Friday, October 24, 2014

PUTIN'S STATEMENT AT VALDAI: A COMMENT

"Russian president Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the US of undermining the post-Cold War world order, warning that without efforts to establish a new system of global governance the world could collapse into anarchy and chaos. In one of his most anti-US speeches in 15 years as Russia’s most powerful politician, Mr Putin insisted allegations that its annexation of Crimea showed that it was trying to rebuild the Soviet empire were “groundless”. Russia had no intention of encroaching on the sovereignty of its neighbours, he insisted. Instead, the Russian leader blamed the US for triggering both Crimea’s breakaway from Ukraine and thousands of deaths in the war in the east of the country, by backing what Mr Putin called an armed coup against former president Viktor Yanukovich in February. “We didn’t start this,” Mr Putin said. Citing a string of US-led military interventions from Kosovo to Libya, he insisted the US had declared itself victor when the Cold War ended and “decided to … reshape the world to suit their own needs and interests”. “This is the way the nouveaux riches behave when they suddenly end up with a great fortune – in this case, in the shape of world leadership and domination. Instead of managing their wealth wisely … I think they have committed many follies,” he told a conference of foreign academics and journalists at an Olympic ski venue near Sochi. The speech was one of Mr Putin’s most important foreign policy statements since he surprised the west in Munich in 2007 by accusing the US of “overstepping its boundaries in every way” and creating new dividing lines in Europe. Some commentators speculated that it reflected Moscow’s fury after US President Barack Obama recently ranked Russia alongside the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, and the Ebola virus among the top three global threats. But his tone surprised even supporters."
Neil Buckley, "Putin unleashes fury at US ‘follies’". The Financial Times. 24 October 2014, in www.ft.com.
"The United States, in turn, is looking to step up its own game. Policymakers are considering giving global companies a choice: stop providing long-term financing and energy assistance to major Russian companies or be kicked out of the U.S. financial system. Such measures resemble the sanctions the United States placed on Iran a couple of years ago. But Iran was a different problem. And treating Russia the same way would be a mistake. Sanctions can be an effective tool for forcing engagement and negotiation. But the pace and implementation must be tailored to the target. In the case of Iran, the United States was able to tighten the screws by pressuring foreign firms to stop dealing with the country. That move created some angry blowback, but it generally worked. And partially as a result, Tehran is at the negotiating table. When it comes to Russia, though, the political pushback that would come from blacklisting dealings with the strategic Russian energy and banking sectors would be much more severe because Russia is a more important market. Further, more companies would likely be willing to forego access to U.S. markets in order to continue working with the Russians. And that would undermine the sanctions’ effectiveness. More generally, policymakers in the United States should be wary of continually relying on sanctions that penalize foreign firms by preventing their access to U.S. markets. Ultimately, such a strategy could backfire. At some point, foreign companies may decide that doing business in U.S. markets -- and being subject to U.S. sanctions policies -- is simply not worth it. That would hurt the U.S. economy and diminish the United States’ ability to use economic levers to advance its foreign policy".
Eric Lorber and Elizabeth Rosenberg, "Don't Mistake Russia for Iran: Why the Same Sanctions Strategy Won't Work". Foreign Affairs. 20 October 2014 in www.foreignaffairs.com.
The recent statement by Russian President Putin puts the lie to the concept trotted out by some (such as Eric Lorber and Elizabeth Rosenberg above) that the sanctions regime instituted by the Western powers on Russia are or will prove to be 'ineffective'. It being very difficult to imagine that Grazhdanin Putin fury, fully on display to-day would not have occurred but for the fact that sanctions are indeed taking a bite on the Russian economy. Indeed, it appears that given the recent decline in oil prices of upwards of twenty-six percent, that already Western sanctions are having a measurable negative effect on the Russian economy 1. Given these circumstances it boggles the mind that already defeatist sentiments are endeavor to end or diminish the sanctions regime on Russia. To my mind, the desiderata of sanctions on Russia are two fold: i) create enough economic 'pain' that Russia shall in due course withdraw from Ukraine and eventually Crimea; ii) ideally, following from 'i', the eventual ouster of Putin by another 'Orange Revolution' style coup. Ideally, some type of political version of a 'surgical strike' akin to what happened in Ukraine earlier this year, in Georgia in 2003 and Serbia in 2000. Perhaps 'ii' is an overly optimistic goal. Certainly at the moment, it is not in the least likely. However, given several years of an ongoing recession in Russia, with oil prices stagnate and with capital flight rampant, it is not in the least unlikely, that akin to what happened in late Sovietskaya Vlast, in the 1980's, that an economic crisis will in turn create a 'regime crisis' a crisis in the legitimacy of the regime itself 2. In such an event, far from appearing the overwhelming powerful state apparatus that it presents to the outside world as at present, the question will become whether the Russian Federation will completely collapse and break-off into various pieces.
1. On this, see: "Oil Prices Continue to Define Geopolitics". Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 14 October 2014, in www.stratfor.com. See also: Delphine Strauss, "Russia’s rouble falls to new dollar lows". The Financial Times. 23 September 2014, in www.ft.com.
2. For this analysis of what occurred in late Sovietskaya Vlast, see, Stephen Kotkin. Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000. (2000).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

