The drowned body of little Aylan Kurdi is on front pages all over the world. His surname and the name of his home town, Kobani, tell the story of why his family were so desperate to leave their homeland.
What can be done to stop this happening, as the Middle East burns? What should be done? In the long term – God only knows.
But we don’t have to know. In the short term there is something we can do which has a proven record of saving lives in a similar situation.
Could Australia’s ‘stop the boats’ policy solve Europe’s migrant crisis?
When the bodies of asylum seekers en route to Australia washed up on the shores of Christmas Island in 2010 everyone was in agreement that something needed to be done.
Five years later Australia has implemented one of the harshest border policies in the world. It is characterised by three core points: turning or towing back boats of asylum seekers at sea; forcing asylum seekers to live in detention centres across the Pacific in Nauru and Papua New Guinea; and guaranteeing they will never be resettled in Australia.
Dozens of would-be migrants are reported to have drowned between Libya and Sicily, the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean this spring. The increasing numbers making the perilous journey on overloaded boats has brought the issue of migration into Europe to a head. But what can be done about it?
Prime minister Tony Abbott is now making a clarion call to Europe, where crisis meetings have taken place following the deaths of over 800 migrants in the Mediterranean this week. The only way to stop deaths at sea, he told reporters this week, “is in fact, to stop the boats”.
They were stopped.
Building a camp – a decent camp – and putting all those attempting illegal entry in it does not satisfy either side of the immigration debate. But at least it could be tolerated by both sides and might stop the bodies floating in on every tide. To use an unhappy metaphor, it would keep the floodgates closed by showing that taking ship with a people smuggler is not a successful strategy to get to the West. To work this policy would require both sides to acknowledge very clearly that doing this for now implies absolutely nothing about what the permanent policy on refugees and/or migrants should be.
Nice Mr. Obama has told the Frogs the NSA is no longer spying on them at the highest level. And of course that’s that, because there is no way a US President would lie about that, right? Indeed if the NSA kept spying on France, they would of course tell nice Mr. Obama, right?
Any country that does not spend a chunk of change specifically targeted at protecting their communications from the USA is simply not serious about defending themselves, and that includes ‘allies’.
Chinese government cyber division accused of hacking Google is a very self explanatory headline and I hope this vulnerability will be addressed swiftly.
But of course the NSA would never do that. They do not need to when they have FISA courts to rubber stamp any fishing expeditions they wish to carry out. No need to break in when you have a spare set of keys under the doormat any time you want to look around.
[LATER: Error. They aren’t having a good time IN Kobani, merely ABOUT Kobani. As commenter “Nicholas”, to whom thanks, points out, and as it clearly states just underneath the bigger version of the photo if you follow the second link below, this demo actually took place in Diyarbakir, which is in southeastern Turkey. As Nicholas pointed out, that explains why the buildings in the picture are not ruined. Apologies for my carelessness. But the important thing I got right. They are cute young women.]
It must be ages since we’ve had a posting here featuring a picture of cute young women having a good time. I miss those times. So here is a picture of some cute young women having a good time:
They are Kurdish young women celebrating the liberation of Kobani from ISIS. Thank you Mick Hartley for spotting it, in amongst all these shots, most of which are much more depressing.
If the Kurds get a state out of the current chaos in Syria/Iraq, at least there’ll be something positive to come out of the whole catastrophe.
Indeed. If you ever had any doubts about which side you are on out there, that photo should lay your doubts to rest. I’m not saying it will, mind you. I’m just saying that it should.
The media reports are all full of caveats about how this is not even the beginning of the end, blah blah, and maybe it isn’t. But I agree with all those who say that ISIS is all about momentum, and that if ISIS is now losing momentum, that’s very good.
Via a mailing from Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, I was directed to this interesting development:
Vladimir Putin’s Russia Adopts Concealed Carry
Russia, which according to official figures has the fifth highest murder rate in the world, has relaxed its gun ownership laws.
