On the Competition for Recognition – Modern Antisemitism Part IX C (i) Cultural Emphasis in the Political Left in Britain

After my excursus into the issue of Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, I want to return to the political divisions in Europe, initially the cultural divisions on the left, picking up from my analysis of the economic divisions of the left as instantiated in the Brexit fight. The real divisive question on the left in Britain can be found in identity politics rather than debates over domestic class interests and the real, as distinct from caricatured, character of regional and globalist economics.

This is not simply my view. The Labour Party in Britain launched a commission of inquiry into the apparent anti-Zionism that seemed to run like a river of lava flowing forth from under the ground and spewing not only hot molten rock dividing the party, but the noxious vapours as well that have so poisoned discussions and debates on the left in Britain. The Sharmista Chakrabarti (Shami) Inquiry was instigated after the suspension of two Labour Party members over allegations of antisemitism, Naz Shah, a new member of the House of Commons, and Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London. Controversy followed the comments made by Shah who had suggested that Israel be relocated in the U.S., and Livingstone who had claimed that Adolph Hitler had been a supporter of Zionism. These comments on both Jews and Israel were interpreted as antisemitic.

Sharmishta (Shami) Chakrabarti of Bengali heritage led the inquiry. Following the tabling of her report, she became a baroness with a life peerage (nominated by Jeremy Corbyn himself, the current leader of the Labour Party). She sits in the House of Lords on the Labour benches. Shami, trained as a lawyer (LSE), directed “Liberty” for years, an organization with a long record of promoting civil liberties and human rights. She approached her inquiry into antisemitism within the Labour Party with impeccable credentials, in spite of the criticism of her appointment by The Community Security Trust that monitors antisemitism in Britain and has as its mission ensuring the safety and security of the Jewish community there.

Shami first made her reputation fighting anti-terrorist legislation that seemed excessive and too infected with Islamophobia. She had previously been a panel member on the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking and press standards. Nevertheless, Marie van der Zyl, Vice-President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which had initially leveled the charge of classic antisemitism at the Labour Party, dubbed her report a “whitewash.” It was certainly not a whitewash, but it may have missed its target and delivered only a glancing blow to the type of anti-Zionist antisemitism that is such a powerful undercurrent in the Labour Party.

This was the case even though Shami, in her June 2016 report, had documented a strong strain within Labour of “modern anti-Zionism of a particularly excessive, obsessive, and demonizing kind.” But she also insisted that it was not pervasive. Anti-Zionist antisemitism intermixed hatred of Zionism with traditional antisemitic tropes, images and assumptions. Shami was concerned with the mixing rather than the question of whether and when anti-Zionism could become antisemitic.

The report concluded that Labour was “not overrun by anti-Semitism” or, for that matter, Islamophobia and racism. But it was infected with the new form of anti-Zionist antisemitism. Thus, although racism in Britain did target Jews – and Pakistanis and blacks – only the racism targeting Jews entailed political ideology and infected foreign policy. If the right in the U.S. now wanted to exclude Muslims and Hispanics from becoming citizens, and Blacks from becoming full citizens by limiting their right to vote, the far left in Britain, infused with a romantic version of the Palestinian struggle, sought to exclude Israel from the world of nation-states.

Though the Board of Deputies of British Jews was critical of Shami’s report, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis endorsed the report and urged “a full and unhesitating implementation of its findings.” Professor David Feldman, Director of the Pears institute for the Study of Antisemitism, concluded that, “This is an important document at a time, when more than ever, we need to stand firm against all forms of racism and intolerance. The report marks a positive step towards ensuring that the Labour Party is a welcoming place for all minority groups. It recommends steps to ensure that members act in a spirit of tolerance and respect, while maintaining principles of free speech and open debate. The recommendations are constructive and provide a sound basis on which the Party can move forward.”

Why the differences among sectors of the Jewish community in Britain? The answer is partially available in the inquiry of the House Affairs Select Committee that followed the Shami Report. The Committee zeroed in on the National Union of Students and its then leader, Malia Bouattia, whose family came from Algeria. Malia had majored in cultural studies at the University of Birmingham and did a MPhil in postcolonial theory. That theory itself postulates that Zionism, and the creation of Israel, is a product of imperialism and colonialism, and that Israel is an apartheid and colonial state that controls and exploits colonized people and their land.

Thus, although the Committee was critical of all the political parties for hosting antisemitic elements, it also accused Shami’s inquiry of serious shortcomings. Shami had recognized that antisemitism had emerged in a new form that did not simply criticize Israeli policies and actions, but sought to undermine the right of Jews to self-determination within the historic land of Israel. However, the latter antisemitic elements were underplayed in the report and insufficient attention was paid to its existence within the Labour party. As I documented in an earlier blog, anti-Zionist antisemitism also seems to be characteristic of at least two of the new members of the House of Representatives in the U.S., Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. Those views, while still belonging to a small minority, are far more pervasive in the Labour Party in Britain than in the Democratic Party in the U.S.

Further, as the House of Commons report concluded, not only was Shami’s understanding of post-WWII anti-Zionist antisemitism too limited, but the display of that antisemitism focused on insensitivity rather than cognitive misunderstanding. Thus, when a pro-Corbyn party activist at the public launch of Shami’s Report accused Jewish Labour MP, Ruth Smeeth, of working hand-in-hand with the right, Smeeth accused Jeremy Corbyn of failing to speak out in her defense. Corbyn may insist that he is not antisemitic, but, at the very least, he displays an acute insensitivity to antisemitism, especially of the anti-Zionist variety but sometimes also classical antisemitism.

After all, Corbyn himself in response to the Shami report had compared Israeli actions to that of the Islamic State. (30 June 2016) “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.” Jews generally found drawing such an equivalence to be antisemitic. Even though Chief Rabbi Mervis had endorsed the report and Shami had defended Corbyn’s comparison, Mervis said the remarks were “offensive.”

In that mindblindness, I would endorse the conclusion of the House that Shami’s report was “compromised,” not because Shami, after delivering her report, accepted an appointment to the House of Lords from Corbyn, or because the report was insufficiently sensitive, but because her understanding of modern anti-Zionist antisemitism had serious shortcomings. It may be the case that, “there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.” However, anti-Zionist antisemitism is both more pervasive and more deep-seated in Labour while classical antisemitism may be more pervasive, deeper, and possibly more subtle, in the Conservative Party.

The exploration of the fact and the explanation for that pervasive anti-Zionist antisemitism on the left in Britain requires further analysis.

 

To be continued.

 

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Trump’s Withdrawal of Troops from Syria: Part IV – Concluding Analysis

I missed it. I perhaps know the Israeli issue better than I understand any other international conflict. (The reference timeline on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sent after this blog may serve as an indicator.) But I missed it. I was preparing to write my final comments on the Islamicist Terrorist War against us and the rest of the world by initially providing a Timeline on IS Terrorism. I wanted to show (and still may do so) that we forget very easily. We forget how frequent the terrorist attacks had once been. I was sure the media would remind us. Then Trump’s withdrawal of American troops from Syria would be seen as our concern, as undermining our security.

But that has not happened as far as I can see. A number of pundits have referred to the likely increase in world terrorism as a result of the withdrawal of troops from Syria, but that possibility comes as an abstract future rather than as something which touches our guts. The emotional dimensions of the American troop withdrawal touching our deepest fears just does not seem to be present.

Certainly, there is the sense of betrayal of the Kurds and forgetting their sacrifices and hard slogging on behalf of the coalition fight against terrorism in Iraq and Syria by many Americans. Certainly, they were also opposed to Erdoğan’s Turkish regime that has been succoring Islamicist militants in Syria as his protective shield against the rise of Kurdish nationalism that he viewed as perhaps the greatest threat to his autocratic rule. After all, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu, applauded Trump’s decision. Turkey’s Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar, promised to see Kurdish fighters “buried in trenches that they dig.”

It should be clear from reading yesterday’s timeline on the war in Syria that Turkey initially plans to divide the Kurdish forces between Manjib and Kobani in the west and Qamishli and Hasaka in the east connected by Tell Abyad using returning Arab militants as allies against the Kurds. Talk about collusion. Trump made the definitive decision immediately after talking to Erdoğan on the phone. “President Erdoğan of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria…. and he is a man who can do it plus, Turkey is right ‘next door.’ Our troops are coming home!”

But even the prospect of Turkey unleashing holy hell on the Kurds has not seemed to arouse Trump’s base, though it seems to have touched Lindsay Graham, a vocal Trump loyalist. “What Turkey is going to do is unleash holy hell on the Kurds. In the eyes of Turkey, they’re more of a threat than ISIS. So this decision is a disaster.” However, in general, loyalty no longer rings out as a lofty virtue and betrayal as perhaps the worst vice.

The whole effort to keep Iran’s regional ambitions in check may have been undermined. But that does not seem to have moved Trump as Israel’s strong supporter, except insofar as Iran is now a much more prominent threat to Israel.  The Promised Land must risk crossing the Russians as it bombs Iranian weapons caches in Syria. One may never prove collusion, but the steps Trump has taken, which point to re-establishing Russia as a super-power now on the borders of Israel, sure looks like it. Russia is clearly gloating as Turkey’s ties to NATO are further weakened. The Russians may have another card up their sleeve. In light of the U.S. desertion of the Kurds, Putin may instigate an initiative to reconcile the Kurds and Assad.

