In the shock of Brexit, a new EU-friendly Britain is born

Natalie Nougayrède writes: if there is one bright side to an otherwise very dismal situation: it is that a sense of pro-European purpose and energy may now be appearing in a country where the EU had only ever been described in prosaic, if not hostile, terms. Britain is now discovering what it really meant to be part of a collective European endeavour.

Whatever lies ahead, its young people won’t forget this moment, and they will one day work towards correcting the failures of their elders. “Brexit not in my name” is trending on Twitter.

A new popular mood may be born, one in which the EU becomes a cause for engagement, for values and solidarity – not a scapegoat or a caricatured technocratic entity. If something good can be drawn from this referendum wreckage, it may be the beginning of a permanent, positive culture about Europe in Britain. That’s something that has never existed before. If only it had happened earlier. [Continue reading…]

 

Facebooktwittermail

Helmut Kohl calls on EU leaders to take ‘one step back’ after Brexit vote

The Guardian reports: The former German chancellor Helmut Kohl has warned European leaders against applying too much pressure on Britain following the vote to leave the European Union.

In an account of an interview for the tabloid newspaper Bild by its editor-in-chief, Kai Diekmann, Kohl, 86, is indirectly quoted as warning against “unnecessary severity and haste” in the post-referendum negotiations.

The man who was one of the driving forces behind European integration in the 1990s believes that slamming the door on Britain would be an “enormous mistake” and that the country needs time to decide what it wants to do next, Diekmann writes.

Kohl, who oversaw the reunification of Germany and the introduction of the euro, is calling for Europe to “take a breather” and take “one step back before taking two steps forward”, at a pace that is manageable for all member states, the article says. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Obama proposes new military partnership with Russia in Syria

Josh Rogin writes: The Obama administration has proposed a new agreement on Syria to the Russian government that would deepen military cooperation between the two countries against some terrorists in exchange for Russia getting the Assad regime to stop bombing U.S.-supported rebels.

The United States transmitted the text of the proposed agreement to the Russian government on Monday after weeks of negotiations and internal Obama administration deliberations, an administration official told me. The crux of the deal is a U.S. promise to join forces with the Russian air force to share targeting and coordinate an expanded bombing campaign against Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, which is primarily fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Under the proposal, which was personally approved by President Obama and heavily supported by Secretary of State John F. Kerry, the American and Russian militaries would cooperate at an unprecedented level, something the Russians have sought for a long time.

In exchange, the Russians would agree to pressure the Assad regime to stop bombing certain Syrian rebel groups the United States does not consider terrorists. The United States would not give Russia the exact locations of these groups, under the proposal, but would specify geographic zones that would be safe from the Assad regime’s aerial assaults.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter was opposed to this plan, officials said, but was ultimately compelled to go along with the president’s decision. For many inside and outside the administration who are frustrated with the White House’s decision-making on Syria, the new plan is fatally flawed for several reasons. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Russia will countenance an Assad exit in Syria, but not yet

Reuters reports: Russia will countenance Syrian President Bashar al-Assad leaving office, but only when it is confident a change of leader will not trigger a collapse of the Syrian government, sources familiar with the Kremlin’s thinking say.

Getting to that point could take years, and in the meantime Russia is prepared to keep backing Assad, regardless of international pressure to jettison him, those sources said.

Such steadfast support is likely to further complicate already stalled peace talks with Assad’s opponents and sour relations with Washington which wants the Syrian leader gone.

“Russia is not going to part company with Assad until two things happen,” Sir Tony Brenton, Britain’s former ambassador to Russia, told Reuters.

“Firstly, until they are confident he won’t be replaced with some sort of Islamist takeover, and secondly until it can be guaranteed that their own position in Syria, their alliance and their military base, are sustainable going forward.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

‘Iranians use Afghans as human shields’ in Syria

The Guardian reports: Iran is covertly recruiting hundreds of Afghan Shias in Afghanistan to fight for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, drawing them out of their own conflict-ridden country and into another war in which Afghanistan plays no official part.

The Afghan fighters are often impoverished, religiously devout or ostracised from society, looking for money, social acceptance and a sense of purpose that they are unable to find at home.

Iran’s recruitment of Afghan migrants and refugees within its own borders has been documented. But similar Iranian activities inside Afghanistan had previously gone unreported.

Iran denies using “any kind of allurement or coercion”, or to otherwise recruiting Afghans to fight in Syria, according to an embassy spokesman in Kabul. But a Guardian investigation can reveal both how Iran coaxes Afghan men into war, and the motives that prompt these men to travel thousands of miles to join a battle they might not return from.

