Friday, July 18, 2014

THE MASSACRE IN THE SKIES OVER UKRAINE: A COMMENT

"When Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was blown out of the clear sky over Ukraine by a surface-to-air-missile it was, without any doubt, an outrageous act of banditry that must not go unpunished. Let us be clear on one thing: the crisis over Ukraine, which has been escalating since late last summer, has been initiated and driven by Russia at each and every step. And whatever details emerge over the downing of the Malaysian airliner on Thursday, it is here that the ultimate responsibility lies. A year ago, after a lengthy silence on the subject, the Kremlin decided it simply could not accept that Ukraine sign a free-trade agreement with the EU that had been ready since 2012. Moscow initiated severe economic measures as well as a nasty propaganda campaign to force Kiev to ditch the agreement and, if possible, opt for the Kremlin-centred Eurasian Union it hoped to establish. But the EU agreement was the free and deliberate choice of Ukraine. Every Ukrainian president and prime minister since independence in 1991 supported such a deal. In no way was there a conflict between the new free-trade deal with the EU and the old free-trade arrangements with Russia and other former members of the Soviet Union. It should also be noted that the EU deal does not go as far as Ukraine wanted. Any talk of the EU “forcing” Kiev to choose is uninformed. When Viktor Yanukovich, former Ukrainian president, fled the country in February – after 100 people had been killed by snipers in the streets of Kiev – the Kremlin unleashed a new and vicious cycle in the crisis. The invasion, occupation and annexation of Crimea was a clear violation of fundamental principles of European security and international law. The world has seen nothing like it since Saddam Hussein, then Iraqi president, invaded and annexed Kuwait in 1990 in a similar smash-and-grab operation, also claiming obscure historical justification. It is certainly true that Crimea had been part of Russia for nearly two centuries. But there are few places in Europe that have not been part of some other country at some point. Moscow’s aims were not limited to Crimea. There was obviously an intention to carve up Ukraine, with a “Novorossia” established in the east and south of the country, also giving Russia de facto veto power over the rump of Ukraine."
Carl Bildt, "Putin’s credibility lies amid the wreckage of flight MH17". The Financial Times. 17 July 2014, in www.ft.com.
"Certainly it would not be surprising to see the rebels, or their Russian sponsors, shooting down suspected Ukrainian aircraft. In fact, just before the Malaysian airliner went down, the Ukrainian government had accused a Russian fighter plane of shooting down one of its own fighters in Ukrainian airspace on Wednesday. Just a few days before that, Ukraine accused Russian rebels of shooting down a Ukrainian transport aircraft. This is becoming rather too regular an occurrence to be ignored. The deaths of all those innocent passengers and crew aboard the Malaysian aircraft, who were in no way party to this conflict, makes it impossible for the West to look away from Russian aggression or for Russia to escape culpability. Even if the shooting down of the Malaysian aircraft was accidental and not ordered by the Kremlin, as seems likely, Vladimir Putin is nevertheless ultimately responsible. If you hand a bazooka to a hyperactive teenager and he destroys your neighbor’s house, the person providing the weapon is just as culpable as the one firing it. And there is no doubt that anti-aircraft missiles, along with tanks and other advanced weaponry, have been provided to pro-Russian separatists, many of them Russian citizens and even members of the Russian intelligence and military services, by the Russian state. You don’t pick up an anti-aircraft missile at your local military surplus store the way you might an AK-47. The question now is what we–meaning we in the West–are going to do about this outrageous act of villainy. John McCain said that if Russian involvement is proved, there will be “hell to pay.” I certainly hope so. What would this “hell” consist of? No one is contemplating the use of Western military force against Russia or even Russian separatists in Ukraine, but certainly there is much that the U.S. and its European allies could do to provide military equipment and training to the Ukrainian armed forces to enable them to defeat Putin’s minions–something that we have been afraid to do until now for fear of triggering Russian escalation. As if shooting down civilian aircraft isn’t escalation enough".
Max Boot, "Downing of Plane Shows West Cannot Ignore Russia-Ukraine Escalation." Commentary. 17 July 2014, in www.commentarymagazine.com.
One does not have to be enamoured of the type of bluster that one can expect from the sometimes egregious American political commentator Max Boot, to not be outraged by the massacre in the air over Ukraine which occurred the other day. Au fond, of course as the Swedish Prime Minister, Carl Bildt correctly points out, 'who is to blame' (to quote from the title of Aleksandr Herzen's splendid 19th century roman), is of course the Russian State President Vladimir Putin. It is he of course whose policies have promoted the current bout of violence which we are seeing in Eastern Ukraine. Violence which is senseless in the extreme. One may only hope that given the massacre in the skies, that the Western powers in Europe and America will now press fully on the sanctions button and force the Kremlin to abandon its puppets in Eastern Ukraine. To allow the current situation to continue is a recipe for the loss of more and more innocent lives completely without need. Unless of course one wishes to give further encouragement to Putin's revisionist policies not only in Ukraine but in other parts of the 'former' Soviet space 1. Given this fact does anyone not realize that London real estate prices and Italian export dollars are by far much less important things to worry about?
1. For a rather convoluted exercise in precisely such a justification, see: Aleksandr Lukin, "What the Kremlin Is Thinking: Putin’s Vision for Eurasia". Foreign Affairs. (July / August 2014), in www.foreignaffairs.com.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

