The Labour party loves to hate Tony Blair

I’ve met people at political events who seem otherwise normal, and then Tony Blair’s name is mentioned and their eyes light up in a way that suggest a chemical reaction has taken place in their brain. Likewise whenever the former Labour prime minister is mentioned online, it’s like a hand grenade has been thrown into the loony pond. Up they all chirp on social media, announcing how the war criminal must be sent to the Hague one day. The most recent case was Tony Blair’s offer to fund Labour candidates at the election, and the decision by two of them to turn it down; in both constituencies, Northampton North and Dundee East,

Assad is hoping Isis will make his regime look moderate. This is no accident

Jeremy Bowen’s half-hour long interview with Bashar al-Assad is being heavily trailed by the BBC this morning.  And while it has little that is new it does provide an interesting insight into the Syrian President’s current situation. The main story from it is Assad’s confirmation that there is some line of communication between the Syrian regime and the Americans. Bowen put to Assad that there are American planes over Syria all the time engaged in the fight against Isis and that there must be some contact between them. While confirming that they do not speak directly, Assad did confirm that Iraq and other countries act as intermediaries.  But it was the

The Saudis are playing a clever game with oil supplies. Here’s how to understand it

As oil prices continue to plummet, the rather sterile debate over Saudi intentions drags on. Some believe the Saudis are locked into a secret conspiracy with Washington to stiff Russia and Iran. Others prefer to take the Saudi oil minister at his word and believe that it’s all about market share. The truth is that the debate is founded on a false dichotomy: the Saudis are doing both things at once, and several other things as well. The best way to understand this is to try to step into the shoes (or sandals, rather) of a senior member of the al-Saud family. Your neighbourhood is convulsed in war and revolution,

Your enemy’s enemy is not your friend

The United States faces a very difficult task in Syria. It is trying to use air raids to contain and weaken ISIl. But, at the same time, it is trying to prevent the Assad regime from turning this intervention to its advantage. However, as the Washington Post reports today, the Assad regime have taken advantage of ISIl being pinned back to turn their fire on the moderate rebels, the very group that the US is trying to help. As the situation in Iraq is demonstrating, air strikes against ISIl can be effective when paired with ground operations. But in Syria, the US has no effective allies on the ground. The

It’s time we apologised to Assad – he had a point about those rebels

I saw MPs Peter Hain and Andrew Mitchell agreeing with each other on Newsnight about the need, now, to talk to President Assad, so that we might better combat the Islamic savages running amok in Syria and Iraq. Yee-haw. If I could see, two years back, that Assad was infinitely preferable to the majority of those people who took arms against him, then why couldn’t our politicians? Do they really still cleave to the idiotic view that the Arab people are ‘just like us’ and are ready and waiting for a pluralistic, representational democracy, perhaps with the alternative vote in place for local council elections, and maybe Baroness Ashton and

No partnership with Assad (and no scrutiny till summer’s up)

Philip Hammond this afternoon ruled out Britain working with President Assad in the fight against Isis, arguing that simply being aligned against a common enemy ‘doesn’t make us friends with someone’. It is nearly a year since the Commons rejected intervention in Syria against the Assad regime, and now figures such as Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Lord Dannatt are arguing that there may need to be some kind of alliance against the Syrian leader in order to defeat Isis. But the Foreign Secretary said: ‘We may very well find that we are aligned against a common enemy, but that doesn’t make us friends with someone It doesn’t make us able

Ukraine and Syria expose the West’s lack of appetite for protecting human rights

‘We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.’ So wrote Vladimir Putin in The New York Times in September last year. Last week, he invaded Ukraine. A system of ‘international law’ which gives a man like President Putin the right to decide whether a proposed action is legal or not, is morally bankrupt. Yet that is how the United Nations Security Council functions – and that is why Western democracies should not shrink from taking action even when the Russian veto stands in the way. President Putin’s New York Times piece was about Syria. He was appealing to the American

The one man who makes me hope for peace in Syria

As Syria’s second peace conference looms, and we prepare ourselves for a lot of hot air drifting over from Geneva, I’ve been making a list of those players in the civil war who actually want peace and those who don’t fancy it one bit. The anti-peace side is easy. There’s Bashar al-Assad, of course. Hillary saw to that during the first conference. Perhaps she’s right that he shouldn’t be part of any transitional government, but if he loses all power, Assad and his Alawite clan are toast. So what use is peace to him? The rebels of the Islamic Front alliance are the latest Washington craze; they’re the alliance of

Assad will go – the question is how much blood will be spilled

As we approach next week’s Geneva II Conference, the desire of the majority of Syrians, the moderate majority, for a just and sustainable resolution to the conflict in Syria must be addressed. At Sunday’s meeting of the ‘Friends of Syria’ Foreign Secretary William Hague, Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and representatives from the Gulf States were of one voice in supporting President Jarba and the Syrian Opposition Coalition and were in full agreement that Assad has no future in Syria. Even privately the Russians and Iranians are increasingly coming to the realisation that it is a question of ‘when’ not ‘if’ Assad goes. The question is

A new Islamist alliance among Syria’s rebels has given Assad the enemy he wants

   Amman — Beirut — Istanbul I recently bumped into a senior officer with the rebel Free Syrian Army who was waiting in the passport queue at the Turkish border. I didn’t recognise him at first, out of uniform and without his entourage, and I told him so. He was following the example of the 7th-century Second Caliph, Omar bin al Khattab, he replied. The caliph was so humble he took turns with his servant riding a horse to Jerusalem to receive the city’s surrender. There was no imagery from Islamic history when I first met the officer a year ago. He was one of those ‘rebels’ western officials have

In London, John Kerry Promotes World’s Smallest Syrian Whirlwind

There’s little need for people opposed to launching any kind of attack on Syria to expend much energy doing so when those tasked with making the case for reminding Bashar al-Assad that using chemical weapons is not something the international community can or will ignore are making such a bloody hash of the job. Here, for instance, is John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, reminding us all that the Americans really don’t want to be taking action at all. They’ve been pushed into doing so, the result of both the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons (why assume Assad’s people are clever enough not to use them?) and by President Barack

On Syria, parliament has voted to have no policy at all.

