Sunday, 25 December 2016

Peter Ford prefers Russian to British policy in Syria

“We will be lucky if those campaigns [in Mosul and Yemen] end with the green buses. There were no green buses in Gaza. There were no green buses after the Nato bombing in Yugoslavia. I think we need to give the [Syrian] government a little bit of credit for what has been a relatively peaceful end to this terrible period."

Peter Ford, former British Ambassador in Syria, quoted at length in this article, considers the Syrian regime a less evil than victory for the rebels. 

It is hard to argue otherwise, yet the major British and American papers assume that a rebel victory is preferable, as does the British government and as did Hillary Clinton. Though she no longer matters. The wind has blown her away.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Letter to the Financial Times by a Remain voter

Two Englishmen in Aleppo


I want to know about what went on in Eastern Aleppo in the last 4 years and why the rebels didn't surrender sooner. I hope we shall know very soon. In fact, this weekend it is just starting to emerge from the fog of propaganda.

'This is a bona fide independent journalist. It seems from what he writes that people are very happy the government has won.



'This was an exchange of lives arranged between Russia, Turkey, and Iran, who all have a stake in this conflict. Why though has it taken so long to get to this point at the expense of so many ordinary Aleppans?The operation was repeated several times as slowly each enclave was emptied. It marked a historic watershed in Syria’s protracted civil war, handing President Assad a victory that was fervently celebrated by the crowds looking on. 
In government-controlled Aleppo there was little sympathy for rebel fighters who many characterise as simply “terrorists”.‘Ali’, who preferred not to give his full name, told me: “People are tired of these rebels. The people of west Aleppo have been living in horror for five years.'
This is an English parson (priest)Andrew Ashdown, who's in Aleppo and who says he visited the refugees unannounced by taxi, without a minder. Meanwhile David Miliband in New York says the regime are going from house to house killing civilians.


'The sense of relief amongst the thousands of refugees is palpable.All were keen to talk, and we interviewed several who had arrived only yesterday and today. They all said the same thing. They said that they had been living in fear. They reported that the fighters have been telling everyone that the Syrian Army would kill anyone who fled to the West, but had killed many themselves who tried to leave – men, women and children. One woman broke down in tears as she told how one of her sons was killed by the rebels a few days ago, and another kidnapped. They also killed anyone who showed signs of supporting the Government. The refugees said that the ‘rebels’ told them that only those who support them are “true Muslims”, and that everyone else are ‘infidels’ and deserve to die.

They told us they had been given very little food: that any aid that reached the area was mostly refused to them or sold at exorbitant prices. Likewise, most had been given no medical treatment. (A doctor who has been working with the refugees for weeks told me last night that in an area recently liberated, a warehouse filled with brand new internationally branded medicines had been discovered.) Most of the refugees said they had had members of their families killed by the rebels and consistently spoke of widespread murder, torture, rape and kidnap by the rebels. They said if anyone left their homes, their properties and belongings were confiscated and stolen.

One old man in a wheelchair who was being given free treatment in the Russian Field Hospital said he had been given no treatment for three years despite asking. He said: “Thank God we are free. We now have food. We can now live our lives. God bless the Syrian Army.” They all said they were glad to be out and to be free. All the refugees without exception were visibly without exception clearly profoundly relieved and happy to be free. One woman said: “This is heaven compared to what we have been living.” We asked if the Syrian Army had ill-treated anyone. They said never. One woman said: “They helped us to escape and they provide us with food and assistance.” '

What Mr. Ashdown wrote a few days ago from Aleppo was repeating what government people had told him and describing places his minders took him. This, however, is good stuff.

What news we have had from Eastern Aleppo for years was from rebel sources which were repeated by the Western media pretty uncritically. Let's see what more we find out now.


A year ago a former British ambassador to Syria said "most of the opposition" is made up of "jihadis", the 'moderate rebels' were just 'a footnote', British policy on Syria was wrong and Russia's right


Saturday, 17 December 2016

Discerning truth and falsehood in the Aleppo story


The story about government forces killing 80 civilians in Eastern Aleppo could be true but is completely unsupported by any evidence, even circumstantial.

Both the Assad regime and the rebels, naturally, spend much money and effort on PR but with this difference. The rebels' PR is repeated in the Western press as objective testimony from 'non-combatant activists', while Western journalists who repeat the story the Syrian government wants to get out, like the utterly unnuanced Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett, are vilified as Lord Haw Haws.


Both young women were previously in Gaza. Eva Bartlett reported from there a story that Hamas approved. Had she been critical of Hamas, she would have had to sling her hook sharpish. I am not sure if Vanessa Beeley wrote about Gaza or not. Now they take Assad's side as previously they took Hamas's.

The Syrian civil war became a long time ago part of the conflict between Israel and the Shia states against Iran and Russia. Pro and anti-Israel attitudes colour many people's view of Syria.


Still both ladies appear to be independent and truthful in the narrow sense that they believe that they are telling the true story. Their story should be heard.

Actually, most journalism is repeating the story of someone who has his own agenda. This applies, as we have seen, even to crime stories released by the British police.


