Monday, May 23, 2016

SYKES-PICOT AFTER ONE-HUNDRED YEARS

"The feeling that the future of whole states is in doubt is growing across the Middle East – for the first time since Britain and France carved up the remains of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. ‘It is the end of Sykes-Picot,’ I was told repeatedly in Iraq; the reference was to the agreement of 1916 which divided up the spoils between Britain and France and was the basis for later treaties. Some are jubilant at the collapse of the old order, notably the thirty million Kurds who were left without a state of their own after the Ottoman collapse and are now spread across Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. They feel their moment has come: they are close to independence in Iraq and are striking a deal with the Turkish government for political rights and civil equality. In March, the Kurdish guerrillas of the PKK declared an end to their thirty-year war with the Turkish government and started withdrawing into the mountains of northern Iraq. The 2.5 million Kurds in northern Syria, 10 per cent of the population, have assumed control of their towns and villages and are likely to demand a high degree of autonomy from any postwar Syrian government.... When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, it changed the overall balance of power and destabilised every country in the region. The same thing is happening again, except that the impact of the Syrian war is likely to be less easily contained. Already the frontier dividing the western deserts of Iraq from the eastern deserts of Syria is ceasing to have any physical reality. In April, al-Qaida in Iraq embarrassed the rebels’ Western supporters by revealing that it had founded, reinforced with experienced fighters and devoted half its budget to supporting al-Nusra, militarily the most effective rebel group. When Syrian soldiers fled into Iraq in March they were ambushed by al-Qaida and 48 of them were killed before they could return to Syrian territory".
Patrick Cockburn, "Is it the end of Sykes-Picot?" The London Review of Books. 6 June 2013, in www.lrb.co.uk
"When I was growing up in Lebanon, there were two or three designated culprits for everything that went wrong, whether it was the latest battle in the 1975-1990 civil war, a plunging currency or torrential rains. One was Henry Kissinger, even when he was no longer involved in American foreign policy. Another was the Central Intelligence Agency, preferred master of all conspiracies. The third was Sykes-Picot, which to a child sounded more like the name of a cheese than the 1916 secret agreement that drew the borders of the modern Middle East in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. Mr. Kissinger is still closely read today, his words dissected and his arguments discussed. The CIA is still a target of widespread resentment and, quite probably, involved in all sorts of Middle Eastern shenanigans. But as sectarian fires blaze through the nation states of the Arab world, the focus of blame has shifted towards the conservative British politician and the young French diplomat who carved the region into spheres of influence.... But pinning blame for the Middle East cauldron on a plan hatched decades ago is misleading. For all the damage that colonialism has inflicted on the region, the borders are not responsible for the states’ failures to unite the people behind a national project. Many other countries outside the region have artificial boundaries too and, in any case, the broad lines drawn by Sykes and Picot were not dreamt up — often they largely corresponded to Ottoman administrative borders."
Roula Khalaf, "An inconvenient truth for the Middle East and a line in the sand". The Financial Times. 19 May 2016, in www.ft.com.
The prominence that the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 is as Roula Kalaf of the Financial Times correctly notes, more a result of the ignorant denunciations made of the agreement by the terrorist thugs of ISIS than anything else. And whatever the manifold weaknesses of the current state structures in the region, with the exception of Iraq, it is difficult to imagine that any existing states will be either absorbed into another one (`a la Russia and the Crimea) or that there will be a process of voluntary amalgamation akin to the failed Egyptian-Syrian & Iraq-Jordan experiments along those lines circa 1958-1961. Indeed it is precisely such failure in the immediate post-colonial era which demonstrates (to my mind anyway) that while the existing state structures in the Near and Middle East are hardily what one may describe as 'sturdy', they are also not about to collapse. With even close to five-years of ultra-violent civil war in Syria not (yet) resulting in the complete collapse of the Baathist state apparatus. Unless and until we see something akin to that in Syria and elsewhere in the region, expect to see the same (or virtually the same) state structures which the period of 1916-1921 left the region with, for a long time to come. Per contra to the wishful prognosis offer up Patrick Cockburn. As the American academic expert on the region, Steven Cook recently noted:
"Nor are the Middle East’s modern borders completely without precedent. Yes, they are the work of European diplomats and colonial officers — but these boundaries were not whimsical lines drawn on a blank map. They were based, for the most part, on pre-existing political, social, and economic realities of the region, including Ottoman administrative divisions and practices. The actual source of the boundaries of the present Middle East can be traced to the San Remo conference, which produced the Treaty of Sèvres in August 1920" 1.
1. Steven Cook, "Don’t Blame Sykes-Picot for the Middle East’s Mess". Foreign Policy. 13 May 2016 in www.foreignpolicy.com.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

WHAT IS GOING ON WITH ISIS?

