Syria As usual, the bellicose BBC gives time to a retired US general to make the case for us joining the bombing of Syria, but at least some of the holes in the argument were exposed. He admitted that bombing alone can’t do anything but needed to be accompanied by building up Syrian ground forces. The BBC did not challenge the general with the evidence that US efforts to build up secular resistance to ISIS have been a total failure. Very few of those trained by the US are still active, and the weapons have mostly ended up being used by the bits of the resistance that the US doesn’t support – i.e. those Shia rebels associated with Iran or with Hezbollah, or forces supporting Assad. Today also had a report from a BBC reporter in the field with forces that the US does support with airstrikes. It became clear that this force is dominated by Kurdish fighters: though nominally in alliance with some Christian and Islamic fighters the reporter said that the Kurds were not passing on any of the weapons they were being supplied with to non-Kurds, and relations between the groups were getting more difficult as they move out of areas with Kurdish population (only 10% of the population of Syria). So we are being invited to essentially support a Kurdish force with aspirations for Kurdish independence which have implications for the stability of Turkey and the whole region, and which has no prospect of success beyond the small part of the country where Kurds are the majority. Not a strong argument for us to participate.
Trident Today discussed Corbyn’s complaint that chief of defence staff had strayed into politics when he implied that Corbyn’s stated unwillingness to press the nuclear button would worry him if the Labour leader were in power. The BBC did briefly interview Kate Hudson of CND and included an extract of what Jeremy actually said, but as usual they of course gave most time to the views of a retired old military buffer – this time Admiral West, a former head of the defence staff. The surreal nature of any discussion of nuclear deterrence never ceases to amaze me.If others would press the button, who would they be trying to deter? Clearly not terrorists or ISIS, unless you are willing to countenance slaughtering far more innocents than combatants, in a way that would be counter-productive because the threat is ideologically based rather than territorial. Russia? There are some regional issues but no threat to our territorial integrity. There might be some niggles over violation of airspace but the existence of nuclear weapons just makes these solvable problems a lot more dangerous. There is no existential threat to the UK from Russia, they need the West and know they are too weak to challenge US hegemony, though it is politically useful for Putin to indulge himself in posturing. China? Too far away to threaten our territory or existence, they are an economic competitor and a useful counterweight to the US, but hardly a threat to us. Rogue states with a bomb or two? It is difficult to think of any reason why any of them would choose to attack us with nuclear weapons rather than their neighbours. The real reason for having Trident is as an enormous and ludicrous cod piece, trying to convince the rest of the world that our willy is larger than it actually is and thereby justifying our presence as a permanent member of the security council. Of course, the Trident cod piece isn’t really independent anyway, since it is impossible to think of circumstances where we would use it independently of the US, which makes our macho posturing even more absurd, the skinny little kid hiding behind the playground bully.
The Deficit The main news quoted Osborne’s exaggerated claims about the need for a surplus to deal with the deficit. As usual, BBC themselves gave no context – no stats on the size of the deficit or the debt relative to historic levels. Fortunately they did include a later interview with Paul Johnson of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, who pointed out that a public debt of 80% of GDP isn’t large by historical standards, and will probably fall as a percentage of GDP anyway if economic growth returns to historic levels. (Broadly speaking, a deficit of the current level of about 4% of GDP will add 4% to the national debt each year, but the nominal GDP should grow faster than this because long-term economic growth rate is over 2% per year and the inflation target is about 2%, so debt as a share of GDP should fall over time even without a surplus. This is not just theory but is what happened throughout most of the post war period, without us running a surplus). The point that was not made was that the chance of us returning to a faster rate of economic growth is being damaged by the cuts themselves. Johnson is himself something of a fiscal conservative, and the absence of any comment from the Labour opposition indicates the very narrow and rather right-wing fulcrum around which BBC seeks balance.
I watched a bit of Al Jazeera afterwards – great coverage of the Burma elections with lots of context and stats that were missing from BBC coverage, followed by a discussion of the pro-Israel lobby in the US with pro and anti commentators given time to make their points and the audience left to reach it’s own conclusions. This is an issue BBC seems to be too scared to even take on. What a contrast, and not to the BBC’s advantage.