The prospect of ending America’s role as the world’s policeman has not alarmed evangelicals, for the base has a strong isolationist streak. Though how can one imagine, “Making America great again” by diminishing its role in the world is beyond me. I never understood making that effort by shrinking the U.S presence, and, in so doing, creating space for autocratic states and non-state nogoodniks to expand.

In the end, I have concluded that the abandonment of Israel, not the Kurds, has been the one that has touched and perhaps moved the evangelical Christian portion of Donald Trump’s base. That is the largest part of that base. It has seemed to be immoveable in the face of almost every sin in the book that Donald Trump has committed. But I did not attend. And I should have.

For twelve years, I produced and hosted a television show called “Israel Today” on a Christian evangelical station. I got to know the love of Israel by evangelicals close up. And not simply because Israel was the necessary step to a Second Coming as Rabbi Marmur insisted. The love was genuine. Evangelicals and Orthodox Jews kept going to Israel throughout the worst period of terror attacks while liberal Jewish visits declined rapidly. The love was real and I should have recognized that if that relationship was threatened, evangelicals might begin to distance themselves from their support from Donald Trump.

Trump is a braggart. He may be the moron that the ex-Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson depicted, but according to Trump himself, he knows best about military strategy – certainly more than his generals – about what will stop refugees from seeking asylum in the U.S., about law, about virtually anything. “I know better” should be his mantra, not “Make America Great Again.” Yet Jeremiah 9:23 quotes God’s message to humanity: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches.”

Donald Trump boasts of all three, and though many have questioned his wisdom in anything other than stirring up a mob, and his might for he never served in the military, allegedly because of heel spurs, and even though many have even questioned how deep his pockets really are, the real problem is not any of those qualities but, for evangelical Christians, that he should not be boasting about them.

This is not just a problem in the Hebrew Torah. Proverbs 27:2 advises: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” It is a problem in the New Testament as well. In Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia (6:14), he instructs: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” However, Trump’s boasting, indeed his false boasts, have not sent his followers fleeing.

Nor has his lying. Trump since he took office has lied or misled the public over 7,000 times at an average of over 11 lies or distortions of the truth per day. Yesterday I pointed out his lie that before he was inaugurated, the war against IS terror in Syria was running amok and only when he was elected did America get on the road to victory. We have become almost inured to his constant lying. Yet, although Christianity Today might advise; “If we’re created in the image of Perfect Truth, then we can’t keep speaking with the forked tongue of the Serpent,” evangelicals have managed to ignore these overt sins.

His boasting did not turn them away. Nor did his lying. Nor did the multitude of other vices he exhibits, such as adultery and the celebration of fornication. Donald Trump seemed to be made of Teflon, for every sin in the book seemed to be washed away, not as Hebrews says (10:10) by prayer, forgiveness and God’s grace, but by his base simply remaining blind to those sins.

Trump abandoning the Kurds does not seem to scare away the faithful. Nor does his boasting and lying and history of fornicating. Nor the threat to Jordan which I have not even discussed. What appears – and admittedly it is far too early to be confident let alone certain – is that Trump’s withdrawal of American troops and the removal of the barrier between Iran and its Hezbollah satraps in Lebanon and Israel, may have done the trick. Donald Trump must have sensed this when he responded and insisted that, “We give Israel $4.5 billion a year, so Israel is going to be good.”

It is not that Israel should have been surprised by the Trump move. The orangutan had signaled his intentions repeatedly. Netanyahu’s Chief of Staff, Gadi Eizenkot, the Mossad, Israeli military intelligence, had all warned the Israeli Prime Minister about the imminent possibility. But perhaps Netanyahu was so super-confident in his own powers of persuasion that he believed that he could dissuade Trump from removing American troops from northeast Syria, especially since virtually every military expert, including the Secretary of Defense, had strongly advised against such a change, quite aside from the logic and strategic arguments against withdrawal.

Jim Mattis in his resignation letter wrote, “My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues.” Mattis was strongly opposed to Trump handing the keys to Syria to Turkey, Iran and Russia. All Bibi could do was utter a feeble response that Israel will have to soldier on in Syria without an American presence.

But whatever Israel’s strengths, withstanding an alliance of Iran, Turkey, Syria and Russia is a clear and present danger. And Trump’s evangelical Christian crowd knows it. Never mind that the American troop withdrawal puts the Kurds in peril. Never mind that it puts the stability of the region in greater peril. Never mind that it may even result in putting ourselves in greater peril as a result of a resurgence of terrorism. Elham Ahmed, the co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF’s), constituted mainly by military units of the Kurdish YPG fighters from the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, said, “Fighting terrorism will be difficult because our forces will be forced to withdraw from the Deir ez-Zor front to take up positions on the border with Turkey to stop an eventual attack.”  Betraying the Kurds and our own security in the face of a resurgent terrorism did not suffice. But putting Israel in danger, putting the coming of the Christ in danger, that hits the core beliefs of many if not most evangelicals.

Has Trump’s evangelical base finally begun to turn against Trump? Surrounding himself with fools and felons does not seem to have done it. Offering all kinds of evidence that he was serving as Putin’s puppet does not seem to have done it. Evidence suggesting that he laundered Russian kleptocratic wealth does not seem to have done it. Tax avoidance and lack of transparency certainly did not do it. And Trump’s disrespect for the law and for the judiciary does not seem to have done it. Nor has his heartlessness towards refugee children. But betrayal of Israel!

Who would have thunk it? I should have. It was staring me right in the face. But I did not. For the past week, I have been focused elsewhere. And not because Trump is an expert at distraction as well as destruction, at debasement as well as dereliction of duty, not because he has been the disrupter par excellence – even of Wall Street markets – but because of my own mindblindness. And my assumption that the loyalty of his base was unshakeable. It was my failure to recognize what might shake up part of Donald Trump’s evangelical religious base. After all, Mike Pence is waiting in the wings.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Trump’s Withdrawal of Troops from Syria Part III: Violent Conflict in Iraq and Syria – Timeline

This is my Boxing Day present to you, taking “boxing” in its combative rather than wrapping interpretation.

In this installment of this series, I offer a timeline on the Iraqi and Syrian wars until the end of 2017. I do so, not only to refute Trump’s lie that until he came into office, the war in Syria was a disaster – for by now everyone should know that he is both a braggart and a liar. I want to give some sense of those wars in order to help assess the significance of any withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria. Note though that, from what I provide here, it would be difficult to form a sound judgement, not simply because the items included are only in a summary form, but also because IS was substantially defeated by mid-2017. That victory was followed by the continuation of the proxy war involving Iran, Turkey, Russia and the U.S. coalition backing the Syrian rebels. I do not even summarize that phase of the proxy war in this blog. In addition, a reader needs to recall the worldwide war against IS Islamicist terror in the period between 2014 and 2018, a summary of which I hope to provide in a subsequent blog.

Although readers may certainly derive other conclusions from the timeline that follows, I have made the following ones:

  • In November 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found no evidence of a nuclear program; Iran resumed its secret nuclear production following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq
  • The wars in Iraq and Syria cannot be assessed independently of the policy towards Iran
  • The combination of the American dismantling of the Sunni-run state and the Sunni dominated army, along with the Shi’ite dominated government policies of repression against the Sunnis, provoked and then compounded the insurgency in Iraq
  • Iran went into Iraq to fill the vacuum resulting from the withdrawal of American forces by the end of 2011; for a few years, Iraq effectively became Iran’s satrap
  • The sheer variety of the competing forces, especially in Syria – Iran, Turkey, Russia, U.S.-led coalition as well as Syrian government, various Islamicist forces, mainly IS, Tahir al-Sham, Nusra Front – make the situation very difficult to comprehend
  • In both Syria and Iran, American forces on the ground for training purposes and the American aerial war were critical to the defeat of IS
  • The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) established on 11 October 2015 in al-Hasakah was built on longstanding previous cooperation among the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, YPG) and the Women’s Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Jin, YPJ) as well as Free Syrian Army and the Assyrian Syriac Military Council (Mawtbo Fulhoyo – MFS) and the al-Sanadid Forces of the Arab Shammar tribe
  • SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces), mainly YPG (Kurdish People’s Protection Units), on the ground were also critical to the defeat of IS
  • The difficulty of keeping U.S. Special Forces advising ground troops out of harm’s way
  • The worldwide reach of Islamicist terrorism beyond Syria and Iraq into Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Algeria, Iran, Israel, Russia, U.S., Philippines, Malaysia as well as Europe (U.K., France, Spain mainly)
  • Absolute cumulative horror of acts committed by terrorists
  • New IS militant leaders pop up as soon as another killed
  • Victory over IS terrorism was insufficient; inter-religious, inter-ethnic and inter-tribal alliances were needed to forge not only victory over IS, but to provide a foundation for democracy
  • Relentless gruelling step-by-step nature of war; a slogging affair district by district, town by town
  • Wars peaked in 2016 and in the first half of 2017 before any real input from Trump
  • The war was won in Iraq with the fall of Mosul and, in Syria, with the fall of Raqqa in June 2017; clean-up operations follow.

I hope readers will find the timeline digest that follows useful as a reference.

