Peter Franklin: Don’t write off the possibility of Hillary Clinton re-running for President

17 Jan

Peter Franklin is an Associate Editor of UnHerd.

With so much going on at home, Brits may be forgiven for not noticing the political crisis brewing in America. Nevertheless, last week was almost as bad for Joe Biden as it was for Boris Johnson.

The leader of the free world is coming to resemble that most pathetic of creatures: the first-term lame duck President. Of course, there was always a risk of that. At 79, Biden is by far the oldest person to have occupied the Oval Office. Running for re-election and completing a second term would mean carrying on until he’s 86.

However, it’s not infirmity that looks like dooming the Biden administration, but unpopularity. Last week a Quinnipiac poll recorded a new low — an approval rating of just 33 per cent. That’s lower than at the same stage of Donald Trump’s Presidency. It should be said that Biden does a bit better with other pollsters, but not by much.

There are multiple reasons for what has gone so wrong so fast: the humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan; the ongoing Covid crisis; and inflation like Americans haven’t seen in decades. Biden is also having trouble getting his agenda through Congress. Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona were elected as Democrats, but on key measures they’ve sided with the Republicans.

Things could go from bad to worse. The mid-term elections coming up later this year could produce Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. That could mean complete legislative gridlock and the confirmation of Biden’s lame duck status.

Still, never mind. At least the old stager’s had his last hurrah. Instead of running again in 2024, he could retire gracefully and everyone would understand. He could simply pass the baton to his much younger Vice President. Kamala Harris is ready-and-waiting to become America’s first female President.

Sounds like a plan. Except there’s one tiny problem with it: Harris is unpopular too. She’s not a calamitous Veep like, say, Dan Quayle; it’s just that voters don’t like her. I think it was Bob Monkhouse who quipped “people like sincerity — and if you can fake that you’ve got it made.” Whether for good or ill, Harris can’t fake sincerity. In fact, she’s hampered by an inability to communicate any sort of emotion without it sounding forced.

She’s a poor campaigner too. Her attempt to win the 2020 Democratic nomination went badly. She was monstered in one of the early debates by Tulsi Gabbard — and withdrew not long after. Luckily for her, the eventual nominee Biden was determined to pick a woman as a running mate and she got the nod. And thus she found herself one heartbeat away from the Presidency.

But for how much longer? Even if Biden runs again in 2024 there’s talk of dropping Harris from the ticket. The idea would be to nominate her to the Supreme Court, while he finds a more popular running mate. If, on the other hand, Biden doesn’t run again, then the Democratic nomination is likely to be contested — and Harris can’t count on a coronation.

Let’s not forget that the current favourite for the Republican nomination is Donald J Trump. Should that remain the case, then the Democrats will be desperate to stop his comeback. If that means dropping a persistently unpopular President and Vice President, then they’d be stupid not to.

And yet that would place the Dems in a difficult position. Holding on to the White House without either the incumbent President or Vice President isn’t easy. In fact, it hasn’t happened since 1928 when Herbert Hoover succeeded Calvin Coolidge — and those, of course, were Republicans.

In 2024, the Dems would have to stand before the American people and say “sorry about the previous President and VP, folks — they were hopeless, but please vote for us again.”

There’s also the risk that, in an open race for the nomination, a candidate from the so-called “progressive” wing of the party might win. The nightmare nominee is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who’ll be old enough to run next time). The Congresswoman may be an ultra-woke firebrand, but she’s popular with the party’s rising generation of millennial activists.

So, in the absence of Biden and Harris, the Democratic establishment would need to pull a really big name out of the hat. Big enough, in fact, to distract voter attention from the party’s disarray and to bulldoze any challenge from the Left.

But who? Writing in The Wall Street Journal last week, Douglas E. Schoen and Andrew Stein make the case for Hillary Clinton. Yes, that Hillary Clinton — the one who lost against Trump in 2016. They can’t be serious, can they?

Well, there is a case. First, instead of scrabbling around for some obscure Governor or junior member of the Biden administration, the party could put forward a household name. Second, she’s a woman — which would erase the embarrassment of sidelining the first female Vice President. And third, there’s the delicious prospect (for Democrats) of righting the “wrong” of 2016.

But isn’t she just too old and controversial? Not really — at least not anymore. Biden has extended the acceptable limit of age (Clinton is five years younger), while Trump has done the same for disagreeability.

So could we see a Trump-Clinton rematch in 2024? Not if there’s any chance of Trump winning again — she surely wouldn’t run the risk of a second humiliation. However, if the Republican nominee (whether Trump or someone else) looks beatable, then why not?

Indeed, there’s a scenario in which Clinton becomes the best hope of victory. If the Republicans winning a crushing victory in the mid-terms, it may dawn upon the Democrats that the party’s wokeness, which Biden has pandered to, is electoral poison. A particular worry is the Hispanic vote, which is showing signs of a historic shift to the Republicans.

In such a bind, the only way out for the Democrats would be to triangulate between the extremes of Right and Left just as they did in the 1990s under Bill Clinton. So could Hillary emerge as the triangulator of the 2020s?

She starts off with the right ideological bona fides. She’s a moderate, but a liberal moderate. If anyone can talk her fellow liberals back from the edge of lunacy it’s her. Furthermore, she’s tough, outspoken and, most importantly, she’s got nothing much to lose at this stage. Assuming she’s not succumbed to the woke mind virus herself, no one is better placed to save the Dems from their own worst instincts.

Right now, the mainstream reaction to the idea of a Clinton comeback is “you’ve got to be joking!” But by the end of the year it could shift to “isn’t there a better candidate?” If that becomes the question, then she’s in with a shot.

Ryan Bourne: It’ll take decades, not years, to determine whether Brexit was a success

1 Dec

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

“What would need to happen for ‘Economists for Brexit’ to become ‘Economists Against Brexit’?” the FT’s Chris Giles asked us in July 2016.

It was a good question. And some economically-minded leavers seem near their switching threshold already. Fraser Nelson last week wrote of his disappointment that an ‘open’ leave of expansive free trade deals and deregulation isn’t being delivered by Boris Johnson.

Britain is failing the “testable thesis” of Global Britain, he argued, with the limited ambition of re-heated EU trade deals, modest trade liberalisation with allies such as Australia, and stasis on data and financial regulation leaving him asking: did I vote the wrong way?

