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The Risks of Upstream Engagement

Army training

The growth of ISIS and the subsequent questions and navel gazing surrounding the efficacy of military intervention, or indeed the requirement for military intervention, go right to the very heart of a dilemma which will only become more and more imperative as we move further into a multi-polar, tightly coupled globalised and unstable world. The dilemma is a simple one but which has profound consequences – the dilemma is the choice between acting early or acting later – between essentially prevention rather than cure. As is obvious by that particular wording it is not a dilemma unique to the military security of the UK and it is in fact a dilemma found throughout the country and human organisations in general. It is a profound dilemma because hinging on it are some very big risks indeed.

UK military direction has always focused to some extent on “upstream engagement” or “defence engagement”. More simply, UK military direction has always seen the value of “hanging around” places where trouble might brew because that either helps stop trouble brewing at all, allows us to recognise it is brewing early and respond before it gets out of hand, or at the very least, it gives us some understanding of the area we’ve been skulking about in and so helps us shape an appropriate response. This was a task historically given to the Navy because it suited its nature, and which the Army, with the Adaptive Force, increasingly recognises the benefits of.

The difficulty with upstream engagement – which I mean in its broadest sense to encompass actual military operations before a threat becomes existential – is twofold: the further upstream you go the more diffuse the threat is; secondly, and crucially, safety is a dynamic non-event in such a situation. These two factors reinforce one another. What do I mean by this? When a threat or risk is clear, the actions taken to reduce or manage it are also relatively clear. The risk to a motorcyclist of falling off his bike is clear, and so he wears a helmet to help reduce the risks associated with falling off. He is happy to make that investment because of the unequivocal nature of the risks and the obvious means with which to reduce them.

When an actor becomes an existential threat to a state, again, the risk becomes clearer and the actions required to reduce it are more easily defined, focused and knowable. But when that risk is more diffuse, harder to quantify, or there is a debate that there is even a risk at all, then we as humans or states find it far harder to invest in managing that risk or threat. This is because in such a scenario safety is a dynamic non-event – one can argue that no action is required because there is seemingly no risk to manage: however the reason why there have been no unintended consequences or unpleasant happenings may precisely be because of the measures in place already which are quietly managing that risk.

How does this relate to ISIS? Well they are not an existential threat at present – this is clear – perhaps somehow they will be in the future but as of Sunday, they are not. Thus the nature and ultimate extent of the threat they represent if any to our existence, is at this stage diffuse precisely because it lies so far in the future.

This means then that there is considerable risk inherent in taking any action and such action is harder to justify the risk of doing so. There is higher risk in taking action because it is harder to know what the appropriate action should be: do we simply launch air-strikes, should we put boots on the ground or do we simply contain them or even walk away because in actual fact ISIS are a threat in a dimension which we can perhaps manage (ie domestic security services can deal with the threat of returning Jihadi’s)?

Therefore we are in danger of making an inappropriate response – perhaps too much force, or not enough force, or as is more often the case in real events, our actions impose reactionary occurrences which might make a low threat into a bigger or different threat. This can mean not only international or military failure, but domestic consequences for those in power which can then make the Government even less inclined to engage early.

However, in all cases balancing the risks inherent in early intervention is the counter argument that it is far better to prevent than to cure – it is far better we decapitate this ISIS threat (if we agree there is one) when it is fledging than to allow it to grow and then fight an existential or at least more fraught war. Indeed, the main arguments I have seen so far for tackling ISIS beyond the reasons of their inhumanity is that it is better we kick them to death when they are weak and fledgling than let them coalesce and grow stronger. Parallels with Germany in the 30s abound. But as I have argued, acting early brings its own set of risks in an uncertain world.

This is the dilemma which we will face time and time again in the future and ISIS is providing an excellent case study of it.

The logic behind upstream engagement is sound in the abstract – it is better to invest smaller amounts of resource and effort early than it is to invest huge amounts of resources and lives later fighting a bigger threat. But in practice as we have seen upstream engagement brings with it its own additional and different risks which means we  must be realistic about its limitations as a corner-stone of our military direction. The further upstream you go, the more your success or partial success becomes a dynamic non-event (undermining efforts to mobilise support for action) or inappropriate action is taken.

What does this mean in practice? It means we have to accept some realistic fulcrum point will always exist and that we will sit by and watch threats emerge and grow to a certain critical mass where they therefore become clearer and the phenomenon of safety being a dynamic non-event thereby becomes less applicable. This will be reinforced when domestic governments get their fingers burned in an early engagement, either by history judging an intervention as inappropriate in itself, or by early actions themselves being inappropriate: thus will Governments become more averse to upstream engagement and thus ironically increase the overall security risk through being less inclined to meet threats early again in the future. This will also therefore fundamentally undermine the whole strategy which represents one of the biggest risks of all since we’d still have on the surface a force structured to engage in defence and upstream engagement thereby leaving us less able to meet conventional threats and give us false reassurance in our seemingly pro-active direction.

This means we must be prepared to fight peers or near-peers because in practice we will often allow actors or threats to get to that stage. And it means we must be prepared to look incompetent in the handling of early developing threats and not allow that straw man to divert our attention from the real lesson learning opportunities and thereby draw the wrong lessons which will again increase the risk of not succeeding in future operations. We must in short, be prepared for upstream engagement, a cornerstone of our military direction at the grandest level, to seemingly fail sometimes and to keep an open and honest mind about its benefits and its limitations.

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88 Responses

  1. Part of the problem I see with trying to suppress these kind of things is that in the current day, taking over control of the government is seen as politically incorrect, so we’re left with half measures. Sure, the coalition goes in, kicks indifferent tyrant A out, then sets up “free and fair elections” that simply puts up indifferent tyrant B. Remember, whoever gets into power is going to have different goals to you. Most of the time in just involves ladder climbing and feathering one’s own nest, they don’t really care about the Western goals of suppressing terrorism and the factors that cause people to take up arms. To stop an insurrection, there needs to be a bit of strong arm from the civilian government side, but the locals are not interested in overturning the status quo and the foreign military gave up the authority to make sweeping decisions for elections that look good in the news.

    An example of this is the implementation of ID cards in populated areas, any foreigner slipping in past the border for the “Jihad” is going to have trouble operating within a population if he doesn’t have the right documentation. Another is forced resettlement or forced fortification to isolate the rebels from most of the population. There is also a need for Special Branch type of organizations to infiltrate and disrupt as well as the games people can play with propaganda. All this is civilian jurisdiction which people seem to be reluctant to take over.

    Sometimes I really wonder about missed chances. If someone had gone “All hail Prophet Ibrahim!” when Bagdadhi declared himself ruler of all Muslims on ISIS’s twitter feed, wonder how much of a shitstorm it would have kicked up! Let’s see how convincing he is to the “faithful” when people start suspecting him of heresy.

  2. @Phil – Good article…the conundrum I’ve always puzzled over is that successful upstream engagement helps convince our largely “post-military” society that the problem wasn’t really all that big in the first place, which is what they would mostly like to hear…which doesn’t really help the public case for a robust defence posture…

    Damned if I know how to resolve it however, thus Gloomy

  3. Made a few edits to tighten it up a bit. Only had an hour before my run this morning.

    @ Gloomy – yes precisely. That’s where safety being a dynamic non-event comes in. It is not a phenomenon limited to states. Lots of companies suffer it.

    “We need to make economies, we spend all this money on a health and safety inspectorate in the company when nothing ever happens. We don’t need it.”

    Yet obviously the reason for nothing happening is the inspectorate.

    So upstream engagement as you say means the problem never develops, or more realistically can develop more slowly or in a more limited manner and so why do we spend all that money sending troops to exercise hither and thither? And why did we fight that group when it turned out to be really expensive and history showed they were never as much of a bother as we thought at the time. Or we attacked that group from the air but it turned out we underestimated them and really the best strategy was to…

  4. I am allergic to management speak, so I think it best to say, we have a range of options & we will use the best mix for a certain situation.
    As for Is/ISIS. I was dead against Cameron bombing the Assad regime. I feared the jihadis were worse. That has proved to be right. Hague was an idiot to denounce the Assad regime referendum on baby steps to reform. The West should have welcomed it on condition it led to more reforms. We blew that chance.

    There is no will in the UK for our troops on the ground in Iraq/Syria. However, most of the public would go along with limited precision airstrikes by the RAF, alongside American/coalition allies. Perhaps a few SF to direct airstrikes.

    Or my rant of a few SF with Paparazzi long lenses taking pictures of IS fighters, so we have the proof for prosecution should they return to the UK.

    If after Dunblane, there is a mandatory five year minimum jail term for owning an illegal handgun, why after 7/7 is there no mandatory five year minimum jail term for jihadists going abroad to train & fight terrorist wars?
    Given the turmoil in Russia/the Middle East, why is there not a higher priority to making the UK energy self sufficient?

