Friday, September 12, 2014

THE AMERICAN WAR AGAINST ISIS: THREE CHEERS?

"Barack Obama has prepared the US for a “steady, relentless” war with Islamic militants in a speech to his nation that heralds a substantial expansion of the US anti-Isis campaign from northern Iraq into neighbouring Syria. In a prime time televised address, the US president outlined his strategy “to degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, which has grabbed large swaths of territory in northern Iraq and Syria in recent months. Mr Obama’s address, on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on America, also made clear the limits of Washington’s action, which will focus on air power and intelligence to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces, with no US troops on the front lines. America will lead “a broad coalition” of western and Arab countries “to roll back this terrorist threat,” he said. 'But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.'"
Richard McGregor and Geoff Dyer, "Obama prepares US for ‘steady, relentless’ war with Isis". The Financial Times. 10 September 2014, in www.ft.com
May seem unusual to criticize a strategy you have both suggested and endorse, and it is important to stress from the outset that President Obama has almost certainly chosen a strategy that is the “best game in town” — if he fully implements it, gives it the necessary resources, and sustains it over time. The President has had to choose a strategy based on the “rules of the game” in the United States, in Iraq, in Syria, and allied states. They are rules that place major constraints on what the United States can do. The United States had no choice other than to depend on regional allies for ground forces, training, bases, improvements in unity and governance, efforts to limit the Islamic State’s funding and its volunteers, and efforts to highlight its lack of religious legitimacy and horrifying departures from Islam. The United States has no domestic political support for deploying its own ground combat units. It would take months to deploy and organize a major land force presence to cover the large areas involved, and U.S. ground troops would walk into Iraqi and Syrian civil wars where they would almost inevitably be seen as favoring one side and being seen as an enemy by the other. The strategy the President announced also has a good chance of meeting half of his goals: seriously degrading the Islamic State/ISIL/ISIS, and “degrade” may well be enough to destroy its ability to function as a protostate and secure base for violent Jihadism and extremism. “Destroy,” however, is probably far too ambitious a goal. A serious threat of violent Jihadism and extremism is likely to endure for years to come, and reemerge along with similar threats in an arc that reaches from Morocco to the Philippines and from Sub-Saharan Africa to Russia and China. This may not be a “long war” in any one place, but outbreaks of violent instability seem likely to be the rule and not the exception.
Anthony Cordesman, "The "Best Game in Town" - Five Key Risks of the President’s Strategy". The Center for Strategic and International Studies. 11 September 2014, in www.csis.com.
Anthony Cordesman, who is perhaps the premier commentator on matters military in the United States is no doubt correct: the approach taken by the American Administration and President is indeed the very 'best game in town'. Given the fact that there is absolutely no likelihood of involving American ground troops in confronting and endeavoring to destroy ISIS, the plan of action as outlined by the American Administration this week, with its reliance on a combination of aerial bombing and the ground troops of allied countries in the region is the best means of endeavoring to defeat ISIS 1. 'Defeat' that is and not 'destroy'. 'Destroy' as Cordesman ably points out, is perhaps beyond the possibility of this or any American administration. And in fact, is not in reality needed. What is required at this point in time, is the reduction of ISIS to a hunted and miniscule terrorist grouping that it was circa 2009-2011. Able to do little or not harm to anyone but themselves. And certainly the situation not now wherein it is in essence a statelet, possessing in abundance both arms and money. With all that being said, what are the possible problems with the American Administration's strategy? As Cordesman himself cogently points out:
"No U.S. strategy can ever ignore the threat the United States poses to the United States. The United States now faces three immediate threats. First, underreacting in terms of using airpower, arms transfer, and advisory efforts decisively. This is a President who overvalues avoiding the risk of decisive action and the importance of cost over effectiveness, and undervalues the importance of timely decisions. Second, the United States has not yet shown in two wars that it can create and maintain the kind of integrated civil-military efforts needed to maximize the chance of success. The civil side in particular is erratic and dysfunctional, and both sides lack continuity and consistent realism in using resources and their area expertise. Third, this “war” or “battle” is extremely complex, uncertain, subject to reversals, and requires patience through the life of this Administration and beyond. Partisan interest and public frustration present serious threats to a consistent and effective effort" 2.
Presuming that this Administration is able to follow-through on what was outlined this week, and is able to prevent both the Persians and the Assad Regime from endeavoring the strategic version of an off-side tackle, the plan of action against ISIS should indeed work very well in reducing it to little more than a small terrorist grouping. With the only caveat that I myself have being: will the Americans have the iron will to keep up the bombing campaign and supervise the ground war long enough for both to succeed?
1.Peter Baker, "New Military Campaign Extends a Legacy of War". The New York Times. 10 September 2014, in www.nytimes.com
2. Cordesman, op. cit.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