For classical liberal Remainers, of course, a free-market Brexit was always a delusion. David Gauke argues it was an anti-Thatcherite endeavour by definition. By erecting new trade barriers with Europe and removing constraints against interventionist industrial policies, our EU exit repudiated the 1980s revolution. Those who supported Brexit for free-market reasons were misguided, as current events confirm.

Prospects for a classical liberal economic revival are undoubtedly bleak for the near future. Nevertheless, Nelson and Gauke’s conclusions seem to me startlingly premature about Brexit’s overall legacy. And the reason why relates to the answer I gave to Giles’s question five years’ ago: the substantive issue in the Brexit referendum was not “what will we do?” immediately after leaving but “who will decide what is done?”

As such, it’s a category error to think “oh, if Johnson does X or Y, then Brexit will have been a mistake/a roaring success.” Brexit is a major shift in our governing system that can only really be judged by looking at comparative outcomes between Britain and the EU over decades, not years.

Brexit, in other words, is a major constitutional change in where decisions are made and who makes them. It was not a simple policy question. Yes, these repatriated powers can be used for good or ill and how they are deployed will wax and wane depending on the zeitgeist at any given time. But Brexit’s success or failure hinges on whether, overall, the institutions of British Parliamentary democracy produce better outcomes over long periods than a Brussels bureaucracy would have.

As a major constitutional change, it’s just as erroneous to judge Brexit by a few initial trade policy decisions as it would be to judge American independence in, say, 1785, or post-communism reform in Eastern Europe in 1995, or UK EEC membership in 1978. As Johnson was a leading leaver, it’s natural to conflate his agenda with Brexit itself. But that is to mistake the current policy winds as immutable laws that will forever dominate our political economy.

Gauke’s take is particularly misguided, because it simply looks at the timeline of what has happened post-Brexit and ignores the broader context of trade policy around the world. The U.S. hasn’t Brexited, but adopted large tariff increases under President Trump anyway, which have been maintained by a Biden administration that is also beefing up “Buy American” rules.

The EU, likewise, is adopting an aggressive anti-American agenda against Big Tech, while Emmanuel Macron has been the driving force of a pan-European protectionism that uses the veil of environmental laws for keeping out poor countries’ agricultural products.

Now it would be churlish to imply that Brexit wasn’t supported by some on protectionist grounds, nor that the act of Brexit hasn’t facilitated some protectionism. But in the broader global context, the free trade rhetoric of the UK government, and Tory member support for vocal free-traders, is an anomaly. And even if the Government’s actions on trade don’t always live up to it, the long-term question is whether Britain will end up more open on trade than the relevant counterfactual where we remained within an EU, not some nirvana that doesn’t exist.

At the time of the press conference, Giles interpreted my argument on this line of reasoning as a faith-based argument for Brexit. Economists for Brexit appear to think Brexit cannot be a bad move, he concluded, because it was merely the freedom to make decisions. Even if Brexit went wrong and led to a socialist Britain, it was the politicians to blame – not Brexit itself. “From that I conclude the group doesn’t really have much of an open mind,” Giles concluded.

But that’s not what this argument says. Some leavers are no doubt dewy-eyed for national democracy in all aspects of life. Giles Fraser has said he’d support Brexit on a point of principle, whatever the consequences. I remember talking to a senior Vote Leave staffer who similarly said he’d rather a long Corbyn premiership in a sovereign Britain than a Conservative government within the EU.

Yet that’s not why free-marketeers supported Brexit, nor the best liberal case for leave. No, the best case said that, over the long-term, Brexit would lead to better outcomes for openness, economic freedom, and liberty here than with Britain in the EU precisely because of the institutional differences between the two.

It would obviously be great if we were making inroads with a free-trading agenda and meaningful regulatory reform. The key question though is whether we were more likely to get that over time in or outside of an EU that itself will be changing.

Despite recent events, I would still take that long-term Brexit bet. The British Parliamentary system, for all its faults, has been shown to error-correct substantively when it’s clear major government mistakes are made, in a way the institutional stasis of the EU often prevents. The prospects for better governance reform here are only heightened by politicians no longer being able to hide behind blaming Brussels for what are usually domestic errors.

I still think Britons’ broad regulatory instincts are more permissive than seen collectively in Brussels (as evidenced by the faster vaccine approval and the more liberal approach to genetically modified foods). So even if active deregulation proves politically infeasible, more open regulatory frameworks on new issues, such as AI, driverless cars, and future service industries can leave us better off than if ensnared in Brussels’ orbit.

What’s more, global markets are more likely to discipline small countries towards attractive tax, trade, regulatory and migration systems – changes often hard to make when coordinating with 28 states first.

Of course, I could be wrong and so in 30 years’ time writing mea culpas admitting Brexit was a fundamental error. But it seems hasty for Brexiteers to want to write-off a major constitutional change less than two years in, or indeed for Remainers to be unable to contemplate a world where the EU is not the absolute pinnacle of economic dynamism forever.

Daniel Hamilton: The international community must take immediate steps to stop the bloodshed in Ethiopia

12 Nov

Daniel Hamilton works in international business consultancy and was a Conservative candidate at the 2017 General Election.

Until recently, there was a real sense that Ethiopia had turned a corner.

Despite the country’s tragic past, which has seen its people experience the vile deprivations of the communist Derg junta, intractable and bloody feuds with its neighbours and multiple coup d’états, the country has always had a spirit and verve unlike any other in Africa.

The pace of economic development in recent years has been staggering.

Where choking traffic had once paralysed the city, a sparkling new mass transit system rose above the streets to connect those living in formerly isolated suburbs. The new rail link from Addis through the eastern city of Dire Dawa and onto the port of Djibouti – and on to the rest of the world – gave new hope that Ethiopia may finally live up to its potential as Eastern Africa’s manufacturing powerhouse. The city’s myriad jazz bars were packed to the rafters with tourists and locals revelling in the benefits of growing salaries.

Tuesday evening’s plea by the Foreign Office for British citizens to evacuate the country at the earliest opportunity is therefore a painful one for those that know the country well.

Ethiopia’s wholly avoidable collapse into anarchy, just two years after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on improving neighbourly relations with Eritrea, is a stark reminder of the challenges fragile states face.

The roots of this avoidable conflict began last year when the central government authorised what was initially presented as a necessary law enforcement operation against separatist terrorist elements loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the north of the country. The operation won widespread support from supporters of the government.

Since then, and with the world distracted by the Coronavirus pandemic, the conflict has grown as an exponential rate. It has ceased to be a battle between the TPLF and central government and mutated into an alliance of nine other restive ethnic groups who, through a marriage of convenience, wish to topple the Abiy government.

Early this month, the Ethiopian Parliament imposed a six-month state of emergency which has handed the central government increasing powers to crack down on terrorism – perceived or imagined – in increasingly heavy-handed ways. Rather than calm the situation, this mechanism has effectively thrown fuel on the fire, with the UN Human Rights Commissioner expressing concern about mass killings of civilians and military personnel on both sides of the conflict.

As I write, the city of Addis Ababa is now at imminent risk of falling to opposition forces whose strength and durability has been underestimated by the central government.

Nobody doubts that the Abiy government has overstepped the mark and surrendered the moral leadership to run a country of more than eighty different ethnicities with a diverse range of culture and religious beliefs. But the opposition’s agenda, in particular that of the TPLF, risks the permanent division of Ethiopia, the permanent displacement of millions of people from their homes and the opening of tribal and ethnic conflicts that could have repercussions far beyond Ethiopia’s borders.

In her excellent article in The Times earlier this week about the element, Alicia Kearns MP highlighted the efforts of the Bosnian Serb to break up Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to serve sectarian agendas.  The same is true for the Ethiopian opposition alliance.

Despite some valiant efforts on the part of local political leaders to force dialogue between opposing factions, domestic solutions to the crisis have failed.

It is now time for the international community to take immediate steps to stop the bloodshed.

There are a number of practical steps that should be taken.

First, it is crucial that urgent humanitarian aid is allowed to reach those that need it most urgently. Across northern Ethiopia, acute food shortages and the looming risk of famine is now impacting an up to seven million people – roughly one in fifteen Ethiopians.  Pressure must be placed both the Abiy government and opposition, both of whom have clear lines of communication with bodies like the Red Cross, to allow them carry out their work unimpeded.  This aid must extend to neighbouring Sudan where the UN projects more than 500,000 Ethiopian refugees will flee in the coming weeks.

Second, immediate pressure must be placed upon the Turkish government to cease its sale of military equipment to the Abiy government. In particular, the sale of Bayraktar drone systems, whose use by Azerbaijan in its recent war with Armenia saw entire battalions of troops liquidated at the press of a button, must end. The use of “drones of mass destruction” is not an appropriate application of military force on Abiy’s government – it has the potential to be a war crime.  Unless the supply of these weapons is limited, one can expect the death toll to rise by tens of thousands in the coming weeks.

Third, the issue of Ethiopia’s preferential access to international trade accord should also be urgently examined.  President Biden has already made steps to exclude Ethiopia from the terms of the US African Grown and Opportunity Act processes which gives the country duty-free access to most goods it exports to America – a move which has caused fury among Abey loyalists that have sought to frame the US as a hostile power with sympathies for the opposition.

Given the sensitivities regarding the US’s role in the country, the support of China – which recently dropped its opposition to a UN Security Council resolution calling for a cessation of conflict – in blocking the export of supply and export routes controlled by both the government and opposition forces via the port of Doraleh (which is de facto controlled by Beijing) will be crucial.

Fourth, it is important that a constitutional settlement is found that allows for the integrity of the Ethiopian state to be maintained while granting appropriate rights of self-government to minorities. The African Union’s High Representative for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo is well placed to lead such an effort given his successful efforts to lead a multi-ethnic government while serving as Nigerian President.

Fifth and finally, it is incumbent on governments globally and international institutions to put in place a solid plan to prevent the conflict spilling over from Ethiopia into neighbouring states. This will involve the provision of aid on the ground and an intensification of support for peacekeeping efforts.

Kenya, which shares long border with Ethiopia has long had its own domestic problems with separatist movements and is experiencing a devastating drought. Sudan, which only gained independence in 2011 after a protracted civil war, has long looked to Ethiopia as the guarantor of its own peace process.  Instability in Ethiopia, the region’s largest economy, risks crippling South Sudan’s already-fragile supply chains of everything from oil to basic foodstuffs and empowering rebel forces. Sudan, which has already taken in thousands of Ethiopian refugees, is struggling to navigate the fallout of its own military coup last month.

We are all aware of the impact of impact of ethnic conflicts and the mass loss of lives they have wrought on Eastern Africa in the past forty years. The images of barbarity in Rwanda and Sudan should rightly continue to haunt an international community that was too slow to act to prevent genocide.

In international relations, though, the price of delays and indecision in heading off genocide and famine is widely known – but often forgotten.

Rather than risk sleepwalking into another catastrophe, now is the time for the international community to force the country’s warring factions to the negotiating table and draw this latest tragic chapter in Ethiopian history to a close.

Ben Roback: COP26 may be the only saving grace for Sleepy Joe’s presidency – in a thoroughly chaotic year

3 Nov

Ben Roback is Vice President of Public Affairs at Sard Verbinnen & Co.

At this stage in his presidency, one gets the feeling that trips abroad are a welcome reprieve for President Biden. The political tide continues to turn slowly against him, and the list of domestic challenges is growing. A bruising defeat in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, a stalling legislative agenda, and sinking approval ratings are enough to give the president three big headaches as he returns from COP26 on Air Force One.

When will ‘America is back’ start to mean something?

Biden has carried a consistent message as he tours world capitals and global conference like COP26, delivering three simple words: “America is back”. He is right, and US presence at global forums like COP26 is an important reminder that American once again recognises an international leadership role. But on the other side of the coin, the shambolic departure from Afghanistan proved that Biden’s foreign policy agenda might yet turn out to be as unpredictable as Donald Trump’s.

Biden relies perhaps too heavily on just “showing up”. In his closing remarks, he fired a veiled criticism at presidents Xi and Putin for ignoring the climate conference. “We showed up… and by showing up we’ve had a profound impact on how the rest of the world is looking at the United States and its leadership role,” he added.

With John Kerry by his side as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, this president is uniquely well placed to be the driving force in a truly global fight against the irreversible impacts of climate change. The irony of the presidential motorcades clogging up Glasgow’s streets will not be lost on climate activists, nor the arrival and departure of Air Force One.

Is it enough just for the United States to show up? It is not reasonable to expect the power of the president to be sufficient for adversaries like Xi and Putin to change their minds on coming to COP. But having shown up, there was no major or game-changing intervention from the United States. With so many world leaders in one place, it is difficult for any one individual to make an impact or leave their mark. It is possible that the sheer saturation of power in the room results in an altogether forgettable event. After all, everyone is largely saying the same thing.

What was clear at COP26 is that, notwithstanding his good will and convivial demeanour with allies, this president lacks the presence of a Trump or oratory gift of an Obama. Poor attention to detail and an inability to stay focused during speeches has long been levelled at the presidential septuagenarian and dozing off with the eyes of the world watching is an unfortunate coincidence for the man whose opponents call “Sleepy Joe”. Biden can claim to have had a successful summit, but soon enough just “showing up” will need to be replaced with meaningful action.

The three big issues facing the returning president

Biden’s current malaise can be best split into three.

First, electoral defeats. The timing of COP26 was awkward for Biden given it coincided with a handful of elections at home. In New Jersey, the battle between incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy in New Jersey and Republican Jack Ciattarelli is still undecided. The Republican led by just over 1,000 votes out of more than 2.36 million cast in a race that Democrats had expected to win.

The more stark result of the night came in Virginia, where Republican Glenn Youngkin defied polling and historic trends to defeat Democrat Terry McAuliffe. In the short term, it presents a major warning sign for Democrats heading into the 2022 midterms.

Youngkin has arguably created a winning formula for Conservatives running in towns, counties and states where Trump’s popularity amongst the voting population is low, but high amongst registered Republicans. Youngkin walked a meticulously fine line between mainstream Republican talking points – culture wars, ‘critical race theory in schools, and an ailing presidential agenda in Washington – while embracing Trump from a safe distance. He neither criticised the former president nor stood next to him in rallies.

Democrats expect to suffer in next year’s midterms, if nothing because historical precedent dictates that the incumbent party customarily suffers a bloody nose from the electorate at the first available opportunity after winning the White House. Virginia’s loss is unlikely to prompt a major strategic rethink at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) or in the White House, but one should never underestimate the impact of a shock local result.

After all, Downing Street ripped up its entire housebuilding strategy for the country after losing Chesham and Amersham. But it will alarm Democrats running in districts and states formerly considered “safe”, while putting wind in the sails of Trump who endorsed and campaigned for a victorious candidate in a state that he lost in the general election by 10 points.

Second, a stalling legislative agenda. Democrats have spent weeks arguing amongst themselves about the finer details of the White House’s vast Build Better Act. The overnight electoral setbacks will add volume to the voices arguing the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill needs to slow down its legislative timetable and better engage centrists instead of pandering to the left.

Third, sinking approval ratings. A stalling domestic agenda is usually manifests into election losses. According to FiveThirtyEight, a majority of Americans (50.8 per cent) now disapprove of Biden whilst 42.8 per cent approve. There is some comfort in knowing that, in the October of their first year, Trump’s approval was lower at 37 per cent and President Obama’s similar on 53 per cent (Gallup). But whilst Biden’s term average to date is a more respectable 51 per cent, but his popularity is on a clear downward trend.

Biden can reasonably claim to have had a good COP26 summit. He relies perhaps too heavily on just “showing up” purely based on the fact that his predecessor too often either failed to show up or used global forums to agitate against international institutions. But with COP26 behind him, Biden returns home to a divided America and, more pressingly in the short term, a deeply divided party.

Benedict Rogers: Leaders have 24 hours to send a clear message to the CCP on its human rights abuses

28 Oct

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, an adviser to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign.

Over the next 24 hours in Rome, as G20 world leaders gather for their summit, an unprecedented meeting of legislators and campaigners from around the world is taking place, focused on the biggest challenge the world faces: China.

The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) was only formed just over a year ago, and yet already includes over 200 Parliamentarians in 21 legislatures across five continents.

Crucially, it is one of the most global and cross-party coalitions ever, drawing together politicians such as Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former leader of the British Conservative Party, and Senator Marco Rubio, former US Republican Presidential candidate, with Robert Menendez, senior Democrat Senator, Reinhard Butikofer, the leader of the German Greens in the European Parliament, Kimberley Kitching, Australia’s Labour Senator, Irwin Cotler, Canada’s former Attorney-General and parliamentarians from countries as diverse as Norway, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Japan, Uganda and beyond.

Many of IPAC’s members arrive in Rome today for a gathering that will hear from Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister, the ‘Sikyong’ Penpa Tsering, Tibet’s political leader, Nathan Law, Hong Kong’s exiled former legislator and political prisoner, and Rahima Mahmut, the Uyghur campaigner – all the voices Beijing tries relentlessly to discredit and silence.

The reason this alternative summit is so important is that it is designed to send a clear message to the G20: the Chinese Communist Party regime must not be given a free pass, its human rights atrocity crimes cannot be allowed to go unchallenged and the international community must set out clear consequences for Beijing’s flagrant breaches of international treaties. Kowtowing must end, the climate of impunity must cease and Xi Jinping’s regime must be held to account.

The IPAC gathering will make clear that the genocide of the Uyghurs, the dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms – happening before our very eyes – as well as the persecution of Christians, Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners, human rights defenders, citizen journalists and civil society activists – must not be forgotten.

Already, even despite Amnesty International’s closure of its Hong Kong office on Monday and the statement by 43 countries at the United Nations last week about the plight of the Uyghurs, these issues are being sidelined.

As COP26 begins this Sunday in Glasgow, the message should be clear: climate change is a big challenge of our time, but human rights should not be sacrificed on the greenwashing line.

Indeed, climate change and human rights should go together, for what good is freedom if our planet is dying, yet at the same time what good are blue skies if humanity is in chains? And, one might add, how trustworthy anyway is the world’s biggest polluter, China, when its regime lies and breaks its international treaty promises?

And then there’s Taiwan. Xi Jinping has ratcheted up not only the rhetoric but the fighter jets, plunging the region into the most dangerous period in decades. The free world – indeed the entire international community – needs to be clear about what it will do if China invades Taiwan: and it must spell it out unambiguously to Beijing as a deterrent.

The mood in the free world is clearly shifting. President Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken have already indicated that concerns over the Chinese Communist Party’s repression and aggression is a bipartisan matter, perhaps the only topic that unites Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

The European Union shows some signs of shift, with Josep Borrell, its policy chief, defending closer ties with Taiwan. And Liz Truss, Britain’s new Foreign Secretary, has given multiple messages that while trade with China could continue, we must reduce strategic dependency, diversify supply chains and cement an alliance for democracy around the world.

The direction of travel for the free world is clear. It is simply a matter now of accelerating the pace. IPAC’s gathering in Rome is designed to urge the G20 on.

Let’s not wait for an invasion of Taiwan. Let’s act now to stop Beijing’s genocide against the Uyghurs, dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms, repression in Tibet, persecution of all its critics and aggression towards freedom itself, including our own. And Britain, together with our allies, should lead this fight.

Stephen Booth: AUKUS has been an encouraging test for post-Brexit Britain

23 Sep

Stephen Booth is Head of the Britain in the World Project at Policy Exchange.

The landmark security partnership recently announced by Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States reflects the new geopolitics of great power competition, prompted by the rise of China.

The new alliance, dubbed “AUKUS”, will see deeper integration of security and defence-related science, technology, industrial bases and supply chains, ranging from artificial intelligence to cybersecurity and quantum computing.

The first initiative will be a collaboration on future nuclear-powered submarines, providing the Australian fleet with the US and UK technology for the first time. Canberra’s mounting concern at China’s growing naval capacities encouraged it to cancel an order for French diesel-electric submarines, prompting fury in Paris, and seek the higher spec US and UK nuclear-powered technology instead.

The new trilateral alliance is the latest pillar in US-led efforts to ensure a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and balance China’s increasingly assertive behaviour in the region. The US President has highlighted that this new phase of security cooperation will take place alongside a network of other relationships in the Indo-Pacific, such as the Quad, comprised of the US, Australia, India and Japan, whose leaders will meet in-person for the first time in Washington tomorrow.

New polling commissioned by Policy Exchange illustrates that the British public strongly welcomes a continuing US leadership role supported by allies. 54 per cent of Britons believe that when the US has strong cooperation from allies like the UK, the UK is more safe, as opposed to just eight per cent who believed it was less safe.

It is notable that Toshimitsu Motegi, the Japanese Foreign Minister, was quick to welcome the AUKUS announcement. Predictably, China has responded negatively to AUKUS, criticising its “cold-war mentality” and describing it as “extremely irresponsible”.

Ultimately, security is only one dimension of the changing strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific. Chinese growth has been central to Asia’s rising global economic importance.

But China has also sought to use economic levers to exercise its power in the region. Following Canberra’s public calls for an independent investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, Australia has had to weather formal and informal Chinese trade restrictions on several of its export industries.

It may or may not have been a coincidence but, the day after AUKUS was announced, China formally applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – the most advanced trade agreement in the region.

The forerunner to the 11-member CPTPP, known simply as the TPP, was not originally conceived as a grouping of geopolitical importance. However, when the US became involved and took a leading role in developing it, the Obama Administration was keen to highlight the strategic dimension. “With the TPP, we can rewrite the rules of trade to benefit America’s middle class. Because if we don’t, competitors who don’t share our values, like China, will step in to fill that void,” a White House factsheet said.

Ultimately, President Trump pulled the US out of the deal and it is Japan, as its largest economy, that has taken an increasingly important role within the CPTPP, including encouraging the UK to join it.

China’s application is unlikely to progress for the foreseeable future, since it will struggle to demonstrate adherence to some of the key elements of the deal, particularly the disciplines on state-owned enterprises, intellectual property, the free flow of data and labour standards.

Moreover, accession requires the unanimous approval of the existing members, including Australia and Japan, which would need some convincing given the current political climate. However, China’s application may be designed to throw a cat amongst the pigeons, forcing the wider CPTPP membership to debate the pact’s geopolitical role in relation to Beijing.

The UK is ahead of China in the queue to join the CPTPP, after all the existing members recently agreed to commence the formal accession process. If the UK’s membership bid is successful, it could work with others to facilitate US reengagement with the pact.

Biden’s team has suggested that trade agreements (not simply with the UK) are not a short-term US priority. However, China’s application might act as the catalyst for a reassessment of the CPTPP in Washington, which would greatly increase the economic and strategic benefits of membership to the UK.

Taken together, AUKUS and the UK’s CPTPP membership bid provide long-term substance to the UK’s “Indo-Pacific” tilt outlined in the Integrated Review. Policy Exchange’s Indo-Pacific Commission, which presaged the tilt, stressed the need for a mutually reinforcing “twin-track” UK approach. One focused on trade, economics and technology issues, and another on security. Both aspects of Global Britain are now very much in action in the region.

Meanwhile, French anger at the loss of a lucrative submarine contract has been compounded by its exclusion from a new strategic alliance. In the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Paris sees further evidence of the need for European “strategic autonomy” to reduce dependence on Washington. However, the same formidable hurdles to realising this ambition remain.

AUKUS was announced on the eve of the publication of EU’s own Indo-Pacific strategy and caught Brussels somewhat on the hop. Interestingly, Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, was in London in the days immediately after the AUKUS announcement.

Rutte was reportedly laying the ground to invite the UK to take part in discussions about greater European security cooperation. Whether or not the current Government is open to exploring such an offer, the overture demonstrates that many smaller and Atlanticist EU member states are wary of a greater European role in defence and security, if no role can be found for the UK.

Ultimately, the UK might have entered the AUKUS were it still a member of the EU. But one of the major question marks against Brexit was whether it would see the UK lose its influence over global affairs as an independent nation state.

Recent events demonstrate that economic and security interests are becoming increasingly intertwined and adaptable alliances are becoming increasingly important. A flexible and nimble Global Britain has much to offer in such a world.

Jon Moynihan and Christopher Howarth: In an age of global insecurity, Truss’s appointment could mark a watershed in foreign policy

23 Sep

Jon Moynihan was the CEO and Chairman of PA Consulting Group, as well as a member of the board of Vote Leave. Christopher Howarth is a former accountant, lawyer and TA soldier.

The promotion of Liz Truss to Foreign Secretary has the potential to mark a watershed in British foreign policy. Creative, iconoclastic, and bullet resistant, Truss has, as Trade Secretary, made multiple trade breakthroughs by combining pragmatism and optimism.

Recognising as she does the great geopolitical changes around the world during just this past decade, she has the opportunity to make her mark on our history by formulating, with the Prime Minister, a new foreign policy approach for the UK, one that cashes the Brexit Dividend while recognising the dramatic changes in the world that have occurred over the past decade.

There has never been a golden age of global peace and prosperity, but the world has definitely worsened recently. The EU, not yet reconciled to UK departure and torn between an anxiety to contain Russia and a desire for Russia’s energy, is an always unreliable partner, with the France/AUKUS row showing that the EU and its member countries often act in opposite directions.

The botched withdrawal from Afghanistan threatens to recreate a safe haven for arms and terrorism exports. Biden’s fumbles and abandonment of Trump’s Middle East gains give Iran a renewed chance to further its nuclear and regional ambitions within the Shiite Arc and beyond, destabilising states from Yemen to Iraq and threatening Israel.

In Africa, South Africa’s continued implosion has accelerated. Further north, the arena around east Congo contains Hieronymus Bosch-like scenes of civil and interregional war, rape, slavery, and economic exploitation. Across Africa, an old tradition, the military coup, has re-emerged; both military and civil autocrats bolster themselves with Russian mercenaries.

The Indian subcontinent is now a more dangerous place because of Afghanistan’s implosion. Myanmar has taken a huge step backward. Thailand is repressive. South and Central America are the least concerning areas, but only by comparison; democratisations that followed the Falkland Islands war in the 1980s have steadily drifted leftwards, with Venezuela a stark yet apparently unheeded warning.

This brings us, finally, to the two greatest problems: Russia and China. Russia, even in its position of weakness, creates instability, threatens invasion, in its near abroad – Ukraine and Baltics in particular. In further-away countries, the Wagner Group spearheads a new colonialism.

The group of thugs and oligarchs around Putin maintain a steely extractive grip on their own country. Russia has a formidable cyber hacking arm which makes money (through ransomware) and disrupts the West.

Russia opportunistically allies itself with the far stronger China, whose intelligent and to date successful long-term policy, starting with the Belt-and-Road initiative, is quite clearly that of world domination.

In its near abroad, China extends its reach bit by bit, building roads into Pakistan and Afghanistan and railways toward Europe; building illegal villages in Bhutan and pushing Indian soldiers off Himalayan precipices. It refuses to bring North Korea to heel even as that country becomes an ever-greater nuclear and cyber menace (even as large numbers of North Koreans starve to death).

Despite the West’s long-held concern, that led to Obama’s “pivot to Asia”, China continues with its long-term maritime strategy, building piece-by-piece what is eventually likely to become the most formidable Navy in the world.

It builds ports in Sri Lanka, Djibouti, Gwadar and on; it fortifies islands and atolls across the vast expanses of China’s 9-dash-line claim; it threatens Taiwan. In the meantime, China extracts every last ounce of the West’s technological capability via legal and illegal routes; buying, spying, hacking, sending its students in waves to the west so as to learn and return.

The spectacle of China building a F-35 clone 10 years before expected was a wakeup. It highlighted that the role of science – in weapons development, cyber defence and offence, intelligence, and industry – is key, yet in the UK, as in most of the West, we are falling behind and are increasingly unable to protect even what IP we have.

These are some of the strategic challenges facing the UK. What should the UK response be?

In short, our new foreign policy doctrine should first, realise the Brexit dividend, and second, respond to the new bifurcated hegemonic structure: The US (no longer the global hegemon) with its allies, versus China and Russia with their satrapies.

The Brexit Dividend: The UK has not been a super-power for 100 years, but it is a significant power, one with a unique ability to be at the centre of alliances addressing current and future threats. Now we’re a fully sovereign power, we can forge our own policy based on our own interests, with full control of defence, trade and development.

The EU, built around a single market and customs union, always lacked a coherent foreign policy. The UK as a member was saddled with a trade policy serving the interests of others, not us, and a foreign policy unaligned even with the EU’s own trade agreements – the German or Cypriot veto, for example, preventing any serious criticism of Russia or China.

The Bifurcated Hegemony: things are going to get tougher. We will have to tighten our uses of trade and subordinate it and Aid to new geopolitical imperatives; anticorruption and cementing new treaties will have to take precedence over softer fashionable favourites.

Our new ability to focus on our own (and global) security came good in the recent AUKUS negotiations. The UK played to its strengths; a trading partner, trusted and with unique technology (more Brexit dividend: as an EU member the UK could not have discussed trade policy; would have had to support French interests; and would have been pressured to be more accommodating to China).

Promoting specific UK interests becomes central; no more need to outsource our development money (and trade deficit) to Brussels. A sovereign UK can use its aid and trade policy as twin tools to improve stability and growth in Africa, helping countries trade their way out of poverty –win-win for the UK in prosperity and influence.

In the Middle East we can work better with historic partners on security and trade. Joining CPTPP (the pacific trade partnership), and the hinted deemphasis of Canada and NZ from the 5eyes network, points to a more complex future, awash with interlocking networks and relationships of different strength.

We can also now push our objectives in global councils – protecting intellectual property, combating cyber espionage and theft, resisting authoritarian states seeking to subvert international organisations and our values. The UK now has the opportunity to work flexibly with different models to meet differing and emerging threats and opportunities. It’s an exciting new chapter in UK foreign policy.

Such an approach has the makings of a distinctly Conservative foreign policy; pragmatic but optimistic, believing in Britain, British values and a global role; with loyalty to old allies and friends and an instinctive belief that global engagement is good for both us and the world.

As Margaret Thatcher always clearly said: a decrease in British (and American) global influence would be very bad for the world. Fortunately, Truss, being a Thatcherite, recognises the opportunities the UK has. She brings to the Foreign Office unique insights into how to further UK interests and global stability. A new Johnson/Truss doctrine can put them into action.

Olivier Guitta: Biden’s decision to snub France will weaken, not embolden, the U.S. in its dealings with China

20 Sep

Olivier Guitta is the Managing Director of GlobalStrat, a security and geopolitical risk consulting company for companies and governments.

On September 16 President Emmanuel Macron announced that French forces had killed Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, the emir of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, in Mali.

Coincidentally, al-Sahrawi had been at the top of the U.S. wanted list for murdering American Special forces in Niger in 2017. So, it is quite ironic that on the same day U.S. President Joe Biden back-stabbed France by announcing a defence alliance with Australia and the UK that included taking away from Paris the contract of the century.

France had signed in 2016 a deal worth $66 billion to supply 12 diesel-powered submarines to Australia. As late as August 30 both countries’ leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the submarine programme. This while Australia had been negotiating since at least March with the UK and the U.S. on getting a deal for nuclear-powered submarines.

