacres in their major cities, and the US doesn't feel like ceding a big chunk of Iraq, which they expended a lot of blood and treasure to get control over, to the jihadis. It is just that the bombing campaign is peripheral to that objective. The problem is political. The reason Daesh could take control in parts of Iraq is because of the pathologies of a sectarian state. The reason it has ground in parts of Syria is because of a civil war in which Assad, backed by Russian imperialism, is massacring the opposition. Neither problem is amenable to this bombing campaign.
Monday, October 12, 2015
EasyJet and Gap Yahs. posted by Richard SeymourThis is the Britain Stronger in Europe first campaign video:
Monday, October 05, 2015
The Meaning of the Precariat posted by Richard SeymourMy early-morning talk at the Subversive Festival, in Zagreb.
Thursday, October 01, 2015
The culture of genocide posted by Richard SeymourJeremy Corbyn is opposed, under any circumstances, to the use of weapons of mass destruction. He is opposed to weapons whose use is inherently genocidal. There is no circumstance under which it is conceivable that the military use of nuclear weapons would be anything short of insane, and Corbyn is opposed to that. He would not push the button. And our political and media class finds this to be outrageous.
The pundits are noisy and truculent. But behind their noisy rationalisations, there is this symptomatic aporia. They will not say it. Not a single one of them can or will say under what circumstances they would consider the use of nuclear weapons. Instead, we get mysteriously complacent bluster along the lines that "it would be lovely to live in Corbyn's world of magical elves and fairies, faw faw faw, where no one is ever unkind, faw faw faw, but this is the real world, faw faw faw, what would he do if the Islamic State threatened Britain with a dirty bomb, faw faw faw...".
The Westminster consensus is monstrous. It couldn't be clearer that for its adherents, Britain's role in the world, and all of the immense material gains that businesses and investors derive from this dominance, depends upon the continued implied threat of nuclear genocide - and they're ultimately very comfortable with that.
It is better that we know this than that we don't. We have endured years of histrionics over weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. The 'Iran deal', about which there is some misplaced triumphalism, followed years of belligerent falsehoods and tub-thumping for war, because someone might break Israel's nuclear monopoly in the region. And the very same state elites and a media claques that would not hesitate to 'push the button', and for whom the idea of not ever doing that is something absurd and drippy, to be scoffed at, are the ones who raised the alarm. It is, as I say, good to know.
The two faces of Labourism posted by Richard Seymour
Saturday, September 19, 2015
If you want to know what the consensus is made of, just look at what the media considers a gaffe. Corbyn, a republican, doesn't sing the royalist national anthem. Gaffe. Corbyn, a socialist, appointed a hard-left socialist as shadow chancellor. Gaffe. Corbyn refused to answer journalists' questions. Ultra-gaffe. That's just rude. From the Guardian to the Express, from the New Statesman's craven toeing of the Blairite line to the lies in supposedly neutral dailies like the Metro, from The Sun's made-up 'exclusives' to the queue of Labour MPs and liberal pundits lining up to spew bile for the Daily Mail, from Tory attack ads to the Telegraph screaming for Corbyn's head, the media and the political class have near total unanimity in their ferocious anti-socialism. I know we call them 'the bourgeois media', but not even the most crass, petty-minded Stalinist apparatchik could have produced a caricature as venomous and despicable as our lot.
In that vein, let me draw your attention to a story that has appeared in The Independent, with these words in the headline: "Jeremy Corbyn 'loses a fifth of Labour voters'". Understand, this headline is a complete lie. The first warning is those scare quotes. Before the authors even get to the story, they're distancing themselves from its major argument. The next is the fact that the article opens, not - as would be logical - with a quick summary of the point of the story, but with some entirely other statistics. The third is that, when they actually do refer to the main point of the story in the second paragraph, it is already watering the story down, saying that one in five people who previously voted Labour are "more likely to vote Conservative next time". That is already not the same as Corbyn 'losing' a fifth of Labour voters. Unsurprisingly, even this claim is given no elaboration. Instead, the juice of the story is presented in a series of charts, which represent the results of the study. What the figures actually show is as follows:
63% of Labour voters say they are more likely to vote Labour in the next election with Corbyn as leader, as opposed to 20% of those voters who say they are more likely to vote Conservative. There are similarly polarised responses among other voters. So, for example, over a third of SNP voters, approximately a third of Lib Dems, about one fifth of UKIP voters and 8% of Tories are more likely to vote Labour with Corbyn as Labour leader. By the same token, four fifths of Tory voters are more determined to vote for their own party, just under a fifth of SNP voters would be more likely to vote Tory, while a third of Liberals and a whopping 40% of Ukipers would be more likely to vote Conservative. Corbyn has not lost a fifth of Labour voters. What he has done is polarised the voters. And polarisation, in this context, is a good thing. It shows that there's something in the fight, for once, and that people are being motivated.
What is more, these results give us a clue as to how evaluate the responses to other questions. In ORB and Yougov's polling, there have been questions asked which follow the agenda of the Conservatives and the anti-Corbyn media, inquiring as to exactly how much like a Prime Minister Corbyn looks, how much you'd trust him with this or that. The results, of course, don't look good. Corbyn is a new figure for most of the public, his policy ideas are new, and they are being brought up in a context of near total ideological monopoly of neoliberalism for over thirty years. His first days as leader have been characterised by an intense campaign of character assassination. I think it would be odd, in the best of circumstances, for a majority of people to suddenly find him utterly trustworthy on the economy and schools, and these are not the best of circumstances. And yet, here you have evidence that far from being put off, a very considerable number of people are attracted to Corbyn's Labour. The only electoral poll we've had since Corbyn's election as Labour leader thus far, has given Labour a small bounce, rather than registering some sort of collapse in the Labour vote. To me, this is a good reminder of how carefully to handle such polls - the answers to polling question are as polysemic as the questions themselves. If asked whether Corbyn looks Prime Ministerial, you could quite honestly answer 'no', given the way the image of Corbyn is mediated, and still think he's a huge improvement on everyone else thus far.
Understand this. The ferocity of the British media in this instance has nothing whatever to do with Corbyn's media strategy, spin or lack thereof. Certainly, they're offended at Corbyn's refusal to play their game. Certainly, they would be kinder to a slick, amoral businessman bashing immigrants. But the media will never coddle Corbyn in the way that it does Farage. Not for him the complicit, stagey antagonism with which right-wing populists are greeted. The difference is that the mass media in this country agrees with and defends and articulates the principles upon which Farage stakes his claims, but can barely understand let alone sympathise with the principles underlying the current Labour leadership's position.
You can't understand the reasons for this in simple commercial terms. It isn't about securing advertising accounts, or selling copy. Nor is it simply about the short-term interests of their proprietors. It is primarily about their integration into the party-political machinery. It is about their dependence on, and participation in, the exercise of state power. They are active participants in policy debates, the selection of political leaders, and the outcome of elections. Apart from the schools, they are the major institutions through which the dominant ideology of the national state is reproduced. They are, in short, "ideological state apparatuses". And the reason they are going feral is because the traditional mode of their domination is under attack. That, too, is a good thing.
Friday, September 18, 2015