2003-2012                                   IRAQ

Year Mo. Day Place Event  
2003 March 20 Iraq U.S.-led invasion (Operation Iraqi Freedom) – 177,000 troops  
2004     Iraq al-Qaeda in Iraq formed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi  
2005 Sept.   Iraq Al-Qaeda in Iran (AQI) declares “all-out-war” on Shi’ites  
  June 7 Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi killed in U.S. air strike

Abu Ayyub al-Masri takes his place

 
2006 Oct.   Iraq Masri forms Islamic State in Iraq (ISI)

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi declared leader

 
  Nov.   USA Republicans defeated in midterms  
2007 Jan.   Iraq U.S. troop surge – “The New Way Forward”

20,000 new troops; ISI membership at 15,000

 
      Iraq ISI driven from Baghdad into Diyala, Salahudeen, and stronghold of Mosul  
  Nov.   Iraq Deadliest period for U.S. troops – 852 dead  
2008     Iraq 2,400 ISI members killed and 8,800 captured  
2009     Iraq ISI recruitment declines from 120 to 5 per month  
      Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki targets Sunnis  
      Iraq ISI begins to grow again in Sunni tribal areas  
      Iraq ISI suicide attack in Baghdad, killing hundreds  
2010       New and expanded insurgency  
2011 March   Syria Civil uprising begins  
  April   Iraq U.S.-Iraqi operation kills Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri  
  May 10 Iraq Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi named new leader of ISI  
  July   Syria ISI spreads into Syria  
  Aug. 31   U.S. declares end to combat operations in Iraq  
      Iraq Good security, budget & inter-ethnic relations  
      Iraq Al-Maliki reconstructs state on ethnic lines, appoints cronies to army & kills protesters  
2011     Iraq Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) turns into ISIS  
  Sept.   Syria Insurgency begins  
  Dec. 31 Iraq Last U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq  
2012 Jan   Syria Abu Muhammad al-Julani, now leader of the Nusra Front (NF)  
        ISIS joins rebellion against Bashar al-Assad & uses Syria as safe haven  
        ISIS launches “Breaking the Walls”: 24 bombings; 8 prison breaks to free Jihadis  
  May Mar. Syria UN ceasefire  

 

 

 

 

 

 

2013-2014                                        Syria & Iraq

Year Mo. Day Place Event
2013 Mar. 4 Raqqa Falls to Syrian secular opposition but NF & ISIS active
  Apr. 9 Syria Baghdadi moves to Syria, claims ISIS & Nusra Front merger
    10 Syria Al-Julani rejects alliance and pledges allegiance to al-Qaeda
  July 21 Iraq ISIS launches “Soldiers of Fortune” campaign
  Aug.   Syria ISIS attacks Liwa al-Tawhid, Ahrar al-Sham, and the Nusra Front in Raqqa and Aleppo.
  Dec. 30 Syria ISIS controls Fallujah and parts of Ramadi
2014 Jan. 14 Syria ISIS captures Raqqa & declares it as Capital of ISIS emirate
  Feb. 3   Al-Qaeda disavows ISIS
  June 10 Iraq ISIS takes control of Mosul & kills 600 Shi’ite prisoners in Badoush prison
    11 Iraq ISIS takes control of Tikrit
    12 Iraq Iran “volunteers” help government retake Tikrit
    18 Iraq Government asks U.S. to launch air war against ISIS
    24 Iraq & Syria ISIS captures the strategic border crossing between Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province and Iraq and 3 other Iraqi towns
    29   Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announces caliphate stretching from Aleppo in Syria to Diyala in Iraq & renames itself

the Islamic State (IS) & himself as Caliph

  July 16 Palmyra, Syria IS launches massive attack on Shaer gas field, kills 270 of whom 200 are executed after their capture
    19-26   Shaer gas fields recaptured, but Islamicists largely escape with 15 tanks and dozens of rockets
  Aug. 2-3 Syria IS captures Kurdish towns of Sinjar and Zumar; Yazidis flee
    3 Iraq IS captures Mosul Dam
    7 U.S. Obama announces air strikes against IS to defend Yazidis
    24 Syria IS captures Taqba airbase in Raqqa
  Sept. 5 U.S. Obama announces international coalition to defeat IS after execution of journalists James Foley & Steven Sotloff
    22   IS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani threatens reprisals against U.S., French & other coalition citizens; on 24th, French tourist, Hervé Gourdel, beheaded in Algeria.
    23 Syria U.S. launches air strikes against IS targets
    27 Syria U.S. strikes IS targets in Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) in Aleppo which had been declared the administrative centre of Kobani Canton by the YPG
  Oct. 7-8 Syria U.S. ramps up air strikes in Kobani vs IS insurgents who had laid siege to Kobani
    15 U.S. Names campaign “Operation Inherent Resolve” vs IS
  Nov. 2 Syria IS & Nusra Front meet in Atareb near Aleppo to cooperate and IS sends fighters to assist NF’s attack on Harakat Hazm, a Western-backed moderate rebel group
  Dec. 31   Peak of war; 20,218 killed

2015    Conflict in Syria and Iraq – Timeline

  Jan. 26 Kobani YPG + units of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) backed by U.S. airstrikes win 4-month battle vs IS
  March 31 Tikrit Liberated from IS by Iraqi army in assault begun 2 March
  May   Iraq IS takes Ramidi
  May 21 Libya IS takes full control of Sirte
  June 17 Syria YPG + FSA expel IS from Tal Abyad on Turkey border
    22 Syria Kurds take IS military base of Ain Issa
    26 Syria IS tries unsuccessfully to retake Kobani; kills 145 civilians
  Sept. 30 Syria Russia bombs YPG forces while claiming to be targeting IS
  Oct 9 Syria IS captures 6 villages near Aleppo in northwest
    11 Syria Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) formed from People’s Protection Units (YPG), military arm of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) plus FSA units (battle for Kobani, Raqqa & Tal Abyad)
    15 Iraq Iraqi government forces recapture Baiji refinery from IS
    22 Iraq U.S. Special Forces soldier killed by IS, the first in a hostage rescue, while 20 IS fighters are killed and 6 detained
  Nov. 13 Iraq Kurdish forces recapture Sinjar from IS held since Aug. 2014
    15 U.S. Independent analysis shows that recapture of IS held territory around 4 cities (Hasakah, Kobani, Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa) only possible when air support backed SDF
  Dec. 1 Iraq Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announces Special Forces reintroduced in Iraq and ground troops into Syria to support Iraqi and Kurdish fighters targeting IS
    10 Iraq Airstrikes kill ISIS finance minister Abu Saleh and two other senior leaders in Tal Afar
    27 Iraq Government forces recapture Ramadi from IS
    31 Syria IS makes gains near Aleppo and still holds Raqqa
        IS suffers key losses at hands of SDF & Iraqi military
2016 Feb. 9 Iraq Ramadi recaptured by IS
  April 11 Iraq Government forces recapture Hit held by IS since Oct. 2014
  May 5 Syria IS reverses failed July 2014 effort; captures Shaer gas field
    19 Iraq Government forces retake Ar-Rutbah in west
    23 Iraq Gov’t forces advance on Fallujah held by IS since 2014
    24 Syria Kurdish forces launch attack to retake Raqqa
  June 26 Iraq Gov’t forces take Fallujah
  July 19 Syria SDF captures IS base in Manbij in Aleppo province
  Aug. 12 Syria Manbij totally freed from IS control by SDF
    30 Syria Abu Muhammad al-Adnani (IS) killed in a U.S. airstrike
  Sept. 28 Iraq Last oil fields freed from IS control
  Oct 16 Syria Turkish-backed Syrian forces retake Dabiq which IS prophesied would mark the final victory of IS
      Iraq Gov’t forces launch attack against IS in Mosul

 

2017    Conflict in Syria and Iraq – Timeline January to May

  Jan. 3 Hazrama Syrian Army forces seize the Air Defense Battalion Base
    9 Deir ez-Zor U.S. Special Forces capture IS fighters
    19 West Aleppo US airstrikes against Sheikh Suleiman military base in western Aleppo held by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement; 76 al-Qaeda fighters killed, including Abu Hasan al-Taftanaz
    21 Damascus Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham rebels negotiate surrender
    29 Damascus Syrian Army takes control of Wadi Barada; restores water
  Feb. 19 Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announces launch of operation to retake the west bank of Mosul
    24 Al-Bab Turkish FSA wins control of al-Bab & other towns
  March 1 Syria Arima buffer zone established between SDF & FSA
    2 Palmyra Recaptured by Syrian government backed by Russians
    9 Raqqa U.S. Marines deploy to back SDF vs IS
    17 Golan Syrian army targets Israeli jets & Israel responds
    22 Tabqa Dam US airlifts SDF forces to capture dam and cut off IS reinforcements for Raqqa
    29 Syria Iran & Qatar negotiate deal for exit of both civilians and combatants to vacate besieged Al-Fou’aa-Kafrayain, Madaya & Al-Zabadan in Idlib and Damascus cantons
      Syria Syrian forces capture Deir Hafer in East Aleppo
      Turkey Announces end to Operation Euphrates Shield
  April 4 Syria Syrian air force chemical attack against Khan Shaykhun; 100 civilians dead
    7 Shayrat Airbase In reprisal, U.S. launches 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from U.S. destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross
    12 Palmyra Syrian Army expands buffer zone around Palmyra
    19 Damascus Zabadani on west declared free of militants
    21 Mayadin Abdurakhmon Uzbeki, senior IS leader, killed
    26   IS develops IED that can be dropped from planes or launched by rifles
  May 7 Northern Iraq IS kills 2 and injures 6 in attack on military base that holds U.S. military advisers
    8 Syria Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi, IS terrorist in Malaysia, killed in Syria
    13 Aleppo Syrian government forces retake small airbase in east
    18 Syria Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) retake Sahl Sinjar airbase from IS
    24 Syria Gov’t troops kill IS Minister of War, Abu Musab al-Masri.
    26 Syria & Iraq Americans kill 3 senior IS officials, Mustafa Gunes, Abu Asim al-Jazeri and Abu Khattab al Rawi
    31 Syria Airstrike kills Turki al-Binali, Grand Mufti of IS
      Iraq IS makes last stand in Mosul Grand al Nuri Mosque
        SDF captures Tabqa dam