THE PROBLEM OF HONG KONG: ILLUSION AND REALITY

"Margaret Thatcher, the late British prime minister, once praised Deng Xiaoping’s famous “one country, two systems” formula for Hong Kong as an “ingenious idea” that elegantly grafted the capitalist British colony back on to Communist China. In the years immediately after Hong Kong returned to China’s fold as a “special administrative region”, its civil freedoms and capitalist economy were safeguarded. But almost two decades after the 1997 “handover”, the former Chinese leader’s apparently simple solution has become a source of misunderstanding and conflict. The Chinese government and Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp are locked in a bitter fight over fundamentally different visions for the territory’s political future. One emphasises Beijing’s ultimate authority while the other stresses the sanctity of Hong Kong’s “second system”. It is a contradiction that “one country, two systems” delayed addressing, but can no longer be avoided.... The fight has brought thousands – opponents and supporters of Beijing – on to the streets of Hong Kong in recent months exposing the tensions over the territory’s future. While love of country and love of the party may be inseparable in Beijing’s eyes, this concept is alien to the many Hong Kong residents who found refuge during periods of political turmoil on the mainland, including the famine that followed a botched modernisation drive in the late 1950s and the cultural revolution of 1966-76. Few people in Hong Kong expected China to allow arrangements that could result in the election of a chief executive that it did not approve. Chan Kin-man of Occupy Central, the group spearheading a Gandhi-style civil disobedience campaign for more expansive political rights, says Beijing does not want “to create aspirations” for democracy in mainland China.... China’s willingness to tolerate opposition in Hong Kong has declined in tandem with the territory’s perceived importance to the Chinese economy. When Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, assumed his post in 1992, China’s economy was only about five times bigger than Hong Kong’s. Today it is 35 times larger. “It has clearly become an asymmetric relationship,” says Arthur Kroeber at GaveKal Dragonomics, a consultancy. “In the 1990s Hong Kong was much more important to Beijing because China needed a lot of money and expertise from Hong Kong and they really depended on Hong Kong infrastructure, such as its port.” Beijing also trod more carefully during much of the 1990s because a smooth transition of power in Hong Kong was critical to the restoration of its international standing after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. But 25 years on, a newly assertive Beijing appears unfazed by the opinions of others. Mr Kroeber says there is “little concern in Beijing about how its Hong Kong policies will appear to the rest of the world”. In the eyes of the Chinese government, Hong Kong increasingly appears to be an ingrate. Mainland Chinese residents are generally courted for their tourist dollars and more than 40m visited the territory last year, according to government statistics. But they are now reviled as “locusts” by many Hong Kongers who blame them for crowding public spaces, using public services and contributing to runaway property prices. “I don’t think Hong Kong is a spoiled child but it has been treated as a favourite child,” says Mr Zhao at the Central Party School. Beijing’s harder line is in keeping with its uncompromising approach over its many territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam – and also a domestic propaganda campaign aimed at bolstering President Xi Jinping’s image as a strong leader in the mould of Deng".
Tom Mitchell and Demetri Sevastopulo, "Hong Kong: Voting with their feet". The Financial Times. 7 September 2014, in www.ft.com.
"Chinese foreign policy on one issue display no public ambiguity at all. This is the future of Hong Kong. If what has been said publicly is accurate, it appears that a vast but avoidable tragedy for the 5.6 million people of Hong Kong is in the making...Mainland Chinese officials say that they intend to preserve Hong Kong as it is, under the self-government of its own residents and as an 'autonomous region' of the P.R.C. Beijing [sic! Peking] draws attention to the fact that the new constitution of the P.R.C. provides for autonomous region status for both Hong Kong and Taiwan [sic! Formosa]. Nonetheless, the people who are contemplating living under this new staus which despite a 400-year independent history and culture of its own, found itself summarily incorporated into the P.R.C. Similarly, although Beijing often says to Taiwan that after reunification it can keep its own army, it does everything in its current (to say nothing of future) power to prevent the sales of arms to that same army."
Chalmers Johnson, "East Asia: another year of living dangerously". Foreign Affairs. (January 1984), pp. 736-737.
The mots used to describe the situation in Hong Kong almost thirty years ago by Chalmers Johnson are still quite pertinent: 'tragedy'. Whether it could have been avoided is difficult, post-facto to say. As Chalmers himself notes, the UK government, was prior to the negotiations which resulted in the Anglo-Chinese accord of 1984, which still governs Hong Kong, "'realistically' preparing a Zimbabwe-type rather than a Falklands-type solution for them" 1. With the growth of the asymmetrical nature of the relationship between both Hong Kong and the PRC and even between the PRC and Great Britain: with the PRC towering above Hong Kong and having become a much larger power, in almost every sense than the United Kingdom, the likelihood of a 'fair' or a 'democratic' solution to the conundrum of Hong Kong is from almost every vantage point completely illusory. Given the extremely authoritarian nature of the China's current regime, to expect that it would voluntarily agree to allowing Hong Kong to continue to evolve into a democratic polity staggers belief. Sad but very true it would appear. In the absence of some type (now truly non-existent) overwhelming pressure exercised by the Western powers on the subject, there is little or no reason to expect that Peking is at all interested in accommodating the poor people of Hong Kong. And au fond, perhaps that is just as well. If nothing else, the coming clampdown in the still free-wheeling island will demonstrate to all and sundry the nature of the regime in Peking: despotic, authoritarian, corrupt and utterly the enemy of Western style governance and civil liberties.

