Tuesday, October 14, 2014

THE PROBLEM OF POPULISM IN UK POLITICS: A POINT OF VIEW

"But if Ukip is not unique in peddling snake oil to the vulnerable, it is the most shameless. This is a party supported by people having a hard time, led by privileged and rather too gleeful ideologues. It is hard to detect in the Farage grin any belief that his ideas would put an extra pound in the pocket of the people he cheers as the spine of Britain. A politician who cared about these communities would honour them with candour. He would tell them that governments can ameliorate economic decline with practical interventions: redistribution, low-tax zones to lure business. But they cannot reverse it, and certainly not by fighting culture wars. If a town relies on an industry, and that industry loses out to technology or foreign competition, the local resentment will always exceed the government’s ability to stir a revival. We have been here before. The industrial north was victimised by economic trends that touched Detroit and Calais too, not by Margaret Thatcher. It was just easier to blame a face and a name. Anyone in the same plight would nurse the same rage. But the politicians who egged it on, as though deindustrialisation was one woman’s whim, were contemptible."
Janan Ganesh, "Populist politics is no use to globalisation’s losers". The Financial Times. 13 October 2014, in www.ft.com.
"Another circumstance attending the rise of Populism and Progressivism in America was unique in the modern world. Here the industrialization and urbanization of the country were coupled with a breakdown in the relative homogeneity of the population. American democracy, down to about 1880, had been only rural but Yankee [id. est., 'Anglo-Saxon'] and Protestant in its basic notions, and such enclaves of immigrants as had thus far developed were too small and scattered to have a major nationwide impact upon the scheme of civic life. The rise of industry, however, brought with it what contemporaries thought of as an 'immigrant invasion,' a massive forty-year migration of Europeans, chiefly peasants, whose religions, traditions, languages, and sheer numbers made easy assimilation impossible. Populism and Progressivism were in considerable part colored by the reaction to this immigration stream among native elements of the population....In the attempts of the Populists and Progressives to hold on to some of the values of agrarian life, to save personal entrepreneurship and individual opportunity and the character type they engendered, and to maintain a homogenous Yankee civilization, I have found much that was retrograde and delusive, a little that was vicious and a good deal that was comic."
Richard Hofstadter. The Age of Reform: From Bryan to FDR. (1955), pp. 9-11.
"I am not racist in the slightest....But it seems like they're getting more rights than we have, the immigrants....[in the original] I'm 51 years of age. In my opinion, in fifty years time, I think this country will be run by the Muslims".
A railwayman by the name of Steve Hughes, quoted by James Meek in: "In Farageland". The London Review of Books. 9 October 2014, pp. 9-10.
The issues outlined by the Financial Times' ultra bien pensant Political Correspondent are of course one that have come to the fore since the eruption of Europe's financial crisis in 2008-2009. And as the famous American historian Richard Hofstadter's well known analysis of the rise of Populists in American politics circa the last quarter of the 19th century shows, Ganesh type of analysis owes a great deal to Hofstadter's work (whether acknowledged or not). The issue in terms of contemporary British politics is that while of course the nominal 'solution' offered up by the populist UK Independence Party (hereafter UKIP) to Great Britain's contemporary woes, is completely nonsensical, that per se cannot gainsay the sudden appeal of this party. Which in fact, per contra to Mr. Ganesh thesis can in fact be obtained from a very careful reading from his own piece. Viz: the type of people who support the UKIP are au fond completely uninterested in the fact that the current coalition government has been one of 'austerity' and (in some instances) in favor of 'free markets'. It is highly unlikely that they ever supported the Tories for reasons which would make sense based upon 'rational choice theory' or some type of adherence to Thatcherite Capitalism. The people who support (rightly or wrongly - to my mind wrongly) the UKIP are those who feel that the Great Britain they were brought up in, lived and wish to grow old in, has changed, quickly, fundamentally, without their consent nor at their behest. Changes brought about by both globalization and seemingly uncontrolled immigration. It may of course be 'irrational' for people to support the UKIP from the Olympian point of view of Mr. Ganesh. One may state that per contra it is equally 'irrational' for people to support the Scottish Independence Party or for its upper-income supporters to support the Labour Party. And yet many continue to do both. In the case of the Labour Party, it has always had a sizeable Upper-class (in the British sense of the term) element supporting it going back to the 1920's 1. The fact of the matter is that no major party in modern political history in any Western country has ever had a support base made up exclusively or even mostly from those who stood to 'gain' in some material sense from supporting said party. The Tory Party for example has always had a very large support base in the lower, working and lower-middle classes. These people did not support the party based upon some 'rationale choice theory' of politics. They supported it, as any history of the party will clearly show for what no doubt Ganesh would view as 'irrational' reasons: ideology, patriotism, religion, biases, even at times pure racism 2. This fact which is very well attested in history may be unfortunate, it may even be something to be regretted, it cannot however be gainsaid as being empirically unfounded. The supporters of UKIP are people who in prior periods of history would have supported either the Labour Party and or the Tory Party. They currently fail to support either party since it appears that neither party offers policies or personnel who they can identify with. In some political systems (such as the American) such individuals would fall out of the political system entirely and consistantly fail to vote. Fortunately or unfortunately, British politics has yet to come to that 'happy pass'. No doubt Mr. Ganesh and people of his ilk will be very happy indeed when that day will come.
1. Clement Attlee, a graduate of a minor Public School and Cambridge, was quite happy at the fact that his cabinet, in 1945-1951, had five Old Etonians. See: R. W. Johnson, "Already a Member". The London Review of Books. 11 September 2014, pp. 31-32.
2. This is brought out in Robert Waller's: "Conservative Electoral Support and Social Class", in The Conservative Century: the Conservative Party since 1900. Edited by Anthony Selden & Stuart Ball. (1995), pp. 579-610. See also: Also: Peter Catterall,"The Party and Religion", in Ibid. pp. 637-670.

