Gordon Campbell on the SAS role against Islamic State, and Podemos

Could this news report serve to explain – in a nutshell – why Prime Minister John Key has not ruled out the SAS forming part of New Zealand’s contribution to the fight against Islamic State? From the New York Times a fortnight ago:

With relatively few Iraqi offensives to flush out militants, many Islamic State fighters have dug in to shield themselves from attack. The vast majority of bombing runs, including the weekend strike near Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, are now searching for targets of opportunity, such as checkpoints, artillery pieces and combat vehicles in the open. But only one of every four strike missions — some 800 of 3,200 — dropped its weapons, according to the military’s Central Command.

To repeat: only 25% of the US bombing runs are even managing to locate IS targets worth bombing. As the NYT explains at length, this underlines the need for better on-the-ground intelligence to direct the air campaign to where the bad guys have holed up. (After their initial flurry of success, the US planes are now only hitting “ pop-up targets of opportunity.”) Well, on-the-ground intelligence gathering is one of the things our SAS forces did in Afghanistan while operating in the south of the country, before they shifted to an urban ‘training’ (and combat) role in Kabul.

Logically, why would you use the SAS in an entirely safe, strictly ‘behind the wire’ training role with regular Iraqi Army units? And if the SAS are training Iraqi special ops…surely they’d have to be doing so in the field under combat conditions either in the provinces, or within disputed urban settings? Somehow, the words “SAS” and “non-combat role” don’t make much sense in the same sentence.

For now, the Americans continue to have a crying need for better on-the-ground intelligence to get the air campaign against IS back on track. It would be interesting to know if the Americans have ever asked Key if the SAS could possibly help them out with this little targeting problem they’re having.

Ola, Andrew
Andrew Little has been getting a lot of advice in the last 48 hours and this is, and isn’t, more of the same. Routinely, left-wingers are always looking offshore for some quasi-utopian source of inspiration, be it Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela etc. Right-wingers are more focused, because neo-liberal truths are eternal (as laid down by Thatcher in 1979, and Reagan in 1981) Where the two systems converge is in the belief that pure socialism, pure market capitalism…has never gone far enough, and never been done properly. Things have never been taken to the event horizon where the taxless society meets the classless society, and all our social and personal problems disappear down the wormhole.

That said, there are interesting events unfolding right now– in Spain, and in Uruguay – worthy of anyone’s attention, left or right. The ruling political wisdom is that when low and middle income workers come under threat from globalization, they naturally and fearfully gravitate to reactionary anti-migrant, anti-welfare populist parties – Ukip in Britain, and New Zealand First here. Well, the stunning success this year of the left-wing Podemos party in Spain is proof there is nothing inevitable about that response.

Podemos has only been in existence for less than 12 months as a social movement, and for little over a month as a formal political party. In May, it has won 1.2 million votes and five seats in the last European parliamentary elections, and it also has – more importantly – overturned the cosy two-party system in Spain. For most of this year, Podemos has consistently topped the poll ratings as the most popular political party in Spain, and this has triggered a bipartisan response from an old order that clearly feels under threat. How Podemos arrived at its agenda is as interesting as what it is advocating:

[Podemos] has in the last 4 weeks (from mid-October to mid November 2014) launched itself as a political party (before, it was only a social movement with no clearly defined organizational structures). It has also decided on the main proposals that will constitute its future political platform. The process was bottom-up and very open: virtually anyone could register on Podemos’ web-page and vote, from among around 100 proposals, on her favourite five. The results are as follows (in order of preference): 1) defence of public education; 2) measures to combat corruption; 3) gain the right to housing and stop evictions; 4) defence of public health; 5) a debt audit and measures for the restructuring of the Spanish debt.

As the Guardian recently pointed out, Podemos did not simply appear out of nowhere. It is a child of the indignados movement, and as such, it emphasises bottom-up political participation. Funding for its European campaign, for instance, was largely crowdsourced. While older voters continue to support the establishment’s centre-left Socialist Workers Party, educated young voters are flocking to Podemos. The language it uses is one reason why:

…Podemos is now surging because it eschews standard leftwing terminology. “In order to do politics differently, we need to do language differently,” Podemos’s Eduardo Maura [says]. “When you do politics, one of the things you have to ask yourselves is – what are you aiming at? You could aim at people who already have a political identity, who are an already signed-up leftist. We are trying to talk to people who don’t necessarily have this kind of identity.”

Instead, Podemos talks of rescuing Spain’s democracy from la casta, or the establishment; of winning over “social majorities” who oppose cuts, including people who don’t identify with the left. Rather than talk of nationalisations, Podemos preaches public control and accountability.

It is a strategy that makes sense, and the Guardian report explains the context:

Across western Europe, the old industrial working class – with its relatively stable jobs and cohesive communities based around workplaces – has given way to a more fragmented and insecure service-sector workforce. The decline of trade unionism and the ingenious spinning of the climax of the cold war to mean “the end of history” means that the new generations grew up without the old culture of the traditional left. That means the forms of organising and communicating that often defined the old left and labour movements are now out of date. Podemos’s message is: adapt and thrive.

Locally, the Podemos example would suggest that either it is time to bury the Labour Party for good – or to frame its message in something other than the old language of the left, which routinely portrays people as being either victims or dupes. Podemos, by contrast, means “ We Can.”

Born to Re-Run
As Sesame Street celebrates its 45 years of existence, everyone is treating this as an excuse to revisit their favourite clips. Without further ado, here’s mine – the Bruce Springsteen inspired ‘Born To Add…’