Monday, August 25, 2014

THE NATURE OF RUSSIAN POLICY IN UKRAINE

"Ukraine accused Russia on Monday of sending soldiers across the border to open a new front, a charge that Moscow dismissed as the latest salvo in a campaign of misinformation. Poroshenko expressed "extraordinary concern" at the alleged move, his press service said. Russia has consistently denied arming or fighting alongside the separatists. Stung by U.S. and EU sanctions against its finance, oil and defence sectors, it has hit back by banning most Western food imports, in a trade war that is hurting both the Russian and European economies. With East-West tensions at their highest since the Cold War, Russian and NATO forces have both stepped up exercises in recent months. Tuesday's talks, expected to begin after 0700 ET in the Belarussian capital of Minsk, will include European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and the leaders of Belarus and Kazakhstan, partners in a Russian-led customs union. But expectations on all sides appear low, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel among those playing down any likelihood of a breakthrough to end the fighting, in which more than 2,000 people have been killed since April. At a news conference on Monday, Russia's Lavrov said the West must not expect Moscow to solve the crisis as if by magic, and suggested it needed to rethink its view of the conflict. "I think that with regard to Ukraine, a recognition will come of the complete pointlessness of betting on supporting a civil war, of betting that Ukraine, by using its army, will defeat part of its own people and peace will reign in Ukraine," he said. In the latest twist in a protracted conflict, the Ukrainian military said a group of Russian forces, disguised as rebels, had crossed into south-east Ukraine with 10 tanks and two armoured infantry vehicles. It said border guards had halted the column outside Novoazovsk, Ukraine's most south-easterly point on the Azov Sea. "This morning there was an attempt by the Russian military in the guise of Donbass fighters to open a new area of military confrontation in the southern Donetsk region," military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists".
Alexei Anishchuk, "Slim chance of progress as Russian and Ukrainian leaders meet". Reuters. 24 August 2014, in www.reuters.com.
The likelihood of success in any talks between Kyiv and Moskva which are supposed to take place in Minsk this week, seems to be close to nil. With the Financial Times reporting that there appears to be a build-up of Russian forces inside Ukraine who are aiding sub rosa (only in part!) the rebels in the Donbass region 1. The fact of the matter is that Russia will endeavor, short of an overt military invasion if it can help it, to keep the rebellion alive as another frozen zone of conflict `a la the situations in Moldova and Georgia. One can agree readily of course with the analysis recently offered by the Russian-based analyst for the Carnegie Endowment, Dmitri Trenin, that au fond the only winners of the current conflict in Eastern Ukraine is Peking 2. That fact does not absolve Moskva with turning a domestic, Ukrainian conflict, into an international crisis of major proportions with first the annexation of Crimea and second the attempted subversion of Ukraine. The whys and the wherefores of Russian policy can be studied and analyzed without end 3. However, that does not obviate the fact that it was the Putin regime which decided to (in the words of German Imperial Chancellor Theobold von Bethmann-Hollweg in 1914): 'let the iron dice roll'. And unfortunately, it does appear to be the case that sans a domestic upheaval in Russia proper, and the partial or complete overthrow of 'Putinism', that normal relations between the West and Moskva will be a long time in arriving. One may state that the current conflict between Russia and the West is both completely unnecessary and a tragedy, but this truism will not obviate the nature of Russian policy and its basis in the internal domestic political regime that Russia 'enjoys' under 'Putinism'.
1. Peter Spiegel & Roman Olearchyk, "Moscow may be using convoy to distract from military build-up, says Nato chief". The Financial Times. 25 August 2014, in www.ft.com.
2. Dmitri Trenin, "Ukraine and the new divide". Carnegie Moscow Center. 30 August 2014, in www.carnegie.ru.
3. Trenin's own analysis is more premised upon what one may label as 'primat der aussenpolitik' ['primacy of foreign policy'], then what I would feel is in fact the case. For a longer and more detailed version of his argument, see: "The Ukraine Crisis and the Resumption of Great-Power Rivalry". Carnegie Moscow Center. 9 July 2014, in www.carnegie.ru. For an alternative and to my mind much more cogent view of the motivations of Russian policy, see: Lilia Shevtsova, "Putin rides the waves". The American Interest. 15 May 2014, in www.the-american-interest.com