2017    Conflict in Syria and Iraq – Timeline June to September

  June 2 Syria SDF captures town west of Raqqa from IS
      Iraq Iraqi forces retake 1 of 4 districts in Mosul from IS
    10 Iraq IS launches counter-attack south of Mosul; 24 IS fighters die while 38 military and civilian personnel killed
    14 Iraq IS launches counter-attack in west Mosul; 40 Iraqi police and dozens of militants killed
    17 Deir Ez-Zor Syria Russians kill Abu Omar al-Beljiki and Abu Yassin al-Masri, 2 IS field commanders, in airstrikes
    20 Iraq Gov’t forces encircle Old City held by IS in Mosul
    21 Mosul IS destroys Grand al-Nuri Mosque & al-Hadba minaret
    25 Syria SDF retakes al-Qadisia district in Raqqa; U.S. shoots down Syrian fighter Jet which bombed SDF
    29 Iraq Mosul falls to Iraqi armed forces; victory declared July 9
      Syria SDF completely encircles Raqqa; by July 3, Old City
    10 Iraq Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve issues press release announcing “Iraqi Security Forces liberate Mosul” crediting Kurdish Peshmerga fighters & global coalition as well; clean-up operations follow
    11 Syria Russian killing of caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi confirmed but denied by Kurdish counter-terrorism official
    15 Syria Gov’t forces recapture Wahab, al-Fahd, Dbaysan, al-Qaseer, Abu al-Qatat and Abu Qatash oil fields
    28 Raqqa IS fighters attack SDF east of Raqqa killing and abducting civilians; estimated 2,000 IS fighters still in Raqqa; takes until October to finally clear them out
  Aug. 4 Syria Lebanon & Hezbollah officially enter Syrian civil war along Syrian-Lebanese border & engage on 18 August
    12 Syria Gov’t forces recapture last major town in Homs province held by IS
    13 Iraq 2 U.S. military personnel killed by IS in northern Iraq
    15 Iraq Gov’t forces prepare for showdown with IS in Tal Afar with aerial bombardment
    20 Iraq Tal Afar offensive by Iraqi military against IS begins and reach city limits on 22 August; retaken by end of August
    21 Syria Russia kills 200 IS reinforcements en route to Deir ez-Zor
    26 Syria Central desert (approx. 770 sq. miles) captured from IS
  Sept. 5 Deir ez-Zor Syrian armed forces break siege & Russian airstrikes kill 40 IS fighters and 4 senior commanders
    20 Syria SDF Raqqa campaign in final stages
        IS targets Iranian convoy in east
    21 Iraq Gov’t forces launch offensive in Hawija
    23 Syria SDF captures Conoco gas fields from IS in Deir ez-Zor; Syrian army controls Deir ez-Zor by the end of November

 

Trump’s Withdrawal of Troops from Syria: Part II – Apology and Clarifications

Let me begin with an apology for yesterday’s blog. That blog stimulated quite a reader response. After reading those emails and re-reading the blog, I recognize that I was guilty of three important errors. The first was a crucial omission. Second, I failed to indicate when I was still conveying the interpretation of events as told by Marmur and Brenner and not my own; some readers thought that too many of these interpretations were mine. Third, when I did insert my own observations, this compounded the problem, for instead of enabling the reader to distinguish the voice of the writer from that of others, I added to the confusion.

Yesterday, I wanted to ignore the calumny against the Obama regime. Trump claimed that when he became President, ISIS was going wild. My evaluation that the claim was invalid, along with the failure to explain why, led to some of the misinterpretations. As the timeline will make clear, ISIS was not going wild in January of 2016. ISIS control of territory in both Iraq and Syria peaked in January of 2015 not 2016. In 2016, we observed the major rollback of ISIS which was indeed largely completed during the first year of President Trump’s presidency. But that rollback was well underway in 2016. All the statement proved was that Trump remains a pompous braggart and liar incapable of giving credit where credit is due.

All of this is readily apparent in the timeline that follows, as are three other points:

  1. S. leadership and involvement were absolutely critical to the victory over ISIS; when America withdrew from Iraq in 2011, there was a resurgence of the war by radical Islamicists.
  2. The Kurdish American allies were also critical to the victory.
  3. Terrorism outside the immediate field of battle reached its peak with the success of ISIS and declined as ISIS was defeated.

Without parsing what views expressed in the last blog were mine and what views could be attributed to the two other blogs I cited, I believe my views will become clear when I respond to the criticisms.

  1. I and Ayelet Shaked were both accused of being surprised and apprehensive about the American military withdrawal from Syria.

I am apprehensive but not surprised. Trump expressed his determination to withdraw in March and then extended the deployment for only six months. Though I should not have been surprised by the way he did it given Trump’s character and pattern of decision-making, I was, but should not have been, taken aback by the style.

  1. I am making a “mountain out of a molehill” with respect to the withdrawal of American Special Forces as ground troops can be replaced in hours, especially given the American military capability if the region.

Boots on the ground to train local forces are critical until those forces are at sufficient strength and experience to take over. As the timeline will indicate, air power can help stop an advance, but more is needed to reverse it and American training and supplies of ground troops are crucial for this purpose. Ground troops cannot be replaced in hours. The agreement of the host country may be required, or, alternatively, the tacit agreement of other powers that may even be antithetical in other circumstances, such as Russia. Logistics, bases and airfields have to be available.

  1. Daesh has almost lost all its territory, though the diehards in Deir es-Zor have been putting up an extremely determined resistance for months, but they are confronting the U.S.-backed SDF, that is, Kurdish YPG. However, both these points are irrelevant since the geographical position of this last stronghold is inconsequential to both the Kurds and the Americans.

True. But American backing for the Kurds is both politically crucial and of vital importance when Assad and Erdoğan both send their forces against the YPG.

  1. A resurgent Daesh is a threat to Assad/Russia/Iran/ Iraq and pretty much everyone else. Let them handle them. Why should America be handling this?

Perhaps to protect the Kurds.

  1. Turkey wants to take over a big chunk of Syria? They may find it something they didn’t bargain for.

They may indeed. At the same time, this is no solace for the Kurds caught between Turkey and the Assad regime. Or for the prospect of another regional war.

  1. The Kurds are overextended, tired and realize that they need to consolidate before the Turkish onslaught.

All the more reason to keep the Special Forces there given the above.

  1. Trump’s surveillance of Iran is much more effective than the Iran agreement.

This was a topic I dealt with in other blogs, not the one I wrote yesterday morning.

  1. While the U.S. had only around 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria, they controlled, or at least supervised, the main crossing points between Syria and Iraq. With their departure, Liberman explained that, “we’re now talking about contiguous Shiite land between Iran, Iraq and Syria.” This will almost certainly mean a strengthening of the Iranian military position in Syria and more advanced weapons reaching Hezbollah.

This is Israel’s real fear.

  1. Trump is a horse trader; he has given the green light to Erdoğan to take Manbij and the area west of the Euphrates river in return for the Turks canceling the S-400 contract with Russia and purchasing American Patriots instead.

I agree. Trump has turned a matter of critical geo-security interest into a transactional exercise.

  1. America’s control of 60% of the world’s military might, military power that has been dramatically enhanced by the increase in the military budget; the U.S. is now even more formidable.

Only if the Commander-in-Chief shows a willingness to use it when absolutely necessary.. Further, the effectiveness of military power depends as much on trust and involvement of allies, politically as well as militarily, as on troops and military hardware. If, instead, Trump sends 5,000 troops to unroll barbed wire on the Mexican border and wants to spend that extra procurement on military parades, then the possession of enormous military might is irrelevant.

  1. America’s air force military might is being held on a tight leash in Syria because of its lethal power.  At the same time, compared to 2,000 troops on the ground, there is no contest with America’s air power.

Quite the reverse. As the timeline will indicate, air power stopped the insurgency, but did not reverse it. That required both troops on the ground and the backup of air power. At the same time, in addition to the international humanitarian norms restricting the use of air power, that air power has to be employed very carefully lest too many civilians are killed and the population turns against America.

  1. Drones still have more power than ground troops and American intelligence surveillance remain predominant in the region.

True, but so what if the President relies on instinct, impulse and TV impressions and not intelligence analysis to make decisions?

  1. These troops the U.S. are withdrawing can have better use elsewhere, which goes the same for the troops in Afghanistan.

That is the big debate. Though there are reasons for arguing for American withdrawal from Syria, I do not believe this is one of them. Further, I believe the timeline I will publish next will raise serious questions about such a claim.

