Notes From the Margins…

Lord Snooty’s Eton Rifles

  • September 26, 2014
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By the time you get home from work today, parliament will have authorised the RAF to begin carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq.     It’s a campaign without any coherent strategic objectives or timescale.

It may last for months, years, or simply   ‘quite a long time’, according to Cameron’s latest less than precise estimate.   However long it lasts, one RAF source has warned us not to ‘expect fireworks’, which the BBC’s sage defence stenographer James Lansdale interprets to mean that we are in for a ‘long game.’

So the full test match rather than one-day cricket then.     Lots of singles and not too many boundaries.

But however dull it might be from the spectator’s point of view, we can’t miss out, because, as one MP told Lansdale,   ‘The Americans have lots of bombs. They don’t really need ours. But they do like us to be on the team. And we are finally turning up on the pitch.’

Lord Snooty has been eager to turn up on the pitch for some time.

Somewhat bizarrely, Cameron once said that the Jam’s ‘Eton Rifles’ was his favourite song.   One imagines him now, like Snoopy in his pilot’s helmet, sitting on his kennel with his finger on the trigger as he takes off to fight the Red Baron, singing ‘ Thought you were clever when you lit the fuse/Tore down the house of commons in your brand new shoes.’

Because he has clearly been frustrated at how slow we have been to finish our tea and get out of the pavilion, so slow that even the little schoolteacher Francois Hollande – the socialist politician-turned-imperial-bombardier – has got his Rafale jets in first.

This, of course, is completely unacceptable, and even humiliating to a British elite that knows that it is our historic destiny to be up there riding shotgun with the Imperium.

And if things were allowed to carry on like this, we will not only end up pushed into third place by France in the Imperium’s affections, we might become just another ordinary country, and that can’t be allowed to happen.

In a speech following the murder of IS hostage David Haines, Cameron insisted that ‘ We are a peaceful people. We do not seek out confrontation.’   We might be a peaceful people, but our rulers have ensured that British forces have been engaged in military action every year since 1914.

So we must bomb, even though we aren’t sure who we’re bombing or why.

In fact is probably a good idea for those who like this sort of thing not to ask any questions at all.     Because Lord Snooty has insisted in his UN speech that we have learned ‘lessons from past mistakes’ and that there should be ‘no rushing to join a conflict without a clear plan.’

If there is a plan in Iraq, neither Cameron nor anyone else seems to know what it is.

And  there is no indication whatsoever that the British elite has learned a single thng since it first bounced the country into the invasion of Iraq in 2003.     In Libya it rushed into battle without a plan, and wrecked the state in the process.   In Syria last year it nearly rushed into bombing without a plan.

And now His Lordship is preparing to do it again, so that he can get us back on the pitch..

Cameron’s speech at the United Nations was blissfully oblivious to this eyepopping legacy of political chaos and military failure.    How can Cameron’s pledge to ‘ support the building blocks of free and open societies’ be realised by an alliance with the reactionary Gulf tyrannies that have done so much to foment anti-Shia sectarianism in the first place?

Even on the most basic level, it makes more sense to set up reintegration programs for returning jihadists from the Syrian war as Denmark has done, who include actual fighters as well as humanitarian workers, rather than take away their passports, thus removing any possibility that they could be brought onside.

And what about the bombing itself?     Can an organization like IS really be ‘degraded’ militarily?     As Patrick Cockburn pointed out today, IS is continuing to make advances despite 194 US airstrikes in Iraq.

As Cockburn and others have pointed out, IS in Iraq draws its strength from the alienation of the Sunni population from the sectarian state that the Anglo-American occupation left in place.   Today,  despite the change in prime minister,   many Sunnis still fear retribution from their own government as much as they fear IS.

No amount of ‘surgical strikes’ will change that equation, and bombing may well strengthen IS politically, as civilian casualties inevitably mount.

Even Tory MP Adam Holloway – a former soldier in the Gulf War – recognizes this, and is opposing Cameron’s proposals on the grounds that:

‘It has just not been thought through. This is a political problem. Isis in Iraq are Sunni tribesmen who were fed up with the Maliki government. They are international jihadis and they are former Ba’ath regime elements. The only way you are going to get rid of the foreign jihadis is if the Sunni tribes and the Ba’athists do it themselves.’

Quite.   But Lord Snooty and His Pals are so intoxicated by neocon militarist rhetoric and Blairite delusions of grandeur, so completely wedded to the destructive policies of their superpower master/ally, and so utterly lacking in political imagination that they cannot even begin to engage in such complexities.

And so we will be at war in order to save Iraq.

But make no mistake.   This campaign will not stop there.     Already the gormless Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said that   the RAF will also bomb Syria ‘if the circumstances are right’ and predicted that there will be a ‘robust’ legal basis for this.

Rest assured that the circumstances will be found, and that in the end the anti-IS campaign will broaden into a campaign in support of the latest ‘moderate rebels’ in Syria, just as the mission to ‘save Benghazi’ morphed into a regime change.   This is how things are done.

And so, at last, after years of trying Lord Snooty has finally got the war that he has been gagging for ever since we finished saving Libya.   And the majority of MPs, despite their ‘concerns’ and ‘misgivings’ will support him.   But let no one believe that any of this will end well, either for the people of Iraq and Syria, because as Paul Weller once observed

Hello-hurrah, there’s a price to pay, to the Eton rifles,
Hello-hurrah, I’d prefer the plague, to the Eton rifles.

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  1. Nigel Hunt

    26th Sep 2014 - 9:53 am

    Or perhaps Cameron’s favourite lines are: ‘Get out your mats and pray to the West, I’ll get out mine and pray for myself’

  2. Nigel Baldwin

    26th Sep 2014 - 12:47 pm

    As I see it, this tendency of our rulers to think that in the UK we can continue to go on pretending to be a grand imperial power goes back to 1205, when King John lost Normandy. And so on, through to Edward III, to Henry V, and later to the Wars of the Roses. I fear that it’ll take a severe jolt on the scale of Stalingrad (in the South Atlantic, perhaps?) before we British finally get shot of this quasi imperial obsession…if we ever can.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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