Tom Arms’ World Review

A diplomatic truism is that some conflicts are insoluble. They are, however, manageable. Although the consequences of doing nothing or mismanagement can spell disaster. The Arab-Israeli conflict falls neatly into the above category.

President Joe Biden obviously came to this conclusion before stepping on the plane for his tour of the Middle East this week. A succession of American administrations – except Trump’s – has paid homage to the two-state solution. Biden reiterated the pre-Trump position, but not as forcefully as his predecessors. Part of the reason is that there was little point as his Israeli counterpart, Yasir Lapid, is merely a caretaker prime minister while the Jewish state struggles through another political crisis. As for the Palestinians, they are hopelessly divided between Hamas in Gaza who are a designated terrorist organisation and the PLO’s Mahmoud Abbas who, at 86, makes Biden look like the proverbial spring chicken. The result is that the two-state solution has been moved from the backburner to refrigerator.

Instead the US administration is focusing on maintaining relations with Israel and trying to draw other allies – mainly Saudi Arabia but also the United Arab Emirates and Qatar – into closer relations with Israel. To help with the first point, Biden has toughened his stand on Iran and the threat of nuclear weapons. One thing that all Israeli parties agree on is that Iran represents an existential threat. Biden has agreed that he will do whatever is necessary to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The second issue is more, problematic, especially as regards Saudi Arabia. There is no love lost between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and Biden and the wider Democratic Party. Clearly a problem that needs managing.

Ukrainian military commanders are cock-a-hoop. The military equipment and training provided by the West are starting to work, especially the shoot and scoot American High Mobility Rocket Systems (HIMARS). The GPS-guided precision artillery have to date knocked out 19 forward-based Russian ammunition dumps.

The Ukrainians are now talking about a major counter-offensive involving hundreds of thousands of ground troops to retake territories lost in the Donbas Region. There are, however, problems. HIMARS rockets are accurate and effective, but they are also expensive and have to be used sparingly. So far the US has supplied eight launchers. Another four are on the way. The other problem is that their range is limited to 50 miles. As the Ukrainians advance, the Russians could simply stage a tactical retreat and still control a significant slice of Eastern Ukraine. Washington could supply Ukraine with precision weaponry with a range of 500 miles. These would be a war-winner but would mean that Ukraine could strike targets inside Russia which means escalation with disastrous consequences.

Meanwhile there appears to be the possibility of some movement on the movement of grain out of Ukraine. Between them, Russia and Ukraine account for 21-28 percent of the world’s grain supplies and 40 percent of this vital food for the inherently unstable North Africa and Middle East. A big chunk of that grain is – more than 20 million tonnes – trapped in Ukrainian siloes, unable to reach hungry world markets because of a Russian naval blockade. This week saw talks in Istanbul involving Ukrainian, UN, Russian and Turkish negotiators. They ended with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar promising a signed deal next week. Moscow and Kyiv have said nothing.

There are several sticking points. For a start the Ukrainians have mined the approaches to their ports to prevent a Russian amphibious landing and the Russians have imposed a naval blockade to stop the import of weapons. Going into this week’s talks Moscow demanded the right to inspect incoming ships for weapons. The Ukrainians said no. The Ukrainians, for their part insisted on grain carriers being escorted by convoys of friendly ships. That is a possibility and Turkey may play a role here.

A further complication, however, is that the exports would include Russian grain which Ukrainians assert has been stolen from land occupied by the Russians since their 24 February invasion.  Not surprisingly, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said: “There is still a way to go.”

The current UK leadership elections exposes some of the many failings of democracy – short termism and an unrepresentative voting system. The two are linked. The candidates for head of the Conservative Party (and thus prime minister) are campaigning on a platform which benefits the national interest but on one which also panders first to 359 Conservative Party members of parliament and then an estimated 160,000 card-carrying Tories (average age 57). That is out of a voting population of 46,560,452. The person who is elected is likely to reside in Downing Street for the next roughly three years, two at the least.