Friday, October 10, 2014

THE COMING DOWNFALL OF KOBANI: THE COST OF 'MILITARY TOKENISM'

"In fairness, airpower cannot solve religious, ethnic, political, and governance issues that are at the core of Iraqi and Syrian civil conflict. Airpower cannot substitute for a lack of effective Iraqi ground forces or moderate Syrian rebel forces – it can at best buy them to build-up their capabilities. It can only degrade the Islamic State, not defeat or destroy it, and it cannot prevent other Jihadist or violent Islamist extremist movements from taking its place as long as the underlying causes that bred the Islamic state remain. Nevertheless, the air effort to date is so small by the standard of recent conflicts that it amounts to little more than military tokenism. This has been disguised in part by official reporting that touts the effect of daily sorties in hitting given target areas, makes claims to strategic effects that are never justified or fully explained, and include occasional figures for minor damage to given weapons systems. There has been little reporting on the overall size of the air campaign, its impact on the overall course of the fighting in Iraq and Syria, its tangible impact on the Islamic State, and its human impact in terms of the trends in casualties, displaced persons, refugees, and atrocities".
Anthony Cordesman, "The Air War Against the Islamic State: The Need for An 'Adequacy of Resources'". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 10 October 2014, in www.csis.org.
Syria Deeply: What would be a game-changer? What are the consequences of inaction?
Civiroglu: A game-changer will come if the international community steps in with effective airstrikes that aim to degrade and destroy ISIS. The second would be providing Kurds heavy arms, such as anti-tank missiles that can neutralize ISIS, Humvees, tanks and heavy weapons. If this doesn’t happen, heavy massacres will follow. ISIS has already beheaded a couple people the past few days. There are alarming reports that women are being beheaded. Kurdish officials have warned that these types of attacks could occur on a large scale....
Syria Deeply: What is the significance if Kobani were to fall to ISIS?
Civiroglu: Kobani has been resisting attacks by ISIS for over a year now. ISIS is not new, even though the international community is just focusing on it now. Kobani is like an island trapped among ISIS-controlled territory. To the west of Kobani is Jarabulus and Southwest is Manbij, to the south is Raqqa, to the east is Tal Abyad, all areas controlled by ISIS. They are trying to seize the area to connect the areas under its control. After Mosul, ISIS feels very strong, and this will make them even stronger. It will give them access to a border, which would give ISIS a huge advantage, and allow fighters to flow in and out, to sell oil more easily. Right now ISIS and Turkey are on good terms, but the capture of Kobani would give ISIS control of a border with direct access to Turkey
.
Katarina Montgomery, in "The Cost and Consequences of an ISIS Victory on Kobani". Syria Deeply. 7 October 2014, in www.Syriadeeply.org.
The coming downfall of the Syrian border city of Kobani to the fanatics of ISIS appears to be inevitable as the various reports in the press seems to indicate 1. With a combination of Turkish, studied indifference, if not worse and what Anthony Cordesman, perhaps the leading military analyst in the USA correctly calls 'military tokenism' . In short, notwithstanding the American bombing campaign of upwards of three-weeks now in Syria, the impact of the same is extremely limited. And, indeed as per to-day's Financial Times, while the Americans have engaged in a half-hearted fashion with ISIS in Syria and of course Iraq, ISIS has in recently weeks tightened its grip on large portions of Anbar Province. In effect allowing ISIS to be entrenched within striking distance of Baghdad 2. The upshot of both of these trends is that the Western campaign in Iraq and Syria appears to be if not failing then at the very least stalemated. With ISIS showing an ability to adapt to the Western air campaign in such a fashion as to negate it. By 'negate' it of course I am referring to what Cordesman correctly calls a very limited, if not indeed truncated campaign. As Cordesman cogently notes, as compared to the First Gulf War of 1990-1991, the current air campaign rates as a mere 'hiccup':
"The current air campaign looks like a statistical hiccup in comparison with the first major air campaign the US and its allies fought in driving Saddam Hussein’s force out of Kuwait. It was a fundamentally different war fought with different goals and radically less sophisticated weapons. Nevertheless, it still provides a picture of the scale what it takes for air power to be a truly decisive factor in shaping the outcome of a conflict....Where the current campaign has averaged some 15 strike sorties per day, and peaks of 30, the First Gulf war average some 2,000-3,000 sorties per day" 3.
The military 'tokenism' in which the current Western, American-lead campaign, will have the inevitable result of Kobani falling to ISIS in the very near future. And while in some larger strategic sense, Kobani may perhaps not be ultra-important, the fact is that the fall of the city will have a very negative effect politically and psychologically in this campaign. ISIS will proclaim urbi et orbi, that it has won a great victory over the Western powers and in particular the United States. As Cordesman's data has shown this will not in fact correct. The Americans et. al., appear to not regard Kobani as being very important strategically speaking. However, this fact will be ignored once the news of Kobani's fall to ISIS will be announced. ISIS will use its victory in gaining control of this deserted and bombed-out city to reinforce its claim to be a genuine Islamic State. It will use its victory, no matter how small in reality to gain more support and more supporters. Both on the ground in terms of volunteers and in terms of monetary contributions from around the world. Given all of these negative factors attendant upon the fall of Kobani, is there any rational explanation as to why the Americans are not truly fighting this war in Syria and Iraq?
1. Daniel Dombey, "US presses Turkey to take ‘urgent steps’ against Isis". The Financial Times. 10 October 2014, in www.ft.com.
2. Sam Jones, "Isis still on the front foot in Iraq". The Financial Times. 10 October 2014, in www.ft.com.
3. Cordesman, op. cit.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

