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The UK Decision on Syria 6, January 2016

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The following article was published by King’s College London’s Defence in Depth blog back in early December 2015.


An outline of a modus vivendi with Russia is required if there is to be any progress in the fight against Da’esh. Otherwise, the vaunted 70,000 strong ‘moderate’ forces promised by the likes of UK Prime Minister David Cameron to help coalition forces combat Da’esh will continue to be attacked by Russia. Indeed, their bombing campaign to date has been almost exclusively focused on forces other than those of the Da’esh and the Assad regime.

Of equal importance is persuading this 70,000 – or as many of them as possible – that they must concentrate on Da’esh and not the Assad regime. Presently, reports emerging from representatives of these forces claim quite the opposite: that the Assad regime is their primary enemy. As long as this is the case, Russia will continue to attack them and they will be of little use to Cameron and others seeking to primarily attack Da’esh.

On paper, at least, it looks like there is a deal to be done here.

Russia does, in fact, at some stage, want to counter Da’esh. This motley group killed hundreds of its citizens in the Sinai plane attack, and it has released a propaganda video of the execution of a Russian citizen. But Russia wants to guarantee its role in a future Syrian scenario too. This is the primary reason that it is so eagerly fighting the array of extremists and moderates ranged against Assad: it is protecting the Syrian regime.

Similarly, these moderates want Assad to go above all else. They – rightly – see him as the ultimate cause of the Syrian civil war and the one who indirectly founded Da’esh through policies actively stoking extremism. But this will simply not happen as long as Russia supports the Syrian regime. This statement of basic geopolitical fact needs to be relayed to these groups and driven home.

The deal is, therefore, quite obvious. The bulk of the Assad regime remains in place – Russia will not have it any other way – but Assad himself is scheduled to pass on power in a designated timetable. For this concession, Assad is saved from prosecution, Russia gets a say in the future government to guarantee its interests, the 70,000 and those they represent get rid of Assad and can have some (likely minor) say in a future government, and everyone can concentrate on dismantling Da’esh.

Doubtless, an approximation of this bargain is being discussed. But the fundamental problem is the fractured nature of the opposition groups. Persuading the dozens of militias and fronts that make up this 70,000 grouping of relatively moderate fighters to sign up to such a plan will be likely be near-impossibly difficult. In the end, Cameron and his allies will likely have to support and work with far fewer local forces.

The overarching ‘solution’ to this crisis is, then, political and involves a range of distasteful compromises. That British fighter-jets are now attacking targets a few hundred miles west from their current zone of operations in Iraq will not – cannot possibly – make any wider, strategic difference.

But it can, of course, make a tactical difference. Well targeted attacks can slowly degrade Da’esh capabilities. Especially in conjunction with allied support, it is plausible to suggest that the group’s abilities to operate in parts of Syria could be hampered.

Ultimately, the success or failure of this vote and of the resulting campaign depends on what its goals are. Destroying Da’esh is an absurd, impossible aim. It is an insidious franchise that can demonstrate that it has ‘won’ (i.e. not been wiped out) by any individual anywhere on earth with a flag, a camera, and an internet connection, to say nothing of its resilience in the great lawless swathes Syria, Iraq, Libya, or Nigeria.

The hope, then, is that this move by the British government is more important for its symbolic value signalling a new era of concerned international political alignment and pressure, than for its kinetic impact on the ground in Syria.

Creeping Sharia! 16, April 2012

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In England there is a small band of right-wing, racist, really rather unpleasant idiots called the English Defence League or EDL for short. Mostly they’re a group of football hooligans and other assorted folks with criminal records who like to bang on about how the UK has ‘gow’n to the dogs’ fostering an image of a UK full of spitfires, dragons, and white people cheerily getting along that never really existed. Indeed, it has recently transpired that they appear to have had some connections to the Norwegian murderer Breivik; all in all, a lovely bunch of people.

