Dangerous Game: Iran Rattles The Sabre; US Throws Down The Gauntlet

A disturbing development — which is a surprise only in terms of the length of time the confrontation has taken to mature — occurred this week over Iran’s nuclear plans. Of all of the world’s present “hot spots,” this is the one most likely to lead to World War III.

Interestingly enough, the exchange in communications between the US and Iran has taken place at Christmas time; a meaningless occasion in Iran, and a time at which the obviously sensitive news reports can be buried amid feel-good stories in America.

For those who have missed the fun — and I don’t speak in jest; I’m deadly serious — Iran has responded to the UN-authorised sanctions due to take effect on Sunday by stating that should the said sanctions be implemented, it will close the Strait of Hormuz, through which roughly a third of the world’s oil supply must pass as sea freight from the Middle East.

The US has simply stated that should Iran pursue such a course of action, it will respond with military force.

And that should worry people.

Most people know that Iran has been pursuing a nuclear capacity; the only area of disagreement is over its intent.

Iran says it wants nuclear energy for the peaceful generation of domestic electricity supplies; most of the rest of the world — including certain countries trying to shield Iran from Western retribution — believe it seeks nuclear weaponry capability.

Certainly, utterances from the lunatic Iranian dictator, Ahmadinejad, to the effect that he seeks to “wipe Israel of the face of the Earth” tend to underscore the latter rather than the former.

One of the first things I’d point out is that the sanctions due to be implemented on New Year’s Day are, on paper, authorised by the United Nations Security Council.

The problem is that both Russia and China abstained from the vote.

Big problem.

Russia, traditionally, has been a friend to Iran; Russia also has an awful lot of oil buried under the Siberian Steppes. It stands to lose relatively little from any conflict over oil.

Russia also has an awful lot of nuclear warheads.

China, on the other hand, is a mischief-maker; nobody really knows what its real intentions are, but at face value, China doesn’t exactly present as a model international citizen, with its bellicose activities in south-east Asia, its emergent alliances in South America and in Africa, and its economic stunts designed to show others who’s the boss.

China, too, has many nuclear warheads, which will be interesting should it ever attempt to retake Taiwan by force: the USA is obliged at law to defend Taiwan from China, and the day must come when China attempts to “reunify” with the renegade island republic.

China’s abstention from the vote on sanctions against Iran is perhaps less troubling than that of Russia; nevertheless, the Chinese seek to keep their options open on this issue, and in many respects that’s a very bad thing.

The dispute over Iran’s nuclear ambitions isn’t about politics; it’s about power.

On the one hand, the Iranians point to US activities in Iraq and Afghanistan and say “Look! The US is an international criminal! How dare they…”

Which conveniently overlooks the fact that a) Afghanistan was a proven harbour, training ground and safe-haven for terrorists, b) ten years ago the USA was justifiably seeking retribution for the despicable attacks of September 11, and c) it was Tony Blair of the UK, not George W. Bush of the USA, who provided the fabricated “intelligence dossier” for the Allies to invade Iraq.

But on the other hand, the fundamentalist Muslim regime in Iran has never — never — made any secret of its desire to see the destruction of Israel; the only thing different about the current Iranian leadership is the fact it’s said so explicitly.

So, who do you believe?

Do you believe Iran, with its limitless supply of cheap and easily recoverable oil, that it needs nuclear energy for electricity?

Or do you believe everyone else (except the Russians and the Chinese) and decide that Iran not only wants to become a nuclear weapons state, but wishes to use those weapons?

Or do you take the Russian/Chinese view, which essentially boils down to “nothing to see here people…move on…” and have faith that everything will be OK in the end?

I’d dismiss the Russian/Chinese position for the pap that it is; it isn’t even their position. Should push come to shove, neither country will be sitting around waiting to see what happens.

Insofar as the dispute over the Strait of Hormuz is concerned, however, it needs to be pointed out that the Strait isn’t just located in international waters, but that it is one of the world’s major sea routes, and pivotal to world trade — and not just in oil.

Were the Iranians to close the Strait it would, technically, be an act of war.

So what happens?

To me, it was always inevitable that Iran’s standoff with the West would end in some kind of armed conflict; the only questions were around timing and the shape such a conflict might take.

Iran — like so many countries historically run by fanatics — has been steadfast and resolute in its objectives.

Just as Hitler sought to rearm Germany under the noses of his European neighbours in the 1930s (and made Winston Churchill — the only political figure who saw through the appeasement thrown at Hitler and called the danger emanating from the Third Reich for what it was — look like an eccentric fool), so too has Iran attempted to play the world community for fools.

A couple of years ago, at about this time of year, an article appeared in the respected British conservative opinion magazine, The Spectator, in which prediction was made of an Israeli attack on Iran “in the new year” and that the attack was “likely to be nuclear.”

(Forgive me being a little vague; not knowing The Red And The Blue would ever come along at the time, I didn’t keep my copy of the magazine. The quotations I’ve made, however, stuck in my mind the day I read the article, and are accurate).

The central tenet was this: Israel — if the US didn’t do it first — would never allow Iran to go nuclear; rather than wait to receive a warhead detonated over Tel Aviv, Israel would use a neutron bomb as a depth penetration charge to pre-emptively destroy enrichment centrifuges that at the time were being installed by Iran deep beneath the ground.

It went on to add that such an attack might just be what Iran wanted, canvassing the idea that it may have bought a couple of nuclear warheads “off the shelf” and would respond with these to any attack by Israel. I don’t subscribe to that portion of The Spectator‘s case.

