There’s an enormous elephant standing on the back of another elephant playing a trumpet loudly at the heart of the European defence debate, and nobody wants to admit that it’s there.
The truth is, nobody wants to die for Europe.
If Russia invades Estonia, or Poland, or Finland, there’ll be no shortage of young and not-so-young men and women in those countries who will rush to take up arms to defend their homelands and their families. The problem is that by that stage, it’s just too late. Deterrence has failed. Europe will be at war, and yes, at that stage, it is Europe. An armed incursion into any of those countries will have a huge economic impact on the rest of the European Union (and the Euro), and so defending them is not only honourable but selfishly vital.
Yet, up to that moment, it isn’t, and that’s the problem. We end up in a surreal situation where a Europe that is bigger, richer and spends more money on defence (Britain and France combined spend more on defence than Russia) is still cowed by Russia. Why? Because there is a Russian army. There’s no European army. Instead there are 28 national armies frittering away Europe’s defence spend into a very unimpressive bang for our buck.
Nor is there any reason to believe that a combined European army could come about as a result of the merging of existing European armies. For all sorts of reasons of history, national pride, etc, that isn’t going to happen. However, the problem still remains, and the chancelleries of Berlin, Paris and Warsaw know it. Europe has to have a defence capability that it is willing to deploy into harm’s way, and effectively a force of men and women who are emotionally separate from national identities.
To put it another way: consider two imaginary headlines in a future Irish newspaper:
“200 Irish soldiers die in fighting on Estonian border.”
“200 European Defence Force soldiers die in fighting on Estonian border.”
The first headline will cause outrage in Ireland, with screams about neutrality and why are we fighting in a country so far away, etc. The second will be met with a shrug of shoulders, even if some of those soldiers are Irish.
Why? Because if the European Defence Force was a voluntary organisation that Irishmen and women just happened to join (there’d be no shortage of volunteers) that would be seen as sad if they died, but not on the same level as Irish army soldiers being ordered into battle. It would almost be seen as a business arrangement. A de facto European Foreign Legion.
That’s the key.
The EU could allocate part of the defence budget of each member state to tender a separate private military contractor operated force for deployment on EU sanctioned operations. The member states could lease to the contractors equipment not usually available to private sector operatives (e.g. fighter aircraft) and the contractor could be bound by certain conditions in terms of human rights, sourcing supplies and employees from contributing EU member state suppliers. The force could also be required to have a rapid reaction disaster relief capacity for use both within and outside the EU.
The benefit is that the EU a) gets a military capacity, and b) recognises that there is sometimes a European interest which needs to be physically defended by a European asset. Such a force could also be used to replace EU national forces in places like Afghanistan.
Is it a fanciful proposition? Possibly. It’s a very radical idea to tender out elements of defence. But it does recognise a reality that Europe is an entity with common interests that need to be defended, yet there does not exist, at national defence level, a psychological buy-in to that. The US is leading the way, with mixed results, in private sector involvement with combat capacity in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is where we are today, and we shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand.
In another time, he would have made a wonderful member of the Spanish Inquisition, or a Witchfinder General. It’s ironic given his loathing of Judeo-Christian beliefs, but he does share the love of the Inquisition for purity. Like his counterparts in the US Tea Party, purity is all. In his head is a clean black and white (that’s racist!) checklist that all are subjected to, and all either pass totally or are racists or bigots or fascists or homophobes or more likely indeed all at the same time.
Not for him the happy-go-lucky live-and-let-live of old fashioned liberals. He’s not just against bigotry or sexism, he’s against what HE decides is bigotry or sexism. That’s the difference. He will, like the Catholic Hierarchy of old, tell YOU what is acceptable to think and believe and feel.
Nor for him the liberal demand for equal voices debating the issues. Debate is, in his book, a risk. A risk that the simple folk, of whom he claims a desire to speak for, might not comprehend what is the right conclusion to come to. Like a loyal member of any number of authoritarian parties, he’s perfectly comfortable with the use of illiberal methods against the impure. He’s no problem with aggressively denigrating people’s religious beliefs, but how dare anyone write a book debating the welfare state! Heresy! It shouldn’t be allowed!
Yet, like vampires, he has his weaknesses, but the devil is in the detail. Watch his brain go into a malfunctioning feedback loop if he encounters a burka wearing Muslim woman campaigning against abortion, whereas he is quite happy getting stuck into a pro-Israeli gay rights campaigner. It’s all down to the Big Hate: hatred of X will always trump a desire for Y. And the US are always the baddies. Always. If Martians launched an invasion of Earth, he’d blame the Americans for “provoking them”. If Vladimir Putin suddenly u-turned on gay rights, this guy would be hailing him as a Man for the Age.
Real liberals struggle to tell him apart from almost the worse kind of authoritarian. He won’t execute you, but he will jail you for crimes against Gaia or crimes that your great great great grandfather probably committed against the native people of the Americas, or for that filthy Original Sin, being born a straight white man. But the prison tofu will be great.
