The ‘peacenik’ President heeds a call to arms – but is it too little, too late?

THERE must be an awful lot of soap being used up in the White House and Whitehall, as ministers and their minions try to wash their hands of Iraq.

And I bet the label on each bar is stamped, ‘For ditherers only.’ If not, they should be.

Because the great brains of Western diplomacy haven’t a clue whether to stick, twist or chuck in their hand and allow violence to take its unnatural course in sorting out the latest Middle East imbroglio.

Various military acronyms rooted in WW2 slang – like FUBAR and SNAFU, whose meanings I won’t spell out for fear of upsetting those of a sensitive disposition – spring to mind as pertinent descriptions for the plight of those whose indecision may, or may not, be final.

And at the very top of the pile of confused, anguished hand-wringers is an American leader, whose default setting is to gaze at his navel, as if answers to the world’s ills miraculously lie within the lint of his belly button.

In 2008 Barack Obama was elected President on an anti-war ticket, redolent with slogans ranging from ‘Hope’ to ‘Yes We Can’ (whatever that meant). The following year he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize, based not on deeds, but the same windy promises that shoehorned him into office. Even the man himself was flabbergasted.

Over six years later his main achievements of note have been extricating his gung-ho predecessor, George W. Bush’s ‘Coalition of the Willing’ from Iraq and downsizing troops in Afghanistan, with the aim of every Crusader GI quitting by New Year.

But, given the daily evidence of mounting carnage afflicting both rudderless states, there’s little to embellish Obama’s legacy, except for taking Hillary Clinton’s advice on obliterating Osama bin Laden.

RUTHLESS & MURDEROUS: The Sunni fanatics of ISIS have ignited  the power-keg of Iraq

RUTHLESS & MURDEROUS: The Sunni fanatics of ISIS march on, having ignited the power-keg of Iraq

Meanwhile, even starry-eyed optimists recognise it’s only a matter of time before the untamed Taliban return to Kabul and fill the void created by the exit of NATO troops.

An even more alarming spectre haunts Western policy-makers over the future of Iraq, where a sectarian strife has erupted in all but civil war, as murderous Sunni fanatics of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS, mop up the oil-rich hinterland and threaten Shia-dominated Baghdad.

It’s futile to rake over old coals, as former British leader Tony Blair recently did in justifying the 2003 invasion/liberation of Iraq, because history is already writ large, though it was always received wisdom the country would be a powder-keg for decades.

That it has exploded so ghoulishly is largely due to the ineptitude and arrogance of Nouri al-Maliki, the Shia Prime Minister, who ethnically cleansed Iraq’s government, army and civil service of virtually any Sunni and Kurdish influence.

Even if the nation’s religious demographics gave Shias a 65% majority, the vision for a democratic, post-conflict Iraq was intended to be an inclusive one, with a modicum of power-sharing.

Now, stability exists only in far-north, autonomous Kurdistan, while the rest of the country seems damned to imitate next-door Syria and descend into a sectarian bloodbath.

That the blinkered Maliki was stupid and overcome by megalomania is beyond doubt, despite having a democratic mandate.

But, as his paymaster and sponsor, Obama – for all his aversion to confrontation – should have had the wit to nip the shameless power-grab in the bud and read the riot act to the idiot of Baghdad much earlier.

Hence, now we see a battle-fatigued America being re-drawn into the conflict, after the President announced on Thursday 300 special operatives would go to Iraq and ‘provide technical support’ to help overcome ISIS, after Maliki pleaded for US intervention.

Talk about déjà vu all over again!

FAR APART: Obama is angry Prime Minister Maliki (right) has turned Iraq into a Shia-governed state

CLOSE TOGETHER, FAR APART: Obama is angry Prime Minister Maliki (right) has turned Iraq into a Shia-governed state

Meanwhile, how much difference 300 specialists can make – and whether they are too little, too late – is debatable, as is Obama’s vague threat of force, ‘if intelligence recommended it’.

But, at least, he took a sideswipe at the Iraqi leader, underlining the error of his ways.