'THE DOCTOR OF DIPLOMACY' REVISITED OR A REVIEW OF HENRY KISSINGER'S 'WORLD ORDER'.

"Kissinger attempted to apply the theoretical principles of classical realism to achieve what he saw as a global equilibrium of power. Together with Nixon, he promoted détente with the Soviet Union, established relations with China, ended the Vietnam War, and pursued shuttle diplomacy to end the 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and the Arabs. In essence, Kissinger outmaneuvered the Soviets in both China and the Middle East. Kissinger’s aim was not to launch a crusade against the Soviet Union, but to formulate a creative response to promote a balance of power in the mold of the Congress of Vienna, which secured the peace for much of nineteenth-century Europe before the big bang of World War I, when a rising Wilhelmine Germany embarked on a reckless bid to relegate the British Empire to the second tier of world powers. IN HIS NEW book, World Order, Kissinger does just that....He offers a meditation and a mode of thinking about events that is starkly at variance with much contemporary foreign-policy discourse. Diplomatic history has largely fallen into desuetude in the American academy, but Kissinger expertly mines the past to draw parallels between it and the present. Kissinger returns to his central concern of the difficulty of establishing an equilibrium among the great powers. He has been preoccupied with this problem since his first book, A World Restored, in which he examined the efforts of Metternich and Castlereagh to create a stable Europe in the nineteenth century. It is remarkable how consistent his thought has remained over the decades. He argues that the central challenge of the twenty-first century is to construct a new international order at a time of mounting ideological extremism, advancing technology and armed conflict. Kissinger begins by returning to the tension in Europe between the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and the French Revolution. He next turns to Islam and the Middle East. He follows his scrutiny of the Ottoman Empire and Islam with a study of China’s rise and its implications for its neighbors. But his most extended thoughts are reserved for what he sees as America’s ambivalence about its status as a superpower. He traces the rise of the United States from Theodore Roosevelt down to today, discussing his own tenure in the Nixon administration to explore the unresolved tensions in U.S. foreign policy between isolationist and crusading instincts. Throughout, he aims to reconcile American universalist aspirations with the stark reality of competing powers intent on protecting and projecting their own visions and concepts of order".
Jacob Heilbrunn, "Kissinger's Counsel". The National Interest. 26 August 2014, in www.nationalinterest.org
"The deepest problem of the contemporary international order may be that most of the debates which form the headlines of the day are peripheral to the basic division described in this article. The cleavage is not over particular political arrangements---except as symptoms---but between two styles of policy and two philosophical perspectives....As for the difference in philosophical perspective, it may reflect the divergence of the two lines of thought which since the Renaissance have distinguished the West from the part of the world now called underdeveloped (with Russia occupying an intermediary position). The West is deeply committed to the notion that the real world is external to the observer, that knowledge consists of recording and classifying data---the more accurately the better. Cultures which have escaped the early impact of Newtonian thinking have retained the essentially pre-Newtonian view that the real world is almost completely internal to the observer".
Henry A. Kissinger, "Domestic Structures and Foreign Policy". Daedalus. (Spring 1966), pp. 526,528.
"Whatever the qualities of Soviet Leadership, its training is eminently political and conceptual. Reading Lenin or Mao or Stalin, one is struck by the emphasis on the relationship between political, military, psychological and economic factors, the insistence on finding a conceptual basis for political action and on the need for dominating a situation by flexible tactics and inflexible purpose. And the internal struggles in the Kremlin ensure that only the most iron-nerved reach the top....As a result, the contest between us and the Soviet system has had many of the attributes of any contest between a professional and an amateur. Even a mediocre professional will usually defeat an excellent amateur, not because the amateur does not know what to do, but because he cannot react with sufficient speed consistently."
Henry A. Kissinger. Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy. (1957), pp. 434-435.
Jacob Heilbrunn's essay quoted above is if nothing else illustrative of the aura which still surrounds the man who was once called 'the Doctor of diplomacy', Henry Alfred Kissinger. And let there be no mistake: regardless of the less than positive comments about him which are to follow, I am quite willing to be the first in acknowledging that with the exceptions perhaps of Theodore Roosevelt, George Kennan, and Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger possessed the preeminent mind in American foreign policy in the twentieth century. Anyone who has had the pleasure of reading both his memoirs and his diplomatic cables and communications while in office, readily sees that he is dealing with someone who evinces a superb mind and intellect as it relates to diplomacy and foreign relations. With however that being said, what does one make of his current book, World Order? First thing that comes to mind and which needs to be repeated again and again when one discusses the mind, art and indeed 'philosophy of power' of the former Secretary of State is that he is not, and has never been a historian. Certainly not a diplomatic historian. For many of course my statement appears to be an odd one insofar as Kissinger's first and perhaps best book, dealt extensively with early 19th century European diplomatic history, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace 1812-1822. Unfortunately, the fact that Kissinger received his doctorate not in history but in the Department of Government at Harvard University is made evident by the book's contents: there is no evidence of archival research and Kissinger is quite happy to admit his reliance upon the existing published primary and secondary sources for his evidence. Accordingly, notwithstanding the fame that the book gave to its author from that time to this, historians in the field have largely chosen to ignore it almost entirely 1. With almost no one now adhering to the Kissinger's thesis that the post-Congress of Vienna peace was due to "an equilibrium among the great powers" 2. Similarly, Kissinger's rather humorous (post-facto) comments on the positive aspects evinced by the leadership qualities of Mao, Stalin or Lenin read distinctly odd to put it mildly. And indeed given the fact that they were published after Nikita Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin's 'the cult of personality', one is somewhat amazed that Kissinger would ignore the same and publish these comments. And of course in his public praise for Chou En-lai found in his three volumes of memoirs, one sees a almost willful ignorance of the fact that Chou was at his very best of more subtle enabler and enforcer of Mao's more demonic and catastrophic actions, then the suave and grand statesman that Kissinger makes him out to be 3. As for the idea that in his time in office, particularly in the more creative, earlier years, Kissinger endeavored to: "to formulate a creative response to promote a balance of power in the mold of the Congress of Vienna", unfortunately the historical record that has come out in the past twenty years clearly show that in fact whatever Kissinger was endeavoring to do, promoting a balance of power was most certainly not one of his goals. As the writings of Raymond Garthoff among others have clearly shown 4. Which is not to gainsay the fact that at times, Kissinger was indeed a very skillful diplomat and very good tactician. Merely that Kissinger's time in office shows that with the exception of being mesmerized by Peking and its denizens, he had no use for, nor any wish to recreate a stable equilibrium between the United States and the Soviet Union. Much less between the United States and its allies as well as China and the Soviet Union.