Even so, by all verifiable accounts, the Iranian nuclear programme is long beyond the point of underground centrifuges, and almost at the point where a call must be made: is the intent peaceful nuclear energy, or offensive nuclear weaponry capability?

To me, the belligerent threat by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz — and thereby attempt to plunge the world into economic depression — goes a long way toward providing the answer.

Iran can’t say it wasn’t warned: it has resisted all attempts by the world community and in particular, independent international bodies governing the responsible use of atomic energy, to verify its claims about peaceful electricity generation.

Of course sanctions were going to be imposed, and enforced.

Yet Iran now openly portends to behave like an international spoilt brat and attempt to punish those who seek to hold it to account for its actions.

And, as I said earlier, closing a sea lane in international waters is tantamount to an act of war.

Unless cooler heads prevail, and there is no closure of the Strait and thus no military action — and when talking about Iran, it’s difficult to see how cooler heads could prevail — I see this playing out one of two ways.

Iran closes the Strait of Hormuz, and the USA attacks Iranian forces and — possibly — Iran itself; remember, with Iraq finished and Afghanistan being scaled back, the US has deep reserves of available troops, military hardware, and firepower.

Scenario one: Iran is repelled, and the Strait of Hormuz is reopened in short order; Russia, China and other nations allow the US and Iran to sort the matter out; and disruption to world trade and the flow of oil is minimal and the event, overall, is brief.

Scenario two: the US attacks Iran as per the above scenario; Russia and China come to Iran’s aid militarily; and someone — someone — lobs a nuclear warhead into the equation.

That’s the risk. That’s the danger. Iran calculates America doesn’t have the heart or the brains or the stomach to take the risk.

Yet someone will take the risk; and if the USA doesn’t take it directly, Israel will, believing (correctly, I think) that it faces an existential threat. And if Israel acts first, the US will defend it to the hilt.

Either way, the prospect of nuclear escalation is there; it is real, and this is one potential conflict that isn’t necessarily as predictable in terms of its outcome as other American military adventures have been.

I’m quite open about the fact I’m a friend of Israel and a friend to the Jewish people, but my views in this regard are informed by fact, not fanaticism.

Iran has forced the international community to a point where a great danger and — to use the words of Churchill — a gathering storm are about to be played out.

A dangerous game indeed; and the outcome far from certain.

 

Euro-Zonk: Why David Cameron And The UK Must Stand Firm

There’s a lot of chatter presently that Europe is headed into a “double-dip” recession that will take Britain with it. The Conservative-led government of David Cameron must stand firm; the alternative is a disaster of — well, frankly, of European proportions.

It’s been a little while since we’ve had a video clip here at The Red And The Blue to lead into an article; we have one tonight, however.

Watch this, especially from 1:30 in (it’s pivotal to the basis of my argument, the pivot of which will become clearer as we go), and then let’s talk about it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TOgB3Smvro

If you’re British (as many people close to me are) — or if you’re a devotee of British politics (as I am) — then two worlds are about to collide; indeed, this “collision” has been brewing for decades.

And there’s no romanticism, in either the classic or contemporary sense, about it.

We all know Europe is in a complete mess right now; Greece and Italy and Ireland are all on the brink of collapse, and there are whiffs of decay about a number of the other so-called “Eurozone” countries as well — and not least that France and Germany might be starting to stagger, too.

If France and Germany are beginning to stagger, it isn’t much of a surprise; after all, those with money can only bail out those with none for so long.

But all of them — all of them — are up to their eyeballs in sovereign debt.

The Germans and the French because they’ve funded the bailout programs; and the rest of “Europe” because they were stupid enough to join the single currency project in the first place, which was cooked up by…yes, the Germans and the French.

I have opined previously that the Euro was the single greatest act of economic lunacy of the 20th century, and it was; after the rapid appreciation of member-state currencies to qualify for Euro membership, and the subsequent ceding of various fiscal policy levers to a central bureaucracy in Brussels, borrowing money has been the only way poorer European countries have been able to keep their economies afloat.

Now, that equation has reached critical mass.

The “borrowers” have bankrupted their countries; and the countries publicly listed in the “borrower and broke” column is set to be augmented in coming months with at least two and perhaps as many as six others who are faced with sovereign default.

And the “creditors” — namely, France and Germany — are staggering under the weight of a series of monetary bailouts to their “European partners” which, inevitably, has seen both countries borrow heavily abroad to fund their lavish commitments to their “European partners.”

Even so, the rights and wrongs of the goings-on in financial circles in Europe are of limited concern to me; yes, I would like to see all countries involved sort the quagmire out, and no, I don’t actually want to see Europe — collectively or on a country-by-country basis — slip back into recession.

But my primary concern, I have to say, is for Britain.

If anyone failed to click at the beginning of the article, now’s the time to watch this: especially from the 1:30 mark…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TOgB3Smvro

When the Labour Party finally got its fangs into the UK — after 18 deserved years in the political wilderness — Britain was booming, thanks to the economic legacies of Margaret Thatcher’s policies, executed by Chancellors of the Exchequer Sir Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson, and later, through the revolutionary economic stewardship of John Major’s last Chancellor, Ken Clarke.

The bit in the middle was Britain joining the ERM in 1992 under Chancellor Norman Lamont, then leaving in late 1992 as the alleged exchange-rate mechanism failed to protect Sterling from the effects of a falling US dollar.

This led to the Bank of England raising interest rates by five percentage points in one day, and in turn led to the UK’s involuntary departure from the ERM; Lamont’s second and last budget in 1993 featured massive hikes in taxation to fix the damage and to right the government’s finances.

