Monday, July 28, 2014

'CRUNCH' TIME FOR THE PRO-RUSSIAN REBELLION IN UKRAINE?

"The downing of Flight MH17 has focused attention on the sophistication and firepower of the Ukrainian rebels’ arsenal but it has obscured a broader fact: that the pro-Russia separatists are sliding toward a battlefield defeat. A month-long counter-offensive by the Ukrainian army has pushed rebel forces back into urban centres in the Donetsk and Lugansk Kiev’s fightback began in late June, when Ukrainian forces attacked rebel positions after a 10-day ceasefire deal broke down. Bolstered by intelligence and advice from western powers, the army pushed rebels out of the cities of Slavyansk and Kramatorsk after brief but violent sieges, forcing separatists to abandon tanks and artillery in a hasty retreat south. While the first phase of the campaign recovered swaths of largely rural territory, it left the hardest work for later. The second phase is coming to a head as Ukrainian forces grapple with just how to oust what remains of the separatist fighters from entrenched bases in the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk. “We are seeing the makings of a breakthrough,” says Anton Mikhnenko of the Kiev-based Centre for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies – though he warns Russia’s actions may, as ever, tip the balance. Kiev has so far been unwilling to countenance a direct assault on either of the two cities, apparently wary that a high civilian death toll would cost it local support. But it has succeeded in weakening rebel positions by other means".
Sam Jones and Guy Chazan, "Ukrainian separatists face crunch point after army offensive". The Financial Times. 28 July 2014 in www.ft.com.
"Ultimately, politicians who miscalculate and mismanage tend not to survive. Putin miscalculated in Ukraine, failing to anticipate the fall of an ally, failing to respond effectively and then stumbling badly in trying to recoup. His management of the economy has not been exemplary of late either, to say the least. He has colleagues who believe they could do a better job, and now there are important people in Europe who would be glad to see him go. He must reverse this tide rapidly, or he may be replaced. Putin is far from finished. But he has governed for 14 years counting the time Dmitri Medvedev was officially in charge, and that is a long time. He may well regain his footing, but as things stand at the moment, I would expect quiet thoughts to be stirring in his colleagues' minds. Putin himself must be re-examining his options daily. Retreating in the face of the West and accepting the status quo in Ukraine would be difficult, given that the Kosovo issue that helped propel him to power and given what he has said about Ukraine over the years. But the current situation cannot sustain itself. The wild card in this situation is that if Putin finds himself in serious political trouble, he might become more rather than less aggressive. Whether Putin is in real trouble is not something I can be certain of, but too many things have gone wrong for him lately for me not to consider the possibility. And as in any political crisis, more and more extreme options are contemplated if the situation deteriorates".
George Friedman, "Geopolitical Weekly: Can Putin Survive?" Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 21 July 2014, in www.stratfor.com.
The news coming out of Ukraine as per the suppression of the pro-Russian rebellion in Eastern Ukraine appears to be 'good'. With Ukrainian forces slowly and gradually but to a good degree effectively, surrounding the two main centers of the rebellion, Donetsk and Lugansk. It seems that left to themselves, the rebels will be unable to hold-out for long against Kyiv's armed forces. Unfortunately, the rebels are receiving backing, almost indeed 'full' backing of Russia. With as per the American Department of Defence, Russian Federation forces engaging in artillery barrages against Ukrainian forces 1. Such actions raises the issue of the extent that Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin is willing to allow his protégés to be defeated. According to some analysts, the extent that Putin has identified himself with the rebellion and its success or lack thereof, makes it the case that the whole prestige of the regime is at stake. Accordingly, that Putin will do everything short of overtly invading Ukraine with Russian Federation ground forces to prevent the complete collapse of the rebellion. If this is in fact true, then the likelihood that Kyiv will be able to defeat the rebellion militarily is severely limited if not in fact impossible. And sans earthshattering Western (European and American) economic sanctions on Russia, there does not appear to be any countervailing pressure or assistance to help Ukraine in its struggle against Moskva and its puppets. As an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute recently noted, for those people on the ground in Ukraine, the so far muted response by in particular the European Union to the events in Eastern Ukraine in the past six months, seems "at best incomprehensible, and at worst a betrayal" 2.
1. Stratfor, "Ukraine: Military Advances to Divide Rebel Strongholds". Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 28 July 2014, in www.stratfor.com.
2. Tom Keatinge, "Downing Flight MH17: Will the Europeans Get Tougher on Russia?" The Royal United Services Institute. 21 July 2014, in www.rusi.org.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