  1. What can happen? Daesh will reconquer a big chunk of the Levant? Draw more pan-Islamicists to their Caliphate/hell on earth?

Again, look at the timeline I will publish. Though I think an ISIS resurgence is unlikely, it remains a real possibility.

  1. Incompetent European leaders want America to fight Daesh for them.

Then why are the UK and France remaining? Recall that the coalition was created as a U.S. initiative.

  1. Trump told Netanyahu that his support for Israel is unwavering and the USA remains on high alert in supporting Israel from any aggression.

Yes, but do Trump’s promises mean anything when he changes his      mind overnight, influenced by leaders such as Putin and Erdoğan?

  1. I underestimate the strength and superior ability of Israel to defend itself. Soldier to soldier, Israel has no peers. They are the finest best trained ground military force on the planet.

Likely true, but irrelevant. The issue is not whether the Israelis can     defend themselves, but whether and to what degree Israel can rely on American logistical backup in a military crisis. Israel has never played a crucial role in obtaining a military victory for the Americans. The Kurds have. Yet Trump is deserting them. How can any nation rely on such an unreliable partnership?

  1. Recently-resigned Israel Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the move had the potential to spark a major regional war. “The withdrawal of the US from Syria significantly raises the chance of an all-out conflict in the north — both in Lebanon and Syria.”

That is the real fear given that the presence of U.S. troops seems to play a role as a deterrent to this possible result.

  1. As for Israel, I would quote Alfred E Newman, “What me worry?”

Quoting Alfred E. Newman will not stop Jews from worrying.

  1. There is no imminent threat to Israel even though the corrupt leadership in Jerusalem “would love to have Israel surrounded by American troops.”

There is no imminent existential threat to Israel. But there are real threats and American backing is critical to managing those threats.

  1. My essay is part of a hysterical liberal crusade to rid the world of a dangerous tyrant in the White House.

My essay largely confined itself to introducing the issue of withdrawing American Special Forces from Syria, an option available to whomever occupies the White House.

  1. I mis-judge the American people and those persons in senior positions in that Government to uphold their Constitution.

This is largely irrelevant to yesterday’s blog, but I am indeed wary about the Republicans in Congress; do they have the backbone to defend the Constitution when they will also have to face the wrath of the Trump base?

  1. I chortle with delight at the mid-term election results and watch the evidence pile up that indicates an early Trump impeachment. That will never happen. Trump will resign and be pardoned of alleged crimes by President Pence, soon.

I am not a futurologist and do not know what will happen. Nor have I taken a stand on what should happen. I am still too ignorant about both the legal and political dimensions of impeachment, quite aside from the situation that all the facts of the case still have to be put before the American public.

  1. I allegedly do not understand the strength of the American military Command for Mad Dog Mattis was a hawk fired by Obama and his replacement will not bow to any Trump irrational non-Pentagon group.

Possibly, but as I read the tea leaves and watch Trump’s behaviour, I see him as growing more desperate, less ready to satisfy his minders and even more prone to irrational choices propelled by a willingness to bring the stadium down if he is trapped.  

  1. I personally believe that Congress and the Senate will never allow illegal orders of any Commander in Chief. That is one place where Republicans and Democrats agree.

I hope you are correct.

 

Next:

Trump’s Withdrawal of Troops from Syria: Timeline

Part III – Timeline and Eval

Trump’s Withdrawal of Troops from Syria: Part I

Some issues cannot wait. I planned to continue my writing on the splits within the British Left, but focusing on the cultural divide rather than the debate over Brexit. However, Friday we were hit by the political storm responding to Donald Trump’s twitter announcement that America would be withdrawing approximately 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in northeastern Syria. “When I became President, ISIS was going wild. Now ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains. We’re coming home!”

Ignore the calumny against the Obama regime for now. The historical series of events and the situation on the ground will be dealt with in a future blog. Trump’s announcement was followed by the subsequent resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis and the State Department coordinator of U.S. anti-Islamic strategy, Brett McGurk. Just weeks earlier, the latter had insisted, contrary to Trump, that “nobody is declaring a mission accomplished,” namely, that ISIS had been “largely defeated.” Like many others, I have been preoccupied with the decision over the last few days, though, as you will see, the decision was not as precipitous as has widely been reported.

Part of that preoccupation concerns apocalyptic thinking that often accompanies Trump’s moves. This was certainly no exception. The announcement was greeted as the final spike in the international liberal order built with so much diplomatic craftsmanship in the decades since WWII. That order has been unravelling, especially during the Trump administration. However, this move seems to have rendered it asunder.

My eldest son, Jeremy, has a forthcoming article in the magazine Aeon called “Catastrophe: What Does it Mean to Write Histories of the End?” It is primarily about the narrative of global economic integration and the vision of “one world connectivity and technocratic togetherness” and how that vision has been rent since 2008. Collapse. Extinction. Gloom. Dysphoria rather than euphoria. These are typical responses to the cascade of events since 2008. The response to Trump’s decision fits into the stream of fear and distress that underpins apocalyptic thought in contrast to narratives of hope and promise which focus on a new world order arising as a phoenix out of the ashes of the old order. The fear is that we will only be left with ashes and no resurrection whatsoever.

The irony is that it has been the populists who heretofore have been the prime purveyors of the doomsday narrative. Now, though the liberals and progressives received a brief reprieve with the midterm elections, the music of a dirge once again fills the air just beneath the joyous sounds of Christmas. The “oy” undermines the “joy” the more that picture of unmediated and contending forces clashing in the dark becomes dominant.

Even in a not-very-good movie, Mary Queen of Scots, quite aside from the historical liberties taken in the film, the dominant motif is one of two Queens with every intention of bringing peace but unable to resist the dominant forces that propel the two nations towards conflict and violence. Diplomacy fails. A queen has her head severed. War ensues. The Kurds had insisted that it was America’s “duty to prevent any attack and to put an end to Turkish threats,” but Trump seems to have no sense of any American obligation to others. That attack on the Kurds by Turkey now seems inevitable.

Intractable, incompatible. Zero-sum games. This is the world of Donald Trump. Nativists in general, about whom I still plan to write re Britain and France, view globalism and interdependence as a trajectory of disaster. As much as progressives resist adopting such an outlook, it percolates beneath the flesh so that liberals scratch instead of think, tremble instead of responding with determination, or else, seem undercut immediately after expressing a renewal of hope. Disaster results when leaders cannot get their act together and prevent the onset of a catastrophe. Is there a realistic prospect of finding a route out of the valley of death that Syria has come to symbolize?

I want to set aside the outlandish way a major foreign policy shift took place, especially one with such historical and geo-political significance, quite aside from the uproar within Washington and particularly within the Republican Party. Trump’s announcement and the response stood in such sharp contrast to the way the biblical Joseph with the subtlest diplomacy reconciled with his brothers and set in place the foundations for the unity of the Israelites, one with many cross-cutting divisions and splits, but a unity nevertheless. Trump’s announcement has been the very opposite, deepening and multiplying divisions, not only in America but throughout the world.

I begin with Israel from where I received Rabbi Dow Marmur’s blog this morning. It is entitled, “DON’T TRUST THE GREAT.” One can view the screed as another installment of Dow smiling as he paints a picture of pessimism while always offering a rhetorical glimmer of hope at the end. This time, instead of the smile of a Cheshire cat, we see gloating permeating the writing. After all, Netanyahu bet on Trump, bet on the Republicans. Given Israeli intelligence rather than any advanced notice, Netanyahu, reportedly, had tried strenuously to change Donald Trump’s mind before the latter sent out his tweet thrusting the Israeli Prime Minister back on his tuchus.

 

This morning, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, from the right-wing Jewish Home Party, had to fall back on a weak response: the move was “certainly not a good thing, does not help Israel.” This was a mild prognosis to say the least. Shaked insisted that Israel would still be capable of defending itself. This anemic reply from such a normally powerful speaker, one who was absolutely bubbly when Trump decided to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the American embassy there, is now viewed by Likud and right-wing supporters as strengthening the “antisemitic war criminal, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.”

 

Does it matter whether the Trump administration is “the friendliest administration there’s ever been” if Trump’s move opened a land bridge for Iran to supply Hezbollah in Lebanon and even send “volunteers” to Israel’s border? What a feeble, impuissant response by Shaked! An unnamed Israeli official in the Department of Foreign Affairs was blunter: “Trump threw us under the wheels of the semi-truck of the Russian army, the one that transfers weapons to Syria and Hezbollah.”

 

The move ran totally opposite to John Bolton’s promise a few months ago that U.S. troops would remain in Syria as long as Iranian forces were there. Only a few days ago, John Bolton was quoted in the New York Times: “we’re not going to leave [Syria] as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders,” including Iranian proxies and militias.” (That is, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi’ite forces)

 

As Marmur wrote, Trump has been fickle, ignorant and unreliable, and even the right-wing press in Israel vociferously denounced the move.

