Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Boris Johnson to blame for the Skripal poisonings?

Oh, hi Boris Johnson's lawyers, how are you doing? No, I most certainly wasn't accusing your client of doing anything untoward - "just asking questions", as they say.

What do you mean Betteridge's Law is no defence in a case of libel?

OK, I would like to state, for the record, that I do not believe your client, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, capable of poisoning the Skripals. Assuming that the Skripals were the intended targets of the unknown poisoner (which I do), I believe that this attack was planned and carried out by professionals. If somebody had tasked a brilliant amateur like Boris Johnson with carrying out the hit, I believe that the targets would have escaped unscathed, although Boris would most likely have ended up accidentally poisoning half of the Salisbury Cathedral choir. He is Boris, after all, and getting into "hilarious" scrapes it what he does.

So what am I saying? I'm just floating the hypothesis that, if I belonged to the intelligence service of a hostile power and I was thinking about doing something shockingly illegal in the United Kingdom, I might look at the person appointed to the post of UK Foreign Secretary and think "These people cannot be serious - I'm totally not frightened of messing with them."

Whatever talents Boris Johnson may have - writing moderately amusing (if factually-challenged and occasionally racist) opinion pieces, quoting Cicero and saying "cripes" a lot when in character as an entertaining upper-class eccentric - it's obvious to even the dimmest observer that diplomacy, discretion and mastering his brief are not among them. His addiction to blurting out memorable sound bites at every possible opportunity, with no thought for the accuracy of what he says, or for who might be offended is as close to an anti-qualification for the post of Foreign Secretary as I can think of.

After all this time, it still beggars belief that Boris is the public face the UK presents to the world. Making him so implies contempt for the people the UK is dealing with. It's the equivalent of turning up late to your best friend's wedding half-cut and unshaven, wearing trackky bottoms and a mucky T-shirt. It implies a total lack of respect both for the occasion and for yourself. OK, a few people might have a laugh at the wacky funster throwing convention to the winds, but most of the people invested in the process will be rightly mortified.

And it makes the UK look weak. It implies a barely-keeping-it-together administration, too absorbed in the psychodrama of its own self-inflicted crisis to care about impressing the outside world. An administration that looks at a man who could, maybe, be allowed to make an ass of himself at, say, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport without doing too much damage and thinks "Let him play at being a world statesman for a bit - he's obviously going to shoot his mouth off at every opportunity and infuriate every nation on the planet, but right now we've got more important things to worry about than what the rest of the world thinks, like not having an actual punch-up round the Cabinet table."

Why wouldn't your hostile foreign power take one look at what we, as a country, are doing and assume that we're a bunch of powerless, clueless diplomatic pygmies who can be ignored and flouted with impunity? What would a careless bluffer like Boris do to protect a couple of foreigners, when he can't even look after the interest of UK nationals (your foot in mouth helped to double Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's sentence, Boris, but we're still waiting for you to get her out of that Iranian jail)?

Boris is the symptom of a national self-absorption that puts winning petty squabbles within the Westminster/UK press bubble ahead of presenting any semblance of credibility or competence to the outside world. It would be no wonder if some hostile power* thought "Is that the best you've got?" and proceeded to do as it damn well pleased. If so, some of the blame belongs to Theresa May for offering, and to Boris Johnson for accepting, an important job which, deep down, even he must have realised he would be terrible at.

*Probably Russia. Richard North overstates the doubts when he goes off on one about other people being idiots for jumping to that conclusion (to be fair, he usually blogs about Brexit, a target-rich environment for idiot hunters, so he's probably a bit trigger-happy). He makes great game of people for saying "Russia", when the nerve agent was originally developed in the Soviet Union (specifically, Uzbekistan).

Which is all very well, but Russia is the suspect with the obvious motive and probable means to attack the Skripals. OK, the nerve agent was developed in another former Soviet state, but let's do a fun WMD quiz. When the Soviet Union broke up, which of its constituent countries got all the nukes? Clue: it wasn't Uzbekistan. And which bit of the former Soviet Union do you think was most likely to get first dibs on any other nasty stuff that was hanging around? Clue: probably the same place that got all the nukes.

Of course it might be somebody else - the Uzbeks (why?), or surprisingly well-resourced non-state actors, or a false flag operation by MI5, in the hope of drumming up more counter-terrorism resources, or part of a US deep state anti-Trump plot , or Mossad, or Hilary Clinton while she was taking time off from running a paedophile ring out of a pizza joint ... if you want to jump down the rabbit hole into any of the above conspiracy wonderlands, be my guest, but it's still probably Russia.

Update - if you thought I was exaggerating about those conspiracy theories, feast your eyes on this little beauty:
"MOSCOW (Sputnik) - The assassination attempt against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom may be perceived as a plot to derail Brexit negotiations and use Russia’s alleged threat as a pretext to keep the country with the European Union, Richard Wood, a member of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), told Sputnik on Wednesday."
Wood told Sputnik that he thought the Skripal poisonings were "staged." I fought Poe's Law and the law won...

Bonus fact - "Sputnik" is Russian for "one on the same path (with someone)", or more succinctly, "fellow traveller."

Bonus bonus fact - Ukip's Richard Wood was - purely coincidentally - one of the delegates on a Moscow-sponsored jolly to Crimea last March. In a statement to Sputnik, Wood gushed:
"I wanted to see the situation in Crimea and I was absolutely delighted. I saw the people wanting to be a part of the Russian Federation. That is what came over to me strongly. I never heard of anybody saying that they have been put down, they were repressed or had difficulties with the Russian authorities. For a very long time now the West has had a very shortsighted policy towards Russia. When I was in Crimea, I have never seen a policeman on streets, I have never seen a soldier, no civil disorder, nothing of that sort," 
Make of that what you will...