LATVIA: TOWARDS A 'CRIMEAN SCENARIO'?

Welcome to Latgale in south-east Latvia: If there is any EU region which looks like a soft target for Russian-manufactured separatism, this is it. The street names may be in Latvian, but most people - more than 70 percent in the regional capital Daugavpils - are of Russian origin. They lived here for generations or they were shipped here by Stalin. Older residents speak only Russian. Old and young consume only Russian media, read Russian history books, go to see Russian plays, and celebrate Russian holidays. They tend to work in Russian-language offices and many go back and forth across the Russian border, which is still being demarcated, without a visa. But they cannot get a Latvian passport, or vote, unless they learn Latvian. Their children can do only half their classes in their mother tongue and their MPs are locked out of ruling coalitions.... Russian media was never kind to Latvia. But since the Ukraine war, Russian-Latvians hear on TV that EU-backed “neo-Nazis” are slaughtering Russians in east Ukraine and that Latvia is sponsoring “a rebirth of fascism”. They also hear that Russian leader Vladimir Putin is ready to protect the “Russkiy Mir”.... But even if Latgale looks like a soft target, Latvian authorities say it is not. “We live in times when any provocation cannot be excluded, but a ‘Ukrainian’ scenario for Latvia is impossible”, its foreign minister, Edgars Rinkevics, says. His spokesman, Karlis Eihenbaums, notes that some Russian-Latvian activists have a new air of menace: “They don’t say it openly, but you can feel it: ‘If you don’t fulfill our dreams than Crimea-type things can happen here’.” But he points out the pro-Russia protests got almost no support. “If you can gather 40 or 50 people in a city of 1 million, that’s nothing”, he says, referring to Riga, also a majority Russian-Latvian town.... If they are right, then why does the Russkiy Mir hold so little appeal? Andis Kudors, a Latvian academic who specialises in Russian soft power, says the reasons are mostly economic. In Ukraine, public institutions were dysfunctional and insolvent. Elderly people in Crimea, for instance, had lousy pensions compared to Russia. But Latvia is better governed and offers more opportunities. “I was born in Latgale and this idea of autonomy is impossible”, Kudors says. “Even with the social problems in the region, there are no radicals who would fight to be part of Russia because people know that Russian living conditions, especially outside St Petersburg or Moscow, are much worse”.... Mitrofanov noted that after 23 years of living together, there is a “moral” dimension to Russian society in the country. “We feel that we are Latvians, even if in our native language and culture we feel that we are Russians”, he says. “We see our future in the next 50 years as coming closer together. In Finland there is a Swedish minority, but Swedish is an official language and Swedish people have the same opportunities as Finns at all levels of society. We want to build Finland in Latvia”, he adds.
Andrew Rettman, "Russkiy Mir in the EU?" EU Observer. 7 October 2014, in www.euobserver.com.
"Soft power lies in the ability to attract and persuade rather than coerce. It means that others want what the United States wants, and there is less need to use carrots and sticks. Hard power, the ability to coerce, grows out of a country's military and economic might. Soft power arises from the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals and policies."
Joseph Nye, "U.S. Power and Strategy After Iraq". Foreign Affairs. (July / August 2003), pp. 66.
In these days in which the extremely 'hard power' orientation of Putin's Russia would appear to be unstoppable, it is both enlightening and pleasurable to look at the case of Latvia. Notwithstanding the successes of Putin's policies in Ukraine (so far) it is interesting to see that in the just concluded elections held in Latvia the pro-Russian, pro-Putin party, lost almost twenty percent of the vote from the previous result. The ruling, pro-Western coalition of parties will remain in office 1. But equally interesting is that as the above referenced article in the EU Observer notes, the very last thing that most of the Russian-speakers in Latvia want is a return to Matushka Russia. An instance of one truly needed it of the continuing salience of the European Unions's 'soft power' attractiveness. It was a very similar type of power which brought out tens if not hundreds of thousands into the streets of Kyiv back in the beginning of this year and late last year. The inherent attractiveness, still, regardless of the six-years post-facto to the Financial Crisis of 2008, of the concept of Europe, to the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe. This remarks are not to gainsay the fact that in the continuing confrontation with Moskva, that the Western Powers will most definitely need to employ both now and in the very near future, some species of machtpolitik. Merely, that while the latter cannot be the be all and the end all of any nation's or coalitions foreign policy. It may be the vital core, but it cannot be its entirety. Most especially prematurely. As the great Furst von Metternich once observed of the ever bellicose Austrian Viceroy of Italia, Field-Marshal, Graf Radetsky in 1847:
"The Marshal has all the qualities of a good soldier: he loves battles; as head of the diplomacy I love battles when they are ordered and dislike them when they are not. Now the present situation affords no real material offensive. Days succeed and do not resemble one another; the day when active operations are commanded may arrive: but it has not arrived yet" 2.
1. Richard Milne, "Frontline Latvia feels heat as Putin probes Baltic states’ resolve". The Financial Times. 8 October 2014, in www.ft.com.
2. A. J. P. Taylor. The Italian Problem in European Diplomacy, 1847-1848. (1934), p. 18.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

