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Boris Johnson

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Islamist Terrorism: Who’s to Blame?

It happens after every major terrorist attack by Islamist terrorists in a Western country: the familiar debate about who is really to blame for this phenomenon. One side trots out the weary old trope that the terrorists simply “hate our values”, and other side claims that it’s really the fault of Western governments for sending their troops into Muslim countries.

There’s a national election campaign underway in Britain, so the ghastly Manchester bombing last week has revived this argument. It started when Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (who voted against the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the seven-month bombing campaign that overthrew Libya’s dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011) made a speech in London on Friday.

“Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home,” he said.

In a later clarification, Corbyn added: “A number of people since the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq have drawn attention to the links with foreign policy, including (British foreign secretary) Boris Johnson in 2005, two former heads of MI5 (the Security Service), and of course the (parliamentary) Foreign Affairs Select Committee.”

With Labour catching up with the Conservatives in the polls, Prime Minister Teresa May leapt at the chance to twist Corbyn’s words and all but accused him of treason. “Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault….and I want to make something clear to Jeremy Corbyn and to you: there can never be an excuse for terrorism, there can be no excuse for what happened in Manchester.”

Boris Johnson chimed in: “Whatever we do, we can’t follow the logic of the terrorists and start blaming ourselves or our society or our foreign policy. This has been caused not by us – as Jeremy Corbyn would have us believe – it’s been caused by a sick ideology, a perverted version of Islam that hates us and hates our way of life.” It’s the old political trick of deliberately mistaking explanation for justification.

But both sides in this argument are wrong. The“Salafi” extremists who are called “Islamists” in the West (all of them Sunnis, and most of them Arabs) do hate Western values, but that’s not why they go to the trouble of making terrorist attacks on the West. And it’s not because of Western foreign policies either: there were no major Western attacks on the Arab world in the years before the 9/11 atrocity in 2001.

There had been plenty of attacks in the past: the Western conquest of almost all the Arab countries between 1830 and 1918, Western military support for carving a Zionist state out of the Arab world as the European imperial powers were pulling out after 1945, Western military backing for Arab dictators and absolute monarchs ever since.

The West turned against one of those dictators, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, after he invaded Kuwait, but it had the support of most Arab countries when it drove him out of Kuwait in the first Gulf War in 1990-91. And between then and 9/11 the West did nothing much to enrage the Arab world. Indeed, it was even backing the Palestinian-Israeli “peace process”, which looked quite promising at that time.

But there was violence in many Arab countries as Islamist revolutionaries, using terrorist tactics, tried to overthrow the local kings and dictators. Up to 200,000 Arabs were killed in these bloody struggles between 1979 and 2000, but not one of the repressive regimes was overthrown. By the turn of the century it was clear that terrorism against Arab regimes was not working. To win power, the Islamists needed a new strategy.

The man who supplied it was Osama bin Laden. He had missed out on the long terrorist war in the Arab countries because he went to Afghanistan to fight a Soviet invasion in 1979. But in Afghanistan he fought in a war that Islamists actually won: having lost 14,000 dead, the Russians gave up and went home in 1989. The Afghan Islamists (the Taliban) came to power as a result.

Bin Laden realised that this could be a route to power for the Islamists of the Arab world as well: provoke the West to invade Muslim countries, lead the struggle against the Western occupation forces – and when the Western armies finally give up and go home (as they always do in the end) the Islamists will come to power.

That was why he founded al-Qaeda, and 9/11 was intended to sucker the United States into playing the role of infidel invader. Western governments have never recognised this obvious fact because they are too arrogant ever to see themelves as simply the dupes in somebody else’s strategy. Their foreign policy error was to fall for bin Laden’s provocation hook, line and sinker – and they are still falling for it sixteen years later.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs .

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Voters’ Remorse, or The Morning After the Night Before (updated)

Everybody in British politics is in shock now that that they face the reality of having to negotiate the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. In the case of Boris Johnson, a charming opportunist who took the leadership of the Brexit campaign in the hope of succeeding David Cameron as prime minister, the prospect of having to lead those negotiations was so frightening that he simply froze up.

That gave Michael Gove, co-leader of the Brexit campaign, an excuse to stab Boris in the back and supplant him as the main “Leave” candidate for the Conservative leadership, which he duly did on Thursday morning. Gove is a true believer, but he lacks Johnson’s charisma, so the next Conservative prime minister is actually likelier to be Theresa May – who supported the “Remain” campaign.

If most Conservative members of parliament are terrified by the outcome of the referendum, that is even more true for ordinary pro-Brexit voters. The level of voters’ remorse in Britain is so high that a re-run of the referendum today would probably produce the opposite result. But it is hard to imagine how such a thing could be justified. (Best two out of three referendums?)

So the process of extracting the UK from the European Union will presumably stumble forward, albeit at a snail’s pace, even though most of the promises that were made by the “Leave” campaign about Britain’s bright future outside the EU have now been exposed as lies. “A lot of things were said in advance of this referendum that we might want to think about again,” admitted Leave campaigner and former Conservative cabinet minister Liam Fox.

One thing all the contenders for the prime ministerial job agree on is Britain should not start negotiating its exit now. Recognising this, Cameron promised to stay in office until October to give the Conservative Party time to find a new leader – and promised NOT to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty during that time.

Article 50 is the trigger that would start the irrevocable process of negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU – but there is no agreement yet even on what Britain should ask for, let alone what it might get. By not pulling that trigger for months, Cameron is allowing time for the painful consequences of leaving the EU to mount up and become horribly clear. Maybe he hopes that might cause a larger re-think about the whole Brexit idea. And maybe it will.