Friday, August 22, 2014

ISIS AND SYRIA: A COMMENT

"The US and its allies must be prepared to work with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad to have any hope of defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, one of Britain’s most senior MPs has warned. Sir Malcolm Rifkind – the chairman of parliament’s intelligence and security committee and a former foreign secretary and defence secretary – told the Financial Times that the “ghastly” killing of US journalist James Foley this week underscored the need to act against the militant jihadi group, whose rise to power in the Middle East has so far gone largely unchecked. “[Isis] need to be eliminated and we should not be squeamish about how we do it,” Sir Malcolm said. In recent months, Isis has seized a vast swath of territory across northern Iraq, but its core power base remains in Syria. “Sometimes you have to develop relationships with people who are extremely nasty in order to get rid of people who are even nastier,” Sir Malcolm said, referring to working with Mr Assad’s dictatorship, which is an international pariah after it carried out brutal attacks on civilians in the civil war that has divided Syria and allowed Isis to flourish. Any consideration of working with or alongside the Assad dictatorship has so far been completely absent from pronouncements in Washington and Europe on how to best deal with Isis. Ben Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said on Wednesday that Mr Assad was “part of the problem”. Sir Malcolm was previously one of the most outspoken members of parliament in calling for the UK to intervene with military force against Mr Assad’s regime – an option he and others pressed for in the wake of a devastating chemical weapons attack by Mr Assad’s forces on civilians in Ghouta one year ago. “We have to deal with facts on the ground, not as we would want them to be but as they are,” Sir Malcolm said, acknowledging that it was a deeply unpalatable choice. He likened the need to work with Mr Assad to the way in which the allied powers worked with Joseph Stalin in the second world war. “The idea that we can have a military operation in Iraq that won’t have a Syrian dimension is inconceivable. For Syria to become an Isis safe haven – that is ludicrous . . . I don’t see how we can avoid it....”
Sam Jones, "US and allies must join Assad to defeat Isis, warns British MP". The Financial Times. 21 August 2014, in www.ft.com.
"The Obama administration's escalating air war against the Islamic State is running up against a dispiriting new reality: The militants are becoming as good at governing territory as they are at conquering it, making it considerably harder to dislodge them from the broad swaths of Syria and Iraq that they now control. U.S. intelligence officials say the leaders of the Islamic State are adopting methods first pioneered by Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite militia, and are devoting considerable human and financial resources toward keeping essential services like electricity, water, and sewage functioning in their territory. In some areas, they even operate post offices. Taken together, the moves highlight the fact that the Islamic State, already the best-armed and best-funded terror group in the world, is quickly adapting to the challenges of ruling and governing. That, in turn, dramatically reduces the chances that the extremists will face homegrown opposition in what amounts to the world's newest territory. "ISIS is the most dangerous terrorist group in the world because they combine the fighting capabilities of al Qaeda with the administrative capabilities of Hezbollah," said David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency expert who spent several years working as a top aide to Gen. David Petraeus during the height of the Iraq War. "It's clear that they have a state-building agenda and an understanding of the importance of effective governance."'
Yochi Dreazen. "From Electricity to Sewage US Intelligence says Islamic State is fast learning How to run a country. Foreign Policy. 18 August 2014, in www.foreignpolicy.com.
The fact of the matter is, that however distasteful and indeed disgusting it may be to Western moral consciousness to ally itself with the regime of Assad Fils, au fond, I cannot for the life of me fathom why such a mésalliance would be any worse than the West's current relationship with the egregious sectarian and authoritarian regime in Saudi Arabia? Or for that matter with the nominally friendly (at times indeed very nominal) regime in Peking. Not to speak of course of the alliance with the Soviet regime in World War II. The fact of the matter is that by far, by every indicator, the threat posed by the madmen of ISIS, far outweighs any threat posed by the truncated regime in Damascus. No one would or indeed could reasonably argue that Assad Fils and his minions and coterie are agreeable people, or the type of people that one would invite to an evening's entertainment at the Reform or Garrick. That fact unfortunately is wide of the mark. The Western powers face a threat of such evil nature, that indeed one is tempted to retreat into theological discourse and characterization and describe the men of ISIS as something conjured up by the Prince of Darkness himself, something akin to a pure diabolical composition of nature in fact. And this entity is as the above referenced report notes, putting down roots and assuming something akin to the operations of a state apparatus! A development which in some ways is the most frightening aspect of the entire ISIS movement. Sans a rapprochement with the Assad regime, it is difficult to imagine a quick and or total defeat of ISIS. As the American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff mentioned yesterday in a press conference, ISIS:
"would have to eventually be defeated in Syria but that it was "possible to contain them" for now. But "not in perpetuity. This is an organization that has an apocalyptic vision and they will have to be defeated' " 1.
Given the fact that the Western powers are already de facto aligned with the equally nefarious regime in Teheran, sponsor and protector of the Assad Regime, with some even advocating a closer linkup, one is at a loss to explain the rationale for continuing a policy of endeavoring to overthrow the Persia's junior ally. In short, the very wise words of Sir Malcom Rifkind must be heeded and some sort of misalliance with the Assad Regime will prove necessary in order to put down and then destroy the mad dogs of ISIS before it infects both the region and the febrile minds of Muslim youth the world over.
1. On this see: "Analysis: In Iraq, the United States and Iran Align Against the Islamic State". Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 20 August 2014, in www.stratfor.com.
2. "IS threat 'must be defeated' says Pentagon". Deutsche Welle. 21 August 2014, in www.dw.de.

