Paranoid Putin wants a Ukraine poodle – and the Kremlin bullyboy won’t stop there

FRENCH cynics have a phrase for progress. ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’, they sneer, which roughly translates into, ‘The more it changes, the more the same old claptrap.’

So, for those who imagined the collapse of Soviet repression was an overture to genuine democracy in Russia, the straightjacket and funny farm awaits.

Granted, there was a brief flush of hope in the early 1990s, when, for all his boozy buffoonery, Boris Yeltsin wrested power from the fading, old Red Guard and promised liberal reforms.

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve, 1999, when a 47-year-old ex-KGB officer and political rookie called Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin suddenly emerged as Russia’s new boss and the truth dawned on realists that progress, Kremlin-style, was a transient mirage…the leopard merely reshuffling its spots.

In the decade-and-a-half since, even the last pipe-dreamer can no longer doubt Putin’s take on democracy is whatever he says it is and Siberia welcomes dissenters.

Because, after centuries of unrelenting brainwashing, like Pavlov’s dogs, Russia’s masses are conditioned to respecting a strongman, who fans their raging national pride, not to say endemic paranoia.

Western statesmen appear to have overlooked this glaring trait. Or, in the case of that most malleable of US President, Barack Obama, they’ve lulled themselves into the misguided belief Russians are just as much residents of the global village as everyone else, therefore abide by the same norms.

They don’t. And the code Putin applies – recently slammed as ‘19th Century rules’ by American Secretary of State, John Kerry – is little changed from the policies of Ivan the Terrible, Lenin and Stalin.

In a nutshell Moscow believes might is right and actions speak louder than words.

WINK LINK: Kremlin-watchers believe Putin had a cunning plan to draw the West into the Ukraine rumpus

WATCH MY WINK: Kremlin-watchers believe Putin had a cunning plan to draw the West into the Ukraine rumpus

So, following his diplomatic coups in mesmerising Obama into imagining Iran’s devious mullahs were peace-seeking pussycats and Syrian butcher, Bashar Assad, was really a much- maligned nice guy, poker-faced Putin has scooped the ultimate jackpot over Ukraine.

Of course, it could have been mere coincidence weeks ago that goons, in green uniforms minus military flashes and brandishing hardware far more lethal than anything the local militia toted, suddenly turned up, en masse, and land-grabbed the Crimean peninsula.

And, just perhaps, the insurrection by Ukraine’s 17% ethnic Russians in the east was simply a spontaneous poke in the eye to the interim Kiev regime that had booted out pro-Moscow brigand, Viktor Yanukovych.

But when Putin branded the upstarts a ‘fascist junta’ eager to cosy up to the European Union, the mantra fell on willing ears, since it rang with poignant echoes of WW2, when too many western Ukrainians queued up to join Hitler’s SS.

Which is why the West-backed presidential election in a week’s time will be a waste of polling paper. However transparent, Russia has already trashed the outcome by blessing last Sunday’s ‘plebiscite’ in Donetsk, where a massive 89% voted to split from Kiev and demand self-rule.

And if that result doesn’t deter Western adventurism into what Russia sees as its backyard, Putin’s banker bet is that NATO won’t mix it – just as it failed to do in Georgia in 2008 – if he orders phalanxes of T-95 tanks and Spetsnaz Special Forces to pour over the border and annex eastern Ukraine, as a postscript to Crimea.

Meantime, if this is the prelude to a new, Cold War world order, the big money’s on Putin saying, ‘Bring it on – see if I care.’

So no amount of Obama sanctions against his henchmen – which, tepid as they are, have rattled EU states reliant on Russia energy – will deter the expansionist, Russian bullyboy.

Notably, last week Germany signalled its mounting fears by warning its nationals in eastern Ukraine to beat a hasty retreat, foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, warning that the country is only a ‘few steps’ away from ‘military confrontation’.

The chief twerps in creating this stand-off are the EU. As America’s diplomatic eminence gris, Henry Kissinger wrote – during what I guess was an severe attack of verbal diarrhoea – ‘The European Union must recognise that its bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine’s relationship to Europe contributed to turning negotiation into a crisis.’

That might sound utter gobbledygook, but the master tactician of realpolitik is stating the blindingly obvious: the EU was too slow, too stupid and too arrogant in imagining it could prise free a cornerstone of Putin’s defensive rampart.

And the procession of Western big wigs, who rushed to Kiev to congratulate the rebels for bravely ousting Yanukovych – including Britain’s silly Billy Hague – made a colossal misjudgement in thinking they could de-claw the Russian bear.

Putin was not only expecting EU meddling, Kremlin-watchers reckon he long ago hatched a cunning plan to spark, then check it, by skyrocketing the price of Russian gas to Ukraine in anticipation of the West charging in like Custer’s Seventh Cavalry (and no reminders about what happened to them!).