"Less than 10 miles from the front lines in the push toward the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the U.S. outpost, known as Firebase Bell, is manned by about 200 Marines. “Having them here has raised the morale of our fighters,” said Lt. Col. Helan Mahmood, the head of a commando regiment in the Iraqi army, as his truck bumped along the dirt track that divides his base from the American encampment, ringed by razor wire and berms. “If there’s any movement from the enemy, they bomb immediately,” he said. The new firebase is part of a creeping U.S. buildup in Iraq since troops first returned to the country with a contingent of 275 advisers, described at the time by the Pentagon as a temporary measure to help get “eyes on the ground.” Now, nearly two years later, the official troop count has mushroomed to 4,087, not including those on temporary rotations, a number that has not been disclosed. The troops are moving outside the confines of more established bases to give closer support to the Iraqi army as it prepares for an assault on the northern city of Mosul — putting them closer to danger.... But the battle for Nasr was a faltering first step for the 5,000 freshly trained Iraqi troops in Makhmour, and an indication of the level of hand-holding by U.S. forces that will be required as these forces move toward Mosul. The Iraqi troops have recaptured a cluster of hamlets and villages in the vicinity of Makhmour, though reports were mixed on how heavy the Islamic State presence was there before the Iraqi advance".
Loveday Morris, "Third U.S. combat death comes as American troops edge closer to the front lines in Iraq". The Washington Post. 3 May in www.washingtonpost.com.
"The power of the Islamic State is waning. With its loss of Ramadi and Palmyra over the past several months, and the steady advance of U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria and Iraq, the group is shedding territory. It is also losing recruits to casualties and desertions, as its finances are being squeezed by coalition strikes on bulk cash storage sites and oil refineries. Meanwhile, the coalition campaign to eliminate high-value battlefield targets is succeeding. Yet, defeat does not appear imminent. The Islamic State still controls key territory, including Raqqa, the capital of its caliphate; the Iraqi city of Mosul and large swaths of territory in the surrounding Nineveh province; and hardscrabble Sunni enclaves in Anbar province, such as Fallujah, Hit, and Haditha. Furthermore, though the coalition has deprived the Islamic State of hundreds of millions of dollars, it is likely to find new, creative ways to replenish its diminishing war chest. For Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, surrender is out of the question. And given the Islamic State leadership's horrific behavior and stated objective of establishing a caliphate governed by sharia, a negotiated settlement is a non-starter. In the past, insurgencies that have come to an end in this way featured moderate leaders, insurgents open to compromise, and governments willing to accept insurgents as legitimate negotiating partners. The Islamic State and its opponents share none of these attributes".
Brian Michael Jenkins and Colin P. Clarke. "In the Event of the Islamic State's Untimely Demise...". The Rand Corporation. 11 May 2016, in www.rand.org.
The situation on the ground in Syria and Iraq currently is not as dire as at it appeared at one time. Nor has the situation improved as much as one would like. The hideous and monstrous ISIS is still in existence. Still shadowing, if not necessarily in actual control of large areas of both countries. Unfortunately, as can readily be seen from the above referenced reports the Americans and their allies have not yet gone beyond 'baby steps' in destroying ISIS. Especially, in Syria. Indeed if one were to employ the 'progress' seen so far in Iraq, it will be years and years before ISIS is destroyed in Syria proper. Allowing this organization of terrorist thugs to commit more crimes and (more importantly) act as a clarion call for Islamic and Muslim extremists worldwide. Make no mistake: the defeat and utter destruction of ISIS will be the very greatest defeat that the West can inflict upon Muslim extremism. Just as Hitlerism and Fascism were dealt blows that neither movements has yet to recover from by the unmitigated defeat inflicted by the Allies in the Second World War on respectively Germany and Italy; so if we wish to extirpate ISIS and its various clones, the destruction of the movement in its current base in Syria and Iraq is a necessary first step. And as the American military analyst Anthony Cordesman, has recently noted, this will involve going beyond the hesitant and two steps forward and one step back tactics that have so far been employed by the current American Administration:
"The Obama Administration did not act decisively at the points in the conflict when it might have prevented a long war of attrition, and its real world “strategy” in both Syria and Iraq has been one of slowly escalating U.S. involvement in what amounts to creeping incrementalism. It has been far too slow to provide an adequate train and assist mission to rebuild the half-finished Iraqi Army that Iraq’s former Prime Minister—Maliki—effectively corrupted and destroyed in his search for power and control after U.S. forces left at the end of 2011.... This raises a far more critical issue about the future. The United States now faces least bad options that are almost certainly far worse than when the Obama Administration began its military interventions in Syria and Iraq. Acting incrementally and indecisively has its costs—just as acting too quickly and decisively, and without proper analysis and planning, did in the case of the previous administration. The question remains, however, does the Obama Administration have any real strategy to deal with the least bad options it still has, the challenges raised by DNI Clapper, and the issues outlined in this analysis? Or, is it still largely reacting to events and riding out its time in the office? 1
In short, if the West is to continue with its half-hearted strategy that it has been employing so far in both Syria and Iraq, look for ISIS to remain in control of x amount of territory in both countries for quite some time to come. Regardless of the fact that it is being forced to give-up territory and losing men and materials to the American air campaign. Unfortunately, by prolonging ISIS existence, the current American administration is allowing ISIS to spread its poisonous ideology throughout the region and indeed further afield. With consequences which no one can predict, but which surely are none to the good.
1. Anthony Cordesman, "U.S. Strategy and the War in Iraq and Syria". The Center for Strategic and International Studies. 13 May 2016 in www.csis.org.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