A muddle and a cock-up. For all the talk of parliament reasserting itself, last night’s vote on Syria showed a parliament that voted, twice, to oppose actions it actually supports. David Cameron has been humiliated but this was hardly a banner day for Ed Miliband either. The House of Commons has, for now, cut off its nose to spite its face. Perhaps surgery can repair the damage. Perhaps it can’t. Because the longer and more deeply one contemplates yesterday’s events the more evident it seems that there were no winners. The government motion was defeated. So was Labour’s amendment. Since these motions were, in essence and in most practical respects,

Syria is not Iraq (but at least the Iraq War had a clear objective)

A decade ago, I was sure that going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do. I persisted in that belief for a long time too, well beyond the point at which most supporters of the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power had recanted their past enthusiasm. The link between 9/11 and Iraq was quite apparent. Not because (despite what some mistaken people insisted) Saddam had any involvement in the atrocity but because removing tyrants and dictators seemed the best way of spreading the pacifying forces of commerce and democracy that might, in time, render Islamist extremism and terrorism obsolete. Why Iraq? Because it was there and

George Galloway blames Israel for the use of chemical weapons in Syria

Say this for George Galloway: every time you think he cannot sink any lower he finds new ways to surprise you. His latest contribution to Press TV, Iran’s propaganda station, speaks for itself. Parody is pointless. Given his history and his paymasters, we would expect him to defend the Assad regime in Syria. Even so, under-estimating his ability to sniff out the true villains is never sensible. Here’s his “analysis” of the use of chemical weapons in Syria: “If there’s been any use of nerve gas it’s the rebels that used it. […] If there has been a use of chemical weapons it was al-Qaeda who used chemical weapons. Who

Why can’t we be honest about Syria?

Wouldn’t it be nice just once in a while to have a war in the -Middle East that wasn’t predicated on outright duplicitous nonsense? Just occasionally? There are, after all, any number of sincere reasons one could advance for intervention now in Syria. (If one thought that was a good idea, which as it happens one doesn’t.) One could say, for example, that Bashar Assad is a nasty murderous bastard, and that now he’s gained the upper hand he’s almost certain to indulge in some even nastier, more murderous murdering than he’s been enjoying hitherto. Pretty good, that. Pretty hard to argue against. Or one could argue that a Sunni-controlled

If you think arming the rebels is the answer, then you don’t understand Syria

The Spectator debate on Monday will no doubt pick up from Cameron’s statement to the House of Commons after the G8 meeting on Wednesday. It was wafer thin; so were his achievements. The spin generated by Number 10 in recent days has verged on the absurd. On Tuesday, according to The Times headline, Cameron was ‘leading the West to ambush Putin on Syria’. Does anyone believe that this is the way to handle the Russians, let alone Putin? Nor, of course, did it happen. By Wednesday we were being told that ‘The West tries to engineer a coup in Damascus’. No sign of that either. By the time the Prime

Just Give War A Chance: Obama’s Realpolitik Approach to the Syrian Civil War.

Boris Johnson makes a strong case in today’s Telegraph that even if the west wanted to intervene in the Syrian civil war the point at which is was plausible to do so has long since passed. The benefits of intervention no longer outweigh the risks. Meanwhile, Paul Goodman reiterates that there’s no obvious British national interest in intervening. It is difficult to disagree with either analysis. Across the Atlantic, meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan is appalled by the Obama administration’s decision to offer a modest quantity of modest weaponry to the Syrian opposition. This isn’t just unwise; it’s close to insane, he suggests. Don’t be fooled into thinking this will shorten the conflict or save lives,

Obama’s decision to arm the Syrian rebels will do little to address the Hezbollah threat

Two years too late and with less than full conviction President Obama has finally announced that his administration will aid the Syrian rebels with lethal force. This follows confirmation by the White House last night of what was already well known – that Bashar al-Assad has been using chemical weapons against his own people. Obama’s intervention will be of limited utility. Supplying rebels with heavy arms and anti-aircraft missiles principally help civilians exposed to air raids and scud missile attacks, but will not help the rebels make significant gains. This might be precisely what Obama wants, but he will struggle to limit the extent of American involvement now. Having decided

Syria: Assad’s axis of evil

A few days ago in northern Aleppo, 14-year-old Mohammad Qataa was shot dead by armed fighters who accused him of blasphemy. The Free Syria Army denied any connection to the savage act, calling it an act of ‘terrorism’ committed by rebels linked to al-Qaeda. This is not the first time that a Syrian civilian has been accused of insulting Islam. On March 21 the prominent Sufi scholar Sheikh Muhammad al-Bouti was assassinated inside a mosque in Damascus because of his views about the violence in Syria. The FSA has denied these attacks and so has the Assad regime. So who are these rebels shooting people and chopping off heads in

The View from 22 — Ukip vs Westminster, Ukip vs the Tories and intervening in Syria

Is UKIP a bunch of fringe lunatics, or a party ready to shake the establishment to its core? In this week’s Spectator cover feature, James Forsyth examines the Ukip mission and Nigel Farage’s plan for dominating the political landscape. On the latest View from 22 podcast, James reports in from South Shields on how Farage is being received on the stump, how the party is coping with growing into a serious force and what to expect in this week’s local elections. Someone who certainly doesn’t think they should be ignored is James Delingpole. Having previously written in the magazine of why he is a convert to the Ukip cause, Delingpole