Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation, is a man who knows what he wants and how to get it. After the duly elected president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown and fled to Russia, Putin ordered his troops, out of their bases in Crimea, to take over the region. The Crimean politicians backed him up and arranged a snap referendum to vote on whether Crimea should remain part of Ukraine or leave and rejoin Russia.

The European Union and the Americans expressed themselves to be horrified at this prospect and warned that there would be consequences! Meanwhile, Mr Putin and his merry men just carried on.

A few months ago, after the Syrian dictator used chemical weapons on his fellow countryman, Barack Obama, president of the USA, threatened  ‘consequences’ for this appalling act. In fact, nothing much happened. Obama and his Western allies merely huffed and puffed while Putin, chief ally of Syria, stepped in and cobbled up a deal that would see Syrian chemical weapons destroyed. So far, this has not happened.

The contrast between Putin’s ability to make up his mind and get on with things and Obama's inability to do the same, is stark.  Machiavelli, in the early 16th century, wrote, “when diplomacy fails, war is an extension of politics.” 300 years later, Clauswitz expanded on the same theme. Both extolled the virtue of concentrating the aim and striking the first blow. Perhaps there is a lesson here for the West. Crisp, well-defined and swift action brings results, whereas stuffing around and looking for consensus and consultation doesn’t change much. A couple of well aimed bunker busters dropped on the presidential palace in Damascus would have made everyone sit up and take notice. Perhaps something similar in Crimea might have had the same effect.

On the other side of the World, a Malaysian airliner has disappeared. Flight MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing with 239 persons on board. An hour or so later, all contact was lost and the plane vanished. It turns out that a couple of men managed to board using stolen passports. Ominously, these men come from Iran. The Malaysian authorities have issued conflicting reports about radio and radar contact with the plane. An international search has been in operation for several days but no trace of the plane or those on board has been discovered. Malaysia has refused offers of help from the West. Terrorism has been ruled out!

Seems to me that Iranian men, stolen passports and missing plane add up to terrorism until proved otherwise. If the border control personnel at Kuala Lumpur are so incompetent as to allow passengers to board using stolen documents, then they are quite likely to have let those same passengers to have taken their seats nursing some kind of bomb. 

Looks as if we are dealing with an M.F.U. (Those who have served in the Armed Services know what that is.

David Amies

Friday, March 16th 2014

This week’s piece: On Saudi Arabia

PS This will be the last polemic until May as we are going on a trip. Once we return, the frequency of these little essays will change to one per month rather than every week. I am writing a memoir and wish to devote as much time as possible to it and have to husband my time and resources. Once the memoir is done, I might return to a weekly number.