Monday, August 18, 2014

THE GAZA MORASS: AN UPDATE

"Israel and Hamas taunted each other with bellicose rhetoric on Sunday, both insisting they would not back down on their negotiating demands at truce talks in Cairo, a day before a five-day temporary ceasefire was due to expire. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, asserted that his country would not reach a deal unless its security needs were met, adding that Hamas had “taken a severe military blow” from the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip. “If Hamas thinks it can cover up its military loss with a diplomatic achievement, it is mistaken,” Mr Netanyahu said. “Hamas knows that we are very strong but maybe it thinks that we do not have enough determination and patience, and here it is making a very big mistake.” Hamas responded to his remarks on Sunday, saying: “Netanyahu’s talk of victory is a cover for his failure.” Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Islamist group, said Israeli prime minister’s remarks arose from “a need to feed the media and avoid growing Israeli [public] anger”. Israel withdrew its ground troops from Gaza two weeks ago, saying it had completed its job of locating and destroying the tunnels Hamas had been using to carry out military operations. In the diplomatic interlude since – interrupted by bouts of fighting – Mr Netanyahu has come under criticism from rightwing allies in government and residents of the southern border region for failing to deliver on Operation Protective Edge’s goals of stopping the rocket fire and restoring “quiet” in Israel. A five-day temporary ceasefire is due to expire at midnight on Monday, amid indications the Israeli and Palestinian delegations in Cairo still have a large gap to bridge in their discussions on a more durable truce. The Egyptian proposal would see both sides undertake not to attack each other in exchange for an easing of the seven-year-old economic blockade of Gaza. The Palestinian delegation is also pushing for the construction of an airport and seaport in the coastal enclave. Hamas, which was in dire financial straits before the war began, is looking for tangible gains at the negotiating table from a war that has killed nearly 2,000 Palestinians and left swaths of the Gaza Strip in rubble."
John Reed, "Israel and Hamas trade taunts as ceasefire deadline looms." The Financial Times. 17 August 2014, in www.ft.com.
"Both sides seemed committed to meeting Albert Einstein’s famous definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The fighting was still escalating to nowhere without any real prospect of a meaningful and lasting solution. No one was able answer the most critical question in any war – in starting it and throughout the conflict – how will this war end? Instead, all the factors that had led to successive past conflicts seemed just as likely to exist in the future. Ever since 1967, the Israeli and Palestinian conflicts have paused and then resumed in a different form with the same result. In the case of the fighting in Gaza, the best outcome has been an unstable ceasefire. Since 2005, the initial cause of each round of fighting has been repeated attempts by Hamas to change the strategic facts on the ground – and break out of near crippling Israeli isolation of the Gaza. Hamas has adapted with new tactics like more sophisticated tunnels and an increasing reliance on rockets and missiles to replace irregular warfare in the form of ground or naval attacks on Israel. In each round, Israel’s decisive military edge has left Hamas (and the more extreme Palestinian Islamic Jihad) weaker than before, killed and wounded far more Palestinians than Israelis, prolonged the economic isolation that has crippled Gaza and deteriorated living standards and social mobility, and failed to have any meaningful political impact that benefited Hamas in making even limited strategic gains. Each round, however, has also been costly to Israel. Israel’s casualties have been far lower, but all too real when Israel attempted to fight on the ground. The financial cost of its air and ground operations has steadily risen, and so has the cost of the peacetime security measures it must take deter and contain Hamas and other threats in Gaza. Each time, Hamas has recovered its ability to pose a threat while it has improved its tunneling efforts and capability to use rockets, missiles and mortars to strike into Israeli territory".
Anthony Cordesman, "Israel and Hamas: Escalating to Nowhere, Yet Again". The Center for Strategic and International Studies. 31 July 2014, in www.csis.org.
As Anthony Cordesman aptly notes, Albert Einstein's definition of insanity is once again on display in the third Gaza conflict of the past five years. Neither party seems to be able to gain a definitive advantage in the current struggle and neither party seems to be able to understand that leaving matters to be resolved by the sword is both futile and inhuman. In the case of Hamas, their transparent attempts to use its (remaining) arsenal of missiles to obtain concessions from Israel has transparently failed once again. In the case of Israel, its attempt to employ air and missile power with a soupcon of ground forces has singularly failed to 'resolve' definitively the problem posed by Hamas and its allies firing missiles into Israel proper. How then to resolve this Sisyphean conundrum? Unfortunately, there are only two possible solutions, neither of which is very attractive: i) that Israel employ massive military force: air, sea, and most importantly ground to destroy tutti quanti, one and all, the entire Hamas apparatus: military and civilian, in a Clausewitzian campaign for total victory. Presuming of course that the world will tolerate the resulting tens of thousands of civilian deaths and that the Israeli population will tolerate the hundreds of military casualties; ii) a second somewhat more attractive and in fact more plausible solution would be for Israel to negotiate an acceptable modus vivendi of some sort with Hamas. However much that might be infra dig to the Israeli government and population. Still, at the very least, one can see that point of what the Edward Husain of the Council of Foreign Relations means when he states:
"In the end, Israel has limited options. Peace is not possible without Hamas, and Hamas is not a simple terrorist outfit. Its political arm, its leadership inside and outside Gaza, despite their tensions, are open to indirect talks with Israel. Just as the British and American governments negotiated peace in Northern Ireland by reaching out to IRA terrorists through their political wing of Sinn Fein, we must tame Hamas through politics, not the failed strategy of war.... Hamas must be brought in. Almost 2 million people in Gaza need our support. If we fail to bring in Hamas and create a sustained peace that leads to prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis, then we must prepare for an enemy who is worse: Salafi Jihadis. And with Gaza, the popularity of the Salafi Jihadi message will spread far and wide" 1.
Unless and until Israel is willing to destroy the entire Hamas apparatus in Gaza, it has no alternative but to negotiate with Hamas some sort of acceptable settlement. This may be distasteful and even demoralizing for the Israelis, but one cannot gainsay the fact that there does not appear to be any other acceptable solution in sight to the Gaza morass.
1. Edward Husain, "Bring Hamas to the Table". The Council on Foreign Relations. 6 August 2014, in www.cfr.org.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