But will all this fear and remorse really lead to some sort of turn-around in the exit process? Left to stew in its own juices for six months, British politics might eventually come up with a typically muddled compromise that postponed the final break with the EU indefinitely – but it isn’t going to have six months.

It is now clear that the EU will not be generous and patient in negotiating the British departure. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Bundestag that the EU would not tolerate British “cherry-picking” when negotiations on subjects like trade and the free movement of people finally begin. “There must be and will be a noticeable difference between whether a country wants to be a member of the European Union family or not,” she said.

There has been great impatience with British behaviour in the other EU countries for many years. Britain has always been the odd man out, demanding exemptions from various rules and agreements, rebates on budgetary contributions, special treatment of every sort. And now that it has “decided” to leave (sort of), it’s playing the same old game, asking everybody else to wait while it deals with its domestic political problems.

“The European Union as a whole has been taken as a hostage by an internal party fight of the Tories (the British Conservatives),” said Martin Schultz, the president of the European Parliament. “And I’m not satisfied today to hear that (Cameron) wants to step down only in October and once more everything is put on hold until the Tories have decided about the next prime minister.”

To make matters worse the opposition Labour Party is also descending into chaos, with leader Jeremy Corbyn facing a revolt over his half-hearted support for the “Remain” campaign, which may have been the main reason for Brexit’s narrow victory. (Half the Labour Party’s traditional supporters didn’t even know that their own party supported staying in the EU.) Both major British political parties, for the moment, are essentially leaderless.

British politics is a train-wreck, unable and unwilling to respond to EU demands for rapid action, but the EU cannot afford to wait five or six months for the exit negotiations to begin. The markets need certainty about the future if they are not to go into meltdown, and one way or another the EU’s leaders will try to provide it. It is going to be a very ugly divorce.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraph 8. (“It is now…said”)

Voters’ Remorse, or The Morning After the Night Before

Everybody in British politics had been talking about the probable consequences of a vote to leave the European Union for months, but they are nevertheless all in shock now that that they face the reality of Brexit. The level of voters’ remorse is so high that a re-run of the referendum today would probably produce the opposite result. But it is hard to imagine how such a thing could be justified. (Best two out of three referendums?)

The remorse has been driven by the collapse of the pound, panic in the markets, and other consequences of a “Leave” vote that the Brexit campaign had promised would not happen. Moreover, leaders of the “Leave” campaign like Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Ian Duncan Smith are rapidly walking away from the inflated or simply untrue claims that they made during the campaign.

They have all renounced their promise that Britain would save half a billion dollars a week in contributions to the EU if it left. They now admit that Britain could not prevent free movement of EU citizens into Britain if it wants to have continued access to the EU’s “single market. “A lot of things were said in advance of this referendum that we might want to think about again,” admitted Leave campaigner and former Conservative cabinet minister Liam Fox.

It is also now clear that the EU will not be generous and patient in negotiating the British departure. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Bundestag that the EU would not tolerate British “cherry-picking” when negotiations on subjects like trade and the free movement of people finally begin. “There must be and will be a noticeable difference between whether a country wants to be a member of the European Union family or not,” she said.

The Brexit leaders had no plan for what to do after winning the referendum, probably because they didn’t really expect to win it. And their nightmare deepened when Prime Minister David Cameron, the man who had called the referendum in the belief that Brexit would be rejected, took his revenge on the leading Brexiteers.

Announcing his resignation, Cameron promised to stay in office until October to give the Conservative Party time to find a new leader. And during that time, contrary to his previous statements, he would not invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty.

Article 50 is the trigger that would start the irrevocable process of negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU. By not pulling it for months, Cameron is allowing time for the painful consequences of leaving the EU to mount up and become horribly clear. Then the new prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, probably Boris Johnson, will have the honour of pulling the trigger and taking the blame for making that pain permanent.

So it’s hardly surprising that Johnson, despite having pulled off the most remarkable coup in British politics for decades, was looking distinctly glum on the Morning After the Night Before. He looks and behaves like a well-bred British version of Donald Trump, but his “dumb blond” act is just a facade. His political future has been sabotaged, and he knows it.

But will all this fear and remorse really lead to some sort of turn-around in the exit process? Left to stew in its own juices for six months, British politics might eventually come up with a typically muddled compromise that postponed the final break with the EU indefinitely – but it isn’t going to have six months.

There has been great impatience with British behaviour in the other EU countries for many years. Britain has always been the odd man out, demanding exemptions from various rules and agreements, rebates on budgetary contributions, special treatment of every sort. And now that it has “decided” to leave (sort of), it’s playing the same old game, asking everybody else to wait while it deals with its domestic political problems.

“The European Union as a whole has been taken as a hostage by an internal party fight of the Tories (the British Conservatives),” said Martin Schultz, the president of the European Parliament. “And I’m not satisfied today to hear that (Cameron) wants to step down only in October and once more everything is put on hold until the Tories have decided about the next prime minister.”

To make matters worse the opposition Labour Party is also descending into chaos, with leader Jeremy Corbyn facing a revolt over his half-hearted support for the “Remain” campaign, which may have been the main reason for Brexit’s narrow victory. (Half the Labour Party’s traditional supporters didn’t even know that their own party supported staying in the EU.) Both major British political parties, for the moment, are essentially leaderless.

British politics is a train-wreck, unable and unwilling to respond to EU demands for rapid action, but the EU cannot afford to wait five or six months for the exit negotiations to begin. The markets need certainty about the future if they are not to go into meltdown, and one way or another the EU’s leaders will try to provide it. It is going to be a very ugly divorce.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3 and 11. (“They have…Fox”; and “There has…problems”)