QUESTIONS ABOUT AMERICAN POWER IN THE ORIENT: A LOOK

"As elsewhere, America’s role in Asia is changing. Despite the rebalancing, cuts in US defence spending and greater political attention to domestic priorities are likely to lead to a less militarily assertive role in the region and perhaps, in time, a smaller permanent military presence there. The United States will, however, remain an Asia-Pacific power, and its continued focus should not be underestimated....Over the long-term, America will continue to play a central role in the region, but not indefinitely as the lead actor. It will be looking in Asia, as elsewhere, to share the burdens of leadership. In the next 15 years, Asians may well have to get used to a situation with which Europeans are only just coming to terms – a United States that is a very important regional actor, but not always the first or principal port of call for ensuring security".
Xenia Dormandy with Rory Kinane, "Asia-Pacific Security: A Changing Role for the United States". Chatham House. 1 April 2014, in www.chathamhouse.org.
"The US is developing new military tactics to deter China’s slow but steady territorial advances in the South China Sea, including more aggressive use of surveillance aircraft and naval operations near contested areas. The rethink comes in the wake of the series of low-level incursions China has used to shift the status quo in one of the vital waterways of the global economy. The challenge for the US military is to find tactics to deter these small-scale Chinese moves without escalating particular disputes into a broader military conflict. Every year, $5,300bn of goods cross the South China Sea by ship. “Our efforts to deter China [in the South China Sea] have clearly not worked,” said a senior US official".
Geoff Dyer, Richard McGregor and Demetri Sevastopulo, "Pentagon plans new tactics to deter China in South China Sea". The Financial Times. 9 July 2014, in www.ft.com.
At a time when the American Secretary of State and Treasury are in Peking for meetings with the leadership of the Peoples Republic, it is timely to look at the efforts by the Americans to 'beef-up' their position in the Orient and in particular the South & East China Seas 1. As can be readily seen in the above referenced reports, there is much speculation about the American position in the area. Regardless of the so-called 're-set' or repositioning of American attention and forces to the area by the current American Administration. And while the latter is an indeed timely and welcome move, it cannot gainsay the fact that in the last few years, rightly or wrong there has been much questioning of American determination and will-power by both European and Oriental elites 2. Indeed, even the former American Secretary of the Treasury and high official in the current American Administration, Dr. Lawrence Summers, was forced to concede in the pages of the Financial Times, recently that:
"It is no exaggeration to say that there is more doubt about our willingness to stand behind our allies, resist aggression and support a stable global system than at any time in decades" 2.
Given this state of affairs, it is crucial that the Americans step-up their involvement, especially military involvement in the affairs of the Orient. Especially, the conflicts between in particular, Japan, the Philippines and even Vietnam vis–à–vis Peking. Given the increased Chinese tendency to challenge the status quo ante bellum, for the Americans to be lethargic in the employment of military resources would indeed be (in the words of Shakespeare) the 'very mid-summer of madness' 3.
1. Bob Davis, "U.S. Presses China on Currency: Chinese Vice Premier Calls for Balance at Summit". The Wall Street Journal. 9 July 2014, in www.wsj.com.
2. Lawrence Summers, "Put American foreign policy back on the pitch". The Financial Times. 7 July 2014, in www.ft.com. See also on the very same theme: Xenia Dormandy & Joshua Webb, "Elite Perceptions of the United States in Europe and Asia". Chatham House. 7 May 2014, in www.chathamhouse.org. Wherein it is noted that: "There exists great uncertainty among elites regarding America’s future European and Asian policies. This is leading to a perception of America as unpredictable or, in the case of its allies, potentially unreliable".
3. See in particular on the thesis that the PRC is a 'revisionist power' vis–à–vis the status quo: Walter Russel Meade, "The Return of Geopolitics: the Revenge of the Revisionist Powers". Foreign Affairs. (May / June 2014), in www.foreignaffairs.com