Funnily enough, I found myself in a bar in Beirut in October 2014 being stood a drink by a nice Syrian who told me he was a communications specialist who had been hired by Bashir Assad.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

This is only the start of a religious war

"A world is collapsing before our eyes," tweeted the French ambassador to the USA, Gerard Araud, as it became clear Trump had won. He deleted it later but he was right, of course. As I watched, I suddenly felt sure that the election of Trump, with all his grave faults, was a last-minute victory for common sense in America and Europe.
But, if I hadn't thought that then, the reaction of his opponents in the USA and in Europe would have convinced me. One or two of the craziest American 'liberals' talk of resistance (armed?) or of killing Trump. 

The New York Times ran a piece by Californian Daniel Duane who said of his fellow Californians, "nearly everyone I know would vote yes tomorrow if we could secede" from the United States. These are the people who are horrified by Confederate flags.

The mainstream liberals compare the result to September 11 and routinely compare the President elect to Hitler or Mussolini. The liberal papers print misleading nonsense and untruths, while complaining about fake (conservative) news, which Twitter is trying to suppress by blocking Breitbart writers etc. 

Liberal tears were enjoyable, but now the power of the liberal American establishment begins to frighten me.
Trump and his first appointments are extremely Philo-Semitic and supportive of Israel, intend scrapping the accommodation with Iran (which saddens me) and yet are accused of being Anti-Semites, without any rational grounds.
Gerard Baker in the Spectator said that condemnation of Trump’s victory was taken up like the call of the muezzin from the media’s minarets.
"Much of New York City stumbled around in the fog of mourning. The principal of the school to which a colleague sends his child sent a note to parents explaining how the school would lead their children through their grief. ‘And now when we most want to weep and mourn, we must come to work and be a source of both solace and inspiration to all our young students,’ it said." 

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Is the decadent West in terminal decline?

An article in Xinhua, the state-controlled Chinese news agency said that the US election shows 
the twisted mentality of an empire moving downhill.
That makes sense, though I think it is Europe that is in decline much more than America.

Christopher Booker in the Telegraph thinks the same. In an article headlined

It doesn't matter who wins the US election. The decadent West is in terminal decline
he says :
...Britons of the early Fifties could see the society this revolution has now brought about, with half of our children born out of wedlock, same-sex marriage, the all-pervasive cult of empty celebrity, the rise of intolerant “political correctness”, the woefully diminished standing of our politicians, our ever-rising sea of national debt, they would reel back in horror at our “decadence”.
The period since 2000 has been as dramatic as the one 1985-200. The disastrous wars of the last fifteen years have diminished the standing of the West, while its economic dominance of the world lessens. The Euro, immigrants and terrorism pose huge, insoluble problems for Europe. 

This reminds me of historians Neagu Djuvara's and Bernard Lewis's conviction that Europe's inescapable destiny is to become Muslim.

The fact that Europe, more united than at any time since the fall of Rome, feels it requires American, British and Canadian help to defend itself is very telling.


I increasingly feel that we may be living in a period like the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the golden age where Gibbon starts his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Come to think of it, there is something of an outlandish late Roman emperor about Donald Trump, perhaps a rich wheat importer who got his position in an auction held by the Praetorian guard. 


As Goldsmith put it,
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.

Europe has been in relative decline since the late 19th century and no longer enjoys the ascendancy that it once did, measured in all ways, over the rest of the world. Clearly this process is continuing. On the other hand, Europeans are enjoying in many ways a golden age, as are most parts of the world, measured not only in material but in many other terms.

But think how few great men Europe (and the West in general) has produced since 1945, outside the spheres of technology, medicine and hard science. Who are the great writers, painters, composers, philosophers?

Christianity is flourishing in Africa, China and Korea, but Islam is flourishing in Europe. Europe is flourishing vicariously in the former British colonies of the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but they are becoming much less European, less Christian and more multicultural. The old order changeth.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

A true conservative


"If there is a class war—and there is—it is important that it should be handled with subtlety and skill. ... it is not freedom that Conservatives want; what they want is the sort of freedom that will maintain existing inequalities or restore lost ones."Maurice Cowling, "The Present Position," Conservative Essays , Portillo ed., 1978.

I read Conservative Essays as a VIth Former with fascination and agreed with much of it but disliked a certain amount. This cumbrous sentence shocked me when I read it aged 18. I still don't believe in class war (though he was writing in the 1970s) but I do believe inequality and hierarchy are good and necessary things.

Maurice Cowling wrote in 1981 to the editors of the London Review of Books,

“Argument is not what it seems to me suitable to do with opinions. What one does with opinions—all one needs to do with them, having found that one has them—is to enjoy them, display them, use them, develop them, in order to cajole, press, bully, soothe, and sneer other people into sharing (or being affronted by) them. To argue them is, it seems to me, a very vulgar, debating-society sort of activity.”
How very much I wish I had gone to Peterhouse and been taught by him and by the great Edward Norman.

I am very certain that were he alive Cowling would be a strong supporter of Donald Trump.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

The world before 23rd June has gone forever


The world before 23rd June has gone forever.


Peter Oborne likens the referendum result to the Arab Spring. Curiously he means that in a good way.

What we do know is that the referendum will not be held again, despite the march in London today seeking exactly that. Two thirds of the population think it would be wrong, apart from any other consideration.

The FTSE 100 index of the UK's 100 largest public companies closed at a ten month high yesterday, while, strange to say, European stock markets were down. Early days, of course, but we are not yet eating grass and burning sticks for fire.


I recommend sociologist Frank Furedi's very good analysis here of what has been a culture war. It is very true that very many Remain voters simply do not know anyone who voted Leave. But it is a mistake to see the divide as a class one. (Not very many fewer graduates voted Leave as Remain, after all.) The divide is a cultural one. As Frank Furedi says:
Over the past 40 years, the political establishment and cultural elites have successfully dispossessed the others. They assumed a monopoly over what could and could not be said and stigmatised the norms and values associated with working-class culture as masculinist, xenophobic, racist, homophobic, backward, irredeemably outdated, and so on. The one area where the conflict of values remained unresolved was that of national sovereignty. And the rejection of the EU indicates that at least on the question of national sovereignty and democratic representation, the influence of elite cosmopolitan culture is insecure; indeed, it now stands exposed.
I see this in the Remainers I talk to. Some dislike a lot of things about Britain and Brexit summarises the things they don't like. It was this culture war which made me suppress my doubts and decide I wanted us to leave.

It is a cultural revolution. Also a political one and an economic one.

This is the mother of all crises, but is a equally a crisis for the whole EU. After the Austrian court's decision to rerun the Austrian presidential election I start to think this is like 1989. I can see the EU falling apart. Unless they rethink things fundamentally - but they just cannot do that, any more than the USSR could.

Clearly the UK needs a new leader. I didn't blog about the Shakespearean events of Thursday, but they started with Gove stabbing Boris in the front and continued with Boris falling on his sword. Gove is accused of betrayal. 


I am sure he is not Machiavellian, even though he certainly did for Boris and Cameron. People standing next to Gove do seem often to end up dead, but this is a qualification for the premiership.

If Gove destroyed Cameron and Boris what chance does Juncker stand with him.

However, his humility in not deciding to stand a week ago, but instead becoming Boris's adjutant will mean MPs and party members think him treacherous. 

"I did almost everything not be a candidate for the leadership of this party", he said in his speech announcing he was a candidate and I believe him. The Tory party doesn't.

I think both Boris and Gove come out of all this well. I think Gove converted Boris to Leave at a dinner party on February 16,  at which they and their wives sat down with the newspaper owner Evgeny Lebedev to discuss politics. By the end of the night Mr Gove had persuaded Boris, who like many people was undecided, to Leave.

I am perhaps naive but think neither have been Machiavellian and I love both, but Boris is not Prime Minister material.  Gove, by sabotaging him, did the country a great service. 
If his wife persuaded him to stand she did well. 

Some people fear we might end up ruled by Mrs. Gove, if her husband becomes Prime Minister. We could do worse, I suppose. Sam Cam destroyed Libya and made us accept 20,000 migrants. Some say Hillary persuaded Bill not to buy Osama from the Taliban. Time was when wives organised dinner parties and Fridays to Mondays at Chequers. 

Gove is, and it is vital that the next Prime Minister is, a Brexiter and has principles. 

I like him very much for saying “people in this country have had enough of experts”. We want to be ruled by elected politicians not experts. Experts created the EU, the Euro, tower blocks, comprehensive schools, the financial crisis of 2008 onwards.


Gove would make a fine Prime Minister. He believes in Brexit and in public service - and he cares more about class inequality than anyone on the Labour benches. But I think he may have lost the chance, which is tragic. 

Perhaps Andrea Leadsom is the Brexiter with the best chance, but though she had a great career in the City she does not have much political experience and has none of Gove's or Boris's eloquence.

Talking about elites, City types, professional men and CEOs are only a part of it. I imagine most hereditary peers voted Out, though, as few now sit in the House of Lords, there's no way of knowing.  I bet the Queen, who "purred down the phone" when David Cameron told her the Scots had voted to stay in the UK is purring once more.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Oswald Mosley, the first Eurofanatic

One of my friends (who votes Conservative, by the way) just told me that she didn't think Nigel Farage of UKIP resembled Hitler, but rather Sir Oswald Mosley, the British fascist. I pointed out to her that Mosley was the first British politician to advocate a united Europe - in 1947. 

Hitler, of course, had done more than anyone in centuries to unite Europe, but that is another story.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Like him or not, Nigel Farage is responsible for Brexit


Image result for if there is hope proles

Brexit is the biggest shock in my lifetime.

I said to the Portuguese ambassador last week, talking about I forget what EU policy, 'It's up to you, of course. We're off on Thursday". 


He gave me the smile a corpse gives the undertaker. But I didn't think for one moment that we really would be off. I went to bed at 3 yesterday morning unhappy, thinking Remain had won and was frozen in amazement at 6.45 the next day to open my browser and see the BBC call it for Leave.

I admit my feelings were mixed. Astonishment, pleasure but some fear too.

The electorate have let down the politicians very badly.

When the revolution finally came most (not all) of the left-wing middle class found they were on the side of the rich and the banks. Funny how things turn out.


It's a bit like when the crisis of capitalism finally occurred in 2008, as Stalin had predicted, and the far left was not there to take advantage. The centre-right not the left benefited. The old party divisions that we have had since the 1920s increasingly make less sense.

Nigel Farage is the man who did this. But poor David Cameron and Angela Merkel played equal parts. 

Whatever you think of him and you might loathe him, Nigel Farage, who is the reason this referendum was called, is one of the two politicians in post-1945 British history who changed the country the most. The other, of course, being Edward Heath.

The story of how an amateur, home-made, Ealing comedy party like UKIP, widely despised, directly or indirectly took Britain out of the EU is extraordinary. If it were a novel people would throw it away in disgust as absurdly far-fetched.

The same is true of the stories of Trump, Corbyn, the million migrants crossing Europe, the bizarre American row over transgender lavatories, ISIS, September 11th and so much else. God is not obliged to consider probabilities.

Mr Farage's referendum was hijacked by others and it's good that it was. I am reminded of what Reagan said, that there is no limit to what a man can do if he is content for others to take the credit.

He was not allowed to be part of the official Leave campaign, who were frightened he would make their brand toxic. in the eyes of many he would have done, but he had the wisdom to push immigration into the forefront of the campaign, knowing it was a much better issue for Leave than the economy. 

On the economy, Leave could not stand up to David Cameron's carefully choreographed Project Fear, but immigration let the Leave side instil its own share of fear. Making a major issue of Britain's support for Turkish membership of the EU must have won Leave many votes. It boxed David Cameron into a corner and showed him to have been very economical with the truth. It also enabled Leave to elide concerns about European and non-European immigration, although Brexit will not reduce and may increase non-European immigration.

I saw very few speeches during this campaign and none by Mr Farage, but this one, which i watched today, is remarkably good. He is a better speaker even than Messrs. Gove or Johnson. Why do many people in the UK dislike him so much? He predicted that "this will be a turnout referendum" and he was right. They were queuing round the block to vote. 

I am lost in admiration for the courage of the British people. It took a lot of courage to vote Leave. People thought very hard and in many cases changed and unchanged their minds.

It was absolutely not a result made on a whim, or from prejudice or knee-jerk reactions or to punish the government or taken unthinkingly. It was made very thoughtfully and there was an amazingly high turnout. No-one knows exactly what issues were in the minds of Brexit voters but they were surely many. 


It was not a plebiscite on immigration, though that was important. I think people didn't like being ruled by foreigners.

Had the referendum been held in a couple of years' time Brexit would have lost, because older voters were inclined to Leave and younger ones, educated in the pieties of internationalism and EU idealism, inclined to Remain. 

I am convinced that it will be hugely helpful to the rest of the EU. We might just have saved Europe from a totalitarian future once more.


I want to quote (again) these lines by Philip Larkin.




Sometimes you hear, fifth-hand,

As epitaph:

He chucked up everything

And just cleared off,

And always the voice will sound

Certain you approve

This audacious, purifying,

Elemental move.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Let's enjoy the next week while Berlin and Brussels fear we might leave the EU


I firmly expect Great Britain to vote to stay in the EU next Thursday, but let's all enjoy every single blissful moment of these halcyon days when our German and other European rulers think we might leave. This is the last moment when Great Britain roused herself to become a free country. After we vote to stay in, it will probably resemble what Claude Cockburn's tutor told him life was like after Oxford: just a long slow slope to the grave.



Bertrand Russell said ‘Collective fear stimulates herd instinct and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd’. I see a lot of this coming from the In camp who seem almost to hate or despise the Outs. Especially they seem to hate UKIP and despise the working classes. The viciousness is born of fear. I find it disgusting but it is what politics and democracy are about. 

Whatever your views on Brexit what a great argument this referendum is for lots more referendums. Though of course there is not really very much room in the EU for referendums.

The opinion polls today show Leave up to 7% ahead of Remain and the bookmakers, who are  always the best place to look, to find out what's going on  today give Leave an astonishingly high 30% chance. I give it a lot less (5-10%?) but what does impress me is that the polls are swinging towards Leave despite the attempts of the government the IMF and most of the establishment to terrify electors with stories of economic Armageddon.

And could we really leave?

I suppose yes!

And then?

Who knows?

The Germans could want to punish us very hard pour encourager les autres but this would do huge damage to the EU economy and especially Germany’s. The German Finance Minister says we will be booted out of the single market (the same Finance Minister who thinks if Germans do not take immigrants they will start committing incest – he really did say that recently). But I was more interested in what Juergen Hardt, senior CDU foreign policy spokesman, told Der Spiegel. If the UK votes to leave, he said the EU should gauge possible action to prevent a British exit from becoming a reality. “Brussels shouldn't close the door right away.”


I had dinner last night with a very Europhile British friend, 60, public school educated and well off, who is anguished that 'Literally ALL my British friends without exception want us to leave'. More than half his British friends live on the Continent, by the way.  

He made a number of weak arguments for staying in the EU. He said that all economists think we should stay (which is, of course, certainly not true) and that no former party leader thinks we should leave. I mentioned Michael Howard, Ian Duncan Smith, David Owen, Margaret Thatcher, Michael Foot. 

I could have mentioned Jeremy Corbyn who probably does not really want us to stay, but Corbyn is a name even less likely to persuade anyone than Foot's. Instead, I surprised him by mentioning Nigel Lawson. He had no idea that very experienced intelligent people like Howard and Lawson wanted us to leave.


Then he said that he thought nationals of other EU countries who live in the UK should have had a vote in the referendum. This was like the thirteenth stroke of the clock, that not only was not convincing in itself but cast doubt on the other twelve. I don't think he gets the idea of nationhood.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

A revolutionary moment in Britain



The support in the opinion polls for Britain leaving the E.U. (exactly 50-50 these days) is the nearest the British have come to a revolution since 1848 - and that includes the General Strike of 1926 and the strange revolutionary moment when Diana died. The people (half of them) are battling against the political parties, big business, the banks, the Americans, the Europeans and even the Archbishop of Canterbury. How interesting that the left these days (including Jeremy Corbyn) is always opposed to revolutions.



Donald Trump, of course, is a revolutionary too.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Reaction to the referendum result anticipated by Philip Larkin



Reaction to the referendum result if the UK were to vote to leave the EU, as anticipated by Philip Larkin:

Sometimes you hear, fifth-hand,

As epitaph:

He chucked up everything

And just cleared off,

Monday, 6 June 2016

Quotations for Monday



She was also incapacitated by much of daily life and had 'no aptitude whatsoever' for domesticity.


Sybille Bedford

Trump routinely deploys all the subversive transgressiveness that campus Leftists claim to value.

Camille Paglia


A lot of the craziness comes from cultural/ethnic issues—rural White Americans who feel they are losing their country, and they are right. They are losing their country. In the end, the power they now have will go away, but it’s a very difficult and dangerous time until then.


Paul Krugman, 2014

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Back in Cernauti/Chernivtsi

An unmistakable sense of freedom as soon as we arrive in Ukraine. A sense of normal people who think like human beings. A civilised place where people believe in God and love their country. Romania is like that too but is becoming EU-ised.

It took eleven hours to drive from Bucharest to Cernăuți instead of the eight we'd planned on. As happens every summer in Romania there were floods, a road was closed. At the border we waited over an hour. An argument for the European Union. All Romanian borders took half an hour to cross before she joined the EU.

This is my third visit to the Northern Bucovina and Cernăuți or Czernowitz. Cernăuți was its name when it was in Romania from 1919 to 1940. Chernivtsi is its Ukrainian name. Czernowitz was its name in the period of its prosperity, when it was the third city of the Austrian empire, in Austria's equivalent of the Wild West, and Yiddish and German speaking Jews made up much the largest and most influential ethnic group in the city.  

The city was at the same time a centre for Ukrainian, Romanian and Jewish nationalism. Now the streets are named after Ukrainian heroes, the Jews and Romanians are mostly gone and the great synagogue is a cinema - called by wags the Cine-gogue.

The Jews were mostly relocated and then killed by Romanian soldiers during the war, though the Romanian mayor persuaded the Romanian dictator, Marshal Antonescu, to spare twenty thousandThe surviving Jews mostly left for Israel or, recently, Germany. About a thousand remain. That is a small number but a Jew from Cernăuți, Volodymyr Groysman, became Ukrainian Prime Minister in April, belying American suspicions that Ukraine is an anti-Semitic country (though I suspect that it might be).





Friday, 13 May 2016

Vampires do exist II


Vampires, incidentally, do exist, even if Vlad was not one of them. I well remember the Hamburg Vampire in the middle 1960s. He climbed into a flat and drank the blood of a young woman, who asserted that before he came through the window she had felt a deadly chill and become unable to move. The skeptical police took her off to the hospital, where the Vampire was actually caught halfway up the creepers on the wall, on his way to have one more for the road. He ended up in a mental clinic. The victim and the police officer in the case ended up telling their story in convincing detail on German television.

NEAL ASCHERSON, "Dracula in Britain", Games with Shadows

More about real life vampires here and about Vlad the Impaler here.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

On this day in 1915 General Von Mackensen drove Russia from the Northern Carpathians



On this day in 1915,General August von Mackensen led a combined Austro-German force in defeating the Russian army near the Dunajec River (a tributary of the Vistula which runs through what is now Slovakia and Poland) and decisively ended nine months of victorious Russian advances in the region since August 1914. It was a key turning point in the war.

After Romania declared war on Austro-Hungary on 15 August 1916, Mackensen conquered Romania and on December 6 1915 Bucharest fell to him. Norman Stone said that by entering the First World War on the Allied side Romania delayed Allied victory by a year.  


At the end of the war Mackensen complained when he left Bucharest that
"I came to Bucharest two years ago with a legion of conquering heroes. I leave with a troupe of gigolos and racketeers.”

Monday, 2 May 2016

Back in Bucharest with Fu Manchu, the greatest threat to the white race



What a delight to be back from the Far East.

Bucharest is so much nicer, more poetic, more human and more exotic than Peking or Seoul.

It is always wonderful to be back in Bucharest. I felt this when I returned after Christmas after I had been here only three months. Many foreigners lucky enough to live here told me they felt it was home immediately. Is there a more welcoming, friendly city or people anywhere?


This weekend was the Orthodox Easter. On Friday, the Orthodox Good Friday, the town was full of possessions for the Burial of the Lord . On Saturday at midnight everyone stands outside a church with a candle and then cracks eggs. This is much more interesting than China, because it is Christian.

A long weekend at home alone is the perfect antidote to my travels in the East and I'm finally reading The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu. Fu Manchu seemed trash when I bought a paperback in Cambridge market as an undergraduate and bad trash, worse than Dracula. Now I found him on Google books and it's actually rather fun. Who knew? 


The world of Fu Manchu is a very engaging world of lascars, dacoits and seductive but evil oriental women. References to rare poisons in Burma make me so proud that I know Burma.

Dr. Fu Manchu himself is the prototypical evil genius, 'the yellow peril' and 'the greatest threat to the white race'. 

Fu Manchu comes after Professor Moriarty but before a whole series of evil geniuses. Osama bin Laden is part of the line. Osama came from a very Westernised, rich Saudi family and will have seen the Bond films and the Pink Panther film where Herbert Lom threatens to blow up the world. 
The world has been remade by William Le Queux 
says the protagonist of Graham Greene's wonderful thriller The Ministry of Fear which is

Saturday, 30 April 2016

My old China: I was twenty years too late for Peking

Ironically, North Korea in the 1960s and 1970s had far higher living standards than China and North Koreans would frequently congratulate themselves on not having fallen into the chaos and backwardness of their giant neighbour. It was only in the early nineties, with the end of Russian and Chinese subsidies, that the North Korean economy collapsed. 
James Palmer, Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao's China (2012)
Many years ago a young Romanian friend, Alexandra, was about to go to China and asked me for advice. I gave her three pieces of advice: to observe, not judge and to eat dog. She told me she did all three. I have just come back from China and only followed the first of these. 

Tourism in Peking leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Literally. The taste of Starbucks coffee and Starbucks baguettes.  

A shiny, very modern mega-city has been created by order of the Party in a place which

South Korea is a triumph of the human spirit


I was in South Korea for less than three days, as a holiday within my holiday in China. Since I was a little boy I have wanted to see Portuguese churches under a Chinese sun in Macao but am told it is like Las Vegas now. Instead of Macao it therefore seemed a good idea to get out of China and the flight to Seoul took only ninety minutes, though the queue at passport control took slightly longer. 

South Korea is not my kind of place but I liked it. It is a great triumph of the human spirit.

Utterly ruined and impoverished in 1953 it is now one of the richest countries in the world, not because of mineral resources but because of human resources.



The Gyeongbokgung palace
Seoul is a wonderful argument for capitalism, especially useful against people who worry that the state has too little power and multinational companies too much. South Korea has very little welfare safety net and not too many poets or painters, but there are more and

Friday, 29 April 2016

Back home after not going to North Korea

I got back to Bucharest last night after two weeks not visiting North Korea. Today I feel bliss that thanks to the rain I can have a long weekend at home with books, rather than go to the seaside. One more outing for this thought from Logan Pearsall Smith
'Thank heavens, the sun has gone in and I don't have to go out and enjoy it.'
I had been supposed to go to North Korea with four pals, but the political situation in North Korea became a little too exciting. I felt the time was not right. But I had bought a ticket to Peking via Istanbul and Kiev, so I spent some days in Peking and flew to South Korea for three days. A good decision, because I would never have chosen to go to China, a place I once glimpsed, and disliked, in a stopover. I still don't like it very much but it is very important indeed. And I met two very interesting and civilised foreigners, both historians, who live there, speak Chinese and explained the country.

I had dinner last night with Marc, one of the four who was just back from North Korea. I was disappointed that I did not get to that room on the border where a North and South Korean soldier eyeball each other. He said he was too.  

A lot in North Korea was as I guessed it would be. It has all been written about by bloggers, but nothing compares with seeing for oneself, which Marc has done and I have not. Pyongyang was impressive and in many ways normal, although the roads were almost empty of traffic. He could talk to people freely, except almost none spoke English. The beer was good. He only saw two old tractors in the countryside. I pointed out that from 1996 to about 2004 I never saw a single tractor in Romania, only ploughs.

He was not afraid while in North Korea, but knew he had to be always on guard. The beautiful and charming twenty-four year old girl who was his guide would, he knew, have killed him without a moment's compunction if ordered to do so. He was in a bubble, but nevertheless found the place fascinating. He warmly recommended that I go and I may well. 