SHIA VERSUS SUNNI OR WHY DAVID GARDNER IS WRONG ABOUT THE NEAR EAST

"The US-led missile and air strikes that started on early Tuesday on jihadi targets in Syria have spread the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, across the battlefield these extremists have created from Iraq to the Mediterranean. This is now a regional war, with many moving parts that will be difficult to synchronise into a winning strategy. Isis may overreach and self-destruct but the damage already done in terms of dismembered states and their disaffected peoples will be hard to repair.... The starting point looks superficially promising. Every country around Syria and Iraq feels threatened by Isis. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, as well as Jordan, have come in behind the US and its western partners, providing Sunni Arab legitimacy to the war. Iran, which has built a Shia axis from Tehran to Baghdad, and Damascus to Beirut, is fighting on the same side, although marching to its own drum. Yet the hard facts on the ground still look intractable. The Sunni majority in Syria, their 2011 rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad’s minority despotism pulverised as the west looked on, feels betrayed. The Sunni minority in Iraq, toppled from power with Saddam Hussein by the 2003 invasion and then marginalised by US and Iran-backed Shia Islamist governments in Baghdad, feel dispossessed.
David Gardner, "Global Insight: US needs precision politics if bombs are to defeat Isis". The Financial Times. 23 September 2014, in www.ft.com.
"The Fertile Crescent has always been a land of rival communities and compact minorities. Arab nationalism, the creed of Iraq ruler's escaped from all that ambiguity into an unyielding doctrine of Arabism. The radicalism of that history wrecked the Arab world and gave the politics of the Fertile Crescent as particularly rancid and violent temper. Saddam did not descend from the sky; he emerged out of the world's sins of omissions and commissions. The murderous zeal with which he went about subduing the Kurds and the Shi'a was a reflection of the deep atavism of Arab life....The deference to the wider Arab phobias about the Shi'a or the Kurds coming into new power in Iraq should be cast aside. A liberal power cannot shore up ethnic imperium of minority groups. The rule of a Sunni minority, now well below 20 percent of Iraq's population, cannot be made an American goal. The Arabs around Iraq are not owed that kind of indulgence. It is with these sorts of phobias and biases that the Arab world must break. A culture that looks squarely at its own troubles should think aloud about the rage that is summoned on behalf of the Palestinians while the pain of the Kurds, or the Berbers in North Africa, or the Christians in the southern Sudan is passed over in silence".
Fouad Ajami, "Iraq and the Arabs Future". Foreign Affairs. (January / February 2003), pp. 14 & 16.
The supposition underlying David Gardner's analysis and others like them, is that the mis-rule of the Shiite government of ex-Premier Maliki and the Assad regime in Syria over the past few years had resulted in a sort of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, the murderous insanity of the ISIS grouping. And like most post hoc arguments it is completely ahistorical and indeed illogical. As can be seen from Fouad Ajami's essay, the fundamental fact of Iraqi history since 1920 is that a small (twenty percent or less) segment of he population was empowered by first the British and then by themselves to rule over their Shi'a and Kurdish compatriots. Au fond, much of the insane rage of ISIS originates in the fact that the Sunni refuse to acknowledge that they are no longer by right the rulers of Iraq. In the case of Syria, while much of the Sunni militancy, qua militancy is due to the harshness of the Assad regime's repression of its opponents in the Syria civil war, a soupcon is also due to the frustrated rage that the Sunni historical inferiors: Alawite, Kurds, and Shi'a are in power and they are not. Given the distorted understanding of many of the Sunni in the region (such as the idea that the Sunni are a majority of the population of Iraq, et cetera), it is fruitless to expect (pace David Gardner) that endeavoring to appease the Sunni will bear any positive fruit politically speaking. Much less helping to defeat and destroy ISIS.