THE COMING 'END OF THE PUTIN REGIME'?

"Russia’s current regime will not last long. The tumultuous events in Ukraine in 2014 reduced the country’s possible trajectories to a single one – a path that will quickly lead to the collapse of the Putin government if there is no radical change in its course. Before the Crimea–Ukraine affair, it looked as though President Vladimir Putin’s political regime was fairly stable and could last for several years without profound change. However, there was a qualitative shift in the regime’s character after 2014. Now, it draws its legitimacy from military action, rather than from the ballot box. The roots of this shift go back to the political crisis of 2011–2012, when mass anti-government protests and poor electoral results for the ruling party showed that the old form of politics was coming to an end. Today, the regime derives its legitimacy not from the bottom up, through elections, but from the top down, by placing the country on a permanent war footing. Although Putin stayed in power, his role changed fundamentally – now, he is more like a tsar than the chair of a board. The regime has moved from a hybrid system that still maintained the outward trappings of a democracy to a full-scale authoritarian state, while the shifting balance of power has made the elites more dependent on the president. Although Putin’s popularity skyrocketed after the annexation of Crimea, he has been trapped by his choices. His regime is addicted to military action and now needs a series of ever-stronger hits of foreign conflict in order to maintain its legitimacy. This position is unsustainable, given shrinking financial resources, the waning patience of elites who don’t want to live in a military camp forever, and Russia’s fast-deteriorating administrative and political systems. The country is being held hostage by the regime; the regime is a hostage of Putin, and Putin is a hostage of his own actions, which have drastically narrowed his range of options. Given all this, Russia’s current trajectory is that of a plane in a tailspin".
Nikolay Petrov, "Putin's Downfall: the Coming Crisis of the Russian Regime". European Council on Foreign Relations. 19 April 2016, in www.ecfr.eu.
"Evidently we have reached the sad point where the idea of power is no longer connected with either a doctrine, the personality of a leader or a tradition, but only with power itself. Every governmental institution and position is sustained by no other force than the realization that it is an essential part of the existing system. Naturallv, self-preservation is bound to be the only aim of such a regime, at least in its domestic policy. This has come to mean the self-preservation of the bureaucratic elite. In order to remain in power, the regime must change and evolve, but in order to preserve itself, everything must remain unchanged. The contradiction can be noted particularly in the case of the "economic reform," which is being carried out so slowly and yet is so vital to the regime. Self-preservation is clearly the dominant drive. The regime wants neither to "restore Stalinism" nor to "persecute the intelligentsia" nor to "render fraternal assistance" to those who have not asked for it, like Czechoslovakia. The only thing it wants is for everything to go on as before: authorities to be recognized, the intelligentsia to keep quiet, no rocking of the system by dangerous and unfamiliar reforms".
Andrey Amalrik, Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? (1969).
Dr. Petrov's analysis of the coming collapse of the Putin Regime is one that I whole heartily agree with. First as he correctly points out both the seizure and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine were prima facie examples of Primat der Innenpolitik policies. While per se Russia's naval bases in Sevastopol were and are an important strategic asset, there was no sign from the new regime in Kyiv that they intended to end the agreement which allowed Russia to maintain said bases. The agreement lasting for another thirty-years. Unless one were to adhere to Kremlin propaganda that the new regime in Kyiv were made up of 'fascists' who were engaging in and or about to engage in persecution of Russian-speakers in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine (of which there were no evidence of course), then the true reasoning behind both the annexation and the subsequent contriving and backing for the uprising in Eastern Ukraine becomes readily apparent. And while there was and is more than a soupcon of geopolitical reasoning in Moskva's military intervention in Syria, the fact of the matter is that the Putin regime has used the apparently successful (and I for one would be quite willing to admit that Russia's intervention in Syria has on the whole proved to be 'succesful', nay perhaps even remarkably successful) intervention in Syria to further buttress is internal, domestic legitimacy. Something which given the now year and half decline in oil and gas revenues is increasingly replacing economic growth as a source, perhaps to an increasing degree the only source of political legitimacy that the regime possesses. The upshot of this state of affairs is as Dr. Petrov cogently points out:
The use of military mobilisation rhetoric to keep the regime going is fraught with serious risks. The line between real and imagined foreign enemies is thin, and perceptions shift as the elites and society are increasingly indoctrinated. It could even lead to a real international armed conflict, either through a gradual slide or a sudden rush into direct confrontation. However, the regime has to maintain its military legitimacy at all costs: it is not capable of switching back to electoral legitimacy, except by replacing its leader.
Even with the apparent successes of Putin's foreign policy, the economic damage that the regime has undergone in the past two and half years as a result of both Western sanctions and the decline in oil and gas prices has wreaked havoc to not only the regime's economic planning and goals (such as they were), but also to its own internal cohesion and effectiveness. With the 'clans' or factions who form the heart of the regime increasingly quarrelling over the sharing out of the ever smaller pie of goodies (in fact 'loot'). As Dr. Petrov observes:
"The clashes between elites are aggravated by Russia’s confrontation with the West, which increases the exhaustion of the regime’s political-economic base, and makes the political environment increasingly febrile. The Kremlin’s aggression abroad, and the resulting damage to Russia’s economy from sanctions, have forced the elites to live a more modest lifestyle – something they won’t tolerate for long. Whether disgruntled elites opt for exit or revolt, both pose great risks to the system".
Unfortunately, as Dr. Petrov pessimistically but realistically notes, even 'changes' to the existing regime such a palace coup d'état (the ouster of Putin) or a rapprochement with the West would not necessarily alleviate the existing state of things in Matushka Russia in the absence of either a major resurgence of commodity prices (something only possible in three to five years time), or the appearance of a political personality of Charles de Gaulle-like qualities. Russia lacks to-day just as she lacked in 1917 and in 1991-1992, that combination of state and society institutions and groupings which allowed for example Germany to resurrect itself in 1919, after the collapse of the Kaiserreich. Unfortunately, Russia has not been very fortunate in its supply of political leaders in the past one-hundred years. Just as she has singularly failed to evolve in such a fashion that would allow the coming collapse of Putinism to not cause a wider societal crisis as well. As per Dr. Petrov the end-result will be a complete collapse of the regime akin to what occurred to the Sovietskaya Vlast circa 1990-1992 or (less likely) another February Revolution of 1917 with the concomitant collapse of the state apparatus in the following seven-months preparatory to the Bolshevik coup d'état of October 1917. As Dr. Petrov notes sardonically: "Russia is a country where everything can change in five years, and nothing in 100".

