There’s a chap called Tobias Ellwood who’s spent the past week doggedly promoting his latest idea to save Western civilization. “From a military perspective,” Ellwood explained during a recent speaking engagement, it’s never been more urgent to impose a “humanitarian sea corridor” off the coast of Ukraine. This would involve an outright naval intervention by NATO in the Black Sea — with the objective being to prevent Russia from seizing control of the strategically important city of Odesa. Perhaps upon commencement of this mission, Ellwood suggested, listless denizens of “The West” will finally come to appreciate the existential stakes of the conflict now before us, and “accept that we are actually in a 1938 period, but actually worse.” The double “actually” was presumably included for maximum emphasis.
Notably, Ellwood is not some random crank. He is “actually” a Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, and the chairman of the impressively-titled Defence Select Committee. In that latter capacity, he seeks to exert influence over the Defence policy of Her Majesty’s Government, which is currently led by his Conservative Party colleague Boris Johnson.
During the private event, hosted by a Think Tank which unilaterally and hilariously decreed his comments “off the record,” Ellwood described the plan he envisaged for how this new phase of military intervention in Ukraine would unfold. It should be up to the UK to “create a coalition of the willing,” he declared — borrowing the terminology once used for countries that participated in the US invasion of Iraq, which memorably included the UK. Ellwood evidently detected no ignominy at all in this historical association.
On the subject of Ukraine, Ellwood’s view is that the UK and Europe must stop waiting around for the US to get its act together, and instead proactively initiate the kind of muscular, unapologetic military action that is currently needed against Russia. The lesson of last year’s Afghanistan withdrawal, Ellwood charged — as well as Joe Biden’s purported Ukraine-related dithering — has been to “expose America to be very, very hesitant indeed.” He explained: “I see the United States almost catching up with where, from a military perspective, a vanguard may actually go.”
Note that Ellwood’s plan certainly does not assume that the US would somehow just sit out whatever forthcoming war the UK may instigate. With the US as the real firepower behind NATO, that’s obviously not feasible. Instead, his idea would simply be for the UK to place itself at the “vanguard” of precipitating the new military action, after which the US would inevitably be engulfed as well. Time is of the essence, Ellwood contends, because China has ominously joined with Russia to set about “dismantling the liberal world order” — a development Ellwood believes will elevate the conflict to a magnitude on par with the Peloponnesian War of Greek antiquity. “China will exploit the war in Ukraine to hasten America’s inevitable decline,” he warned.
Out of these ashes, at least according to Ellwood’s apparent calculus, will rise the UK: “If we want Putin to fail,” Ellwood declared, “then we need to conclude this in months. We need to vow to press forward.” He added, “I underline how critical it is: if Odesa falls, then I’m afraid it’s going to be very, very difficult for us to turn this around.” (Note his use of the pronoun “us,” as though it should be understood that the UK is already an official combatant.)
In his quest to position the UK at the head of this new “vanguard” for greater military intervention, Ellwood is aided by a supportive clamor emanating from what some might regard as an unlikely quarter: the British Left. Broach the subject of Ukraine with prominent figures in the Labour Party, the trade unions, or the left-wing media, and you might be amazed to find that their critique of current Government policy is not that Boris Johnson has been too cavalier or militaristic with regard to Ukraine. Rather, it’s that Johnson hasn’t been cavalier or militaristic enough. Or in other words, what they’re really taking the Conservative Government to task for at the moment is its alleged unwillingness to escalate the war to their liking.
Adjust the ideological contours slightly, and this new Labour Party line is a mirror image of the Republican Party’s current critique of Joe Biden. According to the incessant shrieks of GOP elected officials, Biden is nothing but a wimpy appeaser — even though he’s escalating US involvement in new and exciting ways virtually every single day. Just this week, Biden rolled out something like a back-to-back escalatory special: on Tuesday he publicly accused Putin of committing “genocide,” and by Wednesday he was announcing yet another $800 million in arms shipments, with this latest tranche featuring heavier weaponry than ever before — including a fleet of attack helicopters. That coincided with a classified meeting held at the Pentagon, where the eight largest US defense contractors had been summoned “in preparation for a protracted conflict against Russia.”