Lamont was sacked seven weeks after delivering the 1993 budget; his successor, Ken Clarke, presided over the healthiest manifestation of the British economy in decades.

But there had been a warning: Europe, and in particular anything to do with monetary collaboration, was a disaster looking for a place to strike, which is likely the reason both Margaret Thatcher and her first Chancellor, the unabashedly Europhile Howe, steered so far clear if it.

In the early years of Tony Blair’s government, which was elected in a landslide in 1997, Britain continued to boom.

It is noteworthy that Blair was not elected on the back of any perception of Tory party incompetence on the economy.

Rather, he won as a result of the “It’s Time” factor, a general perception that Britons were comfortable, an anti-sleaze campaign by the Major government that blew up in its face when the peccadilloes of some of its less professional ministers came to light, and the ubiquitous sloganeering and rhetoric typical of Labour parties the world over.

For the first few years, it worked; but even then, public sector borrowing in Britain was rocketing; so-called “New Labour” was delivering spending on social programs it claimed delivered a social dividend whilst maintaining economic rigour.

Blair’s Chancellor, and eventual successor, Gordon Brown, threw buckets — no, shitloads — of money at anything that moved and that was deemed to be in need of spending.

And it was all borrowed money.

Together, Blair, Brown and the Labour cabinet actively flirted with dumping Sterling and joining the Euro; public outcry, and noisy opposition from the Conservative Party, tempered these activities, but they still went so far as to set up “Euro trading zones” in selected parts of Britain.

Cutting a long story short, having taken government in 1997 with a robust bull economy and negligible public debt, the Blair/Brown government was thrown from office in 2010 having amassed £1,300 billion in government borrowings — a complete indictment on any elected government anywhere in the world.

And what of that hubris-laden, headily rhetorical speech from Neil Kinnock? Britain dodged a bullet in 1992; and although it eventually took one five years later, Kinnock would have been worse than Blair.

Obsessed with socialism and the European project as Labour was in 1992, and beholden to such pledges as a 50p in the pound tax rate on anyone earning more than £50,000 per year, what eventually happened under Blair and Brown would have been far worse under Kinnock.

But Kinnock showed, if nothing else, what was to come; alas, very few people recognised the truth behind his words in the longer run.

The smug, glib, prematurely triumphant little display Kinnock put on a week out from the 1992 election masked something far more sinister, and far more menacing.

Today, the Conservative Party is again at the helm of government in Britain, hobbled as it is by the useless presence of the Liberal Democrats, who choose to abstain from  or to oppose anything painful that might actually help fix Britain, but who are always present for anything that might advance the political cause of their own contemptible specimen of a political organisation.

It is in this context that I make my point.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has implemented budget cuts of £81 billion over five years (AUD $125 billion) as part of an overall program to haul in the deficit in the British budget and to begin to repay the UK’s historically colossal owings to its international partners.

This public sector debt — incurred in peacetime — is unprecedented.

On one level, these cuts (and the attendant tax rises accompanying them, such as increasing VAT from 17.5% to 20%) are measures simply aimed at slowly undoing the unquestionable damage that 13 years of Labour mismanagement inflicted on those splendid islands.

On another level, however, it is also unquestionable that world economic circumstances are grim to say the least, and especially so where Europe and, by extension, the UK is concerned.

It’s come to pass in the last few weeks that Europe wants Britain to pay €31 billion (AUD $40 billion, or £26 billion) to bail out the Euro.

I’d say that it’s perfectly reasonable for Britain to take the view that having avoided the Euro and the ERM almost entirely, it should not be at all obliged to pay a penny to prop up and prolong what was always a colossal mistake.

More to the point, as things stand with the EU generally (and despite the deal Margaret Thatcher famously struck in 1980, generating much odium toward the UK for its daring to fight Brussels), Britain still pays the single largest annual contribution towards Europe of the lot of them.

And most of all, there isn’t much point in Cameron, Osborne and the Conservative Party stripping £15-£20 billion per year of profligate waste out of the UK economy, just to piss those savings back up against a post in bailing out countries too stupid to realise the Euro is and was a bad deal, and too stupid to know when to call the whole thing off.

My sense is the British public will reluctantly put up with Cameron and Osborne cutting out expenditures that ought never have been incurred, but that there would be a near-bloody insurrection at the prospect of the monies saved being sent across the Channel to fill the coffers of those too inept to see what Britain (with the exception of its last, loathsome Labour government) saw — that the Euro is just a ruse, and that France and Germany might have money, but they can’t rule the world with it.

Drachmas, Francs, Deutsche Marks, Lira…much more sensible; and with the wisdom of hindsight, better soil to grow a community from, as opposed to simply insisting everyone be the same.

Will Britain sink back into recession? I don’t know.

I don’t think so, but at the minimum, I certainly hope not.

But whether it does or not, Cameron and Osborne are fixing the British economy in the same way Thatcher and Howe were forced to do 30 years ago, having taken office in 1979 from another Labour government that had all but bankrupted Britain.

The Euro is a red herring that has been a distraction in Britain for too long.

The Liberal Democrats are likely to pay, literally, with their electoral life for trying to frustrate Cameron’s attempts to fix Britain.

And following Cameron’s recent veto of a treaty to bind European nations closer economically, the Tory Party’s vote in all reputable opinion polls has been rising in the past fortnight: not yet far enough to win an election outright, without the accursed Lib-Dems, but it’s getting close.

