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April 10, 2018


Ian Leslie

Slightly besides the point but the 'few bad apples' theory of Labour and anti-semitism is an almost wilfully inadequate framing of the problem.

I can also see a small problem in applying the "don't start wars" heuristic to Syria.


Agree with general thrust, but for the policymaker nothing is a 'free hit' if it requires more government spending.

Dave Timoney

I think this is a problem more of the media than politicians. The civil servants who advise ministers on policy options are hardly strangers to risk assessments, and many ministers have backgrounds in which risk management was routine. The problem is that ministers will often discount those risks.

Sometimes this is because they are in the grip of a "belief", like Blair over Iraq, but more often it is because they anticipate short-term favourable media coverage and long-term negative impacts that someone else will have to deal with. Notably, this attitude tends to be worse among politicians who are former journalists, e.g. Gove and Johnson.

The problem with the media is its structural bias in favour of novelty. It refuses to learn from past mistakes, is highly selective in its use of history, and always believes that "this time will be different". That applies as much to austerity as to the current clamour for intervention in Syria.

You're right that Labour should have taken the charge of antisemitism more seriously, but not because of the risk of it being normalised (which is unlikely), but because of its potential to be weaponised (which was much more likely). In other words, they weren't cynical enough.

Luis Enrique

Chris now we want to read your thoughts on the merits of various criteria for decision making in the face of uncertainty, in a political context. Should political parties be thinking in terms of min-max regret? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regret_(decision_theory)


@from arse to elbow:
Interventionism, The anti-Semitism row, and our current ('Western' collective) foreign policy is in the grip of “beliefs” which are breaking down. Not, I think, a consequence of our media, or Brexit. But Brexit is marking, with unusual clarity, the contours being feared. This makes the job of a simple controlling/filtering media difficult – they're being all too obvious. Chris is right of course, but good faith risk management is needed – not just risk management. As always, isn't it a question of who's risk? And, avoiding the development of yet more truly nasty control and command state institution? I've got used to a dumbed-down media, its the bad faith I've got a problem with...


Some of the decisions being made seem far beyond poor risk management, in the sense that there is huge risk (usually for someone else) with almost no possible upside. Syria is a case in point. Does the west really believe that the price to replace Assad is worth paying? Assad is a criminal, and the civil war was not started by the west, but certainly western foreign policy has prolonged the conflict. What do we think comes after, if we "succeed" and replace Assad? Surely we have seen this movie before by now. If you believe that the "moderate opposition" will take over and turn Syria into a thriving democracy, I have a bridge to sell you. In the meantime, there are hundreds of thousands dead, millions displaced, and a country in ruins.


The problem in Syria is that the ability of the Syrian government to control Syria is collapsing. This creates a vacuum which together with a similar vacuum in Iraq is pulling in superpowers.

Something similar happened with the collapse of the Ottoman empire in the 19th century when France primarily and Britain went to war with Russia over control of the remains of the Ottoman Empire.

The problem for the west now is having chucked in our lot with the Israel/Saudi axis it is hard to find an ally on the ground in Syria. Risk management, as Chris states, seems to indicate against intervention in Syria; there doesn't seem a clear advantageous end-game, and there is considerable scope for things to go wrong.


«Our dumbed-down media, with its demand for certainty where none is possible»

The usual mandelsonian view that it is the media that matter, or the populist view that it is politicians who are corrupt.

What if the *voters* who matter or are corrupt? That seems to me a lot more plausible. I was reading recently that "upon a time" transcripts of parliamentary speeches were the subject of discussions in working men's clubs and posher places...

Nowadays my impression is that "certainty" is a very popular demand from voters, many more of whom today than in the past are "set for life" and see the future just in terms of risk, never opportunity.
Older voters who retired on good defined benefit pensions with a million pounds of equity in a 3 bed suburban semi might well think very rationally that "don't make any waves" is the golden principle, and that they want "absolute safety at any cost (to someone else)".
The regard themselves as gentry, and gentry and petty bourgeoisie are always terrified of losing what they have.


«Anti-semitic words might help to normalize anti-semitic behaviour: attacks and harassment of Jews.»

The same "thin end of the wedge" argument applies to objections to anything said by a jew, and indeed recently the leader of the jewish labour party has stated categorically that any criticism of the government of Israel or israeli parties like Likud is inherently anti-semitic as it endangers jews:

«Gabbay said Corbyn had expressed "very public hatred of the policies of the government of the state of Israel, many of which regard the security of our citizens and actions of our soldiers - policies where the opposition and coalition in Israel are aligned"»

Of course disagreeing with that judgement, which is official policy of the HaAvoda, would be considered anti-semitic.

