Wrong and Right

I've been in a sort of reflective New Year mood, when I have had the time to be so, and have been dwelling on three things this week. In Britain, Ed Balls has declared that Labour will have to live with coalition spending cuts, and has risked a fight with his own party over the realisation that states which are in large part foreign money users, rather than money issuers, can't live way beyond their means constantly. The effect of the banking and sovereign debt collapse, and the causes for it, have been well documented on this and other blogs--in my case, before it happened--but I wanted to record a degree of sadness that Labour not only didn't see this coming, but didn't prepare.

Three years ago, I suggested that several government departments could be scrapped, the tax regime for businesses could be flattened and made fairer, individual tax allowances should be raised, universities should go it alone, with failed ones merged into a University of Britain, and overseas aid should end. A costed programme like that could have delivered serious cuts, reduced the deficit, and maybe even begun to pay back debt, and increased tax revenues whilst lifting the burden from small businesses and individuals.

Today, I'd go further, and turn the post office into a co-op bank, with a digital bank account and card for everyone at birth, to make the high street banks really compete, and I'd also begin moves to cap or remove the likes of wonga.com and to re-establish building societies, whilst gradually winding down shadow banking. The trouble is, things are a lot trickier now, with the UK inside the borders of stagflation, and unemployment heading towards three million officially and well over that in reality.

All quite self-congratulatory. Where I would qualify what I wrote is in one of what became a 'successful' blogpost as measured by hits. I noted about four years ago that no one in a couple of thousand years had actually managed to pacify Afghanistan, and came close to arguing that the region was in a perpetual state of armed conflict and should just be abandoned. Having read a great deal about counterinsurgency there now, I'm beginning to think that I was wrong. The Taliban have been made subject to attrition; narco-traffic in Helmand seems to have declined; the Pakistanis and particularly the ISI, who instigated much of the trouble, have had the war brought home to them, and the place does not seem to have been abandoned as hopeless. Of course, that may change, but if it doesn't--if something picks up there, even at the cost of a colonial force planted in the region from the civilised world for a couple of decades--NATO and particularly the USA may have pulled off an historic feat by not being defeated in that region.

I also suggested, on the back of a reading of Operation Millennium Challenge and the reports of various retired American armed forces personnel, that an attack on Iran was impossible. Air forces would have had to deal with Syrian and Jordanian air attacks, and protect Israel, and fly into the Natanz valley with heavy laser-guided bombs to attack shielded, buried targets in at least eight locations. The silkworm and al-shabaab variant missiles China and North Korea had allowed to be placed on the Straits of Hormuz, plus small boats, could have brought down aircraft carriers, and Iran could have held back sites where it stored at least two active nuclear devices (because when a state is reportedly advanced in developing a bomb the safest thing to do is to assume that it has at least two already).

Now, I'm not so sure, and it worries me. Syria is in turmoil; Saudi Arabia would happily offer transit to Israeli planes and American stealths by looking the other way; stuxnet may have served to send a ping to Israeli and western servers to identify nuclear sites; we've learned off of Somalia how to disable small ships (with fishing nets, ironically) and American weapons systems have developed to a point where a carrier could face a salvo of a hundred cruise missiles and still have a high probability of one to no hits.

In the face of that, the Obama administration seems divided. One group are clearly into what might be called the 'Task Force 88' solution (or whatever the boys from Hereford and Fort Bragg are calling themselves now) of assassinating nuclear scientists. Another faction seems to have offered, in part because of Euro weakness and in part because of Nigerian problems, to defer sanctions until after the US elections if the Iranians talk; and others have maneuvered two aircraft carrier battle groups into the Straits of Hormuz. With force like that, we're not facing a Suez, we're facing something worse. We could be throwing away the chance to destabilise Iran by goading it into a war which would be the only thing that would unite it at the moment. Be in no doubt; a Persian war is easily a trigger for World War Three.

The Republican nomination for the US elections has become the sort of demolition derby which I predicted, and the euro is in the trouble which I noted that it ought to be in long ago, in 1992 in fact, and again in 2007. I am still wrong about peak oil, though, and despite the solar quietude, a very cold winter for the rest of the Northern Hemisphere has confirmed global cooling without being visited on this country (and I was looking forward to the snow). Consumers and businesses are also proving far more resilient to the depression than I thought that they would be.