Friday, September 05, 2014

PUTINISM, 'STATE INTERESTS' AND WHY JOHN MEARSHEIMER IS WRONG ABOUT UKRAINE

"The United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West. At the same time, the EU’s expansion eastward and the West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine -- beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004 -- were critical elements, too. Since the mid-1990s, Russian leaders have adamantly opposed NATO enlargement, and in recent years, they have made it clear that they would not stand by while their strategically important neighbor turned into a Western bastion. For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president -- which he rightly labeled a “coup” -- was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base, and working to destabilize Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West. Putin’s pushback should have come as no surprise. After all, the West had been moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests, a point Putin made emphatically and repeatedly."
John J. Mearsheimer, "Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin". Foreign Affairs. September / October 2014, in www.foreignaffairs.com.
"From the beginning in the ninth century, and even today, the prime driving force is Russia has been fear. Fear, rather than ambition, is the principal reason for the organization and expansion of the (sic) Russian society. Fear, rather than ambition in itself, has been the great driving force. The Russians as we know them to-day have experienced ten centuries of constant, mortal fear....From the days of Ivan the Great until our own time, a period of five centuries, the history of Moscow is one of steady, continuing expansion. Yet this expansion, in a way peculiar to Russia, is not an aggressive expansion. Right up to our own day it is a defensive expansion, an expansion prompted by the lack of natural defensive frontiers in a world of mortal danger on all sides."
Louis J. Halle. The Cold War as History. (1967), pp. 12, 17.
"My task as minister of foreign affairs was to expand the borders of our Fatherland. And it seems that Stalin and I coped with this task quite well."
Molotov Remembers: Inside Kremlin Politics. Conversations with Felix Chuev. Edited by Albert Resis. (1993), p. 8. The date of the quotation was 29 November 1974.
The flaw, one is tempted to say, the 'egregious flaw' in John Mearsheimer analysis is that it supposes that states have some primordial 'state' or 'national' interest. A point of view which is of course rather common to political scientists and theorists (like of course Mearsheimer). The handbook of international relations theory, Hans J. Morgenthau's Politics Among Nations, is made up of such an analysis 1. Unfortunately, it is completely ahistorical and any rather cursory review of diplomatic history and international history of the past two to three hundred years would quickly show that this is the case. For some examples, think of the fact that from 1180 to 1920, having the island of Ireland under some type of control by the British Crown was the sine qua non of British statecraft. Well the affects of the Great War and the Irish Rebellion of 1918-1922 were sufficient to shake off this truism of British policy. Similarly, it was a cardinal rule of British foreign policy that the Suez Canal and the adjacent portions of Egypt should be ultimately under British control, either de facto or de jure. As the then British Foreign Secretary, Herbert Morrison noted in August 1951 to his American opposite number, Dean Acheson:
"The plain fact is that we cannot afford to leave Egypt entirely, and I can assure you that no British Government, of whatever complexion, could offer to do so and hope to remain in office" 2.
And yet within less than six years, British troops withdrew from the Canal zone forever with no negative repercussions domestically. History can easily provide more examples. The point that I am endeavoring to make is that Putin and Putinism hostility towards a democratic & pluralist Ukraine has little to do with some type of primordial Russian 'state interest'. And has everything to do with the fear, yes, fear that Putin and his clique has of a demonstration effect that a fully democratic and Western-oriented Ukraine will have on his own population. That and not some imaginary fear of 'Western expansionism', serves as the explanation for Russian policy. In short, the driving mechanism of Russian policy towards Ukraine is primarily that of primat der Innenpolitik, the primacy of domestic policy and not primat der Aussenpolitik. In short, just like the downfall of Sovietskaya Vlast enabled the vast majority of Central and Eastern European countries to escape the grip of Russian power, so will the downfall of Putinism have the end result of liberating of Ukraine and Russia itself from the death grip of Putin's power clique 3.
1. Hans J. Morgenthau. Politics Among Nations. (1948).
2. Morrison to Acheson, 15 August 1951, in PREM 8 / 1389, in Public Records Office, Kew, UK.
3. The need to look at matters in their specific historical context is brought out in Ivo Lederer's wonderful introduction to this subject matter as it relates to Russian and Soviet foreign policy: "Introduction". Russian Foreign Policy: Essays in Historical Perspective. (1962), pp. xx-xxi and passim. For the idea that current Russian foreign policy is fixated by its domestic aspects, see: Anna Borshchevskaya, "Reflections: view from Moscow." The New Criterion. (September 2014), pp. 37-38.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

RUSSIAN REVISIONISM, UKRAINE AND THE INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM

"The unfortunate truth is that unless and until a new, truly democratic regime emerges in Moscow (as well as Beijing), we are likely to see more naked assertions of power politics than we have experienced since 1989. This will not be a return to the Cold War—a point worth underlining. Neither Russia nor even China (whose leaders long ago abandoned the communist vanguard for the pursuit of profit) offer universalist ideologies capable of competing with free market capitalism. We are not in a “revolutionary” period of world politics, in Kissinger’s terms, in which a radical power—think revolutionary France, Leninist Russia, or Maoist China—pursues (at least for a while) dreams of world revolution. But if history as serious ideological competition is still “over”—as Francis Fukuyama claimed in 1989—history as geopolitical competition marches on. And the implications for world order are profound.... It is this rejection of fundamental norms of international order that lends global significance to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. The world is not headed for another Cold War, it risks regressing to an era more red in tooth and claw.The priority for policymakers in Washington will be to cling to as much of the substance of Western liberal order as possible, while carefully managing its rising frictions and differences with Russia and China".
Patrick Stewart, "Russia Assaults Ukraine—and the Liberal World Order". The Council on Foreign Relations. 28 August 2014, in www.cfr.org.
"The use or threatened use of force is therefore a normal and recognized method of bringing about important political change, and is regarded as morally discreditable mainly by those 'conservative' countries whose interests would suffer from change....Normally, the threat of war, tacit or overt, seems a necessary condition of important political change in international sphere".
E. H. Carr. The 20 Years' Crisis, 1919-1939: an Introduction to the study of International Relations. Revised edition. (1961). pp. 215-216.
"That is not the question...But if I wanted to, I could take Kiev in two weeks".
Russian President Vladimir Putin as quoted by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, in "Putin Tells European Official That He Could ‘Take Kiev in Two Weeks’", by Andrew Roth. The New York Times. 3 September 2014, in www.nytimes.com.
The sine qua non of what one may describe as the essence of Putinism's foreign policy modus operandi is encapsulated in the above referenced quotation by the Russian Federation President. Whether or not the statement is in fact true. With that being understood, where does that leave the Western powers at the moment, but as it relates to Ukraine and as it relates to future interaction with Russia? In the case of Ukraine, assuming for a moment that the talks about a cease-fire breakdown, and the war continues, the only possible Western response to Russia's creeping military intervention is the provision of arms and other forms of military assistance to Kyiv. The idea that such a move by the Western powers would (in the words of German Chancellor Angel Merkel, "create the impression that with weapons shipments and strengthening the Ukrainian army we could create a solution", is the height of absurdity 1. Why? For the simple reason that Moskva already believes that via its creeping military intervention it can 'create a solution' that Moskva finds to its liking. By not arming Kyiv with as much military equipment as Ukraine can absorb, the Western Powers merely are falling into line with Russian policy. The crux of the matter is that sans any Western counter-pressure on Moskva both on the economic front and on the frontline in Ukraine proper, Russian policy will have proven to be successful. And with another success to his name, there is no telling where Putin will strike next. With Peking emboldened by his example, perhaps embarking on a more aggressive policy in its policy towards its neighbors in the Orient.