Amazingly the same day "The Guardian" published an article criticing the israeli government (anti-semtic therefore?) and in particular Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu for facilitating attacks and harassment of jews in Israel by being too defeatist and pacifist in not confronting Russian and Iranian "aggression" against Israel's frontiers:

«The reality is that Israel - and Netanyahu in particular - has badly misread the trajectory of Russia's re-engagement in the Middle East, which has created in the very kindest interpretation the context for Iran's projection of its influence ever further west and ever closer to Israel's borders.»

Does that mean that "The Guardian" is anti-semitic for allowing the publication of an article criticizing the Likud government and thus endangering jews, and that the Likud government has been anti-semitic for lacking vigour in defending Israel's borders from "aggression"?

Just how far can go the notion that it is wrong to act by omission or commission anything that might potentially raise any risk of "attacks and harassment of Jews"?


IMHO, Dipper is wrong about collapse of Syrian Gov't. That appeared likely a couple years ago, but Russian intervention has been very successful. Syrian Army has recaptured most of the country. ISIS - once a statelet controlling a large area - has been reduced (with US help?) to being merely a minor irritant. The other Jihadi groups have been losing ground elsewhere (Aleppo, now Goutha), and are now only a factor in the Northwest (Idlib).

Areas outside Gov't control are now mainly "protectorates" of outside parties:
- US ( / "coalition") protects Kurdish areas in North/East.
- US still controls Tal Afar border crossing to Jordan.
- Turkey "protects" Idlib/Afrin and other parts of Northern Syria.
- Israel occupies Golan and "protects" nearby areas in South.

All these foreign powers have been supplying weapons to anti-Gov't groups of different flavors, for different reasons.

Turkey wants to prevent establishment of any Kurdish State, and might want to annex parts of Northern Syria.

Israel is paranoid (with some justification), and wants to destroy or dominate all potential nearby States. It views Syria as an Enemy and as a conduit for supplying weapons to Lebanon.

The US wants...well, I still don't know, and I've lived here all my life. But I do know that we have no interest there which is worth the risk of war with Russia.


«But the point is that the debate is about risk management.»

The point I was trying to make is that the debate seems actually about "no-risk" management.

That is the debate is framed not in terms of acceptable risk and the most useful risk/benefit tradeoff, but that some risks are simply unacceptable and in those cases no tradeoff is tolerable because "reducing the risk of something worse developing" is the only possible option.

Consider war with Russia over Syria: the argument seems to be that not going at war is an intolerable risk because Syria has hidden stocks of WMDs:


«Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the foreign affairs select committee, said: “Striking Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons would degrade their ability to commit further war crimes...”»

Destroying those WMD stocks would just be "a means of reducing the risk of something worse developing", for example them being used to attack England (only 45 minutes away Tony Blair pointed out!) and who wants to run *any* risk of being gassed by Assad in their 3-bed semi in Guildford?


«we have no interest there which is worth the risk of war with Russia.»

You do: going to heaven and it is not a risk because it was foretold in the Bible (according to the Dominionists). Consider this story:

«In 2003, Thomas Römer, a theology professor at the University of Lausanne [Switzerland], received a telephone call from the Elysée Palace [in Paris, home of the President of France]. Jacques Chirac’s advisers wanted to know more about Gog and Magog... two mysterious names that had been spoken by George W. Bush as he was trying to persuade France to go to war at his side in Iraq.»
«Bush is said to have declared to Chirac that Gog and Magog were at work in the Middle East, and the Biblical Prophecies were being accomplished. It was a few weeks before the intervention in Iraq. The French president, to whom the names of Gog and Magog meant nothing, was stupefied.»

This was reported directly by T Römer and confirmed by J Chirac in a book-interview with JC Maurice:


Also, not everybody in the USA elites is as moderate and sensible as GW Bush, there are much weirder people.


@ elkern, That illustrates my point. If the Assad government can only control Syria thanks to Russian intervention, then implicitly it is Russia that controls much of Syria. Russia and Iran have traction on the ground in Syria and the west doesn't.


Syria only needs Russian help to control it's own territory because several other countries are supplying weapons, money, "advisors", etc, to the jihadi groups fighting to turn Syria into a Sunni Sharia state.

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