Category Archives: Europe

Impressions of “Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit,” by Craig Oliver

Recently I read Unleashing Demons by Craig Oliver, an adviser to former UK Prime Minister David Cameron who also worked with the anti-Brexit campaign, “Stronger In.” Unleashing Demons presents an inside view of the failed attempt to convince the British people they should stay in the European Union. Oliver does a good job presenting a detailed history of events and lays blame at numerous people, but not himself nor his former employer. He makes a few claims that are questionable. The book itself is clearly intended for a British audience, but there’s some overlap with US politics too.

Unleashing Demons appears to be a re-purposed diary. It’s very detailed, and does not have a real sense of pacing. It seems likely that most of the book is literally composed of what Oliver recorded happening that day, narrowed down to the EU referendum.

The book begins shortly before the campaign. Oliver’s faction, “Britain Stronger in Europe”) or “Stronger In” for short),” was composed of the leadership of the Conservative, Labor, Liberal-Democrat, Green, and Scottish National Parties. The opposing faction, “Vote Leave” (and its frenemy, “Leave.eu”) was primarily composed of unhappy Conservative Party members, including cabinet ministers. One consequence of this is that the “Stronger In” campaign was strongly associated with the establishment. Oliver realizes this, but fails to appreciate how profoundly this blinded him. At several points Oliver (who narrates the audible edition) seems truly angry and bewildered by “experts” in “post-war institutions” were so widely distrusted. He lives in an establishment world where the financial crisis and the Iraq occupation have not destroyed the credibility of the elite. Another consequence is that the Brexit referendum was seen as a Conservative Party civil war by the other parties. Oliver suspects the incompetent assistance by other parties may have been given on purpose, in order to weaken the Conservative Party.

Oliver briefly describes the pro-Brexit campaign. The official pro-Brexit campaign was Vote Leave, actually led by Cabinet ministers such as Michael Gove. At the same time the U.K Independent Part of Nigel Farage ran a more enthusiastic wildcat campaign, Leave.eu. While tensions between these campaigns are mentioned, but pro-Brexit side appeared more united than the anti-Brexit side.

An irony of the book is that beliefs now associated with Brexiteers (such as that a vote is irrevocable, that “out means out,” and so on) were largely pushed by the Leave campaign and the Cameron administration. This is part of what was called disparagingly “Project Fear,” justified by Oliver as a method of emphasizing the negative aspects of Brexit as a risk to the self-interest of marginal British voters. Within the narrative previous Labor Prime Ministers argued against this approach, emphasizing that while the Brexit side has both a positive message (regain sovereignty) and a negative one (risk from immigration), the pro-Brexit side has only a negative message (risk to the economy) without a positive message (either Brown’s “lead not leave” British power within the EU, or a focus on an “open” world). In the text Oliver is dismissive of this view.

Oliver lists a number of villains who are responsible for Brexit being passed. These include German Chancellor Merkel’s immigration policy, the Labour party for sabotaging the referendum, disloyal Conservative ministers, people “who don’t like brown people”, a lack of a pro-EU story, and the BBC for not silencing news he disliked. In the book and outside it he has called for the BBC to censor political views he dislikes. These include differences from whether or not Turkey can ever join the EU, to whether there might be a EU army.

Unleashing Demons touches on American politics in a few points. The chief pollster for the anti-Brexit campaign was Jim Messini, who also worked for Obama’s successful reelection campaign. Earlier in the book the narrative feels like it’s broken to insist Obama’s line, that Britain would go “in the back of the queue,” was written without British assistance, even though that is not an American expression. As the book neared its conclusion it began to feel more like Donna Brazille’s Hacks, as it became increasingly bitter to members of the author’s own party.

I read Unleashing Demonshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Fear: The Inside Story of Brexit in the Audible edition.