EURO FOOLS: Elder statesman, Henry Kissinger, believes the EU is to blame for trying to woo the new Kiev regime

EURO FOOLS: Elder statesman, Henry Kissinger, believes the EU is to blame for trying to woo the new Kiev regime

Now, no amount of diplomatic embroidery will patch up the beleaguered country, even if some dodgy fudge is fashioned, whereby the eastern provinces are granted autonomy – under Moscow’s protective wing, naturally.

All this runs counter to the 1994 deal hammered out in Budapest, whereby Russia, the EU and US guaranteed to respect Ukraine’s borders.

However, since this was five years before his Kremlin putsch, Putin isn’t inclined to honour it; besides, Vlad The Invader has invented the perfect excuse for intervention: defending ethnic Russian minorities.

That same logic applies to Estonia and Latvia, where some 25% of their populations are descended from detested Russian incomers, transplanted during the communist era to slap down local aggro.

Unlike Ukraine, though, both states are NATO members, which is why the West is growing increasingly edgy over the future of its Baltic flank.

Though in no mood for military confrontation, Obama and friends must know if they don’t face down Russian thuggery there, they might as well shut up for good.

Because, while the Kremlin’s bully has changed faces from Soviet times, he still spouts the same old claptrap.

‘Plus ça change, etc…’ as the French say.

 

 

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How Iran conned the trusting West into the great Geneva ‘giveaway’

AT around 5 a.m. a week last Saturday, when the various parties yawned their way through the obligatory photo-shoot after the night-long charade that passed as ‘nuclear peace talks’ in Geneva, who had the most to smile about?

It was a no-contest, because the jubilant grins, lit up like a torchlight procession of skiers descending a Swiss Alp, all belonged to the Iranians.

And the biggest winner wasn’t even there. The crafty, turbaned 74-year-old, Ali Khamenei, a religious fanatic who styles himself Supreme Leader, was sitting several thousand miles away in Tehran, no doubt stroking his beard, eyes agleam at how the UN-anointed delegation of pliant diplomats, the P5+1, could be so easily conned.

After a decade of deceit, deception and time-wasting, the world’s premier purveyor of terror had won the most decisive war of words with the West since Hitler convinced Neville Chamberlain back in 1938 his intentions towards Czechoslovakia were entirely honourable and pigs could fly.

So, following the shameful Munich Pact, say hello to the great Geneva ‘giveaway’. And, replacing the plucky Czechs, insert Israel, Saudi Arabia and most Sunni Muslim states, including Jordan and Egypt – in fact, all the West’s Middle East allies, who’ll be the first fall-guys in Obama’s gamble on appeasing a rogue state that doesn’t even bother to hide an ambition to extend its headbanging hegemony across the world’s powder keg.

No surprise, then, that the bunting also went up throughout the Islamic Republic’s vassal states: Iraq, where Shiite lackeys suppress Sunnis, Christians and Kurds; Syria, where Iranian arms and manpower underwrite the repellent Assad mafia; and Lebanon, indirectly ruled by Iran via its cutthroat proxies, Hezbollah.

NUCLEAR WINNER: Iran's Foreign Minister, Javid xxxxxx, has much to smile about after Iran again duped the P5+1

NUCLEAR WINNER: Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, has much to smile about after Iran again duped the UN-backed P5+1

Oh, and let’s not forget how it was hailed as a triumph by those woolly-minded bien pensants, the trusting Left-leaners, who’d give Beelzebub a free pass for inventing the Seven Deadly Sins. If they’re clapping, you know something’s gone badly pear-shaped.

So what precisely is the much-trumpeted deal that’ll prelude ‘peace in our time’ and had the Iranians believing they were floating on a Persian carpet to nuclear paradise, after a decade of biting sanctions?

From its narrow perspective, they insist it entitles them to continue developing dubious nuclear hardware it denied for years it ever had in defiance of six UN resolutions; au contraire, says the P5+1 – purblind America, a supine UK, the occasionally feisty French, scheming Russia and China, plus Germany – who claim they’ve rolled Iran back in exchange for easing financial manacles.

But, without digging deep into the nitty-gritty, here’s how one, independent US foreign policy analyst explained it, ‘Iran will get to pocket billions in [sanction] relief, use the funds to stabilize its economy, bolster its nuclear program and fund its global terror network.’

Indeed, that sentiment was echoed by Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, who said the deal – ‘cave-in’ is more apt – represented ‘a big success for Iran.’

Underlining victory, he told Iran’s parliament last week that work would even continue on the Arak heavy water, plutonium plant in direct contravention of the P5+1 agreement.

But was it ever going to be anything than thus?  Short answer: No.

Because President Obama’s skewered vision of Western foreign policy has tilted 180 degrees on its axis in favour of opponents, not proponents.

Admittedly, especially in the Cold War era, some ‘friends’ – Chinese nationalist warlord, Chiang Kai-shek, the Shah of Iran and, briefly, Saddam Hussein spring to mind – were not exactly paragons of democratic virtue.

