Tom Arms’ World Review

NATO

French President Emmanuel Macron set the cat among the NATO pigeons this week when he hinted that France just might – no stronger than might at this stage – send troops to Ukraine.

The suggestion was definitely on the table when 21 Western heads of state or government and six foreign ministers met in Paris this week. Polish President Andresz Duda confirmed it.

It was apparently raised by Macron and we know that the frontline Baltic states of Estonia and Lithuania backed it. We also know that the British, American and Germans vetoed it – for the time being. Everyone else is keeping their cards close to their chests.

On two things the allies were agreed: Russia is stepping up its cyber and disinformation attacks and that some time in the next few years, according to Macron, “we have to be prepared for Russia to attack the (NATO) countries.”

Immediately following the Paris summit, President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual state of the nation address in which he warned that any further NATO involvement in Ukraine “raises the real threat of a nuclear conflict that will mean the destruction of our civilisation.”

On a slightly less apocalyptic note, Putin said that he would be strengthening Russian forces on its Western flank which means recently annexed Eastern Ukraine, the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and the Russian borders with the Baltic States and new NATO member Finland.

Ideally, NATO would avoid a head to head with Russia by providing Ukraine with the means to keep fighting. But Europe’s defense industries lack the capacity and America’s $60 billion military aid package is being blocked by MAGA Republicans.

One solution was voiced this week by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. She suggested using the $300 billion in frozen Russian assets to purchase weapons for Ukraine. The money had been earmarked for reconstruction purposes. But if Ukraine is defeated than there will be nothing to reconstruct.

Russia

Meanwhile, as of this writing, martyred Russian Opposition leader Alexei Navalny is being laid to rest in Moscow’s Borisovskoye Cemetery.

The funeral service was held in a Russian Orthodox Church near the Navalny home in southeast Moscow. A large crowd gathered outside the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God. As Navalny’s body was carried in and out of the church the crowd chanted “Navalny, Navalny” interspersed with “executioners, “executioners”

The church was surrounded by masked police guards who blocked several of Navalny’s closest allies still in Russia from entering the church. They also banned cameras and videos from the church, although Navalny’s supporters were able to broadcast much of the event on a You Tube channel which was watched by hundreds of thousands.

The state media did not report the funeral and the Kremlin, when asked to express condolences, refused to do so.

Navalny’s death is the most high profile and dramatic anti-dissident action by the Putin regime. But it is not the only one. This week 70-year-old Russian human rights activist Oleg Orlov was sentenced to two and a half years for criticising the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Orlov is best known as the co-chair of Memorial, a Russian human rights organisation which was one of three winners of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize. In October he was fined $1,600 for an article in which the state said he “discredited” the army. Not enough, decreed Putin. So the verdict and sentence were cancelled and Orlov was this week placed on trial for the same crime and this time sent to prison.

Orlov and Navalny are only two of thousands of Russians who have dared to criticise Putin. Most of them have either joined Navalny in the grave or Orlov in prison.

United Kingdom

Islam is the new scapegoat of Europe. Actually, that is not accurate, fear of Islamisation has been around since before the Battle of Tours in 732.

But it appears to have reached a fresh apogee in Britain. And the rest of Europe’s far-right parties are no slouches in the Islamaphobic stakes.

Viktor Orban in Hungary, Marine Le Pen in France, Gert Wilders in the Netherlands, the Swedish Democrats in Sweden…. They have all helped to move the anti-Islam dial and, in doing so, have infected the mainstream political parties.

In Britain it stayed on the distant fringes of the far-right for a long time. Parties such as the British National Party and English Defence League were associated with football hooliganism as much as Islamaphobia.

That started to change with the rise of UKIP and its successor party Reform. They have been gradually chipping away at the right-wing of the Conservative party with the result that the Tories have started to steal some of their anti-Islamic clothes in order to keep their voters.

This became all too apparent this week when Conservative Party Chairman Lee Anderson told the right-wing news channel GB News that the Muslim Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan was controlled by Islamists and that he had given the city away “to his mates.”

For working purposes, the term “Islamists” is generally interpreted as either Islamic extremists or Islamic fundamentalists. I personally know Sadiq Khan. Before I joined Liberal Democrats I had a brief flirtation with the Labour Party and deputised for Sadiq on two occasions when he was my constituency MP. He is almost as far from being an Islamic extremist as the Pope.

Which might partly explain why Lee Anderson’s comments led Rishi Sunak to belatedly withdraw the conservative whip from him. But the prime minister, has refused to condemn Anderson’s remarks.

His former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, has gone even further. Writing in The Daily Telegraph, she said:  Britain is sleepwalking into a ghettoised society where Sharia law, the Islamist mob and anti-semites take over communities”.

Why has Ms Braverman not suffered the same fate as Mr. Anderson? Because Mr Sunak needs her to hold his crumbling Conservative Party together.

The far-right anti-Islamic party Reform says Anderson and Braverman should jump ship join them. Not a chance. They are sticking with the Tories because when they lose the next election – as they almost certainly will – the party is expected to lurch even further to the right. When that happens Ms Braverman will make her bid for the party leadership. Lee Anderson will doubtless be offered a plum post in the Shadow cabinet.

United States

The US Supreme Court has never been apolitical. It is supposed to be. The founding fathers organised lifetime appointments to lift the court above what James Madison called “the tumult and conflict of the political process.”