The curiosity to me is how quiescent people are in the face of all these things. No viable third party movements; no agitation for faster, deeper change; complete ignoral of world events; and determined strain on faces, rather than anything else. Perhaps horizons retreat when people face economic crisis, or see their children doing so, or don't, but feel embarrassed in some way to admit that. Even in Turkey, I felt a little of that, as the place is a link between Iran and the west and also dependent on tourist money. This earth is a curious place. The Bar, for instance, is accelerating its self destruction and is being aided and abetted in that regard by the Ministry of Justice. This in itself is a curiosity to me, and I'll blog at length about it soon, but wincingly, since I do like the institution so.

I love blogging, but I've noticed lots of blog friends blogging less or switching to facebook and twitter. I think it's only a matter of time before these services are integrated and charged for, but until those enclosure acts, I'll be happy to be here and to be holding forth when I can--I have my own taxes and bills to pay and am nearly there with the long-term plan to collapse debts by the end of this year. I completely understand the switch to facebook though, and on the back of it twitter--it delivers a hit of knowing that what you write is not just being flung out, and offers a perfect platform for ongoing chats.

I don't want to abandon the demented on here. Both of you have been loyal readers and I appreciate it. Let's raise a cup of tea together to working out, from the sidelines, how this strange and climactic year is going to unfold. Good luck to you and your family in the turmoil--I know that I will certainly need it!

Comments

Toni said…
Quite an all-encompassing post Martin, so difficult to know where to agree wit you. Lets start with Afghanistan and Iran. Make no mistake the US will not back down from an attack on Iran, but it will be after the election, which Obama is already a shoe in to win. The US military is teir version of social security, imagine a hose pumping out money, it needs to be pointed at something. Afghanistan is largely unimportant these days, tey may want to build a pipeline across it but the reason for Britains great game and the whole Khyber Pass thing was Afghanistan was a buffer between the Russian empire and British India.

The UK has its own set of issues but we ave avoided the cataclysmic decline of the Euro nations, I was at he party for the Euro launch as a member of one of the international clearing banks and didnt think it would work then so I agree 100% with you. It amazes me how so many analysts talking up the BRIC companies have failed to recognize the simple fact that their exports and current account surpluses are dependant on our imports.

I personally would be sad to see the end of your blog as I am not a fan of the large social networking sites, so hope to continue reading as long as you post.
Martin Meenagh said…
Thank you for your kind words. The euro disaster has only begun to play itself out, and we'll all need our wits about us. This country, as you hint, is in the top ten of world exporters and is an important market, as is the EU, for developing export-led economies. Things could work out for us. It's more likely that the schatology hits the cooling device first.
I agree about Obama. I hope that we don't see an Iran war, because as you know I'm convinced that a Persian War is always a disaster, and that this one would trigger a wider war, either in a Spanish civil war type of a way, or a Belgium/Poland type of a way. Neither would be good.

I've been reading DR Thorpe's biography of Anthony Eden (I got it and the Macmillan one he did at Christmas, and oddly found myself preferring it mightily). I wish that we had decent and committed people like that at both sides of politics, though there is a side of me that admires the Nixons and Macmillans of this world.

I have every intention of blogging very regularly--as soon as I get out from under what seems like constant work and paperwork pressures! I hope that all is will with you,
very best etc.
Anonymous said…
Martin, I also appreciate your reflections, which are always interesting and very rarely mainstream. I also acknowledge that you are insightful and that you always back up your views. I don't always agree with you and there is a degree of weirdness to your writing which makes it fun.

There are a lot of twits on the internet who are spreading doom, gloom, and panic, and I don't mean people like you who see a very difficult road ahead, but the conspiracy nuts, who instill fear and have no trust in anything except guns and selfishness.

As long as you write, I will continue to read. I'll even suck up the odd snide comment because I know it spot on.

So keep on blogging and if you want more readers you'll have to cut out the obscure references, the archaic words, the flights of fancy, and the downright daft. Oh, and less of the Catholic stuff.

But then, that wouldn't be you. And last time I looked, that's the most extraordinary thing about what you put into the blogosphere. You still believe in something and you are quite fearless in saying so.

Maryx
Martin Meenagh said…
Mary, as ever, I am flattered. I think.

I don't really want more readers--when you look around at the professional bloggers in the mediasphere, it's quite depressing really. I'd prefer to just keep writing letters to nowhere and having them picked up by the likes of yous.
Anonymous said…
Martin, you should be flattered, as anyone who knows me will testify that I only do a back-handed compliment.

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