Europe

Ode to the Cold War: Geopolitics is more complicated than ever

“Christ, I miss the Cold War,” hisses Judi Dench while playing the role of ‘M’ in the 2006 James Bond reboot, Casino Royale. Well, I couldn’t agree more – not that I was alive for any of it, but the nice divide between East and West and the simplicity of pitting Capitalism against Communism is deeply appealing at the moment. 

Of course, the fact that ancient tribal interests and religious divisions were entirely secondary concerns in that era, and treated as issues that were kicked down the road or whose importance dismissed entirely, is a cause of many of the catastrophes we’ve faced in recent times, but still – it would be nice to have that straightforward split down the middle of Karl Marx vs. Ronald McDonald. 

Yet while I feel a pang for modern Western diplomats who have to navigate the increasingly murky waters of international relations, I have greater sympathy for the likes of Georgia and Ukraine. Having cut free from Russia (again), their attempts to join the ranks of the West continue to suffer from setbacks and frustrations, a lot of which is – quite frankly – their own fault. Still, they do not have an easy task ahead of them. 

Pleasing their Western partners while trying not to provoke Moscow overmuch is a challenge that would task statesmen of considerable skill and ingenuity, and sadly those are in relatively short supply these days.

There is also the fact that in taking such strong stances against Russia, they have neglected other areas where they might be at risk – especially with regards to Turkey. 

History has a nasty habit of repeating itself, and with Turkey’s neo-Sultan Recep Tayyp Erdogan seeming to want to revive the Ottoman Empire, Georgia and Ukraine should be on their guards. Indeed, senior Turkish government officials have Tweeted pictures of maps showing land that they believe should be rightfully theirs. Large sections of these included parts of Georgia and Armenia. I don’t believe Georgian officials demanded an apology. I suppose due to their deep economic dependence on Turkey, they wouldn’t dare. 

One area where Ukraine and Georgia have so far been relatively lucky is their lack of any major Islamist activity. Both countries have had equally serious issues of their own, but having a pragmatic relationship with Turkey overrides their ability to condemn, in the strongest terms possible, Erdogan’s well-documented dalliances with Islamist terrorists and to throw their support behind a natural ally like Israel.

Although it should be obvious, for form’s sake I should make it clear that the deaths of Palestinian civilians is tragic, and while Israel has undoubtedly been careful in its target acquisition, the numbers of collateral casualties could probably have been estimated – mostly since Hamas targets are deliberately placed in civilian population areas. As matters stand, however, civilian casualties are unacceptably high. Likewise, the evictions of Palestinians from their homes seems…well, rather pointless – and only yields predictable results. 

I can’t agree, though, with the opinion of left-wingers on social media, or the consistently unfunny and increasingly partisan John Oliver (the worst British export to the United States in American history), who seem to think that because Israel’s military power is vastly superior it should not retaliate. 

In a segment on his show last week, Oliver admitted that Hamas fired rockets into Israel, dubbing the action ‘reprehensible’, but then drew attention to Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system, which proved to be staggeringly effective in intercepting enemy missiles. Twice in the piece he described the asymmetrical nature of the conflict, and seemed to suggest – but did not say – that Israel should simply take matters on the chin; after all, they have endured fewer casualties and enjoy military superiority. 

I don’t just dislike the man or this piece because he is chronically unfunny, but because of the misleading nature of his reporting – and even more, because this is likely to be the only source of news for many of his easily amused viewers. He admits, for instance, that the Israeli military released warnings of impending airstrikes, but manages not to highlight that Hamas does no such thing.

Likewise, in mentioning the missiles fired by Hamas that were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, he seems to suggest that everything is fine because the explosives never hit their targets. He also fails to mention that Hamas fired its missiles indiscriminately. 

Intent, then, does not seem to matter when it comes to Hamas’ attacks. If we are to take Oliver and his ilk at face value, we should be expected to simply shrug off Hamas’ Islamist views simply because their military capabilities are so far behind those of their enemies. I am also flabbergasted that – once again – the self-described left-wingers are so supportive of a group that is more militantly conservative than any Tory or Republican could ever be. I wonder if they’ve ever stopped to think that Hamas’ philosophy is decidedly incompatible with the Left’s love of LGBTQ rights and feminism. Or if they have wondered what would happen to the people of Israel if Hamas had dominion over them.

I doubt it on both counts.

I suppose the question I would put to them – and which would be ignored, shouted over, or sidestepped – is what Middle Eastern country they, as Western Leftist socialists, would like to live in. The UAE would probably rank fairly highly since its devotion to money leads it to overlook much of what it despises in the feckless West, but if that were taken out of the running, where would they prefer to reside? Saudi Arabia? Iran? Egypt? Or would they choose the only true First World state in the region?

If I did get a reply to this, I expect I’d be told that living in a Muslim society would be ‘a spiritual experience’. I’ve heard nonsense of that kind before – usually, from people who are quick to criticize American Evangelical Christians, not without grounds, I just like consistency in criticism.

In Georgia, the public seems to be decidedly pro-Israel, perhaps seeing some parallel in being surrounded on all sides by hostile actors. The government – and their counterparts in Kyiv – will tread more carefully, though. They have an uneasy ally in Turkey whom they will want to keep on side as a counter to Russia, especially as Ankara has expressed public support for the territorial integrity of both Ukraine and Georgia. Yet, in courting Erdogan as a friend, they lose the chance to unequivocally condemn Islamism in any form.

Yes, Judi Dench – I miss the Cold War, too. 

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