But no matter how much Biden intensifies the military intervention, it’s never enough for the GOP, which constantly needs an angle of attack whereby they’re lambasting Biden for not being sufficiently “tough.” (In a heartwarming display of bipartisan unity, Donald Trump just went on Fox News and repeated Biden’s “genocide” accusation. The jury’s still out on whether Trump accused Putin of committing genocide only because he’s secretly conspiring with Putin: tune in tonight on MSNBC for the latest updates.)
This GOP-esque “never tough enough” oppositional dynamic is also evident in the UK, except with putatively left-wing opposition figures leading the charge. Addressing a pro-war rally in London last weekend was Alex Sobel, a Labour Party MP who serves in the Shadow Cabinet of Keir Starmer, the current Opposition Leader. When I asked Sobel to clarify his policy grievance against Boris Johnson, he told me: “There’s been a lack of military assistance. And there’s been a lack of support within NATO more broadly, in terms of military assistance.” This can be translated as: Boris Johnson, NATO, and the US have not been militarily aggressive enough in Ukraine! That’s the criticism!
Expressing his reluctance to countenance any kind of negotiated resolution to the war, Sobel told me: “The Russians only understand force, they do not understand peace.” This is a weirdly common allusion to a supposed genetic predisposition of Russians that makes them inherently… warlike? Sounds very similar to when James Clapper, the top Intelligence Official in the Obama Administration, would go around intoning that Russians were “almost genetically-driven to co-opt” and “penetrate.”
Much of the UK media shares the view that Boris Johnson has exhibited insufficient “force” in his dealings with Russia. This includes The Observer newspaper — understood to be the UK’s leading bastion of respectable left/liberal opinion — which threw caution to the wind last weekend and published an official unsigned editorial institutionally endorsing “direct intervention” in Ukraine by NATO. In particular, the editorial promoted the very same naval blockade plan touted by Tobias Ellwood — the aforementioned Conservative MP who might otherwise be considered the newspaper’s ideological foe. “Declare the unoccupied city of Odesa off-limits,” the Observer editorial demands of Johnson, “and warn Russia to cease coastal bombardments or face serious, unspecified consequences.” Wariness to start World War III has now turned into a timid “excuse” for inaction, the editorial writers allege.
So that’s the basic gist of the left/liberal position on Ukraine. In order to placate his political opponents, Boris Johnson would have to drastically escalate the UK’s existing military intervention. Jeremy Cliffe, a writer for the left-wing New Statesman magazine, confirmed as much to me directly:
Also behold the recent activism of Owen Jones, the noted left-wing journalist whose “beat” appears to be a never-ending series of exhortatory instructions to some amorphous assemblage he calls “The Left.” Jones is now of the view, amazingly, that supporting the “armed struggle” of Ukraine is the only proper “anti-war” position. So here we have another “anti-war” leftist who happens to be in favor of provisioning tanks, fighter jets, missiles, and grenades into an active warzone, for the purpose of facilitating warfare. As is also the case in the US, these UK left/liberals often find it unpleasant to straightforwardly label themselves “pro-war” — so they have been forced to play word-games galore to avoid acknowledging reality. And the reality is that the policy action they’re advocating must necessarily be enacted by some combination of Boris Johnson, the US military-industrial complex, and NATO — all of whom have now been enlisted to carry out these leftists’ desired war aims.
The most vivid manifestation of this increasingly incoherent left-wing viewpoint could be observed a few days ago at the pro-war march and rally in Whitehall, the governmental corridor of Central London. I found out about the rally because it was endorsed and promoted by Owen Jones on Twitter. Upon arrival, I discovered that leading the march was another left-wing journalist, Paul Mason, who organized the action in concert with a strange Trotyskist faction called the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. “We support Ukraine’s war and demand the West provides weapons,” the group’s pamphlet declares, along with a bitter condemnation of NATO for “steadfastly refusing to fight.”
Mason had many magical moments as rally leader, but his most comical interlude was when he stopped along the march route to bellow, via bullhorn, in the general direction of the UK Ministry of Defence — shouting for the workers inside to come out and join. I asked Mason if he reckoned this was the first “anti-war” and/or “left-wing” rally in British history for which the Ministry of Defence (of a Conservative government!) was considered a natural ally — but he caustically refused to talk, instead denouncing me as a “Putin shill.” (Direct quote.) Clever guy, that Paul. Supremely confident in his convictions, surely, and quick with the novel insult.