With all that being understood what does the reader make of Kissinger's new book? Well I for one am amused that it conjurors up the same inaccurate and or outdated diplomatic history of the 18th, 19th and 20th century that Kissinger has trotted out time and again for a good number of years now. Additionally of course he in a sotto voce fashion intentionally endeavors to confuse the reader as to what he and President Nixon were endeavoring to do while in office. Which as we have seen had absolutely nothing to do with trying to create or recreate 'equilibrium' between the various powers that he dealt with. For the most part, the book is nothing more than a re-hash of some of the points made in two of his more recent books: that on China in 2011 and his book on diplomacy in 1994. Among which are: i) the need to appease Peking, at almost whatever cost to Western interests and prestige, in order to avoid a repeat of the clash between the United States and China; ii) the need for existing Great Powers to accommodate 'rising ones', in order to avoid a breakdown in the diplomatic equilibrium, the failure of Great Britain to so accommodate Imperial Germany being of course from Kissinger's own (rather out-dated) perspective the primary cause of the outbreak of the Great War 5. In short, while endeavoring to be kind, there is nothing substantive or penetrating about Kissinger's newest book. For those who enjoy reading Kissinger's own take on diplomatic history in the 18th, 19th and 20th century, his book of twenty-years ago was both much more interesting and cogent in its arguments and assertions. For those interested in his observations on the contemporary scene, aside from its boringly blatant call for appeasing Peking, there is nothing of real interest or substance. Which given Kissinger's advanced age is perhaps par for the course. In short, the 'Doctor of diplomacy' book of remedies for contemporary international scene is perhaps best ignored or if given one as a gift, put up on the bookshelf for display but not for reading. Much less for understanding the world that is going on around us. Past, present or indeed future.
1. On this see: Paul Schroeder. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848. (1994). Where it is quite noticeable that Schroeder does not cite Kissinger once in the entirety of the text of more than seven-hundred pages.
2. Ibid. See also: Paul Schroeder, "Did the Vienna Settlement Rest on a Balance of Power". The American Historical Review. (June 1992), pp. 683-705. See also: Robert Jarvis, "A Political Science Perspective on the Balance of Power and the Concert". The American Historical Review. (June 1992), pp. 716-724.
3. For the more egregiously sycophantic statements by Kissinger on Chou see: Henry A. Kissinger. The White House Years. (1979), pp. 741-749. See also, volume two of the memoirs: Years of Upheaval. (1982), pp. 45-49 and passim. According to perhaps Kissinger's best biographer, Jussi Hanhimaki, Kissinger had: 'an extraordinary positive view of the Chinese premier [Chou]'. See, The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy. (2004), p. 142.
4. For this see: Raymond Garthoff. Détente and Confrontation. Revised Edition. (1994), pp. 24-36 and passim. See also: Hanhimaki, op cit., pp. xviii-xix and passim.
5. For the recent reviews of the historical literature, see: Hew Strachan, "Review Article: The origins of the First World War." International Affairs. (March 2014), pp. 429-439; William Mulligan, "The Trial Continues: New Directions in the Study of the Origins of the First World War." English Historical Review. (June 2014), pp. 639-666. Romedio von Thun-Hohenstein, "Review." The Royal United Services Institute. (February / March 2014).

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

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

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

Friday, October 10, 2014

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

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

Thursday, October 09, 2014

LATVIA: TOWARDS A 'CRIMEAN SCENARIO'?

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

Thursday, October 02, 2014

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

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

Friday, September 26, 2014

PUTIN'S LATEST DÉMARCHE OVER UKRAINE: A COMMENT

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