Friday, April 22, 2016

THE BREXIT DEBATE REDIVIVUS: IS THERE ANY POINT?

"George Osborne, chancellor, has challenged Brexit campaigners to name a single major world leader — apart from Russian president Vladimir Putin — or a big international body backing a British exit from the EU. The lopsided nature of this battle for international endorsements became more awkward for the Leave camp on Wednesday, with news that French National Front leader Marine Le Pen is joining the fight for a Brexit.... The intervention of foreign politicians can be counter-productive but Mr Cameron has little doubt that an intervention by Mr Obama this week will be helpful to his cause. The US president is expected to make his view known that Washington would prefer Britain to be a leading figure in the EU, both in the interests of promoting a liberal free-trading Europe and for security reasons.... Mr Cameron is relishing the prospect of Mr Obama making the case for staying in Britain. The issue is expected to arise at a Downing Street press conference on Friday and at a “town hall meeting” on Saturday. Boris Johnson, the pro-Brexit London mayor, has accused Mr Obama of “hypocrisy” ahead of the visit, claiming that the US would never share its sovereignty with a body like the EU. But Malcolm Rifkind, former foreign secretary, said: “What Boris and his colleagues have to come to terms with is that there is nobody in the world — apart from Putin — who wants us to leave. 'Leaders of the old Commonwealth like Australia and New Zealand have urged the UK to stay in the EU, so have all our colleagues in Nato. Putin is the only one in favour — he would be delighted if western Europe fell apart'."
George Parker & Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, "Obama to back UK staying in EU on London visit". The Financial Times. 20 April 2016, in www.ft.com
"Barack Obama’s decision to visit Britain during an election campaign was controversial enough. His writing an article against Brexit in the Daily Telegraph was more controversial still. But to stand in Downing Street and threaten his host country with being dumped “at the back of the queue” for trade talks should it choose to leave the EU is, I think, too much. It’s precisely the comment that could backfire, and spark indignation. And make people ask: who on earth is Obama to come to Britain and speak to us in this way?"
Fraser Nelson, "Will Barack Obama’s “back of the queue” threat backfire?" The Spectator. 22 April 2016, in www.spectator.co.uk.
The answer to the usually ultra-intelligent Fraser Nelson is actually rather simple: the campaigners for the United Kingdom exiting the European Union have been rather promiscuous about stating that a Great Britain outside of the European Union will be able to forge new or stronger relationships with two sorts of countries: i) those in the Anglo-sphere such as the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand; ii) the so-called 'upcoming' countries of the Far East and the Third World in general (some of which: Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia, are now longer very 'upcoming' these days...). The blunt but accurate statement of the American President to-day clearly shows that as per the first group of countries this is very far from the case. To put it mildly. None of these countries has any interest in the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. As per the second group of countries: they have also not indicated any particular interest in London leaving the European Union. There is in the case of these countries the added matter that the United Kingdom does not in fact have much to offer by way of exports to these countries. Nor given their rather hard-nosed tendencies as per trade negotiations, any expectations that they will be especially interested in giving the Britain an easy time of it, if it were to leave the European Union. In short the truism cogently pointed out by the former British Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind that aside from Mr. Putin no world leader or country is supporting a British Exit. Does not this simple fact make obvious that the whole concept of a British exit from the European Union is nonsensical in the extreme?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