Call on a fresh election, and voters will zero in on Labour: it might be the place to park protest votes in the polls, but with its ineffectual leader, ineffective front bench, confused messages and shrinking membership, I’d wager a Conservative landslide if such an election were to be pulled on any time soon.

Cameron and his Conservatives must stay the course on economic reform. Double-dip or no, the benefits will materialise in the mid-term. Yes, the Tory Party will rightly reap an electoral dividend for them. But they were elected to fix Britain, and thus ought not be distracted by the pox of the Liberal Democrats and Labour to their left, or by the odious entity that is Europe and the Euro on its flank.

Merry Christmas To All Readers Of The Red And The Blue

Tonight, it’s just a reasonably quick note to wish all readers of The Red And The Blue a very happy Christmas, and a safe and prosperous new year in 2012.

It’s the festive season, so eat well and be merry; don’t drink too much (or if you do, don’t drive); and stay tuned to The Red And The Blue over the summer break, because there will still be things happening.

Whilst I don’t propose to post daily over the next couple of weeks, there will still be a few new items each week; for starters, I want to look at where the asylum seeker issue has stopped for the silly season break, and what the repercussions might be on this issue.

We’ll have a look at what’s going on in Europe and in Asia; and the first votes in the primary contest for the Republican nomination to take on Barack Obama in next year’s US Presidential election take place on 3 January…

…and of course, we all know that sometimes things just happen…

Please, have a safe and enjoyable break; do check in from time to time to see what issues are being discussed, and I look forward to a great year discussing and debating issues with you all in 2012.

Asylum Seeker Disgrace: It’s Despicable, And It’s Labor’s Fault

If there’s one issue in federal politics at the moment that boils my blood, it isn’t the carbon tax; it’s not the recent Cabinet reshuffle; it’s not Wayne Swan’s characteristically inept mini-budget; and it isn’t Peter Slipper or Kevin Rudd. It’s asylum seekers.

And the mess — and it is a mess, for want of a far stronger term — is something the Labor Party is completely and directly responsible for.

In 2001, faced with rocketing numbers of illegal boat arrivals — most notably, the arrival of the MV Tampa — the Howard government instituted a drastic but highly effective policy aimed at stamping out illegal boat arrivals and, with it, the insidious practice of people smuggling.

Islands were excised from Australia’s migration zone; offshore detention facilities established on Nauru and Manus Island; Temporary Protection Visas were issued; and wherever safely possible, illegal boats were turned back.

In short order, the boatloads of illegal immigrants stopped coming.

Kevin Rudd and his sloganeering “Kevin ’07” ALP surfed the jingoistic waves from empty campaign slogans into government six years later; it’s debatable whether the Labor Party has actually achieved anything meaningful in its years in office, but one thing it has achieved it to roll out a virtual welcome mat to anyone who wants to come to this country in flagrant disregard of the proper protocols.

And so here we are: today, hundreds of boats containing thousands of illegal immigrants arrive here every year; it has blown into a colossal political storm, and for reasons best known to the fairies in the garden, it’s all the fault of Tony Abbott.

Can I just say that the terrible tragedy off the Javanese coast at the weekend — when up to 200 asylum seekers drowned when their boat sank — is just that: a tragedy.

But the responsibility lies at the feet of the present government and the architects of its immigration policies. Tony Abbott is blameless.

Shortly after taking office in 2007, one of the first things the Rudd government did was to dismantle Howard’s so-called Pacific Solution. Borders were opened, criteria relaxed, many of the more punitive aspects of the Howard policy abolished altogether.

And the compassion babblers and the elites and the chatterati applauded.

Julia Gillard was given an early warning of the current political firestorm around this issue at last year’s election; whilst mining taxes and broken promises and bad campaigning and knifed Prime Ministers all played their part, the vast majority of the regions and electorates that swung most heavily to the Coalition last year also happened to be those most affected in some way by illegal immigration.

Bear in mind, Gillard actually lost last year’s election: her majority comes from the Greens and Independents on the crossbenches.

Labor — half way through a term of government that increasingly appears to precede its return to Opposition — is panicked; most of the sources for that panic have been self-inflicted, and this one is no exception.

Rather than heed the warning shot across her government’s bow that the electorate delivered, in this area Gillard has thrown all caution and good sense to the wind entirely.

From the ridiculous and merit-free idea of a processing centre in East Timor that the East Timorese didn’t even know about, the government moved on to the abominable concept of a system with Malaysia by which Malaysia would accept 800 illegal arrivals from Australia in return for 4000 — 4000 — “processed” asylum seekers over which Australia had no right of veto and no actual control over their vetting.

All the while, the boats have arrived faster and fuller; the tide of public opinion has swelled further and further against the government on the issue; and the rising wave of panic in government circles over what to do has reached its crashing crescendo.

Now, the government blames Tony Abbott; after all, they say, had he allowed the Malaysia Solution to pass Parliament, tragedies like the one-off Java in recent days would not occur.

But Tony Abbott is responsible to his party, to its policies, and to the people who vote for them; the Liberal Party has been resolutely opposed to the Malaysia Solution ever since its half-baked details were first devised.

And besides, it is a bad policy. As Opposition leader, Abbott has a responsibility to the country to oppose it.

The fact is that Labor has worn many different coats on this issue; every one of them has cloaked disastrous policy.

And the government steadfastly refuses to countenance the one policy that worked: the Pacific Solution, which the Liberal Party is committed to reintroduce.

Labor has learnt the hard way that far from simply being a nasty bastard, John Howard led a government that actually fixed this issue.