Britain faces massive structural and social problems. It has to deal with massive debts inherited from Boris Johnson, the pandemic and Brexit. Then then there is the cost of living crisis, impending trade union disputes, the Northern Ireland Protocol, social divisions, food banks, Ukraine, rising energy costs, trade with the EU and US, future food shortages…. Virtually all of the fore mentioned are being ignored. Instead the candidates are ranting about wokeism, the perfidy of Brussels and pushing tax cuts – the most popular of all policies with Tory voters, who, after all, are the only ones allowed to vote in this election.

I am not proposing ditching democracy. It is, as is attributed to Winston Churchill, “the worst form of government except for all the rest.” But that does not mean that any democracy cannot be improved, especially to accommodate changing social conditions. In fact, the ability to amend and reform should be one of the hallmarks of a democratic system.

It works like this: You need to borrow money. So you go to the bank and they ask for collateral and the best collateral is property. You tell them that your Manhattan tower block is worth $200 million and so they loan you $100 million in return for the deeds until the loan is repaid. Pretty normal, legal run-of-the-mill business practice – unless you are not telling the truth about the value of your Manhattan tower block. If you lied then it is criminal fraud.

Manhattan’s District Attorney claims Donald Trump and his children lied. The result, they are now facing sworn depositions. So what will eventually topple the ex-president? Will it be his business practises, his political chicanery or his sex antics?

An amusing an interesting consequence of the overturning of Roe v Wade has emerged in Texas – that most hardline of anti-abortion states. In common with many other parts of America, Texas has high occupancy traffic lanes to help cope with rush hour traffic. To use the lane there has to be at least two people in the car.

Brandy Bottone, 32, was stopped and fined $275, for being alone in her car. Not so, she told the traffic policeman, as the 34-week pregnant mother-to-be pointed to her stomach. “My baby is right here. She is a person.” It will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court says.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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  • nigel hunter 17th Jul '22 - 10:47am

    Ukraine-The HIMARS/MLRS M270s are effective but seeing Putin is approaching Syria for drones these HIMARS will have to be protected 24/7.
    The electoral system is crap.However to change that system, surely pushing a STV solution must start being sold to the voter NOW to be ready for the next election.If that is astep too far (hope not) other ideas of improvement should be talked about.A country held to ransom by 160 thou elderly people is not a good idea.

  • Michael Cole 17th Jul '22 - 11:30am

    nigel hunter. “The electoral system is crap. However to change that system, surely pushing a STV solution must start being sold to the voter NOW to be ready for the next election.” Leadership, please take note.

  • David Goble 18th Jul '22 - 9:37am

    I have been musing about the possibility of Rishi Sunak becoming Prime Minister and it raises some interesting questions.

    Would he be the first multi-millionaire to hold the post and, perhaps more importantly, what does he know about the lives and working conditions of people in the lower-income brackets of society?

    Would he be the first Prime Minister to hold the post who has been fined by the Police for breaking the laws that he helped to pass?

    What does this say about the Conservative Party?

  • Things seem to be getting crazier by the minute in Moscow. The head of RT is reported to be saying the Ukraine cannot go on existing Ukraine can’t continue to exist
    I always thought that RT should not have been banned in Europe. People need to be able to see this kind of rhetoric for themselves. I doubt it is going to influence anyone of sound mind.
    On the same broadcast a native of Chechnya was brought on to argue that Putin was leading a holy war against the anti-christ (Nato) as prophesised in the Bible, Koran and Torah according to the gentlemen.
    Meanwhile, the Russian state refuses to allow grain ships safe passage in the Black sea unless western sanctions are lifted and is reported to be selling stolen Ukrainian grain on the black market.

  • Peter Hirst 24th Jul '22 - 3:27pm

    The conflict between Palestine and Israel might be unsolvable but the human rights situation isn’t. By focusing on the rights of the Palestinean people we might get a settlement. Similarly in Yemen we should concentrate on the non-combatants who suffer tremendously.

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