What was the best moment? Oddly, visiting the very odd mausolea of the two deceased Kims. He made it sound like Evelyn Waugh's satire about American funeral directors, The Loved One.
Ian Coles took this shot

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Stanley Baldwin said 'Freedom is England's secret'

Think before you post or you may receive a visit from us this weekend. Use the internet safely.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Is America a nation founded on a creed or on British stock and culture?


G.K. Chesterton said in 1921
America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. 
The US's House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, thinks so. He told interns in Congress this week that
America is the only nation founded on an idea not on an identity.
But is that right? Forty years after the American declaration of independence the South American republics were founded by deists and Freemasons based on the same creed. The

Friday, 11 March 2016

If the Queen wants to leave the EU does that settle the question?


Does H.M. the Queen want to leave the EU? If she does, does that settle the question of how to vote or would that be being too loyal to the throne?


According to a story in the Sun headlined "Queen backs Brexit" she does and the editor of the Sun, Tony Gallagher, said on Radio 4 
"We knew much more than we published".
But in fact the Sun's story, true or not, dates from 2011 and 'Brexit', Britain leaving the EU, was not mentioned.  So, however much the Sun protests, things are not clear.

I was told last year that the Duke of Edinburgh is strongly for Brexit but the

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Neagu Djuvara tells me Europe is committing suicide


"Europe is committing suicide. Langsam aber sicher. Slowly but surely."

Is there nothing we can do to avoid this, I ask.

"There is no escape. It is our destiny."

I am taking tea with Neagu Djuvaru, the doyen of Romanian historians, who will be 100 in August. He is an old man but has the ebullience of a child, except when he thinks about the future of Europe, which he is glad he will not live to see. There is, he says firmly, no alternative to a Muslim conquest of Europe and the end of Western civilization. 

Friday, 4 March 2016

One day you know that the curtain was up all the time. That was the performance.


One does odd things. You see, when one's young one doesn't feel part of it yet, the human condition; one does things because they are not “for good”; one thinks everything is a rehearsal - to be repeated ad lib, to be put right when the curtain goes up in earnest. One

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Meeting Neagu Djuvaru

'Europe is committing suicide. Langsam aber sicher. Slowly but surely.'

Is there nothing we can do to avoid this, I ask.

'There is no escape. It is our destiny.'

I am taking tea with Neagu Djuvaru, the doyen of Romanian historians, who will be 100 in August. He is an old man but has the ebullience of a child. He seems a very happy man except when he thinks about the future of Europe, which he is glad he will not live to see. 

There is, he says firmly, no alternative to a Muslim conquest of Europe and the end of Western civilisation. It is a thesis he has repeated several times in interviews. Romanians, who have not been exposed to cultural relativism, treat it with great respect.

I tell him that an American history professor recently said to me that Western civilisation will not come to an end because it is now universal.  There is no other civilisation. But as I
say this I realise that there was no alternative to Western civilisation in the fifth century

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Nations will be made of ink


Joseph De Maistre said that nations are not made of ink. In the future they will be. Made of values, anyway, which come to the same thing.

At the moment, European countries are ethnic states, made of blood and history, even where the bloodlines are partly fictitious. Renan, we recall, defined a nation as a group of

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Email from the Englishman in Damascus

Joe, the Englishman who lived twelve years in Damascus, sent me these comments, which he says are quick and garbled, on yesterday's post about him.
Since the regime is essentially Alawite and one of the smallest minorities in the country they have looked after the other minorities with exception of the Kurds to act as a barrier to the Sunni majority. There has never been much in the way of sectarian disputes other than resentment of Alawites unfairly promoted to positions of power. If you look at the history of Syria, and remember Damascus is the oldest city in the world, the various faiths have happily lived side by side, so the last forty years of the Assad domination is only blip. Damascus old city is divided amongst all faiths including Jews and

Monday, 22 February 2016

An Englishman in Damascus during the war

I had the luck on Saturday to get an introduction to an Englishman, whom I shall call Joe, who lives in Istanbul but who until two years ago had spent twelve years in Damascus. I took him to the Grand Hotel de Londres and plied him with questions and beer and this is what I learnt.

Everyone hoped that Bashir would be a reformer, but there was never any difference between his regime and his father’s. By the time the demonstrations started they were supported by almost everyone.

Joe said that his work had brought him into contact with Syrians of every conceivable type and almost all, until he left two years ago, wanted the regime to go. Almost everyone was sympathetic to what the papers call the moderate rebels.

The only partial exception are, he thought, the Christians, who fear what will happen to

In which our hero visits Istanbul and learns more about Mr. Erdogan

I spent the weekend, or Friday to Monday as grand people used to say, in Istanbul. I didn’t go there to find things about which to blog but they found me.

Turkey used to seem very dull compared with Romania, almost another boring Western country. It no longer seems either boring or Western. 

The latest two in a spate of suicide bombings happened last week. A suicide car bombing  killed 28 soldiers  in military buses in Ankara, as they waited at traffic lights near the headquarters of Turkey's armed forces, parliament and government. The government

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

I was in Syria in 2007

I was in Syria in 2007 and this is what I saw. 