Yep. The land of Vladimir Putin, run by an oligarchical collection of cronies and criminals, is about to relax their gun laws… And not by just a little. After the reforms, they’ll make some US jurisdictions look positively Soviet. While places like New York and Washington DC continue to make it (almost) impossible to get a permit for carrying a handgun, Putin’s Russia is about to make it easier.
Previously, Russians were only permitted to own firearms (subject to approval) for hunting or sporting. But under the new law they will soon be allowed to carry guns, open or concealed, for the purposes of self-defense. (Yeah… A background check and training will be a prerequisite.)
And let’s face it, having a gun for self-defense is probably not the worst idea in Russia. While America saw its share of homicides in 2011 (roughly 13,600), Putin’s homeland saw far more… Despite having a population that is almost half of the US, Russia recorded over 21,000 homicides in the same year. (Wow… So much for believing that gun control works, right Chicago?) The new laws aim to curb that trend, and add to Russia’s homeland defense against outside threats.
The report above is by Michael Schaus and links in turn to this report by Tom Porter in the International Business Times.
… and I think it goes without saying that in international affairs, there are no ‘good guys’, there are just ‘bad guys’ and ‘less-bad-guys’. So I was asked today why is Turkey, with its army literally lined up along the border, just sitting there and (also quite literally) watching the Syrian town of Kobani be squeezed to death by the Islamic State? That was when the axiom of there being no ‘good guys’ came to mind.
I think it is worth looking at what is motivating the Turkish government. I see it thus:
Firstly, Turkey was an early enabler of what came to be the Islamic State by virtue of it assisting pretty much anyone who (1) was willing to shoot at the Ba’athist Assad regime (2) was not Kurdish. And whilst President Tayyip Erdogan is not a salafist, he is not just Islamic, he is an Islamist, and has been significantly muted in his remarks about the Islamic State. Conclude from that what you will.
Secondly, the Kurdish YPG in Rojava (Northern Syria, the largely Kurdish bit) has close links with the Marxist PKK (the Kurdish group who has fought against Turkey intermittently for decades and who have proved simply impossible for the Turks to completely crush). This means that from the perspective of a politically Islamic Turkish President like Tayyip Erdogan, who by all accounts has a personality and inclinations probably best described as ‘Putinesque’, he probably sees this as simply one mildly simpatico but unduly exuberant Islamic group who may well be a problem in the future, wiping out a largely secular and hostile-to-the-Turks Kurdish group who are a problem right now. Plus once Kobani falls, the Islamic State can then concentrate on getting rid of Assad, which is really what Tayyip Erdogan’s government in Turkey wants.
So expecting Turkey to sweep in and save Kobani is unrealistic. I expect this is the calculation: if the YPG triumphs and creates a Kurdish controlled Rojava (the Kurdish north of Syria bordering on Turkey), it will encourage Kurdish nationalism in Turkey. Even worse, as Southern Kurdistan (Kurdish Northern Iraq, capital of Erbil) now has an excellent chance of becoming an independent nation (it is already largely autonomous), it is possible Rojava might unify with South Kurdistan, which would really stoke the fires of Kurdish nationalism. And as Turkey does not want a major resurgence of Kurdish insurgency in Turkey (there is currently an agreement with the Kurds there), they are happy to see the Islamic State crush the Syrian Kurdish YPG.
That said, when I ran this past my Kurdish chums who live near Kirkuk, they mostly agreed but noted that as the YPG are Marxist and the PKK are Marxist, they are natural allies (addendum: upon them reading this article, my Kurdish friends said I should have written “hand in glove” as they would be more accurate than mere ‘allies’)… however South Kurdistan is a multi-party democracy (the ruling coalition is the politically secular centrist KDP and leftist PUK, and the main opposition is the aggressively secular centre-right Gorran Movement). However the Kurdish Syrian YPG imposed its control over Rojava against other Syrian Kurdish political groups at gunpoint. I asked my friends “Why do many see the YPG as terrorists?” to which they replied “Because they kind of are”. The general view they shared was that whilst the YPG are admired for their spirited defence of Rojava against the Islamists, and for their cross border rescue of the Yezidi Kurds in Iraq near Mt. Sinjar, in the event the region was ever unified with South Kurdistan, they would probably be a ‘problem’. The way it was described to me was, and I quote: “a Marxist party winning overall power in an election in Erbil is about as likely as a politically Mormon party winning”… a notion which did make me laugh I must confess. But Marxists tend to not just shrug and say “oh well” when that happens.