Rather than admitting its mistake, it would prefer to pursue any available course of action other than to reinstate the policy it so foolishly overturned.

So which way forward?

The ALP now says it wants to negotiate a solution and has been pestering Tony Abbott to agree to a series of meetings to this end, even going so far as to leak confidential correspondence in which it virtually begged the opposition leader to come to the table.

It is true Abbott has refused to do so, although he has left the door slightly ajar, saying that if the government wishes to negotiate it must first put a new policy proposal on the table.

I’d have thought that was fair enough; but the government has refused.

The entire tenor of the rhetoric coming from government circles is that Tony Abbott should agree to pass their cack-brained Malaysia Solution into law and — if he doesn’t — they, the Labor government, stand blameless for any future catastrophe along the lines of what occurred so recently in Java.

This argument is akin to a thug beating an old woman in the street, telling her that if she doesn’t hand her handbag and money over, the thug is thenceforth absolved from any further injury he might cause.

Today, of course, Labor tried a new tack, suggesting they would be open to a compromise “solution” of their Malaysia Solution operating in tandem with a reopened detention centre on Nauru.

This reeks so badly of desperation I just wonder if whoever dreamt the idea up was so panicked as to be incapable of seeing the sheer absurdity and unworkability — to say nothing of the contradiction inherent — in such a scheme.

Can I just say that no matter how this issue plays out, the ALP has only itself to blame for the utter mess this issue has become.

And on a more basic point: Gillard wanted to stay in office so, so desperately without the numbers after last year’s election; if she can’t govern, and if the Parliament is unworkable, there is an option open to her…

…but silly me, she’d never do something as drastic as calling an election.

Whilst the Left like to rattle on about the heartless Howard government, about how mean-spirited and cruel it was, and how its policies were some sort of humanitarian disgrace, it conveniently overlooks the fact that Howard presided over an immigration program that saw net immigration to Australia, in real terms, at its highest level ever.

And what it also ignores is the fact that to varying degrees, in the past ten years the Australian Left has advocated an open border policy when it comes to this issue, be it overtly as the Greens do, stating our borders should be open to anyone who wants to come here; or on the sly, which is what Labor has done, abolishing all of the protections in Howard’s regime, and rendering the enforcement provisions it retained toothless.

The Labor Party holds office in order to govern.

In this area, as in so many others, it is out of lockstep with the overwhelming weight of public opinion.

Further, the agreements negotiated by Julia Gillard in the aftermath of last year’s election were specifically designed to ensure the Coalition was incapable of controlling either of the Houses of Parliament.

In other words, to ensure the government controlled both.

You can’t have it both ways.

If this issue can’t be resolved, it is the fault of the government and its allies in the Greens and the Independents, who not only have the numbers but have written agreements that stipulate as such.

No no no, this is one mess that the ALP can’t squirm out of; and nor should it be allowed to do so.

Make no mistake, even if Abbott does cut some sort of deal, it will be to save lives, not to get the government off the hook.

And especially given that in this area of policy, the Australian Labor Party — once again — has shown its complete unsuitability for office, and that it is totally unfit to govern.

 

A Fitting Epitaph: Rot In Hell, Kim Jong-Il

In spite of the risk of instability in North Korea, and the potential for such instability to cause grave problems for regional stability, the death of Kim Jong-Il is to be welcomed. In death, Kim Jong-Il should be treated with the scorn and contempt he deserved in life.

Contrary to his self-styled status as a “great leader” and a “dear leader” this was not a great man; he was not a world leader of any positive stature, nor indeed was he a respected leader in any constructive sense whatsoever.

He was, in short, a menace.

The news some hours ago that Kim is dead is welcome and not a little overdue; indeed, the world has “lost” one of its most dangerous, murderous and nihilistic despots.

The official cause of death reported initially in the official North Korean media — that Kim had died “of fatigue” on a train trip — is perfectly consistent with the other mountains of horse excrement propagated (defecated?) over many years about Kim Jong-Il by his regime’s propaganda machine.

Pearls such as Kim’s ability to control the weather by the power of his mind, or such poppycock as his ability to walk at the age of three weeks, right through to the insultingly misguided belief instilled into his poor countryfolk that North Korea was a world superpower who could engage and defeat the USA in a nuclear war — to name just a few — are indicative of both the idiotic nature of his repression, and of the lame-brained lemmings the North Korean “education” system is specifically designed to churn out.

To subsequently learn that Kim had, in fact, died from a massive heart attack is surprising only insofar as that generally, in order to have a heart attack, one first must have a heart.

Don’t misunderstand: this is a regime, and a tyrant, who has amassed vast personal wealth and accrued colossal military capability — including the development and expansion of nuclear weapons capabilities — whilst his people starved; forced to eat bark and leaf litter, the average North Korean now grows to just 1.4 metres (4ft, 6in).

This is a regime, and a tyrant, who has interned hundreds of thousands of his people in military gulags for dissent; eliminated countless thousands more on political grounds; yet has systematically and consistently failed to provide basics such as clean water and reliable energy to those of his people who hung adoringly, and misguidedly, on his every word.

This is a regime, and a tyrant, who has opted not to be a responsible world citizen, but to be a proliferator of nuclear, biological and chemical technologies — and the missile capabilities with which to deliver them — to equally murderous regimes in other corners of the world.

This is a regime, and a tyrant, who has spent many years causing real military angst for neighbours such as Japan and South Korea, and — since its acquisition of nuclear bombs — has repeatedly and belligerently threatened all-out nuclear Armageddon on the Korean Peninsula, across South-East Asia, and indeed across the world.