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

SARAJEVO AFTER ONE-HUNDRED YEARS: A COMMENT

"Cause of the general unrest we declare to be the absence of respect for the authority of those who exercise ruling powers. Ever since the source of human powers has been sought apart from God the Creator and Ruler of the Universe, in the free will of men, the bonds of duty, which should exist between superior and inferior, have been so weakened as almost to have ceased to exist. The unrestrained striving after independence, together with over-weening pride, has little by little found its way everywhere; it has not even spared the home, although the natural origin of the ruling power in the family is as clear as the noonday sun; nay, more deplorable still, it has not stopped at the steps of the sanctuary. Hence come contempt for laws, insubordination of the masses, wanton criticism of orders issued, hence innumerable ways of undermining authority; hence, too, the terrible crimes of men who, claiming to be bound by no laws, do not hesitate to attack the property or the lives of their fellow men".
His Holiness Pope Benedict XV in his Encyclical, AD BEATISSIMI APOSTOLORUM. 1 November 1914. In http://www.papalencyclicals.net
"What spark should provoke the inevitable explosion was immaterial to the historic process; and yet it was a strange irony that the victim of Magyar policy should have been Francis Ferdinand (sic), the enemy of the Magyars. The assassination of Francis Ferdinand at Sarajevo by a South Slav enthusiast finally tilted the balance over to war: its violence resolved the hesitations of Berchtold; its offence to the dynasty shook the Emperor's preference for a peaceful policy....Once more, as in 1859, Austrian diplomacy provoked war for, as it conceived, defensive purposes; and the object of the ultimatum was not to build up a case against Serbia, but to make war certain....But the ultimatum served its turn---it ended the period of deadlock, brought on the crisis, and so ensured, sooner or later, a decision for the fortunes of the Habsburgs".
Alan John Percivale Taylor. The Habsburg Monarchy, 1815-1918. (1941), pp. 276-277.
Until somewhat recently, it was more or less comme il faute, for many historians to accept some variant of the Taylor thesis about the origins of the Sarajevo Crisis, that a (to quote Taylor once again) 'degenerate, moribund, and out of touch with the modern world', Habsburg Monarchy went to war in July 1914, in order to avoid a soon to come internal and external collapse 1. The fact that Taylor's views (like many of Englishmen of both his and the previous generation such as R.W. Seton-Watson and Wickham Steed), was marked by a romantic and in retrospect rather ignorant Slavophilism (in the case of Taylor a marked pro-Cech and pro-Serb orientation), did not cause undue skepticism as to anti-Habsburg 'case'. Well, with a new generation of historians, a generation more committed to what the late, great Sir Herbert Butterfield aptly termed the 'historical narrative', the biases of what one may term the 'Taylor School' have become more readily apparent 2. With the result that with our contemporary understanding of our own generation's forced encounter with both violent revolutionaries, dogmatic nationalism and obsessional, state-sponsored terrorism, the flippant, anti-Austrian, pro-Serb position of a Taylor, et. al., has become rather passé 3. Which in terms of a concrete historical analysis, it is easy to see that the Crime of Sarajevo on the 28th of June 1914, was au fond, caused by a Serb nationalist policy (correctly characterized as 'bloodthirsty, devious and malign' by one recent historian), which while primarily planned by Serb military intelligence and in particular its head, in fact had the support of almost the entire Serbian nation. Both pays légal and pays réel 4. Given both official and unofficial Serbian ambitions to dismantle the Habsburg Monarchy, ambitions which were directly at variance with the undertakings that Serbia gave to Vienna and the other powers in 1909, there was little reason for Vienna to rely upon any paper promises of the regime in Belgrade. In short, if Vienna decided that a 'solution' to the Serb problem in the Balkans in the aftermath of Sarajevo had to be a violent one, it was due to the fact that violence was the only possible solution to Serbia's openly expansionist policies. The fact that Belgrade found backers for its unmitigated aggressive policy in Tsarist Russia, only points to the fact that the Dual Alliance between Russia and France had, as both Christopher Clark and Sean McMeekin recently show, undergone a 'Balkanization' in the years immediately prior to 1914 5. Accordingly, the fact that in the words of the great American diplomatic historian, Paul Schroeder, the existence of a strong and viable Austrian Monarchy was indispensable to a sound working of a European equilibrium and the Concert, were pushed aside as of being no consequence. As he correctly observes:
"Repeatedly before World War I, as the documents show, various statesmen from all the different countries discussed the fate of Austria-Hungary, predicted the Empire's demise, and remarked upon its probable effects. Never was Austria's fate taken up as a question vital to the European Equilibrium....Russia, like Serbia, Italy and Romania in varying degrees, looked on Austria's coming collapse as its own opportunity....France did perceive a serious danger in Austria's coming collapse--not, however, that of chaos and upheaval in East, Central and southeastern Europe leading to a general war, but that of a Russo-German agreement over the Habsburg spoils, which would wreck the Franco-Russian alliance. Britain viewed Austria's impending breakup with regret, but without concern, having no interest herself in Central and Eastern Europe" 6.
The events of July and August 1914 were to show how short sided and erroneous were the above referenced opinions and indeed policies. To the immense cost of all European Civilization.
1. Taylor, op. cit., p. 267. See also his Struggle for Mastery in Europe. (1954), pp. 491-525 & passim. In addition, the following from the mid-1960s, from a well-known, German diplomatic historian, Immanuel Geiss: "For decades Austria-Hungary had been content with a system of 'muddling through' which led to a state of complete political paralysis. As a result of her anachronistic construction and concomitant stagnation, she had from the turn of the century drifted helplessly into the maelstrom of the Slav nationalist movement", in July 1914: The Outbreak of the First World War, "Introduction". Edited by Immanuel Geiss, (1966), p. 49. For a more recent restatement of the 'Taylor' thesis, including some stereotypical quotes from Wickham Steed, see: Margaret Macmillan. The War that Ended Peace: the Road to 1914. (2014), pp. 215-244. A singularly disappointing work in every sense.
2. Sir Herbert Butterfield. History and Human Relations. (1952), pp. 11-17, 104 & passim, wherein he contrasts the 'historical' or academic narrative with the 'heroic' narrative.
3. See in particular Christopher Clark's splendid book, which follows a trail first blazed, by Luigi Albertini: The Sleepwalkers: how Europe went to war in 1914. (1912). For Albertini's magisterial work, which until recently was frequently ignored in much of the literature, see: The Origins of the War of 1914, Volumes I-III. Translated by Isabella Massey, Revised edition, (2005).
4. For this quote, see: Hew Strachan, "Review Article: The Origins of the First World War". International Affairs. (March 2014), p. 435. See also: Romedio von Thun-Hohenstein, "The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 / July 1914: Countdown to War", in The RUSI Journal. (February / March 2014), pp. 118-120, who cogently notes: "Austria-Hungary was by no means a rotten empire doomed to fall apart; and its dealings with Serbia, after the state-sponsored Sarajevo assassinations, were understandable".
5. For the 'Balkanization' of the Dual Alliance, see: Clark, op. cit., pp. 293-310 & passim. See also McMeekin's book, July 1914: countdown to war.(2014), pp. 48-61. For a contrary interpretation, see: T.G. Otte. The July Crisis. (2014), pp. 134-135 & passim.
6. Paul Schroeder. "The Nineteenth Century System". In Systems, Stability, and Statecraft: Essays on the International History of Modern Europe. Edited by David Wetzel, Robert Jarvis & Jack S. Levy. (2004), p. 238 & passim. See also his essay from 1972, "World War I as a Galloping Gertie", in: The Outbreak of World War I. Edited by Holger Herwig. (1997), pp. 141-151. Schroeder, is according to the iconoclastic, neo-Marxist commentator and sometimes historian, Perry Anderson: "arguably the greatest living American historian, Paul Schroeder, whose Transformation of European Politics 1763-1848, and associated essays, have revolutionised one of the most disgraced of all fields in the [historical] discipline". See: "The Force of the Anomaly", in The London Review of Books (26 April 2012), p. 12.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

