Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Carts, horses, and Libyan liberation

Perhaps it’s a hasty enthusiasm for revolution, but France is the first country to drop recognition of the Gaddafi regime. Paris now recognises the rebellion movement, the National Libyan Council, as the legitimate Libyan government, exiled temporarily to Benghazi as it may be.

It’s a fascinating development – European MEPs have been calling for the EU, as a foreign policy making body in its own greater right, to do the same thing, and recognise the NLC as the new recognised power. Britain and Germany have jointly called on Europe to demand Gaddafi step down, while falling short of outright recognising the NLC at the moment.

Baroness Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs seems to be shrugging off the suggestion that the EU even could, saying obliquely that “she was not mandated to take such a step herself.”

Isn’t she? Here we were, thinking that the role of High Representative was defined in vague latitudes in the Lisbon Treaty because EU superelites wanted to expand Brussels’ sphere of influence on the sly, not retreat from it? Hum.

Anyway, my desire for Ashton and the EU to take themselves more seriously is another debate for another day. Whatever mandate she thinks she does or doesn’t have, she does raise a legitimate question as to whether recognition of the NLC at this stage in the game is wise. Yes, it sends a powerful political message to Gaddafi, and may have a domino effect across Europe and the world which could enable NATO or the UN Security Council to get tougher, faster, and that’s for the good (although NATO committing military hardware to anything new right now seems unlikely). It also, I suppose, opens the door to France (and others) trading directly with the NLC: delivering aid, and delivering, one assumes, arms (how soon would Britain follow suit? Not sure whether it’s comedy or tragedy to see Gaddafi and the rebellion, each of them firing UK-made missiles across a smoky Mediterranean sky).

But, but, but. The NLC was first conceived on 27 February 2011 – less than two weeks ago. Is there enough certainty whether the NLC is in a condition at this moment to deliver good government? Is it composed of the right people? Is it unified by anything coherent beyond opposition? Unless I’m mistaken, they don’t have a “prime minister” or a “secretary of the interior” or an alternate civil service devising national policy in the wings. If they do, it’s very, very early days. Diplomatically, what is it Sarkozy’s recognising?

We can applaud his boldness in not just waiting to meekly follow the global consensus after it’s been crafted (cough * Harper *), but this feisty energy might be best applied to helping the UK-German proposal succeed (however unpopular “Anglo-Saxon” solutions may be). Better, perhaps, to support the NLC’s role as a body facilitating leadership transition – rather than to imagine that they are already rightly governing, or should, having not yet been through an electoral process of any kind.

To enable Libyans to bring about a post-Gaddafi world, there are more practical things we can do:

Britain believes there are four priorities for the Nato meeting. These were agreed by David Cameron and Barack Obama in a telephone conversation on Tuesday. They are: surveillance of Libya as a possible precursor to a no-fly zone; humanitarian assistance; work on a no-fly zone; and a tightening of the arms embargo on Libya aimed at members of Gaddafi’s regime.

It’s the place to start. If it works, we can fly the black, red, and green Libyan independence flag as a meaningful symbol of a new Libya, rather than of one which doesn’t yet exist.

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Filed under: International, Politics, UK, , , , , , , , ,

Meaning it – and loving it

I’m beginning to build a distinct impression of David Cameron – especially when seeing him abroad. It’s a vision of a kind of self-playing bagpipe, one which honks and hums from one note to the next with no apparent effort to achieve coherence, grace or melody. Sorry, bagpipes.

He communicates with a Blairesque (or even “Obaman”) self-confidence, but without the gravity of substance, the thrill of compelling argument, or the ring of sincerity. The end goal seems to be no greater than “conclude an effective schmooze” with whoever is hosting – even if that means infuriating other parties who aren’t physically present.

It seems true of his visit to Turkey this week. I’m including some choice excerpts from his speech to the Turkish Parliament today (sub-headings by me).

Patronising
“Those who wilfully misunderstand Islam, they see no difference between real Islam and the distorted version of the extremists. They think the problem is Islam itself. And they think the values of Islam can just never be compatible with the values of other religions, societies or cultures. All of these arguments are just plain wrong.”

Thanks, David. I’m sure that the Turkish Parliament (which, umm, operates within a secular constitution) appreciates your view that Islam isn’t (just) for monsters. Hopefully in future, we should be so lucky as to have the UK or Canadian Parliaments told by a foreign leader that Christians are not inherently spiritless hypocrites. Because that’s just plain wrong.

Cringeworthy
“A European Union without Turkey at its heart is not stronger but weaker… not more secure but less… not richer but poorer.”