THE DANGER OF ISIS AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

"As the attention of the world focused on Ukraine and Gaza, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) captured a third of Syria in addition to the quarter of Iraq it had seized in June. The frontiers of the new Caliphate declared by Isis on 29 June are expanding by the day and now cover an area larger than Great Britain and inhabited by at least six million people, a population larger than that of Denmark, Finland or Ireland. In a few weeks of fighting in Syria Isis has established itself as the dominant force in the Syrian opposition, routing the official al-Qaida affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, in the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor and executing its local commander as he tried to flee. In northern Syria some five thousand Isis fighters are using tanks and artillery captured from the Iraqi army in Mosul to besiege half a million Kurds in their enclave at Kobani on the Turkish border. In central Syria, near Palmyra, Isis fought the Syrian army as it overran the al-Shaer gasfield, one of the largest in the country, in a surprise assault that left an estimated three hundred soldiers and civilians dead. Repeated government counter-attacks finally retook the gasfield but Isis still controls most of Syria’s oil and gas production. The Caliphate may be poor and isolated but its oil wells and control of crucial roads provide a steady income in addition to the plunder of war. The birth of the new state is the most radical change to the political geography of the Middle East since the Sykes-Picot Agreement was implemented in the aftermath of the First World War. Yet this explosive transformation has created surprisingly little alarm internationally or even among those in Iraq and Syria not yet under the rule of Isis. Politicians and diplomats tend to treat Isis as if it is a Bedouin raiding party that appears dramatically from the desert, wins spectacular victories and then retreats to its strongholds leaving the status quo little changed. Such a scenario is conceivable but is getting less and less likely as Isis consolidates its hold on its new conquests in an area that may soon stretch from Iran to the Mediterranean. The very speed and unexpectedness of its rise make it easy for Western and regional leaders to hope that the fall of Isis and the implosion of the Caliphate might be equally sudden and swift. But all the evidence is that this is wishful thinking and the trend is in the other direction, with the opponents of Isis becoming weaker and less capable of resistance: in Iraq the army shows no signs of recovering from its earlier defeats and has failed to launch a single successful counter-attack; in Syria the other opposition groups, including the battle-hardened fighters of al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, are demoralised and disintegrating as they are squeezed between Isis and the Assad government".
Patrick Cockburn, "ISIS Consolidates". The London Review of Books. 21 August 2014, in www.lrb.co.uk.
"Over 40 people have been arrested in Kosovo on strong suspicion of maintaining close links with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Authorities in the small Balkan nation said the Monday arrests were part of “a major police operation” aimed at preventing Kosovar citizens from joining the violent Islamist group. Kosovo gained independence from Serbia in 2008, following several revolts and uprisings in the 1990s. The vast majority of its citizens are ethnic Albanians, most of whom practice Islam. However the lifestyle of its largely pro-American population remains markedly secular. Observers have thus been startled by reports that an estimated 100 to 200 Kosovars have so far traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State, known previously as the State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. Last week, an 18-year-old Islamic State volunteer from Kosovo was reported killed in Syria; he was the 16th Kosovar member of the Islamist group to have been killed in the field of battle. There is allegedly footage on YouTube showing Lavdrim Muhaxheri, the commander of the Kosovar Islamic State members decapitating an Iraqi teenager. Aside from the detention of 40 suspects, the Monday crackdown is believed to have netted significant numbers of weapons and ammunition discovered in more than 60 locations around the country. Police said that the dates of birth of the arrestees range from 1962 to 1994. Authorities are looking for more suspects who were “not found at their homes” during the countrywide crackdown, while many Muslim clerics are also being investigated for links to radical Islamist groups. The 40 that are in custody are now being questioned under procedures recently established by the Kosovo Penal Code, designed to protect “constitutional order and security in the Republic” of Kosovo.".
Ian Allen, "ISIS views spread in Balkans as Kosovo police nab 40 militants". Intelligence News. 13 August 2014, in www.intelnews.org.
It is times like the present which makes one recall the Bolshevik leaderand mass murderer Lev Davidovich Trotsky's dictum that: 'those who wish for a quiet life should have been born in a different century'. The news conveyed above by Intelligence News, and the most cogent analysis of the usually gauchiste Patrick Cockburn in the London Review of Books makes for quite depressing reading. The Fanatics of ISIS are not going to disappear nor are they, per contra to the initial analysis of quite a few policy experts a few months back, going to defeated by the Sunni populations under its rule 1. In fact as the above referenced report as well as yesterday's news in the Financial Times clearly show, however ridiculous the ISIS statelet may appear on the surface the fact is that it is already acting as a recruiting sergeant for Muslim ultra-fanaticism the world over 2. As Cockburn piece shows, there is every possibility that left to itself, ISIS will be able to expand its area of control in not only Iraq but even in Syria itself. The Lebanon and Jordan also are on the front lines of possible attacks by ISIS. However, much the current American Administration may dislike the fact, the only possibility of defeating conclusively ISIS and forcing its leaders and cadres back into the caves and dungeons where they truly belong is massive, yes, massive American air attacks. And the sooner the better. This fact may perhaps be very unwelcome, but it is entirely accurate 3. Air attacks and massive equipping of the Kurds, the Jordanians and perhaps most important of all, calling a truce to the Western endeavor to over-throw the regime of Assad Fils. As William Young, a senior Analyst at the American, RAND Corporation, recently argued:
"To disrupt al-Baghdadi's advance, the United States and its allies should start by addressing the source of the problem — the conflict in Syria. They can begin by negotiating a truce with President Bashar Assad to stop the fighting in Syria. At the same time, an international stabilization force should be mobilized to create humanitarian safe zones in Syria so humanitarian aid can be delivered. This force, made up of NATO and Arab forces, could also be instrumental in taking back territory lost to the Islamic State, and in countering the spread of jihadist influence by Jabhat al-Nusra and its al-Qaida affiliates. This will show the people of the region that al-Baghdadi's new Islamic State is not invincible and that it does not speak for the majority of other Muslims in the region or beyond. Assad might accept such an arrangement because it would allow him to retain power over at least a portion of Syria" 4.
It is only a combination of all of the above action, but in particular the extensive use of American air power which can not only call a halt but to defeat overtly the threat to Western predominance in the Near & Middle East that ISIS represents. As the premier American military expert, Anthony Cordesman cogently argues:
"There are times—although President Obama seems to have trouble grasping this point—that do not serve those who stand and wait 5."
1. For a typical example, see: Fred Kaplan, "ISIS’ Leader Just Declared Himself Caliph: Why that might actually mean that the militia is sputtering". Slate. 1 July 2014 in www.slate.com.
2. Besides the article in Intelligence News, see: Sam Jones, "Pro-Isis leaflets distributed in London’s Oxford Street". The Financial Times. 13 August 2014, in www.ft.com.
3. Anthony Cordesman, "Iraq: A Time to Act". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 6 August 2014, in www.csis.org.
4. William Young, "To Fight ISIS, Make Peace with Syria's Assad". The Rand Corporation. 13 August 2014, in www.rand.org.
5. Cordesman, op. cit. See also: the mots of the French analyst Marc Pierini: "The momentous developments currently taking place in Iraq and Syria are at least as important as the terrorist attacks of 9/11, even if they have attracted much less attention by virtue of the relative media vacuum in which they have so far occurred. It may not look like it, but on June 29, 2014, a whole new world may have emerged. The biggest folly would be for foreign policymakers to belittle the proclamation of the Islamic State". See: "Do Not Belittle the Islamic State". Carnegie Europe. 10 July 2014, in www.carnegieeurope.eu.