One of its founders, Tommy Franks, recently inadvertently started a Twitter craze with the following tweet:

welcome to twitter homepage has a picture of a mosque. what a joke #creepingsharia

Problem is, the picture on Twitter’s home page that many of you may have seen is this building…

…which the more perceptive of you will have realised is not a mosque.

What a burke.

But, happily, this has created a hashtag craze mocking the stupid Franks really rather wonderfully. Here are some of my favorites taken from a Guardian article:

  • Tommy Robinson is a anagram of Allahu Akbar #creepingsharia #nobodychecksanagrams Adam
  • Apparently, British high-school students are being coerced to learn algebra. Yet another example of #CreepingSharia! Ed Gerstner
  • I skipped breakfast this morning. Clearly fasting subconsciously. #CreepingSharia Eóghan
  • you have to take your shoes off before getting on a bouncy castle #creepingsharia Keith Watermelon
  • The sand from the beach has infiltrated my sandals #creepingshariaAsian Forum

Canada’s naval defences scuppered by mussels 11, January 2012

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A floating fence designed to protect Canada’s navy ships has been scuppered by mussels and barnacles anchoring to the barrier and weighing it down.

My instant thought is that if this occurred in Egypt, we’d all be smirking at the press lambasting the latest perfidious action of the Israelis with their remote controlled sea food assortment. Sad but true.

The FT guff awards 9, January 2012

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From the Financial Times.

The 2011 winners…

Sound and Fury Cup – ‘awarded each year to the chief executive who makes a public pronouncement signifying nothing.’

The runaway winner is Cisco’s John Chambers…”We will accelerate our leadership across our five priorities and compete to win in the core.”

Worst euphemism for firing people.

This goes to Nokia, which last year announced that 17,000 people were getting the chop or, as it put it, that its operations were being “managed for value”.

Most spurious use of percentages over 100 per cent.

Devin Wenig of Ebay… He said he was a mere “1,000 per cent committed” to his new job but added an explanation that craftily kept up the mathematical theme. “At this point in my career, a big platform, big brand, and global impact were all part of what I was solving for in prioritising opportunities.”

Worst job title.

Dirk Beeuwsaert is GDF Suez’s Executive Vice-President in charge of the Energy International Business line.

The most heroic attempt by a management consultant to overcomplicate matters.

A consultant at McKinsey who said: “The assessment was based on international methodology and on ground-truthing.”

Worst email sign-off

Shortlist of five: Toodle pip; All heart; Smiles; To your success; and (following a threatening message) Thanks and Bless. All should have prizes, but as I can only give one, I’m choosing “Smiles”, which is both bogus and contains a baffling use of the plural. How many mouths does the sender have?

2011 Golden Flannel Award for utter gibberish from a company that should know better.

The winner is Manpower Group, for describing itself thus: “Our $22 billion company creates unique time to value through a comprehensive suite of innovative solutions that help clients win in the Human Age.” Which makes me nostalgic for the Jurassic Age because I don’t think dinosaurs had any truck with innovative suites at all.

Hat tip: @rupertbu

On Iran’s Stealth RQ 170 Capture 9, December 2011

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So Iran did actually manage to get a hold of one of America’s drones this time? I would imagine that there are some highly concerned people in Washington and some people buying air tickets and grabbing bags full of cash in Moscow and Beijing.

Iran insists that it remotely jammed the UAV and landed it on purpose. But Iran lies quite a lot about these things. Their technology is, obviously enough , enormously inferior to America’s, but America’s hubris knows no bounds: hence the debacle in Iraq with the feeds from UAVs. Certainly, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Iran hacked the feed and took control of it (their asymmetric warfare capabilities need to be noted as significant, in particular) but it is more likely that either 1) a technical error from the US side caused the issue or 2) Iran managed to scramble the signal somehow. Either which way, these UAVs are designed to land themselves somewhere flat so certainly it didn’t need the Iranians to guide it down.