However, this most naïve of US leaders’ belief that he can placate lunatic, Islamic extremists is the most deranged, fanciful gambit of modern times, because they represent a bloc that not only vilifies the West, but has the avowed intention of destroying it.

Simply put, there cannot be a happy accommodation with radical, repressive, expansionist theocrats, who want a new world order based on a 7th Century credo, which defines Western liberalism as decadent, inferior and ungodly.

So an interim deal that’s just a dab on the footbrake of Iran’s headlong rush to tool itself up with nuclear goodies is about as useful as putting a nappy on an elephant.

And the question that shrieks to be answered is: if tough sanctions were working, why shelve them just on the dodgy premise the maverick Iranians – who freely admit they’ve brazenly lied in the past – will keep to a deal they’re already unpicking at the seams?

Meanwhile, in leading the world down Appeasement Avenue, another facet of Obama’s flawed psyche has surfaced: he’s shown he’s not averse to a tad of skulduggery either.

It’s now emerged that his sidekicks held back-channel talks with the Iranians – and, apparently, Hezbollah – for 12 months to slick up the detail, while the perfidious president lied through his pearly teeth to erstwhile allies that all’s well and will end well. Only he neglected to say for whom.

REPEAT ROUTE: US negotiator, Wendy Sherman, failed to rein in the North Koreans and fails again with Iran

REPEAT DEFEAT: US negotiator, Wendy Sherman, failed to rein in the North Koreans and fails again with Iran

Students of diplomatic cock-ups will remember how President Bill Clinton once tried to stymie North Korea’s nuclear ambitions in 2001, only to end up being suckered.

Kim Jong Il, the Beloved Leader of the pariah state and, unsurprisingly, a playmate of Iran’s Supreme Leader – don’t these loony despots adore grandiose titles – promised not to produce, test or deploy missiles and halt the export of nuclear technology.

Clinton’s chief coordinator, Wendy Sherman, noted then that Kim ‘appears ready to make landmark commitments’.

Alas, appearances can be deceptive and, predictably, the North Koreans reneged on every promise they made.

Ironically, witless Wendy was tasked by the visionary Obama to reprise her stunning debacle, this time with the Iranians. So, small wonder they’re cock-a-hoop.

Meanwhile, the US President looks still more a busted flush, his credibility holed below the waterline over the humbling, bumbling Middle East shambles created under his watch, while his ratings at home plummet to near-record lows.

At a seminal moment in world history, clearly Obama and his appointees – especially Sherman – are ignorant of the wisdom of Spanish philosopher-poet, George Santayana.

Just for the record, a century ago he wrote, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’

Did Scarfe’s cartoon of a bloodthirsty Netanyahu go beyond the limit of legitimate comment?

For centuries, political cartoonists have been an integral part of newspapers and are expected to be controversial, since, if a picture speaks a thousand words their lampooning is intended to elicit a similarly dramatic response.

However – as with all forms of journalism – however witty, acerbic or poignant, cartoonists on mainstream publications are expected to work within the same parameters of decency and truth that apply to their colleagues, the wordsmiths.

So Gerald Scarfe’s caricature of a vengeful, malevolent Benjamin Netanyahu bricking up screaming Palestinians in blood-red mortar in yesterday’s Sunday Times (27.1.2013), as his commentary on last week’s Israeli general election, has understandably proved hotly provocative.

The cartoon’s caption: ‘Will cementing peace continue?’ was irrelevant, since the scrawl above it needed no further commentary.

(For copyright reasons, I don’t reproduce the drawing and, since the Sunday Times is a ‘paywall’ site, I suggest those curious view it on http://www.honestreporting.com, where they’ll not be surprised at the level of hostility Scarfe has drawn on himself)

As a result the cartoonist – an award-winner, famed for his spidery style and much acclaimed in the salons of the London’s Left-leaning chatterati – stands accused of being an anti-Semite.

Whether he is or not, only he truly knows. But his latest handiwork bears all the trappings of one, since this ‘comment’ goes well beyond the bounds of fairness, accuracy and, indeed, decency.

This is especially so as it was published on Holocaust Remembrance Day (itself in danger of being hijacked by Western, pro-Palestinian apologists, who swathe themselves in terrorist chic and sickeningly try to equate the defensive actions of democratic Israel with the Nazis).

If Scarfe was unaware of the importance of the day, he should be damned well ashamed of his ignorance. If he was, then it goes far in vindicating his detractors’ accusations of him reprising the old, anti-Semitic canard of the bloodthirsty Jew.

Frankly, Scarfe’s representation of Netanyahu was not far off the bile that appeared in Der Stürmer, Hitler’s pet publication – or nowadays The Guardian, a pale, waning shadow of its former liberal glory, which harbours an obsession with vilifying Israel, bordering on thinly-veiled anti-Semitism.