Monday, August 11, 2014

THE AMERICAN AIR STRIKES IN IRAQ: A COMMENT

"My advice to Obama would be to lay low. This sectarian-nationalist process has been boiling up for a more than a century. It should be seen as part of the breakdown of the Ottoman order and emergence of nationalism. I compare what is going on in the Levant today to Central Europe during WWII. In Central Europe, the great powers drew national borders after WWI, carving up the lands of the defeated empires without rearranging the peoples to fit them. Thus Poland was only 64% Polish before WWII. Czechoslovakia was made up of close to 25% minorities. WWII was the “great sorting out.” (Read: http://qifanabki.com/2013/12/18/landis-ethnicity/ ) Over the war years, the peoples of central Europe were rearranged according to the WWI borders. By the end of WWII, Poland and Czechoslovakia had been reduced to their core Polish and Czechoslovak peoples. They got rid of their unwanted (Jews) or guilty (think the 12 million Germans of central Europe) minorities, along with many others. It was a nasty and brutal nation-building process. Of course, in the Middle East, the emergence of national identities is bedeviled by competing religious identities, which seem to be stronger than both “Arabism” or “Iraqism.” I doubt we will see high degrees of Shiite-Sunni cooperation in the coming months. If the U.S. sticks its long oar into this mess, the U.S. will end up with a broken oar. It seems possible that within the next two years, ISIS will largely be destroyed by the concerted action of both Iraqi and Syrian forces with help from Iran and possibly the U.S. Sunni Arabs will not be pacified so long as they receive scant justice and minimal political representation in both Syria and Iraq, but ISIS cannot represent their needs. It is an expression of sectarianism run amok".
Joshua Landis, "The Future of ISIS and the Sectarian Response: ISIS has Picked a Fight it Cannot Win". Syria Comment. 15 June 2014, in www.joshualandis.com
"After years of bringing the US military out of Iraq, Barack Obama took just a couple of days this week and a few hastily called meetings with his national security team to send them back in. In doing so, Mr Obama became the fourth consecutive US president to bomb the Middle East country, with no sign that this latest intervention will be any more decisive than that of his predecessors in ending Iraq’s longstanding internal conflicts. Mr Obama’s hand was forced by the rapid advance of the militant army of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) and their threat of “genocide” against 40,000 Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking minority who had fled to a mountain top in search of sanctuary. Mr Obama dressed up the US intervention in the lofty language of US exceptionalism, about how only Washington combined the military means and the political values to prevent Isis from slaughtering ethnic minorities".
.
Richard McGregor, "Obama’s hand in Iraq forced by rapid advance of Isis". The Financial Times. 8 August 2014, in www.ft.com.
There are many different things that can be said about the air strikes against the Al Qaeda-like, Sunni-extremists of ISIS that American forces have commenced this week-end just past. By definition the American government has decided to ignore the rather cavalier and indeed heartless advice offered by Syria Comment's Joshua Landis. About which the best one may say is the less said the better. Does Landis know how much horrible human suffering was involved in the national realignment that Central and Eastern Europe underwent circa 1939-1946? With that being said, it seems evident that the Americans have intelligently decided to overtly assist with air strikes and indeed back with military assistance the Kurdish military 1. With the regime in Baghdad close to be an out and out Persian puppet regime, it is imperative that the Kurdish Regional Government in Erbil be fully and strongly supported by the Americans and the other Western powers. Not only as a counter to the Sunni fanatics of ISIS but also as a Western sheet anchor, in the region vis-à-vis towards both Baghdad and Persia. To stand back and to not fully and overtly support the Kurdish Regional government would be a major erratum. Both geopolitically and militarily. One may only hope that the Americans and their allies moves forward as expeditiously as possible along these new policy lines. As the ex-CIA & NSC Arab military analyst, Kenneth Pollack, notes regardless of the initial success of American air strikes, it is still quite possible that ISIS will endeavor to attack other areas currently controlled by the Kurds:
"Because the Peshmerga are stretched somewhat thin across their 650-mile front, ISIS may be able to find a weak spot and exploit it. Perhaps even to break through and threaten another major Kurdish city. Will the U.S. employ air power to defeat such a new assault? Personally, I hope so" 2.
1. Erika Solomon & Richard McGregor, "US gives military aid to Iraqi Kurds fighting Isis". The Financial Times. 11 August 2014, in www.ft.com.
2. Kenneth Pollack, "Iraq: Understanding the ISIS Offensive Against the Kurds". The Brookings Institute. 11 August 2014, in www.brookings.edu.