  5. Gd article. Ill add one further nuance to the party, that the extremist terrorist organisation wants us to attack them so they will manipulate the media and human decency to provoke an overt response. Why because its there best recruiting sergeant.

    Now obviously it becomes very difficult not to act as they escalate things, but can covert (non publicised) use of upstream engagement and support of proxy local forces backed by classic counter terrorist (security service) work be enough. Thinking here more what’s been going on in Africa than what we did in the Mid East.

  6. Phil

    Interesting and I need to reread. One particular thought strikes me is that it seems that modern “Islamic” terrorism seems to go back to the late 1960’s and the foundation of the PLO with its use of terrorism over the occupation of the west bank and the 1948 (right to return). Subsequently, each wave of terrorism that has arose, has been more extreme and the cause has broadened. There are other factors involved (covert state funding, anti-IRAN, Anti-Soviet Union, arab/islamic nationalism), so I wouldn’t pretend to say that A follows B etc in any simple way until you get to IS, but…

    Can we have any solution to this in the region without a solution to this issue ?

  7. Excellent piece Phil, the dilemma of all politicians with regards to having to use the final political tool in the toolbox and just how hard to hit with it if at all. True Democratic states politicians are some what more bond by the rule of law than less democratic nations. A case in point would be Saddam Hussain who ruthlessly stamped on anyone who opposed his junta. We on the other hand if the northern part of our state want to separate allow them free elections to make their choice.
    It is a complex and difficult position that politicians, at least in the west, find themselves in. Torn between the electorate,the economics of providing for said electorate,their ego’s and their collective conscience. I do not envy them their dilemma.
    A lot, as others have pointed out on other threads , depends on the intelligence gathered on a particular situation and its wider interpretation by analyst’s and the advice offered to the politicians for them to act on. Without accurate intelligence and accurate interpretation of it any decision made is likely to be flawed , take WMD and Iraq for instance.Perhaps with a better understanding of the ‘Calpricks’ goals we could of nipped his ambitions in the bud as it were with a few well placed 0.308

  8. Anyone who thinks that ISIL can be dealt with by airpower without sufficient and serious boots on the ground is delusional (or indulging in western wishful thinking – I’m not sure which is worse). SF can provide information into the targeting and intelligence processes but little more.

  9. @Nick – Much to agree with in what you say, but the other key aspect of this hellish brew is the intersection between the efficacy of terrorist methods as developed by the PLO and a much older Islamic narrative…going back to the Qu’ran and Hadith…about the idea of a united Islamic Ummah pursuing Jihad to bring enlightenment (ie their faith) to the whole world. Bear in mind that Caliph Ibrahim’s offer “Convert, pay, be enslaved or die” to members of the Abrahamic faiths – or “convert, be enslaved or die” to the Yazidi is absolutely in line with Islamic practice up to and including the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans, the Mughal conquest of India (and forays beyond), and various Arab adventures in sub-Saharan Africa well into the Nineteenth Century…mostly in connection with their “commercial”/slave-trading interests…

    Unless and until the Islamic Faith comes to terms with the Enlightenment values within which Christianity and Judaism now mostly operate…which confine it to the private sphere, and to questions of private and societal morality…but severely restrict the imposition of faith-based rules within the governance of the state…a great many Muslims (even in the West) are likely to be ambiguous in their views of operations like IS and in their loyalty to the secular states in which they live.

    In the light of events in the Twentieth Century, we would be unwise to disregard the power of a compelling book enjoying very wide circulation and a fiercely and uncritically loyal readership…the Qu’ran has at least as much wisdom in it as Das Kapital, very much more than Mein Kampf…and as far as I know nobody was ever required by God to learn those by heart, and to believe and agree with every single word they contained without comment or discussion…and if you live in the UK practically every Muslim school-boy (and some girls) that you see on the street in traditional dress after school this week will be on the way to his or her local Madrassah to do just that.

    Thus, as always, Gloomy.

  10. @Phil – As you say…we are here (on TD, not existentially) because we think the World a dangerous place where bad things happen which is full of people who hate us and want to kill us. Most of our more thoughtful fellow citizens find that idea so horrid that they prefer to believe it is our fault, and that if we change our behaviour all will be well; the rest find it incomprehensible, but consider a measure which reduces the public subsidy on a house bigger than you need to be a wicked affront to human decency…which seems to be one of the principal currents driving the destruction of a highly successful and largely humane 300-year old Union, an act that could only be considered by people who believe in their heart of hearts that the world is essentially benign (with the sole possible exception of the wicked English!)

    A now positively depressed Gloomy, urgently in need of a Cafe Correto…

  11. Well done Phil for a summarising a dilemma. Its certainly true there are no zero risk options, but that is the nature of the thing. One perspective is to reflect that knowledge reduces risk, so if a broad alliance of coubtries decided to do some limited intervention (not inside syria to upset the Russians) to contain the spread of ISIS whilst a more focused effort to aid the kurds to defeat them on the ground, that might be the course of action to limit risk whilst contain and reduce the problem for now and for the future.

  12. GNB

    I’m not at all well read regarding Islamic history (I blame school being too anglo-centric, still). However, my impression is that actual Islamic “states” in past were actually quite plural, which is why considerable Christian (including Coptic), Jewish, Zoastrian, Yazidi (and probably others) let alone the various different Islamic sects (is that the right word) were able to survive in majority Sunni or Shia regions. Whilst there might have been some discrimination (and worse) these seem to have been brief interludes over the last 1,000 years or so.

    It seems to me that actual Islamic teaching has become more narrow and dogmatic lately (perhaps in response to the global communities becoming obvious to each other and in response to the West being more liberal in the last 50 years or so). This also has a lot to do with where the source of financing comes from as well.

  13. Excellent “thinking” article Phil.

    An unfortunate amount of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” seems to prevail in these instances.

    However, given my perception that upstream simply means pro-active and downstream means reactive I’d always go for pro-active. I think therefore a little more justification and corresponding honesty is needed to educate the masses that doing (and possibly failing) now is better than the possibility of catastrophic doing/failing later.

    As to how to deal with ISIS, I agree with those that think air-strikes alone is not going to do much and I also find someone else’s statement about the problem being the “vacuum” that is there horrifyingly sobering. I’m currently (subject to change) of the opinion that we need to infiltrate ISIS and then bring in covert SF to assassinate and illuminate targets along with a massive coordinated air-strike (I’m thinking lots of Hellfire/Brimstone from 1000’s a jets here) or a ME army with EU/US airpower support.

    Trouble is the “vacuum” with still be there. I do wonder if we should install our own* power base as we might have done with the Empire. I wonder if America is happy the’ve dismantled the Imperial stability Britain brought to the world… they’re simply trying to do much the same.

    * By own I mean UK/EU/US/ME/NATO – anything, but something that is more than just a single local country or group.

  14. @Simon: I see Islamist tendencies in much the same way as a previous generation saw communism. You, in the long run, destroy them by making it increasingly obvious that their way of life doesn’t work. It’s notable that the former only started to finally implode after we and the US were willing to unambiguously state just that. Only the really nutty want to be the last man to die for a mistake, and their appeal will drain away the more they are contained.

    Sadly, right now, I see no point in us supporting the Iraqi government. They sold themselves to the Iranians (entirely understandably) back in 2010, and IS and the Iranian’s bleeding each other dry serves our interests far better. The Kurds are another matter.

  15. wf,

    “I see Islamist tendencies in much the same way as a previous generation saw communism”

    I assume you mean Islamic extremism and Jihadism, in which case I get where you’re coming from.

    However, there is a difference in that communism was a born-into way of life which is not the same as Jihadism… yet.

  16. @Simon: au contraire. Islam dictates that anyone born to a Muslim is also a Muslim, hence that Sudanese doctor being sentenced to death for apostasy, despite her Muslim father having buggered off at an early age and her mother being Christian. This is not an “extreme” point of view, this is standard stuff.

  17. wf,

    Google: Qur’an 10:25 – 10:27

    Fundamental good and evil. There’s nothing wrong with Islam, only the way certain people choose to interpret it.

    However, I am not qualified to debate this so would rather a Muslim take over ;-)

  18. The main issue here is a fundamental narrow reading of certain elements of the Qu’ran. And it’s attractiveness to a frankly unemployable youth, who faces a life of sitting on his arse in Bradford/ Benghazi/ or Baghdad, getting in everyone’s way, with none of the status he believes his ‘holiness’ deserves.


    Being a ‘Al Black Bart’ the Jihad warrior fighting for the Prophet, with everyone shiting themselves when he walks into town and cuts peoples heads off, and seemingly being able to get a little advance on his 70 odd virgins by organised gang rape of Kifir women, as pleasurable relaxation afterwards.

    Like all these sky fairy manifesto’s, its capable of having just about anything read into it as Ok, or not Ok.