When dealing with madmen and lunatics, it matters little that the USA would wipe North Korea off the face of the world in a retaliatory strike lasting all of five minutes; the problem with lunatics — especially nuclear-armed ones — is that they can be dangerously unpredictable; even suicidal.

No, I think it’s fair to say, advisedly, that Kim Jong-Il was a heartless bastard.

Whilst the death of Kim Jong-Il is a welcome development, it fails to solve critical questions of world security and regional security; these will, in part, form the “legacy” of his reign.

Japan and South Korea in particular will rightly be pleased Kim is dead, but equally validly concerned at what might come next.

China — the North’s only (and long-suffering) ally — will most likely, quietly, also be glad to see the back of Kim; in spite of its own military mischief and games of brinkmanship with its neighbours and the US, its recalcitrant neighbour under Kim Jong-Il had become a monster increasingly impossible to control.

Questions abound about the “succession” that will now occur in North Korea.

His designated heir — youngest son Kim Jong-Un — is aged in just his late 20s and, despite reportedly being educated in Switzerland under a pseudonym, is said to be even more paranoid and violent than his father was.

There is the possibility that one of Kim’s other sons may challenge Jong-Un for the North Korean leadership; there is also the possibility that the North Korean military will enact a coup and assume martial control of the country.

Were that to occur, the outcome — quite literally — could be anything.

Yet what is likely to endure in the North Korean psyche is the paranoia; the utter conviction that the rest of the world — and especially the United States — wishes to wantonly destroy their country; the fantasy that the South has a proactive agenda to realise the same outcome, aided and abetted by the US, when in fact South Korea overwhelmingly desires peaceful reunification with the North; and the fairytale that North Korea can wipe out its enemies, real or perceived, simply because it has a small handful of relatively weak nuclear weapons.

Added to this, as outlined earlier, is the famine, the starvation, the appalling poverty and illiteracy of the population, lack of hygiene, or anything more than mediaeval levels of medicine, industrial production, or indeed any basic necessity of life judged against modern first-world standards — an indictment on a regime proclaiming itself as “the greatest revolutionary civilisation in the history of the world.”

And all this capped off with the sheer barbarism and cruelty of a tyrannical Stalinist regime that arbitrarily executes and tortures hundreds of thousands of its own citizens with little or no valid pretext, judged against any civilised standards.

This is Kim Jong-Il’s legacy to his country, and to the world.

North Korea no more needs Kim Jong-Il than the rest of the world will miss the need to indulge, cajole, and manage him.

It is true that there are great risks now in terms of the direction North Korea will take and what the consequences will be for that country, for the Asia-Pacific region,  and for the world generally.

That said, those risks are worth exploring when weighed against the fact Kim Jong-Il, and everything his chapter of the leadership of the murderous North Korean junta represents, is now gone.

Good riddance.

The Problem With Labour

One thing I’ve never understood is why the Australian “Labor” Party is spelt thus, when every other Labour party in the world is presented as a “Labour Party.” Still, despite the iffy spelling, Australian “Labor” shares some less-than-flattering characteristics with its cousins abroad.

Tonight I want to do things a little differently; I ask my readers to read an excellent opinion piece from Britain’s Telegraph, which in itself is an analysis of the problems within the British Labour Party.

It won’t matter if the names of British public figures are unfamiliar; it doesn’t matter if the place names are unfamiliar to those who have not visited the UK. The upshot of the article will be abundantly clear, and the reason why I think it relevant in terms of a discussion of our own polity will become immediately clear.

Please read this http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/labour/8963145/Europe-is-the-least-of-Labours-problems.html and then we’ll talk about it…

Far, far removed from the now-daily leadership squabbles between Julia Gillard and all other comers, far away from carbon taxes and other similar red herrings, the ALP has changed, and in so doing has become a shell of its former self.

For starters, substitute “Ed Miliband” — leader of the British Labour Party — for “Julia Gillard” and the parallels begin to become apparent.

And for an Australian equivalent of “activists, super-organisation and hard-core adherents,” read the NSW Right, the Sussex Street tactics of the NSW ALP specifically and the infection they have spread across the ALP nationally, and the trenchant union apparatchik base that now constitutes so much of Labor’s parliamentary presence.

To say nothing of its political agenda.

This post tonight is more to stimulate discussion than it is to lead it; my view is that “labour” parties the Western world over are all traversing the same, introspective, self-obsessed and insiderish slippery slope that is completely disconnected from their constituents, the wider electorates in which they stand, or from reality in general.

Let’s be frank: the type of governments we have in Australia — in tandem with our electoral systems — generally only lose government when they have committed some fatal cardinal sin.

Even the Howard government is not immune from this analysis; had “WorkChoices” been a little less doctrinaire, and had the Liberal leadership passed to Peter Costello in good time prior to the 2007 election, the Liberal Party would probably still be in office today.

But as it stands, the ALP is now falling out of government everywhere there is an election: it almost happened federally last year and will certainly happen when next there is a federal election.

It has already happened at state level in NSW and Victoria; in Queensland and WA and the NT in 2012, it’s simply a question of how much Labor loses by, and not whether it loses or not.

Yet this is not a phenomenon unique to Australian Labor.

In Canada this year, the parties of the mainstream Left was decimated; to be fair, the so-called New Democratic Party recorded huge gains at the expense of the traditional party of Canada’s Left — the Liberals — yet the Left overall lost a lot of ground, and a two-term minority Conservative government was re-elected with a healthy majority.