Friday, August 08, 2014

TOWARDS A TRADE WAR WITH RUSSIA?

"Fears of a damaging trade war between Russia and the west grew as Moscow banned imports of a wide range of agricultural and food products and threatened possible sanctions on aerospace, shipbuilding and auto sectors. Escalating its response to western sanctions over the country’s role in the Ukraine crisis Moscow barred imports of meat, fish, seafood, vegetables, fruit, milk, dairy products from the US, the EU, Australia, Canada and Norway for a year. A wide range of processed foods were also added to the blacklist of prohibited goods. The government also threatened more counter-sanctions as it sought to punish the EU, US and its allies for the introduction of sector-wide measures against Russia last month. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev confirmed that the cabinet was discussing a proposal to ban European and American airlines from flying over Russian airspace en route to Asia. He added that Moscow was also “potentially ready” to introduce protective measures in a number of industrial sectors, including the automobile industry, shipbuilding and aircraft production. Moscow’s latest move comes as tensions over Ukraine rise, with Nato warning of a renewed Russian troop build-up on its border with Ukraine and some western governments fretting that Russia might invade the neighbouring country under the guise of a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission.... Hitting back with drastic protectionist measures reverses Moscow’s earlier stance. Until this week, government officials had frequently accused the US and the EU of abusing their power and endangering the global system of free trade with their punitive steps against Russia, and had pledged not to engage in tit-for-tat measures. “There is nothing good in sanctions and it was not an easy decision to take, but we had to do it,” Mr Medvedev said. ."
Kathrin Hille, "Russia threatens to go beyond food sanctions". The Financial Times. 7 August 2014, in www.ft.com.
"Europe’s announcement of sectorial sanctions against Russia is welcome news. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s continued aggression in Ukraine should not go unanswered by the international community. Over time, this latest round, which affects military, financial, and oil sectors will surely bite. Whether they will change Putin’s calculus in the short term, however, is far less certain. In fact, Putin’s moves to date signal his intentions loud and clear. Far from seeking options for a face-saving de-escalation, Putin is posturing for more military intervention. The latest reports from U.S. intelligence suggest that Russia has not only been supplying a steady stream of high-end weapons and training to rebels in Ukraine; but they are also firing artillery from across the border. As former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul plainly observed, “Instead of using [the Malaysian Air crash] as a pretext for ending this war, he seems to be doing the opposite, doubling down.” This should really not surprise us. Just because many of us think it would be unwise for Putin to continue to escalate this crisis, does not mean that he won’t do it anyway. Buoyed by Russian domestic public opinion, Putin has demonstrated remarkable resolve in the face of increasingly tough sanctions and isolation from the international community. The fact that escalating the conflict or even invading Ukraine may not be in Russia’s long-term interests is beside the point. If we continue to try to predict Putin’s behavior based on what we think is “wise” versus what he is actually doing, we will continue to be surprised. And the Russian president has made it pretty clear how much farther he may go. According to General Philip Breedlove, NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Russia continues to amass combat forces on the Ukraine-Russia border. There are now well over 12,000 Russian combat troops deployed there, including seven battalion task groups and some special operations units, poised and ready for a full scale invasion if and when the time comes".
Janine Davidson, "Putin Appears to Be Angling for Invasion, Not De-Escalation". The Council on Foreign Relations. 30 July 2014, in www.ft.com.
Judging the mind of Russian Federation President Putin is a difficult, frustrating and at times indeed dangerous game. With however that being said, it seems evident to me, that Moskva has decided for predominately primat der Innenpolitik reasons not so much deescalate in the Ukraine Crisis but to hold on firmly to its existing policies. Indeed if one accepts the analysis of the American commentator Janine Davidson, Russia has decided to engage in a sort of flucht nach vorn . To openly accept the hesitant challenge offered up by the Western Powers and to respond in kind if not worse. 'Worse' of course being not so much retaliatory Russian sanctions (short of confiscation of Western investments and properties in Russia proper), as a partial or indeed full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian forces stationed on Ukraine's eastern borders. And how likely is that? Given the investment that President Putin has made in the entire Ukrainian imbroglio, one is tempted to say that 'very likely' if the rebellion in Eastern Ukraine shows signs of collapsing. Short of a Damascene conversion of Moskva to rational decision-making, it defies the trend of Russian decision-making going back almost a year now, vis-`a-vis Ukraine, to expect Russia to simply abandon its puppets in Donetsk & Luhansk. Therefore do not expect for now a 'trade war' qua 'trade war' between Russia and the Western Powers. The retaliatory measures just announced are merely for internal Russian consumption and amour-propre. The key question has yet to be answered: will Russia stage a repetition of what occurred in Georgia back in 2008 and invade Ukraine or not?