ISRAEL'S GAZA NIGHTMARE: A COMMENT

"Nonstate actors such as Hamas and many of its peer organizations, of course, need some ability to exert force if they are to influence the actions of a state whose imperatives run counter to their own. The Gaza Strip is small and its resource base is limited, reducing the options for force. This makes cheap asymmetric tactics and strategies ideal. For Gaza and its militants, terrorizing the Israeli population through limited force often has previously influenced, constrained or forced the hand of the Israeli government and its subsequent policies. It accomplished this with assassinations, ambushes or suicide bombings targeting security forces or Israeli citizens. A confluence of events later led to a gradual evolution in the conflict. By 2006, the security wall that surrounds and contains the Gaza Strip had eliminated militants' ability to directly engage the Israeli populace and security personnel, and Israel Defense Forces had completely withdrawn from the territory. Meanwhile, Hezbollah had demonstrated the effectiveness of relatively cheap artillery rockets volleyed into Israel in a high enough volume to seriously disrupt the daily life of Israeli life. While artillery rockets were not new to Gaza, the conditions were ripe for this tactic's adoption. The intent was to build up a substantial arsenal of the weapons and increase their range to threaten Israel's entire population as much as possible. (Increased range was also needed to overcome Israel's growing defensive capabilities.) This would be the asymmetric threat that could be used to project force, albeit limited force, from Gaza. This threat has framed the Israel-Gaza conflict ever since. On one side are Gaza militants constantly working to smuggle rockets of ever-increasing ability and range into the strip while expanding their stockpiles out of direct reach of Israel Defense Forces, and simultaneously preparing launch sites to strike from when needed. On the other side, Israeli forces are constantly gathering intelligence and using targeted operations in an effort to keep rockets from entering Gaza, prevent the stockpiles of rockets from growing and destroy launch sites. Since 2006, this dynamic has come to a head three times, with serious escalation from both sides and resulting Israel Defense Forces operations. The first was Operation Cast Lead in 2008, which included a limited ground incursion. Next came Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, and now there is Operation Protective Edge. Though separated in time, in many ways they are a continuation of the same security dynamic.".
Stratfor, "Geopolitical Diary: The Military Reality of Israel's Operation in Gaza Sets In". Stratfor: global intelligence. 15 July 2014 in www.stratfor.com.
"The fact is that on any except an intellectual reckoning, the Palestine policy is infinitely shame-making compared with the refusal to go to war over Czechoslovakia. In Palestine we, with our own hands, are having to burn and explode villagers out of their villages for the sake of what is, as usual a theoretical obligation, an interpreted, often misinterpreted, text of twenty years ago, of which on one knows the meaning. And why are we doing it, considering that even the Cabinet know it unjust and suicidal".
Sir Charles Arthur Evelyn Shuckburgh, quoted in a letter to Lord Esher, circa November 1938, in: Descent to Suez: diaries 1951-1956. Edited by John Charmley. (1986), pp. 212-213.
With the American Secretary of State, Mr. Kerry in Paris endeavoring to extend the now temporary cease-fire over the conflict in the Gaza Strip, it is worthwhile asking what have the Israelis achieved in the eighteen days that the conflict has lasted 1? According to the Financial Times, foreign affairs commentator, Gideon Rachman, the answer appears to be nil or next to nil:
"Israel set itself clear goals when it launched its assault on Gaza. Stop the rocket fire into Israel and close the tunnels that might allow Hamas to infiltrate fighters into Israel. Some 18 days into the offensive, and these goals have not yet been achieved. But that is not the only sign that Israel’s Gaza offensive is going wrong. On the contrary, there are multiple signs that Israel is losing control of the situation: 1. After a slow start, international outrage about the Gaza offensive is building. The international reaction had been relatively muted – perhaps because there are so many other competing horrors in the Middle East. (Some 700 people were killed in just two days fighting in Syria, last week.) As my colleague Roula Khalaf points out, Hamas has also lost crucial political support across the Arab world. The coincidence of the Gaza and Ukraine crises also probably took the pressure off Israel, briefly. But the shelling of the UN school in Gaza yesterday may mark some form of tipping point – with much stronger statements coming from the UN Secretary-General and Gaza dominating the headlines in Europe. 2. Unrest has spread to the West Bank. If the riots last night are repeated, then Israel risks facing a third intifada. The Gazan offensive will then have comprehensively back-fired, by ending a prolonged period of relative calm enjoyed by Israel. 3. The revival of Hamas: At the start of the Gaza offensive, Hamas was in an extremely weak position. It had lost vital support from Egypt and Iran, and enjoyed little sympathy in the west. But by successfully prolonging the fight with Israel – and even briefly all-but closing Ben Gurion airport – Hamas has chalked up some important propaganda victories. If it can get some sort of lifting of the Gaza blockade agreed – as part of the cease-fire negotiations – it will certainly be able to claim some sort of victory 2".
Per se, almost anyone would and can sympathize with the aspirations of the Israeli government as per its desiderata in Gaza: stop the militants of Hamas from raining down missiles on Israel proper and endeavoring to infiltrate militants into Israel to commit terrorist outrages. Any sovereign government, I repeat any sovereign government would au fond endeavor to stop these types of activities from a neighboring power, state or territory. The question however which can be raised is: has the Israeli government gone about its current military offensive in the correct way? Judging from the results, particularly given the almost public, 'green light' given to its military activity by much of the Arab World got about two weeks, the answer must be no. In fact, it appears that once again, as in the Lebanon War of 2006, Israel has to unfortunate extent relied unnecessarily upon air, sea and missile power to try to achieve its military goals. And as in 2006, these three linchpins of its military arsenal have singularly failed to achieve said goals. Once again as in the Lebanon War, by unnecessarily failing to use until it was too late, its ground forces, Israel has squandered its political opening to achieve its military goals. While perhaps eighteen days could be considered too small a window to achieve the goals outlined by Rachman above, in 1967, Israel managed to defeat three Arab countries (in admittedly a conventional war) in seven-days. And in 1956, Israel managed to destroy the Egyptian army in the Sinai peninsula in less than a week's time. If as appears likely the major fighting in the Gaza Strip has ended, it will appear to be the case that Israel has come out of this round of its conflict with Hamas the losers, by virtue of the fact of not winning the conflict. Indeed, it appears in retrospect, that Premier Netanyahu, et. al., would have been better off, not to have begun major operations in the first place rather than to allow Hamas to claim (as it inevitably will) a political victory by holding Israel to a draw.
1. "Israel agrees to extend pause". Haaretz. 26 July 2014 in www.haartez.com.
2. Gideon Rachman, "Israel loses control in Gaza". The Financial Times. 25 July 2014, in www.ft.com. See also for a similar analysis: Ariel Ilan Roth, "How Hamas Won: Israel's Tactical Success and Strategic Failure". Foreign Affairs. 25 July 2014 in www.foreignaffairs.com.

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.