And thus whilst there is horror in South Kurdistan at the notion of Kobani falling to the Islamic State, there are some in Erbil who actually prefer to play footsie with Turkey and although they wish the people of Kobani well, they will not be heartbroken to see the YPG taken down a peg. And if anyone doubts that the Kurds in Erbil have a deal with the Turkish government, ask yourself this: much to the anguish of the rump Iraqi government in Baghdad, Erbil has been selling its oil independently. Take a look at the map and then figure out who is enabling that to happen.
So if the Turks do rescue Kobani at the last moment, it will only be because they have milked the political advantage sufficiently to have extracted some very sweet deals behind the scenes. My guess is that they will just let the YPG be crushed. But we will know soon enough it seems.
So how was that for some labyrinthine speculation?
So argues David Codrea, writing at the website of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership:
President Goodluck Jonathan’s government embraces “gun control,” both as a signatory to the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, and also as a matter of national policy.
“In Nigeria, the right to private gun ownership is not guaranteed by law,” the GunPolicy.org entry for Nigeria documents. For those not familiar with that resource, it’s a project of the Sydney School of Public Health, and while of decidedly anti-gun bent, nonetheless provides instructive and useful compilations of gun laws from around the globe.
“[C]ivilians are not allowed to possess machine-guns, military rifles and handguns … private possession of semi-automatic assault weapons [and] private possession of handguns (pistols and revolvers) is prohibited,” the site advises. Add to that licensing, background checks and registration for what they are allowed to own, a prohibition on concealed carry and stiff criminal penalties for gun law violations, and Nigeria is one of those places where the “law-abiding” are at extreme disadvantage.
Boko Haram, which doesn’t let such details slow them down a beat, finds such conditions enabling.
Not all are satisfied with the status quo.
“[T]he youth vigilante volunteer group, popularly called the Civilian JTF, has called on the Federal Government to allow its members carry arms and ammunition in order to do its work well in Borno State,” The Nigerian Voice is reporting.
“We used sticks and knives and worked closely with soldiers and fought the Boko Haram members out of Maiduguri,” a spokesman for the group related. “They are now killing civilians in the villages.”
For a sceptical view of the likely efficacy of arming civilian vigilantes to fight Boko Haram, please read Tim Newman‘s comments to my previous post about Boko Haram. He can very reasonably back up his pessimism by saying that he has lived and worked in that part of the world, as I have not. Nonetheless it had not been quite clear to me until just now that arming the people has not yet been tried. Disarming them has. It has not prevented an extremely violent insurgency.
I would so like to believe this video is a sick joke. The grinning idiot, swaying and bobbing around, scratching his bum, fiddling with his little red cock’s-comb topknot or bobble hat or whatever that is, rubbing his thigh while talking about the market for slaves… surely he cannot be real, cannot be serious?
Yet those who ought to know think it really is Abubakar Shekau speaking. And if it is, that is further confirmation that the abducted children have already been raped and enslaved.
Faced with Abubakar Shekau’s statement that he will sell for sexual use girls as young as nine, many of those who are usually firmly of the opinion that interference in foreign quarrels is always an evil rediscover a use for Hellfire missiles.
What should be done? Anything?
Qatari money fuels record price at ivory auction, reports Adam Sage of the Times.
An auction of elephant tusks in France has fetched a world-record price and illustrated the enduring lure of ivory for collectors.