Central in this recruitment are men such as Jawad. A police officer by day and self-declared “travel agent” when off-duty, Jawad said he acted for a year as middleman for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) when in 2014 it formed an Afghan Shia militia, the Fatemiyoun Division, to fight alongside Syrian government forces.

From his “travel agency” on the second floor of a non-descript office building, Jawad connected combat willing men with Iran’s embassy in Kabul. The embassy assisted with visas and travel, and paid Jawad a commission for his troubles.

In return for fighting, Afghans are offered a residence permit in Iran and about $500 monthly salary. “Most go to Syria for the money,” said Jawad, wearing stonewashed jeans and replica Ray-Bans. “Others go to defend the shrine.”

Syria is home to several holy Shia sites, above all the Sayyidah Zaynab mosque in Damascus, which honours the Prophet Muhammad’s granddaughter, and which has been a rallying point for Shias who want to defend it from Sunni militants such as Islamic State.

The first time the Guardian met Jawad, he was preparing to travel to Syria himself. Isis had abducted 12 Afghan fighters in a suburb of Damascus. It was Jawad who had recruited them, and their families now demanded that he help secure their release, he said.

When he returned from Syria a month later, he was clearly shaken. Showing photos from Damascus, he said he had negotiated the hostages’ freedom, but also seen first hand how “the Iranians use Afghans as human shields”. He said he would stop working as go-between for the Iranians. “I’m ashamed because I sent these people,” he said. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Fallujah’s importance to ISIS helped Iraqi forces retake it

The Wall Street Journal reports: For Islamic State, this city was unlike any other: the birthplace of its movement and the first urban center it seized in a blitz that began the occupation of a third of Iraq.

But it took Iraqi forces less than five weeks to defeat the extremist group here, much faster than Iraqi and American officials had expected. One reason, these officials and Iraqi commanders say, was how invested Islamic State militants were in Fallujah, which made them loath to blow it up.

“Fallujah was a command-and-control center,” said a senior Iraqi counterterrorism officer. “They were comfortable there. Their leadership lived there and so did their families. They could not destroy the city in the process of defending it.”

Commanders said the militants had bet on repelling Iraqi forces on the outskirts of Fallujah, but struggled to adapt to the overwhelming force. The center of the city was still inhabited—one reason it wasn’t booby-trapped, as Islamic State had done in other, largely deserted urban areas they lost.

Iraqi officials said the Fallujah campaign exposed weaknesses that raised hopes for retaking the much-larger city of Mosul, Islamic State’s last significant base in Iraq. Both have become administrative centers for the group, heavily populated with its own fighters and civilians. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

What comes after the Istanbul airport attack?

Mustafa Akyol writes: On Tuesday night, just as millions of Muslims here were breaking their Ramadan fasts, three terrorists attacked the city’s busy airport. They fired randomly at passengers with automatic weapons before blowing themselves up. They killed 41 innocent people, most of them Muslims, supposedly in the name of Islam.

The assault on the airport is the latest in a series of horrible traumas in Turkey. In the past year, the country has endured almost a dozen major terrorist attacks. Some were the work of the Islamic State, which kills in the name of God; others were the work of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which kills in the name of the people.

This country was much more peaceful a year ago. It was only last summer that a two-year-old peace process between the government and the P.K.K. fell apart. Meanwhile, the Islamic State, which initially benefited from Turkey’s lax control of the Syrian border, began to carry its violence inside Turkey. Islamic State suicide bombers first aimed at secular Kurds, then Western tourists and finally random people at the airport.

Since last summer, the Islamic State has been condemning Ankara as the capital of an “apostate regime” that allies itself with “Crusaders.” The group’s Turkish-language magazine proclaimed: “O Istanbul, you have allowed disbelief in your avenues. You have filled your streets with sins, but surely you will be conquered.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Brexit crisis contributing to ‘daunting’ U.S. security challenges, CIA director says

The Guardian reports: The US is facing its most daunting national security challenge in a generation after the European Union was plunged into “crisis” by Britain’s vote to leave, the head of the CIA warned on Wednesday.

John Brennan insisted that Brexit would not undermine cooperation with MI6 in the fight against terrorism, but suggested that the EU, a bulwark of peace and stability since the fall of the Berlin wall, would now be preoccupied with the UK’s departure.

“In the 36 years since I first entered government, I have never been witnessing a time with such a daunting array of challenges to our nation’s security,” Brennan told the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “Notable among those challenges is that some of the institutions and relationships that have been pillars of the post-cold war international system are under serious stress.