Building on a common theme of both “The Man from UNCLE” and Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest”, “Scarecrow and Mrs King” (1983-87) was based on the partnership of an American intelligence agent Lee Stetson (Codename Scarecrow), played by Bruce Boxleitner, and Amanda King, a divorcee he recruits to help him on a secret mission. King proves so useful to the agency that they decide to keep her on as an asset, under Scarecrow’s guidance and protection. King can’t, of course, tell her two young sons, or her live-in mother.
The show was ex-Charlie’s Angels star Kate Jackon’s (Sabrina, “the smart one”, whom people forget was actually the name recognised star of Charlie’s Angels when it first aired) return to network television.
Like most shows of its time, it was pretty formulaic although it did have the running Will They/Won’t They theme (they did, in the end) and also an entertaining sub-plot where the KGB came to believe that Mrs King was actually the brilliantly undercover Scarecrow, and that Stetson was just some flunky.
The show ended when Jackson was diagnosed with breast cancer, and had to effectively leave it, and is yet another of those hit shows from the 1980s that is vanishing even from the repeat schedules. Only Jessica Fletcher seems immune.
Boxleitner would later go on to Sci-Fi fame as Captain John Sheridan in “Babylon 5″.
It’s a form of political colour blindness. No matter what the result, there’s a peculiar type of British Eurosceptic view that interprets things in a way completely different from the rest of people on Earth.
When 75% of voters vote for pro-EU parties, that’s a massive endorsement for euro scepticism. When a former prime minister of Luxembourg, publicly nominated months in advance, is picked for Commission President over an unnamed invisible nominal alternative candidate pushed by the British, that’s a slap in the face for democracy.
There’s a whole “Fog in English Channel, continent cut off” feel to the thing, that the opinions of the editors of The Daily Mail or the Daily Express matter more that the votes of millions of Europeans, and if you can’t get that it’s you, sir, that has a problem!
It’s not that euroscepticism is not a legitimate point of view, or even isolated just to Britain. It’s that weird brand of British Euroscepticism that borders on a neurosis.
It causes grown adults to ask for the flag of an organisation Britain has been a member of for over 40 years to be removed from camera shots for fear of triggering emotional hysteria amongst people who are politically special.
It causes them to turn their backs when a specific piece of music is played.
It causes them to genuinely believe that there is a comparison between the European Union and the tyranny of the Soviet Union, a country of secret police, one party rule and slave labour camps.
These are actual adults, the fathers (in UKIP’s case, grandfathers) of children, people who have held responsible jobs.
What’s most striking is that such behaviour would be regarded on any other subject as just plain odd. If Sinn Fein MPs did the same over the Union Jack or God Save The Queen, or Tory MPs over the Zimbabwe flag, they’d be regarded as not the acts of rational people. Yet when it comes to the EU, all manner of surreal behaviour is tolerated.
One can’t help wondering is there a massive case of emotional transference going on here? That mostly middle aged angry men have seen their society change, seen women and minorities and gays all no longer defer to them, and have lashed out at social change, stumbling across a symbol of all that change? Has the EU, as a symbol of trying to manage modern global change, become the epitome of the change they hate, the very antithesis of The Good Old Days when the darkies and the poofs and the skirt knew their place?
“Matt Houston”, which ran for three seasons from 1982-1986, gets unfairly labelled as a “Magnum PI” knock-off, primarily because it A) featured a moustachioed PI with a penchant for fast cars, faster women and wisecracks, and B) because it aired two years after Magnum was on the air.
It is true, Lee Horsley, who played Houston, had a very similar self-deprecating, light comic style to Tom Selleck, and both shows had very similar stories, although Matt Houston missed the sheer iconic scenery of Hawaii, being set in bland Los Angeles.
But there were differences. Houston, despite having inherited millions, was a shrewd businessman who only really acted as a private investigator for the laugh. Secondly, and more importantly, Houston had the stunning Pamela Hensley (who had left many a teenaged boy, including this one, speechless, as saucy, evil and shockingly underdressed space dominatrix Princess Ardala in “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” only two years previously) as his sidekick, CJ Parsons. Sure, Higgins was a great guy. But he was no CJ Parsons. Matt Houston, like Thomas Magnum, was what men thought they looked like with a moustache in the mid 1980s.
Like Magum PI, Matt Houston had a catchy them tune and opening credits.
In a surprise move, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Nethanyahu has announced that the country is to move lock, stock and barrel to a new location in the US state of Wyoming. Speaking in an interview with Fox News, the PM said: “We’ve been thinking about this a long time. This neighbourhood is going to shit, and we’re spending an absolute fortune on security. And, let’s be honest, we really just want to be Americans anyway. So we thought, hell, let’s do it!”