Certainly, this is a blow for America. How bad a problem remains to be seen in a few years when grainy footage emerges from a Chinese military base of a wing shaped UAV taking off.

Yet such a UAV has such eventualities taken into account; there is some degree of expendability built in.This is not to try to minimize the loss; as Michael Dunn notes, now for one thing Iran will be able to learn exactly what the RQ 170 actually does (i.e. only photography, sigint, radar suppression etc or some combination thereof).

There are, of course, two other possibilities entirely. 1) That Iran has made this out of leftover polystyrene and sticky back plastic or that 2) this is some enormously elaborate sting by America. Neither are that likely, but neither can be ruled out. Let the speculation begin.

Qatar wage hikes: Et tu, Qatar? 7, September 2011

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Qatar has raised the basic salary for Government employees by 60% and for Armed Forces employees by 120%. Pensions and social allowances have also been hiked up. Qataris have the Crown Prince, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to thank for this.

It is disappointing to see Qatar follow the terrified GCC crowd on this topic. The Qatari leaders have nothing to fear from their citizens. Unlike some government in the region that need to buy them off, the Qatari elite are, generally, a popular bunch.

So why have they done this given that it will:

  • Hike up inflation, which is already showing signs of being a problem.
  • Arguably create the expectation in the future of similar rises as part of the basic ruled-ruler bargain, which, at some point, Qatar will not be able to afford.
  • Decimate any notion of succeeding with Qatarization. Private companies will have a nightmare  – more of a nightmare – in attracting well qualified Qataris if they have stratospheric pay in the public sector to compete with. Either Qataris will simply work for the public sector, that notorious bastion of efficiency, or private companies will have to hike their pay, slashing their margins and further bumping up inflation.

So why then?

  • Reward for the armed forces for their involvement in the Libyan crisis. And the public sector have been rewarded with half as much because it’s difficult to give to one and not the other.
  • To kill off grumblings in Qatar? Sure, some people have not been wildly happy about Qatar’s involvement in Libya while others bitterly complain about the state of roads in Doha or that Education City is a waste of money or that there’s not enough fruit in the local supermarket…of course there are grumblings, there always are. But these are – unless I’m missing something huge – not serious at all.
  • The Crown Prince wants some gratitude. He gave out the cash, he will receive the plaudits. But again, he’s not an unpopular fellow and it is a potentially dangerous path to follow to link one’s popularity with wage hikes or something of this nature.

The key problem with these hikes is that they reinforce the rentier nature of Qatar. All Gulf countries are fighting the difficult battle whereby productivity and work more generally is just not related to wages. The link between the labor and the fruits thereof is bust.

Encouraging the private sector is meant to help alleviate the worst of this rentier problem. Why Qatar is so catastrophically undercutting this goal is a mystery. Methinks it is partly due to the nature of decision making in Qatar and the Gulf – at the elite level, perhaps with not that much consultation – and partly because there are no real consequences to ponder right now. The difficulty with this whole rentier question comes as oil and gas rents pare down, which is not for some time yet.

Is Berlusconi the worst leader of any major country? 4, September 2011

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asks Foreign Policy.

Yes. By far.

Wikileaks leaks 1, September 2011

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Wikileaks are whining about a security breach, a loss of trust and leaked documents? Words fail me.

The Arab Spring Map 29, August 2011

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‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ (even if the author doesn’t know much about Qatar and Abu Dhabi).

Hat tip: Mike Stephens

Author: alphadesigner

Human Rights logo 17, August 2011

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An international competition is currently underway to design a symbol which is hoped to become the internationally recognized symbol for human rights.

Think of peace or CND, for example, and this sign is synonymous.

Yet human rights has no such  automatic association. To attempt to devise such a universally recognized symbol for human rights seems, to me, to be a rather dignified and noble aim. Have a squizz at the website and judge for yourself which are the best ones thus far and get voting.