Bojo is a disaster for the Middle East

Boris Johnson

Since his surprise appointment as Foreign Secretary yesterday, much has been made of Boris Johnson’s column in the Telegraph. In a particularly disturbing contribution that was penned in the aftermath of the Assad regime’s capture of Palmyra from Daesh earlier this year he said it was bizarre to feel joy at “one of the vilest regimes one earth,” but later admitted “I cannot conceal my elation as the news comes in from Palmyra and it is reported that the Syrian army is genuinely back in control of the entire Unesco site”.

Like Daesh, the regime has used torture, rape and starvation in the most brutal ways imaginable as a weapon of war. Assad and his regime have killed thousands more civilians than Daesh and to imply that Syrians living in Palmyra will somehow be better off under him reveals a desperate misreading, or denial of the facts. For Johnson it seems the archaeological protection of Palmyra takes precedence over all of the above.

In an earlier column Johnson used similar reasoning vis a vis the Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he calls ‘Vlad’. First he acknowledges his illegal occupation of parts of Ukraine, states that he “has questions to answer” about Alexander Litvinenko’s death, that he shoots opposition journalists and that he is a “ruthless and manipulative tyrant”. What follows is a series of musings about what can be done to fight Daesh, the “evil death cult,” before concluding that everything else is secondary to eliminating the group and that we should work with the Devil – Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad – to do so.

In fact, it is these ‘Devils’ who have helped create one of the most urgent, pressing issues of our time – the Syrian refugee crisis – yet Johnson’s response has been mixed. At first he stated that we should “take people fleeing persecution and those plainly in fear for their lives,” but warned, “we must not become a magnet or pole of attraction for economic rights”. Then in April 2016 Johnson voted against a proposal to take in 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children who had made the perilous journey out of Syria and arrived in Europe. I guess he thought they just weren’t vulnerable enough.

Johnson voted for the Iraq War yet in hindsight reflected that Blair’s invasion of Iraq was “tragic error” and that Tony Blair has gone mad. Thanks to a freedom of information request it was revealed that on a trip to Iraqi Kurdistan last year Johnson left a bar without paying the tab, tried to drive a Jaguar out of a car showroom, was blocked from visiting the frontline, whilst Foreign Office staff had to stop him from announcing a trade deal prematurely.

In November 2015 Johnson’s visit to Occupied Palestinian Territory was cut short when he declared the boycott was “completely crazy,” he “cannot think of anything more foolish” and that people who boycotted Israeli goods were “corduroy-jacketed, snaggletoothed, lefty academics in the UK”. Subsequently, the Sharek Youth Forum refused to host the mayor on the grounds that not only does he denounce the BDS but he “consciously denies the reality of the occupation that continues to oppress them and all Palestinians”.

During the same trip, in a particularly derogatory inaugural Winston Churchill speech in Jerusalem, he had said: “When [Churchill] wrote his 1922 white paper that paved the way for accelerated Jewish entry into Palestine, Churchill imagined Jews and Arabs living side by side, with technically expert Jewish farmers helping the Arabs to drive tractors.”

The former mayor has a better relationship with the affluent Gulf, perhaps best highlighted by the description he gave himself, the “mayor of the eighth emirate”. Money he attracted from Qatar has helped build the Shard, the Olympic Village, the Chelsea Barracks and Harrods. He also persuaded the Emirates Airline to help sponsor the £60 million cable car across the River Thames. Despite the huge amount of cash poured into the cars, in November 2013 it was revealed the route was used by four regular commuters; today the number is probably closer to zero.

Johnson is no stranger to large sums of money – when details of his earnings were made public earlier this year, many were shocked to find out that he had earned £2 million in four years. HisTelegraph column, which he uses to air his views on the Middle East, earns him £266,667 a year – no wonder he is out of touch with ordinary people on the ground, whether they are in the UK or in the Middle East.

Written by Amelia Smith

Published in Middle East Monitor