It was a deal so secret and so controversial that reportedly only 10 people in the British government knew about it. The project was almost finalised at the G7 meeting in England in June under the nose of Macron while he was cosying up to Biden.

The Biden administration blindsided France, which accused top U.S. officials of hiding information about the deal despite repeated attempts by French diplomats to know what was going on. French diplomats said they first learned of the deal when news leaked in Australian media hours before the official announcement on Wednesday.

Expressing his fury for not only the cancellation of the deal but the handling of the announcement and the non-consulting of France, Macron immediately recalled its ambassadors in Washington and Canberra.

It is quite telling that this is the first time ever happened that France recalled its ambassador to the U.S., showing the seriousness of the diplomatic crisis. Interestingly enough, even Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said he understood Paris’ fury to be cut out from the alliance.

Things could have gone down way differently: If technology was the problem, why did the Australians not talk to the French about it since, incidentally, France also has nuclear-powered submarines?

We are not talking here about $60 million or $600 million or even $6 billion but about $66 billion. There was surely a way to find a consensus between the four allies, even when bringing to the table the U.S. and the UK, like splitting the contract in three.

In fact, the bigger picture is even more important than the huge defence contact since this AUKUS alliance, as it is called, is all about standing up to China. It is quite ironic that Biden has pushed away France from that alliance since in the past few months Paris has been one of the most sanguine to oppose China’s influence in the region.

Indeed, back in March, China complained about the French military’s activities in the disputed South China Sea, after it sent two warships there. In April, these ships took part in a three-day military exercise with the four members of the Quad alliance- Japan, India, Australia and the U.S.

That’s not all: France, that has several territories in the Pacific, has committed to helping Japan on the military and security level, i.e., protecting against China. Indeed, when Macron visited Japan during the Tokyo Olympics, Prime Minister Suga said he welcomed French plans to build on regional cooperation by boosting Paris’ efforts to “reinforce its strategic orientation, presence and actions in the Indo-Pacific in order to contribute to security, stability and sustainable development in the region.”

In light of this, Biden’s decision to snub France is another major faux-pas that is basically undermining his plan for an anti-China front. This hasn’t escaped Beijing that while officially very angry about the deal denouncing it, China might turn out to be the ultimate winner since it has de facto possibly broken the French resolve to side with the US against Beijing. Indeed, Macron said that France might narrow its focus to concentrate on its specific Indo-Pacific interests, rather than working to push back against China more broadly.

Biden, who wanted to break off from his predecessor when it came to trans-Atlantic relations, has missed yet another opportunity to do so with the AUKUS alliance. His potential anti-China front has been definitely undercut and ironically only of his own doing.

Including France in the alliance would have been wise to repair a deteriorating relationship with Europe that has witnessed the huge historical debacle in Afghanistan, the de facto approval of the Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2. Biden has in just eight months lost all of his credibility in European capitals, not a small feat indeed.

Sarah Ingham: With our closest NATO ally leaving us high and dry, it’s time to re-assess the pieties about Britain’s role in the world

3 Sep

Sarah Ingham is author of The Military Covenant: its impact on civil-military relations in Britain.

“America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home”.

In June 2011, announcing a cut in troop numbers of 10,000 personnel, President Barack Obama anticipated Joe Biden’s speech in Pittsburgh which marked the end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan.

A decade ago, the 44th President’s enthusiasm for a continuing military presence in Afghanistan was lukewarm at best. Back then, a mere $1 trillion had been spent. Given America’s crumbling infrastructure and rising social problems in the wake of the global financial crash, Obama wanted more homeland bangs for his huge number of bucks.

Another $1 trillion later, on Tuesday the 46th President gave the speech that Obama probably wishes he had made back in 2011. Alluding to the country’s “corruption and malfeasance”, Biden was clear: “We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries. We just don’t need to fight a ground war to do it.”

For a man allegedly in his dotage, Sleepy Joe delivered an admirably clear-sighted statement of future American national security policy based on vital national interest. As well as ending the forever war, the President pulled the trigger on 20 years of meddling in the affairs of other sovereign states – also known as nation-building.

If American policy is now also about “ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries”, exactly where does this leave Britain and our Armed Forces? After all, ever since the end of the Cold War, successive governments have sent Britain’s Service personnel overseas on all manner of Operations Other Than War, as our people in khaki with the SA80 A3s like to call them.

The impulse to save lives was used to justify a number of military interventions since the beginning of the 1990s, including policing Iraq’s safe havens and in Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya. The Rwandan genocide – about which the outside world did too little far too late – is a permanent reproach to those who consider state sovereignty paramount.

The successful humanitarian-based military operations in Kosovo and Sierra Leone appeared to vindicate the Blair government’s much-mocked pursuit of an “ethical” foreign policy, together with the Prime Minister’s Doctrine for the International Community.

Set out in Chicago in April 1999, it suggested five guidelines for intervention. They chimed with the Strategic Defence Review of the previous year which had declared that Britain would not stand idly by and watch humanitarian disasters or the aggression of dictators go unchecked. “We want to give a lead; we want to be a force for good.”

Ever since, subsequent Defence Reviews have all been the heirs to the Blairite sentiment that the British military are an instrument for global wellbeing, just as Britain should get stuck in and tackle the world’s problems.

As the Coalition’s 2010 Review stated, “Our country has always had global responsibilities and global ambitions.” Similarly, in 2015, Britain was “strong, influential, global”. In setting out his vision for Britain in 2030 in the recent Integrated Review, Boris Johnson foresaw “a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation with a global perspective”.

The unforeseen American withdrawal pulled the rug out from under not only Afghanistan but also from assumptions about Britain’s defence and security posture that were made in the Integrated Review less than six months ago.

With our closest NATO ally leaving us high and dry, it is now time to re-assess the pieties about Britain’s place and role in the world that, mantra-like, are repeated and have gone unchallenged in all of 21st century Reviews of the country’s defence and security.

The Blairite approach to foreign policy – “which should reflect our values” according to the 1998 Review – should have been shattered in Iraq. A war of questionable legality and zero legitimacy made a nonsense about ethical lodestars.

Equally, Labour’s view of the role of British soldiers in Afghanistan as globe-trotting, nation-building do-gooders – armed Mrs Jellybys – has surely had its day. The Coalition’s disastrous intervention in Libya in 2011 was nothing if not Blair-lite. Thankfully, the same itch to intervene was thwarted when it came to Syria.