    The bible is the same- if you want a laugh, google- ‘Why can’t I own Canadians’?

    Culturally the Pilgrim fathers had a lot more in common with ISIS than either would like to admit.

    We have just washed our Christianity through 400 years of enlightenment.

    It is worth noting that the Islamic calender date is 1434- given that I would give them about 200 years to work out all the niggles and get the urge to chop peoples heads of out of the system.

    More mature readers of the ”Qu’ran and the vast majority of more sensible Muslims present about as much a threat to civilisation as the WI.

  19. wf

    I agree with you to a large extent. I do think there is a lot of crap in the bible that you could use to justify being quite barbaric if you wanted to.

    It also strikes me (at least it isn’t obvious to me that this is happening) is the extent that the leading Islamic scholars aren’t making it clear this sort of behavior isn’t permitted and issuing fatwa against these guys. This might not be possible (as you imply); I do recall hearing that the Islamic code was sorted out over a period of a couple of hundred years after the Prophet and isn’t allowed to change.

    I think the west has largely moved past the bible as the sole source of moral code and we certainly ignore the elements which we don’t think are relevant any more. Islam is actually capable of doing the same, but there is a minority view which is pushing a strict adherence (in all things) line.

  20. @Simon, @IXION, @Nick: the sayings and actions of the prophet and his successors are called the Hadith. The combination of this and the Koran applied in law is sharia.

    One of the big differences between Islam and other religions is that the Koran is considered to be the absolute word of God: no “interpretations” allowed. The Christian Reformation was based around ditching the stuff the bible didn’t mention and going back to basics, as it were. On that basis, it’s entirely possible that AQ and IS *are* the Muslim Reformation….

  21. So Phil, are we saying “upstream engagement” and any military “forward presence” that enable it, are doomed to failure due to a reliance on government by public opinion and a lack of ‘real politik’ ?

    That’s what I am taking away from your article, and don’t necessarily disagree. Was Reagan’s dealings with Ghadaffi sponsored terror groups in th 80’s the way to deal with things ? Identify the training camps, and then bomb the crap out of them, and if you have dismantle the supporting state’s air defence system to do so, then so be it !

    In which case we have gone through a 3 decade “blip” in our foreign policy, and we should have been quietly dealing with various middle east dictators in order to stop radical islam taking over the region. Oh wait, isn’t that what the trendy lefty do-gooders complain about: if we had not intereferred in the region in the first place, we would not now have these problems….. sigh…….

    So, lets reduce upstream engagement, because we always screw it up: but better build up the SSN, and Amphib fleets again, lots of Tomahawks, and some Batch 3 Typhoons with decent tankers to support them – no forward basing, little upstream engagement, but my goodness, if someone makes an attack on the UK, we will find where they came from and bomb the crap out of it…… oh no, wait…….

  22. @ wf,

    You seem to be missing the fundamental point that not everyone adheres to the official line, much in the same way that a lot of Christians selectively ignore large chunks of their book. Imams across the world are forever interpreting the Islamic codes and traditions for their audience, and in many cases ignoring whole chunks in order to comply with local laws for example.

    You talk about Muslims like somebody who’s only ever read about them in The Sun and never actually met one.

  23. @Jed

    I think its important to differentiate “upstream engagement” and “defence engagement”. I think defence engagement to always be worth the time and effort and I plan to write a blog post on why I think that.

    Upstream engagement as I have argued I think is alluring on an abstract level but is actually very difficult to do well in practice and like the Fire Service, is constantly in danger of undermining itself when it does work well! Of course it is also possible to get bogged down into a debate of how you define “upstream” and again that is part of the problem. Some might argue that ISIS is a long term threat and we’re engaging them well in advance, others would argue that this isn’t upstream at all and we’re in fact late to this party. So it is also a conceptually difficult matter to pin down.

    It all boils down to the fact I think we’ll get it wrong as often as we get it right, but it will be hard to know when it has worked well because there’ll be no unpleasant events. It is something worth doing because I don’t think we should sit on our hands and we may be reaping the benefits without really knowing it, but we have to realise its limitations and so we have to ensure we have a backstop and are prepared to fight the big boys or those supported by other big boys. In force structure terms it means a balanced force.

  24. @Phil

    Very thought-provoking article, Phil. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it. However, I would rather take issue with your assertion:

    “Well, they (ISIS) are not an existential threat at present – this is clear – perhaps somehow they will be in the future but as of Sunday, they are not. Thus the nature and ultimate extent of the threat they represent if any to our existence, is at this stage diffuse precisely because it lies so far in the future.”

    Far from being “diffuse”, the threat is already substantial. Having taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria, ISIS now controls a “state” the size of Great Britain, a population of approaching six million, sizeable oil reserves and a substantial military capability. If we take no action now, surely we shall be assenting to a colossal change in international borders. We shall be allowing an odious new regime with a poisonous global message to be born and, furthermore, be consenting to a massive training ground for terrorists being set up. Indeed, French President Francois Hollande has just told the conference in Paris (called to agree a strategy to combat ISIS) that it represented “a global threat and required a global response.”

    President Obama until fairly recently seemed to be following the line: “We don’t have a strategy yet.” Now that the American government finally seems to be beginning to understand the full extent of the danger, he still seems to be pushing the line of “smart power” as opposed to “boots on the ground”. What exactly that “smart power” consists of is far from clear. It would seem to me that if military intervention is ruled out, then as no amount of “smart power” is going to work.

    To go back to your article for a moment, I thought on a first reading that it seemed like part of a dissertation for submission in a university department of Defence Studies, it was that good. It contained, I thought, some examples of the latest terminology from that kind of world, which made for a certain obscurity (to me) in places but on a second reading, it all seemed very clear and I could only find two examples of jargon: “upstream engagement” (early involvement?) and “dynamic non-event”, which is explained beautifully with the help of the motorcyclist image.

    All in all, one of the best articles I have read recently, which presents in such a well-argued way the dilemma we face today.

  25. @JH

    It’s not management speak if you’re talking about the phrase “dynamic non-event”.

    It comes from risk management literature and is the shortest way I have come across to explain why organisations, even in hazardous operations, often drift toward investing more in production operations than safety operations even when that shift actually makes their activities more hazardous to carry out. When you invest in production, all things being equal you can easily see a quantitative return on that investment. But when you invest more in safety, nothing should happen at all. And then it is very easy to believe you can move resources away from safety because what you do isn’t that dangerous. There’s a fire station near me called Sleepy Hollow – hardly ever get called to a fire. So we don’t need the station? But perhaps that station runs a very good fire prevention service. The better upstream engagement works the more it looks like we needn’t bother, at first glance.

  26. Thanks for the kind words Mike, glad you enjoyed reading it.

    To talk about diffuse. The fact we disagree on the level of threat I think starts to make my point for me. ISIS is not an existential threat – it is not suddenly going to build the North Fleet and come after us. It may have potential to become one in the future, but it isn’t one right now. I think we agree there.

    But as you write, there is a difference of opinion on the extent, nature and character of the current ISIS threat and the doors are thrown wide open when we consider short, medium and long term implications of their existence. This makes it very hard to know or agree on the correct action. In 1940 with the Germans sat along the coast of France our minds were very concentrated and the nature, character and extent of the threat was plainly evident. The broad nature of the remedy was also relatively clear but even then there was no complete consensus on how to actually get stuck in (blockade, air power, spoiling raids, dig in etc etc).

    So I think the threat from ISIS is still diffuse. There’s too many ways they could go at the moment and too little known about them or the direction certain actions will take us. For example many argue (TD I think is one of them) that they are only a threat in the domestic security dimension and that we should by and large stay at home and use our domestic security forces to manage the risk of returning Jihadists. Others would argue that PREVENT is pointless when you have a red hot reactor burning in Syria and Iraq spewing out and breeding the sort of people PREVENT is supposed to well, prevent!

    If ISIS grew, if they coalesced into a state and started to pick off other states then things begin to crystallise. The threat becomes less diffuse and more obvious. The correct courses of action become easier to conceive of and apply.

    A great illustrative example I think is this. It is very difficult being a medical officer in the Army. It is difficult because it is hard to diagnose soldiers. Why? In the civilian world going to the doctors is a pain in the arse for most of us and we have to take time off work and we generally don’t do it until we feel very unwell. In other words our symptoms have developed and have become clearer and it is our symptoms that allows doctors to begin to diagnose the problems and therefore think about the appropriate intervention, if one is needed at all.

    On camp however your doctor is a sick parade away one morning, so what happens is soldiers go on sick parade the moment they feel a bit off colour because it is so easy to do. So the MO struggles because their symptoms have not had time to develop and become clear, so the diagnosis is much harder if not impossible.

    I think upstream engagement poses precisely the same problem. Again it is worth trying but we must be honest and open minded about it.