Friday, September 26, 2014

PUTIN'S LATEST DÉMARCHE OVER UKRAINE: A COMMENT

"Moscow will curtail Ukraine's access to vital Russian markets if Kiev implements any part of a trade agreement with the European Union, President Vladimir Putin warned in a letter, toughening his stance on a deal at the centre of East-West tensions. In a letter to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, seen by Reuters on Tuesday, Putin warned that even changing national legislation to prepare for the EU-Ukraine trade deal, known as the association agreement, would trigger an immediate response from Moscow. We still believe that only systemic adjustments of the Association Agreement, which take into account the full range of risks to Russian-Ukranian economic ties and to the whole Russian economy, will allow to retain existing trade and economic cooperation between the Russian Federation and Ukraine," Putin wrote in the letter, which is dated Sept. 17. Putin did not go into detail about possible retaliation, but Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said last week he had signed an order to curb Ukrainian exporters' access to Russia. Those measures are yet to take effect.... In a last-minute concession to Moscow, the EU delayed implementing the trade accord until Dec. 31 2015. Brussels hopes that will give it time to assuage Russian concerns about the pact, which is now a legal treaty that cannot easily be changed. But Putin's letter suggests that the Kremlin considers the 15-month delay to the EU-Ukraine agreement a complete freezing of the process until Russian demands for changes to the legal texts are met. "Adoption of such amendments to Ukrainian legislation, including implementing acts, will be considered as infringement of the arrangement to postpone implementation of the Association Agreement, entailing immediate and adequate retaliatory measures from the Russian side," Putin wrote.".
Robin Emmott, "Putin warns Ukraine against implementing EU deal". Reuters. 23 September 2014, in www.reuters.com.
"The West should take advantage of any cease-fire efforts to craft and strongly advocate this solution, and should then negotiate the precise terms with Kiev and Moscow. Legally and morally, there can be no Western objection to this — it is after all the solution that the West has put forward to end conflicts in many parts of the world. In another former Soviet territory, Nagorno-Karabakh, the West went further and proposed the loosest form of confederation with Azerbaijan. This solution corresponds to history and local reality; for the Donbass is in fact a region with its own culture and traditions. To separate the Donbass in this way while preserving the principle of Ukrainian territorial integrity would allow the West to help in developing and consolidating the rest of Ukraine without constant disturbances in the East. This would open the possibility — albeit a long way in the future — of Ukraine joining the European Union; and if the people of the Donbass region at that point choose to secede and lose the benefits of European Union membership — well, so much the worse for them.... The choice today is not between a united Ukraine fully in the Western camp, or a Ukraine which has lost part of its territory to Russia. As recent military developments have demonstrated, the first outcome is simply not going to happen. The choice is between a Ukraine with an autonomous Donbass region, along with a real chance of developing the country’s democracy and economy in a Western direction, or a Ukraine which will be mired in a half-frozen conflict that will undermine all hopes of progress. The way out of this disaster is obvious — if only Western governments have the statesmanship and courage to take it".
Anatol Lieven, "A Way Out for Ukraine and Russia". New York Times. 3 September 2014, www.nytimes.com.
Grazhdanin Putin's démarche the other day in re the recently executed agreement between Ukraine and the European Union gives the lie once again (if that were actually needed or indeed required at this point in time) that for Moskva, the question of Ukraine is not a question relating to NATO or any (very vague) 'Russian interests', in Ukraine as such. The real issues involved are those related to the fact that nothing scares Moskva more than the idea that Ukraine has a Western and European, rather than Russian and Asiatic future 1. With a fully Western oriented Ukraine, democratic (or if you like, semi-democratic) and pluralistic, one of the fundamental rationales, the props of Putinism ceases to exist: that Russia and its people as well as the other former peoples of the ex-Sovietskaya Vlast, are destined to a non-Western and non-pluralistic future. With a positive example of Ukraine before their eyes, the Russian people, especially the urban, middle classes of the major cities, will see that the allegedly primordial nature of Russian statehood is in fact nothing of the sort. It is merely a rather tread bare rationalization for the endemic corruption, violence, backwardness and stupidity which is the ne plus ultra of Putinism in its current form. Hence, Putin's statement the other day and the need for the Western powers to counter it at every turn.
1. DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, "Ukrainian President Sets Sights on Closer E.U. Ties". The New York Times. 25 September 2014, in www.nytimes.com; Richard Balmforth and Natalia Zinets, "Ukraine president sets 2020 as EU target date, defends peace plan". Reuters. 26 September 2014, in www.reuters.com