Impressions of “Exploring New Europe: A Bicycle Journey,” by Barry Wood

Recently I read Exploring New Europe, the story of the author’s trip from Estonia to Albania on bicycle. The trip occurs in several legs, of around a week each, between which the author returned to the United States to live and work. Unsurprisingly the easiest part of the Germany appeared to be on the modern and expansive biketrails created in the old East Germany… the hardest and most dangerous part of the journey was in Bulgaria, the “graveyard of cycling dreams.”

Most days the author journeyed between 45 and 50 miles, starting around 10 AM and finishing around 6 PM. This is a leisurely pace, and it’s inspiring to see how much of the world one can travel by bicycle. I personally appreciated the author’s use of almost no reservations in his travel — while AirBNB has changed this somewhat, the greatest adventures are the one’s you can’t find on google before hand.

Plus, the author released a youtube “trailer” for the book, which captures the spirit well:

This book was published after the recent elections, yet it feels out of time. It reminds me of the celebrations of globalization I read in the 1990s and 200s, like Tom Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree (1999) and The World is Flat (2005). Long ago a called Friedman a genius, but Friedman and his followers have not transitioned to the post-crash world. There’s a breezy attitude toward “risk” that ignores optionality. Beyond “self-confidence” or “vision,” anyone whose experienced an old Empire crumble would be rationally nervous about the future of a new Empire

I’m sure [he] would have moved ahead if he owned by B&B. He would have gotten the needed permits and bank loans for development. [The actual owner], by contract, was just holding on. He didn’t have self-confidence or vision.

Likewise, the Euro-optimism doesn’t take into effect that the European dream is dying in the west, where Britain is soon leaving the Union, and the cause of dying in the East, and the War in the Donbas drags on

Some of the countries I crossed — Serbia, Macedonia, Albania — are still knocking on the door, and Kaliningrad as part of Russia is a special case. Make no mistake, the European dream is still alive.

I enjoy bicycling and liked this book of biking adventures. It was breezy to read and balanced discussing the countries with the authors own thoughts and some details on the biking. But it doesn’t match the current concerns of Europe, or even the feel of this period of globalization (if the world is still globalizing).

I read Exploring New Europe: A Bicycle Journey in the Kindle edition.

The “Free Parking” Analaogy in International Relations

In business strategy, it is common to subsidize a money losing business that in order to make a primary business profitable. This is called “free parking.”

For instance, McDonalds is one of the largest parking lot operations in the world. The scale of their investment in an international network of places to park your car is staggering, involving professional and operational employees and contractors all of the world.

But McDonalds is not in the parking business. They are in the hamburger business. But absent providing “free parking,” McDonalds would find the cost of customer acquisition painfully high and the economics of scale from its operations too small.

russia_mcdonalds
Of Interest to Parking Lot Operators

Likewise, the United States runs one of the largest carbon-economy rollback operations in the world. The scale of US investment in preventing the success of the carbon economies (from “King Cotton” in the late 19th century to “King Oil” in the late 20th century to King Natural Gas today) is staggering. This anti-carbon-intervention — from a massive climate science masquerade to military actions in the American South and the Middle East.

In most of the world most of the time, carbon-based economies are naturally despotic and authoritarian. These “hydraulic empires” exist because of the government monopoly over the infrastructure needed to extract wealth from the earth. This form of social organization can be internally stable but maintain considerable freedom of movement in international relations because rules do not need worry about complicated economic links that limit non-carbon economies. That is, they are warlike.

ukraine_pipelines_map
Of Interest to Carbon Extraction Operators

(Whether refers to carbon-economy rollback by that name, or says something about sustainable political-economic growth, or “shrinking the gap” or whatever, the meaning and the concept is the same: minimizing the political and military importance of carbon extraction throughout the world.)

