For quite some time (as regular readers of this blog will be aware), I have been critical of the tendency of various celebrities to sound off on international relations( usually on matters they know little if anything about)- case in point US tough guy actor Steven Seagal who played a blues gig in Crimea(recently seized by his buddy Putin) at a pro-Putin bikers' festival.
When critics asked why he chose to do so, Seagal disengenuously replied that "music tends to bring people together".
As critics such as Paul Johnson in his 1988 book "Intellectuals" and Paul Hollander in "Political Pilgrims" have long noted, intellectuals and other celebrities no matter how erudite they may in their given field, they are often babes in arms in the world of international relations- a fact that has not escaped tyrants and autocrats as different as Stalin, Mao, Castro and Ho Chi Minh- witness actor Paul Robeson, Beatrice and Sidney Webb(authors of "Soviet Communism: A New Civilization?") US Ambassador Joseph E.Davies
(author of " Mission To Moscow" which was made into an even more improbable film), Hewlett Johnson "The Red Dean Of Canterbury", Jane Fonda
(or "Hanoi Jane" as Vietnam veterans still call her) and others too numerous to mention who as was said of Martin Heidegger during the Nazi era, "sanded for the jackboot" or to quote Lenin's apocryphal phrase were "useful idiots" for tyrannical regimes.
Granted Putin is not Lenin, Stalin , Mao or Castro but the willingness of certain commentators( not all of them politically Leftist such as paleocon Pat Buchanan and UKIP leader Nigel Farage- now both mercifully silent) to flack for his regime remains a troubling constant.
My personal "favourite"is actor /director Sean Penn who after a meeting with Peronist President of Argentina Cristina Fernandez Kirchner a few years ago, called for the Falklands Islands (or "Las Malvinas" as he termed them, echoing Buenos Aires's propaganda) to be returned to Argentina calling it a "classic case of colonialism" , disregarding the fact that the Islanders have expressly voted to remain British. It was left for me and other commentators that if Mr Penn was consistent in his "anti-colonial" rhetoric he would support the return of California, Texas and New Mexico to Mexico( the US seized the territories of where these states are from Mexico in the war of 1848)-which of course he doesn't( this might mean losing his malibu beachhouse)
Perhaps Mr Seagal(who like French actor and reported Putin pal Gerard Depardieu has reportedly taken or is considering taking Russian citizenship) could persuade his good buddy Vladimir to return the Crimea to its lawful owners and cease supporting "rebels" in the Ukraine?
I have long been critical of the whole genre of reality TV( esp "Big Brother") because I regard it as being exploitative and pandering to the worst instincts of humanity, but to my surprise a Channel Four (UK) based series on Mondays (9 pm GMT), "Royal Marines Commando Training School " has proved to be none of these things.
This series, about a group of neophyte "bootnecks"( British slang for Royal Marines similar to "Leatherneck" for the USMC) trying to make thr grade at the CTCRM at Lympstone, Devon( Commando Training Centre Royal Marines) and earn the cherished "Green Beret" (similar in all but colour to the "Red Beret" of the British Army's Parachute Regiment to whom the marines have a suggestive similarity) is surprisingly interesting as many will be called but few will be chosen(to quote the language of the Bible).
Unlike their American cousins, few outside the UK have made films about the Corps( former Marines as different as Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs in "NCIS", NYPD Detectives Mac Taylor (CSI:NY) and Elliot Stabler in "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" are a staple of US TV dramas or films- my "favourite " is "A Few Good Men" BTW) so I am interested to see how their training and tactical approach differs from the USMC.
A cynic might note that given the recent court martial of a Royal Marine sergeant Alexander Blackman for the murder of a Taliban prisoner(along with the conviction being upheld but his sentence cut by the Court Martial Appeal Court), that the Corps is anxious to get some good publicity but I see no evidence of this; the series was most probably completed before Blackman's trial.
My advice is to watch this series or by it on DVD- you won't be disappointed!
And the hits just keep on coming for Israel( and arguably for Diaspora-esp European_ Jewry as a whole see the front page of today's Guardian- www.guardian.co.uk, August 8, 2014). The Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn(North London) refused a submission from the UK Jewish Film Festival, noting that the UKJFF had accepted financial sponsorship from the Israeli Embassy(in violation of the Theatre's policy of avoiding any submissions that amounted to "propaganda" ie sponsored by a governmental entity- or "hasbara" as the Israelis term it).
Several commentators( such as the inevitable Melanie Phillips and Stephen Pollard) have virulently attacked this decision but I think they did the right thing.
Question for those who argue that the UKJFF is "apolitical"; how would you react to a Russian submission backed by Putin's government?
It is an open secret in Israel that organizers of films or cultural activities must in order to gain governmental subvention must show of "Israel's prettier face", thus making any film submission backed by the Israeli Embassy about as "apolitical" as Radio Moscow or Pravda during the Cold War!