For all policymakers’ non-stop talking up of Britain’s continuing interventionist global role, the public might well be sceptical. Over the past decade we have become ever-more culturally heterogenous and less happy with the concept of “white saviours” parachuting themselves into the world’s benighted regions and bossing the locals about.

In 2001, the UK’s Muslim population was 1.6 million; by 2018 it had reached 3.4 million: do these voters back Britain’s instinct for involvement in the problems of, say, the Middle East? Equally, the issue of this country’s colonial past is surely the most toxic on any syllabus – and very much at odds with any present-day neo-colonial nation-building.

Almost 30 years ago, another Foreign Secretary was in hot water. Sceptical about intervention in the civil war in former Yugoslavia, Douglas Hurd dubbed those who demanded action after the media spotlight fell on any particular trouble-spot as members of the “Something Must Be Done Club”. He could have observed that Pen Farthing’s dogs would bark, but before too long the media would move on.

Like its predecessors, the Integrated Review invokes the values of liberal democracy. After almost 18 months of government by ministerial fiat in the name of public health, with Parliament side-lined, the media suborned and Police over-reach, we should perhaps be focusing on renewing those values here at home. The defence of the West begins in Britain.

James Frayne: Polls suggest the Government will not face a backlash for the principal of withdrawal in Afghanistan

31 Aug

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

How will the disorganised exit from Afghanistan affect the reputation of the British Government?

Coverage in the media has rightly focused primarily on President Biden’s role – given the US is by far the biggest foreign player in Afghanistan – but the British Government – and Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, particularly – have faced harsh scrutiny. What should we expect to follow politically?

Three interesting polls suggest the most fundamental answers. The first comes from YouGov in 2017, which asked the British public whether they thought it was right or wrong for Britain to have become involved in various wars and global conflicts since the Second World War.

While large majorities supported Britain declaring war on Germany in 1939 and engaging Argentina in 1982, significantly more opposed than supported British engagement in Afghanistan (43-25 opposed, with the rest saying “don’t know”). In addition, more people opposed than supported engagement in Libya (44-19), Iraq in 2003 (55-18) and Iraq in 1991 (35-30).

The second also comes from YouGov, a few weeks ago, which asked people about whether Britain should accept asylum seekers from Afghanistan – and also, crucially, whether Britain had a “moral duty” to accept those asylum seekers.

While the first question showed a majority support accepting Afghan refugees (52-29), perhaps surprisingly a majority could not be found to support the contention that Britain had a moral duty to accept refugees (48-36 agreed).

Third, another YouGov poll, from 2014 when Britain began scaling back operations in Helmand, which showed how the public had grown utterly weary of our engagement in Afghanistan several years ago.

They supported the withdrawal of troops from Helmand by a massive 83-5; they thought our whole engagement had not been worthwhile by 56-25; they doubted the Afghan security forces could maintain security by 67-13; and they thought the Taliban would return to power by 65-15.

These polls suggest a number of big things. First, and most importantly, that the Government will not face a backlash for the principal of withdrawal because people didn’t want troops to be there (or in the Middle East) in the first place. In fact, the public are generally sceptical about foreign intervention against states generally (as opposed to terrorist groups, which they tend to support).

Second, they show there’s a limit to the “mess” they think Britain specifically is responsible for (if people simultaneously think we should accept asylum seekers but don’t particularly consider it to be our moral duty).

Third, they show the public have long considered Afghanistan to have been a failure and that they long expected a return to the status quo ante.

While political and foreign policy commentators dwell on whether British and American withdrawal will make people think Afghanistan was a tragic waste of lives, or that it will make people question whether politicians can make the case for foreign intervention again, the truth is the public have already made up their mind on these – and did so long ago.

The deep sympathy the public feel for British troops and the sacrifices they made, the anger they feel on their behalf, as well as their general disappointment with how Afghanistan turned out, made themselves felt in the polls several years ago when other Prime Ministers were in power.

While the public are looking on at the Taliban’s advance with horror and sadness – with sympathy for Afghan civilians – they expected it and they doubt there is much that we can do, beyond extending a home for a small number of Afghans (along with other countries around the world).

This Government is therefore unlikely to be affected by those big, existential questions being played out in politics and the media. For this Government, its greatest vulnerabilities are around important but relatively narrow questions over whether it handled the logistics of withdrawal in the right way.

Did it act swiftly, competently and with good judgement as it helped British civilians, diplomats and Armed Forces out of the country – as well as those Afghans directly associated with the British and American operations in the country since 2001? (The questions in whether the Government is providing the right level of asylum support will emerge later).

In short, these are mostly questions of judgement and competence – although, certainly regarding the treatment of Afghans who directly helped Britain, there are also questions of fairness and decency.

It seems very likely that there will be enough horror stories of slow and poor decision-making from various Government Departments and agencies that the Government will take some blame. These stories will come out over the course of the next few weeks.

While unnamed Government sources are seeking to apportion blame to particular politicians (Raab, most obviously), the public don’t and won’t think along these lines; within reason, they think of the Government as an entity, rather than as being devolved in any meaningful way.

This means there’s a limit to what “damage control” the Government can do by throwing particular politicians and officials under a bus. It will all land at the door of the PM where public opinion is concerned.

Will there be enough stories, cumulatively, to provoke a general backlash against this Government at last? Time will tell (I have no idea what’s coming out) but I doubt it. Hard as it is for many commentators to understand or believe, for most of its supporters, this Government has a lot of credit in the bank on questions of judgement and competence.

In a world where politicians are seen endlessly to over-promise and under-deliver, this Government has delivered on two massive promises: to “get Brexit done” and to introduce new controls over immigration.

It has also delivered a world-class vaccination programme. These aren’t small things. Most of this Government’s supporters will not therefore be saying – as opponents will – “there they go again”. This again puts a limit on the negative effects the Government will see.

But competence is a strange question. Beyond extreme incidents that directly affect the lives of ordinary people – like the final days of our time in the ERM, when interest rates were raised, crippling many – most errors, even big ones, just gently chip away at a Government’s reputation.

This is not to suggest that competence isn’t a big deal – on the contrary, it’s vital, and I suspect it’ll be ultimately competence that does it in the end for this Government – but rather that it can take a surprising amount to lose it. We’re not there yet; Afghanistan won’t do it.