Nevertheless, it bode ill for the 44th President, who’s hardly put a foot right dealing with crises on foreign fields since his election.

He and his diplomatic corps at the State Department – situated in aptly-named Foggy Bottom – utterly misread the runes of the Arab Spring, ignominiously backtracked over the ‘red lines’ warning to Syria’s butcher, Assad, tried and failed to arm-twist allies Israel into a one-sided peace deal with the deceitful Palestinians and contracted the ousting of Libya’s lunatic, Gaddafi, to France and the UK.

To add to his litany of follies, Obama has practically given Iran a free pass on its nuclear ambitions and allowed Vladimir Putin to run rings round him over Ukraine.

Rarely – if ever – has a US commander-in-chief commanded so little respect on the world stage, now a far more parlous place for his ineptitude and dithering.

The very real and present danger is that matters threaten to grow rapidly worse, because not only does ISIS make Al-Qaeda appear pussycats, their manifesto is to export terror worldwide, once they’ve established a Sharia caliphate across a swathe of Syria and Iraq.

The irony of all ironies is only one nation has sufficient military and diplomatic muscle to halt their charge and lift the West off the peg it’s impaled upon: Iran.

Through its religious ties, only it has the ears of Maliki and Assad, whose Alawite sect is a Shia offshoot.

However unedifying, the notion of Tehran’s terror-mongers and ‘The Great Satan’ of the USA finding common cause is increasing from possibility to probability, as back-channel chatter between the two is said to be buzzing.

The threat is not lost on Iran’s arch foe, Saudi Arabia, whose ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf al-Saud, warned last week, ‘There must be no meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs, not by us or by the US, the UK or any other government.’

If a US-Iran alliance does come to pass, though, any slender hope of Obama leaving a legacy of a peace-maker president will be forever tarnished.

No wonder they’re busy passing the soap in the White House and Whitehall.

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Q: So, where’s NATO when you actually need it? A: Not At The Office (note new name)

WAY back in the 1960s, there was a telly ad running on TV, guaranteeing that should any disaster befall your life, home, health, jewels or car, fear not…restitution was at hand.

‘Get the full strength of the insurance companies around you,’ was hardly a snappy slogan. However, even if it didn’t exactly catch the mood – like: ‘Don’t forget the fruit gums, Mum’ or ‘Go to work on an egg’ – it was an implied reminder of the perils that can afflict the uncovered (and I’m not referring to nudists).

In the then icy bite of the Cold War, insurance on an international scale was needed to safeguard the West’s wellbeing against the threat of Soviet expansion, so the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (a.k.a. NATO) was born.

The Russians countered with the Warsaw Pact and, for over three decades, a military stalemate existed, predicated on the tacit understanding that mutual nuclear annihilation was assured if ever World War III was sparked.

Though the Pact is dead, following the implosion of Soviet communism, NATO still exists, with some ex-Pact members even joining the now 28-nation alliance.

You’d imagine, then, that the small print in our insurance policy with the world’s premier military muscle would be vigilantly scrutinised right now, after Vladimir Putin’s Spetsnaz stormtroops invaded Ukraine and land-grabbed Crimea.

It isn’t. And the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, whereby the West and Russia agreed to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, isn’t worth the paper it’s scrawled on.

And, as regards the numerous NATO projects designed to forge closer ties with Kiev, aimed at beefing up Ukraine’s military capabilities in the event of attack, they don’t apparently to matter an iota, either.

NO FROM NATO: Designed to protect the West, the 28-member organisation has no contingency plan for Ukraine

NO FROM NATO: Designed to protect the West, the 28-member organisation has no contingency plan for Ukraine

This was made abundantly clear by US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, who dismissed suggestions the alliance should do something – anything, even a slight rattle of its sabre – in response to Putin’s outrageous and unprovoked act of belligerence.

Nope, blithely stated the five-star general, his tailored ‘blues’ so overladen with ribbon it’s a wonder he can stand up straight. NATO has no contingency plan to deal with Russian thuggery. And even if there was one gathering dust somewhere in the organisation’s opulent Brussels HQ, it wouldn’t be adopted. Full point, as the Yanks would say.