I was also in Beirut last October. I had a couple of interesting conversations. My taxi driver warned me the migrants in Europe were thieves and bad people (this was seven weeks before Cologne) and a man who knew Assad told me he is "useless, completely useless, a really poor quality person". wrote about it here.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

What is really going on in Northern Syria

This is a link to two exceptionally important interviews, one with Peter Oborne, an unusually fair-minded journalist with no axe to grind, whom I know and trust, and one with the very knowledgeable Alastair Crooke, an ex-MI6 man who then became Middle East adviser to Javier Solana. The story they tell is very much at odds with the interpretation of the war you read in the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian and the Washington Post and hear on the BBC. There is no doubt that the Syrian forces have committed absolutely terrible atrocities, but the rebels have done the same.

The next step in the war will probably be a race between the Russo-Syrian forces and the

Friday, 12 February 2016

Turkey's richly ambiguous (to put it politely) relationship with ISIS

Is an old-fashioned nineteenth century deal over Syria possible between America, Russia, Turkey, Iran and the Saudis? The ceasefire agreed today (in Munich, oddly enough) by the International Syria Support Group, comprising all the regional powers except Israel, plus Russia, the US, the UK and France, might be a start in this direction. 

I hope it delivers a settlement, though I don't expect it will. More Government victories like the recent one in Aleppo may be needed before the rebels agree to stop fighting. The Syrian government and Russia probably think so too.

You might think the sudden victory for the Russians and the Syrian government in Aleppo earlier this week was good news, that could bring an end to the war nearer, but it was treated by the media in the US and the UK as a calamity. The press follows the line of the British and American governments, which are still committed to the defeat of the Assad regime and this is not, my guess, because of the regime's many undoubted war crimes. I wonder if the non-ISIS rebels, who include the Al-Nusra Front, which is the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda, are any better.

Instead of peace coming closer, the Saudis may send troops, as they said last week that

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Former MI6 man says 'The Syria War Will Not Be a Quagmire -- Because Putin and Assad Are Winning'


I recommend you click on this very interesting article 
by Alastair Crooke in the Huffington Post about the sudden recent successes of the Russians in Aleppo, which he thinks mean victory for the government is imminent.  Alastair Crooke used to work for M16, writes regularly for the Guardian and was Middle East adviser to Javier Solana, the EU's High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, from 1997 to 2003.

Points from the article include:

If government forces, moving north, can make friendly contact with the Kurds in the northeast, almost all Nusra and allied rebel forces would be nearly surrounded. The insurgents would be caught in a cauldron with their backs to a lightly populated and forested territory.


The ISIS-controlled corridor, especially the Jarablus border crossing with Turkey, remains effectively open. Turkey has proclaimed this represents its "red line." Were this corridor to be closed by the Syrian Kurds, the Turks have indicated they could respond by invading Syria. The YPG say nonetheless, that they are contemplating just such a move.

...Syria seems to be heading not towards a "quagmire" as many western politicians have suggested, but rather to a clear military outcome. As one

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Sun Tzu in his Art of War explains the crisis in the Western world today


"If you know your enemy and you know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself you will succumb in every battle."

Whatever one thinks of him, Trump is a genius

I was arguing with a Romanian friend (Romanians are often tremendous intellectual snobs) who insisted that Donald Trump, Sarah Palin and George W Bush were all too stupid to be president.

About Sarah there is no question. But not about the others.

Stupid people do not do what Trump has done, destroy the Bush dynasty, outsmart the Republican party and runs rings round every other politician. He is a born natural for politics. Think Tony Blair in England, Ion Iliescu in Romania.  Of course, it's intuitive with Trump, as with Berlusconi, Blair and Putin. Hitler too, I suppose, and probably Pericles. All great politicians and artists are intuitive.

I long considered Putin a stupid man in many ways, a poor strategist but a very good tactician. (I remember an English friend of mine, who lived in Russia, telling me 'Russians

Monday, 1 February 2016

Peter Tweedie on the Colectiv disaster


I was sorry to hear last week that Peter Tweedie has died, aged 68, though I didn't know him. I think I met him three times and not since the turn of the century. He brought Rigips, the construction materials company, to Romania and thereby gave birth to a word for a partition that has entered the Romanian language.

I regret not having known him. He was one of the few foreigners who came to Romania before the revolution and they are always more interesting to me than the ones who came

Monday, 11 January 2016

Algiers is uncooked



I thought of several distant countries to visit at Christmas time when nothing happens for two or three weeks. In the end England seemed more appealing and a short-haul or medium haul trip to somewhere warm on Boxing Day. I was resigned to going somewhere unadventurous like Malta when suddenly I thought of and immediately decided on Algeria. Looking it up I found that not only was it pretty cheap to get to but, to my disgust, Her Majesty’s Government no longer advised her subjects not to visit. Only the great south, the Sahara, was to be avoided.

For countries to be interesting they must, of course, fulfil two criteria. Getting a visa should be difficult and/ or time consuming and, when you tell people you are going there, they should warn you that you might be killed. Algeria fulfilled both these two.