Saturday, February 28, 2015

THE NEMTSOV ASSASSINATION: PUTIN'S 'MATTEOTTI AFFAIR'?

Putin’s rating will not stay at above 80 per cent forever. It will start coming down, very gradually,” says Mr Nemtsov. “And once it does, the fear will diminish, too, and at some point some big business will start supporting and financing us.”
Kathrin Hille and Courtney Weaver, "Russia: Left out in the cold". The Financial Times. 26 February 2015 in www.ft.com.
"Russian television announcing the shooting death of a top opposition figure late Friday night. 55-year-old Boris Nemtsov was shot four times in the back while walking along a bridge in central Moscow, just meters from the Kremlin. Police say he was shot from a passing white car which fled the scene. His shooting death comes nearly on the eve of a big opposition protest he was due to lead in Moscow on Sunday. The march is to protest against the war in Ukraine and another opposition figure has said that Nemtsov was preparing a report on the presence of Russian troops there. Boris Nemtsov was a former deputy prime minister and a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin has condemned the killing, calling it a "brutal murder." He's taken the investigation under presidential command, saying it could have been a contract killing designed as a "provocation". The White House, too, condemned the killing and called on the Russian government to make a "prompt" and "transparent" investigation to bring those responsible to justice."
"Russian opposition leader Nemtsov shot dead in Moscow". Reuters. 27 February 2015, in www.reuters.com.
"I declare, in the presence of this assembly and that of the whole Italian people, that I, and I alone, assume the political, moral and historic responsibility for everything that has happened....If outbreaks of violence have been the result of a particular historic, political and moral climate I take the responsibility, because I created this historical, political and moral climate".
Benito Mussolini, speaking to the Italian Chamber of Deputies in his official response to the assassination of Giacomo Matteotti, on 3 January 1925. Quotation from Richard Bosworth. Mussolini. (2002). p. 203.
Of course only time will tell if indeed the murder of ex-Prime Minister, Boris Nemtsov proves to be the Russian State President Vladimir Putin's 'Matteotti Affair'. By employing this particular example from Italian history I am referring to two aspects of the Nemstov assassination: i) that regardless of whether or not Mussolini was directly implicated in the murder of the fearless Socialist Deputy (and the evidence is not clearcut enough for historians to make a positive decision about the matter), the Italian Fascist leader was honest enough in his official response to the storm of protest which greeted the murder, to acknowledge that by both word and deed, he was au fond 'responsible' for the murder 1; ii) that Mussolini used the aftermath of the affair to make a clear break with parliamentarism and to proceed to inaugurate a the beginnings of the full-fledged authoritarian regime, which was subsequently labeled as 'Fascist' 2. In the case of contemporary Russia, it is evident that to a degree the regime is in an economic cup de sac. With (in the words of a former Putin era Deputy Minister) Russia is suffering: "the biggest crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union" 3. Given this circumstance and the fact that popular discontent is undoubtedly on the rise (if admittedly from very low levels), it would not surprise me that a group or groups in the regime decided to: a) make an example of Nemtsov, given his more recent prominence as seen in his interview with the Financial Times late last week; b) to perhaps use the affair to force the regime, Putin, et. al., into a full-fledged, authoritarian, non-democratic direction, by jailing and or forcing into exile the rest of the opposition. I am not stating that Nemtsov's murder was intended to commence 'b' above. Merely that there is a good likelihood that the inevitable result of the murder and its aftermath is that Putin, will either willingly or unwillingly decided to take Russia in this direction. Only time will tell of course.
1. See Bosworth, op. cit., pp. 195-197. See also: Richard Bosworth. Mussolini's Italy. (2006), p. 211. For a contrary point of view as per Mussolini's direct responsibility, see: Denis Mack Smith. Modern Italy: A political history. (1997), pp. 329-330.
2. Bosworth. Mussolini., op. cit., pp. 194-195, 200-207 and passim. See also: Bosworth. Mussolini's Italy, op. cit., pp. 212-216 & Smith, op. cit., pp. 332-338 & passim.
3. Kathrin Hille and Courtney Weaver, op. cit. Some analysts already state that the climate of 'official hate' mandated by the regime, made Nemtsov's murder possible, if perhaps not necessary. See: Ivan Nechepurenko, "Analysts Blame Nemtsov's Death on Russia's 'Legitimized Hate'". The Moscow Times. 28 February 2015, in www.themoscowtimes.com

Saturday, February 21, 2015

ISLAM AND THE CAUSES OF MUSLIM EXTREMISM

"It is in this setting that recent French debates over laicity in the schools must be seen. The positions are highly polarized. Integrationists see an increasingly fundamentalist Islam as a threat to the French model and think that the schools should actively resist it by teaching secular values; classic republicans think that the state must keep religion completely out of the schools but should not interfere with private beliefs; and multiculturalists think that Islam is simply being stigmatized, that social exclusion is mainly to blame, and that differences of all sorts should be represented and celebrated in schools. ach of these views has problems, but it is the multiculturalist one that seems the least in touch with social and political reality today. Not because the French don’t need to learn to accommodate more differences, but because it refuses to recognize the very disturbing developments in the Islamic world today (which are anything but accommodating to differences) and how they have already affected French life. The current mantra, which President Hollande felt obliged to repeat, is that Islamic terrorism has “nothing to do with Islam” and that the most important thing is not to “make an amalgam” of all Muslims. (The Socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, went even further, declaring the terrorists to be “without faith”—in other words, infidels.) But this attitude only reinforces an institutional and intellectual omertà that makes it difficult even to discuss what is really going on in the schools. The evidence has been there for anyone who cared to look for it, in books like those of Kepel and the growing literature of memoirs written by former teachers in the quartiers who gave up because they could not control their classes or enforce the principle of laicity. In 2004, for example, the Chirac government received a report it had commissioned on the presence of religious “signs and belonging” in the schools, which was promptly buried because its results were so disturbing. This Obin Report was based on on-site visits government inspectors made to over sixty middle and high schools across France, concentrating on disfavored quartiers. The extent to which life in many of them had been, to employ Kepel’s term, “halalized” shocked them. The report recounts stories of girls being under constant surveillance by self-appointed older brothers who mete out corporal punishment with fists and belts if they deem modesty to have been violated. Wearing skirts or dresses is impossible in many places, also for female teachers. There is an obsession with purity, as students and their parents demand separate swimming hours or refuse to let their children go on school trips where the sexes might mix. If they do go, some refuse to enter cathedrals or churches. There are fathers who won’t shake hands with female teachers, or let their wives speak alone to male teachers. There are cases of children refusing to sing, or dance, or learn an instrument, or draw a face, or use a mathematical symbol that resembles a cross. The question of dress and social mixing has led to the abandonment of gym classes in many places. Children also feel emboldened to refuse to read authors or books that they find religiously unacceptable: Rousseau, Molière, Madame Bovary. Certain subjects are taboo: evolution, sex ed, the Shoah. As one father told a teacher, “I forbid you to mention Jesus to my son....” The situation of Jewish students is far worse and a great number have transferred to private schools (though also because they, too, have become more observant). In 1996 a principal in Lyons had to arrange the departure of the last two Jewish students in his school because he could not assure their safety. As the report says, “there is a stupefying and cruel reality: in France, Jewish children, and Jewish children alone, cannot be educated in all of our schools.' "
Mark Lilla, "France on Fire". The New York Review of Books. 5 March 2015, in www.nybooks.com.
"Another week and another completely random attack by a gunman hunting down cartoonists before inexplicably heading to the local synagogue. My guess is that events in Copenhagen yesterday have already been put down in many quarters to what President Obama describes as ‘a random bunch of folks’ being targeted by somebody who has ‘misunderstood’ what every Western leader agrees is an entirely peaceful and harmless religious tradition.... The first is that supporting an artist in 21st century Europe should have become a brave thing to do and that a conversation about free speech in Europe in 2015 should have — and need — substantial police protection. Today’s UK newspapers refer to Vilks as ‘controversial.’ But Vilks wouldn’t be ‘controversial’ if almost the entirety of the Western media and the political and arts establishments had not in recent years abandoned their principles and chosen to avoid mentioning anything negative or worthy of satire in one single religion. The jihadists just want to kill Lars Vilks. It was the Western media and political class that made him ‘controversial’. And then there is the second point — which is how many attacks like yesterday’s have to happen before there is a semblance of serious discussion around all this? A few years ago when the offices of Charlie Hebdo were firebombed in Paris the French Foreign Minister said about drawing cartoons of Mohammed and thus potentially ‘insulting’ Islam: ‘Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?’ My reply to which is ‘Who made our societies into this powder-keg apparently able to catch fire at any moment Now the pretence of the current European political class continues to be that that’s all just fine. We’re all nice cool Europeans once we live under the same roof. When a Somali arrives in London they become as local as a cockney. And when an Arab Muslim arrives in Copenhagen they become as Danish as Carlsberg. Except that they don’t, do they? Or at least a substantial number certainly don’t. And although the vast majority of European Muslims obviously don’t want to gun down cartoonists and Jews, a certain percentage do, or are happy to carry water for those who do. But why worry when it’s just a ‘small percentage’ who want to do things like the Copenhagen gunman did yesterday? For the time being we are all meant to say how racist it would be to talk about immigration restrictions, and so countries like Sweden continue to commit a form of cultural suicide. And soon it becomes totally normal to point out to Europe’s remaining Jews and free speech advocates that they are kind of out numbered these days, aren’t they. The answer to which is yes, they are. And are likely to remain so. And what happens after that?"
Douglas Murray, "How many more terror attacks until we have a serious discussion about offending religions". The Spectator. 15 February 2015, in www.spectator.co.uk.
The importance of Mark Lilla's essay appearing as it does in the premier intelligentsia periodical on this side of the Atlantic is that it fully gives the lie to the idea that Islamic radicalisation in the Western world and the concomitant tendency to repress criticism of the malevolent effects and influence that Islam and certain sectors of the Muslim diaspora have on life in Western countries is something that only conservatives, reactionaries and or 'Islamophobes' adhere to. And that Muslim extremism is merely a figment of the imagination. As can be fully seen from the evidence that Lilla presents, it is the multiculturalists among us, who are engaged in make-believe and wish-fulfillment. Something that Douglas Murray's own piece in the London Spectator is equally good at demonstrating. The fact is, that per contra to the prognostication of the futile 'Extremism Summit' in Washington this past week, Islam as it is practiced by many of its adherents worldwide, is very much a part, not mind you the entirety, but certainly a part of the problem 1. To argue, pace the American President this week, that the problems of Muslim extremism is caused in part by: "young people facing a lack of job or educational opportunities", is completely fallacious and without any empirical data 2. Something which the usually bien-pensant Financial Times admitted to-day 3. The very best counter-examples being: a) how many terrorists has the deep deprivation suffered by the gypsy population of Europe produced? Answer: less than one; b) how many terrorists has the widespread violence and discrimination suffered by the Christian community in the Near and Middle East produce? Answer: less than one. In short, as the writer Graeme Wood argues most cogently, in the American periodical, the Atlantic, concerning the ultra-extremists of ISIS:
The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam 4.
Most pertinent to our argument, Wood quotes Princeton Professor Bernard Haykel, who is the leading expert on ISIS in the United States, to the effect that to argue, pace much of Muslim establishment, both in and out of the Near East, that ISIS is not really Islamic, is: “'interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition'” 5.
In short, the sooner that the West realises that Islam, qua a religious ideology is a considerable part, not the entirety surely, but a considerable part of the problem of Muslim extremism, the sooner that we will be able to come seriously to grips with this horrible phenomenon. Hopefully, before it is too late.
1. Geoff Dyer, "White House grapples with jihadi threat". The Financial Times. 20 February 2015, in www.ft.com.
2. Geoff Dyer, "Isis is not about Islam, says Obama". The Financial Times. 19 February 2015, in www.ft.com
3. Dyer, "White House grapples", op. cit.
4. Grame Wood, "What ISIS really wants". The Atlantic. (March 2015), in www.theatlantic.com
5. Ibid.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

THE FALL OF DEBALTSEVE AND THE WAY FORWARD IN UKRAINE

"Ukraine has pulled most of its troops out of Debaltseve, the strategic town in the east of the country that has been the focus of fighting in the past few days with Russia-backed separatists. Petro Poroshenko, the pro-western president of Ukraine, ordered the withdrawal on Tuesday after international monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe were prevented from entering the railway hub, according to Reuters. Mr Poroshenko said 80 per cent of Ukraine’s forces in the town had withdrawn from their positions and two more columns have yet to leave the area. Rebels claimed to have seized control of the town over the weekend, despite the introduction of a ceasefire on Sunday, leaving thousands of government forces trapped in the region. Before flying to the east of the country on Wednesday to meet soldiers recently withdrawn from Debaltseve, Mr Poroshenko said: “Debaltseve was under our control, it was never encircled. Our troops and formations have left in an organised and planned manner.” Anastasiya Stanko, a journalist from Ukraine’s Hromadske television channel, posted photographs of soldiers, some on foot, others sitting on armoured personnel carriers, moving north towards the government-held city of Artemivsk. Debaltseve has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the near one-year conflict in eastern Ukraine as Russia-backed rebel fighters fought to seize control of the strategically important railway hub, between the breakaway cities of Donetsk and Lugansk. Fatality and casualty numbers were not immediately available following the government retreat but thousands of soldiers were thought to have been surrounded and reports from the region suggested Ukraine’s army suffered heavy casualties in the run-up to the introduction of the ceasefire on Sunday. It was not immediately clear whether the ceasefire, agreed by the leaders of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia in the Belarusian capital of Minsk last week, would hold following the events in Debaltseve."
Roman Olearchyk, "Ukraine’s forces retreat from key town of Debaltseve". The Financial Times. 18 February 2015, in www.ft.com.
"For all the complexity of Ukraine, there is a way forward. It can be summarised in 14 words: Putin must withdraw his forces and Ukraine have full control of its eastern frontier. So, unlike in Syria, the key lies in a single political actor changing his behaviour. To be sure, this would not overnight stop angry separatists fighting for their Donetsk People’s Republic. In eastern Ukraine, as in Bosnia, as in Syria, the radicalising brutality of war has turned neighbours into enemies. Great statecraft and imagination would then be required from Kiev to rebuild an effectively federal Ukrainian state, one in which people who identify themselves as Russians could again feel reasonably at home. But the path to any lasting peace starts with those 14 words".
Timothy Garton Ash, "There’ll be no peace while Putin is squatting in Ukraine’s living room". The Guardian. 16 February 2015, in www.theguardian.com.
Timothy Garton Ash's mordent but ultra-pertinent mots are very precise and to the point. Unless and until Grazhdanin Putin chooses to curtail the ravages of his auxiliaries fighting in eastern Ukraine, then any hope that the situation therein will magically resolve itself is completely unrealistic. As predicted here last week, the likelihood that Minsk II would resolve the onging fighting in Ukraine was a complete nonsense from start to finish. As Niall Ferguson wrote in the Financial Times, au fond Minsk II represents a policy of surrender and 'appeasement', pur et simple 1. As the American analyst and ex-ambassador, Stephen Sestanovich, has very cogently argued, it is precisely the absence of military assistance for Kyiv which has encouraged Putin and his cohorts to run rampant in Ukraine 2. And while I do not always agree with his point of view, the Moskva-based analyst, Dmitri Trenin, does have a valid point when he states that the conflict in Ukraine portends a more anarchic and dangerous world in the years to come 3. Only if the crisis in Ukraine is positively resolved by the reunification of the country and the ouster of Russian forces and their auxiliaries will this very dangerous scenario perhaps be blunted. Sans this occurring, expect the current crisis in Ukraine to be repeated in any number of other places in the world in the years to come. As any number of Regional and Great Powers increasingly choose to violate international law and equilibrium in the pursuit of some perceived national interest.
1. Niall Ferguson, "The meaning of the Minsk agreement". The Financial Times. 13 February 2015, in www.ft.com.
2. Stephen Sestanovich, "Diplomacy, Putin, and What Comes After a Cease-Fire in Ukraine". The Wall Street Journal. 9 February 2015, in www.wsj.com.
3. Dmitri Trenin, "Ukraine Points Towards the Start of a Tumultuous New Era in World Politics". Carnegie Moscow Center. 15 February 2015, in www.carnegie.ru . See also: Dmitri Trenin, "The Disturbing Legacy of the Ukraine Crisis". The National Interest. 12 February 2015, in www.nationalinterest.org.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