It’s not unreasonable, then, to ask: what exactly does NATO stand for today…Not At The Office, perhaps? Because it sure seems to have passed the buck, as the Yanks would also say.

No-one is proposing the West and the rest actual go to war over Ukraine. But some true grit show of defiance – a tad more potent than the tut-tutting response that’s been the order of the day so far from the European Union – might just send a signal to Vlad The Invader enough is enough.

Small wonder former communist bloc countries, like Poland and the Baltic states which joined NATO for the protection it promised, are aghast at how supine the West’s military tiger is.

All this procrastination and lack of resolve must be music to Putin’s ears and grist to his mill of reconstituting the old Russian empire.

And, if anyone believes his incursion into Ukraine and annexing of Crimea are Vlad’s last territorial calculation, then welcome to Cloud Cuckoo Land and have a nice day.

FORWARD HO: Russian troops advance into Crimea, before the Ukraine province in annexed by Vladimir Putin

FORWARD HO: Russian troops advance into Crimea, before the Ukraine province in annexed by Vladimir Putin

Hence, his forces continue their intimidating war games along Ukraine’s border, while casting covetous glances at Moldova’s quirky, Russian-speaking enclave of Trans-Dniester, notorious for its chicken-smuggling industry (no, I kid you not; that’s its chief source of revenue).

But wait a mo’, you say. We are taking stern steps to punish Russia and curb any notions Putin has of further aggression.

And they’ve started…by freezing the assets of a half-dozen Kremlin apparatchiks you’ve never heard of, while expat oligarchs – like Roman Abramovitch – might be forced to hand back their Tesco loyalty cards.

We’ve even expelled Putin from the exclusive G8 club, which is as stinging a sanction as being blackballed by the Grand Order of Freemasons.

The only problem is the wannabe tsar isn’t quaking in his Timberland boots and billions of roubles mysteriously fled Moscow – to destinations unknown, but probably London – days before the infamous Crimea referendum saw the accommodating citizenry vote, almost unanimously, to re-join Mother Russia.

But diplomacy not NATO will rein in rapacious Putin, insists Barack Obama.

For once, however, in a passionate speech to the now G7 in Brussels last week, he sounded robustly presidential, shelving the ‘peacenik’ image embedded in his core, like Blackpool or Coney Island runs through a stick of rock candy.

After lambasting Russia, tellingly Obama tongue-lashed the EU’s timid stance against Putin and rapped Europe’s lamentable attitude to defence – particularly that of Germany – demanding a review of military spending ‘to examine whether everybody is chipping in.’

Whether or not NATO does what it says on the tin, the US now picks up 73 percent of its tab, so it’s not unreasonable for the President to ask (Angela Merkel in particular), ‘Show me the money.’

Obama even displayed some business acumen, suggesting a solution to economically moribund Europe’s reliance on Russian energy…by selling it America’s surplus of gas and petroleum it’s eked out from fracking.

Obliging, he’s even willing to lay on a fleet of colossal tankers to transport the fuel, rather like the WW2 Atlantic convoys.

After all, what are friends for, maybe the President added.

For his part, poker-faced Putin isn’t blinking an eyelid, but spending $400-billion on refurbishing his rust-bucket navy and quarter-mastering his armed forces with the latest lethal gizmos, which begs the question: Why?

He must be betting, too, he’ll continue running rings round Obama in diverse arenas of conflict like the Middle East, where he’s just signed a contract with Egypt to supply $2-billion of ordnance, after the US refused – on ethical grounds – to replenish the country’s military stock.

As for NATO, in Russia’s evaluation, it’s a paper tiger or whatever is the equivalent of a busted flush in the Cyrillic alphabet.

 

 

Oh Danny Boy, you’re all at sea about cutting the UK’s nuclear shield

Apart from any card-carrying member of the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament (CND), I can’t think of a worse candidate to proffer advice about the future of Trident, spearhead of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, than Lib-Dem Treasury Secretary, Danny Alexander.