  27. Wf

    The thing is we like to sell the early reformation as enlightenment v superstition. Thats what we tell kids to make them accept the official version of history.

    In fact Calvin zwingli and Knox, were hardly a bunch of swingers. Nor did they tollerate, desent, quite happy to burn at the stake etc heritics, witches etc. The pilgrim fathers left England because they wanted to exclude and discriminate not because they wanted to be free….

    The early reformation was a hard place to get caught on the wrong side…. Of whoever was doing the reforming or counter reforming.

    There are plenty of Muslim clerics who are clear that a lot of the anti-women, murder etc is bang out of order, pointing to scripture to justify their interpritation. Jihad for example can be and internal struggle to live a good life, or a war to slaughter the infidel…..

    Depends on who you ask…..

    Mind you, Mohammed did apparantly like cats………

  28. It is all just history repeating itself as all ways , back at the turn off the last century another ‘calprick’ called Mohammed Abdullah Hassan raised a Dervish army in Horn of Africa. He roamed about beheading etc (you know the story) all over , on entering British Somaliland our troops the Camel Constabulary would attack as best they could with very limited forces to drive him out usually vastly outnumbered. At what became known as the battle of Dul Madoba (as that where it took place) 85 British troops were chasing about 2750 Dervishes who realising their superiority in numbers turned on the small British force destroying them. Prime Minister Asquith at the time had ordered only limited force was to be used and we were not to cross the borders (more ruler drawn lines here) with the Italian controlled areas. The present ‘calprick’ uses a similar tactic by basing himself ar-Raqah just inside Syria which is across another ruler drawn border which the US recognises and will not cross with air power or anything else, but IS ignore it as far as they are concerned its all one big country.
    The present militancy IMHO is nothing about religion but about power and using whatever tool is about to grab it , Hitler used the Jews and Communism , Henry V used his ‘birthright’ to make war on France following up his ancestors Edward III who started the Hundred years war and so on. Each state actor may actually believe what they say but in the end its all about power , getting it and holding it by any means. This ‘calprick’ is just another manifestation of a time old story.

  29. @IXION “Jihad can be…an internal struggle to live a good life…or a war to slaughter the Infidel” – a fair enough point, but as has been observed further up the thread the Qu’ran is deemed to be the unalterable word of God, and was employed as the pattern-book for a culture of territorial conquest from the Seventh Century to the Seventeenth in the West, until the Eighteenth in the East, and until the Nineteenth in Africa.

    The idea of “Jihad” as a personal struggle for the good life seems to me to be a much recent interpretation, which Muslims making a successful life in the West are drawn to…however the default position for the less successful members of their own British Muslim community seems to be of the more traditional killing, conquering and enslaving version…and as previously observed more of them seem to be willing to sign up and fight for that vision of the future than for HMAF.

    In Muslim states, the desire to turn out and celebrate events like 9/11 on the streets, the apparent ability to recruit a militia at the drop of a hat…and the apparent willingness to acquiesce with horrors like the Caliph Ibrahim’s domain…suggest an even greater readiness to go with the more traditional interpretation; perhaps not least because those states have vast numbers of under-employed and poorly qualified young men for whom the excitement, meaning and regular pay of waging war might be more alluring than an internal, personal struggle for enlightenment. Especially where old fashioned ideas like brutally murdering the losing army, and then enslaving and raping their women and children are actively encouraged rather than remorselessly prosecuted…

    @Thread – for those who haven’t, it is worth checking out the idea of “Religious Tolerance” in Islamic States which always gets quoted with great approval when these matters are under discussion, and in which there is some truth. However:

    1 There are no rules for Muslims living in non-Muslim States, because the assumption was always one of relentless conquest until the whole world had signed up, willingly or not.

    2 Caliph Ibrahim’s “Convert, pay, be enslaved or die” was the classic approach to Non-Muslims in Muslim States, who were tolerated as second-class citizens but only if they paid a special tax, which was in some instances a token amount…but in others amounted to protection money on a punitive scale…

    2…in addition to which in the Ottoman settlement Christian Children were enslaved at seven or eight to be trained as Janissary Slave-Soldiers or Harem Concubines…and although some might rise to high office, or even be the Mother of the Sultan…I doubt if that was much comfort to mum and dad back home in Greece or the Balkans ; and that charming practice went on until at least 1800, and hasn’t been forgotten yet in the places where it happened…

    3…worse still, because sub-Saharan Africans were mostly Animists (not of the Book) those rules were still being used to justify the East African Slave Trade until comparatively recently…my Uncle had a War Service Commission in the KAR, worked as a Colonial Service DO for about eighteen months after hostilities ended…and dealt with at least one Slaver during that period…

    However, as I say…read the history…we all need to understand it much better than we do…


  30. Phil good luck with dynamic non-event when you are trying to persuade tabloid readers.
    I read the Koran (English translation) in Dec 2001. It can be repetitive, the same story told several times. One version can be liberal, while the next telling takes a harder line. If you just look at the liberal parts, then Islam can be quite tolerant. However, if you just want to quote the hardline passages, then that explains the AQ/IS violence.

  31. @JH

    Much to his detriment I’ve not noticed TD posting any naked breasts on this site so I can only assume my audience are not tabloid readers. In the main.

  32. Society constructs religion. People aren’t bad because they read a book. They don’t do bad things because they read a book either.

    An interpretation of a religion is a social construct. Doesn’t matter what the book says. I personally found solace in my service bible reading about the regulations pertaining to mildew. Who knew environmental health advice resided in the good book.

  33. @Chris.B: stirring the pot, eh? I’m afraid I work with Jordanians, Palestinians and Israelis on a weekly basis, and like most people who work in London, count plenty of people from all backgrounds as my colleagues and friends. My point is very carefully made: the Koran cannot be taken in part, but unabridged and literally. I have been told to learn Saudi Arabic in order to understand it better in both Jordan and Egypt :-)

    I suspect IS will not be a threat for a while since it has quite a lot on it’s plate. But sooner or later, even for recruitment purposes, it will want to hit those infidels living in Europe, if only to distract from the likely domestic disasters.

  34. @Phil

    Many thanks for that detailed reply. As good as your original post. As you say, we disagree on the level of threat and maybe I have over-estimated it to a certain extent. It may take some time before the balance on your fulcrum point starts to sway one way decisively.

    However, I do feel that America’s response so far has shown weaknesss. It is not so long ago that American officials were asserting that ISIS was just a “regional threat” and had no immediate consequences for US national security. Then came the murder of James Foley and the sudden change to the view that that killing constituted “a terrorist attack on the US” and to the declared intention to deal with the threat. The earlier indecisiveness and marked reluctance to act were, I feel, encouraging to the ISIS movement.

    An interesting take on the whole situation was put forward a couple of weeks ago by Janet Daley writing in the “Sunday Telegraph”. She took the view that we are not engaged in a religious war here, nor a struggle between “our values” and those of medieval fundamental fundamentalism or Islamic extremism. She argues that what we are seeing her has nothing coherent or comprehensible about it. It is merely “psychpathic nihilism”, the kind of “You love life; we love death” syndrome widely found in the European anarchist movement of the 19th century. Therefore we are dealing with a “mass psychosis” and it would be a mistake to treat what is a form of mindlessness as if it were a rational programme. She says that some of the recruits have little understanding of the religious cause to which they are supposedly committed, some of them purchasing books before they left such as “Islam for Dummies” before departing for Syria. She argues that every time the West has a failure of nerve, it reinforces the myth of invulnerability and “another tranche of baby-faced malcontents flies out to sign up for a global jihad”. Her solution? Unflinching resolve and intimidatng force. She asserts that once success has been taken away from them, the glamour will go, leaving only a rump of fanatics.

    It is only one view but an interesting one.

    Of all the possible options mentioned on here so far, I feel that the views of Midlander probably get closest to the kind of action that should be taken at this stage:

    “so if a broad alliance of countries decided to do some limited intervention (not inside Syria to upset the Russians) to contain the spread of ISIS whilst a more focused effort to aid the Kurds to defeat them on the ground, that might be the course of action to limit risk whilst contain and reduce the problem for now and for the future.”

    Anyway, I’ve got to go. A meeting to prepare for tomorrow!

  35. @Phil “People aren’t bad because they read a book” & @”Psychopathic Nihilism”…I genuinely regret saying it, but I think the key comparison here is Mein Kampf…which is a dreadful book with no good ideas in it…as well as being much shorter lived and having far fewer readers than the Qu’ran…

    Despite which, and in particular circumstances (large scale unemployment, a very strong sense of national humiliation in the face of perceived injustice, an inclination to misty-eyed identification with the Volk wherever found) enough educated people in a modern European state did read a really bad book, take on board the really awful ideas that it advocated, and then lead the less thoughtful ones (those that needed National Socialism for Dummies*) down to the very Gates of Hell, which they then opened with wholly predictable consequences.