  • Shimon Shiffer of Yediot Achronot: “Trump is now responsible for abandoning Israel which has to face Iranian aggression in the region alone. As long as Russia is the region’s boss and there is no American deterrence in Syria, what is to prevent Iran and its heavily armed sidekick Hezbollah from turning the Syrian side of the Golan Heights into a military outpost?”
  • On the Kurds: “The American move points to Washington’s weakness, and perhaps even a betrayal of its allies. The Kurds in Syria are the first to be affected by the decision, for by pulling out of Syria, the US is essentially spilling the blood of allies who helped liberate swathes of the country from IS.”
  • Jonathan Tobin of JNS Daily Syndicate: “A Syria pullout is incompatible with the goal of ending the threat from ISIS and Iran. Until Trump understands that – and the unfortunate consequences of this decision may teach him a lesson his advisors apparently couldn’t impart to him – there’s no use pretending that ‘America First’ isn’t a pale imitation of Obama’s flawed foreign policy.”
  • Sarah Stern of The Endowment for Middle East Truth: “moral beacons do not desert their friends…This precipitous exit can only come from someone who lacks even the most fundamental understanding of the nature of the Middle East, as well as the psychology of some of the actors.”

 

However, and ironically, some on the left welcomed Trump’s initiative. Michael Brenner in his blog, while acknowledging the incoherence, the obscurity and the illogic of Trump’s move, in his typical contrarian voice took on the critics. He questioned even the imperative to suppress ISIS on the rationale that if they are not defeated over there, they will come to America and repeat the terrorism of 9/11. For Brenner, ISIS lacks both the capacity and the intention; it is a myth that they still command 20,000 fighters.

 

In any case, building an oppressive caliphate in the Middle East does not pose a military threat to the U.S. ISIS may inspire. ISIS may abet. But Islamicist terrorists are mostly born or raised in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Further, terrorists do not need to control turf to commit their heinous acts. For Brenner, the issue is not whether ISIS has or has not been defeated, but whether ISIS poses a direct threat to the U.S. He declared that it did not.

 

On Jake Trapper on CNN this morning, Paul Rand in his support of Trump’s announcement of the withdrawal echoed the view that withdrawal was long overdue. Under the water and in the air, America has enough of too much fire power to pulverize the terrorists if they regroup. American troops on the ground, even if only as Special Forces to backstop and train the Kurds, provide a stimulus to create more Islamist terrorists against the U.S.

 

In any case, Brenner contended that American policy-makers were hypocrites for the U.S. failed to target terrorists in Syria who were more directly a threat to the U.S. – Al-Qaeda and Ahrar al-Sham concentrated in Idlib province – simply because they were enemies of Assad. The U.S. even supplied these so-called “moderates” with arms. Americans were self-contradictory in another dimension. The American military never tried to destroy the source of wealth for the terrorists, namely the oil fields they controlled or the transport trucking that oil to nearby safe havens.

 

Then, Turkey is purportedly an ally of America and a member of NATO. Yet Turkey has been the incubator for ISIS in the effort to weaken the Kurds. The Kurdish YPG forces have served as America’s boots on the ground to occupy Raqqa, expand south and southeast to capture and control territory from ISIS and prevent Assad from taking over. But the YPG has its own agenda, not simply to re-establish an autonomously Kurdish controlled territory in Syria’s north and east, but to link up with the autonomous Kurdish area in northern Iraq and, according to Erdoğan, also to join with and support the Kurdish separatists, the PKK, in Turkey, named by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, while Erdoğan harasses and persecutes all Kurds in Turkey.

 

Turkey has openly declared that it wants to conquer, control and even annex a part of Syria along its border. Iran wants a land route through Syria to Lebanon as well as to expand its influence in Syria and Iraq, even as Iran has actually reduced its military presence in Syria. The withdrawal benefits Turkey in its long war with the Kurds. Trump’s announcement, however, not only abandons the Kurds to their own fate, but also seems to betray its ally Saudi Arabia, which is a sworn enemy of Turkey. Turkey wants to push the terrible embarrassment inflicted on the Saudis over the murder of Khashoggi and get the Saudi regime to lift its blockade of Qatar as well as have the Saudis pay a huge ransom to Turkey for ending the drip drip of terrible evidence on the murder. In return for the American withdrawal, did Trump get Erdoğan to commit to future silence on MBS?

 

Israel loses. The Kurds lose. The EU, particularly the UK and France, also both lose for, although very minor players, they were allied with the U.S. in backstopping the Kurds and now insist they will stay, but that is akin to saying that all the ants do not have to be eliminated for the Russians, Iranians, Turks and Syrians to enjoy a picnic. The Republican neo-cons, the centrists and the interventionist liberals with their bleeding hearts for the Kurds, all lose. Iran gains, if only because America has withdrawn as a threat to the Syrian regime which Iran supports. Turkey gains. Most of all, Russia gains because, without firing a shot, America has left the battlefield to allow Russia to solidify its control over its Syrian satrap.

 

Further, Putin, since his successful venture into Syria to prop up the Assad regime in 2015, now acquires even more leverage over Israel. He can now resist Israeli airstrikes against his Syrian allies in the Assad regime, not only by upgrading Syrian air defences with Russian-manned S-300 batteries, but can now draw a red line that any further direct attack on air defences in Syria will entail a direct clash with the Russians. Russia ran circles around American policy in Syria. The withdrawal of the 2,000 troops is simply an open acknowledgement of defeat that retaining a foothold cannot disguise.

 

The reality is that after this long seven year very destructive civil war, the Syrians themselves have perhaps the most to lose from the American withdrawal. Russia, Iran and Turkey together do not have the funds to rebuild the devastated infrastructure. The West will not, leaning on the stated policy that help will only be forthcoming if Assad leaves. That is definitely not going to happen now. Assad will gain because he and his henchmen will escape being tried by the international court for war crimes. The Syrian refugees will lose because the monies to rebuild and re-establish themselves in Syria will be sorely lacking.

 

Economics and Cultural Interaction: Israelites and Egyptians Va-y’chi Genesis 47:28-50:26

On a historic day when the U.S. government is imploding, when the President of the country as Commander-in-Chief, on impulse and without proper consultation or process, betrays America’s allies and helps its enemies, when that president endangers his own country let alone the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces and his Afghani allies possibly by creating a vacuum for a resurgence of the Islamic State, when he suddenly and without notice switches horses from his Kurdish allies to their Turkish foes, when he directly undercut his own country’s negotiations with the Taliban surrendering all leverage in advance, we are watching the anticipated destruction of the world order established after WWII.

When we observe a president deliberately creating chaos to distract from his own legal woes, a president willing to go to the wall and shut the government down for a wall along the border for which Congress will not pay, a president of the most powerful country of the world firing off the first major bunker-buster bomb that makes his actions heretofore look simply like musket shots, a president acting to defend his self-interests and hidden personal records as the stock market plunges 500 points in a single day as deficits explode and the president attacks the Fed, why spend my time on one seemingly innocuous story in the Torah that ends the book of Genesis?

Because we need distance. Because the story in the Torah is about politics, is about economics and is about culture and not just the covenantal relations between the Israelites and their God. I will deal with the politico-economic dimension first.

This portion depicts Jacob blessing the results of Joseph’s intermarriage, his sons and Jacob’s grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, then his (Jacob’s) characterization of his own sons and their prospects, his own death and the carrying out of the promise to bury him with his forefathers in Canaan, Joseph’s reassurance that he forgave his brothers and his promise to provide for them and their families and, finally, the death of Joseph and the insistence that God will return the Israelites to their own land and the promise to Joseph that he too would have his bones transported there for burial. This ending, like the end of a television series at the end of one season, is set against the background of the Egyptian famine and how it was handled.

Just like the great flood, the famines in Egypt are part of a historical and geological record. There is a stele on Sehel Island recording the famine in the reign of Pharaoh Djoser during the classical third dynasty of Egypt. It was a period of anarchy and robbery rather than orderly redistribution of foodstuffs saved up from years of plenty. It was only after that famine, that the Pharaoh and his priests collected extra rations for the Egyptian god, Khnemu or Khnum.

Djoser did ask for priestly help, specifically from Imhotep, the high lector priest. Imhotep, after some research, informed Pharaoh that the famine was caused by the god, Khnum, stopping up the spring supplying the waters of the Nile. The high priest went to see the god, fasted, prayed, and then, exhausted, fell asleep. And, of course, he had a dream. Khnum appears in the dream and promises that he will unstop the well. Pharaoh orders that the temple of Khnum at Elephantine be rebuilt to which regular offerings would be made, including foodstuffs from Nubia. Was this the record of an actual famine? Was this the story of the famine recorded in the Torah?

One problem is that carbon dating identified the inscriptions as having been made during the reign of Ptolemy V (205-180BC). Does that mean that these Egyptian hieroglyphs really borrowed from the Israelite Bible as a means of giving greater legitimacy (and power) to the priests who served Khnum? However, the story of a seven-year famine could have come from anywhere since it was a common motif in the cultures of the Middle East. See, for example, Homer’s Iliad, Book V.

In the Mesopotamian story of Gilgamesh, there is a prediction of a seven-year famine. In Tablet VI, the Bull of Heaven, sent by the goddess Inanna (later known as Ishtar, the goddess of love/lust), descends from the sky sent by Ishtar to avenge Gilgamesh’s rejection of her efforts to seduce him. Her father, Anu, the god of the firmament, had initially refused to release the bull into her charge and warned that seven years of famine would ensue. Anu gives in, however, when Ishtar has a temper tantrum and promises she will store up provisions and flocks to offset any famine.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu wrestle with the Bull of Heaven and kill it. Did the Bull symbolize an earthquake or a volcanic eruption which spews forth sulfates into the atmosphere that dramatically alter global weather patterns, lack of rain and drought? In this story, we deal with flesh and blood issues. God is cited but not sighted. God does not appear. Why does Gilgamesh throw the thigh back to heaven while, in the Torah, Jacob has his sons promise that they will bury him in Canaan in the grave of his forefathers and seal that promise by placing their hands on his thigh? Why do all these tales include predictions of famine, efforts at seduction, and end with death of a great hero?