Which brings up the question of the overall issue of Russian Revisionism and what the proper Western response should be. There is a school of thought (of which Patrick Stewart is one such member) which argues that the proper Western response to Russian (or Chinese for that matter) Revisionism is a combination of appeasement and diplomatic pour parler, with an emphasis upon the former, as he stated back in 2010:
"Over the next ten years and beyond, the United States will have to accommodate new powers in reformed structures of global governance while safeguarding the Western liberal order it helped create and defend"2.
Unfortunately, this E.H. Carr type of 'accommodationalism', id. est., appeasement can only work, as History seems to show, when the differing powers in question share fundamental concepts of the international order. And per contra to his ahistorical supposition, the post-bellum 1815 order in Europe was securely anchored by the fact that the five European Great Powers (England, Russia, France, Prussia and Austria) au fond shared a similar understanding of the new norms of international relations 3. Accommodationalism, sans that shared understanding has the end result bringing about the very breakdown of international order that it seeks to avoid. As the case of Europe between 1933 and 1940 clearly show. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that either Putin or his confreres in Peking share Western norms of international politics. With this being the case, there appears little else for the Western powers to do but to oppose as much as is possible, upon this side of caution and with the avoidance of recklessness, with both Russian (and Chinese) revisionism. Anything else will merely result in a creation of a purely Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes.
1. See: Geoff Dyer, Peter Spiegel and Neil Buckley, "Debate heats up in US and Europe over arming Kyiv." The Financial Times. 2 September 2014, in www.ft.com.
2. Patrick Stewart, "Irresponsible Stakeholders? The Difficulty of Integrating Rising Powers". Foreign Affairs. (November / December 2010), in www.foreignaffairs.com.
3. For Stewart's flawed understanding of post-1815 history, see the following quote: "An imperfect historical parallel might be the Concert of Europe of the early 1800s. That arrangement leavened the traditional balance of power with a balance of rights, which helped bridge differences between the Western powers (France and the United Kingdom) and the authoritarian monarchies (Austria, Prussia, and Russia) of the Holy Alliance. Global cooperation today may follow a similar logic", in Stewart, "Irresponsible Stakeholders", op. cit. For the E. H. Carr reference, see his call for a similar type of 'understanding' for the revisionist powers of 1930's Europe, in Carr, op. cit., pp. 208-236 & passim. For a much more accurate reading of the shared understanding which underlay the post-bellum settlement in Europe from 1815 onwards, see Paul Schroeder's magisterial opus on the subject: The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848. (1994), pp.537-582 and passim.