President Obama has endorsed the deal. “I think this makes sense. Let’s take eight million foreigners out of an area where they’re surrounded by loads of people with guns who think they’re effectively immigrants, and move them somewhere completely different. Like Wyoming.” The president had to excuse himself after getting a fit of giggles, and left secretary of state Kerry to finish the briefing.
A spokesperson for Hamas condemned the move: “This is just typical of Israel. Here we are, building up a Jew-hating brand for years, and now look! What are we supposed to do now? Schlep all the way to Montana or whatever? Have you seen the airline prices over Hanukkah? My brother in law has over 200,000 “Death to Israel!” tee-shirts in a lock-up in Jerusalem. What’s he supposed to do now? Do you know what the margin is on a Ready to Ignite Bibi effigy? You’re talking pennies. Pennies!”
Viktor Orban, prime minister of Hungary, is the latest symptom of a dangerous, poisonous idea that is spreading across the globe. Democracy, the idea goes, is a weak concept that is more trouble than it’s worth. From the central committee halls in Beijing to the Kremlin to the cabinet table in Budapest to the prime minister’s office in Ankara, the “strong man in charge getting things done” model is emerging as a viable alternative to the western democratic system.
It’s an attractive, simple prospectus to sell. I recall a lunchtime conversation once, with a work colleague and a Chinese consultant, where she espoused single party rule. My (Irish) work colleague was very enthused about the idea, and said Ireland should try it. When I asked why he wanted to give total power to Enda Kenny, he suggested “ah no, we’d have to get someone better” and I had to point out that under the Chinese system, “we” don’t get to decide.
That’s the thing about the Strong Man model. It’s pretty much a Hotel California style of election, in that the bastards pull the ladders up after them once they’re in office. But what worries me are the number of westerners, particularly European, who think that our system is cast in stone, that it can’t be overturned, or that it is some sort of irreplaceable natural phenomenon. That freedom of speech and worship, free elections, rights for minorities and women, the right to own property and the independent rule of law, that these are all just things that happen anyway, no matter who is in charge or how they got there. But it isn’t an accident, and things do change: most of Europe has experienced in recent history the transformation from democracy to tyranny. In the 1920s Germany had one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. Within a decade its government was mass murdering its own citizens. Things change for the worse if you let them.
Yet in the west we spend more time pondering the hair-splitting of what freedom means rather than ensuring that we can actually, maybe even physically, defend that freedom. I meet so many people, many involved in politics, who just can’t comprehend that huge tracts of the world do not think as we do. Whilst we ponder the questions of the advancement of women, or LGBT rights, or the separation of church and state, or the difference between big or small government, there are regimes that do not even permit debate on those subjects, never mind pondering what outcome is the correct one.
What’s even more worrying, indeed infuriating, is the many citizens of the west who casually dismiss not only our freedoms but the willingness of others to deprive us of them. We tend to dismiss that moment when ordinary Jews in 1930s Berlin realised that they no longer were deemed ordinary Germans. Or when university educated women in Tehran in 1979, sitting in cafes suddenly found themselves beaten into wearing burkas. Or the Muslim mothers of Srebrenica of 1995 watching their sons, husbands and brothers being loaded onto trucks. Is there any more meaningless phrase than “Never again”?
In China, Russia, across large parts of the Muslim world and even as close as Turkey and Hungary, there are those advancing an agenda ranging from single party dominance all the way to killing homosexuals, turning our mothers and sisters to chattel, imposing single religious beliefs, or just plain stealing a nation for the sole benefit of themselves and their oligarch cronies. There are literally millions of people across the world who are subscribing to parts of that agenda.
We in the west do not have a monopoly on the future. The western way is not mankind’s default way, just one option, and we in the west need to recognise that we will have to fight to defend it, possibly with arms, because democracy and human rights are not a fait accompli.
The following are questions that I genuinely don’t know the answer to about the Israel/Hamas conflict. And please, if you’re one of those people who reads the first question and decides that “Well, he’s obviously on the side of X!” then piss off and don’t waste your time reading the rest. The questions aren’t in any particular order or rating of importance.
1. What effort is the Palestinian National Authority’s security forces making to stop its area being using to fire missiles?
2. What is the Israeli justification for building settlements in the occupied area?
3. What is Hamas’ actual objective in firing missiles into Israel? It can’t be for a military victory, surely?
4. If Israel will not permit a proper Palestinian state, and won’t make Palestinians full citizens of Israel, how is Israel different from the apartheid South Africa’s National Party, controlling the lives of millions of non-citizens indefinitely?
5. Have Israel or Hamas provided evidence to a credible independent third party that Palestinian civilians/humanitarian buildings are/are not being used as military locations by Hamas?
6. Is Israel willing for the status quo in Palestine to continue indefinitely?
7. Does Israel not talk to Hamas not because they are terrorists but because Israel is genuinely not afraid of them? Israel has a treaty with Egypt, a country that tried to destroy Israel. The British spoke to the IRA. Reagan spoke to the Iranians.
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