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

THE GREAT WAR AFTER ONE-HUNDRED YEARS: A POINT OF VIEW

"The Situation is extraordinary. It is militarism run stark mad. Unless someone acting for you can bring about a different understanding, there is some day going to be an awful cataclysm. No one in Europe can do it. There is too much hatred, too many jealousies. Whenever England consents, France and Russia will close in on Germany and Austria."
Colonel Edward House [American President Wilson's special envoy] to Wilson, May 1914. In The Origins of the First World War: diplomatic and military documents. Edited and Translated by Annika Mombauer. (2014), p. 136.
"Germany is becoming anxious as to the future, as she knows very well that Austria may not exist for any appreciable length of time as a coherent country, and that before long the disintegrating forces in the Dual Monarchy may become seriously operative. She therefore does not look upon Austria as a very strong ally; while, on the other hand, the growth of Russia in all directions is inspiring her with some apprehension".
Private Letter from Sir Arthur Nicolson [Permanent Under-secretary of the Foreign Office] to Lord Hardinage [Viceroy of India], 11 June 1914. In Mombauer, op. cit., p. 142.
"Yesterday with the Reich Chancellor....long conversation of the situation....Russia's military power growing rapidly; following strategic build-up of Poland situation untenable; Austria continually weakening and more immobile; the undermining [of Austria-Hungary]from the North, South[,] East far advanced. At any rate incapable of going to war for a German cause....The future belongs to Russia, who grows and grows, and becomes for us an ever more oppressive nightmare."
Quotation from Reich Chancellor Theobold von Bethmann-Hollweg's ADC Kurt Riezler's diary, 7 July 1914. In T. G. Otte. July Crisis: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914. (2014), pp. 92-93.
Yesterday was the one-hundredth anniversary of the true commencement of the Great War. The date that is when England declared war on Imperial Germany. The one-hundredth anniversary has of course sparked as the Financial Times tells us to-day numerous public events to mark this august occasion 1. The anniversary has also sparked a small deluge of historical works dealing with the origins of the Great War. In particular those books by Christopher Clark, Sean McMeekin (in his case two of them), Margaret Macmillan, Thomas Otte, Annika Mombauer and Gordon Martel. As the recent review of this literature by Hew Strachan & William Mulligan among others, shows the predominate historical literature in this field has moved away considerably from the Fischerite consensus of the late 1960's, 1970's and 1980's 2. Marked by a renewed interest in Luigi Albertini's magnum opus, the trend of the past fifteen years, of which in particular the works of Clark and McMeekin have served as the chief points of reference are an emphasis on contingency and the agency that each of the actors in this particular historical drama: Serbia, Austria, Russia, France and even England played. No longer it is merely the case that Germany was the precipitator of both the July crisis and the World War that follow it 3. With that being said, one cannot but gainsay the fact that while unpremeditated and in some fashion completely unexpected, both the July Crisis and the Great War that followed it, did not (pace Niall Ferguson), occur out of the blue 4. There were certain pre-conditions which made a European-wide war, if not 'inevitable' at the very least thinkable in the minds of many of Europe's elites in a way that was not true circa 1905 or 1908 or even as late as the Second Moroccan Crisis of 1911. What were those preconditions? I would suggest three in particular as being the very most important: i) an armaments race which had commenced in 1910-1911 and which seemed to be accelerating in the Spring of 1914; ii) tied up with 'i' was the perception among both> the Triple Alliance Powers (Germany, Austria and Italia) and the Triple Entente powers (Russia, France and England), that the former was losing the arms race and the latter and Russia in particular were winning it. Viz Bethmann-Hollweg's black pessimism on the 7th of July was not merely caused by the recent death of his wife, but were part and parcel of the common talk in European foreign ministries in 1913 and 1914 and thus Sir Arthur Nicolson's comments to Lord Hardinage. As the Chief of the Staff of the Italian Army exclaimed to the German military attaché in the Spring of 1914:
"The ring which is forming around the Triple Alliance is getting stronger every year and we are calmly looking on! I honestly believe that the years 1917 or 1918 which are generally named by the opponents of the Triple Alliance as the date for a military strike are not just a product of fantasy. They could very well have a real basis. Do we really wait until the opponents are prepared and ready? Is it not more logical for the Triple Alliance to abandon all pretence of civility and to start a war ourselves which will one day be forced upon us, while there is still time?" 5
Remarks which were seconded by the British Ambassador to Russia Sir Arthur Buchanan, also in the Spring of 1914:
"The temporary advantages, which Germany has secured by her Army Bill of last year, will in a few years time be eclipsed by the counter measures which Russia has been obliged to take in self defence. By the year 1917 she will have increased by some 460,000 men the peace time strength of her army....Unless therefore Germany is prepared to make still further financial sacrifices for military purposes, the days of her hegemony in Europe will be numbered; as even without the co-operation of England, Russia and France combined will then be strong enough to confront the united forces of the Triple Alliance. There are however, still three critical years to pass before that result is achieved. In the race of armaments Russia has more staying powers than Germany; and as Germany is aware of that fact there is always the danger that she may be tempted to precipitate a conflict before Russia is fully prepared to meet it". 6.
The third precondition has already been noted: the fact that Austria-Hungary was widely seen as the chief loser along with the Ottoman Empire from the results of the two Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913. That the surprising and impressive victories of the Russian-sponsored 'Balkan League' led by Serbia had almost completely changed the status quo ante bellum in the peninsula. And that a Serbia which was now twice the size of its pre-war self, was becoming close to a position wherein it could think seriously about challenging the Austria Monarchy. Something which, sub rosa, it was already doing of course via its sponsorship of state terrorism, and hence the vicious and unnecessary crime of Sarajevo on the 28th of June 1914. As the German Foreign Minister, Gottlieb von Jagow noted in the midst of the July Crisis to the German Ambassador to London:
"Austria, which has forfeited more and more prestige as the result of her lack of vigour, hardly counts any longer as a really Great Power. The Balkan Crisis weakened her position still further. Our alliance federation has also been weakened by this retrogression of Austria's position as a Power." 7
I sum, the pre-conditions for turning what in other circumstances might have passed off as a very sharp but limited diplomatic crisis, were present to make first a continental then a world war possible. Which is not to agree with the argument first raised by Eyre Crowe, the Senior Clerk responsible for European affairs at the British Foreign Office on the 25th of July and subsequently given academic form by Fritz Fischer and his school, that the July Crisis was au fond a:
"struggle, which is not for the possession of Serbia, but one between Germany aiming at a political dictatorship in Europe and the Powers who desire to retain individual freedom." 8
If nothing else (and it would be erroneous to overlooking the many other positive aspects of the recent scholarship), the works of Clark, et. al., make it extremely difficult to read into German actions and inactions in the July Crisis as being a Hitlerian attempt to 'Griff nach der weltmacht' (a leap to world power and domination), to employ the title of Fritz Fischer's first book 9. Certainly for Austria-Hungary, who was erroneously regarded as little more than a German puppet by the Entente Powers, the entire July Crisis was first and foremost a Balkans Crisis. And indeed one could well regard the Great War as in origins the Third Balkans War. Why a 'Third Balkans War', turned into a World War is simply that unlike in previous Balkans wars, both Russia and France were willing to back Russia's Serbian protégé to the hilt. Regardless of the fact, Russia was not, strictly speaking even allied to Belgrade. As the very pro-Entente, British Ambassador to France, Lord Bertie observed in his private diary on the 26th & 27th of July:
"It seems incredible that the Russian Government should plunge Europe into war in order to make themselves the protectors of the Servians [sic]. Unless the Austrian Government had proofs of the complicity of Servian officials in the plot to murder the Archduke they could not have addressed to the Servian Government the stringent terms which the Austrian Note contained. Russia comes forward as the protectress of Servia; by what title except on the exploded pretensions that she is by right, the protectress of all Slavs? What rubbish!...I cannot believe in war unless Russia wants it....If, however the Emperor of Russia adhere to the absurd and obsolete claim that she is protectress of all Slav States, however bad their conduct, war is probable, Germany will be bound to support Austria, and France will have to help Russia. 10 "
And as Lord Bertie correctly foretold, the inevitable result of Russian support for Serbia and its crimes against the House of Austria was the world war that many had feared would occur. It is arguable that if Europe had on its stage a great statesman like Bismarck or a Metternich, the crisis would never have turned into such a horrible conflict. Perhaps, but neither of these great statesman, the greatest statesman that Europe threw-up in the 19th Century, had to deal with such an acute crisis. Hopefully, Europe and indeed the world will not ever have to confront another one in our lifetimes.
1. Clear Barrett & Adam Thompson, "European leaders mark war centenary." The Financial Times. 5 August 2014, in www.ft.com.
2. For the recent reviews of the historical literature, see: Hew Strachan, "Review Article: The origins of the First World War." International Affairs. (March 2014), pp. 429-439; William Mulligan, "The Trial Continues: New Directions in the Study of the Origins of the First World War." English Historical Review. (June 2014), pp. 639-666. Romedio von Thun-Hohenstein, "Review." The Royal United Services Institute. (February / March 2014).
3. For Albertini's work, see: Origins of the War of 1914, Volumes I-III. Translated by Isabella Massey. Revised Edition with an introduction by Samuel Williamson. (2005). For Christopher Clark's work, see: The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. (2013). For Sean McMeekin. July 1914: Countdown to War (2014). And, Russian Origins of the First World War (2012).
4. Niall Ferguson, "War: In history's shadow". The Financial Times. 2 August 2014, in www.ft.com.
5. Mombauer, op. cit., p. 139. For the fact Germany was losing the arms race with the Entente Powers, see: David Stevenson. Armaments and the Coming of War: Europe, 1904-1914. (1996), p. 6-10 and passim. As the British Chargé d'affaires in Berlin, Sir Horace Rumbold noted in a dispatch to London on the 18th of July: "Whatever confidence the Germans may have in the efficiency and quality of their army, the enormous masses of men at the command of the Russia are a constant source of pre-occupation to them. Speculation as to the events which might set those masses in motion against Germany seems to follow almost as a matter of course". See: British Documents on the Origins of the First World War, 1898-1914. Volume XI. Edited J. W. Headlam Morley. (1926), pp. 49-50.
6. Mombauer, op. cit., p. 118. For a similar if not more drastic view, see the following comments from the Riezler diary on the 20th of July: "Again conversation about the entire situation. Russia's increasing demands and incredible explosive power. In a few years no longer possible to fend off, particularly if the current European constellation remains". See: Ibid., p. 295.
7. See: July 1914, The outbreak of the First World War: selected documents. Imanuel Geiss, Edited & Translated.(1967), p. 122.
8. See: Minute by Crowe on a dispatch from Buchanan to Sir Edward Grey [British Foreign Secretary], 25 July 1914, in British Documents on the Origins of the War, 1898-1914. J. W. Headlam Morley. op. cit., p. 101.
9. On the Fritz Fischer school of interpretation of the Great War's Origins, see in particular his two best books (as translated into English): Germany's Aims in the First World War. (1968). Which is a translation of Griff Nach der Weltmacht. And, The War of Illusions: German policies from 1911 to 1914. I would be a truism to say that everyone (myself included) who studied late 19th / early 20th century European diplomatic history in the period from the early 1970's to the early 1990's in academia was influenced in some manner or other by Fritz Fischer's writings.
10. The Diary of Lord Bertie, Volume I. Edited by Lady Algernon Gordon Lennox. pp. 1-2.