Rolling back the carbon-based economy is to the US what free parking is to McDonlads. For McDonalds, free parking is the side business and selling hamburgers is the main business. For the US, carbon-economy rollback is the side business and selling security is the main business. McDonalds could not afford the customer acquisition cost, and could not enjoy the economies of scale, without subsidizing free parking for its customers and potential customers. Likewise, the US could not afford the country-acquisition cost of its military alliances nor enjoy economies of scale, without subsidizing carbon-economy rollback for its customers and potential customers.

My friend Dr. Samuel Liles thinks that free parking is a distraction, whether for McDonalds in a shopping mall or the US in the world political system. He’s wrong on both points.

McDonalds cannot provide hamburgers (in exchange for cash) without providing parking, for free.

The US cannot provide security (in exchange for power) without rolling back the carbon-based economy, for free.

Remembering

On 11/11/1918 World War I’s armistice went into effect.

A good argument is that the European Civil War that was a part of actually ended on 1/1/1999, when Germany and France were united by a common currency.

The only leader who appeared to believe in democracy in World War I was the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Karl the Blessed. World War I helped drive him off his throne.

War is an important tool of policy in a system of international anarchy. But in the 20th century, which saw at its height Hitler, Stalin and Mao, the War that today commerates led to a man who might have been a Saint losing an Empire in the middle of Europe.

Pray for peace.

Review of “To Lose a Battle: France 1940,” by Alistair Horne

To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne (the author of A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962) is (1) a logistics-heavy description of the Battle of France, (2) a description of the general incompetence in both the France and German High Commands, (3) a tale of France, a country that was not then and never became a western democracy, and (4) a history of the end of France and Germany as distinct states.

1. The Logistics of War

“It was time that was the vital element which — more than weapons, even perhaps more than morale — France most lacked in 1940.”

Horne’s focus on logistics, timing, supplies, and materiel is refreshing, especially given so much strategy-focused writing by John Boyd and William Lind. I am not in a position to evaluate the completeness of Horne’s account, but his manner of writing certainly has fans:

Some two years later, I encountered at a London publishing party Israel’s leading military analyst and former Chief of Intelligence, Chaim Herzog (He was later to become Israel’s President.) We had met some years previously in Israel, and he had now just published his own account of the 1973 campaign, The War of Atonement. (Weidenfeld, 1975). When I commented on the similarities to the Manstein Plan of 1940, he smiled knowingly and said something to the effect that, only recently, General Sharon had referred to it, acknowledging a certain indebtedness to To Lose a Battle. Herzog kindly signed a copy of his book for me, adding the laconic but meaningful inscription, “In appreciation.”

I’ve never read a clearer account of battle that focused on the vital appointment of having the right materiel at the right location at the right time. Horne deserves major props for this part of the book, as he does for flowing between the political and military dimensions of struggle in his last book.

2. The Incompetence of the High Commands

Poor decisions went up to the part. “During the course of the Second World War,” Horne writes, “Hitler committed half a dozen key blunders that were to lose Germany the war.” Though in fairness, Hitler’s consistent habit was to bluff as much as he can while being prepared to rapidly ceed ground at the first resistance. Even as late as 1939 Horne believes that a French attack on Germany (during the Nazi invasion of Poland) would have reached the Rhine within two weeks.

The French and German general staffs, however, were fixated on the strategy of an orderly defense, and as such both were hesitant to move rapidly or seize the initiative. These “wrong lessons learned” for World War I, however, reach comic levels with the French, who even move troops away from Paris and towards the Maginot Line near the end of the fight.

3. France, an Unstable Democracy

The best insight I have from reading To Lose a Battle and A Savage War of Peace is that France was never a stable western democracy. Attempts to view its behavior as analogous to what the United States or Britain would do in a similar situation are unfounded, because France had a unique set of interests. Specific elements of French political life that made normal politics impossible were

  • A lack of separation between the political and the military
  • A militant left-wing (which was purposefully crippled by Stalin)
  • A revolutionary right-wing (which was sympathetic to military coups against elected governments)

The pattern of both To Lose a Battle and A Savage War of Peace is the old general, brought in from retirement, who oversees the death of the old Republic and faces resistance from an idealistic general

Philippe Petain v. the Third Republic and Charles DeGaulle
but then… DeGaulle v. the Fourth Republic and Roaul Salan

After reading both books, the solution is obvious: France is not a stable democracy.

Reading To Lose a Battle and A Savage War of Peace at first is strange, because the country appears to be a nightmarish version of the United States, but the U.S. is a democracy that has not had a new constitution since the the 18th century. France, by contrast, was never stable. Thus Petain, and DeGaulle, operated out the same frame: no stable government existed absent a strong leader, so a constitutional dictatorship was (for the time being) the only natural form of government for France.

The difference between Petain and DeGaulle was not between traitor and patriot (by our standards, they were surely both). Indeed, both recognized the unstable nature of French democracy, and sought to meld the French polity into Germany. Likewise, both (like Mao Zedong, Chiang Kaishek, and Wang Jingwei) differentiated between ‘diseases of the limbs’ and ‘diseases of the hearts’ — during their heights…

DeGaulle, unlike Petain, was an optimist as DeGaulle, unlike Petain, did not live with the guilt of overseeing a massacre. While other French commanders fled he attacked the Germans, achieving some pointless victories that did nothing to stop the German war machine. Thus, DeGaulle was willing to wait for a better time to commit his ethnic cleansing campaign and tie his country’s fate to Germany. Petain simply wanted to end the destruction of his country.

4. The End of France and Germany

The hosts of heaven allowed the sons of man to form two nations, France and Germany, in June 840. The mandate was revoked in June, 1940.

Before France and Germany western Europe was controlled by a transnational aristocracy. After June, 1940, such a world returned.

The end of the book has a “where are they now” section. There seemed to be no correlation between the side of a leader and how his future career unfolded. Both German and French generals suffered under Hitler. Both German and French generals were executed post-war. Both German and French generals would enjoy a sunny career in NATO. June 1940 appeared to be the last month where the fates of Germany and France were, truly, antagonistic.

For centuries it was impossible imagine a world without these two countries. Now, it is impossible to imagine one with them. Considering the inability of either France or Germany to establish stable national democracies, the accomplishments of the European Union are astounding.

To Lose a Battle is a brilliant history of one of the first fights of the Second World War. Highly recommended!

When European leaders say “global warming,” they mean “Russia”

This post came from a chat with Brendan of I Hate Linux. It confirms the cap-and-trade bill pushed by President Obama.

We are doing it for Europe

When Europe says “global warming,” they mean “Russia.”

The transposition works almost every time.

X is a threat to civilization; X is a threat to humanity; X is a threat to small nations; X must be combated by all developed nations.

Obama’s cap-and-trade is basically a way for us to assure europe that they won’t be at a compettive disadvantage if they throttle-down on Gazprom deliveries.

The Next South Ossetia: Crimea

Though South Ossetia is only recognized by Russia and Nicaragua, it has still allowed Russia to extend its influence by attacking neighboring states. South Ossetia, along with Abkhazia and Transnistria, are puppet entities supported by Russia.

The next puppet state may well be Crimea, which is part of Ukraine:

World Briefing – Europe – Ukraine – Concern About Russia – NYTimes.com
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France said Tuesday that Moscow had been issuing Russian passports in Crimea, a region in southern Ukraine where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based. “We all know that they are handing out Russian passports over there,” Mr. Kouchner said in an interview with Kommersant, a Russian online newspaper. The government of Ukraine has said it wants the fleet to leave the Crimean base in Sevastopol when its lease runs out in 2017. But the Russian naval authorities have indicated that they want to retain the base. Mr. Kouchner said Russia might try to make advances in Crimea after the success of its military operations in Georgia in August.

Gap regimes such as Russia rise and fall with hydrocarbon prices. The lower we can keep the price of oil, the less Russia will be able to create this kind of trouble.