RETCH-A-SKETCH? Scarfe's critics label his cartoon of a bloodthirsty Netanyahu beyond fair comment

RETCH-A-SKETCH? Scarfe’s critics label his cartoon of a bloodthirsty Netanyahu beyond fair comment

Naturally, those who defend Scarfe will scream blue murder at the ‘Jewish/Israel’ lobby trying to stifle free speech, forgetting that those who found the cartoon insulting and offensive also deserve a similar privilege.

But the holier-than-thou bien pensants of the illiberal Left are so right-on, they don’t tolerate counter views any more than I can comprehend why they defend Islamo-fanatics, who indulge in a death cult, enslave women, murder homosexuals, persecute Christians and want world Jewry eradicated.

Which is why they have wrapped the Israel-Palestinian imbroglio into a neat package: Palestinians ‘good’, Israelis ‘bad’. Full stop and no arguments.

It’s also why they were resolutely silent when a Danish cartoonist exercised his free speech, only to be subjected to death threats for having the temerity to depict Mohammed. And, come to think of it, I don’t recall Scarfe, at the time or since, showing a tad of solidarity with his fellow scribbler.

But let’s return to his cartoon of Netanyahu…

According to the Algemeiner online, the Sunday Times, which has hitherto enjoyed a reputation for balance, integrity and objectivity, says Scarfe is merely being ‘typically robust.’ Then again, some would contend, so was Julius Streicher, Der Stürmer’s notorious editor.

The Sunday Times adds, ‘It [the cartoon] is aimed squarely at Mr. Netanyahu’s policies, not at Israel, let alone the Jewish people.’

That’s a lame excuse to cover an abysmal lapse in editorial judgement and one that sidesteps the historical record.

Before 2000, when construction started on the ‘wall’ – and prior to Netanyahu’s first Premiership – there were 273 suicide-bomb attacks on Israel, murdering 293 people and injuring more than 1,900 others.

Yet, after 2003, when the ‘wall’ – actually it’s mostly a fence – was completed, and up to 2006, only 12 terror attacks succeeded.

So what Scarf perceives as symbolic of Israeli oppression actually does its job, much in the same way as the lock on the luminary illustrator’s front door of his home in leafy St. John’s Wood works to protect his wife, the actress and celebrated cake-maker, Jane Asher.

However, based on one, aberrant example of his pro-Palestinian sympathies, it doesn’t prove he’s an anti-Semite. What it does indicate to me is his patent ignorance of the realities of the Middle East…and that makes him a very silly man.

EU referendum: Why Cameron’s ‘In or Out?’ is the wrong question to ask the voters…

To be or not to be, that is the question. No, I’m not from quoting Hamlet’s soliloquy, but UK Prime Minister David – ‘Call me Dave’ – Cameron on asking Britons where they fit…in or out of the European Union. Bluntly put and as simple as that.

After threatening for what seemed a small, political eternity to pull the trigger on a referendum, he finally found the balls and gall to do it, by saying last Thursday the people would have the choice of being Europeans or plain, old Brits.

Well almost, nearly, not quite, perhaps and subject to more caveats than I’ve got odd socks.

Firstly, the plebiscite won’t happen until 2017 at the earliest. It will also take place only if the Conservatives, minus meddling Europhile Lib-Dems, win an outright majority in the 2015 general election. And that’s no given.

Furthermore, making we, the public, judge and jury will depend on what renegotiated terms Dave can wring out of fellow EU leaders beforehand about reforming some of the bloc’s barmier rules and returning sovereignty, ceded under various arcane treaties, back to Britain (the European Court of Human Rights overriding the justice of Britain’s Supreme Court is a prime example).

Of course, the bait of a referendum could be just political brinksmanship to outflank the expanding appeal of UKIP and mop the fevered brows of Tory Eurosceptics, who would rather go back to minting groats than having the euro foisted upon them and dread the creeping, centralised control of Brussels’ Europrats.

For his part, Dave’s made his personal intentions transparent, insists he does not want Britain to quit the 27-nation alignment and would ‘fight with all my heart and soul’ for a ‘Yes’ vote if/when the time comes.

But he does concede the British public’s latent mistrust of the EU is growing and democratic consent is now ‘wafer thin’. Plus, it is nearly 38 years since our island nation had a say in their EU future and way back then, in 1975, it was for a free-trade Common Market, not a United States of Europe.

The fragility of the euro hasn’t contributed to confidence, even if Britain has chosen to retain the £. And many older-timers amongst the electorate harbour xenophobic inclinations, probably best summed up by a London newspaper headline of the 1930s, stating, ‘Fog in Channel – Continent cut off.’

These rather archaic views, I suspect, are not shared by a younger, cosmopolitan generation, whom Dave hopes will drive him over the ‘Yes’ vote line, if only they can be persuaded to bother turning out if/when said referendum happens.

Meanwhile, the knee-jerk reaction from our European buddies to Dave’s announcement has been predictably mixed.