THE EGYPTIAN BOMBING RAIDS IN LIBYA: A COMMENT

"Egyptian war planes pounded jihadi targets in Libya as the chaos in the north African state began to suck in its neighbours and European leaders raised the alarm about the growing threat on their doorstep. Egypt and France called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the deteriorating situation in Libya after Cairo said it had launched dawn air strikes on positions of Libyan jihadi groups affiliated to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or Isis. The Egyptian military said the attacks on targets in the eastern town of Derna, which is controlled by a confederation of jihadi groups, were carried out to avenge the slaughter of Egyptian Christian workers in Libya by groups loyal to Isis. The brutal slaying of the workers in territory which is outside the control of both the rival governments vying for power in Libya underscores the risks to both Arab and European neighbouring states of the country’s disintegration. In an interview with La Repubblica, Angelino Alfano, the Italian interior minister, called for a UN peacekeeping mission to be deployed in Libya, for “the future of the western world”. "There is not a moment to lose," he said. Egyptians were shocked and outraged by a chilling video posted on the internet by the extremists on Sunday night showing masked men in black beheading the Egyptian hostages on a Libyan beach said to be in Sirte, the central coastal town now largely in the hands of the jihadis. The militants were shown threatening to “take Rome” - a threat which has reinforced fears in Italy that they will seek to export their jihadi campaign across the Mediterranean and into Europe. France is also concerned. The office of Francois Hollande said the French president spoke with Abdul Fattah al -Sisi, the Egyptian leader, on Monday and that the two had "underscored the importance of the security council meeting and for the international community to take new measures" against the threat from jihadis in Libya. The Egyptian foreign ministry said the country’s air force bombed training camps and weapon stores belonging to the extremists, and called on the international coalition fighting Isis in Syria and Iraq to take measures “to confront the terrorists of Isis and other groups in Libya”. It said that by launching the air strikes Egypt had used its legitimate right to self defence under international law".
Heba Saleh,"Egypt bombs jihadi targets in Libya after beheadings". The Financial Times. 16 February 2015, in www.ft.com.
"The last two decades of intervention suggest one thing: that interventions are intrinsically unpredictable, chaotic and uncertain. They can work: the international community played a prudent and constructive role in Bosnia, and the Bosnia of 2005 was far better than that of 1995. But in Iraq and Afghanistan, disorder and chaos seemed predestined. Guilt at lost lives, embarrassment, pride, fear of Islamists and hubris all prevented the West from acknowledging failure: instead of pulling back, they dived ever deeper. And their occupation bloated, warped and corrupted the fundamental structures – social, political and economic – of the countries they were purporting to help. The lesson for Libya was that the West should not be dragged too far in and that it should anticipate chaos. The language of the UN resolution emphasised restraint: there were to be no troops on the ground and the military operations were designed to protect civilians, primarily in Benghazi, not to topple Gaddafi. But Nato was soon flying 400 miles away from Benghazi, targeting Gaddafi’s headquarters in Tripoli. Lawyers assured me that no one was using the bombing raids to try to kill Gaddafi, generals whispered that Gaddafi could only last another two weeks, and diplomats denied that the rebel government was extremist or divided. But five months later, there had been numerous raids on Gaddafi’s compound; Gaddafi was still in power; and the rebel general, formally arrested on the orders of the rebel deputy leader, had been tortured and executed by an Islamist faction. Yet so far Libya has proved, not unpredictably awful but unpredictably good. After 15 years working around interventions, I was watching for any hint of disaster. I noted, for example, that a Berber militia had occupied a prime hotel beside the arch of Marcus Aurelius on the grounds that the owner ‘was a Gaddafi sympathiser’. But even after 24 hours, I couldn’t escape the sense that things were not that bad: that Libyans were delighted and confident, and with justification."
Rory Stewart, "Because we weren’t there?". The London Review of Books. 22 September 2011, in www.lrb.co.uk
In retrospect, it is difficult to recapture the illusion, shared by both Rory Stewart and myself among others, however brief in retrospect, that the outcome in Libya would be positive and thus join those seen in Bosnia and Kosovo. Instead of course, what has occurred since a little time after Stewart penned his original article has been a tale of woe and desolation. In fact a smaller version of what occurred in Afghanistan circa 1992-1994. With a minimal to non-existent Western presence on the ground, the victorious warlords were able to fight it out in an increasingly vicious and bloody series of battles. So far of course, Libya has not quite reached Afghanistan levels of violence and mayhem. Unfortunately, Libya unlike Afghanistan is on the southern shore of the Mediterranean and not in Central Asia. The West has chosen so far chosen to pretend, that regardless of the violence and the almost total breakdown of state and increasingly of society in Libya, that the country is indeed located in Central Asia. To-day's bombing by Egypt of Islamic bases and or cells in the eastern portion of the country shows that this Western pretence is becoming more and more illusory and tread-bare by the day. The only question that remains to be answered is: will the Western powers take action now, before the disorder and Islamic madness comes to them (from Libya or elsewhere in the Near and Middle East) or will they wait until afterwards. One can only hope that the Western powers react by conceiving a policy, applying it forcefully and at the very same time, thinking in concrete and strategic terms, before it is too late. Or in the words of Anthony Cordesman, who is perhaps the leading military analyst in the United States to-day:
"Strategy does not consist of stating a broad policy goal and empty rhetoric. It consist of stating an actual plan with clearly defined goals, specific means to achieve, milestones for action, estimates of the necessary resources and their availability, estimates of cost-benefits and risks, and metrics to measure success. A sound bite that fits in Twitter or a fortunate cookie is not a strategy 1."
In other words, convening White House Summits on 'Countering Violent Extremism', is at this point in time, as Libya, along with Iraq and Syria appear to be going up in flames, nothing more than meaningless and empty rhetoric 2.
1. Anthony Cordesman, "Boots on the Ground: The Realities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 13 February 2015, in www.csis.org.
2. Maya Rhodan, "White House Prepares for Summit on Countering Violent Extremism". Time. 16 February 2015, in www.time.com

Monday, February 16, 2015

THE GREAT WAR REVISTED OR THE LAST GASP OF THE 'OLD HATS' ?

Yet this interpretation has recently been challenged by a wave of revisionism, exemplified by the astronomical success—especially in Germany, where it has sold many hundreds of thousands of copies—of the book The Sleepwalkers by our colleague Christopher Clark. He and the other revisionists largely exonerate the Kaiser’s Germany from responsibility for the First World War. While claiming to argue that war broke out by accident, with no one government more at fault than any other, in practice Clark places the blame to a large extent on little Serbia, followed by Russia, France and Britain in that order, presenting Austria-Hungary as doing its genuine best to avoid war and simply omitting altogether the evidence of any German intention to bring the war about. This is a revival of an interpretation expressed in Lloyd George’s dictum of the interwar years that in 1914 ‘the nations of Europe slithered over the brink into the boiling cauldron of war’. By the late 1920s, the Churchillian belief that Britain had been right to enter the war to defend its vital interests and those of the rest of Europe from German aggression had given way in Britain to a mood of disillusionment fuelled by the writings of John Maynard Keynes, the war poets and Robert Graves’s book Goodbye to all that. It had all been a pointless waste, and the carnage had only gone on for four and a half years because no one had known how to stop it. In a tragic twist, this British mood accorded perfectly with the insistence of the German right in the Weimar Republic on a revision of the punitive Treaty of Versailles on the grounds that its claim that Germany had deliberately brought about war in 1914 was nothing but a Kriegsschuldlüge, a war guilt lie. An uneasy consensus emerged; but the consensus of the interwar years was based not on any research but on wishful thinking—pacifist on one side, revanchist on the other. Serious research into the causes of the Great War then became impossible with Hitler’s rise to power when critical books were burned, democratic historians forced into exile (and worse), and British historians—the tiny handful with knowledge of the language and the ability to decipher the German Schrift—lost all hope of gaining access to the German archives. As far as German intentions in and before 1914 are concerned, then, the new revisionism seems to me to be taking us back to the state of knowledge of the interwar period. Politically, of course, this is nowhere near as dangerous as was the campaign against the ‘war guilt lie’ which acted as a rallying cry of the nationalist right in the Weimar Republic, for Germany is today a stable and peaceful democracy. But in terms of scholarship I find the new revisionism dismaying, as it involves the sidelining or suppression of so much of the knowledge we have gained through painstaking research over the past 50 years....Is one interpretation as good as any other, the evidence to be used on a take it or leave it basis? Or is historical evidence more akin, say, to Galileo’s observation of the circular motion of the moons of Jupiter, incontrovertible proof, however faint, of a henceforth irrepressible truth? With this rather bold cosmological analogy I am referring, as you will realize, to the discoveries made in the archives in the late 1950s by the Hamburg historian Fritz Fischer: discoveries that changed our perception of the First World War for ever—or so we thought.
John C. G. Rohl, "Goodbye to all that (again)? The Fischer thesis, the new revisionism and the meaning of the First World War". International Affairs. (January 2015), pp.154-155.
Clark deploys his literary virtuosity to make two fundamental arguments, one implicitly at variance with the other. First, he declines to play “the blame game” concerning the 1914 slide into war. When nations have conflicting objectives, it is “meaningless” to call one enterprise more right or wrong than the other. All the same, Clark freely offers value judgments about other conflicts. Thus he has no trouble assigning guilt for the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 to Russia or in saying that in 1911 Italy launched an “unprovoked” war of conquest in Libya. He likewise waxes indignant over Serbian savagery against civilians in the follow-on Balkan Wars. Only in the outbreak of World War I does he principally see a signaling problem. Here we witness “rapid-fire interactions between executive structures with a relatively poor understanding of each other’s intentions, operating with low levels of confidence and trust.” That contention will appeal to political scientists who consider multipolar systems unstable because of a so-called security dilemma. Each actor tends to increase its armaments owing to threat perception. But no one feels more secure in the end. The 1914 scenario has contemporary relevance because we live again in an uncertain world with several power centers and terrorist movements controlled by none. Notwithstanding this theoretical stance, Clark conveys indirectly, through a description of personalities, where his fundamental sympathies lie. He displays estimable virtuosity in juggling developments in six major powers, yet sees them all from the vantage point of Berlin. An “economic miracle” had transformed the German economy. In a few decades, that country’s industrial output had forged ahead from one-fifth the size of England’s to a position surpassing the latter. Still, Germanophobes in the British Foreign Office had an “almost comical tendency” to view British imperialism as natural and expect the Reich to punch below its weight in world affairs. With the tightening of the Franco-Russian alliance, Germany found itself surrounded by jealous states, even though it had done nothing to justify formation of the hostile Entente in 1907.... In short, Clark’s account of the countdown to war reverses the current orthodoxy. A bitter controversy over war culpability erupted at the 1919 peace conference. The Versailles treaty included no war-guilt clause. To establish a predicate for reparations, however, John Foster Dulles of the American delegation drafted an article requiring Germany to accept civil responsibility for all damage imposed upon the Allies. The fledgling Weimar government reacted strongly to this stain upon its honor and perceived an opportunity to undermine reparations as well. It established a Foreign Ministry division to combat war guilt. During the 1920s, that unit published fifty-seven volumes of doctored diplomatic documents stretching back to 1871 and funded a panoply of scholars who deemed the Versailles imputation unfair. In 1930 the Nazi Reichstag delegation demanded the death penalty for anyone admitting war guilt. The official campaign proved wildly successful. Even following World War II, many serious people distinguished sharply between German aims in the two world wars. In 1961, after years of painstaking labor in East as well as West German archives, Fritz Fischer published his blockbuster, later translated as Germany’s Aims in the First World War, demonstrating Germany’s primary responsibility after all. At first Fischer’s findings elicited widespread outrage".
Stephen Schuker, "Old wine in new bottles" [A review of Christopher Clark's the Sleepwalkers]. The New Criterion. (January 2015), pp. 83-85.
In recent months there has been something akin to a concerted attack on much of the new scholarship concerning the origins of the Great War. John Rohl's and Stephen Schuker's articles having aspects of the opening up of a military campaign. Unlike Ferdinand Mount's recent piece in the London Review of Books, both gentlemen's opinions and criticism have a certain value (unlike say Mount's who has no credibility in the historical profession) 1. In the case of both RÖHL and Schuker the criticism of the new scholarship has the unfortunate tendency to almost completely ignore (not mind you brush aside or distort, but instead ignore) the findings that Christopher Clark, Sean Mckeekin and Stefan Schmidt among others. Clark's book in particular has been on the receiving end of most of the borderline ad hominen attacks. Which is of par for the course, given the fact that in the words of British historian William Mulligan in a recent review article in the English Historical Review:
"Mastering literature in six languages and drawing on archival and documentary sources for each belligerent, Christopher Clark represents the most complete international analysis of the origins of the war since Luigi Albertini's three volume study published in the 1940's"2.
Unfortunately, neither Rohl nor Schuker care to be bothered with the ambidextrous nature, and wide scope of Clark's work. Instead one is merely treated to comments which are: a) completely absurd as in Rohl comments that the Reizler diaries, the document which perhaps more than any other provides us with the insight into the key actor of the entire July Crisis, German Reich Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, were (in his words):
"had obviously been rewritten by Riezler after Germany's defeat in 1918 to provide an apologetic gloss on Bethmann's policy". 3
This despite the fact that Rohl's own protegee, Annika Mombauer, in her own recent compilation of documents on the Origins of the Great War, makes very extensive usage of the very same diary entries. 4; b) or borderline conspiratorial in nature, such as Schuker's nonsensical statement that what is perhaps the greatest source material for pre-war European diplomacy, Die gross politik, published by the Weimar German Foreign Ministry was made up of 'doctored' materials. Not surprisingly, Schuker makes no endeavour to either prove or cite any evidence for this statement. It is merely a sort of obiter dicta with no authority whatsoever 5. Underlying both Rohl's and Schuker's treatments is a reliance of extra-historical arguments to justify ignoring or belittling Clark's and the other new scholarship. With a particular emphasis on the fact that prior to 1939, it was German state policy to argue against the thesis that Germany was uniquely responsible for the war. Employing the very same logic of extra-historical argumentation, one may well argue that Fritz Fischer entire opus was merely a sort of channeling the guilt that Fischer felt for being a member of the National Socialist party. An argument which I for one find spurious but which au fond is no worse than those employed by Professors Rohl and Schuker. At bottom the 'arguments' made by Rohl & Schuker are the arguments of historians who singularly fail to grasp the insights provided by the recent scholarship of Christopher Clark, et. al. To make a more plausible, extra-historical argument, perhaps this refusal to deal with, or to engage in a honest fashion with the new scholarship is merely the fact that Rohl & Schuker represent an older generation of historians, born in the entre-deux-guerre period, and who came of age as historians in the 1960's at the height of the Fischer thesis, that Imperial Germany was as responsible for the Great War as Nazi Germany was for World War II. That fact is that the recent scholarship has not so much 'ignored' Fischer's original thesis as to put it in a larger perspective of the entire structure of Great Power relationships in the years prior to the Great War 5. With perhaps the greatest contribution of the recent literature as discussed previously in this journal in 2014, was the Balkanization of the Triple Entente. That whereas previously, the French and the British were reluctant to countenance the idea of becoming involved in a great power war over Russia's Balkan policies and ambitions, by 1912 onwards this was very much no longer the case. A point made recently by among other Annika Mombauer who quoted then French Premier Raymond Poincare, in September 1912, that:
"Poincare assured Isvolsky [Russian Ambassador in Paris] that should Russia be forced to become involved in a war against Austria-Hungary, 'the French government would recognise this in advance as a casus foederis [casus belli] and would not hesitate for one moment to fulfil the obligations which it has incurred in respect of Russia' " 6.
In conclusion it is apparent to me that in these erroneous and I should add, unprofessional criticism we are dealing with a case of what a leading historian of 17th and 18th century British History, J. C. D. Clark, once characterised as arguments made by historians who we may label as a combination of 'Old Hat' and 'Old Guard' 7. AKA, historians from an older generation. And accordingly, I will quote from Professor Clark's own words as to how such arguments between different generations of historians usually are 'settled':
"The debate is one between generations; it will be resolved in the way all such debates have to be settled. Indeed, its general outlines have come into sharp focus only at a moment when the arguments of certain historians suddenly seemed no longer to be eternal truth, or even modern scholarship, but voices from the past - a surprisingly remote past." 7
1. Ferdinand Mount, "Easy-Going Procrastinators". The London Review of Books. (8 January 2015), pp. 17-20.
2. William Mulligan, "Review-Article. The Trial Continues: New Directions in the Study of the Origins of the First World War". English Historical Review. (June 2014), p. 658. See also on the mostly positive assessment of the new scholarship, Hew Strachan, "Review Article: The Origins of the First World War". International Affairs. (March 2014), pp. 429-439. The books referenced in the 'new scholarship' refers primarily to: The Sleepwalkers (by Clark), July 1914 & The Russian Origins of the First World War (both by McMeekin) and Frankreichs Aussenpolitik in der Julikrise 1914 (by Schmidt).
3. Rohl, op. cit., p. 161.
4. The Origins of the First World War: Diplomatic and military documents. Edited and Translated by Annika Mombauer. (2013), pp. 219-220, 222,234 and passim.
5. Shucker, op. cit., p. 84. Actually, as Mombauer, notes, it was the French, rather than the Germans who engaged the most in 'doctoring' documents. See, Mombauer, op. cit., p. 38.
6. Mombauer, op. cit. On the so-called failure by the new scholarship to deal with Fischer, see Stephen Schuker, "What Historians Get Wrong About World War I". Time Magazine. 1 August 2014, in www.time.com. On the discussion in this online journal of the recent scholarship, see: Charles Coutinho, "Sarajevo after One-Hundred years: A Comment". Diplomat of the Future. 1 July 2014, & The Great War after One-hundred years: A point of view". 5 August 2014 in www.diplomatofthefuture.blogspot.com.
7. J. C. D. Clark. Revolution and Rebellion: State and Society in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. (1986), p. 170.

Friday, February 13, 2015

THE NEWEST AGREEMENT IN MINSK: WHAT DOES IT PORTEND?

"A ceasefire to end weeks of intense fighting in eastern Ukraine has been agreed after all-night talks between the leaders of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, told reporters on Thursday morning in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, that after 16 hours of talks, representatives of Ukraine and separatist rebels had signed a package of measures to implement a failed ceasefire agreement reached last September. The new ceasefire is to take effect from Saturday at midnight and was agreed by Mr Putin, Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and François , the French president. “Ceasefire from 00.00 hours 15th February, then withdrawal of heavy weapons. In this lies hope,” tweeted a spokesperson for Ms Merkel, who was the driving force behind negotiations that Mr Hollande had described as a “last chance” to halt the spiralling violence in a conflict that has so far killed more than 5,300. “It was not easy, and de facto all sorts of unacceptable conditions were put forth to us,” Mr Poroshenko said. “But we did not go along with ultimatums.” Mr Poroshenko said Ukraine rejected a push to grant separatist regions autonomy, contending that agreements signed on Thursday envision full reintegration though with greater regional governing authority, after local elections his year. Mr Putin listed plans for a political settlement that would deal with border and humanitarian issues. But he did not clarify whether or how the sides had resolved their disagreements over Kiev’s demands that it regain control over its border with Russia — one of the thorniest issues in the talks. As he arrived in Brussels for an EU summit on Thursday the French president told reporters: “An agreement has been secured, but at the same time everything can go in either direction, and the next hours will be decisive. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, cautioned “for some people this will not be enough”. He added: “We too would have wished for more. However this was what the presidents of Ukraine and Russia could, this night, agree on."
Kathrin Hille, Roman Olearchyk, Anne-Sylvaine Chassany and John Aglionby, "Leaders agree Ukraine ceasefire after all-night talks". The Financial Times. 12 February 2015 in www.ft.com.
"Ultimately, the prospects for peace in the region may depend on how strong Putin’s hold on the rebels is. It hasn’t always been as strong as it might appear on the surface – they ignored his plea not to hold a referendum on independence in 2014, for example, and their determination to have their own state has strengthened since then. Putin’s public position has never been identical to that of the separatists – he has consistently said he supports Ukraine’s territorial integrity, but wants constitutional reforms that will guarantee the rights of Russians living in the south and east of the country. That is what the Minsk agreement provides for – and the west must put pressure on Kiev to deliver quickly on that promise. The west also needs to hold Putin to his words, and to the position he has signed up to. He must not be allowed to pretend that he can’t control the rebels – he can, after all, easily turn off the supply of weapons to them. But realistically he is unlikely to do that if he fears that Ukraine, backed by the west, is preparing to resume its military offensive against them. Putin needs to be encouraged to drop his military support for the rebels rather than feeling compelled to continue it in the face of a western-armed Ukrainian offensive. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the US will reconsider its plans to send a battalion of troops to Ukraine next month to start training Ukrainian forces. The situation is far too fragile, and the stakes are too high, for such easily misinterpreted moves. The same goes for any thoughts about sending arms, even defensive ones, to Kiev."
This is a make-or-break moment for Ukraine Angus Roxburgh, "This is a make-or-break moment for Ukraine". The Guardian. 12 February 2015, in www.theguardian.com.
The agreement cobbled together in Minsk ('Minsk II' to differentiate it from the agreement in Minsk last September), is a classical example of an agreement derived for the sake of agreement. What has been arrived at in Minsk II does not differ in any substantive sense from Minsk I. Except that the rebels have in the interim received stupendous amounts of Russian equipment and (more importantly), Russian regular army troops and special forces. The inevitable result was of course the upsurge in fighting as the rebels have endeavored, with some success in recent weeks to expand the territory that they control. Why the agreement then? Well for Putin, et. al., the agreement: a) solidifies both the recent rebel gains and indeed gives legitimacy to both Russian policy and the rebels claims on their territory. In the sense of course that possession is 9/10th of the law. As the examples of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria have already demonstrated, once rebels with Russian support gain control of a particular territory, the internationally recognized sovereign will have a great deal of difficulty reversing the situation. In addition to halting for now, the likelihood of the Americans and some of their NATO allies supplying arms and equipment to Kyiv; b) for Poroshenko, the agreement was obviously arrived at only due to the fact that that: i) he still hopes that Putin can be pressured to reverse course and allow the now 'frozen' situation to become 'unfrozen' and for Kyiv to regain de facto sovereignty and control of the breakaway portions of Ukraine. How realistic that hope is at this point is another matter (I myself doubt it very much). Additionally, Poroshenko hopes that by agreeing one last time to a modus vivendi negotiated under the eyes of the leaders of the EU, Merkel & Holland, that Moskva's failure to abide by said agreement, will finally open Berlin's and Paris' eyes to the true nature of Russian policy. Finally, by endeavoring to cleave to the appearance of moderation and peacefulness, Poroshenko hopes to bring nearer the day when Kyiv will start to receive arms from the West. Something which one does indeed hope will be true in the very near future; c) for Merkel & Holland, well besides meriting the characterisation of 'pitiful' and 'pathetic' there is not much more to say. Both (especially Frau Merkel) are intelligent enough to realise what Putin ultimate game consists of, one can only attribute their (almost) going cap in hand to Minsk, to Putin that is and agreeing to this travesty of an agreement, to nothing more than the general political bankruptcy of Europe. The continent which at the beginning of the twentieth century, id. est., almost exactly one-hundred years ago still dominated the world, is exhausted and has all the staying power and energy of a eunuch. This is perhaps a horrible thing to say and to admit, but one is perplexed beyond no end to explain the almost non-action of the European powers in this conflict. For which the all too predictable comments in the ultra bien-pensant Guardian provide the very best evidence (how anyone could possibly accept Putin's claims that the 'Russian population' in Ukraine are threatened defies belief if not in fact ones sanity). However, as long as the Americans have some strength of will, something which one can still call 'the Western powers' can still be said to exist. And in view of this fact, which is vitally important as per the issue of retaining the sanctions regime against Putin and his regime, the words of the political analyst John Lough for the Royal Institute of International Affairs ring profoundly true:
"Western leaders...must also avoid presenting a ceasefire as a ‘solution’ to the conflict. The West’s message to the Russian elite should be simple: you will not succeed in creating new international rules by breaking the old ones. Russia has been down this road before and it ended badly. But there is a chance to redefine your goals before it is too late. Putin on his own may not be for turning. Yet faced with Western resolve to defeat his broader policies, parts of the elite, at least, are likely to think twice about where he is leading them". 1
1. John Lough, "Debate Over Arms for Ukraine Must Not Split West". The Royal institute of International Affairs. 10 February 2015. www.chathamhouse.org