The narrative on the stele on Sehel parallels the biblical story, though the years of plenty follow rather than precede the seven years of famine.

  1. Pharaoh is troubled in both tales;
  2. In both narratives, the adumbration of the famine comes in a dream.
  3. As Joseph says, it is God who gave me the dream interpretation just as Imhotep receives his message from his god in a dream.
  4. In the Egyptian narrative, the people are taxed 10% rather than 20%.
  5. In the Egyptian narrative, the populace is not required to surrender ownership of their herds and property in return for food.

What would cause such a famine? A radical change in weather could have decreased the flow of the Nile so much that it never flooded the farms. That would have been catastrophic indeed. One theory is that such an event was caused by a massive dust cloud either as a result of an enormous volcanic eruption or the impact of an object crashing from space into with Earth. Recently, the first thesis seems to be supported by a computer study that established a very strong correlation between dramatic weather changes in the Middle East caused by volcanic eruptions and periods of riots, lawlessness and anarchy. Geologists, historians and historical geneticists have shown that dates of volcanic eruptions can be correlated with historical periods in which the social order broke down and the bones of the dead reveal an increase in disease and malnutrition.

And what about the prevention of famine? Did the Joseph story coincide with the period from about 1850 to 1650 BC when a canal was built that prevented Lake Qaran on the Nile from being dried up and instead, allowed those canals to replenish the lake with water and maintain the fertility of the land? The canal has been known for thousands of years as Bahr Yusef or The Waterway of Joseph.

However, my interest is not in historical truth or the extent to which Torah stories conform to actual history or to other mythical narratives. My focus is on the narrative itself and the themes, plot and characters emphasized in that narrative. For that, actual history and other myths can serve as foils. While actual history can be constructed as a narrative, my interest is in the way the biblical narrative offers us a glimpse into the ethics and political norms of the ancient Israelites.

Look at some specific issues raised by the biblical narrative:

  1. Why did Joseph take five men to be introduced to Pharaoh? Why only five? Why does it not say his brothers rather than five men? Is there any relationship to the five books in the Torah?
  2. Is there any significance of Pharaoh asking about their occupation and the answer that they are shepherds? Why can’t farmers (Egyptians looked down on animal herders) and cowboys be friends?
  3. Why does the answer include the intentions of the sojourners, environmental refugees fleeing drought, to remain sojourners and neither seek citizenship, on the one hand, nor return immediately from whence they came?
  4. Pharaoh very generously offered not only permanent residency status but the best land and jobs as livestock minders of his herds.
  5. Why, when Pharaoh asks Jacob his age, does he reply 130, but adds that it has been a short life of constant misery?
  6. Why does the humanitarianism of the famine turn into a transactional exercise in which Pharaoh, through Joseph’s prescience and administrative innovations, eventually obtains ownership of everyone’s herds and then their land in return for allowing them to live, but as peasants who give 20% of their crops to Pharaoh?
  7. At the same time, others fleeing the famine became urbanites and provided labour to Pharaoh in return for food.
  8. Why did the priests keep their farmland and receive a food allotment from Pharaoh?
  9. Why were the Israelites such beneficiaries, acquiring both food and the best property?
  10. Why does Jacob want to be reburied in Canaan with his forefathers?

What is clear is that the famine’s usual results – starvation, riots and political upheaval – were prevented. Although the absence of social order and central formal authority were averted, although the looting of the Pharaoh’s granaries did not take place, although a system of both taxation and redistribution remained, the Egyptian commoners only survived to become effectively urban slave labourers or serfs instead of freeholders. Further, instead of the famine stirring up the usual xenophobia, the foreigners ended up at the top of the political-economic structure.

Although 400 years are said to pass between the end of Genesis and the beginning of the Exodus story, in the history of Egypt, a long reign of a beneficent ruler was followed by the very short reign of a tyrant. In the latter, it is the Israelites who are turned into urban slave laborers. Was the one story about the way the Israelites prevented chaos and maintained order in a famine while in the subsequent tale they are blamed for the famine and plagues that wracked the land and led to political upheaval?

Why did the biblical redactors celebrate Joseph’s skills in predicting the famine and his steps for preventing political chaos but not condemn Joseph’s initiative in using the famine to greatly increase the wealth of the Pharaoh and, incidentally, that of his own family? My suggestion is that the story of Joseph, and, indeed of the whole of Genesis, is not about justice, and certainly not about tikkun olam, but about the survival of a tribe and how to benefit from catastrophe rather than suffer from it. It is a survival and not a moral story. It, and the entire Genesis, is about turning the bad into the better.

The whole of Genesis is a tale of the family trials and tribulations in building the foundation for a nation, of overcoming deep family fissures to form a nation living as sojourners in a foreign land and destined to return to Canaan. The ending with the mention of Mitzrayim only points to the beginning of the series for the next year on TV, the beginning of Exodus when Egypt will be equated with evil rather than beneficence and when return will be celebrated rather than remaining in a diaspora that is really not your home. Hence, the Israelites travel back to Canaan to bury their father Jacob, but return to live well in a land of exile. However, struggle at home will remain superior to lolling in paradise.

Jacob extracts the same promise as his father, that he be buried back in Canaan, perhaps even back in the same Cave of Machpelah. Redemption in this tale is not redemption from sin but redemption from living in a strange land that is not your land. Redemption is literally a down to earth story. Redemption entails memory, carrying with you the tales of the trials and tribulations, the calamities and efforts to overcome them, that will form a nation’s DNA. [Please excuse the unqualified loose generalizations.]The past becomes the present to prepare for an unknown future. We travel forward in time but always eventually backward in space to where we belong. What we have is a tale of nationalism and a story of providence serving that promise.

What connection does this nationalism have to Trump’s parochialism, to the right-wing and xenophobic nationalism currently on the rise? It is a nationalism of openness rather than redneck fear. It is a nationalism in which Jacob insists that Ephraim and Manasseh “shall be mine no less than Reuben and Simeon.” Jacob kissed them and embraced them. Marrying in and acceptance is good. Exiting and marrying out is bad. The latter meant the nation would not survive. Foreign nations threaten a nation’s purity only when one abandons the obligations to that nation. The issue is not intermarriage with foreigners but the importance of including the products of such intermarriages within the national fold.

In addition to inclusiveness, even more importantly, Jacob continued the tradition that is part of the Israelite DNA of blessing the second-born with his right hand and the first-born with the left, indicating once again that the second-born will rule over the first, that alpha males should not become the leaders of the Israelites, that impulsive and impetuous Trumps with their enormous self-assurance, confidence that one already has the answers but need only prove their superiority, should not become a nation’s leaders. Second-borns recognize that they are limited and strive to be good given those limits. They have to acquire skills rather than simply rely on their natural aptitudes.  First-borns compare who they are with whom they might be rather than compare themselves with whom they should be.

Israel will become a nation of self-doubt, of questioning and not a nation led by narcissists and braggards. The point is not that the Israelites are exemplars of the highest virtues, but that they are committed to self-criticism and improvement. Uprightness must remain superior to self-righteousness. That means that reconciliation trumps revenge and forgiveness ensures unity. What we observe south of us Canadians is the reification of divisiveness, of self-protection in the name of a false nationalism instead of community protectionism in the name of true patriotism.

On the Competition for Recognition Part IXB Economic Divisions within the Political Left in Britain

Yesterday, I watched a video of the British Parliament in which Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, mouthed what seemed to be “a stupid woman” directed at Prime Minister Theresa May. He denied saying those words. In that, he was literally correct. Mouthing is not saying. One Labour Party spokesman insisted that he had said “stupid people,” but even I, who am not finely attuned to subtle readings of body language, clearly saw Corbyn’s lips move that could not be “people” but was almost certainly “woman.” Why lie when the truth is so obvious? This should be a major question for politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.

This posture of personal abuse is a pale facsimile of what Donald Trump does in the U.S., but given a reputation for British civility in politics, the gesture is telling. The comment was made in response to Theresa May stating that the members of the Labour Party “aren’t impressed” with their leader’s Brexit stance. After mocking Corbyn’s total vacillation on whether or not he would table a vote of no confidence in the Conservative government, Theresa May advised Jeremy Corbyn, “I’ve got some advice for the Right Honourable Gentleman, look behind you.”

Compared to the fractious Conservative Party schisms and mutinies, the Labour Party makes the Conservative Party look like a well-run ship instead of a ship of fools. Theresa May counted on Labour Party defections to pass her Brexit legislation, but that hope was dashed; there were not enough votes to overcome the dissidents from within her own party. On the other hand, Jeremy Corbyn, contrary to his own party’s official strategy, in an interview said that he did not want Brexit to stop. Evidently, he would rather take power over a suicidal polity than risk failing to become Prime Minister, though his rationale was that he had to cow tow to the will of the British people.