It didn’t work. Justices appointed by liberal-minded presidents have tended towards liberal judgements and those appointed by conservative presidents have gone the other way.

Trump managed to appoint three justices. This gave the court a 6-3 conservative slant which led to the return of anti-abortion laws and several other conservative judgments.

But a decision this week takes the court into uncharted and choppy waters. The US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case about whether or not Donald Trump has blanket immunity from criminal prosecution. They have not decided the case. That won’t come until probably the early summer.

But the court’s decision to hear the case is a win for Trump because it makes that much more unlikely that he will come to trial before the November election.

The court’s decision to hear the case puts the Justices in a difficult position. If they rule for Trump then they alienate the half of the country that hate him. If they rule against him they incur the wrath of his MAGA base.

They could have avoided this dilemma. They had the perfect out. The DC court that heard Trump’s appeal issued what a number of jurists considered a watertight 3-0 judgment. Rejecting his immunity claims, the court ruled that if they had decided otherwise then Trump – and by extension, his successors – would have “unbounded authority to commit crimes that would neutralise the most fundamental check on executive power – the recognition and implementation of election results.”

Trump and his lawyers argued differently. As the ex-president wrote on Truth Social: “Without presidential immunity, a president will not be able to properly function or make decisions in the best interests of the United States. Presidents will always be concerned, and even paralysed, by the prospect of wrongful prosecution and retaliation after they leave office. This could actually lead to the extortion and blackmail of a president.”

It sounds like a strong argument. But should the immunity extend to the protection of the political interests of an individual president? Prosecutor Jack Smith has charged Trump with attempting to defraud the United States with false Electoral College voters and blocking the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.

Has the interests of the office of the President of the United States become totally conflated with the interests of the individual who occupies it?

* 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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12 Comments

  • Martin Gray 3rd Mar '24 - 11:40am

    It seems ironic – that when presented with a choice of election candidates in Rochdale , the local people chose Galloway running on a single issue ticket ..The rise of populist parties in Europe is a sad indictment of progressive politics…Only a limited number of leaders understand the problems – the rest hide behind meaningless buzzwords and phrases …
    “For me, it is becoming increasingly clear that the price of unregulated globalisation, mass immigration and the free movement of labour is paid for by the lower classes”

    Mette Frederiksen

  • Steve Trevethan 3rd Mar '24 - 12:33pm

    Thank you for your article! W

    Might the basic policy of the Conservatives have two prongs?

    1) Appeal to the basic drivers of fear, greed and status seeking

    2) Submergedly facilitate the transfer of wealth from the less well off to the very well off

    Might we consider drawing this to the attention of the citizenry?

  • The elephant in the room has spoken. It would appear that British and French troops are in Ukraine in tiny numbers to help in the preparation of rockets for firing. Nobody has said that NATO troops will be in combat. Just garrison duties to release hard pressed Ukrainian numbers for the front.

  • John McHugo 3rd Mar '24 - 8:58pm

    Tom – there is no definition of ‘Islamist’. It is one of those words onto which people can heap whatever meaning they like. It is a term that originated in the West. I have a great deal of sympathy with the Council on American-Islamic relations (CAIR) which said in 2013, with evident tongue in cheek, that the word Islamist had become shorthand for “Muslims we don’t like”.

  • Or possibly, to describe Muslims whose values are diametrically opposed to those of the West, and who are willing to use, intimidation, violence and terrorist tactics to impose their will on Western culture, or indeed any culture that does not embrace their own narrow fundamental, politically focussed interpretation of Islam.

  • @ Steve Trevethan– I have some sympathy for your characterisation of conservative party values and policies. However, I think we have to be careful about demonising our political opponents.

    @ John McHugo and Noah– John, I think your definition of an Islamist is probably better than mine. Noah, I disagree with your definition. I think that what you describe would be better defined as a Jihadist or terrorist. The overwhelming majority of the Muslims in Britain are neither. They do, however, have a strong sense of responsibility towards their Palestinian co-religionists. And, like every other British citizen, they have the right to protest and the right to freedom of assembly. They do not have the right to incite hatred or violence, but so far, I have seen more incitement to violence from the far right then from the Muslim community. I should add that the intelligence services recently issued a report saying that the greatest threat was from the far right.

    @John Waller. It would be great if the Pope did intervene. But I suspect that Putin would be of the same mind as his hero Joseph Stalin who dismissed the Vatican with the words : “How many divisions does the Pope have?” As for opinion polls. I don’t think it is possible to have a poll in Russia which accurately reflects opinions. This is for several reasons. 1- People are scared to give their true opinion. 2- The pollsters are biased. Chronicle, for instance, is run by the opposition politician Aleksei Miniallo. Other “independent” polls are controlled by the government.

  • Zachary Adam Barker 8th Mar '24 - 8:29pm

    “Tim, I believe all LibDems should support the Russian PEOPLE and call for an end of the war.”

    Agreed. On the terms of the victim. NOT the perpetrator,

  • Peter Hirst 9th Mar '24 - 3:02pm

    We would be on far stronger ground if we got our own house in order before criticising others. We need a far stronger code of conduct for our MPs so Parties have to take greater care about who they approve as possible candidates. Much of our recent issues have been about government and parliament must be given more powers to scrutinse and sanction the executive.

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