Saturday, January 31, 2015

THE SYRIZA GOVERNMENT AND EUROPE: FIRST STEPS

"Yanis Varoufakis also said Greece would not accept an extension of its EU bailout, which expires at the end of February, and without which Greek banks could be shut off from European Central Bank funding. “This position enabled us to win the trust of the Greek people,” Mr Varoufakis said during a joint news conference with Jeroen Dijsselbloem, chairman of the eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, who was visiting Athens for the first time since a leftwing government came to power this week. Mr Dijsselbloem countered by rejecting the government’s call for an international conference that would consider writing off part of Greece’s debt, which last year amounted to 175 per cent of national output. “As for the thought of a conference on debt restructuring, you must realise that this conference already exists and it’s called the eurogroup,” he said. The exchange, along with tough words from Berlin, captured an adversarial mood as the new government and its eurozone partners made their first formal contact and set the stage for tense negotiations that could decide Greece’s future in the eurozone. Speaking to the Financial Times in London, Pierre Moscovici, the EU economics commissioner, urged calm, saying: “We all need to be careful about the economic situation in Greece. Our common goal is to enhance growth. For that we need pragmatism and respect for commitments, from both sides.” But Greece’s new government has alarmed creditors and investors with pledges to freeze privatisations, rehire state workers and otherwise roll back reforms adopted by previous administrations as part of the bailout."
Kerin Hope & Stefan Wagstyl, "Greece will no longer deal with ‘troika’, Yanis Varoufakis says". The Financial Times. 30 January 2015, in www.ft.com.
Without in anyway defending the austerity obsession of Brussels and the government in Berlin, it has become already evident, notwithstanding the fact that it has not yet been in government for a week, that the Syrzia Government is a misfortune for both Greece, the poor, unfortunate Greek people and Europe as a whole. My own surmise that the Syrzia Government was made up of unreconstructed gauchiste and soixante-huitard elements has been born out by the first steps of the new government. From trying to defending the un-defendable (Russia's aggression in Ukraine) to trying to arrest the needed de-cronyism that was the only positive aspect of the EU imposed austerity programme, to unnecessarily frightening investors and indeed its partners in the Eurozone and the European Union as per Finance Minister Varoufakis statement yesterday as reported in the Financial Times 1. It could very well be the case of course that new Greek Premier Tsipras, is merely engaging in the very old trick of indulging in leftist rhetoric before marching off in a centrist and moderate direction. If so, then all will be well. Otherwise, I predict that given the limited amount of tolerance that both Berlin and some of the other European capitals have for Tsipras verbal pyrotechnics, especially if the very same is translated into policies, that there will indeed be a Greek exit from both the Eurozone and perhaps even in the European Union with NATO a possible third.
1. See the following: Sam Jones in London, Kerin Hope in Athens and Courtney Weaver, "Alarm bells ring over Syriza’s Russian links". The Financial Times. 28 January 2015, in www.ft.com; Leader, "The radicals of Syriza endure a rocky start". The Financial Times. 31 January 2015, in www.ft.com. For a hopelessly panglossian point of view, which indulges in erroneous gauchiste sentiments, see: Mark Mazower, "European Democracy in Dangerous Times". The Financial Times. 31 January 2015, in www.ft.com.