With the possible exception of Paddy Ashdown, a Special Boat Service veteran, the Lib-Dems generally don’t do defence any more than I crochet doilies No, they’re far comfier on non-martial issues – gender equality; ASBOs instead of hard time for lags; more Europe, not less, etc. – so stick to what you (think) you know, I say.

I mean would you canvass Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne’s opinion on curbing pub opening hours or task Top Gear petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson to say why bicycles are better than cars? Neither would I.

So asking Red Danny – that’s an allusion to his politics, not hair colour – to provide a circumspect overview of whether Britain needs to replace all four of its nuclear-tipped, ageing Trident submarines seems a rather redundant query.

Predictably, in what he modestly claimed last week was ‘the most comprehensive study ever published’ on the Royal Navy’s formidable defensive shield, he pronounced that Britain should ‘step down the nuclear ladder’ and described Trident as the ‘last unreformed bastion of Cold War thinking’.

Perhaps as an afterthought – some would say a wobble on his lofty, moral perch – Alexander recommends we only need three new, Trident-class subs, not the four currently deployed, 24/7, that need de-commissioning by 2024.

What the Lib-Dem military mastermind fails to appreciate, though, is that for 45 years the Tridents have lurked, submerged and unseen in undisclosed locations. This has helped NATO gain a tactical edge against anyone tooled up with land-based missiles, which can be ID’d in a flash by spy-in-the-sky satellites (and read this column from 10 miles high).

MAN OVERBOARD: Danny Alexander wants to scrap one of Britain's four, Trident nuclear subs - a drop in the ocean in real terms

MAN OVERBOARD: Danny Alexander wants to scrap one of Britain’s four, Trident nuclear subs – a drop in the ocean in real terms

Nonetheless, Alexander is right that the saving in beaching a single Trident would be a not insignificant £4bn.

However, taken as part of a £40bn defence budget – 2.5% of Britain’s GDP – it is a relative drop in the ocean, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Money, though, is not the issue for those far-Left and piously-principled residents of La-La-Land, for whom the very mention of Trident and its nuclear, Cruise missile payload is anathema.

So they’ll regard the loss of even one super-sub as partial vindication for all the energy they expended on hot air, placards, sit-ins and demos from the 1950s onwards that got them precisely nowhere.

Today’s postcard to them from the real world is that, though the stalemate between the communist East and democratic West may be technically over, we inhabit a planet where the omnipresent threat of atomic Armageddon is a worsening.

Russia might have shrugged off its Soviet mantle, but it’s still sufficiently paranoid to invent two new types of undersea-launched ballistic missiles, a new class of ballistic submarine, a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, a new bomber and deadlier Cruise missiles.

As the military historian Sir Michael Howard warns, ‘The nuclear dragon is asleep, not dead’.

So clearly Moscow’s nationalist tsar, Vladimir Putin, doesn’t buy into any post-Cold War peace posturing, even from a US President as malleable and hands-off as Barack Obama.

And, at the risk of going boss-eyed, Putin is looking both ways…in fact, further east rather than west.

The danger posed by Iran’s quest for a nuclear armoury heightens by the day, as the mad mullahs’ subterranean centrifuges churn out increasingly greater amounts of fissile material while they slyly dodge full, UN accountability.

Meanwhile, those inane enough to be seduced by the smiling visage of the nation’s new president, Hassan Rohani, are overdue for an alarm call. Because, like his odious predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he’s merely a puppet of the tyrannical Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who’s fixated on becoming a nuclear bullyboy.

Not that such capacity doesn’t already abound throughout Asia, often in the hands of maverick regimes, nowhere more unhinged than Stalinist North Korea, where the crackpot dictator would rather starve his people than forsake the prestige of being a nuclear power.

Increasingly flexing its regional supremacy muscles, China long ago joined the nuclear club, as did India.

NUCLEAR SHIELD: Trident subs have been helping to keep the West safe for 45 years

NUCLEAR SHIELD: Trident subs have been helping to keep the West safe for 45 years

Pakistan even has a thriving export industry in nuclear hardware and that’s where Sunni Saudi Arabia will shop for an off-the-peg, super-bomb when – no longer if – their arch enemy and Shiite neighbour, Iran, cracks the technology.