WHY JOHN McCAIN IS RIGHT ABOUT CHINA AND THE SOUTH CHINA SEAS

"Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of US Pacific Command, was recently asked in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing about China’s strategic goals. “China seeks hegemony in East Asia. Simple as that,” he responded. Admiral Harris concluded: “China is clearly militarising the South China Sea and you’d have to believe in the flat Earth to think otherwise.” But despite the Obama administration’s “three no’s” — no reclamation of land, no militarisation and no use of coercion — Beijing has pressed ahead with all three. The administration’s aversion to risk has resulted in a policy that has failed to deter China’s pursuit of maritime hegemony, while confusing and alarming America’s regional allies and partners. It is time to change course as we enter a critical two-month period for US policy in the Asia-Pacific region. The Permanent Court of Arbitration is expected to rule by early June in a case brought by the Philippines concerning China’s claims in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Confronted with the possibility of an unfavourable ruling, China may use the coming months to secure its existing gains or pursue new forms of coercion to expand them. This could include further reclamation and militarisation at strategic locations such as Scarborough Shoal, attempts to expel another country from a disputed territory or the declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone in all or part of the South China Sea. In response, the US will need to consider fresh policy options. As part of the annual Balikatan military exercise with the Philippines this month, the administration should consider having a carrier strike group patrol the waters near Scarborough Shoal in a visible display of US combat power. Ashton Carter, US defence secretary, should emphasise on his trip to the Philippines that Manila is a treaty ally of the US. And the administration should urgently work with the Philippines and other regional allies and partners to develop strategies to counter Chinese behaviour that is in violation of international law. If China declares a South China Sea ADIZ, the US must be prepared to challenge this claim immediately by flying military aircraft inside the area affected under normal procedures, including not filing a flight plan, radioing ahead or registering frequencies. It is also time for the US to move beyond symbolic gestures and launch a robust “freedom of the seas campaign”. It should increase the pace and scope of the Freedom of Navigation programme to challenge China’s maritime claims, as well as the number of sailing days that US warships spend in the South China Sea. Joint patrols and exercises should be expanded and ocean surveillance patrols to gather intelligence throughout the western Pacific continued".
Senator John McCain, "America needs more than symbolic gestures in the South China Sea". The Financial Times. 12 April 2016, in www.ft.com.
"Recent events related to the South China Sea (SCS) reveal Chinese thinking about its maritime strategy in that important area. First, China believes that establishing sub-regional hegemony is achievable. Second, it has a coherent maritime strategy with a two-pronged approach: modernizing and restructuring its military to allow for naval power projection, along with consolidating diplomatic and economic relations with ASEAN. Restructuring the military is in sync with Chinas “One Belt, One Road” initiatives as they require a strong blue-water navy to protect China’s expanding overseas maritime interests. Simultaneously, a strong navy with asymmetrical capabilities can mitigate US military technological advantages, keeping it at a distance from China’s territorial expansion in the SCS".
Preeti Nalwa, "China's “undeterred” strategy on the South China Sea: a “challenge” for the US". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 7 January 2016, in www.csis.org.
Notwithstanding his sometimes illogical and overly emotional view of politics and diplomacy, in the case of the Peoples Republic of China (hereafter the 'PRC') and the South China Seas, Senator John McCain, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is most definitely accurate in his assessment of the overall situation as it relates to the aims of the regime in Peking. There can be very little doubt that as the academic expert from the American 'think-tank', the Center for Strategic and International Studies shows, that the PRC is indeed seeking to establish some type of hegemonic position in the South China Seas. The only question for American and Western statesman is: will they undertake to take the necessary steps to prevent this fraught event from occurring? Once one ignores the completely illusory idea that the PRC is a 'responsible stakeholder' (in the mots of former American Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick), then it is self-evident that Peking's goals in its immediate neighborhood are coercive and hegemonic in nature 1. Such goals can only be resisted by a mixture of forceful diplomacy and containment `a la George Kennan and Paul Nitze 2. Any other type of strategy is merely an encouragement of those elements in Peking who seek to overturn by hard-edge diplomacy and force the status quote ante bellum in the Orient.
1. See on this topic, ten-years after Zoellick coined the phrase: Evan A. Feigenbaum, "China as a Responsible Stakeholder? A Decade Later". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 23 March 2016, in www.carnegieendowment.org
2. See on the different, if not necessarily antagonistic styles of containment by Kennan and Nitze: John Lewis Gaddis. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War. Revised Edition. (2005). And: Melvyn Leffler. A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration and the Cold War. (1993).