“Of all the crises the EU has faced in recent years, the UK vote to leave the EU may well be its greatest challenge. Brexit is pushing the EU into a period of introspection that will pervade virtually everything the EU does in the coming weeks, months and even years ahead,” he said. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Brexit pushes U.S. closer to Germany

Benjamin Oreskes writes: When it became clear that Britain had voted to leave the European Union, President Barack Obama called David Cameron to offer his sympathy. Then he dialed Angela Merkel, the leader he actually leans on in times of crisis.

It’s no secret why. For years now, Germany, not the U.K., has been Obama’s main line into European politics. And that’s why Washington’s influence in Europe will survive a Brexit.

The longstanding “special relationship” between the U.S. and Britain gave Washington a key confidant at the table in Brussels, as Obama stressed in his April referendum intervention in London. But a Europe without a United Kingdom doesn’t exactly leave Britain’s former colony out in the cold.

“On the big issues, we’ve seen the transition for years now where the first call has not been to London, where it used to be, but to Berlin,” said Damon Wilson, a former senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council under George W. Bush and who is currently executive vice president of the Atlantic Council. “That transition has already happened and the great recession really accelerated that with the magnification of German economic and political power.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Elizabeth Warren is Hillary Clinton’s most rational choice for VP

Brian Beutler writes: Nearly all reports from the Hillary Clinton brain trust suggest Senator Tim Kaine is the runaway favorite to be the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee in 2016.

There are soft spots in this consensus. For instance, the Clinton campaign is apparently not 100 percent convinced that Donald Trump will walk away from next month’s convention in Cleveland as the Republican nominee. Clinton’s allies think there’s a small but real chance she’ll be running against a candidate who isn’t fatally flawed himself (or mortally wounded for having deposed Trump). If that did happen, a more electric candidate might rocket to the top of her short list.

But Kaine-as-default-choice is what Clinton-world sources are telling reporters, and what they say matches conventional wisdom, which for several weeks has held that Clinton will pick him. The Virginia senator is ideologically closer to Clinton than Elizabeth Warren. He’s also temperamentally closer to Clinton than Warren, and his choice would be reflective of Clinton’s famous aversion to political risk. Kaine isn’t a progressive firebrand, so he won’t overshadow Clinton — and by the same token, he doesn’t come fully loaded with the powerful enemies Warren has earned. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Music: National Health — ‘Binoculars’

 

Facebooktwittermail

Leading Brexiter fears outcome in which ‘we will be worse off than when we were in the EU’

The Guardian reports: The British public have voted to leave the EU in an advisory referendum – but there have been voices in business, diplomacy, politics and European polities desperately asking if the issue can be revisited. Is that feasible?

The short answer is yes, just about, but many forces would have to align.

The referendum, for instance, has thrown up big constitutional questions for Britain.

Oliver Letwin, who was appointed by David Cameron, the outgoing prime minister, to oversee the process of withdrawal, is now at the helm of an expanded European secretariat at the Cabinet Office. But it is clear that very little preparatory work has been done. One of the first questions he will face is the future role of the British parliament in Brexit.

The British government has not yet said how parliament should implement the decision to leave. It is not clear, for instance, if and what laws would have to be passed to put the referendum decision to leave the EU into effect. [Continue reading…]

Echoing this discussion, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says there are a number of ways Thursday’s vote could be “walked back.”

But in the eyes of many — on both sides of the issue — the fact that this conversation is even taking place is widely viewed as an expression of contempt for democracy. It is seen as a cynical effort to accomplish by questionable means what couldn’t be achieved through a free and fair vote. The argument for rejecting these kinds of political machinations is that the will of the people must be respected.

Setting aside the question of whether there is such a thing as the will of the British people — sacrosanct as that notion is — if we simply accept the fact that the Leave campaign won (a result that no one disputes), then respecting the will of the people in that sense would surely have to mean delivering the outcome Leave voters supported. That is to say: respecting the popular expectations built around the meaning of withdrawal — a return of sovereignty, control over immigration, and so forth.

If leaving the EU leaves the UK in a position where it retains full access to the single European market — the so-called Norway option — on condition of maintaining the “four freedoms” (the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people) then in the words of Richard North, a leading proponent of Brexit, “we will be worse off than when we were in the EU.”

Let’s repeat that: We will be worse off than when we were in the EU!

Wasn’t that the central argument for voting Remain? That Britain would be worse off outside the EU than it is inside? And now Brexiters are warning about the danger of that very outcome!