    I’ll now withdraw to the naughty step… :-(

    A remorseful GNB

    {*It did exist as a much simplified cartoon version}

  36. Ah GNB

    I have to disagree that Mein Kampf had much to do with anything that happened. Whether we like to admit it or not, there is a long long history in Europe of anti-Semitism (it can be seen at work today in Ukraine with the “Right Sector” along with many other neo-Nazi organisations active in Europe). If the circumstances are right, this is just one of many “issues” that can be used to build a power base.

    (BTW, that the Right Sector militia guys were active at Maidan and in the eastern battlefields is why the Fascist tag, which resonates so well in Russia with its memory of Ukrainian and Baltic fascists supporting Hitler’s army, is able to be played in Russian propaganda).

    If out own history tells us anything at all, it is that where power and money (greed may be a better term) are to be attained anything can be justified one way or another and that the majority are quite happy to turn a blind eye.

    GMB your description of the Weimer republic Germany

    (large scale unemployment [poverty might be a better word], a very strong sense of national humiliation in the face of perceived injustice, an inclination to misty-eyed identification with the Volk wherever found)

    could – without too much effort – be applied to Russia today or the Arab “street”.

    In my opinion, Phil is correct, the threat from IS is small and not of real significance today. The idea that it has absolute control over the area it occupies is unproven. The underlying Sunni population may have acquiesced as they drove through, but that is not the same as actively supporting IS.

    It may be that IS could become a threat to the middle east in general (Egypt, Saudi don’t necessarily have stable governments) and returning Jihadi’s might result in a significant terrorist threat within Europe. IS itself might want to launch terror attacks on the west. BUT, none of this is going to create an existential threat to us. Eliminating IS will not eliminate the underlying causes or issues that are the driving force here.

    The more serious risk down the line is that IS is much more likely to become a serious threat to the stability of Israel (either directly or by IS ideology replacing Hamas on the ground in Gaza). This would be a serious cause for concern without a doubt. However, without a peace settlement and a land and economic deal which is fair to both sides, this frozen conflict is an open festering wound….

  37. ‘Isis jihadis aren’t medieval – they are shaped by modern western philosophy’

    Guardian readers

    ‘Piss poorly educating the nations youth and then labeling them victims of the state (“if you can’t get a teaching job there’s always social services and the charity sector”) for decades’

  38. John Hartley,

    I’m interested in this soft and hard-line split in the Qur’an.

    As for IS’s relationship with Islam I think they may like to belive they’re Muslim but the reality is they just use it as a veil for their own gain. Not dissimilar to the crusades where I would imagine it was as much about the glory or Christianity as much as it was about the glory of war in general (at the time).

    There are simply a bunch of nutters that want to exterminate anything they don’t like. Be they Christians, Westerners or just people with pink mobile phones. I hope that we “engaged” very far up stream in covert infiltration. Surely we still have to spy skills we publish so readily every time a 007 film comes out ;-)

  39. DavidNivon

    you’re welcome to your opinion, but the guy is a university professor (sociology and criminology) so his commentary probably has some merit to it. I expressed nothing myself except that it was interesting.

    I find this interesting as well

    which touches on some of the opinions raised above regarding Islam.

    I find its usually better to address the opinion itself rather than the source or making general disparaging remarks regarding your opinion on a group of people.

  40. @Nick: given that IS are behaving exactly the way Mohammed was when he was carving out his space in the Arabian peninsula (conquest, mass rape and beheadings etc), plus boasting that they are returning to true Islam while they are at it, I think this rather pathetic attempt to preserve the Graundiad’s world view that anything and everything is the fault of the “West” is a bit pathetic, really :-(

  41. Personally, I find the study of history in regards of ISIS somewhat of a distraction and not terribly useful.

    Phil, to clarify my position. I think that ISIS need exterminating with extreme violence, they need a dose of their own medicine, unrestricted all arms warfare with the sole purpose of their complete and utter destruction. No prisoners, no understanding, no strategy beyond bullets and bombs. (I also agree that when they get closely acquainted with defeat some of their support will dwindle). Not necessarily because they are a threat to the UK, clearly they are not, but because they have no right to exist and may become a threat.

    However, I see no political will to invest in this, so the West deludes itself that we can contain and degrade with a drone strike here and an SF raid there.

    In the absence of the will and the wallet, our best strategy is to deal with it at home and let the Middle East deal with ISIS, or not.

    Therefore, I think our most practical approach is to deal with the returning jihadi problem in an internal security manner whilst maintaining some sense of perspective about even that threat whilst keeping a watching brief and helping Jordan especially where it needs help.

  42. @ wf

    “I’m afraid I work with Jordanians, Palestinians and Israelis on a weekly basis, and like most people who work in London, count plenty of people from all backgrounds as my colleagues and friends”

    — Then you have no excuse for not understanding that Islam, like most religions, is reinterpreted on a daily basis to suit peoples particular views. The mere fact that there are many sects of Islam indicates immediately that there is a difference of opinion over which parts of the book are ‘gospel’ so to speak, and which prophets are to be believed or not. The very fact that lots of muslims live here in the UK quite peacefully under a legal code that is not compliant with Sharia would be the next indicator that not all muslims see things the same way, or take their religion as seriously as others.

    You’d be amazed at how easily people will give up on strict beliefs in exchange for a stable, well paid job and decent healthcare.

  43. @TD
    “Boots on the ground seems to sit next to clubbing baby seals in the language of political unacceptability.”
    We are more likely to see action if someone starts clubbing baby seals from our electorate than from beheading babies. How many marches down Whitehall have been organized by those that ‘do’ to protest ISIS and the calphricks crimes demanding action as opposed to those that marched to oppose the action against Iraq and Afghanistan. The indignation that arises when pictures are published of our troops allegedly carrying out some illegal act seem to outweigh the atrocities being committed as an act of policy by ISIS in some quarters.
    With you all the way on eliminating them all , the last thing we need is some ‘veterans’ from the defeat of ISIS sitting in the back rooms of coffee houses in the souk inspiring disaffected teens with their tales of glory and what could of been if the great Shaitan had not interfered in their Holy War. Let them become martyrs to some but at the same time encourage as many as possible from the MENA to visit the lands previously controlled by ISIS and let the visitors judge for themselves what these animals did and spread the word back to their homelands of how far removed from the Faith these creatures were not the holy warriors they would have the rest of the region believe .

  44. @Chris.B: entirely correct. People do indeed choose how observant they are about any religion. However, my point is that Islam, unlike most other religions, has an unchanging core text rooted in the 7th century, as well as a complete system of law rooted in the 7th and 8th, and this pulls adherents back to “real Islam” every now and then. Sharia *is* real Islam, and you can hardly say what was good enough for the Prophet isn’t good enough for you, can you?

  45. @wf

    right or wrong I have no idea, I’d leave that to someone who know Islamic and modern history. That modern political Islam might have taken some western enlightenment ideas and interpreted them in their own way wouldn’t surprise me at all. Nothing remains isolated and “pure” in the long run. I’m afraid I read nothing in the article which suggested the west was to blame for anything to do with this conception of islam.

    In fact I think it would be hard to argue that the west has had that much to do with the modern day middle east until the first war when it was part of the Turkish empire. I think its clear that we did screw up the international borders we largely designed, which hasn’t helped the cohesion of these new states (they are mostly less than 100 years old after all). Our (and especially USA) support for Israel certainly hasn’t helped either.

    It seems to me that history suggests once you form a militaristic empire, whether based on nationalism or religion, it is natural for it to expand, usually by violence. Whether you’re talking about Arabs to create the Caliphate, Spain and Portugal into South America, UK into India, or Napoleonic and previously revolutionary France.

    Could you not argue that IS is involved in a form of ethnic cleansing, purifying part of the Levant by brutual methods ? Excluding the specific means and justification just how different is this with what happened in Rwanda (700,000 dead) or the partition of Bosnia along ethnic and religious grounds or partition of India 1947 on religious grounds or what the Turks did to their Armenian population from 1915 ?

    What would our current political establish do and think if these events were happening today ? Would we be demonizing the brutal Turks and promising air strikes to stop the mass murder ? We chose to act during the break up of Yugoslavia after all. What do you think ?

  46. wf

    I know the bible is the assorted ramblings of assorted people and you can find contradictory texts in it etc, but at core.

    The Jews are gods chosen people- if one believes Paul’s vision on top of a roof- extended to non Jewish by, by god around 34-5 AD.

    Our Sabbath should be the Saturday we should eat kosher food, our women should cover their hair and we should not talk to them when they are menstruating, we should not wear mixed cloth and should celibate passover, Christian men should be circumcised etc etc….

    All unequivocal because- (and forgive me but don’t have testament to hand to quote chapter and verse) according to Luke’s gospel, Jesus was clear he was not here to ‘Change one dot or comma of the law’ .