Sometimes you read things online that make you drop your jaws in amazement. Case in point, Respect MP for Bradford, George Galloway who has publicly urged his constituency to become an "Israeli free" zone even to the extent of refusing services to visiting Israeli tourists.
Although I freely admit that I am no more a fan of Israeli PM "Bibi" Netanyahu's recent actions in Gaza than I am of Putin's annexation of Crimea and mischief making in the Ukraine, I would remind Mr Galloway( notorious for saluting Saddam's Hussein's "indefatigability") that refusing public services to people based on their ethnicity or nationality is against the law( see Race Relations Act of 1965 and later ones).
Given that he has not advocated withdrawing or refusing services to say, Russians in order to protest Putin's policies( BTW George what IS your policy on the annexation of the Crimea?) or called for Bradford to become a "Russian free zone"_, it seems that he is adopting a differential attitude to Israel than to say , Russia.
Even when I was most deservedly bitterly critical of the policies of the Bush Administration, I never allowed it to get in the way of my relations(esp friendships) with individual Americans.
My previous blog posts on the(arguably Kremlin instigated) Ukraine conflict may have aroused questions as to my ultimate stance on this issue(although my aversion to Vladimir Putin is a pretty obvious tip off) so I will nail my colours to the mast so to speak on this blog.
I believe that the so-called "rebels" have no more moral authority for their campaign of seditious violence than do ETA, The Baader Meinhof Gang or the Provisional IRA and that the duly constituted Ukrainian government is well within its rights to crush them. I also believe that Ukraine is a sovereign and independent nation and if it wants to join either the EU or for that matter NATO, then that is indeed its prerogative( now Mr Putin may NOT like this, but what of it,?: in international affairs as well as our personal lives we must all learn to live with things we disapprove of - chief amongst them being the policies of one Vladimir Putin!).
An old Spanish proverb runs :"there's no pot so ugly that it can't find itself a lid!"
No regime so barbarous or repugnant that it totally lacks for foreign apologists, such as Putin's "useful idiots" like paleocon Pat Buchanan (US), UKIP leader Nigel Farage or husband and wife Stephen F.Cohen and Katrina van den Heuvel, columnist and editor of the US leftist newspaper The Nation respectively(full disclosure: I subscribe to this periodical online although I totally disagree with Cohen's/Van den Heuvel's stance on this issue).
Paleocons such as Buchanan and Farage may swoon over the overt homophobia of Putin's regime but I for one fail to see how even the most addlepated leftist/liberal could find anything about Putin or his regime to consider worthy of support. Corrupt,authoritarian, virtually theocratic and quite literally reactionary( at least the Soviet Union had some claim to progressive thought in theory) to a sense not seen since that of the Czars- unless you think that "Anglo-American imperialism bad but Russian imperialism good!"(to quote George Orwell in Animal Farm) even if it imperialistic outlook of its own.
I suspect the reason for this surge of support for a regime that were it anything other than Putin's lies in the stupidest attitude of the far left(and extreme right)-namely that any regime opposing the West is de facto "anti-imperialist" and worthy of support due to its"progressive" character. Like a Bourbon sovereign, both extremes of politics seem to have learned nothing and remembered nothing from the Cold War.
It says much that even after a full century after it began, the causes of the first World War are as disputed as say the Cold War. I am reminded of an old newspaper cartoon in which two European kings- one of them Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany and another whose name I don't quite remember. One(which one is unclear and is besides the point anyway) asks "Hey, what caused it"-the war that is"- in the first place?!" "Ach, if only one knew!" was the weary reply.
The war may have been rationally defensible in the sense that Britain had to prevent Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany from dominating the European landmass( much as Napoleon's France, the Netherlands or Philip II's Spain or Russia- Czarist or Soviet- threatened to do) and hence the sea lines(very important considerations from a sea power like Britain) but the sheer human cost of the conflict, the millions not only maimed in body and mind, the economic, moral and political dislocations- which led first to the rise of Bolshevism in Russia,(1917) Fascism in Italy (1922) and ultimately Nazism in Germany, first a second World War, and then four -plus decades of Cold War, make any attempt to "celebrate" the outbreak of World War 1 not only dubious but pretty much ghoulish to my mind.
Just as well the tone of the commemoration is sombre reflection rather than the sort of "bugle in the blood" jingoism(often uttered by politicians and pundits who have never seen military service far less wartime combat) that makes me want to gag!
British based readers may have noted newspaper articles about the rash of anti-Semitic attacks directed against Jews(not just in the UK, but Germany, France and Italy), obviously inspired by the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza.
Whilst I agree that these are morally indefensible(no more so than the murder of a Saudi student a few months back or recurrent anti-Irish backlashes inspired by violence - Provo bombings on the mainland during the "Troubles"), I for one am cynical about the vapourings of the likes of Melanie Phillips on this issue. Israel and its media allies have used the phrase "anti-Semitic" or "self hating Jew" so often that they have almost lost their original meaning( as I once noted, if a given critic is a Gentile, he or she is " anti-Semitic", if Jewish, then "a self-hating Jew"- talk about heads I win and tails you lose!), repeatedly and cynically conflating the State of Israel and Diaspora Jews, so in a certain sense we should not be surprised if some take Israel at its word.
