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Monday, September 07, 2015 

Welcome to the Farmer Palmer era of international relations.

One of my better/worst traits (delete according to taste) is I'm naturally suspicious of mass movements, or seeming mass movements, regardless of agenda or politics.  Is it still going to be active in a year's time for instance, will it have burned brightly and then disappear as soon as it emerged, or will it, like the Stop the War coalition, still exist for reasons known only to the handful of individuals that serve on its executive committee?  Is it ever worth jumping on a bandwagon when so many end up crashing minutes later?  Why is it so often the same people, both at the heart of these movements and those in the vanguard of shouting about it, only for them to lose interest so quickly?

It would be easy to look at the groundswell of action for refugees since those pictures were published on Wednesday and be cynical.  There is little in the way of evidence to suggest that anyone opposed to immigration outright or merely suspicious of asylum seekers will have had their minds changed by the pictures of Aylan Kurdi, whether lying dead in the surf or in the arms of the Turkish policeman as he carried the child's body away.  Indeed, I've heard more than a couple of people complain in the same way as they always do about immigrants, almost always with the refrain about how every refugee we admit deprives one of "our people" of a house or a job.  They couldn't of course give a stuff about those deemed "our people" unless they're family members or friends, let alone do anything that might help, nor does it seem to occur that we should be able to accommodate the needs of both "our people" and those in need of sanctuary.   That our leaders lack the political will to do so is a personal failing, but they operate partly on the basis that a large number of people in this country go through life in their own bubbles, insulated from and ignorant of anything that might penetrate their own little safe haven.  Those same people demanding the army be sent to Calais and that dogs be set on those trying desperately to make their way here are just as opposed today to anyone being allowed in as they were then, if not more so.

No, what's happened over the last few days has been that other minority, also noisy but much rarer listened to setting the agenda.  When so much of political discourse of late has been about who can be the nastiest to the lowest, who can best project their own personal vision of the sensible and prudent to an already pampered and spoilt demographic, it's difficult not to be heartened by both the anger at the government's refusal to help with the refugee crisis and the action which that anger has galvanised.  That some of this has been led by newspapers that previously ran front page after front page fulminating against refugees, or comment pieces that dehumanised those on rickety boats to the same level as insects is less evidence of a reverse ferret than just utter hypocrisy.

Far more aggravating though is just how quickly this transitory mood of selflessness has been used to further settle old scores and also reignited the belief that the only way to solve a situation where both sides use tactics that would be considered dirty is to put yet more high explosives into the mix.  George Osborne, fresh from a couple of days back defending Cameron's not one refugee policy to the hilt, was on Andrew Marr, accepting that thousands would now be admitted, but also made clear that the vote in Commons not to intervene in Syria was "one of the worst decisions" parliament had ever made.  Matthew d'Anconservative in the Graun all but blames Ed Miliband for the last two years of the conflict in the country, the Labour leader's "gamesmanship" preventing our noble British bombs from knocking sense into Bashar al-Assad.  Both the Sun and Boris Johnson have pursued similar arguments, with the former also declaring all four Labour leadership candidates to be cowards on the basis they don't think our joining an already failing US mission in the country to be the best of ideas.  When the Sun runs a spread with the headline BLITZ EM TO HELL, where it isn't clear whether it's those fleeing or Islamic State fighters that are to be "blitzed", apparently not seeing the slightest irony or problem with its favoured response, you know the current mood is not going to last long.

David Cameron has nonetheless been forced into making the government look like it's doing something, despite first having sent out Andrew Mitchell to repeat ad nauseum that in fact we've doing more than our fair share by funding the refugee camps in the neighbouring states.  These are the same camps that many have left precisely because conditions have deteriorated to the point where they prefer to take their chances with the traffickers.  That might not be in any way the UK government's fault, but when the scale of the problem is increasing so too must the nature of the response.  The figure of 20,000, much higher than the bandied about 4,000 we heard at the tail end of the last week, turns out to be the number of Syrian refugees to be admitted over the course of the next five years, and so doesn't even match Yvette Cooper's opening offer of 10,000 to be admitted this year.  The 20,000 are also to be plucked entirely from said camps, rather than any from the proposed EU quota system.  Cameron likened the decision to favour orphans and children especially as making the mission the equivalent of a latter day Kindertransport, only for it be made clear in the Lords that all such children are liable to be deported once they reach 18, the kind of self-defeating stupidity that only the last few governments could possibly have come up with.  The 20,000 figure also depends on the already operating scheme that has admitted a mere 216 Syrian refugees so far being rapidly expanded and working as planned, both things to believe only once documented.

The prime minister was at least not so crass as to make any bitter reference to the Syria vote in 2013.  Considering he did have the honour of announcing that the British state is now in the business of killing its own citizens so long as they are deemed to be plotting in a foreign clime whose government either can't or won't intervene this wasn't much comfort.  Extrajudicial assassinations are apparently entirely fine and dandy legally, whereas the Russians poisoning a defected spy now working for MI6 and in the business of propagating conspiracy theories is of course a complete outrage and the sort of action that marks out Russia as a rogue state.  To be clear, I am not for a moment comparing Alexander Litvinenko and Reyaad Khan, not least because Khan barely had two brain cells to rub together.  A terrorist mastermind like all those previous terrorist masterminds, the 21-year-old had to be killed in an entirely justified act of self-defence, lest he be involved in telling another newspaper journalist to bomb a public event.

Yep, apparently Khan was in the background when Juanid Hussain, also since killed by a drone strike, was telling the Sun to bomb the Armed Forces Day parade, an attack that was never going to happen and never could have happened.  He's also being linked to another "foiled" attack, this time aimed at the Queen on VJ Day, and which again was leaked to the press beforehand.  Still, Khan probably was in contact with other people who may not have been spooks or hacks, and who could have gone along with his mate Hussain's advice to spray the shrapnel inside their bombs with rat poison.  Clearly he was a threat, and in this day and age when politicians promise a "full spectrum response" to terrorist attacks only to then do sweet FA, killing a terrorist regardless of their nationality is not an opportunity to be missed.  That another IS fighter from the UK was also killed was merely unfortunate.  No one's going to miss such people or shed any tears over them, not least when they're involved in the latest most evil grouping since the Nazis, so frankly who cares about little things like the law or the precedent such an action sets?

For just as the attack on Syria which parliament refused to authorise was entirely legal because the attorney general said it was, so too was this.  It might be stretching both international and national law to breaking point to suggest the threat posed by Khan was so serious as to invoke the right to self-defence and to act pre-emptively, especially when generally an "armed attack" would need to involve a state rather than non-state actors, but the bar has already been breached.  Cameron went on to say that he would act in the same way in Libya also, so it would seem that we have joined America in all but declaring that we'll kill anyone in a country whose government is unlikely to co-operate, as long as we declare they were a threat after the fact.  We have therefore entered what ought to be known as the Farmer Palmer era of international relations.

Drone strikes on people like Khan are little more than a substitute for Cameron not being able to fully get his war on.  When Paddy Ashdown writes a sane article, pointing out that chucking around a few more bombs is not going to solve anything when he's usually first in line to call for intervention, there ought at least to be a flicker of recognition that something both smarter and more substantial is needed than further military action.  When however the prime minister opened his statement by once again dividing the "economic migrants" from the refugees, the precise distinction that has meant up until very recently we ignored what was happening on the continent, it's hard to believe thinking in Whitehall has significantly changed.  All the more reason why this particular moment's movement has to be kept going, regardless of doubts about fellow travellers.

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