A former employee of the BBC and Channel 4, Mason offered up an inventive rationalization for his pro-war advocacy when it was his turn to clasp the microphone that afternoon. “In a war like this, our natural demand for peace — our natural fear of military action — has to take second place,” he proclaimed. Because don’t you know, according to Mason, this particular war is actually being waged on behalf of the vaunted “Working Class”!
“It is in the interest of working class people to support Ukraine in this war,” Mason beseeched from the rally pulpit, expressing his hope to mobilize the whole of the British Labor Movement behind the pro-war cause. “I know how hard that is for many of us, who’ve stood outside here in so many other wars and said — you know, screw your hypocrisy over Iraq, and Afghanistan, and the rest,” Mason acknowledged. “It’s hard. But the only way to get arms into the hands of the Ukrainian people right now... is to keep the pressure on the government.”
So there you have it, clear as day: the object of this left-wing “anti-war” rally was to “keep the pressure” on the ruling Conservative Government… to continue ramping up weapons shipments to Ukraine. For use in… intensifying warfare. As Mason barreled forward with his speech, the Ukraine flag shimmered triumphantly in the sunlight atop Boris Johnson’s Cabinet Office, located right across the street at 70 Whitehall — a moving symbol of cross-ideological unity.
I found that a very simple line of questioning posed to the assembled leftist demonstrators — merely asking them whether they viewed the event they were partaking in as a “pro-war” rally, or an “anti-war” rally — tended to elicit spells of bewildered anger. When asked this question, a number of the pamphleteers insisted to me that the rally was in fact “anti-war” in nature, even though they were distributing placards featuring the injunction to “Arm Ukraine” — a task which would necessarily have to be accomplished by the US, UK, and other governments, in conjunction with NATO. One of the chants fervently screamed on the march went as follows: “Put an end to Putin’s reign! Arm, arm, arm, Ukraine!” That’s the new mantra of the British anti-war movement! If nothing else, one has to appreciate this audacious innovation in the fluidity of language.
Another Labour MP, Nadia Whittome, also addressed the pro-war rally — naturally beginning her speech with a fulsome greeting to her fellow “Comrades.” As the youngest member of Parliament at age 25, she can hardly be accused of representing some stodgy old guard; she even had the presence of mind to tie the cause of battlefield victory for Ukraine with the cause of Palestinians. “Slava Ukraini!” Whittome cried. I would’ve asked her to expand upon her views, but at the time had been temporarily accosted by a duo of pro-war demonstrators who identified me based on my Twitter feed, and attempted (unsuccessfully) to kick me out of the rally. It was pretty funny.
At one point, a woman representing UNISON, one of the UK’s largest trade unions, read aloud a message she’d received from the head of the Federation of Trade Unions in Ukraine — purportedly some bold demonstration of organized labor solidarity. The only catch, at least for anyone who might not be so hot on the idea of World War III, was that this letter from the Ukrainian union leader included a demand to “secure our Ukrainian sky.” Which, of course, is another variation on the No Fly Zone demand that Zelensky and other Ukraine government officials have been lobbying for relentlessly over the past seven weeks. And that was the demand — for World War III, more or less — which was boldly read aloud at this reputedly left-wing “anti-war” rally. At times, you really just had to step back and appreciate the dark humor.
If there’s one figure on the British Left who’s still slightly reticent to support overt cataclysmic warfare, it’s Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the Labour Party. Though he immediately condemned Russia’s invasion after it was launched in February, Corbyn has also reiterated his longstanding skepticism about the utility of NATO — even “refuting” the idea that NATO is merely a “defensive alliance.” He has further opposed the massive US/UK/NATO arms-funneling operation in Ukraine, and instead indicated a preference for a negotiated resolution to the conflict — positions which put him on the radical fringe in both the UK and the US.
Alex Sobel, the Labour MP I interviewed, had previously served on Corbyn’s front bench in Parliament — so I asked him what he made of Corbyn’s position on Ukraine, which conflicted resolutely with the message being propounded at the left-wing pro-war rally. Sobel replied coldly: “I don’t know what his position is. He’s not a Labour MP.” (Corbyn was expelled from the parliamentary Party in 2020.)