The Labour Party set forth six necessary and jointly sufficient measures to support Theresa May. The PM mounted a campaign to “charm” dissident Labourites, combined with an appeal to British national self-interest given the self-immolation option of no deal. The Tories targeted Labour centrist and liberal politicians critical of Corbyn, such as Chris Bryant, Rachel Reeves and Lucy Powell. Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) responded to the entreaties two months ago with, “I won’t prop up Theresa May’s dog dinner of a Brexit plan.” However, contrary to Corbyn, Reeves called for a second referendum rather than the “shoddy compromise” on offer. May seemed as blind and deaf to critics from across the aisle as to her own party members.

Penned by Keir Starmer, the Labour Party’s six conditions were:

  1. Does the agreement ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?
  2. Does the agreement deliver the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?
  3. Does the agreement ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?
  4. Does the agreement defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?
  5. Does the agreement protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?
  6. Does the agreement deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?

The Labour Party did not want a hard border in Ireland between the North and the South, with which the EU adamantly agreed. That decision was to be backstopped until a deal could be negotiated about what would be an effective hard border down the North Sea, a condition unacceptable to the Labour Party. A backstopped deal on Ireland, as well as a failure to restrain Spain’s ambitions over Gibraltar, were anathema to the Brexiteers, though they offered no reasonable solution out of the impasse. Brexiteers argued that the agreement would then always be subject to an EU veto and, therefore, EU control. The majority in the Labour Party, however, wanted a continuation of open borders re the movement of peoples, in precise opposition to May’s foundation of her compromise to end that movement.

Labour also argued that, without an agreement on free trade in services and goods, the services sector, which constituted 80% of the British economy, would be undercut with no deal in place. Further, without an agreement on the movement of peoples, each member state in the EU would have to negotiate separate agreements with Britain to permit pensioners, who retire in Spain, Italy, Portugal or elsewhere, to continue to have access to health care and pensions, let alone residency rights, family reunification and naturalization of children. However, May was determined to restrict the free movement of people, and hence services, between Britain and the EU.

The Labour party wanted a comprehensive free trade deal, either on the Norwegian model or the recent agreement negotiated between Canada and the EU. Retaining free trade in the manufacturing sector was crucial since the globalist capitalist economy requires huge markets, very specialized production and just-on-time delivery, without which one auto manufacturer alone, such as Honda, according to the Financial Times, would need a 300,000 square metres (the equivalent of a warehouse of over 3 million square feet) just to house parts. (Pharmaceuticals drugs, aviation and car parts were already stockpiling with the possibility of no deal.) Free trade could be solidified by a Norwegian style customs union to preserve frictionless trade and exact the same benefits of a true partnership.

In other words, the Labour Party (or a seeming majority) seemed united on a very different version of an EU-lite agreement than May’s option, but without the concurrence of the EU. As the Brexiteers both in the Tory Party and in Labour complained, an EU-lite deal would make Britain a vassal state of the EU without any input or control. 52% of Britons on 23 June 2016 voted to “take back control of our country and our laws” and make Britain great again by putting the British people first. The number of left-wing populists and opportunists, though not as numerous as those in the Conservative Party, was not insignificant.

The combination of necessary and sufficient conditions required by the Labour Party that would satisfy the Tory base was and remains impossible to achieve. If Elizabeth May offered an ignominious deal, Jeremy Corbyn vacillated between his eagerness to win the next British election and his fear of disaster for Britain. The leaders of the governing and the opposition parties both excelled in the practice of dilatory politics. If May seemed to be an “enfeebled political zombie,” Corbyn seemed to exude pathetic cowardice content to bray but not table a vote of non-confidence.

The Labour Party was divided among:

  1. the hard-line Brexiteers who agree with hard-line Tory Brexiteers such as Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) that the differences between Britain and the EU are so great that the UK should never have submerged its unique language, customs, culture and history within the EU, even in the form of a customs union;
  2. the abstainers who are ambivalent on the risk of further delays versus accepting May’s EU-lite;
  3. the pragmatists opposed to May who believe that the risk of May’s deal and of a Brexit no-deal departure are both unacceptable, the latter leading to an 8% drop in Britain’s GDP according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF);
  4. the defectors who would support May’s deal (perhaps 15-20 Labour MPs) rather than risk a final post-Brexit no-deal self-immolation option.

But Tuesday, the EU offered Britain a parachute, or a second parachute. The first one came this past Monday when the EU’s highest court ruled that Britain could unilaterally reverse its decision to leave the EU. The second came the very next day when the EU agreed that the implementation of Article 50 to leave could be delayed if Britain planned to hold a second referendum.

Theresa May seems bent on running down the clock so that there will be only two choices, her plan or no plan and disaster. Logically, there is possibly another option, leaving on the basis of a different deal than the one May negotiated. The last would be an alternative virtually impossible to put together in time for a referendum. Other members in the British Parliament see two other options – amendments of Theresa May’s plan that would take into consideration more of the legitimate concerns of members of Parliament from all parties over the contents of the agreement. Recognizing how almost impossible it is to negotiate a deal with over a hundred independent voices and then going to the EU to ask them to vote again on an amended deal with a very short timeline, others are urging a second referendum, not just between May’s deal and leaving with no deal, but with other choices, staying in the EU on the current terms given the new knowledge of what leaving would imply. The realistic choices are:

  1. Pass May’s deal;
  2. Vote down May’s deal and vote to stay in the EU on current terms – a breach with the will of British voters;
  3. Hold a second referendum with two choices: i) May’s deal or ii) exit without a deal;
  4. Hold a second referendum with three choices: i) May’s deal; ii) exit without a deal; or iii) stay in the EU;
  5. Let things drift and exit the EU without a deal.

The last option most Britons, even many strong Brexiteers, now recognize as disastrous, but it may be the outcome if politicians cannot get together and create an acceptable solution. The irony is that reports circulate that some of Theresa May’s closest allies in the Conservative Party, for example, her deputy, David Lidington, James Cleverly, the Conservative deputy chairman, and Gavin Barwell, her chief of staff, are exploring the possibility of support for a second referendum. The Brexiteers in Cabinet are furious at the alleged betrayal.

At the same time, others, like Education Secretary Damian Hinds, were insisting that the government was definitely not preparing for a second referendum, that the option had not been discussed in Cabinet, and that the May option is already the product of a quest for balance taking all concerns into account. Hinds was the front face of the party masking the manipulators in the backrooms betraying the Brexit option that they had pledged to pursue sincerely. Clarifications and reassurances from the EU that could satisfy parliamentarians’ concerns were only a smoke screen. Contrary to the charges that Theresa May does not listen, echoed in a question by Sophy Ridge on Sky News, Hinds claimed that May had listened and had struck a balance; that was the real and only rational choice. Sarah Sanders also insists that Donald Trump does not lie.

Meanwhile, a number of Conservative MPs were openly and actively campaigning for a second referendum. One was Jo Johnson who left May’s Cabinet because of differences over Brexit; he called her deal “half-baked.” It was his brother, Boris, who had been so active in pushing for Brexit while Jo was adamantly opposed. The latter insisted that Parliament and the British people should not be faced with two terrible options, May’s horribly flawed deal and no deal at all. Plan B required a second referendum with all possible options on the table.

What about Labour? The party had assured the public that if Theresa May did not bring forth her option to Parliament and failed to get its support, the Labour Party would table a vote of no confidence in the government. In answer to the question why Labour had not tabled a no confidence vote, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Shadow Business Secretary, insisted that tabling the motion depended on timing, that is, a determination that such a vote would be successful and not a display of parliamentary drama and theatrics.

In the meanwhile, she wanted a deal to provide a strong direction in terms of the single market, a clear and complete deal with security issues that would show how Britain would keep up with EU on human rights and environmental standards. It was a direct rejection of Hinds’ claim that the May deal offered a balance among different perspectives.

In spite of Labour divisions over a second referendum, when Long-Bailey was asked whether she supported a second referendum, she fell back on a recitation of Labour policy to put the British economy and the community. The Labour Party wanted a debate and vote in Parliament on the May deal, and, if defeated, a call for a general election. Long-Bailey insisted that the first referendum had to be respected and she disingenuously believed that a deal could be struck in Parliament that could assuage the concerns of many members. But if further compromises were introduced, how would the EU respond? If no deal could be made, Labour did not rule out consulting the people at some point. But an election, a referendum or both?

The Scottish National Party’s (SNP’s) First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, insisted that the Labour Party should introduce a no-confidence vote to clarify its own position on Brexit. The Labour Party policy insists that any decision on a second referendum would only follow if it tried and failed to defeat the government, but the Catch-22 is that if it does not push the government to fall, then no decision need be made on a second referendum. Sturgeon accused Labour of being as much an obstacle to progress on Brexit as the Conservative Party. The SNP insisted that, though it could table such a motion, unlike the Labour Party, the official opposition, there was no guarantee that a vote of no-confidence would follow. The SNP, like Labour, insisted that it did not want to engage in theatrics.

The SNP wanted the second referendum options, not simply to be May’s deal or no deal, but include staying in the EU. Democracy, Sturgeon insisted, permitted people to change their minds, especially when people now know what Brexit means. Even though Britain would face years if not a decade of trade negotiations, which would further strengthen the Scottish independence movement, given realities and the stakes, her preference was to remain as an equal partner with the Irish, Welsh and English within the EU. Whether independent or not, always within the EU.

Such is the way we build political mazes that seem to offer no apparent exit but encourage a multitude of shrill voices.