QUESTIONABLE QUESTION: Asking Brits to vote 'In' or 'Out' could wreck Cameron's strategy

QUESTIONABLE QUESTION: Could Cameron have boobed by what he’s asking Brits to vote on?

The French (who else!) say they’ll put out the red carpet ushering us to the exit, though German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is more sanguine, saying she was prepared to ‘talk about British wishes’ to try and achieve a ‘fair compromise’.

But then pragmatic ‘Mutti’ (Mother) Merkel understands the benefits of having Britain on board, because her voters are wearied of paying for what they perceive are feckless Latins living on tick and anonymous paper-shufflers inventing new rules, based on a half-baked, Gallic model of a Euro superstate.

Plus, Merkel knows Brits share the Anglo-Saxon work ethic and mercantile values with her folk, as do the Swedes, who stuck to their krone and equally abhor the omnipotence of Brussels.

All three nations – along with Holland – are cognisant of the advantages of being part of a trading bloc, with 300 million potential consumers, and believe they stick more rigidly to the EU rules, however daft some are, than the laissez-faire Southerners.

Anyone – like yours truly – who has lived south of whatever notional border divides the EU geographically and politically knows how stupidly hidebound bureaucracy is in countries like Spain, France, Portugal, Italy and Greece. They realise, too, that welters of red tape can be hacked away, leaving a sleeker, fairer and more functional society, where greater transparency reigns and corruption is marginalised.

That is basically what the majority of Britons seek, most of all less European interference in the affairs of a country that has fashioned itself into a bastion of democracy, warts and all, over a millennium.

In other words the old free-trade deal.

That’s why I believe Dave’s ‘In or out’ question to the masses is the wrong one and a high-stakes gambit, which – if it turned turtle – would play into the hands of our foes across the Channel (of which there are many).

The question I think the PM should have posed is, ‘Do you prefer a Common Market or a centralised United States of Europe?’

I’d guess Brits would opt for the Market, which would placate Eurosceptics and leave him with enough wriggle room to renegotiate better terms for the UK.

It would also have armed him with a mandate that left Britain retaining a seat at the EU high table, fired a warning shot across the federalists’ bows and given our allies (we have some of those, too) confidence they could stand beside us and push against further, unwarranted integration.

However, this is not the time yet to discuss the emotional aspects of a highly emotive topic. Tempers need to cool and the pros and cons carefully weighed before such a momentous decision can be reached.

Besides, it may never happen. At least in 2017.

The EU may fragment by then, though the euros’ ills seem less critical than a half-year ago, before the European Central Bank vowed to ride, like the Seventh Cavalry, to further rescues (but remember the fate of Colonel Custer).

Still, in putting his money where his mouth and posing such a direct, ‘In/Out’ question, Dave has taken a monumental gamble on Britain’s future.

And his party could pay the ultimate price for it…the UK’s excommunication from the EU and no veto over new treaties that underpin an eventual United States of Europe.

Heaven help America – and the Middle East – with ‘cowboy’ Kerry riding point

On the diplomatic front there’s good news and bad to herald the New Year; so, in an effort to break it to you gently, I’ll relay the glad tidings first.

A Vietnam War hero is set to be anointed successor to Hillary Clinton as America’s Secretary of State (a.k.a foreign minister), as the former First Lady recovers from illness and ponders a crack at the White House in 2016, when the Obama era ends.

Tall and lean-faced, the man in question could almost be a throwback to the heyday of Western movies…a languid Jimmy Stewart reincarnate, clad in a $3,000 Marty Greenfield suit and a holster full of diplomatic weaponry.

He even hails from cowboy country (Aurora, Colorado) and has a handle that could fit well on a publicity flier for a rootin’, tootin’ John Ford epic.

What’s more, he’s a long-serving, career politico and, as chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, he knows there’s another Paris, apart from the one in Texas (besides, he mom was born in the French capital).

Related to the billionaire publishing Forbes clan, he’s also immensely rich and married to the equally-loaded widow of a member of the Heinz baked beans and flatulence dynasty; so there’s no danger he’d be swayed by the offer of a buck or two in bungs.

Sadly, for many, there endeth the good news.

Because – in the views of some who have an intimate working acquaintance of him – irrespective of his apparently glowing CV, John Kerry may not be the ideal nominee to ride point for an American President.

This, I hasten to add, is unrelated to Kerry losing the 2004 Presidential election to (of all people) George ‘Dubya’ Bush. Nor is it linked to the former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts being aged 69 – the new 49, as folk of my generation will contend.

And you can discount the criticisms of even respected commentators, one of whom noted that ‘he’s a morally-preening, self-righteous mediocrity, unpopular even among his colleagues.’

KERRY BOLD? The US's nominee for Secretary of State is hardly that, say critics

KERRY GOLD? President Obama’s nominee for US Secretary of State is hardly that, say critics

No, it’s rather an indictment of the Democrat senator’s trail of misjudgements, waffling U-turns and – how shall I put it politely? – a propensity to go out on a limb, then chop off the branch he’s perched on.

Kerry launched his career on the coat-tails of a laudable service record. As a much-decorated Navy officer he came home from Vietnam to campaign vigorously against the conflict, in 1971 declaring the entire US chain of military command to be ‘war criminals.’

Testifying before the a Senate committee, Kerry claimed he’d met GIs who ‘had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians and razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan’

The trouble was he could never prove his grisly claims.

Then, as a rookie senator in 1985, Kerry helped convince Congress to cease aid to the pro-US Contras battling Nicaragua’s Communist Sandinistas in return for a cease-fire that never was. What did occur, though, was the Sandinistas procured $200M in weaponry from Moscow and scotched the uprising.

A year later the increasingly-radical Kerry endorsed demonstrations against President Reagan’s rollback of Soviet and Cuban-supported forces in Central America and, despite it garnering wide Arab support, was a fierce critic of the first Gulf War to expel the invading Iraqis from Kuwait.

Yet, inexplicably, he flip-flopped over the 2003 Iraq War, proclaiming with patriotic gusto, ‘Without question we need to disarm Saddam. He is a brutal and murderous dictator.’

Only when things turned turtle did Kerry cavil that he was ‘misled’ by Dubya, who ‘rushed to war’. And, in 2007, he adamantly opposed the Iraq ‘surge’ strategy, castigating Bush for ‘stubbornness’ and ‘recklessness.’

Needless to say General David Petraeus’s tactic worked a minor miracle – at least until US forces formally exited Iraq and it descended into today’s murderous mayhem.

So, since Kerry will be ‘hot-desking’ between Washington and the calamitous Middle East in his new role, there are certain glaring question marks overhanging his expensively coiffured head about his grasp of the realities on the ground he’ll treading.

Worryingly, the senator shows a high regard for Bashar Al-Assad, as he clings onto Syria by his gory fingertips, amid a sea of 60,000 corpses.

After paying court several times to the Butcher of Damascus, Kerry advocated loosening sanctions against Syria, declaring ‘my friend’ Assad is a man of his word, insisting, ‘Syria will change as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States.’

Kerry is keen, too, to see the Israelis return the Golan Heights to Syria, having won the strategically vital buffer zone, after being attacked by Assad’s father, the equally odious Hafez, in the 1967 Six Day War.

Meanwhile, despite his past record for faux pas, Kerry believes he knows better than the Israelis what’s good for them as the Middle East’s only fully functioning democracy, not to say the West’s key ally.

And, now with the sage Clinton departing, her over-opinionated replacement is backed by a President who still demonstrates little comprehension of how to quell the region’s flames.

Few on the world stage will forget Obama’s monumental gaffe in 2008, when – in a now pilloried Cairo speech – he tried to woo the Muslim world, only to see his honeyed words translated as a sign of American naivety and weakness.

Unwittingly, it preluded the downfall of secular dictatorships or put them under notice to quit…Mubarak gone from Egypt’s helm; Gaddafi overthrown in Libya; Ben Ali deposed in Tunisia; Assad tottering in Syria; Jordan’s King Abdullah wondering how long he’ll reign; Lebanon throttled by the crazies of Hezbollah; and Iraq locked in Shiite-Sunni civil strife.

The gains, sadly, were short-term, because it spurred the extremists to pervert the ensuing Arab Spring into an Islamic Winter, delivering power to a new generation of despots, particularly the multi-tentacled, ultra-fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, for whom liberty and human rights are hardly long-term pursuits.

Moreover, the chain reaction further empowered the Palestinians to dodge meaningful, direct talks with Israel towards statehood and cloud their real intent on redrawing the local map minus a Jewish state (that reality must even be starting to dawn on the West’s purblind, useful idiots, who swallow – hook, line and stinker – every lie the Arabs spew).

And, finally, the mad mullahs of Iran were energised into running still more rings round nuclear negotiators and getting busy stirring up a hornets’ nest in the Gulf States.

So heaven only knows how America’s next Secretary of State will keep the lid on the world’s hottest cauldron of discontent, as his predecessor, Mrs. Clinton, did her best to do.

Which is why only the most starry-eyed optimists will be holding their breath in 2013, hoping Obama’s cowboy can pull the peace rabbit out of his ten-gallon hat.

Well played, Boateng and AC Milan…for striking against the bigots bringing soccer into disrepute

Hearty congratulations to the players of Italy’s AC Milan for having the courage to quit their own pitch last Thursday in a so-called ‘friendly’ against Fourth Division non-entities, Pro Patria (which means ‘For Country’, though, in this case, I’m reminded of diarist Samuel Johnson‘s definition that patriotism is ‘the last refuge of the scoundrel’).

The critical moment came in 26th minute when Kevin Prince Boateng, a Ghanaian international once of Spurs, Hertha Berlin, Borussia Dortmund and Portsmouth, stopped running, picked up the ball and booted it into the gobs of a mob of baying away fans chanting racist vitriol.

As a long-time aficionado of the game, I hope this outstandingly honourable gesture resonates everywhere.

I hope it also provokes the power-greedy, money-grubbing hypocrites who somehow contrive to ‘administer’ soccer, namely UEFA and FIFA, to wallop AC Milan with the hugest fine imaginable, which is the natural, knee-jerk reaction of the ‘suits’ who’ve cornered the market in controlling the world’s premier spectator sport.

I equally hope the great Italian club will adamantly refuse to pay not a centimo of any fine and that defiance garners a crescendo of support worldwide.

I also hope that galacticos of elite clubs and national teams emulate Boateng by hot-footing it to the dressing-room the moment the ‘N’ word – or any similar expression of vicious bigotry (i.e. monkey chants, banana-throwing et al) – permeates from the terraces.

I further hope that nations, such as Serbia, are hit with crippling financial penalties and long bans from the international game for allowing racism to flourish on the pitch and in the stands.

BALLS TO BIGOTRY: Boateng lead AC Milan players off the pitch in protest against racism

BALLS TO BIGOTRY: Boateng lead AC Milan players off the pitch in protest against away fans’ racism

England Under-21s’ match last October, in Krusevac, saw just such an incident. Tottenham’s Danny Rose was sent off by an idiot referee unfit to control a Ludo game, for reaching the end of his tether, having been the butt of Serb racists from the warm-up, and – like Boateng – kicking the ball into the crowd of foul-mouthed sub-humans in righteous fury.

A UEFA website report of that match failed to mention either the racism or the brawl at the final whistle and the Serbian FA was fined a paltry $105,000 by UEFA – less than the punishment handed to a player at the Euro 2012 finals for exposing his underpants, bearing the logo of a bookmaker.

So let’s be clear: the purblind ‘suits’ in high command of football (take note, Michel Platini and Sepp Blatter) should shelve their obsession with self-aggrandisement and take up the anti-racism cudgels with real zeal and not merely pay lip service to ridding football of the disease.

They should instruct officials to stop matches immediately racism rears its ugliness, put clubs under notice to ban errant fans for their lifetimes, have mindless miscreants prosecuted and, in the event of non-compliance, order stadia closed and points deducted from teams.

It’s a waste of breath for FIFA’s arrogant boss, Blatter, to rail about ‘zero tolerance’ when racism against players – whether from the terraces or from opponents on the pitch – is not punished with maximum severity.

Only the might of the great soccer nations and elite clubs, all of whom field robust and skilful players of all hues and religions, can bring pressure to bear on stamping out this pernicious, verbal garbage forever and a day.

They can do so by emulating Kevin Prince Boateng and instructing their players to down tools and walk away from bigotry.

And if having the courage of their convictions draws sanctions from their respective FAs, UEFA or FIFA, they should tell the bureaucrats where to stick their idiotic fines.

The Ash TRAs: The good, bad and ugly of 2012 get their gongs – and come-uppance

Yes, it’s that time of year again commonly dubbed the awards season…from the New Year’s Honours List to the media’s annual verdict on the paragons, plonkers and the plain old whackos gracing and disgracing our lives in 2012.

So, not wishing to be stranded on the red carpet, I’ve launched the Ash TRAs – my Triumphant and Ridiculous Awards, hopefully doled out in fair, equal measure. Some are undisputed champions in their class, others unapologetically contentious. See if you agree…

• Outstanding Achievement of the Year: The 2012 Olympics. Even Larry, the Downing Street cat, must have had his doubts the UK could set a new gold standard for the Games. But London did – despite the security recruitment fiasco orchestrated by G4S – and the nation’s athletes matched the challenge of splendid stadia with a colossal medals haul.

ACHIEVER OF THE YEAR: Danny Boyle for the London Olympics opening splash

ACHIEVER OF THE YEAR: Danny Boyle for the London Olympics opening splash

• Outstanding Achiever of the Year: Film-maker Danny Boyle, tasked with designing a Games opening splash that perfectly encapsulate the best of Britain over the ages. There may have been a nervous, communal intake of breath when he said sheep and NHS beds would feature in the show, but ye of little faith were forced to eat humble pie.

• Long-term Achiever (cont’d): The Queen. Over 60 years, she has employed a steadfast hand on the helm of Britain’s constitutional monarchy; a nerveless, unerring and – at times – humorous figurehead, who’s dedicated her life to serving country and Commonwealth. HM is the perfect rebuttal to republicanism…I mean would you have preferred Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or Margaret Thatcher as GB presidents in her place? No, neither would I.