As a prelude to its final development, the turbaned maniacs have threatened to blow Israel off the map. And heaven help the world, let alone the Middle East, if they try such mind-boggling stupidity.

The tiny Jewish state refuses to confirm or deny it packs a nuclear punch, so take it as read it has one. However, unlike Iran, it threatens no-one, but relies on the power of ambiguous mystique to discourage wannabe attackers.

So back in the La-La Land of Westminster, inhabited by the party of pacifism, Lib-Dem Danny Boy sounds off about slashing Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet by a quarter.

And this in the wake of the Coalition decimating the army and having to live with the former Labour government’s reckless spending of £7bn on two aircraft carriers, one of which is likely to be mothballed on completion in 2020 to save money.

The loss of a single Trident, though, would be a heftier blow, according to many defence analysts, who say the super-sub fleet provides NATO with a far superior deterrent than anything on or above water.

Therefore, even under the clunking fist of austerity, many in Britain believe £4bn is price well worth paying at time when the world totters on the brink of cataclysm.

Hopefully, then, Danny Boy’s recommendations will receive the consideration they richly deserve…and be filed in an appropriate receptacle, like the one under the Prime Minister’s desk.

Cyprus, the mouse that roared, is still no pipsqueak – even after the EU’s bank heist

Way back in the mists of cinema history – 1959 to be precise – there was a spoof movie whose plot might just have provided the answer to cash-strapped Cyprus. Plus, it could also have sent a reassuring message to other Club Med Eurozone members on their uppers, their populations incandescent with rage over force-fed austerity.

Based on a book by Irish-American writer, Leonard Wibberley, and starring Peter Sellers, The Mouse That Roared chronicled the tale of the miniscule European duchy of Grand Fenwick when it was hit by a financial tsunami.

With its tiny economy almost entirely reliant on Pinot Grand Fenwick wine – read that as a metaphor for today’s banking – the country suddenly faced ruin when a US winery made a knockoff version of the highly-quaffable plonk.

The medieval micro-state, its 20-man army equipped with longbows and arrows, had but one recourse…to declare war on America, pray for instant defeat and trouser the largesse Washington usually doles out to those it has vanquished (e.g. the Marshall Plan for Germany following World War II).

So far, so good. Except it all turns turtle when the pauper duchy accidently defeats the mighty superpower and stumbles on control of the ‘Q-bomb’, a doomsday weapon capable of destroying mankind.

Naturally, in the world of wacky movies, all’s well that ends well; Grand Fenwick loses the conflict…and wins the moolah.

CYPRUS TAKE NOTE: The 1959 movie that showed how to take on a super power, lose...and win

CYPRUS TAKE NOTE: The 1959 movie that showed how to take on a super power, lose the war…and win the moolah

Fast-forward 50-plus years and, with nowhere to run to find financial succour, Cyprus played an audacious, Mouse That Roared card and took on the clunking fist of the EU in a poker game over bail-out terms for its banks relatively huge toxic debt.

However, unlike Grand Fenwick, Cyprus (population: 700,000 and dwindling) didn’t stand a snowball in Hades chance of plucking victory from the jaws of defeat. Because German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble – a man who could start a fight in an empty room – were never going to dip into their tax-payers’ wallets, especially in an election year.

Despite Germany’s financial might only required to back-stop a European Central Bank-EU-IMF (a.k.a. the Troika) loan approaching €10bn to the blighted island, it was time to set a brutal example to all Club Med beggars and crack the whip, even if it confirmed (once again) the Eurozone isn’t fit for purpose.

So, if Cyprus railed over the hardball terms being dictated, the door marked Exit, Ausgang or Salida beckoned to bankruptcy, irrespective of the EU’s Alcatraz rules that once in, there’s no escape.