Friday, August 29, 2014

ISRAEL'S GAZA WAR: WHO WON AND WHO LOST?

In a war that has killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis, caused large-scale physical ruin in Gaza, and disrupted life for thousands of people in southern Israel, it is impossible to say that either side has won. Arguably, both sides are back at square one: their ceasefire agreement seems to be a “quiet-for-quiet” arrangement similar to the truce that ended their last war in 2012, which both sides later broke. Discussion of key demands made by the Palestinians – a new seaport, the release of prisoners, the lifting of the Israeli and Egyptian trade and movement blockade on Gaza – have been put off for talks in a month’s time, which will only go ahead if calm is maintained. Still, it is possible to talk about who did well and who emerged weaker in this conflict.
Winners
Hamas: Before Protective Edge, Gaza’s ruling Islamist movement was in a corner. It was politically isolated, bankrupt, unable to pay its civil servants and forced by circumstances to reconcile with arch-rival Fatah. In this context, the war was a welcome development. Hamas, for the third time in five years, confronted one of the world’s best armies and managed to hold on to power, calculating correctly that Israel would never embark on a longer and bloodier ground war in order to topple it. Hamas rockets, built painstakingly over years by blockade-busting tactics, sent people across Israel running into shelters, killing six civilians and bringing most flights at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport to a halt for two days in July. Although much of Hamas’s arsenal is now depleted and many of its tunnels destroyed, fighting Israel to another ceasefire plays as a victory for many of its supporters. As after Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012, Hamas can begin firing again if it chooses. Granted, when the dust settles from this conflict and its spoils and destruction become clearer to Gazans, they could potentially turn on Hamas. There is no sign of this happening yet, however. Israeli Economy Minister and head of the far-right Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett, addresses the Foreign Press Association, which represents the international news media in Israel, on April 27, 2014 in Jerusalem.
The Israeli right: During the war, Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing rivals often looked like they were campaigning for the next election as they openly rounded on the prime minister for not taking tougher steps against Hamas. Avigdor Lieberman, the far-right nationalist foreign minister, led calls to reoccupy Gaza, an undertaking most security analysts and Mr Netanyahu himself thought would be riddled with unacceptable risks. Naftali Bennett called for an end to truce talks with Hamas, which he called a “murderous terrorist organisation”, and was among the cabinet ministers who reportedly called for a vote by Mr Netanyahu’s inner circle of security advisers on Tuesday’s ceasefire proposal (in the end, none was held)....
Iron Dome: Israel’s US-funded missile shield acquitted itself during the conflict, again showing itself as a game-changing strategic asset. Hamas and other militant groups fired more than 4,600 rockets and mortars towards Israeli towns and cities, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Only six civilians died, mostly in communities adjacent to the Gaza border, where Iron Dome is unable to respond fast enough. According to Israel’s air force, Iron Dome had a 90 per cent success rate in intercepting the rockets it sought to destroy. Rafael, the Israeli company that makes Iron Dome, says it has noted “increased interest” in its product because of Protective Edge. While the company does not discuss potential customers, it can be speculated that the missile shield could find customers in places under similar short-range missile threat, such as South Korea or central Europe.
Losers
Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel’s prime minister began the war with overwhelming support, both for himself, and for the operation’s goals of weakening Hamas and halting rocket fire. His popularity peaked when Israel sent troops into Gaza to destroy the tunnels Hamas use to funnel men and material. But as the war ground on, lasting seven weeks in all, Mr Netanyahu faced sharp criticism from both ends of the political spectrum for seemingly allowing Hamas to call the shots in successive ceasefire agreements that were later broken by the group. Israel’s leader also looked weak within his own cabinet, with ministers second-guessing him via media leaks and open dissent over his conduct of the war. A backlash also formed in southern Israel, where mortar and rocket fire was heaviest. Israeli pundits say Operation Protective Edge marked the start of Israel’s next electoral campaign.
Mahmoud Abbas: The Palestinian president could conceivably come out of this war as a winner, if his project of reconciling with Hamas and holding elections to install a unity government to rule in the both West Bank and Gaza goes ahead. Nr Abbas at times cut a statesmanlike figure during the conflict, personally making the announcement of Tuesday’s ceasefire in a televised address. But more often, the Palestinian leader and his West Bank colleagues appeared marginal as the people of Gaza and their Hamas leaders paid a heavy price in blood. Coming months will show whether the Palestinian leader can keep the upper hand over a people frustrated by what they see as Israeli obstructionism on peace and poor economic prospects. Noisy celebrations of the ceasefire in occupied East Jerusalem suggested that Hamas’s strategy of armed struggle has many admirers beyond Gaza
.
John Reed, "War in Gaza: winners and losers". The Financial Times. 27 August 2014, in www.ft.com.
It seems to be a truism, that no war which Israel has engaged in since the Six-Day War of June 1967, has seen an absolute Israeli military and political victory. The latest Gaza War, the third since 2009, appears to follow this truism to a 't'. On the face of it, the only possible Israeli unalloyed positive goal which results from this conflict, is the fact that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, appears to be politically weakened by the fact that Hamas was not seen to be defeated by Israel. Of course, the weakening of Abbas was not (to put it mildly) an openly declared Israeli goal prior to the conflict. But de facto, it was certainly the case that the formation of a unity government between Abbas and Hamas' leadership in Gaza, was an event which Israeli leaders were virulently opposed to. And one does not have to be of a conspiratorial mind-set, to believe that part and parcel of the Israeli actions which were taken immediately prior to the outbreak of hostilities, was for purposes of dragging Hamas into another Gaza War with Israel 1. With all that being said, one cannot gainsay the fact that Israel was within its rights to respond to Hamas missile strikes on Israeli towns and cities. Thankfully, most of which failed to reach their target due to the Israeli Iron Dome system. One may merely point out is that the way that Israel choose to fight this latest Gaza War, a war which it uniquely had a positive international framework to so conduct, had the end result of allowing Hamas to claim a moral and indeed political victory by virtue of not being defeated by Israel. And the only means of 'defeating' Hamas would be to oust it from power by totally reoccupying the entirety of Gaza and destroying the entire Hamas political and military leadership and cadres. With all that implies in terms of tens of thousands of civilian deaths. And of course hundreds of Israeli military losses. Given the price of victory, one is not surprised that Israel did not choose to 'defeat' Hamas. One is merely surprised that Israel choose once again to go to war in the first place.
1. On this thesis, see: Nathan Thrall, "Hamas's Chances". The London Review of Books. 21 August 2014, in www.lrb.co.uk.

Monday, August 25, 2014

THE NATURE OF RUSSIAN POLICY IN UKRAINE

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

ISIS AND SYRIA: A COMMENT

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