The left-wing tactic of characterizing overt escalation of warfare as #actually being “anti-war” is firmly in league with the chosen PR strategy of the Ukraine government — keenly aware that they must cater to the sensibilities of liberal Europeans and Americans, most of whom would probably prefer not to think of themselves as disreputable pro-war boors. After the slick visit paid by Boris Johnson to Kiev last weekend, wherein he strode around for the cameras with Zelensky, it was announced that the UK would deploy additional shipments of armored vehicles and missile systems to the warzone. An advisor to Zelenksy heralded the move as further evidence that “The UK is the leader... in the anti-war coalition.”
Has there ever been an “anti-war coalition” that so passionately and openly advocated literal warfare? It’s truly remarkable!
By the way, to any staunch advocates of military intervention who may be reading this: it would be more than possible for you to finally drop the phony “anti-war” pretense, and simply argue in favor of what you believe to be a “just war.” There’s a fairly healthy tradition of such arguments. And in that case, at least the terms of the debate could be clarified!
But, there’s a strong interest among these various factions to ensure that the terms of the debate are not clarified. An old saying goes that the Conservative Party and the Labour Party are really “two cheeks of the same backside.” On the subject of Ukraine, that’s eminently applicable. And you can throw in the Democrats and Republicans as well — another a pair of pimples on the same “arse.”
Whatever the UK’s ultimate designs for future military escalation, it’s very possible that the US won’t need very much cajoling after all. Last week, to conspicuously little fanfare, the US Senate unanimously revived the “lend-lease” program — originally created in 1941 to arm the UK in the Second World War — on behalf of Ukraine. Seems like a potential omen for what’s to come. And who knows what else Joe Biden, who’s already declared his intention to engineer regime change in Russia, has up his crusty old sleeve.
Nevertheless, Boris Johnson has every incentive to go full-steam-ahead and do exactly as he’s been enjoined to do by clamorers on both the Left and Right. Upon receiving a fine this week from the police for partying during COVID lockdown, and thus violating the rules he himself imposed — a scandal that not long ago had him teetering perilously close to being ousted as Prime Minister — Johnson delivered a statement that was really one for the ages. He said that his receipt of the fine now instilled in him an “even greater sense of obligation” to “ensure that Putin fails in Ukraine.” Really, that’s what he said.
It remains to be seen what form this “sense of obligation” will take. Perhaps it will culminate in fulfilling the wishes of Tobias Ellwood and The Observer, and a naval intervention in the Black Sea will be launched. Or perhaps some other plan is in store. Richard Shirreff, a retired British Army officer and former high-level NATO commander, has recently declared that either way, Britons “need to brace ourselves, prepare ourselves for war.” Whichever escalatory option Johnson may choose, it can be carried out with a certain satisfaction in knowing that left-wing activists will be marching right behind him, in unbridled support — apparently on behalf of the “working class.” You really couldn’t make it up.
Let's remember that the WMD "dodgy dossier" which created the narrative for the Iraq war was put out by 10 Downing Street, ultimately by British intelligence. Fast-forward to 2016. Another curious "dirty dossier" appeared in just the nick of time to cripple an in-coming president. Funny enough, it just so happens that Sir Richard Dearlove (then MI6 director) who oversaw the release and distribution of the "dodgy dossier" was none other than a mentor to guess who? Christopher Steele.
It's funny to think that two of the most pivotal developments in recent US history were both sparked by British Intelligence.
I think people overlook the actual nature of the "Five Eyes," which goes much beyond just the US intel community. The Five Eyes is ultimately the intelligence arm of the Wall Street/City of London nexus, with the US only being one of the "Five Eyes."
If people want to see the bigger picture, I think it means zooming out from a purely American Empire view to recognizing the much older institutions that actually operate in the background, with the Five Eyes simply being the most modern incarnation of something that has been around for a very long time, and is now in trouble as a new global operating system comes online. Hence, the desperate suicidal attempts to create all out chaos and flip the chess board.
I feel very lonely. I am bewildered by the people I agree with. I am aghast that the Republican Party is demanding war in Ukraine. The American interest is peace in Ukraine. We should be seeking peace.