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

EXPANDING THE AIR WAR AGAINST ISIS: A COMMENT

"The United States and its Arab allies bombed militant groups in Syria for the first time on Tuesday, killing scores of Islamic State fighters, members of a separate al Qaeda-linked group and opening a new front amid shifting Middle East alliances. The attacks encountered no objection, and even signs of tacit approval, from President Bashar al-Assad's Syrian government, which said Washington had warned Damascus in advance. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates participated in or supported the strikes against Islamic State targets, U.S. Central Command said. The countries are hostile to Assad but now fear the fighters who emerged from the rebellion they backed in Syria's 3-year-old civil war. U.S. President Barack Obama said in a televised statement that the breadth of the coalition, including the five Arab states, showed the United States was not alone in its second campaign of air strikes. Since Aug. 8, U.S. air strikes have hit militant targets in Iraq, where Washington supports the government, but had held back from a military engagement in Syria, where it is at odds with Assad. The White House said some of the strikes in Syria had targeted an al Qaeda affiliate known as the Khorasan group, which it said had been plotting an imminent attack either in the United States or in Europe".
Phil Stewart and Tom Perry, "U.S. and Arab allies launch first strikes on militants in Syria". Reuters. 23 September 2014, in www.reuters.com.
"American airpower will be the centerpiece of U.S. direct action against the so-called Islamic State. That much, at least, the U.S. government made clear Monday night with the launch of U.S. airstrikes on Syria. American bombers, sea-launched Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles, F-15s, F-16s, F/A-18s, unmanned aircraft, and Arab allies from bases throughout the Persian Gulf region attacked an initial set of roughly 20 primarily fixed targets—logistical hubs, headquarters, training camps, and other ISIS infrastructure—in Raqqa and other areas in Syria. Meanwhile, the United States has flown hundreds of sorties against ISIS forces in Iraq, but Iraqi security forces have yet to retake major cities. What effect will airstrikes have on ISIS? Will they “degrade” or “defeat” the group? To understand the implications we first must understand ISIS as an organization: How it fights, how it is organized, and ultimately how it might be vulnerable to a long-term bombing campaign. ISIS’s battlefield success and political resiliency depend on a sophisticated but partially decentralized structure that recommends a different form of targeting than in past U.S. decapitation efforts against al Qaeda and its affiliates. ISIS’s offensive success, especially in Iraq, is attributed to a mix of subversion, guerrilla warfare, and light infantry tactics yielding a surprisingly effective irregular warfare strategy. Its defensive strength derives from its robust local and international recruiting efforts and its success at retaining guerrilla resilience even as it undertakes a state-building project.... ISIS’s tactics and structure suggest that rather than hitting only massed ISIS forces in Iraq and its fixed infrastructure across both Iraq and Syria, an offensive campaign should target its battlefield leadership and the elements of the organization necessary for sustaining and coordinating its operations across the region". .
Daniel Trombly & Yasir Abbas, "Who the U.S. Should Really Hit in ISIS". The Daily Beast. 23 September 2014, in www.dailybeast.com.
The expansion of the air war against the radical Islamist group ISIS to Syria is something that I and any enemy of Muslim extremism can only applaud. By definition, this horrid group cannot be easily defeated, much less destroyed with merely a couple of air and missile strikes. What is needed and required is the journalists from the Daily Beast highlight above is a highly co-ordinated and pinpointed air campaign which will take not weeks but months at the very least. And even if the air campaign is extremely accurate and focused, the effort itself will require both endurance and allies on the ground. Unfortunately, in the case of Syria, the only allies on the ground who are at all militarily able to challenge ISIS effectively is the existing regime of Assad Fils. To pretend that those elements of the opposition which are western-aligned would be capable of defeating ISIS is a chimera, pur et simple. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that ISIS will only be substantially defeated and destroyed in both Syria and Iraq with a combination of American air power and ground forces. The Assad regime is the only available force who could possibly fulfill such a role. This fact may perhaps not be agreeable but it is assuredly a fact. As the man who I regard as the premier military commentator in the United States, Anthony Cordesman recently noted:
There is no good option for Syria, only a least bad one, and efforts to try to build a moderate political and military opposition will probably take years and only succeed if the Assad government and other opposition factions largely self-destruct 1.
1. Anthony Cordesman, "The Islamic State: The Case for Expanding the Air War". The Center for Strategic and International Studies. 23 September 2014, in www.csis.org. For an opposing argument to my own as per the potential to build a credible military force among the remnants of the pro-Western, Syria Opposition, see: Kenneth Pollack, "An Army to Defeat Assad: How to Turn Syria's Opposition Into a Real Fighting Force". Foreign Affairs. (September/October 2014), in www.foreignaffairs.com.