This was the Euro superpowers’ revenge for feckless bankers having the audacity to set up an off-shore tax-haven paradise on the tiddler island…a money laundrette for washloads of filthy lucre (€18bn by some accounts), dropped off by Russian oligarchs wanting more bangs for their buck – or rather rouble – and no questions asked.

Then, to compound their monumental folly and displaying quite staggering disregard for due diligence, the Cypriot whizkids showered an avalanche of euros on iffy on Athenian junk bonds, which sank when the vacuous nation’s gravy train hit the buffers (Moral: beware of Greeks seeking gifts).

So, like their busted flush neighbour before it, Cyprus took its begging bowl to Brussels, with the implied threat that if you don’t underwrite our debt, we’ll upset the EU applecart.

However, the response was predictably draconian or, to paraphrase a fox-hunting analogy, the ruthless in pursuit of the potless.

BANK ROBBER: Hard-up Cypriots blame Germany's Angela Merkel for their misery, as this satirical ATM image shows

BANK ROBBER: How hard-up Cypriots satirically portray Germany’s Angela Merkel on their ATMs

Spurred on by a Germany for whom the Eurozone is fast becoming a jigsaw of Teutonic provinces, the Brussels bullyboys (Motto: take a sledgehammer to crack a nut) exposed themselves – once again – as crass, anti-democratic, bean-counting thugs.

And, to stamp their authority with maximum savagery, they demanded not only an end to Cyprus’s dodgy tax laxity, but depositors become victims of blatant bank robbery to help stump up nearly €6bn.

This will be achieved via a 40% haircut (scalping more like it) for those with over €100K in one dubious bank and the total annihilation of another. Plus, there’ll be ‘temporary’ controls to stop capital flight – another pillar of monetary union conveniently disregarded – though most of the dirty money has already flown.

The net result is that no-one comes out of this smelling of attar of roses. The EU is exposed for what it is – a wannabe super-state without a grain of compassion for its hoi-polloi; and Cyprus, an omnishambles of Byzantine idiocy, is to be the template for any other uppity lot misguided enough to believe it’s still a sovereign nation (Club Med+Ireland take note).

My guess, though, whatever arm-twisting deal was cobbled together, we’ve not heard the last of the Eastern Mediterranean mouse and how it cheesed off the EU (sorry, couldn’t resist that pun).

So the fear of contagion lurks and not a day goes by without me hearing folk voicing similar distrust of the Troika’s heavy-handedness, despite Spain’s finance minister assuring investors it can’t possibly happen again.

Why not? Even with depositor guarantees of €100,000, if the ECB – supposedly the milch-cow of last resort – cocks a snook at Cyprus, for all its profligacy, which Eurozone politician can predict with any certainty no more cruelty will be meted out to purge ungodliness from the sainted euro paradigm?

However, Cyprus may have more room for manoeuvre than Brussels imagines.

Having propped up the island with a €5bn inter-government loan, Moscow is livid at being locked out of rescue talks in what it perceives as an EU snub. And now it is muttering darkly about pay-back.

This, then, could be the trigger for woebegone Cypriots to pull, because they have two prizes Vladimir Putin muchly desires: Russian exploration rights to a natural gas field Cyprus is developing with Israel and the potential to be a new base for its Mediterranean fleet if the Syrian port of Tartus is lost, come Bashar al-Assad’s downfall.

And writing off a €5bn loan – mere loose change – is no hardship for an economy swimming in petro-dollars.

Moreover, the geopolitical implications of Cyprus falling further under Moscow’s sway could be dramatic. The EU’s third smallest nation could not only afford to shun the euro and return to its old Cyprus £ – as one of its ministers threatened – it could deliver a strategic uppercut to the West’s sphere of Middle East influence and threaten the British army outpost at Akrotiri, one of NATO’s pivotal monitoring stations.

With Greece already deep in hock to the expansionist Chinese, who own the deeds to the port of Piraeus, and the Moscow-Beijing axis strengthening, Cyprus may provide the key to unlocking greater riches than its emptying bank vaults.

If that happens, the smart alecs who dictate EU tyranny may well rue the day they put the screws on the tiny Eastern Med mouse with the temerity to roar.