There , he finally said what I knew (or strongly suspected for quite some time)- the United States President admitted that "waterboarding" and other forms of "enhanced interrogation techniques" employed by the "Company"( CIA) or at the very least connived at in cases of "extraodinary rendition" amount to torture; something Americans(media and politicians at least expressly condemned unambigously when practised by the French in Algeria, us Brits during the NI "Troubles" as well as by Saddam's Iraq and Stalin's Soviet Union).
Some may argue that given the known ruthless brutality of the foe( Al Qaeda and its offshoots), they were hardly in a position to protest, but this is absurd.
Societies have put down terrorist insurgencies without recourse to torture and societies have used torture to fight terror and have lost( I refer of course to NI and Algeria under the British and French respectively).
Shortly after the abduction and murder of former Italian PM Aldo Moro, a local police chief was asked to sanction the torture of Red Brigades suspects, his reply?: "Italy can survive the loss of Moro but it will not survive as a civilized society with the introduction of torture!"
The big question is : where do we go from here? Personally I favour the discreet pink slipping of CIA officials who condoned or participated in such base tactics (taking early retirement et al with the promise of a Presidential pardon) and the prosecution in federal court of those Bush Administration officials (including "Dubya" himself) who signed off on such inhumane and fantastically counter productive tactics!
Now that the Kremlin has provoked the most far reaching economic sanctions seen since the Cold War's end due tis mischief making in the Ukraine and its all too evident attempts to cover up the circumstances of the shoot down of MH17, it is worth noting that at the end of the day if it dislikes these sanctions, then it has only itself to blame.
The first part was trying to prevent Yanukovych's fall from power by a justifiably outraged Ukrainian populace incensed by not just his tyrannical rule but his self evident venality(witness the palatial living quarters of the ousted President which were far more than could ever have been accumulated on his official salary).
The second part was playing with the fires of separatism in the Eastern Ukraine
(all right I admit that the East has always been more Russified than the rest of the Ukraine having dwelt under the Czars but cultural autonomy is NOT the same as political separatism) and the seizure of the Crimea-a blatant violation of the principle of not altering borders by force(full disclosure: my ancestral homeland of Guyana has a long standing border dispute with neighboring Venezuela; following Putin's logic what is to stop Caracas from seizure of the disputed part? Ditto for the Falklands Islands- or Las Malvinas as Buenos Aires insists on referring to them much to annoyance of both the islanders and British public opinion). I have long been of the view that those politicians who play with the fires of religious, racial and political extremism for the sake of narrow partisan advantage usually end up getting badly-and deservedly so-burned(pace the Tea Party and the GOP in the 2012 Presidential elections and quite possibly David Cameron and the Eurosceptics( both UKIP and his own backbenchers)).
Thirdly having irresponsibly fanned(tacitly or otherwise) the flames of extremism, it was inevitable that when the "rebels"( whom most regard as regular armed forces personnel of the Russian Federation or at least direct the "rebels") shot down a Malaysian Flight, the Kremlin repeated demonstratably fanciful claims that they had nothing to do with it( claims that thankfully mercifully few out side some isolated left wing websites and online magazines tke seriously never mind an unholy alliance of right wingers such as Pat Buchanan and the likes of Stephen F.Cohen and Katrina van den heuvel( husband and wife and commentator and editor of the US liberal weekly "The Nation"respectively).
The sanctions may not bring Putin's regime crashing down -but much like Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong's definition of being black in the "Jim Crow" Deep South- are "a damned inconvenience"
He is now faced with equally unpalatable choices- either back down and risk being viciously attacked by extreme Russian nationalists furious over the "loss " of "our Ukraine" and press ahead and risk even more painful sanctions.
Since he provoked the whole damn business anyway, forgive me if I am somewhat less than sympathetic!
Who says life never imitates art? I am currently working on a novel where a pair of Russian superheroes are being sued in federal court on civil grounds of wrongful injury.
Today's papers have suggested that relatives of those killed on Malaysian flight MH17 may sue Russian President Vladimir Putin(admittedly NOT a superhero, Russian or otherwise) for alleged support for the separatist "rebels" in the Ukraine who apparently shot down the jet in question in US federal court.
Although I personally would prefer to see Putin(along with crony Yanukovych) in the dock at the Hague based International Criminal Court, the alternative of a civil suit is not all that bad. Firstly unlike a criminal charge whereby the prosecutor/plaintiff must prove his/her case beyond a reasonable doubt, a civil suit relies on a balance of probabilities( ie has a lower burden of proof) and could tie up Putin(or his lawyers) in court for years- and if found guilty, he could have his assets(or those of the RF including his oligarch chums) ,seized, frozen and them distributed to the plaintiffs!