Quite why the Qatari riyal in particular has the power to drive up prices Mr Sage does not say. One of the big bidders was a Qatari. That is the only justification for the headline. Strangely enough Mr Sage was also the author of another Times piece from a month ago that might give a slightly more plausible explanation for record prices at an ivory auction in France:
Ivory worth £6m is ground to dust next to Eiffel Tower
Three tons of impounded ivory were crushed next to the Eiffel Tower yesterday in an operation designed to highlight French opposition to the illegal wildlife trade.
However Mr Sage did not appear to perceive any possible connection between the two stories.
In the event that Scotland disregards my feelings and votes for independence, what currency would you recommend it use?
Opinions on this matter do not split neatly between Left and Right. Here are two of today’s articles on the subject; one from the Adam Smith Institute and one from the Guardian. A few days ago the pro-independence, pro-market campaign group “Wealthy Nation” republished this article from the Institute of Economic Affairs, recommending that Sterling be kept for the time being. It looks a serious piece, but it was written before the recent interventions by George Osborne and Manuel Barroso.
Commenters wishing to use words like “seignorage” are requested to give me warning first so that I can hide behind the sofa.
A while back, I did a piece here about US government space policy. I tried to answer the question of why President Obama was doing it so bizarrely well, given that he seemed to be doing lots of other stuff so bizarrely badly. My answer was basically that he is doing everything well, as he understands it. He believes the US government has been chucking its weight around in the world far too much of late, and that this aspect of its activities should be weakened. And he believes that the US government hasn’t chucked its weight around enough, domestically. That aspect of US government policy should be strengthened. All this has been and is being busily accomplished, indeed accomplished with considerable political virtuosity, with Big Government and the political party that favours Big Government working ever more closely in harmony with one another.
Norman Podhoretz seems to agree, certainly on the foreign policy bit:
It is entirely understandable that Barack Obama’s way of dealing with Syria in recent weeks should have elicited responses ranging from puzzlement to disgust. Even members of his own party are despairingly echoing in private the public denunciations of him as “incompetent,” “bungling,” “feckless,” “amateurish” and “in over his head” coming from his political opponents on the right.
For how else to characterize a president who declares war against what he calls a great evil demanding immediate extirpation and in the next breath announces that he will postpone taking action for at least 10 days – and then goes off to play golf before embarking on a trip to another part of the world? As if this were not enough, he also assures the perpetrator of that great evil that the military action he will eventually take will last a very short time and will do hardly any damage. Unless, that is, he fails to get the unnecessary permission he has sought from Congress, in which case (according to an indiscreet member of his own staff) he might not take any military action after all.
Summing up the net effect of all this, as astute a foreign observer as Conrad Black can flatly say that, “Not since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, and before that the fall of France in 1940, has there been so swift an erosion of the world influence of a Great Power as we are witnessing with the United States.”
Yet if this is indeed the pass to which Mr. Obama has led us – and I think it is – let me suggest that it signifies not how incompetent and amateurish the president is, but how skillful. His foreign policy, far from a dismal failure, is a brilliant success as measured by what he intended all along to accomplish.
I am seldom convinced by explanations of why the President of the USA has just done something that the explainer considers stupid, when the explanation is that the President of the USA is himself stupid. I didn’t believe this kind of thing when it was said about Reagan or Bush jnr by their political opponents, and I don’t believe it now when it is said about Obama, by his political opponents. Those who argue that this or that bad thing happened because the President is an idiot call this argument things like: “Occam’s Razor”. But I think they confuse brevity and simplicity, and what they want to believe, with truth.
If the President is so stupid, how come he’s President? He got that bit right, didn’t he? And President Obama is a member of an even more exclusive club, one that also includes Reagan and Bush jnr. He is a President of the USA who got himself re-elected. The dumber and more disastrous you think his first term policies were, then the smarter you must concede he had to be to win re-election.
I think the argument that Obama knows just what he’s doing and is doing just fine, by his reckoning, makes far more sense.