Friday, September 19, 2014

UKRAINE, RUSSIA AND THE VALUE OF DIPLOMACY

"The crisis over Ukraine has all but frozen official communication between the United States and Russia. The Russian reaction to the political upheaval in Kiev — the absorption of Crimea, and the armed intervention in eastern Ukraine — and the American responses to those actions have brought about a near-complete breakdown in normal and regular dialogue between Washington and Moscow. Relations between the two capitals have descended into attempts by each side to pressure the other, tit-for-tat actions, shrill propaganda statements, and the steady diminution of engagement between the two governments and societies. Reports from the NATO summit meeting that ended in Newport, Wales, on Friday indicate that the United States and its allies will respond to Russia’s intervention and violence in Ukraine with an escalation of their own — including further sanctions, enhanced military presence in front-line states, and possibly greater support for Ukraine’s armed forces. This amounts to more of the same, with little if any assurance of better outcomes. What the Western strategy lacks is an equally vigorous diplomatic approach to ending this conflict. Diplomatic efforts should aim to provide Ukraine and its neighbors with a future that can sustain peace and security for all countries in the area; re-establish respect for the core principles of Europe’s political order; and open the way for more productive American-Russian relations. As three former United States ambassadors who served in Moscow, we believe that the time is right for American leadership in a serious diplomatic effort to achieve these ends. Each of us has seen the high price paid when relations and dialogue between Washington and Moscow break down, as in the effort to prevent Baltic independence at the end of the Soviet era, the Kosovo crisis and the insurgency in Chechnya. Each time relations broke down, there was a high cost to the cause of peace and security for both the United States and Russia, as well as their allies. Our experience convinces us that creative, disciplined, serious active diplomacy — through both official and unofficial channels — provides the one path out of destructive crises and a reliance on violence and confrontation. So-called Track 2 dialogue between nonstate actors — experts and groups of individuals on both sides — can also play a useful role. ".
Jack F. Matlock, Thomas Pickering & James Collins, "Give Diplomacy a Chance with Russia". The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 8 September 2014, in www.carnegieendowment.org
"Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko urged Washington on Thursday to provide weapons to his country’s military as he received a rapturous welcome from the US Congress. In an address to both houses of Congress, Mr Poroshenko said Ukraine needed more than the non-lethal military aid that the US is giving the country in its battle with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. “Blankets, night-vision goggles are important, but one cannot win the war with blankets,” he said. The Ukrainian president received regular standing ovations for a rousing speech that emphasised Ukraine’s status as a democracy and included withering criticism of Russian intervention in the east of the country. “With just one move, the world has been thrown back in time – to a reality of territorial claims, zones of influence, criminal aggression and annexations,” he said. “The postwar international system of checks and balances was effectively ruined....” Mr Poroshenko told Congress that Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March was one of the “most cynical acts of treachery in modern history”. He also warned US lawmakers that Russia’s next act might be to cross “a European border”. His comments came as it emerged that Russian president Vladimir Putin had warned Mr Poroshenko that Russian troops could be in six central and eastern European capitals within two days – including five that are capitals of Nato members – according to EU officials briefed on the conversation."