    BTW my daughter lives and works amongst a significant Muslim population in London. she likes it coz she gets to eat all the bacon sandwiches they order in restaurants and cafes , Coz when they see another Muslim they know they shove the plate with the sandwich in front of her. Sometimes there is Booze involved as well!*

    As one Indonesian she is pally with says about AK ans ISIS ‘It’s got nothing to do with Allah its the all the f**ing Arabs’ ………

    *I had similar experience with rabbi once he complained bitterly about his flock celebrating Christmas, not on religious grounds but because no one ever invited him to Christmas dinner!

  47. It is thirteen years since I read the Koran, so I am relying on memory. My take is that a fair chunk can be interpreted several ways. For example, the Koran does not forbid alcohol as such. It forbids a muslim to be drunk, as that way you are in no fit state to pray to God. Some Imams interpret that as no alcohol ever, but frankly there is no reason why a muslim at a special event, could not have one glass of champagne & nurse it for hours. As long as there is no risk of getting drunk, he/she is not going against the Koran.
    That is one example. There are lots more where you can interpret in a liberal or hardline way. I have ranted on before that the UK Gov/secret squirrels should be looking for liberal interpretations in the wide Islamic world & making sure they get distributed in the more hardline regions.
    As for militants at home. Those that try to convert in prison to islamofascism should be warned that if they get caught doing it twice, they will spend the rest of their time in prison in solitary.

  48. @ wf,

    If you look up “variations of the Qu’ran” you’ll find a lot of interesting (sort of) discussions about whether the Qu’ran truly is a single text that has been handed down over the centuries in an unaltered form.

  49. @Nick: “Central to Isis’s programme is its claim to Muslim heritage – witness al-Baghdadi’s dress. Part of countering this requires understanding the contemporary sources of its ideology and its violence. In no way can it be understood as a return to the origins of Islam. This is a core thesis of its supporters, one that should not be given any credence at all.”

    But this is exactly what was going on in the 7th century, and not just in Arabia. The average campaign in these fair isles would have been very similar, although without the mass beheadings. I’m not sure I understand how the French revolution (which reduced the influence of religion) is supposed to have changed this history. Furthermore, IS and it’s ilk are far more similar to Communism in that they aver that they want world conquest and welcome adherents who share their beliefs from other cultures and races, although you note Arabs still tend to dominate. Ethnic cleansing per se doesn’t seem to be their primary purpose, hence all those “convert or die” ultimatums.

    I think today the Armenian genocides would be waved through with nary a qualm. There’s been precious little concern over similar situations where Christians have been threatened in Syria or Iraq, let alone elsewhere. You need to be a PC minority for the yuman rites brigade to be interested :-(

  50. @Chris.B: indeed, I’m sure the Koran, like the Bible, has been altered over the years. But you might want to be careful about saying that to the average imam. After all, the Shahada states Mohammed is the messenger of God and he got the text from an angel. Saying it’s not the word of God is a very much a minority pursuit.

  51. Nick
    “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”

    Sorry Nick your right, the founding of the Caliph is exactly like the French revolution how stupid of me not to see the similarities.

    ‘I find its usually better to address the opinion itself’

    He’s talking out of his arse! or to put it a bit more politely, He’s over thinking the problem. Which in turn highlights the thinking amongst a proportion of our population. Maybe if we gave young people a decent education and a stake in the Nation they would not be so keen to go and fight for IS, or maybe I’m not thinking through the problem enough?

  52. @TD: I sort of worry about the “wipe them out” stuff. We cannot do that without several divisions and years of commitment. Let the Iranians and IS fight it out between themselves: providing air support for the League of the Righteous is every bit as bad as doing the same for IS :-(

    Of course, in an ideal world, there would still be US and UK troops in Iraq. But that pass was sold back in 2009

  53. @wf

    If I understood him correctly, he seems to argue that by using and changing a concept that came out of French revolutionary thinking, the political Islam of the sort the Muslim Brotherhood and their ilk think, the nature of the relationship between god and man has changed from its original conception. I thought this to be interesting idea. Whether is true or bullshit I am unqualified to say. If this is true, it wouldn’t mean that the leader of IS would actually appreciate this academic view; You would expect most Islamic revolutionaries to wrap themselves in the image of what they perceive to be the historical reality. This wouldn’t mean that it would be historically correct either.

    My opinion, on your second question would depend on what sort of foreign policy we say we operate. If we say that we have the moral high ground, giving us a right to act as global policemen under a moral foreign policy (which Blair and Cameron sort of imply) then our own doctrine would require us to intervene if the Armenian events happened today.

    However, if we are pragmatic realists, then we could ignore the illegal actions of an ally. I’m not sure that we would impress anyone at all (including ourselves) though.

    Playing devil’s advocate, where do you stop that line of thought ?

    With that sort of foreign policy, then we’re actually placing ourselves on the same level as Russia’s actions in Eastern Ukraine. In that case, why are we upset with them. We(‘d) do the same ? Why are we bothered that some of our guys might have killed some innocent Iraqi’s ? After all, shit happens in war. Essentially our foreign policy would be no international law, military powers can do what they like, when they like in their own back yard, which they define themselves. No more UN mandates; they’re just not needed.

    I don’t think any of our politician (or public opinion) would be happy to be indicted by the international criminal court as war criminals (even if there was no chance of enforcement), when we did something that the rest of the world considered illegal.

    The problem is that we seem to try and occupy both positions all too often. We want to claim legality and moral high ground, but only act in our own best interests, when it suits us. This leaves the left and PC minority free to call us hypocrites, criminals and the rest. Thus Blair is Bliar, the iraq war was for Oil.

    The result is we end up in a situation where Iraq and Afghanistan were a waste of lives, time and money, a growing distrust of politicians by the public and Cameron and the UK end up covered in shit as when Cameron lost the Bomb Syria vote in the House of Commons. Why then, since the public doesn’t want military adventurism in a far away place in our post empire world, do we need to spend as much as we do on Defence ?

    Let’s give up that security council seat, withdraw from the EU and have a comfortable geopolitical retirement like the German’s. (not so) Splendid Isolation for the 21st Century.

  54. How are IS establishing themselves and behaving in any way differently to any other totalitarian state?

    Find common ground to unite a people, either nationality or religion.
    Using propaganda to cultivate a victim status and perceived injustices.
    Use perceived injustices to further separate people from the ‘others’
    Foster a belief that your enemies are not worthy and not deserving treatment other than as cattle.
    Brainwash followers to believe that dying for the cause is glorious etc.
    Subjugate conquered peoples through fear and extreme violence.

    There’s nothing new about it.
    The same way that there’s nothing new, in the way the West picks and chooses when to act in a hypocritical manner.

  55. @wf
    “I think today the Armenian genocides would be waved through with nary a qualm.”
    Some of the decedents of the survivors of these events are actually living (probably not now) in Northern Syria. I suggest you Google these events before you say we would turn a blind eye to the murder of over 1 million people on Europe’s door step today, when it started in 1915 sanctions really wouldn’t have cut it and our armed forces engaged elsewhere at the time . It took the Ottoman empire over 5 years to slaughter most of the adult male part of the Armenian population and then to round up the women and children and relocate them by forced march to Syria.Most as you imagine died of exhaustion, starvation or just being raped to death.

  56. @Nick: I’m afraid I think it’s bullshit. IS are walking and quacking like a duck, so they are one.

    Regarding your point about our foreign policy, I think we can be perfectly consistent by only intervening in our own interests. It’s perfectly consistent to require a moral component to this, but if you want a moral policy, we’re going to have to use our own troops: third party allies, even if supervised by SF, will do things we do not approve of. Personally, I think we talk too much about things that are not in our national interest, and a perfunctory statement that dictator A is a wanker should be enough.

    If we operate in a legal framework that makes us responsible for third party actions (and the ridiculous current legal doctrine where even receiving information that could come from torture is considered illegal suggests it is), then we had better get ready to shut the fuck up about nearly anything outside our borders and build Fortress UK. Which, I am sure, the morons who signed us up for these dumb laws wanted all along, except for the Fortress bit :-(

    The trouble is, such a policy will fail, for the same reason our 90’s AQ policy failed. Our enemies don’t care about what we do, they care about what we are: a rather successful country. They will find excuses for whatever they want to do, but more’s the fool who actually believes any of them.

    The biggest problem we face when dealing with the lawyers and their hangers on is their complete ignorance of reality and their hatred of the anchors of international law, eg us and the US. Without enforcers, no number of laws have any effect, but since the US is merrily withdrawing from the world, even the likes of nuclear non-proliferation are now dead. It’s now big boys rules, and it’s time they were reminded they were largely responsible for this state of affairs.

  57. @monkey: you misunderstand me. I wouldn’t advocate ignoring genocide, but those of us that have appointed themselves our moral guardians would, since they are racists :-(

  58. @wf
    Based on modern past events Cambodia, Nigeria ,Rwanda, East Timor ,Bosnia, Burundi, Bangladesh, Darfur , Southern Sudan etc I find it hard to argue against that conclusion.

  59. “Maybe if we gave young people a decent education and a stake in the Nation they would not be so keen to go and fight for IS, or maybe I’m not thinking through the problem enough?”

    DN, I know people who have given up companies, law firms and medical practices to become pastors. Sometimes, no matter how much money you offer them, their convictions will still make them choose their beliefs. Not everyone is motivated by money.

  60. @Observer and DN
    Justin Welby the Archbishop of Canterbury was Treasurer of the oil exploration group Enterprise Oil PLC
    Stephen Green is an ordained priest in the Church of England was Chairman of HSBC Bank PLC and was Minister of State for Trade and Investment in the present Government ( he received no pay for this position)

  61. Sorry monkey, when I last kept track of theological issues, it was the rather liberal Rowan Williams that was the Archbishop.

    That was a bit off the point though, the point is that there are people with a diverse set of values scattered throughout society who place different “weights” on different things of importance, so assuming all would be pacified by “a share in the nation” is rather broad sweeping and does not take these different weightages into account.

  62. @Observer & Monkey

    When I say they need to have a stake in the country I’m not talking monetry, what I mean is they need to feel British and have prospects of employment on completion of school. This requires good schools and a more social mobile society and perhaps the creation of secular state rather than a selfstyled PC police.

  63. DN and the point I was trying to make is that these people often have all these. And didn’t hesitate to toss it all away for God. It’s a complicated issue, and a simple solution is going to be either a band aid or simply a placebo. Some people just believe.

    What might be for the best is to promote a version of Islam that is compatible with our culture, or at least doesn’t go around chopping their neighbour’s heads off. There are precedents, and a great deal of leeway can be made showcasing the successes of moderate Islam vs the limited gains of extreme Fundamentalism, especially in the historical gains of Muslim South East Asia.

  64. I work with many people of South Asian ethnic origin , I live in an East Midlands city that was the first in the UK in the last census to have less than 50% ‘White British’ so inevitable. In the organisation I work in they have equal opportunities and this could be demonstrated. On discussion with regards to their belief in their Nationality they are more than happy to declare they are British and really do not want the UK to become like the places their distant relatives live. They are very engaged in local society and their respective communities.
    Yes, an good well rounded education can improve the chances of anyone to move forward in life , you only have to visit the doctors surgeries , dental practices , law firms , hospitals , school staff rooms etc , names above local business to see the opportunities they can have. However there is all ways a disenfranchised ‘youth’ element of any cultural group who may find it believable that they are in some way hard done too because of their ethnic origin , be they white, Asian or African origin. Some will slip through the huge holes in the educational net , leaving school not being able to read or perform basic maths after 14 years of education is disgusting but loosening the purse strings would not be the only solution but asking hard questions and firing some of them of the people responsible for this charade .

  65. Sorry I can’t bring myself to believe that what is written in a book by man somehow has a deterministic effect on a society.

    Christianity has shown that even seemingly fundamental, and until a few decades ago almost undisputed ideas go out of fashion in many Christian churches / denominations or whatever if they are not considered respectable or normative by the society that those concepts are immersed in.

  66. @Phil – I have to disagree – the ideas articulated in the Bible and the Qu’ran shaped events in most of the Western Eurasian Landmass for close too two thousand years…those in the Confucian Analects and the Bhagavad Ghita shaped the Eastern part for even longer…and the influence of Das Kapital and Mein Kampf shaped much of the Twentieth Century…of those things didn’t shape both societies and events, what exactly did?


  67. Observer
    ‘Some people just believe’

    Yes they do and some people will always believe and religion will be their calling in life. Also some people can manipulate the uneducated and disenfranchised to believe what they are selling for their own empowerment. Not all the people who have run off to fight for IS have been devout all their lives and of the 500 or more who have gone how many are in silent agreement and providing financial support from the UK, and why? To be honest I would not be surprised if a new Aryan race was declared and carried out war crimes, that 500 volunteers would go and fight for them from the indoctrinated white sectors of society. IS have just tapped into the perceived (rightly or wrongly) injustices of the Muslim world and taken advantage of the turmoil of the Arab spring, lets not forget that Mohamed Bouazizi self immolated himself in protest of police corruption.

    ‘an good well rounded education can improve the chances of anyone to move forward in life’

    If you get one.

    Social mobility indicators

  68. @ Gloomy,

    Mein Kampf had barely pushed 250,000 copies by the time Hitler came to power. They had to give that thing away for it to gain any real traction. I suspect the promise of jobs and a resurgence on the international stage did more to influence German voters than a book that barely any of them had read.

  69. On the other hand, Marx and his Manifesto was responsible for a fair bit of social engineering that didn’t turn out too well, and Jean-Paul Sartre’s teachings put into practice let to a mass reduction in the population of Cambodia and not to mention Mao’s little Red Book.

    It may be short lived, but for a period of time, these books caused mass suffering. Duration does not correlate with intensity of effect.

  70. @Chris…should do it provided the 250,000 copies sold were in the hands of people who bought into the key messages (or saw some benefit in “getting with the programme” anyhow) and then shared the highlights with ten others over whom they had influence. That’s two and a half million party members…more than enough to get the Nazis into a very strong position in the election of 1932 on the basis of a few key messages “betrayal…Jewish conspiracy…Bolshevik menace…Lebensraum…the Volk must arise!”…and facilitate the more or less democratic takeover of 1933.

    And with Iconic books, I’m not sure it matters if most people read them provided as many as possible think they know what they contain and buy into those key messages…lots of Red Guards who couldn’t actually read acted in the name of a Little Red Book in their waving fist which was as much a standard and badge of belonging as a work of political philosophy…but perhaps as many as 80 Million people died in it’s name…


  71. Gloomy, that’s true on the reading part. A reason I suspect why the National Socialists in Germany were so popular was not totally because of Mien Kempf, but because they visually saw Germany being oppressed, with hyperinflation and being crushed under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the call for the need of “more living space” resonated with people who feel oppressed. In a way, they were told what they wanted to hear. Come to think of it, Communism is also telling the poor what they want to hear (confiscate the wealth, share it all).

  72. @wf

    Well that’s ok, we can have a self centred world outlook if you want, ignoring international law and doing as we please. Just remember that’s what every other major and minor military power can and probably will choose to do as well. I’m not sure the world without the current often poorly developed framework we do have (which we helped to design and implement post war) is going to be any better. More likely worse in my opinion.

    Keeping to your thought line, I have to say that why are contemplating involvement in Iraq/Syria right now, we should never have got involved in GW2, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia at all. There is no significant threat to the UK in any of these cases.

    Yes Islamic terrorism would remain a major issue (but not an existential one); but that can be addressed by spending more money on police and intelligence (better border controls for example) at home and co-operation with like minded allies. We’d support the “war on terror”, but I cant see why we should be an active participant in any of the overseas adventures.

    With respect to defence spending, the SDR 2015 would come out with a quite different force structure. We would need a self defence force. That implies strong well equipped airforce and navy and a rather smaller army (today) given that it pretty much impossible to come up with a scenario where we would need to deploy force against a power who actually threatens invasion of the UK.

    The boundary line where self defence starts is a harder question. The wider view would be at some distance from UK borders, so you could maintain an argument for the SSN force and Carrier protected marine force. Needn’t be very large though as its would be unlikely that we’d be involved in many actual operations, given we don’t have an empire and are taking a narrow view of our interests. I can’t see the need to actually have deployable nuclear weapons (no credible enemy), but I would argue for keeping the capability to develop and deploy if necessary. With the exception of the carrier/ssn force, you’d be looking at a military rather similar to Germany’s today.

    Given this is about 1 % GDP cut in spending and that we’d cut international aid by 0.5 % of GDP, we’d be freeing up a considerable sum of money annually to spend on other priorities (including tax cuts if you wanted).

  73. GNB

    I think you have to ask what part of Marxism are you talking about. The redistribution of wealth element (which we can call socialism and communism, depending on how far you take it) was a social trend that went back before him anyway. How much of the rest was down to this ideology as opposed to the obsessions of two leaders (Hitler and Stalin) ?

  74. @Nick: “we can have a self centred world outlook if you want, ignoring international law and doing as we please. Just remember that’s what every other major and minor military power can and probably will choose to do as well”. Who says we should ignore all international law? No objections to anything prior to the last 30 years anyway. However, international laws are only viable if potential enemies feel the need to obey them, and as they are ignoring them, we will have to ignore at least the recent ones. I note that Kenya’s president and vice president are both under indictment to the ICC, without effect to their careers…..

    GW2 is effectively GW1 restarted, in legal terms. Are you telling me Middle Eastern oil supplies *are not* a compelling UK interest? We have also tried ignoring AQ back in the 90’s barring a few Tomahawk salvos: did this work out?

    It takes decades (since we don’t do nuclear testing anymore and subs are hard to build) to build a nuclear deterrent. Right now, Russia is a threat to NATO allies in the Baltic, something we should have seen coming from 2008, but now only acknowledged from 2013. Not sure pushing the button right now to rebuild our deterrent is a good idea

  75. wf

    Why should Iraq oil be a more compelling interest to the UK than for France, Germany or Italy ?

    If there was no Iraq oil production, the world would survive, although oil prices would be 10 % or more higher in the short term (until the slack was eliminated by production growth elsewhere and measures to reduce demand). Perhaps we’d have more hybrid or electric cars today… In any case, we’re not that bothered by who we buy it from.

    Just how much AQ risk from Afghanistan was their to the UK proper, that hasn’t been handled by the security service and the Police. On the ground, the biggest actually effect came form home grown followers than external agents in practice.

    In any case, I’m not saying we wouldn’t have supported the US, but that doesn’t mean that we needed to provide active military support to a larger extent than the Germans, French or Italians did. That was a choice we made. Our sacrifice, like the Canadians and Dutch, was larger than they chose to make. I would also say that our appetite to take on that risk did appear to be larger than our ability or will to deliver our commitment.

    The problem with international laws and treaties, is that you can’t really pick and choose, which you follow. If we exit the ECHR, as UKIP and some tory thought suggests we should, we have to expect there will be consequences. These might be not be that obvious today. Either way, it will weaken our ability to say the UK has the moral high ground. It also not clear that it is something the majority of UK voters would be in favour of.

    I’m not saying that this is my actual opinion, but I do think it is legitimate to argue this way, based on one valid point of view. There is no practical issue stopping the UK behaving more like Germany or Italy except that this hasn’t been our tradition going back several hundred years.

    Where I think I do differ from you, is that I do believe that we are better served in the long run by upholding democracy, international law and having a moral foreign policy, with the understanding that we can’t sort out everything bad that happens on our own. This also means that we need to accept that not all problems can be solved by airstrikes. That means our political and media establishment has to grow up and accept that we are no longer the UK of 1945.

  76. @Nick: Iraq (and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, remember we got into this because of them) are indeed of greater importance to continental Europe. However, they have spent the last quarter century freeloading off us and the US, so they don’t need to worry about it. This is obviously going to change eventually, whereupon you will see some changes in their policies.

    Funnily enough, other countries have no problem deciding which treaties to sign, or not. I understand the likes of Matrix Chambers will be furious at anyone daring to withdraw from the ECHR due to it’s effect on their fee income, excuse me, our fundamental human rights, but in terms of actual effect on our international relations it’s liable to be nil. (yes, I know in theory all EU members have to have signed up, but EU treaties appear to be endlessly flexible if you are a big enough country).

    We’ve done quite a bit upholding democracy and human rights over the last century or so. I’d aver a great deal more than the likes of Germany. The trouble is, doing this means hard power: no one decides to be nice to their people because someone else says so, they do it because they are forced to.

    Our establishment have been mad keen on getting rid of any vestige of us as a world power since 1945: what exactly do you think all that de-colonization rush was about, exactly? We’ve been hearing of nothing else other than how nothing is now possible!

  77. Good statement, that one
    ” Iraq (and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, remember we got into this because of them) are indeed of greater importance to continental Europe. However, they have spent the last quarter century freeloading off us and the US, so they don’t need to worry about it. This is obviously going to change eventually”

    – the good old USA will be vacating… Self-sufficiency fast approaching
    – the choices: us, China (also v dependent) or who? Stepping in (at least partially);I read the French airbase in the UAE to be 50% an export promotion project.

    Now, will we let S. Arabia, Jordan and Turkey also freeload, when they have immediate and burning interests in the current conflict… That is another discussion.

  78. wf

    I think GW 1 was different (as was to a lessor degree Afghanistan), but I don’t think you can be quite so clear cut on GW2 and the aftermath.

    One problem is, that the UK population doesn’t seem to be convinced our recent foreign adventures were worth the price we paid, which makes the Germany/Italy approach more appealing. I think that the British population has generally been supportive of Defence spending (perhaps more than elsewhere in Europe, France excluded), but neither our politicians or generals seem to have really coped that well with Iraq and Afghanistan, which hasn’t helped at all. I would have thought IS would (should) have been an easy sell, even to getting troops on the ground, for a British PM, in the circumstances.

    Given the scale of losses in WW1 and 2, its perhaps not that surprising that there is a high degree of reluctance to use military force within German population outside self defence. I’ve read that it takes at least 3 generations to overcome this sort of trauma…

    I do think part of the Human rights issue we have (apart from political scapegoating Human rights, which has been common place) is self inflicted. France seems to have a more pragmatic approach on deportation of undesirables for example, using exactly the same legal framework.

    Whilst we stayed out of Schengen, its doesn’t seem our border controls were actually up to scratch either. Why does just about every other European country manage to have ID cards, yet we had to abandon our plan (which would have cost each individual a large sum of money to obtain) on the basis that we couldn’t actually create an ID database.

    Its not a general government issue (otherwise no one would have one), but a UK specific issue. It seems that the current border control passport system can bring up our photographs from the database when it is scanned anywhere is the world, but doing the same for ID cards was too difficult.

  79. @Nick: GW2 is legally an extension of GW1. They had still not fulfilled the ceasefire agreement, so on we go. The crap about how it’s “illegal” reminds me of a tortuous article in AFJ back after Panama where some moron lawyer attempted to also proclaim the operation illegal, despite Senor Pineapple Face having a) declared war on the US and b) shot two US servicemen in advance :-)

    France’s pragmatic approach is down to, er, ignoring the laws. But at least they *sign* the laws and declare them OK, so our yuman rites commentariat will give them a pass!

  80. wf

    GW2 wasn’t sold that way, which is what counts in the real court.

    I still think it would be possible for the UK government (or supreme court) to have a decent go at defining, for example, what the right to a reasonable home life (forget the actually wording in the clause) means in the context of out HR legislation. That would certainly limit the number of appeals and set clear eligibility rules. Throwing some money at have more specialist courts sitting and setting fixed rates for legal costs could speed things up appreciably.

    A detention centre on Rockall perhaps (we could call in HM Detention Centre Azkaban ?)

  81. @Nick: correct about the GW2 selling. Frankly, I would just have said we should have finished him the first time, now’s the time to do it, saving hundreds of thousands of lives long term (still true, given what happened after GW1 with regard to Shia uprisings) before the sanctions collapse and he becomes a threat again. Both France and Russia were partially or completely ignoring sanctions by 2003.

    If you define a “reasonable home life”, you are making political decisions, via the courts. And the ECHR can still overrule you anyway. Bad news all round IMHO.

    I love the idea of HM Detention Centre Azkaban. Too bad the POA will refuse to work there :-(

  82. wf

    I assume there was behind the scenes pressure (from Saudi ?) – Saddam should have been forced out after GW1. I thought so then and haven’t seen anything since that changed my mind on that. GWB’s biggest mistake in my opinion.

    Whilst the court could always overrule a national decision, I doubt they would bother to try if your definition was reasonable. I remember the court (or was it the other one) ruled that 24 hour solitary confinement in US prisons wasn’t a reason not to send someone to the US. I don’t think its as “liberal” as some people like to think.

  83. @ GNB,

    I think Observer provided the best answer. The circulation of Mein Kampf would have been limited mainly to those at the top who already bought into the ideology. The main support for the Nazis came from their promises of a better future, which was appealing to people at the time.

  84. @Chris B – the book was the ideology into which the elite bought, the plan for delivering it’s proposed outcomes and the basis of the slogans that delivered the masses…most of Hitler’s rabble-rousing speeches came straight out of it, as did Goebbel’s propaganda campaigns (including popular big-budget action films based on the Mein Kampf version of the history of the Volk). The book, in effect defined, articulated and directed societal grievances into a programme for mass political action and a blueprint for both domestic and foreign policy.

    The reason that Hitler and National Socialism rose above and synthesised together at least a half-a-dozen other right wing and nationalist groups in the twenties and welded them together into a coherent political force that took power through the democratic process in the 1930’s were the months he spent writing it whilst in prison, and his skill in marrying his own ideas with the zeitgeist of the time which he captured in it’s pages.

    It also provided a programme for government, a blueprint for civil society and the war plan…

    I’d say it mattered quite a lot…and it was a really bad book…the Qu-ran is much better, far more widely read; and at least equally apt to generate a blueprint for brutal and self-righteous world conquest.

    With the added bonus of being the unalterable word of God…


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