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

THE MASSACRE IN BRUSSELS: A COMMENT

"The bomb atrocities in Brussels are a reminder, if any were needed after last November’s jihadi assault on Paris, of how easy it is for terrorist cells to attack neuralgic targets in European cities and bring them to a standstill.... Such horror calls out for firm but measured conclusions. Europe cannot cocoon itself from the arc of fire to its east and south, the killing fields that run from Iraq and Syria to Libya. That is made obvious not just by terror attacks but the European Union’s inability to act together to deal with the waves of refugees from these and other countries — a dispiriting response that betrays the values of the union.... There are obvious practical measures that need urgently to happen, chief among them better intelligence-sharing about jihadi networks. Belgium, with multiple and overlapping layers of government that do not talk to each other, presents a particular problem. The federal government warned after Mr Abdeslam’s arrest that it might trigger an attack, but was powerless to stop it. But there needs to be far greater pooling of information in real time across the EU and with its allies. After Paris, remember, Mr Abdeslam’s car was checked by police at the French border with Belgium but they seem to have had no idea who he was. Member states need also to learn more about minority communities and what motivates their members. This is not just about ostensible religious affiliation but the search for identity of some Muslim youth, disaffected and directionless but offered a deranged superhero status by Isis and its ilk. It is chastening to learn Mr Abdeslam, pursued across the continent, was hidden by neighbours for four months. Above all, the EU and the west need constantly to demonstrate the values they defend, eschewing simplistic bombast and knee-jerk repression. For Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner to contest the US presidency, Brussels is another brick in the wall he purports to believe will keep Muslims and Mexicans out of the US. For Marine Le Pen of France’s far-right Front National, an attack on the EU capital is an excuse to call for a Battle of Algiers-style razzia — a vast armed police raid — on immigrant “neighbourhoods on the fringes of the Republic”. Such policies undermine our open societies, built on individual and collective freedoms and religious tolerance. Together they would run up the white flag of surrender. Isis and its acolytes are learning how to tear apart our civic fabric. We need to make that civility more resilient, not do their work for them.
Leader, "An assault on Brussels, and on European values". The Financial Times. 22 March 2016 in www.ft.com.
"During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man....No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short".
Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan. Part I, Chapter 13. (1651).
The massacre in Brussels follow form in that they repeat the pattern shown previously in Paris back in November 2015. It is readily apparent that the terrorists of the odious ISIS network have had close to free reign to engage in this type of terrorism. As the Economist correctly states the rationale for to-day's terrorist outrage is three-fold:
Large numbers of young men have gone from Europe to fight in Syria with IS[IS] and other militant groups. Some of them have returned with the aim of carrying out attacks in Europe, like those seen in Brussels and Paris. The terrorists’ goals were threefold. First was the propaganda coup of dominating the world’s headlines for several days, distracting from news of the setback of the arrest of Salah Abdeslam. Second, if the attacks were already being planned, the terrorists might have feared that Abdeslam was spilling information under interrogation from Belgian authorities and decided to act quickly. Last, they aim to inspire other young Europeans to support jihadists. Though IS appears to be weakening in Syria and Iraq, its ideas continue to inspire young men to strike fear at the heart of Europe 1.
The key question is the eternal: what is to be done? If the authorities are to stand-pat and in essence recapitulate the failed and failings strategies and tactics of yesteryear then we can fully expect more of the very same that occurred in Brussels on Monday. If and only if, the authorities were to employ new, iron-fist tactics akin to what the admittedly not very admirable Mme. Le Pen advocates, can we see some light at the end of this currently very very dark tunnel. The truth of the matter is that our contemporary problem of terrorism in Europe springs from the presence of its existing Muslim / Arab population. Only by massive police presence, expulsions and other tactics employed so successfully in Israel, can we hope to remedy successfully the plague of Islamic fanaticism and violence. The late Albert Einstein once stated that: "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". The mindset of our bien-pensant elites, as represented in the leader in yesterday's Financial Times, is it must be said akin to insanity as defined by Einstein: doing the same things over and over again and expecting different (successful) results. Only when our elites realize the errata of their ways can we expect to achieve some real progress in the struggle with Islamic fanaticism. Otherwise in the not too distant future, we can fully expect large parts of Europe to revert to the type of Hobbesian existence of bellum omnium contra omnes.
1.The Economist. "Days after the arrest of Europe’s most-wanted terrorist, Islamic State has struck back". 22 March 2016 in www.economist.com