THE 1953 COUP D'ETAT IN PERSIA: A NEW LOOK

"The 1953 coup in which the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) overthrew the highly popular government of Muhammad Mossadeq and thus laid the groundwork for the establishment of the autocratic rule of Muhammed Reza Shah Pahlavi. The 1953 coup, in turn is rooted in the 1951-1953 oil crisis between Iran and Britain....The crisis did not end until August 1953, when the CIA together with the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), better known as MI6 organized a group of tank officers to overthrow Mossadeq".
Ervand Abrahamian. The Coup: 1953, The CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.- Iranian Relations. (2013), pp. 1-2.
"Back in 2009, during his heavily promoted Cairo speech on American relations with the Muslim world, U.S. President Barack Obama noted, in passing, that “in the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.” Obama was referring to the 1953 coup that toppled Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq and consolidated the rule of the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Obama would go on to remind his audience that Iran had also committed its share of misdeeds against Americans. But he clearly intended his allusion to Washington’s role in the coup as a concession -- a public acknowledgment that the United States shared some of the blame for its long-simmering conflict with the Islamic Republic. Yet there was a supreme irony to Obama’s concession. The history of the U.S. role in Iran’s 1953 coup may be “well known,” as the president declared in his speech, but it is not well founded. On the contrary, it rests heavily on two related myths: that machinations by the CIA were the most important factor in Mosaddeq’s downfall and that Iran’s brief democratic interlude was spoiled primarily by American and British meddling. For decades, historians, journalists, and pundits have promoted these myths, injecting them not just into the political discourse but also into popular culture: most recently, Argo, a Hollywood thriller that won the 2013 Academy Award for Best Picture, suggested that Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution was a belated response to an injustice perpetrated by the United States a quarter century earlier. That version of events has also been promoted by Iran’s theocratic leaders, who have exploited it to stoke anti-Americanism and to obscure the fact that the clergy itself played a major role in toppling Mosaddeq. In reality, the CIA’s impact on the events of 1953 was ultimately insignificant. Regardless of anything the United States did or did not do, Mosaddeq was bound to fall and the shah was bound to retain his throne and expand his power. Yet the narrative of American culpability has become so entrenched that it now shapes how many Americans understand the history of U.S.-Iranian relations and influences how American leaders think about Iran. In reaching out to the Islamic Republic, the United States has cast itself as a sinner expiating its previous transgressions. This has allowed the Iranian theocracy, which has abused history in a thousand ways, to claim the moral high ground, giving it an unearned advantage over Washington and the West, even in situations that have nothing to do with 1953 and in which Iran’s behavior is the sole cause of the conflict, such as the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program.".
Ray Takeyh, "What Really Happened in Iran [Persia]: The CIA, the Ouster of Mosaddeq, and the Restoration of the Shah." Foreign Affairs. (July / August 2014), in www.foreignaffairs.com.
Professor Takeyh piece in the current issue of the American periodical Foreign Affairs is a wonderful exposition of the recent scholarship of the last fifteen to twenty years as it relates to the reality of what occurred and did not occur in Persia circa 1952-1953. While of course there was active, indeed highly active Anglo-American 'plotting' to overthrow the demagogic Persian Prime Minister Mossadeq, that mere fact does not obviate the actual character of what did indeed occur and how it occurred. As Professor Takeyh outlines quite cogently in his piece, Mossadeq while initially quite popular circa 1951, was gradually but consistently alienating more and more sections of Persian society with his political antics and anti-monarchical policies. So much so, that by 1953, the previously highly supportive Ayatollah Kashani (who in many ways was a forerunner of Ayatollah Khomeini), had become an out and out opponent of Mossadeq and his National Front political organization. As the British Foreign Office noted in the immediate aftermath of the coup, both the Shah and his appointed replacement for Mossadeq, General Zahedi:
"took the unprecedented step of calling on Kashani at his house and thanking him for his co-operation in the restoration of the monarchy" 1.
As one scholar noted more than twenty years ago, when the first archival research was beginning to be done on this subject, a successful coup d'état was only possible due to the chief fact of: "Mossadeq's diminished internal support" 2. Indeed, and oddly enough in complete contrast with his tendentious editorializing, Professor Abrahamian's narrative provides prodigious amounts of empirical evidence that it was Mossadeq's own political pyrotechnics, more than anything else which allowed the Anglo-American plotting to succeed 3. Aside of course from the importance of setting the historical record straight, the importance of Professor Takeyh's article is that enables the Americans and the West to negotiate with the regime of Mullahs in Teheran over the nuclear proliferation and other issues such as the current crisis in Iraq, without having to kowtow to the Persians due to a sense of guilt for what can now be clearly seen as a mis-remembered historical past.
1. See: Minute by Gandy, 17 September 1953, FO 371/104571/EP1015/233, PRO Office, Kew. See also: Minute by Gandy, 16 September 1953, titled: "Note for use by Sir Frank Roberts", Ibid.
2. See: Reza M. Ghods, "The Rise and Fall of General Razmara". Middle East Studies. (January 1990): pp. 23-31.
3. Abrahamian, op cit., pp. 130-136,165-170 and passim.

Friday, June 20, 2014

'Good-bye to Sykes-Picot' and all that?

"Isaac Chotiner: How else do you think the borders of the Middle East might change?
Oliver Roy: There is a real possibility of territorial changes, although nobody, except the Kurds and some Israelis, advocate such changes. But the paradox is that the agents of changes are not the people who want such changes! The main drive for changes is not the assertiveness of new entities but the collapse of the old national constructions. The main factor that could lead to a reshuffle of borders is the widening of the new strategic fault-line in the Middle East; the divide between Shias and Sunnis. The first thing would be to have a true independent Kurdistan in Iraq, because of a collapse of Iraq first; Syria might collapse too, but except Kurdistan we will not see new nation-states with precise borders, but vague zones of influence with fluctuating boundaries. The collapse of the existing nation-states will in turn weaken the international borders, even if they are not redrawn. The border between Iran and Iraq and the border between Turkey and its southern neighbors will be de facto open. Goods, people, and weapons will move more easily.
IC: Do you see the Sunni/Shia rift as getting worse? Has it ever been this bad?
OR: The rift has little to do with religion as such. It seldom became a geostrategic issue in history, except when Iran turned Shia in the sixteenth century. During the twentieth century there was no rift at all until the Iranian-Islamic revolution. The rift has been a consequence of the Iranian Islamic revolution that has identified Iran with militant Shiism, and it entailed a religious radicalization of a Sunni fringe (the so-called "Salafis") that has been encouraged by Saudi Arabia both for religious reasons and for thwarting the growing Iranian influence in Afghanistan, the Gulf, and Iraq. And the rift is growing, because the mutual distrust is growing. Shias in the Gulf are systematically perceived as an Iranian fifth column, something they were not seen as in the past. The Shia-Sunni divide is a war through proxies waged by Iran and Saudi Arabia. But while the Shia axis is relatively coherent (Iran, Hezbollah, Assad and to a lesser extend Maliki), the Sunni front is utterly divided and has no common objectives. The U.S. invasion of Iraq has just destroyed the main Sunni bulwark against Iran, with two consequences: the solidifying of a de facto independent Kurdistan, the secession of a large Sunni populated area in Northern Iraq that shifted from Baathism to Jihadism and straddles the border with Syria. Saudi Arabia, instead of allying itself with the mainstream Sunni organizations (like the Muslim Brothers), wants to crush them, while it supported for decades the very radicals that are now taking the lead in Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria. Thus Iran is the great beneficiary of the collapse of the dominant order built between 1918 and 1948, with a minimum engagement on the field.
Isaac Chotiner, "What in God's Name Is Going on in Iraq? An Expert Explains: An interview with Olivier Roy". The New Republic. 16 June 2014 in www.newrepublic.com.
"As we approach the centenary of the First World War, one of its legacies, the Sykes-Picot agreement between Great Britain and France on the future of the post-Ottoman Middle East, finally looks to be unravelling. There will, of course, be no formal interment of an imperial diktat long resented throughout the region. In practice Syria and Iraq will continue to have their flags and seats at the United Nations but not much else, aside from capital cities and sectarian support limited to their core constituencies, the Alawaites of Syria and Shia of Iraq, with residual Christian backing....The international community, including the UN, needs to wake up to this ominous development. In the immediate post-colonial order dictated by Sykes – Picot strong states prevailed in the Middle East. That era is fast disappearing".
Lord Williams of Baglan, "Goodbye to Sykes-Picot? The Royal Institute of International Affairs. 17 June 2014 in www.chathamhouse.org
The that the organizers (if 'organized' is a mot that one may employ in connection with the Bush regime's invasion of Iraq) of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, are according to the Financial Times, making a comeback in the public sphere. As per the FT, former American Vice-President Cheney, former America Deputy Secretary of Defence Wolfowitz, and former Iraq Proconsul, Jerry Bremer have all re-emerged and or climbed out from under the rocks where they have been hiding low these many years, to argue that the current situation in Iraq requires the active intervention of American forces and that it is the current administration which is at fault in allowing the ISIS rebellion to break-out by withdrawing American forces at the end of 2011 1. What is one to make of these statements? While I am not in the least enamored of the current American Administration and or its policies in various places in the world, it is difficult to follow the logic of these Bush regime arguments (if one may employ that word to describe what is being said). Firstly, as Olivier Roy aptly notes, it was the American invasion of Iraq circa 2003, an invasion which had no geopolitical logic of any sort, other than some type of forlorn ideological crusade, which destroyed the dominance of the Sunni in not only Iraq, but also in the greater Near and Middle East. The destruction of a eighty plus years old equilibrium in the region and in Iraq has still not sorted itself out as of yet. And, indeed as Lord Williams of Chatham House notes, the work of destruction as it relates to the tottering of various Arab State apparatuses appears to be continuing before our very eyes. With perhaps the traditionally Western aligned Kingdom of Jordan as the next potential domino to commence tottering 2. And it may perhaps be that it will take another twenty years to reconstruct another, stable equilibrium. Whether and how that re-establishment will occur is almost impossible to predict at this time. And while it is imperative the Americans and the West prevent ISIS from forming some regional base or bastion for international terrorism, per se, there are not many other direct American and Western interests at play in the current situation in Iraq. Something which one may argue is also the case in Syria. In an ideal world or in a world which had a traditional, hegemonic, Great Power `a la the Ottoman Empire or the Pax Britannica, et cetera, one if not both conflicts would have been settled by forceful, outside intervention. Such is not at all possible with the American hegemon. Especially now that it is (allegedly) in 'decline'. Whether the latter is true of not, the America is many things, but a traditional, hegemonic Great Power it is not. Never has, never will be. This may be a good thing, or a bad thing, but unfortunately it is an empirical and historical fact.
1.Geoff Dyer, "Bush acolytes use Iraq crisis to defend their records". The Financial Times. 18 June 2014, in www.ft.com.
2. "Analysis: Jordan Could Be the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant's Next Target". Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 17 June 2014 in www.stratfor.com.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A 'DECENT INTERVAL' STRATEGY FOR AFGHANISTAN?

"President Obama revealed his long-awaited plan for Afghanistan on Tuesday, announcing that a residual force of 9,800 U.S. troops will remain there for one year following the end of combat operations in December. That number will be cut in half at the end of 2015, and reduced at the end of 2016 to a small military presence at the U.S. Embassy. The plan, despite White House warnings early this year of a possible “zero option,” is largely in line with what the U.S. military had requested. It also is in line with what NATO and other international partners said was necessary for them to retain a presence in Afghanistan. “We’re finishing the job we started” more than 12 years ago, when the United States embarked on a war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan following the September 2001 attacks against this country, Obama said in brief remarks in the Rose Garden. “It’s time to turn the page” from the conflicts that have dominated U.S. foreign policy for more than a decade, he said of the timetable that would end direct U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan at the end of his second term in office. The residual force, based at various locations around Afghanistan in 2015, will include troops to train and advise Afghan security forces and a separate group of Special Operations forces to continue counterterrorism missions against what Obama called “the remnants of al-Qaeda.” Beginning in 2016, about half that force will go home, while the rest will be stationed only in Kabul and at Bagram air base north of the capital. At the end of that year, the force will shrink to the size of a regular armed forces assistance group, largely to handle military sales, under the authority of the U.S. ambassador".
Karen DeYoung,"Obama to leave 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan". The Washington Post. 27 May 2014, in www.washingtonpost.com.
"President Obama announced troop levels for Afghanistan on May 27th in ways that make no effort to present a real plan or strategy. He simply set dates certain for the elimination of a meaningful U.S. military presence in 2015 – ignoring the fact that leaving half of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan in 2016 is too small in enabling capability to meet Afghan needs....He also ignored the fact that by setting dates certain without a hint of conditionality, he effectively told the Taliban, other insurgents, and the region that the United States will not reinforce Afghan forces in an emergency. Like his earlier deadline of 2014 for ending a U.S. combat presence, he has given the enemy a clear promise that all they have to do is wait, hitting Afghan forces where it is easy, and seeing all U.S. (and allied) forces gone by 2016. He did not provide any strategic explanation of his decision, or meaningful assessment of the risks. He did not explain how the remaining U.S. forces will be organized, based, what they will do, or what they will cost. He did not assess any of the risks in his decisions or the relative value of staying in Afghanistan in the way his decisions call for. All he did was provide a set of empty generalities".
Anthony Cordesman, "President Obama’s Announcement on Troop Levels in Afghanistan: No Plan, No Transparency, No Credibility, and No Leadership". The Center for Strategic and International Studies. 28 May 2014, in www.csis.org.
"We are ready to withdraw all of our forces [from South Vietnam] by a fixed date and let objective realities shape the political future. . . .We want a decent interval. You have our assurance".
Henry Kissinger hand written comments in a Briefing book for his first trip to Peking, circa July 1971, in www.shafr.org/passport/2001/sep/interval.htm#66
With the Financial Times headline of to-day stating that the American Administration is seriously considering raining down American airstrikes on the Islamic militants of ISIS more than two years after the Americans have fully withdrawn from that country, it is with some pertinence that one gives greater degree of attention to the American Administration's proposed phased withdrawal from Afghanistan 1. I will not repeat the harsh criticism made of the same by such biased commentators as Max Boot, but will instead focus on those offered up by a much more objective and what is more important, intelligent military commentator, Anthony Cordesman 2. In a scathing series of remarks, Cordesman, mentions among other things that the American President's declared policy in Afghanistan:
"ignore the fact that ISAF figures do not show any of the gains from the surge in Afghanistan that occurred from the surge in Iraq, and UN casualty data show that the situation sharply deteriorated in 2013. They talk about narrow missions, but it is unclear how a counterterrorism mission will take place if the United States cannot use drones to attack targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and now that President Karzai has effectively crippled Afghan Special Forces. They do not address the fact that Afghan forces have been rushed forward and have not met most of the goals necessary to fully take over the fight, and the Afghan Air Force was never supposed to be ready before 2016. He made no mention of the Italian and German forces that have been a key part of NATO/ISAF deployment plans, or that senior U.S. commanders have been forced to keep cutting the recommended total troop presence down from a level of 13,500 – which was then seen as an absolute minimum to provide assistance at the Afghan Corps level with virtually no ability to help or enable in any emergency. Once again, his timing effectively leaves a meaningful advisory presence for only one year at a time when both Department of Defense and SIGAR are reporting major issues about the quality of even the army portion of a total force that is more than 40% notoriously corrupt police 3".
In short, if the drawn-down of American and other forces were to indeed occur as outlined on the 27th of May by the American Administration, then there is indeed a very good possibility of Afghanistan heading for another Kissingerian 'decent interval' scenario with all that implies in terms of future chaos in that country. Which one could indeed argue is mere a matter of tant pis, and that per se, Afghanistan does not merit, strategically speaking all the resources that the Americans and the other Western powers have been putting into it. Fair enough. However, given the ability in our globalized world for events in small countries which are very very far away, to impact on the other side of the globe, one would have to have a great belief in the good will of the Bon Dieu to suppose that if Afghanistan does become another failed state or for that matter a safe harbor for terrorist groupings, that nothing amiss will result from this. At the very least, what Afghanistan requires from both the Americans and the other Western powers can be summarized as: i) on site air power back-up in case of extreme need; ii) advisors and support, both in the field and throughout the army command and parts of the civilian bureaucracy; iii) financial support. In retrospect, it appears to have been the case, that the original Rumsfeldian, 'light-foot print' policy for Afghanistan, was the correct one. And that the introduction of large numbers of American and other forces into the country from 2006 onwards was a major mistake. With that being said, it defies logic of the past twelve years of conflict in Afghanistan to argue that the policy outlined by the American Administration will not eventually result in a collapse similar to the collapse seen in Iraq in the past few weeks and months or for that matter South Vietnam circa 1975. But it would appear in fact that logic does not really matter to the American Administration. In the words of the late, great British poet, Philip Larkin:
"Next year we are to bring the soldiers home / For lack of money, and it is all right. Places they guarded, or kept orderly / Must guard themselves, and keep themselves orderly. We want the money for ourselves at home / Instead of working. And this is all right. It's hard to say who wanted it to happen / But now it's been decided nobody minds. The places are a long way off, not here / Which is all right, and from what we hear / The soldiers there only made trouble happen. Next year we shall be easier in our minds " 4.
1. Geoff Dwyer, Simeon Kerr and Borzou Daragahi, "Obama considers military action in Iraq". The Financial Times. 13 June 2014, in www.ft.com.
2. Max Boot, "Obama’s Split-the-Difference Foreign Policy". Commentary. 27 May 2014, in www.commentarymagazine.com.
3. Anthony Cordesman, op. cit.
4. Philip Larkin, "Homage to a Government". In The Norton Anthology: English Literature Eighth Edition Volume 2. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2006, pp. 2571-2572.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

THE NEW IRAQI DEBACLE: A COMMENT

"Battles continue to rage across northern Iraq, pitting jihadist group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant against Iraqi security forces and their allies. The growing reach of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has escalated an already brutal campaign in Iraq. Alarmingly quick advances by the militants across an important region of the Middle East could draw in regional powers as well as the United States. Utilizing hit-and-run tactics, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL, has sought to keep Iraqi security forces under pressure and dispersed. ISIL has achieved this by striking at areas where security forces are weak and withdrawing from areas where Baghdad has concentrated its combat power. The jihadists have been working hard at improving their tradecraft by developing skill sets ranging from the staging of complex ambushes to using Iraqi army equipment effectively in surprise raids. ISIL has also sought to better develop its ties with local Sunni communities. As far back as the days of al Qaeda in Iraq and its predecessor, Jamaat Tawheed wa al-Jihad, founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, militancy has had a presence in Anbar province -- and indeed in Mosul. During the Iraq War, the U.S. military considered Mosul one of the key gateways for foreign al Qaeda in Iraq fighters to enter the country. ISIL operations in Mosul and the wider Nineveh Province are unsurprising. What is surprising is the degree of success that ISIL has managed to achieve in its latest offensive in the region".
STRATFOR: Global Intelligence, "Worsening Violence in Iraq Threatens Regional Security". 12 June 2014, in www.stratfor.com.
"The US is examining air strikes and other forms of direct military action against the jihadists who have taken control of a large area of northern Iraq but the White House remains deeply reluctant to involve itself again in the country’s conflicts. The Obama administration has received requests from the Iraqi government since the end of last year to use air power against extremist groups in the north. That pressure has become more urgent since the capture on Tuesday of Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, say current and former US officials. However, although the administration has indicated it will accelerate the sale of arms to Iraq, it has not yet decided to get directly involved in the conflict with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the al-Qaeda splinter group known as Isis" .
Geoff Dyer, "Isis drags US back to where Washington fears to tread". The Financial Times. 12 June 2014, in www.ft.com.
The downfall of Mosul in a lightning attack by the "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant" otherwise known as 'ISIS' is both surprising and alarming. That an ultra-extreme Sunni group of out and out terrorists have managed to attack and take Iraq's second largest city without almost any opposition by the nominal Iraqi army seems to indicate the pitfalls post-facto to the 'decent interval' American strategy towards Iraq since 2009. Which is not to have any nostalgia for the endemic idiocy which caused the United States to invade Iraq in 2003 in the first place. Merely that having invaded and overthrown the Saddam Hussein regime, the Americans did indeed to a degree 'reap the whirlwind' by not ensuring that either a sufficiently strong regime remained on the ground once they decided to withdraw or conversely ensure that a trip-wire American presence remained 'in country'. Of course, both the former and the latter are in retrospect easier said then done. The egregious Maliki government, which being au fond, a junior ally of the regime of Mullahs in Persia, was hardily enthusiastic about a continuing American presence. Nor did the fact that Maliki has insisted on governing as not a national Iraqi leader but a sectarian and partisan Shiite and pro-Persian one make matters any better. Indeed there would have been and in indeed would be something quite absurd in having American forces prop-up a irresponsible, pro-Persian, sectarian Shiite regime in Baghdad. While the American, neo-conservative commentator, Mr. Max Boot's own prior history on the subject of Iraq is riddled with errata to numerous to speak of, his comments to-day point up to an obvious fact: that the Maliki government must go 1. That aside from perhaps air strikes (which may result in horrific civilian deaths) on ISIS forces, there does not appear to be much that the Americans can do at this stage:
"Maliki has presided over the disintegration of Iraq. He doesn’t deserve a third term. The country desperately needs a new leader. Until a change of leadership happens, there is little point in sending more U.S. aid which, if Mosul is anything to go by, is likely to wind up arming the insurgents 2."
Indeed according to perhaps the premier American military strategist and commentator, Anthony Cordesman, the Americans and indeed the West do not have much of a choice, when it comes to either Maliki or ISIS:
Whether Iraq can move forward as long as Maliki remains its leader. He may still be able to bribe some key Sunni tribal leaders, and ISIS may soon alienate many Sunnis in the areas it occupies, but Maliki has emerged as something approaching the Shiite equivalent of Saddam Hussein, and is as much a threat to Iraq as ISIS. Iraq desperately needs a truly national leader and one who puts the nation above himself. Without one, ISIS may become a lasting enclave and regional threat -- dividing Iraq into Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish sections -- or drag Iraq back to the worst days of its civil war and create another Syria-type conflict in the region" 3.
In short the Americans and damned if they do something, and equally damned if they do nothing. At this point in time, masterly inactivity appears to be the only realistic option. Indeed if one were to look at the matter from a purely regional perspective, ISIS rampage will force the regime of Mullahs to spend a considerable amount of money, arms and perhaps even men to prop-up the Maliki regime if indeed ISIS does endeavor to take Baghdad in a similar lightning strike. Given the expenditures that Tehran is already undertaking propping-up the Assad regime in Syria, one may well wonder if Persia will have the necessary wherewithal to endeavor something similar in Iraq. Of course, if that were to indeed occur and Persia were to intervene militarily and successfully, then it would represent a strategic breakthrough for Tehran in the region. It would at that point, with its forces on the ground in Iraq, truly be the leading regional power or hegemon. Which merely highlights the strategic cul de sac that the Americans are in at the moment as per both Iraq and the larger Near and Middle East. The entire affair is merely one is afraid a harbinger of another failed 'decent interval' scenario in Afghanistan circa 2016-2018.
1. Max Boot, "Maliki Must Go". Commentary. 11 June 2014, in www.commentary.com.
2. Ibid.
3. Anthony Cordesman, "Shaping Iraq’s Security Forces". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 12 June 2014, in www.csis.org