Geoff Dyer & Peter Spiegel, "Poroshenko addresses Congress to urge US to arm Ukraine". The Financial Times. 18 September 2014, in www.ft.com.
There is a stark incongruity between the first statement above by three widely experienced American diplomats, all with years of experience in dealing with both Sovietskaya Vlast and with the Russian Federation and the address by the New Ukrainian President to the American Congress. So far, per contra to our Ambassadorial trio's statement, it has been Russia and not the Western powers who have made the running in the Ukrainian conflict. Both in commencing it, and it fueling it, and finally in escalating it most recently. Given these facts, diplomacy per se, is fruitless. One can hardily 'negotiate' when one's interlocutor is uninterested in doing so. Quite the converse in fact. Which is not to gainsay the fact that ideally, it would make a great deal of sense to prepare, if at all possible some type of 'golden parachute' or stepladder, so that Russia will not unnecessarily be humiliated by the West in some new mini-Cold War or economic version of the same. Unfortunately, as one reads in the newspapers recently, those who are coming to the fore in Moskva are the hardest of the hardliners 1. Those 'statist' (actually gangsters pur et simple) elements, who have nothing to lose and everything to gain, at least temporarily from further antagonism between Russia and the West. Sad but very true. Au fond, the attitude of such elements, and for that matter, Grazhdanin Putin himself is something almost completely out of the handbook of Soviet Cold War diplomacy, as the following dispatch from that most intelligent of diplomatic commentators and observers of things Soviet, Sir Frank Roberts, makes aptly clear circa the Persian Crisis of 1946:
"It seems fairly clear that plan of Soviet Government is to extort some agreement satisfactory to themselves from the Persian Government by threat, and indeed if necessary by use of force and to delay making any reply to United States Government or His Majesty's Government until they can say that matter has been settled with a Persian Government direct. 2"
The actions of the West in resolving that crisis: a very firm and hard diplomatic line which allowed for no concessions to Moskva, were what managed to resolve peacefully that crisis 3. It is my surmise that a similar stance by the Western powers and in the particular the Americans will be necessary in order to resolve peacefully the crisis in Ukraine.
1. Courtney Weaver, Jack Farchy and Kathrin Hille, "Yevtushenkov loses favour as new Moscow order emerges". The Financial Times. 17 September 2014, in www.ft.com.
2. Sir Frank Roberts to Foreign Office, 13 March 1946, in Documents on British Policy Overseas. Series I. Volume VII. Edited by H. J. Yasamee & K. A. Hamilton. Her Majesty's Stationary Office. (1995), p. 60.
3. My rendition of the Persian Crisis of 1946 relies upon the work of Bruce J. Kuniholm, which is what one may characterized as the 'Orthodox' version, as opposed to the more 'revisionist' interpretation of Melvin J. Leffler. For Kuniholm, see: The Origins of the Cold War in the Near East: Great Power Conflict and Diplomacy in Iran, Turkey, and Greece, (1980). For Leffler, see in particular the relevant chapters in: A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration and the Cold War, (1994).