Monday, March 21, 2016

BORIS JOHNSON AND THE 'CHURCHILL TEST'

Mr Johnson has put his shirt on a horse called Euroscepticism. He is clearly hoping that his bet will also “come off in spectacular fashion” and carry him, like Churchill, all the way into 10 Downing Street — preferably without the added bonus of a world war. The mayor of London’s decision is certainly a significant moment in the referendum campaign. A Vote Leave group that was in danger of being led by cranks, nobodies and octogenarians will now be headed by one of the country’s most popular politicians.... But there is more than one way of being on the right side of history. The first is simply to anticipate the direction of events. The second, more important, way is to align yourself with the right causes and values — those that the history books will ultimately vindicate. Churchill’s decision to oppose the appeasement of Hitler was right in both senses. He saw how events were unfolding — and, yes, he ultimately benefited politically from his prescience. But he also stood up against evil.... In failing to appreciate the wider international context for his actions, Mr Johnson is following a distinctly un-Churchillian path. Churchill was the very opposite of a Little Englander. That is why he understood so quickly what the rise of Hitler meant for Britain, Europe and the world. It is also why he was one of the first politicians to understand the significance of Soviet actions in eastern Europe after 1945 — leading him to coin the term “iron curtain”. A modern Churchill, which is what Boris clearly aspires to be, would immediately understand that Britain’s decision about whether to stay in the EU has to be seen as part of a wider global picture. And that big picture is very worrying — with Russia rediscovering its taste for war, the Middle East disintegrating, violent jihadism on the rise, China flexing its muscles in the Pacific and the US flirting with the lunacy of “Trumpism”.... When Mr Johnson made his name as a journalist in the 1990s, campaigning against the follies of Brussels was fun. It was even possible to argue, back then, that the ambitions of the EU represented a serious threat to British self-government. But it would be absurd to look around today’s world and identify the EU as the biggest threat to British democracy or national security. The times have changed. Sadly, it seems that Mr Johnson has not changed with them
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Gideon Rachman, "Boris Johnson has failed the Churchill test". The Financial Times. 22 February 2016, in www.ft.com.
Per contra to Gideon Rachman, Boris Johnson has not in fact 'failed the Churchill test'. If by 'Churchill' he means Winston Spencer-Churchill, then yes he has. But, if by 'Churchill' he means Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill then Johnson has passed the 'Churchill test' with flying colors. Why so? Simply put the 'Randolph Churchill test', is that of the youngish, high-achieving, meteoric politician who unaccountably decides for reasons which never quite make sense, to (in the dogmatic expression) 'chuck it all in' and resign office or engage in actions which result in the very same. The list of those who have 'passed' the Randolph Churchill test include not only Lord Randolph, but Sir Oswald Moseley, and Enoch Powell. Note that all three were great orators who seemed to be cresting towards the very top of the 'greasy pole'. When each in an endeavor to reach the top of that pole in record time, did something which had the end result of ensuring that they not only never reached said pole, but were soon enough ousted from the very top rank of parliamentary politics. In the case of Johnson, given the fact that if he had succeeded to joining the 'in' campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union, he would have had almost any office of state that he could possibly desire, including that of Foreign Secretary, one may only conclude that Johnson is not serious about parliamentary politics. About the drab and boring work needed and necessary to make a success in British politics. That instead of the 'long hard slog' of ministerial office, Johnson hopes and desires that by decapitating the Conservative Party and Government by leading a successful 'out' campaign he will force out the current Prime Minister, David Cameron and be a 'shoe-in' to succeed him. Regardless of the rights and the wrongs of whether or not Britain should remain in the European Union, the fact of the matter is that the upheaval which will ensue if Britain votes to exit the European Union, with the likely resignation of the current Prime Minister makes staying in, the very much the lesser of two evils. Especially, given the fact that by voting to exit, Britain would be faced with another referendum on Scottish independence. Au fond, the point of being a Tory, a member of the Conservative Party is to 'conserve' what exists. By joining the 'out' campaign, Johnson not only fails the Winston Spencer-Churchill test but the Burkean test of being a true conservative. Quelle dommage I say as like him or not, Johnson is one of the most, if not the most entertaining figures in British politics.