In Britain, Labour was ejected from office on its lowest vote in 25 years last year; yes, it has periodically led British opinion polls in the months since, but for no other reason than a short-term response to the Conservative Party undertaking the painful but crucial process of undoing 13 years of Blair/Brown mismanagement and waste.

Across Europe, left-wing parties have fared badly at elections in the past few years; even in France and Germany, where centre-right governments are currently experiencing mid-term unpopularity in the face of continuing economic tumult, there is no guarantee (or even a likelihood) that the Left — again, the local Labour parties — stand any chance of winning.

And in the USA, the Democratic Party (read, Labour Party) and its once-shiny pin-up boy, Barack Obama — stare down the barrel of ignominious defeat and the humiliation of a one-term Presidency barely three years after the historic triumph of 2008.

In all of these cases, the same insiderish, apparatchik-driven machine mentality exists.

These parties — with occasional historical exceptions — were once a by-word for unprofessionalism, dogma, lack of intellectual rigour, policy sloppiness, and, by and large, unreconstructed socialism.

Everyone knows the lesson was learned; names such as Jean Chretien, Gerhardt Schroeder, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and even Bob Hawke and Paul Keating are illustration enough that the mainstream Left learnt its lessons and became professional political outfits across the world.

But the circle has now completed. It’s possible to be too professional in politics. The mainstream Left does not need a steady feed of unionists, academics, political staffers and classroom teachers to fill its ranks — such a base is too narrow, and leads to the insiderish, us-and-them mentality I’m talking about.

Still, that’s how the land lies these days. I think the Left across the democratic world is paying the price. But rather than recognise the problem and broaden its bases, the insiders will move further inside, and the barrier between those who are one with them and those who aren’t will be continue to be elevated ever, ever so much higher.

As I said at the outset, this post was intended more to stimulate discussion than to lead it, so it’s over to those who want to put their opinions to their keyboards.

What do you think?

For Whom The Bell Tolls: Julia Gillard, It Tolls For Thee

For much of 2011 here at The Red And The Blue, we’ve followed the travails of Julia Gillard; we’ve kept an eye on Kevin Rudd watch Gillard’s Prime Ministership progressively self-immolate; and witnessed perhaps the most incompetent government in  Australian political history.

Now, the endgame has commenced.

Readers will know that I have, thus far, called for the Prime Minister’s resignation twice: the first time on the anniversary of her grubby ascension to the office in June, and the second in the aftermath of the disgraceful and despicable episode she presided over on the issue of asylum seekers.

I don’t think Gillard is a bad person; indeed, by repute, she’s charming, witty, and obviously highly intelligent.

Yet she is a poor advertisement for a Prime Minister — wooden, laboured, alternating between robotics and dizzy teenage schoolgirl in her demeanour, and I don’t know which is worse.

We all know the fiascos she has presided over: the pink batts, the green loans, the cash for clunkers scheme, the carbon tax, the asylum seeker issue — to name a few.

And we all know that her debt to the Independent MPs in the House of Representatives and — especially — to the Communist Party Greens in particular has seen Labor under Gillard abrogate its responsibilities to its platform and its members, at the cost that governance in Australia in the past year has been inept at best, and culpably destructive to the national interest at worst.

Now, it seems, it’s all — finally — about to end, one way or the other.

A great amount of space in this column has been expended on the Labor leadership and the ambitions of Kevin Rudd for a return to the Prime Ministership.

I have also canvassed a lot of different scenarios.

Today, it seems there is consensus in commentary in the mainstream media that the Prime Minister is finished.

Peter Van Onselen, writing in The Australian, today highlighted Gillard’s complete lack of authority, noting that “the person who had the power to knife Kevin Rudd 18 months ago didn’t even have the power to remove Robert McClelland from cabinet when she wanted to.”

His colleague, Paul Kelly, talked of Labor being caught “in a perfect storm” and presented an excellent analysis of problems in governance under Labor, the real national consequences of the pursuit of its political imperatives in minority government, and the simmering issue of the putative leadership challenge from Kevin Rudd which looms large as the new year dawns.

Michelle Grattan, in the Fairfax press, commenced her analysis with the proposition that “Julia Gillard finds herself prisoner on the death row of federal politics” and went on to complete one of the more thoroughly scathing and complete critiques I have seen of this government in the mainstream press to date.

We could rehash the details of everything these journalists and their colleagues have written, or what I have had to say, or indeed the volumes that have been penned by commentators across the country.

We don’t have to; the details are well enough known to anyone with a passing interest in Australian politics.

I just want to add a few comments of my own, in reflection on the fact that what was predicted many months ago seems likely to come to pass.

First, an apology: contrary to my prediction, there will not be a federal election in Australia in 2011; clearly it is now too late.

But I don’t think the wait will be long, and it certainly won’t take until the next routinely scheduled election date in 2013.

It’s pretty clear that the bungled reshuffle Gillard undertook of her ministry on Monday will prove a tipping point: based more on rewarding cronies and poking enemies (real or perceived) in the eye than it was on any meaningful attempt to improve her government, it seems the exercise has been the last straw for some of her MPs.

Let’s face it: if it had been based on anything meaningful at all, Peter Garrett would no longer be a minister, Wayne Swan would have been sacked or demoted, Greg Combet would not have been promoted, on account of his attachment to the electorally poisonous carbon tax, and Mark Arbib would be telling his God-forsaken story walking  all the way back to Sussex Street.