Wow. A triptych of juxtaposed opposites. Could Cameron have continued? “Not more united, but less united. Not happier, but sadder. Not pepperier, but saltier. Wait, are those even opposites? Ooorgh!”

And that’s the point – presenting vague “opposite scenarios” isn’t really an insight – it’s fluff. Of course Turkey joining the EU would strengthen it in some areas, weaken it in others, anger the consolidating Hadrians and delight the expansionist Trajans. Cameron could have explained his idea as to what would be strengthened, why we’d be more prosperous, and how we’d be any more secure. Ambitious, I know.

Angry
“It makes me angry that your progress towards EU membership can be frustrated in the way it has been.”

Does it? Because there are steps that a constructive member of the European Union could take to ensure that it maximises its influence, and they aren’t the steps Britain has taken. We know what Britain generally (and especially the Tories) wants the EU to look like – they pursue the broadest, shallowest version of Europe possible. A Europe that ought to keep spreading out to Ukraine and Turkey (even some liberals would like to include ceremonial semi-states like Kosovo), but the UK generally also idealises a Europe that does nothing, makes no laws, bears no arms, waves no flag. Kind of a big house party where everyone’s invited, and no one has any responsibilities.

But the Conservative British desire for a big, flat useless Europe has manifested itself, unhelpfully, in British retrenchment from Europe. Cameron’s sidelined the UK in the EU Parliament by joining a bloc of nutters and nationalists. He campaigned on an anti-Europe ticket, and upon election, told the faithful he’d soon be wresting powers away from Brussels as soon as he could figure out how to.

None of these policies have given the British any more influence in shaping Europe to their Trajanist vision, and so any “anger” now at Europe not behaving in UK interests is just misplaced. In short, if Britain were at the heart of Europe, maybe Turkey would be closer as well.

“So I will remain your strongest possible advocate for EU membership and greater influence at the top table of European diplomacy.”

Britain isn’t at the “top table,” and are unlikely to return there by stamping on Sarkozy’s or Merkel’s toes like this.

Next stop?

Well, excitingly, Cameron will be delving deeper into Old Asia next, with a visit to India. Let us hope he doesn’t tell them their religion isn’t as godless as some make out, and that they’d make a smashing partner in the European Union too, if only the damned French weren’t so difficult about it.

Filed under: International, Politics, UK, , , , , , , , , , ,

Gaulle de arms

Outside my office today, a cavalcade of coaches has just driven by, complete with police escort, sirens howling, and mildly-contained chaos. It can mean only one thing:

Sarkozy.

The French President is in London to commemorate the 70th anniversary of what is generally considered the beginning of the French Resistance. Immediately following the Nazi takeover of the French levers of power, and the collaborative accord signed by Pétain, General Charles De Gaulle escaped to London from where he would try to lead a French resistance in absentia.

On 18 June 1940, he arrived at BBC headquarters to deliver a rousing speech aimed at compatriots back home, urging them not to give up the fight against their new Nazi occupiers and the Vichy Regime that accommodated them. It was stirring oratory, as it needed to be – especially as he was physically absent from his devotees back home.

Charles De Gaulle has said some, umm, galling things (sorry) in his time. But in times of trouble, Mother Mary didn’t tell him to Let It Be – no – the thrust of his speech was to say “we’ll get by with a little help from our friends.”

An excerpt in English:

“Has the last word been said? Must hope disappear? Is defeat final? No!

“Believe me, I who am speaking to you with full knowledge of the facts, and who tell you that nothing is lost for France. The same means that overcame us can bring us victory one day. For France is not alone! She is not alone! She is not alone! She has a vast Empire behind her. She can align with the British Empire that holds the sea and continues the fight. She can, like England, use without limit the immense industry of the United States.”

It is impassioned stuff, though there will always be some irony in invoking the “use” of the Allies’ great Empires in the war, as if there weren’t a hint of any moral quandary about the establishment of those empires themselves, nor any resistance within Allies’ colonies in aim of their own national liberations. And of course, De Gaulle’s taking for granted the Americans’ seemingly infinite industrial resources did come at its own price: eternal reminders of the fact.

Whatever the importance of the occasion 70 years ago, it’s not certain how widely the radio broadcast was picked up back home in l’hexagone. At least, though, it did signal that we’d entered a brief period of two Frances: the official France under the Vichy, and the resistant France in its form as a scattered underground.

P.S. EU Commission head José Manuel Barroso said a couple of days ago, possibly referencing the anniversary of the De Gaulle speech as much as he was referencing big decisions around the Greek bailout, that Europe comes together best during moments of crisis. Tell it to the ash cloud! But if a new cooperative spirit can be ressurrected in remembering Europe at its worst, well, that might be nice.

Filed under: International, Politics, , , , , , , , ,

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