Tuesday, May 19, 2015

THE FALL OF RAMADI: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

"The loss of the strategically important city of Ramadi has cast further doubt on Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s efforts to regain control of a war that is fragmenting the country. For months, Mr Abadi has sought to strengthen his position against the rising authority of the Shia militias some of them supported by — or loyal to — Iran as those forces played a key role in the campaign to retake the city of Tikrit. But the fall of Ramadi to the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) on Sunday has forced Mr Abadi to lean on the Shia militia and volunteer forces he had until recently hoped to sideline. Mr Abadi on Monday met with their leaders to discuss what state television described as the “redefinition of the defence lines” in Anbar. “The fall of Ramadi is more of a commentary on the Iraqi government than on the strength of Isis. [The US] has a partner in Iraq that is very weak,” says Kirk Sowell, a political risk analyst who publishes Inside Iraqi Politics, a newsletter. Surrounded by Isis and other insurgent groups, Ramadi had fought off jihadi advances for nearly 18 months. But by all accounts Iraqi troops there performed poorly when Isis launched its offensive this weekend. Sunni tribal leaders have complained publicly about the way Iraqi troops’ withdrew from the city without putting up a serious fight — reviving memories of the army’s flight from Mosul last June. The tribes also say they lack the heavy weaponry to take on Isis — who are armed with millions of dollars worth of US equipment they looted when they over-ran northwestern Iraq last summer. For now, Baghdad, as well as Iraq’s Shia shrine cities to the south, such as Karbala, and the Kurdish controlled cities in the north, are well defended and out of Isis’s reach. The main strategic consequence of Ramadi’s fall will be to push back the timeframe for retaking Mosul, Iraq’s second city. But the battle for control of Ramadi also offers a sign of what a future Iraqi state might look like. .”
Borzou Daragahi, Erika Solomon, "Ramadi’s fall casts doubt on al-Abadi’s control of Iraq war". The Financial Times. 19 May 2015, in www.ft.com
"War plans cover every aspect of a war, and weave them into a single operation that must have a single, ultimate objective in which all particular aims are reconciled. No one stars a war---or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so---without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it. The former is its political purpose; the latter its operational objective. This is the governing principal which will set its course, prescribe the scale of means and effort which is required, and make its influence felt throughout down to the smallest operational detail. We said in the opening chapter that the natural aim of military operations is the enemy's overthrow, and that strict adherence to the logic of the concept can, in the last analysis, admit no other. Since both belligerents must hold that view it would follow that military operations could not be suspended, that hostilities could not end until one or the other side were finally defeated."
Karl von Clausewitz. On War. Edited and Translated by Michael Howard & Peter Paret. (1976), p. 579.
The recent ISIS victory in capturing the Iraqi city of Ramadi highlights the fact that the Americans have not entire thought through their operational strategy for this particular military campaign. Regardless of what the Americans would ideally like to occur, it does not appear from current vantage point that a purely American air campaign will carry the day anytime soon against ISIS in Iraq. Not to speak of what is going on in Syria. The fact of the matter is that unless the Americans either: i) devote much more resources to the air campaign, with the concomitant greater likelihood of innocents being killed or wounded in occupied ISIS territories; ii) bring in some outside military force to assist the Iraqis (such as the say the regular Persian military). There at present being no readily available 'outside' force to so employ; iii) introduce American ground forces in sufficient numbers to quickly and effectively overthrow ISIS in a lightning campaign. If I had to choose which of the three above scenarios I would recommend the last one is the one that I would (reluctantly) go for. Which is not to gainsay the strictures that people like Anthony Cordesman have raised against putting American ground forces in harms way 1. Merely that having decided to go to war against ISIS (something which I was in favour of, albeit with scepticism as to how effective a purely air campaign would ultimately be), the Americans will be hard put to allow the continuation of a situation in which ISIS can boast that it is fighting the world's premier Great Power to a standstill. With all that implies in terms of the enormous prestige and the recruits and money following that ISIS will garner as a result. The sad and unfortunate truth of the matter is that the Americans have saddled themselves for a long time to come, with a burden which comes from having overthrown the Hussein regime back in 2003. Twelve years is not nearly long enough a time period to have absolved themselves from the consequence of their (admittedly stupid and irresponsible) actions....
1. See: Anthony Cordesman, "Boots on the Ground: The Realities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria". Center for Strategic and International Security. 13 February www.CSIS.org, wherein he argues that:
" It is important to realize that unless major U.S. combat forces are deployed in significant enough numbers to actually do all or most of all the fighting, local or host country forces will fail if they cannot get emergency support and reinforcements. They also face a very different challenge in large countries, when they face a dispersed force of nonstate actors that is on the scene and knows their weaknesses in detail, and where the real war is less one of short tactical victories and more one of lasting attrition in fighting for control of the population. And, these are wars that local forces must ultimately win. As was clear in Vietnam, and became all too clear in Afghanistan and Iraq, even the best U.S. combat units and a constant series of tactical victories can still fail if the United States and its other outside allies fully occupy an area or the country. Worse, doing it our way can deprive the local forces or host country of popular legitimacy, temporarily suppress sectarian and ethnic divisions, identify the United States as an occupier rather than an ally, and create a culture of military dependency where the local or host country forces never really learn to stand on their own".

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

THE PROBLEM TRULY IS ISLAM

"These days, on the subject of Islam, non-Muslims have mostly divided into two camps — though there’s a little wandering about between the tents. Camp one says Islam is a religion of peace, and points for proof to the millions of non-violent Muslims around the world. Warlike Muslims are an anomaly, they say, and fight not because they are religious but because they are politicised. Bad guys like Isis aren’t Muslims so much as Islamists, which is different. Most politicians and public figures belong to this camp, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. Camp two is more furtive. Members look around before they speak. In this gang, sotto voce, everyone agrees there is something intrinsically violent about Islam and that Islamism — Isis, for example — is a natural offshoot of its angry soul. The Queen’s chaplain appears to be in camp two. He sent a wave of revulsion through the media last month when he suggested the Quran might incite violence. Round here they say ‘Islam was spread by the sword’, meaning that conquest is in its DNA. Though Allah has a compassionate face, war is in his nature too. Ploughshares must sometimes become swords. How else will the caliphate be established?.... Is that there really isn’t much in the Quran to suggest that Allah gives a hoot for non-believers. Muslims are encouraged to forgive one another, but it is not required to forgive infidels, the apostate or people who blaspheme. We’re not all in it together. That Pew study also predicted that sometime soon after 2050 the number of Muslims will begin to overtake the number of Christians worldwide. In England, nearly one in ten British children is now Muslim — and is that what they’re taught? No need to say sorry to an infidel."
Mary Wakefield, "Original sin makes us better people. I wish Muslims believed in it." The (London) Spectator. 11 April 2015, in www.spectator.co.uk
"Christianity’s doctrine is found in three sources: the Bible, Tradition, and the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church. An unbiased and clear inspection will show that Christianity is a religion of peace. Islam, not so much. Christianity offers peace through redemption, freedom through penance, joy through forgiveness, perfection through sanctification, and charity as the crown and driving force of every Christian life. Nowhere does Christianity’s Divine Founder counsel violence, mandate war, or promise something sinful as a reward for fidelity. Yet a careful reading of the Qur’an, the “founding document” of Islam, reveals that these three elements are present in its pages. A sampling: - “Therefore, when ye meet the unbelievers in fight, smite at their necks; at length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly on them; thereafter is the time for either generosity or ransom, until the war lays down its burdens…. But those who are slain in the way of Allah, he will never let their deeds be lost” (47:4). - “May the two hands of Abu Lahab [Muhammad’s uncle who betrayed him] perish! May he himself perish! Nothing shall his wealth and gains avail him. He shall be burnt in a flaming fire, and his wife, laden with faggots [firewood], shall have a rope of fiber around her neck” (111:1-5 sura). - “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and his messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, even if they are of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians], until they pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued'".
Father John Perricone. "Christianity and Islam: morally equivalent?" The New Oxford Review. (April 2015), p. 24.
The wise mots of both Father Perricone and Mary Wakefield highlight something which any cursory reading about Islam quickly reveals: that notwithstanding the fact that most of its adherents are peaceful and law abiding, it is au fond a religion of violence. Akin to what Simon Weil thought was the major characteristic of pre-diaspora Judaism, Islam in its origins shows itself to be a religious belief system which incalculates a theology of warfare and violence towards all those who do not adhere to its tenets 1. Whereas the intermittent violence which one can associate with Christianity (the Crusades, et cetera), can be said to be at variance with the central tenets of Christianity, that is hardily the case with Islam. Its founder, the so-called Prophet Mohammed, was a figure who it is easy to see, from any unbiased point of view, had hands filled with blood of innocent people. It is not too far a thing to say, that from any humane standpoint, Mohammed was an evil man. Pur et simple. And unless and until the two billon plus human beings who claim some relationship with Islam, own up to this fact about their religion, the relations between these two billion and the other five million people on the planet earth will be filled with more violence. Because violence and hatred is something that Islam is filled with. To claim anything else is both idiocy and propaganda. Unless and until a true reformation of this religion of hatred takes place, the world can, must and will be on guard to stop in its tracks any more advances by this faith system.
1. For Simone Weil's rather negative view of pre-diaspora Judaism, see: Waiting on God. Translated by Emma Crauford. (1954), pp. 157, where she comments: "The tradition of Noah and his sons throws a startling light on the history of Mediterranean civilisation. It is necessary to delete what the Hebrews added to the story out of hatred....The Hebrews boasted of having utterly exterminated a number of cities and tribes in the land of Canaan when Joshua was leading them. Give a dog a bad name and you can hang him. After he has been hanged you can accuse him more than ever". See also: Letter to a Priest. Translated by A. F. Wills. (1951), p. 15, where she comments: "If some Hebrews from classical Jewry were to return to life and were to be provided with arms, they would exterminate the lot of us--men, women and children, for the crime of idolatry". For the recent historiographical discussion of Jewish influences on early Islam, see: The Cambridge Ancient History. Volume XIV. Late Antiquity: Empire and Successors, A. D. 425-600. Edited by Averil Cameron, Bryan Ward-Perkins and Michael Whitby, (2000), pp. 684-697.

Friday, May 08, 2015

THE BRITISH ELECTION RESULTS: WHAT DO THEY PORTEND?

"David Cameron was last night back in Downing Street after a remarkable election victory and immediately began to address the two issues that could define his second term: the union and Europe. Mr Cameron defied the pollsters and his own expectations as the Conservatives won an overall majority with 331 seats in the House of Commons, routing the Labour party and his coalition partners the Liberal Democrats in the process. Voter turnout was the highest since 1997. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, and the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg, who both joined Mr Cameron at the VE Day ceremony in London later on Friday, resigned immediately, but the election also revealed a United Kingdom under unprecedented strain, after a night of triumph for Scottish nationalists. The SNP won 56 out of 59 seats north of the border, prompting Alex Salmond, the party’s former leader, to declare: “The Scottish lion has roared.” The SNP refused to rule out calling next year for a second independence referendum. Mr Cameron fuelled tension in the union during the election campaign by railing against the threat of a Labour government propped up by the SNP. In an attempt to heal the wounds, Mr. Cameron promised on the steps of Downing Street to govern “for one nation, one United Kingdom” and to deliver new tax raising powers to the Scottish parliament “as soon as possible”. Boris Johnson has called for “some sort of overall offer” to create a more federal Britain and Mr Cameron’s allies said they “did not exclude” proposing an even greater transfer of powers to Holyrood. Mr Cameron completed a frenetic day of political activity by reappointing George Osborne as chancellor and as de facto deputy prime minister, with a key role in Britain’s proposed EU renegotiation. British officials said Mr Osborne, officially first secretary of state, would be a lead negotiator in talks ahead of the Conservatives’ planned EU referendum, scheduled before the end of 2017. Mr Cameron’s election has focused minds in Europe on the threat of “Brexit” and European leaders pressed for long-awaited guidance from Number 10 on how to answer the “British question”.."
George Parker, "Europe and union to dominate Cameron’s second term". The Financial Times. 8 May 2015, in www.ft.com.
"This general election will determine what Britain's place will be in the world in a way that no other general election has done previously, but the importance of this is chronically underdiscussed. Britain could look very different, could feel very different, and could be a different kind of partner to its allies over the next couple of years as a consequence of this election. As political elites become more navel-gazing and less engaged with the wider world, the UK’s international standing will diminish."
Richard G. Whitman, "Is Britain retreating from the World". Chatham House. 6 May 2015, in www.chathamhouse.org
"Now tell us what 'twas all about,' Young Peterkin, he cries; And little Wilhelmine looks up With wonder-waiting eyes; 'Now tell us all about the war, And what they fought each other for.' 'It was the English,' Kaspar cried, 'Who put the French to rout; But what they fought each other for I could not well make out; But everybody said,' quoth he, 'That 'twas a famous victory....'And everybody praised the Duke Who this great fight did win.' 'But what good came of it at last?' Quoth little Peterkin. 'Why, that I cannot tell,' said he, 'But 'twas a famous victory'."
Robert Southey, "THE BATTLE OF BLENHEIM". 1796.
One does not have to be as cynical as Robert Southey was at the time of the French Revolutionary wars, to express some skepticism that the triumph of British Prime Minister Cameron and his Tory party will change very much in the British political and diplomatic firmament. Which is not to gainsay the fact that the victory of Cameron's Tories is on the whole a 'good thing'. While I would certainly not have actively supported a party which (among other things) voted for the Gay Marriage Bill, it is without a doubt the case that a return of the Labour Party to office, with or without the de jure support of the Scottish Nationalist Party, would have been little short of a disaster. Like Evelyn Waugh in 1959, I can very well remember the last term of office of the Blair & Brown regime, and (to quote Waugh) the Kingdom did indeed give the appearance 'of being under enemy occupation' 1. Something which the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition did not entire dispel unfortunately. With all that being said, it is the case that a Tory government will to a limited ( indeed very limited) extent be more conscious then previously of the importance of Britain's diplomatic position in the world. Something which indeed the Americans (and not only the Americans) were highly concerned about very recently2. Ideally, of course an effective Tory government will 'resolve' (as Cameron appears to realize) the twin conundrums of both the Scottish Nationalist challenge to the United Kingdom and the 'in or out' of the European Union question. With that being said, it is difficult to imagine that this government, nor indeed any future British (or English) government will have either the capacity and more importantly the will to exercise the type of diplomatic and military influence that was the norm for Britain since the early to mid-17th century. The fact that Cameron himself appears to be obsessed with channeling more money to international assistance at the cost of military spending is something which is quite illustrative by itself. Of course it is obviously the case, that the British people are to a degree 'exhausted' by the twin wars of Afghanistan and Iraq. What is less clear is why these two wars were more exhausting to the British to-day then say the various 'emergencies' of the immediate post-bellum period from 1945 onwards: Malaya, Korea, Kenya, Suez, Cyprus, and Aden among others. It would appear to be the case that in the past forty to fifty years or so, something which the late American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles stated in his hospital deathbed in the Spring of 1959, has finally come to pass in its entirety:
"Something has happened to the British. We can no longer rely upon them. For years we've had a very special relationship with them, an equality in partnership. We must now accept the fact that something has happened, not just to British politicians of both parties, but to the British people 3."
With the end result being that regardless of the talk of a 'Special Relationship', between the USA and the UK, all such talk is at present and most likely going forward no more than eyewash. The United Kingdom has now most definitely passed from being a Great Power of the second rank, or if you like a Great Power manqué to nothing more than a middle-ranking European power. Or as the mandarins of the Foreign Office perhaps best described it in 1958: "the neutrality and comparative isolation of the purely commercial Powers such as Sweden or Switzerland" 4.
1. Evelyn Waugh, "Aspirations of a Mugwump". In: The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh. Edited Donat Gallagher. (1984), p. 537.
2. Steven Erlanger, "Britain’s Drift From the Global Stage Becomes an Election Issue". The New York Times. 27 April 2015, in www.nytimes.com
3. John Foster Dulles quoted by Livingston Merchant (a high State Department official). As per Merchant, this swan song was Dulles' 'Foreign Policy Testament'. See: Livingston Merchant papers, Seeley Mudd Library, Princeton University.
4. Quotation is from: "The Position of the United Kingdom in World Affairs: report by officials". 9 June 1958. In: The Conservative Government and the End of Empire. Series A, Volume 4. Edited Ronald Hyam & William Roger Louis. (2000), p. 44.

Friday, May 01, 2015

THE FINANCIAL TIMES AND WHY THE APPEASEMENT OF CHINA WILL NOT WORK

"For all his flaws, Mr Abe is on balance a good thing for a country that has drifted too long under a succession of fleeting, nondescript leaders. Yet Washington should not back him under all circumstances. That is especially true when it comes to relations with China. Above all, Washington must not give the impression that it wants to use Japan as a tool of containment. If it looks as though the US and Japan are ganging up on China, Beijing is likely to conclude that there is no peaceful path to its legitimate ambitions. The debacle over the China-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank — boycotted by both Washington and Tokyo — is a case in point. During Mr Abe’s visit, the joint attitudes of Japan and the US towards China will be tested in three broad arenas. The first is history. In his speech to Congress, Mr Abe will reflect on Japan’s actions in the second world war, which ended 70 years ago. Mr Abe is among those on the Japanese right who think the country has apologised enough. He has hinted that he wants to drop language used in previous apologies referring to “colonial rule”, “aggression” and “remorse”. Any manifestation of “Abenesia” would be a big mistake. Of course it is galling for Japan to be lectured by China, which has whitewashed much of its modern history, on the importance of historical accuracy. But as the aggressor in the second world war, Japan does not have the luxury to decide when the apologies end.... Second, and related, is defence. Mr Abe wants to reinterpret Japan’s pacifist constitution to give Tokyo more leeway to participate in international affairs. The Pentagon wholly supports this. So do some of Japan’s neighbours that are worried about growing Chinese military power. This week, the US and Japan will issue new guidelines for defence co-operation designed to bring contingency planning up to date. There is no harm in this so long as it does not look like an anti-Chinese pact."
Leader, "US should back Japan but not at any price". The Financial Times. 26 April 2015, in www.ft.com
"Kennedy was well to the fore in the Times’s endeavours to support Chamberlain. The sacrifice of Czechoslovakia seems not to have bothered him in the slightest. He seconded Dawson’s turning of the paper into an organ of the Prime Minister and his henchmen. With Dawson’s backing he wrote the leader of 1 April 1939 that prepared a way for pulling the rug out from under the guarantee just given to Poland, just as the rug had earlier been pulled out from under Czechoslovakia. None of this fancy footwork was of any avail. Hitler continued the cleverer; and unappeasable. Kennedy didn’t change his mind. The penultimate entry, written six weeks after the war began, finds him and Dawson concurring in the astounding opinion: ‘There was no statesmanship in our foreign policy between the two Chamberlains – Austen and Neville".’
Geoffrey Best, "Heiling Hitler" [A review of The ‘Times’ and Appeasement: The Journals of A.L. Kennedy 1932-39 edited by Gordon Martel]. The London Review of Books. 21 June 2001 in www.lrb.co.uk
The recent leader in the Financial Times on the topic of China and Japan is to put it quite bluntly akin to something that would have appeared in the Geoffrey Dawson's London Times circa 1936. With Japan of course in the role of France and China in the role of Hitler's Germany. The fact of the matter is that contemporary China, however much bien-pensant minded people like the leader writers of the Financial Times, or greedy and unscrupulous businessmen like Jim Rodgers or ex-statesman like Hank Paulson or Henry Kissinger, is au fond a revisionist power pur et simple. And will seek to expand its power and influence as much as it can get away with if not actively opposed. The idea that the PRC will of its own volition "seek to be integrate (sic) China more closely into a rules-based system", bears no relationship with reality 1. The regime in Peking is an insecure, authoritarian state, who uses an aggressive foreign policy to appease and divert its citizenry. Id. est., Chinese foreign policy is primarily governed by considerations of Primat der Innenpolitik. The aggressive stance that the regime in Peking has taken towards almost all of its neighbors in the past five to six years, is of a piece with the above analysis. And however much the leader writers of the FT, think that Peking is truly interested in being 'integrated' into the existing American-lead world-system, it is difficult to believe that a regime which the heroic, emigre dissident, Chen Guangcheng has aptly described as: "a barbaric dictatorship masquerading as a government", will ever willingly abide by the rules and laws of the current international system 2.
1. Leader, "US should back Japan but not at any price". op. cit.
2. Chen Guangcheng quoted in: Jonathan Mirsky, "He Fought the Law". The Literary Review. (April 2015), p. 22.

Friday, April 24, 2015

THE VATICAN AND FRANCOIS HOLLANDE: A COMMENT

"In the two years that he has occupied the throne of St Peter, Pope Francis has been an inspirational figure for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Following the conservative reigns of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, he has been hailed for trying to make the church more open, inclusive and accountable. At a time of global economic uncertainty, his personal humility sets him apart from many world leaders. Yet a diplomatic impasse between France and the Vatican over the nomination of a gay French diplomat as envoy to the Holy See risks damaging his reputation. In January, France announced that it would send Laurent Stefanini, the head of protocol for President François Hollande, to be its new ambassador to the Vatican. Mr Stefanini is well qualified for the post. He is a practising Catholic and served in the French embassy to the Holy See between 2001 and 2005. The Vatican normally approves such applications within six weeks of the request being made. Its failure to do so after three months has prompted growing speculation that it is dragging its feet because the nominee is homosexual. To many Vatican watchers, this diplomatic stand-off is somewhat unexpected. In the past two years, Pope Francis has relaxed some of the church’s anathemas on matters of sexuality and faith, making conciliatory remarks about gays and atheists. A comment early on in his pontificate — “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” — struck an unusual new tone on homosexuality. The slowness in approving Mr Stefanini may reflect little more than the creakiness of the Vatican’s centuries-old bureaucracy. But further delay can only confirm that the Holy See is blocking the envoy on grounds of his sexuality. This would greatly damage both the pontiff and the Church".
Leader, "A diplomatic test for the Vatican on gay rights". The Financial Times. 17 April 2015, in www.ft.com.
"I come now to the actual procedure which governs the appointment of a diplomatic envoy from one State to another. I shall take as my example of the usual practice the system adopted in the British Foreign Service. The head of some mission retires, or is transferred elsewhere, and it becomes necessary to choose his successor....Having decided on a suitable person, the Secretary of State then writes him a private letter offering the post. It is possible that the incumbent may plead ill-health or domestic reasons and may asked to be excused. The British Foreign Office is considerate in such cases. If he accepts, the next step is to obtain the agrement of the country to which he is to be sent. It is customary to make private enquiries before asking officially whether a given individual is likely to prove persona grata. The government to which the enquiry is addressed will, if in any doubt, consult their own embassy as to the character and the antecedents of the person suggested. If the agrement is refused, some mortification will result, and the rejected envoy will be glad if he has had sufficient discretion not to inform his friends of the offer which had been made to him".
Harold Nicolson. Diplomacy. (1939), pp. 185-186.
The idiocy of the comments in the ultra-bien pensant Financial Times speaks for itself. It is readily self-evident from the simplest knowledge of diplomatic protocol that the authorities in Paris knew quite well that the nomination of a full-fledged and public pederast as Ambassador to the Vatican was a complete non possumus. Pur et simple. Instead of dealing with the matter in the time honoured method of diplomacy as outlined above by Harold Nicolson, the Hollande regime, the most unpopular government in France since the 1950's has decided for purely domestic political purposes to make the matter a cause célèbre. What is truly noxious however is the complete and unmitigated hypocrisy and gall of the Hollande government in the entire matter. As the likelihood that Paris would (to take a few readily available examples): nominate the same individual to head the embassy in say Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Turkey among other places, is absolutely nil. Or for that matter nominate someone who was a practicing Jew or for that matter an openly practicing Christian to Saudi Arabia or other Arab / Muslim countries? The question answers itself. Unlike in those other cases, Paris knows quite well that the Vatican serves as a convenient and harmless punching bag. Putting paid to any validity of the charges formulated by the dull and rather sluggish minds of the Financial Times.

Monday, April 20, 2015

EYELESS IN THE WEST BANK OR ELLIOTT ABRAMS ON BENJAMIN NETANYAHU

"For the first time in over 15 years, Israel may soon form a coalition government that is composed solely of right-wing factions. This could have major implications for settlement expansion. After all, both of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s previous governments (2009–2013 and 2013–2015) included center-left parties that opposed settlement expansion outside areas that—according to past negotiations and in any realistic future peace accord—would end up as part of Israel. That is, his governments allowed population growth to expand freely in the major settlement blocs that Israel is expected to keep, but they constrained growth in the smaller settlements beyond Israel’s security barrier, which would likely be part of any future Palestinian state. In the years to come, though, the United States might have to contend with a new policy. During Netanyahu’s past six years as prime minister, his settlement policy has been the subject of great controversy and contradiction. On the one hand, the United States and Europe frequently criticized the policy as expanding Israeli presence in the West Bank. On the other, right-wing constituencies in Israel lashed out at Netanyahu for doing the exact opposite—implementing a “quiet freeze” policy that effectively halted Israeli construction outside of Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs. Netanyahu’s policy allowed him to enjoy the best of both worlds—but also suffer the worst of them. On the positive side for Netanyahu, constant critiques by the international community (because there was considerable construction in East Jerusalem and the major blocs) solidified his position as the irreplaceable leader of the Israeli right leading up to his reelection. Meanwhile, his constraints on construction beyond the security fence kept alive the option of a two-state solution and encouraged peace hopefuls, such as State Secretary John F. Kerry, to stay engaged. On the negative side, Netanyahu’s equivocation bought him the distrust and scorn of many, in Israel and abroad, on the left and right. As a result, he is surprisingly unpopular for someone who just won a solid reelection victory".
Elliott Abrams and Uri Sadot, "Settling Settlements: Netanyahu's Real Policies, Before and After the Election". The Council on Foreign Relations. 16 April 2015, in www.cfr.org
"Designed for great exploits, if I must die / Betrayed, captived, and both my eyes put out, Made of my enemies the scorn and gaze, To grind in brazen fetters under task / With this heaven-gifted strength? O glorious strength, Put to the labour of a beast, debased / Lower than bond-slave! Promise was that I Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver! Ask for this great Deliverer now, and find him / Eyeless in Gaza, at the mill with slaves, Himself in bonds under Philistian yoke".
John Milton. Samson Agonistes (1666-1671), lines 32-42.
The comparison between Samson and Israeli premier Netanyahu was of course merely rhetorical in nature. Samson of course was a great hero of the Jewish Old Testament. Whereas Netanyahu of course is the wiliest and canny of opportunistic politicians. Which of course answers in full the nature of Elliott Abrams query (no doubt also a rhetorical query). As can be seen from his fully ambidextrous positioning in the just concluded Israeli elections, the Israeli premier will change his policies surface content to suit almost any occasion 1. That is of fairly obvious and self-evident by this point. What is not quite so evident, but is in fact without a doubt true, is that the Israeli premier will to the maximum extent possible endeavour to colonialise as much Palestinian land and resources as possible. The rights or the wrongs of the Palestinian case, do not in the least bother or hinder the Israeli premier in taking what he regards as policies which fits in with his own ultra-Zionist vision of the so-called 'Land of Israel'. The fact that almost the entire world regards such policies with active disdain if not worse does not in any fashion give pause to the Israeli premier. Much less his ultra-right-wing colleagues in the Israeli Knesset & Cabinet. In short, while Elliott Abrams may have convinced himself that despite himself Netanyahu is a 'moderate' who is endeavouring to balance the demands of the Israeli right-wing and the views of the vast majority of the international community, the reality of both the situation and Netanyahu's past and present argue to the contrary.
1. Simon Schama, "Will the real Netanyahu please stand up?" The Financial Times. 20th March 2015 in www.ft.com. See also: José Ignacio Torreblanca, "The Israeli Spell". European Council on Foreign Relations. 26 March 2015, in www.ecfr.eu

Friday, April 17, 2015

TENSIONS BETWEEN RUSSIA AND THE NORDIC COUNTRIES: A COMMENT

"The Kremlin has complained that a new Nordic defence pact is “directed against Russia” and amounts to a “confrontational approach” on the Ukraine crisis. The Russian foreign ministry issued the statement on its website on Sunday (12 April). It said “Nordic defence co-operation … has begun to be directed against Russia in a way that could undermine the positive engagement accumulated over the past decade”. It voiced “concern” that Finland and Sweden, which are not Nato members, are showing “increasingly strong convergence” with the alliance. It also said that “instead of an open and constructive dialogue” on issues such as the Ukraine conflict, “the principles of confrontation are being foisted on the public opinion of the Nordic countries”. The defence ministers of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden unveiled the agreement in an op-ed in Norwegian daily Aftenposten last Thursday. They said they would: share information on maritime and airspace movements; take joint steps on cyber defence; conduct military drills; consider launching a new air-police mission called Northern Flag; share air bases; and explore joint military acquisitions. “Russia’s conduct [in Ukraine] represents the gravest challenge to European security. As a consequence, we must be prepared to face possible crises or incidents”, they warned. They said “Russia is undertaking huge economic investments in its military capability” and that its military “is acting in a challenging way along our borders”. They added that Russia is trying to “sow discord” in the West and that their pact “strengthen[s] the cohesion of Nato and the EU, and helps to maintain transatlantic links”. Russian jets have violated the airspace of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania hundreds of times over the past year."
Andrew Rettman, "Nordic pact heightens tension with Russia". The EU Observer. 13 April 2015, in www.euobserver.com
"Communists and the people of the Baltic states favoured joining the Soviet Union. Their bourgeois leaders came to Moscow for negotiations but refused to sign such an agreement with the USSR. What were we to do? I must tell you confidentially that I pursued a very hard line. I told the Latvian minister of foreign affairs when he came to visit us, 'You won't go home until you sign the agreement to join us'. A popular minister of war from Estonia came to see us---I've forgotten his name. We told him the same thing. We had to go to such extremes. And to my mind, we achieved our aims quite satisfactorily."
V. M. Molotov, Foreign Minister of the USSR, 1939-1949, 1953-1956, in Molotov Remembers: Inside Kremlin Politics. (Edited and translated by Albert Resis. (1993), p. 9.
The statement issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry is typical of the type of overbearing and belligerent behavior of Russia under the Putin regime in the past three to four years. Out goes a sense of co-operation and pour parler with Russia's neighbors. In comes a sort of fist-pounding type of diplomacy whose aim is to intimidate in the most drastic fashion possible, Russia's smaller and weaker neighbors. The fact that Russia's neighbors are actually frightened by Moskva's behavior in recent years is something that Putin, Lavrov, et. al., studious are choosing to ignore. Au fond of course Russia's diplomatic modus operandi is by definition self-defeating and will inevitably have negative results for Matushka Russia. As the article above indicates, the countries of the Baltics and the North Sea will inevitably regroup into a purely anti-Russia political-diplomatic phalanx. Given this rather self-evident result of Russia behavior, one is almost tempted to say that Grazhdanin Putin is almost consciously seeking this very same result. As the diplomatic and political isolation of Russia from the rest of Europe & the West will have the end-result of making Putinism a much more plausible ideology to Russia's poor and misguided people. A extremely unfortunate tragedy for a country which was perhaps the chief sufferer of the nightmare that was most of twentieth century history.