The irony is that by trying to reward allies and cronies and kick opponents in the nether regions, Gillard has achieved the precise opposite of what she intended.

This time, it is going to cost her. She is going to pay with her job.

Indications already are that a third of her cabinet have privately withdrawn their support from her as leader; it doesn’t take Einstein to play connect-the-dots and work out who they are.

The left wing of the ALP is already gunning for Gillard; not only did she sell them out by masquerading as a conservative once she seized power, but she’s actively targeted members of her own former faction. Witness the humiliation she attempted to inflict on Kim Carr, a left-winger and one of the government’s more capable ministers, as a case in point.

Add those elements to the known and growing group of backbench Labor MPs harbouring grievances and reservations, and there’s a potent little cocktail ready to detonate in Gillard’s face.

There are three elements to party leadership: management, policy, and the politics of the role.

This week’s reshuffle is evidence in its own right that Gillard is a poor manager of people.

In terms of policy, what great and bold new initiative has she implemented that will forever change Australia for good and for better?

And before anyone utters the words “carbon tax,” I come to the politics.

National leadership does not involve implementing major, radical policies whose implementation was specifically ruled out by all major parties (except the lunatic Greens) and that the electorate has overwhelmingly voted against.

It does not involve telling people, effectively, that they’re stupid if they dare to question something, let alone disagree.

And it doesn’t involve consistent lying, duplicitous conduct, smart answers, economies of truth, or endless buckets of smarm and smugness and spin.

Yet this — very simply and concisely stated — it the record of Julia Gillard as Prime Minister.

And the prize for that record is a primary vote for the ALP averaging about 29-30%, dismal personal approval ratings, and voter support after preferences that would see the ALP smashed absolutely brainless at an election.

Little wonder it’s about to come to a head; I’m surprised it’s taken this long.

Yet if Gillard truly wanted to act in the interests of her party and her country, there is one course of action open to her that is gracious, would be well-intentioned and recognised as such, would do Australia a favour — and would even allow her to kick one last rival one last time.

I have spoken many times of my regard for Stephen Smith; despite his politics being of a stripe with which I have no truck at all, he might be just what the doctor ordered — at least, where the ALP is concerned — and as Prime Minister, he might just have the smarts to run a decent administration which the incumbent so obviously lacks.

If Gillard wanted to do the truly honourable and noble thing, she would accept the whole thing has been a disaster — and it has, on any reasonable analysis — and resign.

But before she did (or does), the fact remains that as of today, it is accepted that she still retains enough numbers inside the ALP caucus to narrowly defeat any challenge by Kevin Rudd.

The problem here is that were she to win any leadership challenge by anything less than scoring two-thirds of the available votes, such a challenge would fatally undermine her leadership and destroy her authority as Prime Minister, if she actually has any authority left to destroy.

My counsel to Gillard would be to privately canvass every MP known to remain loyal to her and to lobby them to back Stephen Smith in any ALP leadership ballot.

Upon resignation — to the back bench with a commitment to leave Parliament at the next election — she would be free to canvass every other MP to lobby them to support Smith for leadership.

Make no mistake, the settling once and for all of her feud with Rudd may be one of the results, but it would be an incidental one.

But keeping Kevin Rudd out of The Lodge at all costs is also in the best interests of this country.

It’s true that the elevation of Smith might lead to an unwanted election the ALP can’t possibly win; certain MPs — and not least Rudd — might very well quit Parliament to force by-elections out of spite.

Don’t forget, however, that were Rudd to be reinstalled, he would almost certainly call an immediate election to cash in on any sympathy/honeymoon effect.

I have opined previously that such an effect wouldn’t last long enough to see out an election campaign, so noxious is Rudd, but there you go. The threat of an election should be the last thing stopping Gillard from doing something honourable.

The Prime Minister is finished, and the bells are tolling; what she does in response is up to her, but one outcome is to be disgraced at the hands of Rudd.

The other is to act along the lines suggested here.

And let’s be honest — it’s not exactly peaches and cream in any sense whatsoever over at the Labor Party.

2012 was already looming as a horror year for the ALP; to begin, having recently lost office in both NSW and Victoria, polling in those states consistently shows the O’Farrell and Baillieu governments — despite initial teething troubles — recording 5% two party preferred swings to them.

This would see Baillieu re-elected in a landslide if replicated at an election, and O’Farrell all but wiping NSW Labor out.

A state election due in Queensland in February or March is likely to see Anna Bligh’s Labor government thumped so hard the ALP will need three terms to get off the canvass; similarly, Colin Bartlett’s Liberal government in WA faces voters at the end of 2012 and — unless something drastic occurs — seems likely to win in a landslide.

There is a Labor administration in the NT that will last only as long as it takes to set an election date next year. A minority ALP-Greens regime in Tasmania, shaky at best, is racked with leadership problems and seemingly ripe for the Liberals’ picking.

And in SA, the Labor government re-elected last year only because of gerrymandered boundaries now looks certain to get its electoral comeuppance when next it faces voters.

Then there’s the federal problem, with Labor’s dysfunctional Prime Minister, its egomaniacal and imbecilic former one, its blood debts to Greens and Independents, its chronic positioning in public opinion between 10 and 20 points behind the Coalition, and the clear case — despite its perilous grip on office — that the Labor Party is completely clueless as to how to resolve its problems in any meaningful or constructive fashion whatsoever.

All of this has occurred on Julia Gillard’s watch as Prime Minister.

That watch is drawing to its end, and will be terminated sooner rather than later.

One way or the other.

Merry Christmas, Prime Minister.