• Losers of the Year: Most politicians – certainly those, like UK Chancellor George Osborne and his Europrat counterparts – who mistake austerity as the panacea for the world’s ills. Medieval quacks believed bleeding the body was a cure and now the politicos have adopted this discredited medicine. It didn’t work in the 15th Century, so why should it do so in the 21st?  (And by the way, George, we’re not ‘all in this together’, as you insist – because you’re not!)

• Winners of the Year: UKIP, probably the only political party to emerge from 2012 smiling. After drubbing the Coalition – especially the shamelessly power-hungry Lib-Dems – in three recent by-elections, they’re no longer the fringe party of anti-Brussels nutters, though 2013 will determine whether they’re really a force to be reckoned with. Methinks they will be.

LUCKIEST MAN: Barack Obama for being re-elected US President - thanks to a rival who was even worse

LUCKIEST MAN: Barack Obama for being re-elected US President – thanks to a rival who was even worse

• Luckiest Man of the Year: President Barack Hussein Obama. The US’s second socialist leader after the serially-inept Jimmy Carter, he made a pig’s ear of the country’s economy and was a hologram on the world stage, but still won re-election…chiefly because his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, was considered an even worse option.

• International Twerps of the Year: Anyone who actually believed the Arab Spring would prelude democracy. Despite a surprisingly transparent election – probably the last Egypt will see – Mubarak’s usurper, Mohamed Morsi, wants to to be a new-age pharaoh; Libya is a basket-case of factionalism; and the bearded ones can’t wait to get their teeth into Tunisia. Meanwhile, the ruptured Palestinians place PR gains ahead of peace with Israel.

• Twits of the Year: Twitter-addicts, as exemplified by silly Sally Bercow, uppity wife of the House of Commons Speaker, who ‘tweeted’ a line that led to the omnishambles of Lord McAlpine being wrongly smeared as a perv. The sooner this irritating, so-called ‘social forum’ patronised by egoist berks (and Bercows) is booted, the better.

• Disorganisation of the Year: That bastion of right-on, illiberal Leftiness, the BBC, for its multiple cock-ups over the Jimmy Savile scandal and shoddy journalism meant to gloss over fault lines. If ever an organisation proved it isn’t fit for purpose, the BBC is it, though the UN and that Nobel Prize-winning joke, the EU, ran it close (also see next item).

LUCKY PLONKER: BBC's 54-day wonder, George Entwistle

LUCKY PLONKER: George Entwistle, who lasted 54 days as BBC Director General – and scooped a windfall pay-off

• Most Successful Plonker of the Year: George Entwistle. As head of BBC Vision, he was the toast of Sky TV for Auntie’s abysmal coverage of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, only to be propelled to the dizzy heights of Director General – for a whole 54 days! Savilegate saw him off, his pockets bulging with public dosh. Lucky blighter (or words to that effect).

• Misjudgement of the Year: The Leveson Report. Regardless of the judge’s stated intentions of not wanting legal curbs on the Press, he botched it. And now that all with a vested interest in truth have read his two million words of small print, if Leveson’s ideas are adopted they’ll quash investigative journalism and leave politicians effectively editing newspapers.

Justice of the Year: Exoneration for the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, in which 96 Liverpool soccer fans died and 766 were injured. An independent panel finally conclude the supporters were not responsible for the tragedy and accused the emergency services of colluding in a massive cover-up, including the alteration of 164 police statements.

• Robber Barons of the Year (cont’d): Bankers. They promised to repent and not use investors’ cash to fund their personal casino, where, even if they lost, the taxpayer covered their bets. Fixing the LIBOR rate and money-laundering confirmed that leopards don’t change their spots, even if they wear pin-striped suits.

• Stellar Telly of the Year: Downton Abbey (a.k.a. Trouble At The Toffs), period drama at its finest, even if Shirley Maclaine’s cameo as a trans-Atlantic dowager was more rank than Yank. Long may the aristo Crawleys go crumbling on and their obsequious servants backstab each other with silver cake slicers.

• Telly Stinker of the Year: The Royal Bodyguard, a monumental blight on sainted David Jason’s CV. Embarrassing and excruciatingly unfunny, no wonder that of the eight million viewers who switched onto the first episode, only a million-and-a-bit were there at the end. If you never saw it (or better still haven’t heard of it) count yourself royally fortunate.

• Must-see Movie of the Year: Probably the best of the 007 flicks since Dr. No a half-century ago, Skyfall has chilling pace, hardly a gimmick, and Daniel Craig as the coolest Bond ever – even if Judi Dench’s M, and Javier Bardem’s traitorous Silva nearly stole his thunder.

• Must Miss Movie of the Year: Despite the presence of nubile Jennifer Aniston in Wanderlust, this tale of a couple of big city losers joining a hippie commune left film fans with only one lust…to wander straight out of the cinema, mid-movie.

• Best Prediction for 2013: This will be the Chinese Year of the Snake…and there’ll be plenty of those slithering around in the grass, so don’t expect much change for the better.

Nonetheless, a happy and hopeful New Year to whoever you are, wherever you are!