Today, North writes:

We’ve been fighting the “war” for so many decades, with so little expectation of winning, that we’ve not devoted anything like enough time to winning the “peace”.
[…]
Yesterday, I was in London at a Leave Alliance meeting and there it dawned on me how ill-prepared we are to fight the coming battle. It is absolutely true that Whitehall didn’t have a plan, and Vote Leave certainly doesn’t have one. And, of course, neither does Farage. We are, therefore, at risk of losing the battle before many of us even realise what is at stake.

So here’s the irony for Brexit voters who naively imagine they just “got their country back”:

On one side are opponents of Brexit strategizing on how to stop it in its tracks, and on the other side are opponents of Brexit strategizing on how to minimize its effects. In between, the champions of Brexit haven’t a clue what to do next.

This is what happens when you passionately advocate for a goal, but expend very little effort figuring out how it can be accomplished.

Facebooktwittermail

Brexit and the future of Europe

George Soros writes: Britain, I believe, had the best of all possible deals with the European Union, being a member of the common market without belonging to the euro and having secured a number of other opt-outs from EU rules. And yet that was not enough to stop the United Kingdom’s electorate from voting to leave. Why?

The answer could be seen in opinion polls in the months leading up to the “Brexit” referendum. The European migration crisis and the Brexit debate fed on each other. The “Leave” campaign exploited the deteriorating refugee situation – symbolized by frightening images of thousands of asylum-seekers concentrating in Calais, desperate to enter Britain by any means necessary – to stoke fear of “uncontrolled” immigration from other EU member states. And the European authorities delayed important decisions on refugee policy in order to avoid a negative effect on the British referendum vote, thereby perpetuating scenes of chaos like the one in Calais.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open her country’s doors wide to refugees was an inspiring gesture, but it was not properly thought out, because it ignored the pull factor. A sudden influx of asylum-seekers disrupted people in their everyday lives across the EU.

The lack of adequate controls, moreover, created panic, affecting everyone: the local population, the authorities in charge of public safety, and the refugees themselves. It has also paved the way for the rapid rise of xenophobic anti-European parties – such as the UK Independence Party, which spearheaded the Leave campaign – as national governments and European institutions seem incapable of handling the crisis.

Now the catastrophic scenario that many feared has materialized, making the disintegration of the EU practically irreversible. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The revolt of the fragments

Kenan Malik writes: Over the past few decades, trade unions have weakened, social justice campaigns eroded, the left crumbled.

One consequence of this shift has been to lead many on the left to look to bureaucratic or managerial means of creating a more progressive society. This is one reason that the EU has become so important for many as an institution for protecting social needs and equal rights. It may also be one of the reasons for the generational division over the EU – many young people who have grown up from the 1990s onwards view the EU both as a vital component of their lives and identities and as a crucial institution for the enabling of social change.

A second consequence of the erosion of broader social movements is the creation of more fragmented, parochial, even sectarian, forms that popular disaffection increasingly takes. In an age in which there are few collective mechanisms to bind together the experiences and grievances of different groups and communities and to channel them into a common goal of social transformation, people often express their different experiences of discontent in very different ways.

It is against this background that much of the Brexit debate became polarized between, on the one hand, a liberal Europeanism that celebrated the managerial over the democratic, and ignored, or underplayed, the undemocratic character of EU institutions, and, on the other, a Euroscepticism that played on hostility to migrants, and that, in conflating democracy and national sovereignty, advanced a narrow, divisive notion of democracy. What was missing was the argument for a pan-European solidarity built from the bottom up, and which sought to break down national barriers through the extension of democratic institutions, not their emasculation. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

After a campaign scarred by bigotry, it’s become OK to be racist in Britain

Aditya Chakrabortty writes: On chaos of the kind Britain now faces, history is clear: some people always get hurt more than others. Just which groups stand to suffer most this time round is already becoming worryingly clear. Take a look at the hate reports that have come pouring in over the past few days.

In Huntingdon, Polish-origin schoolkids get cards calling them “vermin”, who must “leave the EU”. They come with a Polish translation, thoughtfully enough. From Barnsley, a TV correspondent notes that within five minutes three different people shout, “Send them home.” On Facebook, a friend in east London tells how, while trying to sleep on a hot night, he hears a man bellowing outside his open window: “We’ve got our country back and next I’ll blow that fucking mosque up.”

None of this is coincidental. It’s what happens when cabinet ministers, party leaders and prime-ministerial wannabes sprinkle arguments with racist poison. When intolerance is not only tolerated, but indulged and encouraged. For months leading up to last week’s vote, politicians poured a British blend of Donald Trumpism into Westminster china. They told 350m little lies. They made cast-iron promises that, Iain Duncan Smith now admits, were only ever “possibilities”. And the Brexit brigade flirted over and over again with racism. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail