Friday, December 29, 2006


The Anno Domini 2006 was a relatively quiet year for the Al Qaeda organization. With most of its leadership cadre holed up in the mountainous terrain of the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan, it is easy to assume that the fearsome terrorist grouping of the 1992-2001 period has disappeared. And, to an important degree this is in fact correct. Without a substantial territorial base or terrain to hide itself in, `a la Afghanistan prior to 2001, or Sudan prior to 1996, it is quite likely that Bin Laden's own direct grouping will never have the same operational reach or scale as it once did. Thankfully. However, regardless of this important fact, one should not overlook another fact: namely that even with the disruption of the prime, Al Qaeda base, grouplets, sometimes no more than half a dozen people in all, are able to organize themselves in such a fashion to prepare for, and sometimes even attempt to commit some terrorist outrage or other. The examples of the London Bombing of 2005 is a perfectly good example if we needed one. With this in mind, we would like to present to our readers a recent report, by the American online journal entitled: "Al Qaeda in 2007: the continuing devolution". So, please read and enjoy (if you can considering the morbide subject...):

Al Qaeda in 2007: The Continuing Devolution
By Fred Burton

"The theme of Stratfor's 2006 forecast for al Qaeda and the jihadist movement centered on the evolution -- or the devolution, really -- from al Qaeda "the group" to a broader global jihadist movement. This essentially was a shift from an al Qaeda operational model based on an "all-star team" of operatives that was selected, trained and dispatched by the central leadership to the target, to an operational model that encourages independent "grassroots" jihadists to conduct attacks, or to a model in which al Qaeda provides operational commanders who organize grassroots cells. We refer to this shift as devolution because what we are seeing now is essentially a return to the pre-9/11 model.

This shift has provided al Qaeda "the movement" broader geographic and operational reach than al Qaeda "the group." This larger, dispersed group of actors, however, lacks the operational depth and expertise of the core group and its well-trained terrorist cadre.

The metamorphosis continued in 2006, with al Qaeda announcing the merger of existing jihadist groups such as Gamaah al-Islamiyah (GAI) in Egypt and Algeria's Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) and others in the Maghreb into their global jihadist umbrella organization. These groups have had long-standing links to al Qaeda, and the announcement of the mergers is really a formalization of the relationship, though these new nodes joined al Qaeda's formal network of affiliate groups in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Sinai Peninsula and Afghanistan.

Since the announcements, these new groups have not yet demonstrated that they possess the ability to boost al Qaeda's operational effectiveness. We have seen no attacks that can be attributed to GAI, and perhaps the only attacks that can be attributed to the GSPC are the Dec. 11 attack against a bus carrying foreign oil workers and the simultaneous Oct. 30 attacks against two police stations in Algeria. Given this lack of results, the announcements ring somewhat hollow, as the mergers have not given al Qaeda the surge of momentum it might have wanted.

The major attacks in 2006 in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia; Dahab, Egypt; Dubba and Marib, Yemen; and Damascus, Syria, were all conducted by existing regional nodes and not the main al Qaeda organization. These attacks did show a broad geographic reach stretching across the Middle East but, except for the Dahab attack, they were essentially all failures.

Overall, 2006 was not a good year for the al Qaeda nodes in Saudi Arabia and the Sinai. It also was a dismal year for the Iraq affiliate, whose charismatic leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in June. Twelve months have made a vast difference in the fortunes of the Iraq node. Last year at this time, al-Zarqawi made the headlines almost daily and his organization was conducting frequent and spectacular attacks. Now, following the death of al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda in Iraq has been largely marginalized and eclipsed by Iraqi Sunni and Shiite insurgent groups.

Going into 2007, we anticipate a continuation of this shift toward a movement -- though it will be important to watch for any signs of operational activity by al Qaeda the group, as opposed to its prodigious public relations efforts.

The Shift to Soft Targets

As we noted in January, the shift to the broader movement model allowed for an increase in the number of attacks, although the movement's lack of expertise was forcing it to focus its attacks against soft targets such as hotels, trains and subways. This shift resulted in a larger numbers of casualties than the more spectacular attacks against hardened targets. Indeed, the casualty count from jihadist attacks in the 52 months following 9/11 was more than double that of the 52 months prior -- and those numbers would be vastly increased if the deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan were included.

However, not as many attacks occurred in 2006 as we anticipated. In fact, the number of attacks and the casualties they generated were down for 2006. In many cases, such as Damascus, Abqaiq and Yemen, the attacks resulted in the deaths of more attackers than victims, and the only attack to produce a sizable death toll was in Dahab, where 24 people died. This trend in which attacks against tourist targets in Egypt produce the deadliest jihadist attack of the year continued from 2005, when the attack in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, killed 88 people. (Incidentally, that not only represents far more victims than in the Dahab attack, but also more than all of the 2006 attacks combined.) When Sharm el-Sheikh is combined with the 2005 attacks in Bali, Amman and London, jihadist militants produced far more deaths in 2005 than in 2006. (These statistics do not include attacks conducted in war zones or areas of insurgency such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, Chechnya/Russia, Sri Lanka or Kashmir/India.)

The only jihadist strike against a hardened target in 2006 was the failed attack against the U.S. Embassy in Damascus in September. A car bombing was directed against an employee of the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, but that attack happened a block away from the hardened facility. It was, however, the only one of the two to produce an American death.

Target Sets

As we said in January, al Qaeda the group has long been interested in striking financial targets, aircraft and chemical/petroleum plants. Because of that, and al Qaeda's demonstrated history of revisiting targets after failed or foiled attacks, it was logical to project that it would continue to attempt strikes against such targets in 2006.

The petroleum sector indeed was targeted in 2006, as the strikes against petroleum facilities in Abqaiq and Yemen, and against oil contractors in Algiers, demonstrate. Although no attack occurred against financial targets as we anticipated, we still believe that target set remains at risk for the future, along with the others.

Although authorities thwarted the plot to simultaneously destroy several airliners en route from London to the United States, it once again demonstrated that al Qaeda and the jihadist movement maintain a significant interest in airline targets. Details released in February on the Library Tower bombing plot provide another example of this fixation.

Disruption Strategy Continues

Once again in 2006 there has been no successful attack on U.S. soil -- though the thwarted airliner plot was definitely aimed at the United States. Likewise, the anticipated attacks in European locations such as the United Kingdom, Denmark, France and Italy failed to materialize -- again, not for lack of trying on the part of the jihadists.

The U.S. government and its allies have been successful over the past year in disrupting terrorist plots and plans in many locations. The strategy of disruption these countries are following is really quite simple: It is better to pick up an al Qaeda suspect on immigration fraud or another lesser offense than to investigate a smoking hole in the ground. Although there has been significant skepticism over the terrorist credentials of those responsible for some of these plots, such as the one involving the Miami Seven, the plots serve as a reminder that there are people who remain committed to striking the United States. Over the years, Islamist militants have proven to be resilient and adaptable in the face of adversity, and they will certainly continue to adapt.

It is important to remember that more than eight years elapsed between the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 9/11 attacks -- during which time al Qaeda and its jihadist network faced nothing approaching the level of pressure they have endured since then. There were several thwarted terrorist spectaculars between 1993 and 2001, and yet the jihadists persisted and eventually succeeded in carrying out a massive strike on U.S. soil.

Therefore, the string of law enforcement and intelligence successes since 9/11 does not rule out the possibility of another strike on U.S. soil in time. We believe the likelihood of such an attack will increase as memories of 9/11 dim and the public grows weary of the inconvenience and financial burden of increased security measures.

The Jihadist 'War College'

The forecast, which noted that the active armed struggles in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Caucasus still serve as a kind of "jihadist war college," predicted that its graduates would continue to share their training and experience upon returning to their countries of origin.

We already have seen a transfer of terrorism tactics and technology to Afghanistan, and we anticipate that this will continue in the future. In addition, the interpersonal connections that the militants make in places such as Iraq and Chechnya also will link them to the global movement in the same way the jihad in Afghanistan did for the preceding generation

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Elusive Mr. Putin: Is Democracy Achievable in post-Putin Russia?



We are honored to bring to our readership, the following analysis of Russia under Vladimir Putin, by a Mlle. Daria Solovieva. Daria Solovieva, a Russian native, originally from Taganrog, is a graduate of Bard College's International Affairs and Globalization program. Currently she is an Executive Officer with CHF International, a non-profit organization, helping disaster victims worldwide. She previously worked at the online research journal, EurasiaNet. Her article on the political ramifications of the murder of the Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, appeared in the online journal World Politics Watch in October of this year.

“In our relations with the people of Russia it is important, as it has never been important before, for us to recognize that our institutions may not have relevance for people living in other climes and conditions and that there can be social structures and forms of government in no way resembling our own and yet not deserving of censure.”
George F. Kennan.

Over the last two months, Russia has experienced a surge in high-profile violence reminiscent of the stormy nineties and the anarchy of the Yeltsin years. Among the recent high-profile cases were the murder of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the radiation poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, and the poisoning of former Yeltsin’s Prime minister Yegor Gaydar – each of them an outspoken critic of the policies pursued by the Putin administration. Together these uncovered crimes have cast a new cloud over Vladimir Putin’s presidency and his legacy.

This criticism appears to have one common underlying assumption or rather, a ready-made prescription to Russia’s many ills: a Western-style, liberal democracy as the only stable and desirable form of government. An overwhelming number of Western and Russian foreign policy thinkers continue to advocate democracy as inherently superior to any other form of government and leave its desirability for any new or translational government outside the realm of questioning. Any new or transitional government that has emerged since the defeat of communism experienced an “unprecedented pressure to adopt or at least mimic the democratic form.” Democracies, we are told, offer an array of advantages. They are more stable, less likely to fall into armed civil conflict, experience humanitarian catastrophes, or breed international terrorists.

The same unity of judgement in embracing the advantages of democratic governance cannot be attributed to the top-level Russian officials and foreign policy makers. Putin’s chief of staff Alexander Voloshin has been quoted as saying the Russian people are not ready for democracy. Putin himself, while he may appear to embrace democratic principles, his actions, along with prominent voices within his own administration, suggest otherwise.

This absence of a unifying vision for Russia’s future on the part of the Russian government is a feature of the Russian post-Soviet transition, a mark of an enduring national identity crisis that manifests itself in a myriad different ways from a rise of xenophobic nationalist groups to foreign policy gaffes. No other country in the world has gone from being a superpower to a third-world oil-driven economy with oversized ambitions in a span of decade. The same question that has plagued Russian leaders since the fall of the Soviet Union is still relevant today. What type of government and internal structure, what type of foreign policy orientation should replace the unprecedented seventy-year-old experiment with the Communist faith?

Should Russia mend its relations with Europe, pick up where Peter the Great left off in an effort to construct a new counterweight to U.S. foreign policy dominance? Or should Russia pursue a Chinese, the Chilean or an entirely its own, “Third Way” model of modernization and development? Is it in Russia’s best interest to pursue a strictly pro-Western course, which includes periodic efforts to resemble a Western-style democracy? And, ultimately, is democracy really Russia’s first choice?

Perhaps the biggest modern threat to the stability Russian state faces today comes from within in so far that these important questions remain precariously unresolved. Many of the options above have been explored in the last decade (sometimes simultaneously), but no single idea seems to unify the Russian public as much as the return of Russia’s lost position and status in the world. This unifying idea is manifested to the outside world in two major ways: one is the return to the norms and practices of the past (on which Putin’s national policy has been built). The second one is antagonism to the West (cautious self-assertion has defined the latter part of Putin’s presidency).

As a result, President Putin and anyone who succeeds him, faces a dual task of moving Russia forward, cooperating with the West and safeguarding the image of a “normal nation” in transition to an accepted norm of a democratic state while at the same time protecting the national unity and stability at home through maintaining all and any mementos of the past, i.e. remaining as backward as possible. It is international scandals like the Litvinenko case and the subsequent investigations that highlight the impossible dual task in which the Putin’s administration is now trapped.

While the vision of the future remains unresolved, it is now certain the type of government that can never last in Russia. Whatever the shape the post-Putin government will take, it will not and cannot be a democratic one, making Western calls for overnight democracy in Russia all the more problematic and out of touch with reality.

First of all, Russia has no institutional or cultural memory of democracy. The Yeltsin years were the closest Russia ever got to democratic governance, and those years proved to be traumatic for both the economy and the state. By the end of the 1990s, Yeltsin was loosing control of himself and the country:

“Russia sank deeper and deeper into social and economic crisis: falling life expectancy (for men, from 64.2 years in 1989 to as low as 57.6 years in 1994); a resurgence of contagious diseases that had been eliminated in the Soviet Union; decaying schools; hundreds of thousands of homeless children; millions of migrants; a shrinking economy that during Yeltsin’s tenure contracted in real terms by 40 percent; and finally, rampant lawlessness and corruption that had become a lifestyle passing for ‘normal’.”

When Putin emerged as Yeltsin’s successor many hailed him as the true democrat that will lead Russia towards a prosperous democratic future. But it’s important to recognize that Putin’s agenda was never really about establishing democracy, which meant unleashing another revolution. Putin’s “counter-revolution” was about tackling and undoing the legacy of the Yeltsin clan through establishing order and stability above everything else. His tough policy of “managed democracy” may lead to democratic governance in the long term, but no one could be sure of it in the long term.

As Putin was quite successful in achieving the main goals of his mission, the post-Putin Russia now emerges as a state is even less positioned for democratic governance than before Putin came to power. Putin’s legacy in turn includes a significantly stronger presidency, a growing demographic catasrophe, a widening gap between the rich and poor, and economic time bomb of Russia’s resource curse.

This does not automatically indicate, however, that the current form of government is illegitimate, wrong or there is no longer any hope for development of liberal democratic state in Russia in the long term. The key question hovering over both Putin’s legacy and his successor’s will be to determine if Putin’s return to authoritarian methodology was only a means or an end in and of itself. Will Putin be remembered as a Pinochet who is still revered by his people for leading his country to democracy and prosperity through undemocratic practices? Or will his presidency mark instead the return towards the familiar path of authoritarianism?

For many, this seems to be an irreconcilable paradox that Putin’s agenda is shared by 57% of the public which did not hesitate to support of the most undemocratic of his policies, including a media clampdown, the war in Chechnya, and the crusade against the oligarchs. How can a nation, in which millions of people died in the hands of the one of the most secretive and deadliest secret services, the KGB, find a hope and future in its former officer whose rise to power also symbolized the renaissance of the secret services power and influence? According to a recent study, 3 out of 4 Russian high officials are former or current members of the FSB, the former KGB agency. Six years later after Putin’s presidency, the Russian public has demonstrated incredible loyalty to his regime. Assertiveness in foreign policy, standing up to the West, the war in Chechnya, and even the old slogan of stability and order still fair extremely well with the Russian public.

Not everyone is completely skeptical in dubious love affair, a social contract between the Russian public and their increasingly authoritarian leader. Some see genuine hope in Putin’s “managed democracy.”

Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International and the author of The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, uses the term “illiberal demoracy” to explain the apparent contradiction of increasing authoritarianism and Putin’s enduring popularity. For Zakaria, “illiberal democracy is good because it has – by chance—produced a liberal autocrat who may eventually lead his country to genuine liberal democracy.”

Francis Fukuyama, the leading neoconservative who once hailed democracy promotion as the core of the U.S. relations with the rest of the world, has since changed his mind in the light of the disastrous war in Iraq. Democracy may not be the only way forward after all.

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, while speaking out on the war on Iraq, in his recent appearance on “Meet the Press” expressed the same idea that democratic governance on Western terms is simply not the “first choice” and that Shia theocracy may be a more desirable choice. This is indicative of a broader threat of imposed democracy, a sign of increasing evidence in the flaws of neoconservative ideology.

George Kennan’s thoughts on Western policy towards the Soviet Russian state, though written in 1950s about Cold War about a state that no longer exists, is strangely well-suited for today’s Western policy towards Putin’s Russia:

“No members of the future Russian government will be aided by doctrinaire and impatient well-wishers in the West who look to them to produce in short order a replica of the Western democratic dream.”

As any NGO operating in Russia will attest, Kennan was exactly right that post-Soviet heritage creates an additional challenge for Russia in embracing Western advice, however well-intended. “Of one thing we may be sure: no great and enduring change in the spirit and practice of government in Russia will ever come about primarily through foreign inspiration or advice. To be genuine, to be enduring and to be worth the hopeful welcome of other peoples such a change would have to flow from the initiatives and efforts of the Russian themselves.”

If there was only one message Kennan could pitch as a new mantra for the U.S. policy towards Russia to replace the default and sometimes blind “democracy promotion”, I wish it would be this:

“Let us not hover nervously over the people who come after, applying litmus papers daily to their political complexions to find out whether they answer to our concept of “democratic.” let them work out their internal problems in their own manner. Give them time; let them be Russians; let them work out their internal problems in their own manner.”

The West should not give up on Russia altogether, only on its persistent belief in and insistence on democracy as the ultimate panacea. While there are many issues of concern, particularly where Putin’s policies are verging on totalitarianism and lack of accountability, it is not too late to recognize that meaningful change can only come about on Russian terms.

1George Kennan, “Democracy and the Russian Future,” (Foreign Affairs, XXIX, No. 3 April, 1951), 351-70.

2Larry Diamond, “Thinking about Hybrid Regimes”, (Journal of Democracy, April 2002).

3Morton Halperin, Joseph Siegle, and Michael Weinstein, The Democracy Advantage: How Democracies Promote Prosperity and Peace, (Routledge 2004).

4Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, “The Rollback of Democracy in Vladimir Putin’s Russia,”, 7 June 2005.

5Lilia Shevtsova, Putin’s Russia, (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2003).

6Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, (W.W. Norton & Company, New York London, 2003), 95-96.

7Kennan, 135.

8Ibid., 151-152.

9Ibid., 136.

Monday, December 25, 2006


With the permission of Professor Joshua Landis, we have a lovely Christmas present to offer: an entire issue of for our readers. The issue itself is one in which I think you will find most enjoyable and informative. And, much of what is discussed, especially about Saudi policy vis-`a-vis, both the USA, Iraq, and Syria, have been extensively discussed by ourselves in the recent past. However, not from so informed and high-level sources! What more could the intelligent individual ask for, in the way of a Christmas gift for this most joyous of all days. So, read and enjoy!


Could the US be Planning Covert Action in Lebanon and beyond?

Posted: 22 Dec 2006 12:11 PM CST

Could the US be Planning Covert Action in Lebanon and beyond? Some fanciful speculation. Read the leaked story from Swoop copied below. In effect it suggests that Elliot Abrams and associates at the NSC have been working with Bandar bin Sultan on a covert action operation involving support to paramilitary rivals of Hizballah in Lebanon, with Israeli foreknowledge and approval. The core of the story is in line with recent speculations I have been engaged in with some Middle East insiders. The speculation goes something like this: The NSC diehards and Bandar (with Israeli coordination) have been working on a covert action program, the purpose of which is to strike back at Iran through surrogates, with the arrangements made in such a way as to obviate the need for a Presidential Covert Action Finding, which in today's Washington could not be kept secret. The Saudis would play the role of paymasters and prospective unindicted co-conspirators in case the operation is exposed (which seems to be the likely outcome). The leaking of the Syria MEPI money story to Time Magazine and this story to Swoop suggest some Washington insiders are worried that Cheney and the NSC are up to a hairball scheme which would only sink the US into further Middle East troubles.
Here is the story leaked to a Swoop reporter.

Iraq and the Wider Middle East: The Administration’s Counter Attack Published on: December 22nd 2006 13:14:58, in Swoop

During his current consultations on the new strategy for Iraq, President Bush has told those advising him that he is not interested in any proposals that do not involve “success.” “Anyone who does not believe in victory should leave the room right now,” was how he began one consultation session. Top National Security Council officials are describing the Iraq Study Group as “discredited” and “dead and buried.” Instead a new policy is taking shape. Based on recent discussions between former Saudi Ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar bin Sultan and NSC Middle East Director Elliott Abrams, this policy foresees a central role for Saudi Arabia as a supplier of money and weapons to local conflicts involving Iranian surrogates. This is already happening in Lebanon, where anti-Hezbollah groups are receiving substantial Saudi help. Israeli intelligence officials are also encouraging these moves. “What we are seeing here,” a second NSC official commented, “s the Administration’s counter-attack to the ISG. Bush wants to negotiate from strength not weakness. He is trying to create new facts on the ground. This is an ambitious strategy. If it works, it allows us to recover much of the ground that Iraq has cost us. The opposite is also true. This strategy could double our losses. The key point here is that the Administration is still playing for a win in the Middle East. It is not leaving quietly.
It is too early to make predictions, but this could be another Iran Contra – a deliberate attempt to circumvent legal procedures for Covert Action.

There are a number of reasons to believe that President Bush and the Security Council are preparing covert action in Lebanon in order to regain the offensive in the Middle East.
The sudden unannounced departure of Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki suggests that Saudi Arabia will be the financier of this operation. Prince Bandar bin Sultan's return to Washington in the form of his young protégé, Adel al-Jubeir. Polished and American-educated, Mr. Jubeir, 44, once worked for Prince Bandar when he was ambassador to Washington. Over the past few months, we know that Prince Bandar has been visiting Washington frequently, staying at the Hay Adams Hotel and visiting people at the White House. He was not notifying Prince Turki of these visits, which has been a flagrant and insulting breach of diplomatic protocol, to say nothing of its personal discourtesy to his own brother-in-law.

Another curiosity has been the repeated rumors of a meeting between Bandar and some unidentified Israelis, time and place unspecified. (The strongest rumor was that one meeting took place in Amman last summer.) The rumors have been persistent, and deserve some credence.

Here are some bits we know or think we know:
A European expert reports that the Israelis have been rearming Samir Geagea's "Lebanese Forces," for example. During the summer fighting they reportedly landed materiel on secluded beaches.

This is reminiscent of 1957-58 when the Beirut CIA Station handed out huge shipments of Czech and Swedish submachineguns to the PPS, the Chamoun forces (Na'im Mughabghab's bully-boys), and the Armenian Tashnak paramilitary. At the same time, the CIA also trained 300 Syrian PPS in the hills of Lebanon to make a raid into Syria in order to back up a coup planned in Damascus, which ultimately was uncovered and led to the indictment of many of Syria's Western leaning politicians. The result, as we all know, was that Syrian officials ran to Nasser for protection leading to the formation of the UAR.

Secretary Rice recently announced that the US was boosting its aid to Lebanon to 1 billion dollars in order to help strengthen the Lebanese Army in order to better deal with Hizbullah in the south.

2. Rice lobbies EU not to engage Syria: An EU Ambassador, who was present at both briefings, confided to a friend that shortly after the elections Condi met with the EU Ambassadors to pass the message that regardless of the Democratic victories nothing was going to change re US policy towards Iraq and the wider Middle East. A few days ago she basically repeated this message to the same group of EU Ambs., and although the Baker-Hamilton report was not mentioned, it was clear that she met with them to disabuse them of any hopes for changes. The source described her presentation as "very ideological." The Amb. also said that the USG had been actively discouraging and lobbying against any EU senior level contacts with Damascus, and of course, Iran outside of the context of the various SC res. that are aimed at these two countries. To judge from his comments, our EU friends are becoming increasingly resentful and restless with such US vetoes, particularly after the elections and the Baker-Ham report. In this respect, the Amb. said his Foreign Minister is going to Damascus soon to find out for himself what might be possible in engaging with Syria.

3. The US is moving additional naval power into the Gulf as a "warning" to Iran and Syria.
Here is the speculation of one Middle East hand. This is just the product of speculation, but sometimes it is worth engaging in such fanciful imaginations.

So I have been experimenting with the following hypothetical scenario:

1. The Saudi royal family, the Olmert regime in Israel, and the government of the United States all share in common some deep concerns over situations in the Middle East that none of the three parties seems capable of dealing with effectively on its own:
• An Iran that is becoming increasingly self-confident and confrontational — and seems destined to become a nuclear power in the foreseeable future; • An increasing likelihood that following U.S. failure in Iraq, the entire region could soon be dominated by, or certainly threatened by, unstable Shia Arab governments that are closely aligned with Iran; • Continuing instability in Lebanon, with the ominous prospect that the Beirut government will eventually be dominated by an alliance effectively controlled by Hizballah and thus under significant influence from Syria and Iran; • Dominance of the political and religious energies and emotions of the Arab “street” throughout the region by radicals, whether they be new-generation terrorists, traditional anti-Western Arab nationalists or religious fanatics of the Al-Qaeda, Hamas or Hizballah variety.
Furthermore, it strikes me that all three parties (Saudi Royal Family, Israeli hawks and neocon hard-liners in Washington) all share, at this moment in history, a common desperation to avoid embarrassing failure of their current policies, and a deep-rooted fear that history will portray them as bumbling incompetents. In all three cases, these anxieties are acute and urgent. Let’s consider for a moment the very significant (indeed, absolutely critical) advantages that would accrue to all three parties if the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad were overthrown and replaced by a weak and compliant government: • Split Syria from Iran, its Axis of Evil ally; • Cut off Syrian support for Hizballah and Hamas, and make Iranian aid to them much more difficult both politically and logistically; • Solve the Lebanon crisis decisively in favor of Beirut’s anti-Syrian alliance; • Deal the present Iranian leadership a humiliating political setback; • Enable friendly elements to control the Syria-Iraq border in the west; • Restore Sunni power in Damascus and move Syria dramatically toward popular democracy; • Eliminate the strategic threat on Israel’s northern border. (Many in Israel believe that they dodged a bullet in South Lebanon this summer. In time, with the addition of reliable guidance systems and possibly nuclear warheads, the Hizballah rockets would have posed a threat to the Jewish Homeland similar to, but much more menacing, than Soviet missiles in Cuba would have posed in 1962.) (And other variations of those general points, all of which are obvious.)

Let’s look at this picture first from the Washington prospective:
If the activists at the NSC wanted to support a regime change operation in Syria, they would want to do so in a way that would obviate the need for a Presidential Covert Action Finding, which would be impossible to keep secret in today’s Washington. That goal could only be accomplished by getting other parties to do the job for us — at arm’s length, and with plausible deniability (as Elliot Abrams and Ollie North and their group attempted to do, unsuccessfully, in the Iran-Contra case.). I suspect the NSC would be confident that they could avoid normal Covert Action legal and procedural formalities by making the Saudi Arabian Government the principal agent of the operation — with the added comfort of guaranteed political support from the Israeli Government and its friends in the United States in case of exposure. To "flip" Syria, in other words, the United States would need an Arab partner — to provide the money, to manage relations with the anti-Assad Syrian exile dissidents who would take over Syria, and to be the unindicted co-conspirator for legal "cover". The NSC would also want to have the concurrence and tacit support of Israel in advance, partly for the political protection that such an agreement would afford domestically, but also from a practical operational standpoint because there would be need for an Israeli contingency military intervention capability to finish off the operation in Syria if it should fail to accomplish its objectives of overthrowing the Bashar al-Assad regime quickly and cleanly. (To avoid the mistake made at the Bay of Pigs when the Cuban exile operation ran into trouble and Kennedy declined to intervene with US military forces; or to avoid the situation that developed in Iraq in 1991 when, after encouraging Kurdish and Shiite rebellions, the US failed to come to their assistance. Those were, at least in the perception of present neocon activists, errors of strategic judgment that the Bush 43 administration would be resolved not to repeat. So Israel would have to be included in the plan.)

Who is the one and only person capable of first conceptualizing, and then selling, the radical and shocking notion to King Abdallah that he could profitably ally himself with a friendly Bush administration and a desperate Olmert clique in a covert operation to unseat and replace a brother Arab government? Who else but Bandar bin Sultan enjoys the confidence of a small inner circle in Washington (especially Dick Cheney and NSC hard-liners)? Who has the private ear of King Abdallah, and might persuade HM of the absolute necessity of working with the Americans to split Syria from Iran? Who among the Saudis would be able to persuade his boss of the need to deal secretly with the hated Zionists to further such a critically important set of mutually advantageous objectives? Who among the Saudis has the personal traits of character (the audacity, the ambition, the fighter-pilot chutzpah)?

But then I began to think in more ambitious terms. If they could cooperate to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, why would these high-rollers stop there? Why not complete the job — of knocking out Iran’s nuclear facilities?

Consider these realities:

• All expectations of stopping Iran from acquiring nukes through multilateral diplomatic persuasion or economic sanctions seem doomed, while George Bush’s public commitment to thwart the obnoxious upstart Ahmedinejad deepens constantly. Furthermore, despite serious temptation, the United States, in a post-Rumsfeld atmosphere, seems to be losing its resolve to mount an air attack on Iranian nuclear targets in what would amount to another full-scale preemptive war; • Israel, however, still regards the Iranian nuclear threat as being of such existential magnitude that it might be willing to take the risk of doing the job itself — if the operational conditions for an air attack were substantially improved — like a free pass to use Saudi airspace; • Saudi Arabia views the prospects of a nuclear Shia superpower across the narrow Gulf as equally dire.

So why not go all the way? An Israeli air strike across Saudi Arabia with covert Saudi agreement in advance. While the downside risks of exposure are obviously horrendous, the long-term risks of doing nothing might nevertheless seem absolutely unacceptable in all three capitals, and thus a collaborative effort might appear to be the only practical option available. Although the Iranians and the rest of the world would certainly be aware that the Israeli Air Force had used Saudi airspace, the Saudis might reasonably assume that they could cover their complicity with howls of outrage. (Israeli violations of Arab airspace are nothing new; they happen regularly, even today, in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia with complete impunity.)

There are many reservations to this scenario:

One correspondent wrote:
I doubt that the Saudis would be so stupid as to engage in any substantial "strategic planning" with Israel and the US — regardless of the dreams of people like Elliot Abrams — because (i) this is sure to leak, and (ii) as long as it does not leak, the Israelis could hold making it public as a club over the head of the Saudis — just too much potential for blackmail. Presumably, the senior Saudis would know this and conclude that the "cure" would pose greater domestic dangers to them than the illness.

Turkey will not be on board. Either to destabilize Syria or to allow overflights of its airspace for an attack on Iran. Here is what one Turkey hand wrote:
Turkey will want none of that, and nothing of a Syrian regime change operation either. Being seen as Washington's handmaiden is bad enough, but for the Erdogan government, being seen as Israel's handmaiden is exponentially worse, not so much abroad as in the domestic political context (parliamentary elections in November 2007). Turkey does have certain misgivings about Iran, and certainly does not want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. But it is still heavily dependent on Iran as its #2 supplier of natural gas. (Russia is #1.) Iran, moreover, is closely cooperating with Turkey against the PKK, in marked contrast to the US. So there would be little enthusiasm for an air strike for which the Iranians could blame the Turks. On the other hand, the Turks gets along fine with Syria, which is buying Turkish goods and, like Iran, arresting PKK members and sending them back to Turkey in handcuffs. The US has already destabilized one country on Turkey's borders, with most unpleasant results for the Turks. (Surely the neocons are no longer so foolish as they were in Iraq to think that "regime change" promotes stability in a country that is inherently and endemically unstable? Or are they? "People who do not learn from the mistakes of the past," etc., etc.)
The US has no ability to carry off regime-change in Syria. The opposition is weak and fragmented. Even though Washington has been cottoning up to the National Salvation Front made up of ex-V.P. Abdul Halim Khaddam and the Muslim Brotherhood — meeting with Khaddam people twice last month and encouraging them to open an office in Washington — there is not much hope that they could be of assistance in a regime-change plan in Syria. Moreover, Israeli leaders announced during the Fall of 2005, when some speculated that the UN investigation into the Hariri murder might bring down the Syrian regime, that they were not in favor of destabilizing Syria. They feared that Iraq type chaos might be the result, leading to the emergence of radical Islamic groups in Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power, or a weak democratic regime emerging that would demand the return of the Golan from Washington in order to shore up its credibility. Israeli officials declared that all of these outcomes would be worse than Asad remaining in power. They suggested that a weakened Asad regime would be the best outcome.

What could make Israel reconsider? The Asad regime is not weaker, but has grown stronger due to America's failure in Iraq and Lebanon. There is a strong possibility that Syria will reassert itself in Lebanon. Most importantly, the Lebanon war this summer was a failure from the Israeli point of view. Hizbullah seems to be strengthened within Lebanon, even if its military room for maneuver has been limited due to the strengthened UNIFIL forces. It has been re-armed by Syria and Iran, according to Israeli sources. There is now both internal Israeli pressure and a major Syrian charm offensive designed to pressure Israel to re-engage Syria and give up the Golan, which many Israeli hard liners vow never to do. The Bush hawks have criticized Israel for not winning the war against Hizbullah and for not having attacked Syria — "the real enemy." Bush needs Israeli help to "win in Iraq," as he insists the US can still do. Israel may feel obliged to go along with this Lebanon-Syria part of a US scenario in order to secure US help in taking out Iranian nuclear facilities, which Israel fears more than anything else. All of these factors could play a role in Israel deciding to reactivate efforts to undo Hizbullah and possible actions against Syria.

Here is one Middle East hand who doesn't believe Israel would risk destabilizing Syria:
Your scenario for the success of a campaign for regime change in Syria seems to assume that a successor regime would be a secular Sunni regime. I wonder. The Assad govt., for all of its support of Hizbollah and cozy relations with Iran, is secular. And, we recall that the Islamists tried their hand at regime change in the early 1980s and the Bathis crushed them. Now with the Islamists growing in strength in the area, what are the chances that a successor regime in Syria would be Islamist? If no one has the answer to this question, would the Israelis risk this? (However, I'm afraid that in the never-never land of the current US national security environment we might well be willing to take this risk.)

At a panel sponsored by the Foundation for Middle East Peace yesterday (Thursday, December 21st), Daniel Levy, a brilliant liberal Israeli activist who was one of the principal promoters of the Geneva Accord and is here on a six month gig with the New America Foundation, expressed deep resentment that the U.S. seems to be more interested in conflict creation that conflict resolution in the Middle East, and views Israel as a military surrogate to do our dirty work, "fighting our wars right down to the last Israeli soldier." Daniel's father is Lord Levy of Liverpool, Tony Blair's Middle East advisor.

This is all speculation and seems quite over the top, but this administration has done over-the-top things before. The determination to reject the Baker-Hamilton advice and surge troops in Iraq suggests that the White House has some plans in the works to turn things around. Covert action of the type speculated on here would be a real recipe for disaster. The US would be entering into double or nothing folly. But it has been done before: think Britain and the Suez crisis, in which a beleaguered world power believed it could bring off regime-change in both Egypt and Syria at once. It ended badly. [end of speculation]

Here is the video clip ABC News showed of the US embassy attack two months ago. The claim that Syria had foreknowledge of the attack is wild speculation. The evidence used to back up this claim is that the 20 or so Syrian guards stationed outside of the embassy managed to kill the attackers. What else were they supposed to do? If they had failed to kill the attackers would the commentator have argued that this was proof they didn't have foreknowledge. I doubt it.
War by summer between Israel and either Lebanon or Syria is what a number of Middle East experts are now predicting.

In a recent article in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff report that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are 'already undergoing an intensive process of preparation, which is based in part on lessons already learned from last summer's second Lebanon war. According to sources in the IDF, a major military incursion into Gaza is also likely.
'Lebanon and the Gaza Strip have left too many issues undecided,' Haaretz reports the sources saying, 'too many potential detonators that could cause a new conflagration. The army's conclusion from this is that a new war in the future is a reasonable possibility.' Training of reservists has been stepped up, and Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz told army radio that the country must prepare itself for fighting an 'unconventional war.' Peretz's comment suggests that the IDF is preparing to strike at Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, but recent remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert suggest Syria might be the target.
In rejecting recommendations by the Iraq Study Group that Israel should consider negotiating over returning the Golan Heights, Olmert said 'In my view, Syria's subversive operations, its support for Hamas - which may be what's preventing real negotiations with the Palestinians-do not give much hope for negotiations with Syria anytime soon.' That position was bolstered by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said, 'There is no indication that Syria wishes to be a stabilizing force. They are causing problems in Lebanon of extraordinary proportions.' Rice went on to charge that Damascus is undermining the 'moderate Arab states' and the 'road map' peace plan between Israelis and Palestinians.

In fact, the previous Sharon government and current Olmert government steadfastly maintained there was no 'Palestinian partner' to talk with, and opted for unilateral actions rather than negotiations. The 'road map' is considered largely defunct, particularly after the Bush Administration agreed with the Israeli interpretation that the plan did not require Israel to give up its large West Bank settlements.

Not everyone in the Olmert government is a fan of war with Syria. Amos Yadlin, the chief of Israeli Military Intelligence, recently argued that Tel Aviv should examine the possibility of peace negotiations with Syria, a position Peretz took shortly after the end of the Lebanon war. Peretz came under fire for his comments, and Olmert suggested that Yadlin was 'exceeding the bounds of his authority' write Harel and Issacharoff. There is little doubt that the IDF could smash up Syria's conventional army, but, according to Yadlin, Damascus paid close attention to the Israeli debacle in Southern Lebanon this past summer and is creating a military force modeled on Hezbollah. That would mean missiles and guerilla units armed with anti-tank weapons. Those anti-tank weapons were not only efficient in neutralizing Israeli armor in Lebanon, they served as short-range artillery pieces that had a devastating effect on IDF infantry.

If the Olmert government does decide to attack Syria, it will find that the Israeli public-at least for now- supports it. A recent poll by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research found that only 18 percent of Israelis thought that long-term peace with Syria is possible and 67 percent reject returning the Golan Heights in exchange for peace. Slightly over half think there will be another war with Syria.

Friday, December 22, 2006


"From my recent conversationsit is becoming more and more apparent that although we have a considerable measure of public support from people like Lippmann and the commentators and news analysis [sic] and other gentlemen on the periphery not necessarily Anglophile, the hard core of policy-makers some of whom have been strongly pro-British in the past, are now against us. This will continue certainly until we have made what they would regard as the amende honarable [sic] by rapid withdrawal. Their feeling is that we have to purge our contempt of the President in some ways. I have reasons to believe that in spite of what he said about repairing the Alliance, he is still deeply wounded and that people like Jack McCloy and Lew Douglas are not our friends at the moment for this reason....

If we are going to have difficulty with the party over announcing withdrawal I think that we have to tell certain selected individuals that the Americans have no intention of lifting a finger to help to preserve us from financial disaster until they are certain that we are removing ourselves from Port Said quickly. Although they may help Europe over oil (and possibly us at the same time) on broader economic issues they are just non-negotiable until we have taken this step.

Much of this American attitude is quite irrational and as they frankly admit contrary to their own long-term interests, but they seem impervious to the consequences of failing to grasp the opportunity which we have created in the Middle East or to the risks of permitting a major Russian success. They are temporarily beyond the bounds of reason and even threats to withdraw ourselves from the United Nations, N.A.T.O., etc. would not bring round those who have to make the decisions to a sense of reality".

(Selwyn Lloyd [foreign Secretary] to R. A. Butler [Lord Privy Seal], Telegram from New York to Foreign Office, marked 'Top Secret', 27 November 1956 in PREM [Prime Minister] 11/1106, copy of the original in my possession).

As Prime Minister Tony Blair approaches the end of his tenure of power at 10 Downing Street, it would not be out of place, to attempt to reach some type to overview of his successes and failures in the field of foreign policy. A topic which oddly (or perhaps not so oddly enough) was not regarded as his strong suit, when he first became Prime Minister back in May 1997. However, within a short period of time, Blair soon enough decided, like many other occupants of 10 Downing Street, that Foreign Policy, was an area, which offered him a much greater degree of latitude for the exercise of power, than domestic policy. Consequently, Blair has perhaps to a degree unparalled since perhaps Churchill's Wartime administration, or Lloyd George's peace-time admininstration, controlled foreign affairs. Indeed, as the recent memoirs of Sir Christopher Meyer's clearly show, the Foreign Office in the Blair years, has been most undiplomatically relegated to the sidelines in terms of decision-making. A far cry from what it was in the days of Douglas Hurd in the late Thatcher and Major years. This relegation of course helps to explain some of the more adventurous and less than happy decisions of the Blair years in foreign policy, specifically of course, the Iraq debacle. Overall, it is not difficult to come to a judgment that Blair, a man of intellect, great moral purpose, as well as considerable rhetorical talents, lacked three important quality to make for a first-rate master of the field of diplomacy and foreign policy: one, a historical appreciation of the limitations of force as an arbiter of human relations, as well as a necessary caution about how easy it is to effect changes in societies and cultures abroad; two, and alligned with the above characteristic an ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, id est, what is important (the Arab-Israeli dispute) from the less important (the American obsession with Iraq); three, a willingness to remember Goethe's dictum that: "Genius is knowing when to stop".

With a view towards explaining the beginning, middle and now approaching end of Blair's record, as well as the near term outlook for his successor(s) at 10 Downings Street, is a just released report by the Royal Institute of International Affairs, titled: "Blair's Foreign Policy and its Policy Successor(s)". We now offer it to our readers with our highest recommendation, coming as it does, from the United Kingdom's leading foreign policy think tank. Read and enjoy:

Blair’s foreign policy and its possible successor(s)


Foreign policy has been a defining feature of the Labour government under Tony Blair. Almost all British prime ministers find themselves devoting more time to foreign policy the longer they stay in office, so after nearly ten years it is not surprising that Blair is the dominant figure in formulating the foreign policy of his government. In Blair’s case, of course, the focus on foreign policy may have been accentuated by the difficulty of playing a leading role in the management of the UK economy, where the Chancellor of the Exchequer has held sway for so long. While other ministers concerned with foreign affairs have come and gone, the prime minister has remained – supported by a high-powered team at 10 Downing Street that has often acted independently of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. That is why it is not unreasonable to refer to British foreign policy in the last decade as Blair’s foreign policy. It did not start out that way. Tony Blair did not express much interest in foreign policy before becoming prime minister. Furthermore, his initial choice of ministers suggested that foreign policy would not be the major focus of his attention. Robin Cook, as Blair’s first foreign secretary, hit the ground running while the decision to give responsibility for the aid budget to a new ministry (the Department for International Development) provided its first minister, Clare Short, with a large degree of autonomy. Defence was given to George Robertson, another heavyweight in the Labour team. Only on Europe, where the minister did not at first have cabinet rank, did the prime minister become heavily involved from the beginning.

Qualified success

Foreign policy in the first term of the Labour government (1997–2001) must be judged a qualified success. Indeed, it began remarkably well – albeit for reasons that had nothing to do with the election victory. The handover of Hong Kong to China took place as anticipated, marking the decolonization of the last significant British territory and paving the way for upgrading relations with the remaining overseas territories. The Commonwealth provided an increasingly useful forum in which Britain could establish development priorities and forge diplomatic alliances. The United Kingdom was an enthusiastic supporter of the Millennium Development Goals, agreed at the special summit of the United Nations in September 2000. The Amsterdam Treaty, signed in June 1997, provided an opportunity for Tony Blair to demonstrate that Britain would once again play a constructive role in the European Union, while at the same time holding out the prospect of eventual British membership of the Eurozone. The decision in 1998 to sign into UK law the European Charter of Human Rights was seen in the rest of Europe as a very positive step. The claim that Britain would be at the heart of Europe no longer rang hollow. Furthermore, Blair followed up these promising first steps with a crucial summit with President Chirac at St Malo in 1998 in which the foundations of European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) were laid on the basis of Anglo-French military cooperation. There were some stumbles, of course, as is bound to happen with a new government. Robin Cook’s claim that British foreign policy would have ‘an ethical dimension’ was inevitably interpreted by the media and the Conservative opposition as meaning that Britain would have an ethical foreign policy. This elision then proved hard to square with arms sales to repressive states and the supply of weapons to the ousted Sierra Leone president in 1998 despite a UN arms embargo. The signing of the Kyoto Protocol at the end of 1997 looked promising, but an earlier vote in the US Senate (95–0) refusing to accept any international agreement on climate change that did not include mandatory targets for developing countries was not given the attention that it required. The worst stumble, however, was the decision not to extradite General Pinochet to Spain to face torture charges, but to return him to Chile on medical grounds. When a sprightly Pinochet then showed in media interviews that his mental faculties were not impaired at all, it made a mockery of Britain’s commitment to international human rights – especially as it occurred not long after the UK had argued vigorously and successfully for the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

First test

Blair’s first big test came with the Kosovo campaign in 1999. The eruption of ethnic violence in the Balkans threatened once again to demonstrate the inability of the European Union to deal with a crisis on its doorstep and exposed the divisions among the outside powers. The refusal by the Russian Federation to countenance the use of force ruled out recourse to the United Nations Security Council, while President Clinton was not prepared to commit ground troops that would inevitably be drawn heavily from US forces. The compromise, pursued vigorously by Tony Blair, was an aerial bombardment carried out by NATO without a UN Security Council resolution. This was a momentous decision for two reasons, both of which appealed to Blair. First, it committed NATO for the first time in 50 years to offensive action; and, secondly, it demonstrated how force could be used against a sovereign country with a degree of legitimacy without the support of the United Nations.The rationale of the Kosovo campaign was subsequently set out by the prime minister in his Chicago speech in April 1999, while the war itself was still raging. In essence, this established the conditions under which Britain would support humanitarian intervention against a sovereign power with or without United Nations support. It was a potentially openended commitment that could never be fulfilled consistently given the imbalance between the limited resources available (political as well as military) and the large number of countries where human rights are systematically abused. While calling for a long-term commitment to post-conflict state-building, it showed no appreciation of the difficulties likely to be encountered. It was, in retrospect,
a naïve speech with little or no reference to history that was unduly influenced by European failures in the Balkans before Blair came to power. However, the speech set the tone for the next few years and provided the intellectual case for the military intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000. By the time of his second election victory in June 2001, Tony Blair could look back on his foreign policy with some satisfaction. On the all important question of where to strike a balance between proximity to the United States and being at the heart of the European Union, he had been much more successful than his immediate predecessors. John Major, crippled by party factionalism, had pushed the United Kingdom to the margins of the European project. Margaret Thatcher had put too much emphasis on her close personal relationship with President Reagan. Blair had demonstrated Britain’s European credentials in many ways, while forging a close working relationship with President Clinton. Even the election of George Bush did not faze Tony Blair, despite the former’s early rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, as he established a modus vivendi with the new president.

Relations with the United States

The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 dramatically altered this balancing act. Perhaps it would have changed anyway. The European half of the equation was already beginning to turn sour, as the United Kingdom shiedaway from joining the Eurozone and ‘Brussels’ was increasingly portrayed as part of the problem rather than as part of the solution. However, Blair was one of the first – if not the first – to see how the United States would change as it unleashed its ‘global war on terror’. His desire to show empathy with the United States in its moment of grief was entirely understandable. However, his failure to try to coordinate a European response was regrettable. Instead, Washington DC was witness to a series of visits by European leaders all anxious to demonstrate first and foremost their national support for the United States and whatever steps it might take in response to the attacks. The dangers in this approach were not apparent at first. The decision by the Bush administration to brush aside NATO’s offer of help in the invasion of Afghanistan was allowed to pass. The establishment of a camp at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba to hold ‘illegal combatants’, in apparent breach of the Geneva Conventions, barely raised an eyebrow in British government circles. Even the decision by President Bush to classify Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an ‘axis of evil’ in his State of the Union address in January 2002 went unchallenged by Blair, despite the fact that the United Kingdom had diplomatic relations with the last two and there was no link between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the atrocities of 9/11. At that time, it is true, even a coordinated European response would have made little difference, such was the determination of the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration. However, it gave the distinct impression that Europe was incapable of forming a geo-strategic view, that bilateral relations were the only ones that counted and that the Bush administration could count on British support no matter what policy it adopted. Up to this point, the divisions within the European Union over policy towards the United States were not so severe that they threatened to disrupt the march of the European project. However, by mid-2002 Tony Blair had concluded that President Bush was determined to invade Iraq and that Britain needed to be a partner in this exercise. The British role was therefore to provide diplomatic cover and to enrol allies in Europe and elsewhere as far as possible. This was without a shadow of doubt the defining moment of Blair’s foreign policy – indeed, the defining moment of his whole premiership. It will shape his legacy – for better or for worse – for many years to come.

Decision to invade

The problem Blair faced was not how to maintain European unity in the face of a threatened US preemptive war. He calculated that, as in Kosovo in 1999, success on the battlefield would quickly heal any intra-European wounds that might emerge. Instead, the problem was how to obtain United Nations approval for a war of choice when NATO intervention was ruled out by French and German opposition. A case for humanitarian intervention could have been made, but that was unlikely to command support in the UN Security Council and could have provoked a Russian or even Chinese veto. Instead, in close cooperation with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, the decision was made to emphasize the need to eliminate Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. In hindsight, we can see that this was a terrible mistake. Was it a mistake at the time? The jury is still out on the extent to which Blair knew that the claims about WMD were overblown or even fabricated. What is clear is that the decision to commit British troops to the invasion of Iraq in the absence of a UN Security Council Resolution authorizing the use of force drove a horse and cart through the ‘doctrine of international community’ he had proclaimed in his Chicago speech. Britain was not sure of its case (witness the Attorney-General’s altered advice on the legality of war); the diplomatic options had not been Blair’s foreign policy and its possible successor(s) 3 exhausted (Hans Blix was calling for more time for the UN weapons inspectors); and the national interest was not truly engaged (even if Saddam Hussein had WMD, they were not directed at the United Kingdom). Under these circumstances, the only thing that could have rescued Tony Blair was a swift and successful establishment of a democratic government in Iraq, and that did not happen. One defence of Blair’s position, as so often with British prime ministers, was that unwavering support for the United States in public would bring private influence leading to a change in US policy more favourable to British interests. The announcement by President Bush that the United States would accept a two-state solution in the Middle East and would work towards the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel was therefore seized upon by those close to Blair to demonstrate the effectiveness of the British position. However, there is no evidence that British pressure was responsible for this pronouncement, which simply reiterated the policy established by President Clinton at the end of his administration, although it is true that British officials played a part in drafting the ‘road map’ that was supposed to lead to peace in the region. Iraq may have been the defining moment of Tony Blair’s premiership, but his foreign policy has of course had many other dimensions. The British presidency of the G-8 in 2005, and the preceding preparations, provided an opportunity to shift the agenda away from the Middle East towards other issues that played to British strengths – in particular Africa and climate change. The first was a relatively low-risk strategy, given the momentum that had developed in support of the continent since the launch of NEPAD (the New Partnership for Africa’s Development) in 2001 both in the G-8 and – just as importantly – in Western civil society. The second was a high-risk strategy, given the visceral opposition of the Bush administration to any approach to climate change mitigation that relied on mandatory targets. Yet the judgment of history on these two initiatives of the Blair premiership may be very different. The emphasis on aid and debt relief for Africa in return for an improvement in governance may come to look strangely old-fashioned, while the determination to include the United States, China, India and other big emitters of greenhouse gases in practical solutions to climate change is clearly a harbinger of things to come.

Relations with Europe

The European dimension of Blair’s foreign policy has been particularly difficult to manage since the Iraq invasion. This is not only – indeed, not even primarily – because of the divisions caused by the invasion itself. It has much more to do with the crumbling of the European project following the rejection of the draft constitutional treaty by voters in both France and the Netherlands. Enlargement of the European Union, traditionally one of the few dimensions of European integration supported by a broad swathe of the British political spectrum, is no longer popular and UK membership of the Eurozone has been put on permanent hold. Blair has been unable to persuade most of his European colleagues to take ESDP seriously and defence spending – as a share of GDP – is more likely to fall than rise in most member states. Faced with these obstacles, European policy has essentially become one of damage limitation – as demonstrated by the British presidency of the EU in the second half of 2005. Blair can take credit for the fact that Britain is no longer the outlier when it comes to Europe, but British influence is strictly limited and the British public is still uncomfortable in its European skin.

Success and failure

Outright successes in foreign policy have been relatively few (perhaps that is in the very nature of foreign policy). Blair can certainly take some of the credit for the decision by Colonel Gaddafi to abandon Libya’s nuclear weapons programme, although the colonel continues to run an authoritarian state that contributes very little to the stability of the African continent. The dogged pursuit of a political solution to the Northern Ireland conundrum is also very much to Blair’s credit, although a definitive solution still eludes him. The recent agreement with Spain over Gibraltar may pave the way for a significant deepening of the Anglo-Spanish relationship to the advantage not only of both countries, but of the European Union as a whole. Last, but not least, Tony Blair has put Britain on the right side of the line on many issues dividing the nations of the world, from Turkish membership of the European Union to a tougher relationship with Putin’s Russia to the mitigation of climate change. However, there have been many disappointments and failures along the road – not just the outcome in Iraq. Blair saw the consequences of Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan on the back of drug-trafficking far too late; this was unforgivable given the link between heroin consumption on British streets and the strengthening of warlordism in Afghanistan. Blair has also been unable to prevent Britain’s standing in the Middle East from declining sharply despite his willingness to invest personal political capital in tackling the most sensitive issues; new ideas on making progress towards peace in the region are now much more likely to come from the neighbouring states or Britain’s European partners. Blair has not fully reaped the dividend that might have been expected to come from India’s close historical ties with Britain and its membership of the Commonwealth, while being dragged into a classic European fudge in seeking to lift the arms embargo on China. And international negotiations on the Doha Development Round, the reform of the United Nations and nuclear non-Blair’s foreign policy and its possible successor(s) proliferation – to mention just a few – have been deeply disappointing from Britain’s point of view. The root failure, however, has been the inability to influence the Bush administration in any significant way despite the sacrifice – military, political and financial – that the United Kingdom has made. There are two possible explanations: either the accumulated political capital was not spent wisely or the capital was never as great as was supposed. The latter now looks the most probable explanation, although anecdotal evidence also suggests that the prime minister did not make full use of the opportunities that were presented to him. Given the Byzantine complexity of Washington politics, it was always unrealistic to think that outside powers – however loyal – could expect to have much influence on the US decision-making process. The bilateral relationship with the United States may be ‘special’ to Britain, but the US has never described it as more than ‘close’. The best that could be hoped for is that Britain would ally itself with one of the Washington factions that ultimately prevailed in the internecine struggle for presidential support. Tony Blair has learnt the hard way that loyalty in international politics counts for very little.

Forseeable future

His successor(s) will not make the same mistake. For the foreseeable future, whoever is prime minister, there will no longer be unconditional support for US initiatives in foreign policy. Nor will it make much difference who is in power in the United States. The logic of transatlantic relations today is that costs can be borne by single states, but benefits will accrue to all members of the European Union. There is very little, outside of intelligence-sharing, that a US government can do to reward the UK without rewarding other states. And even when it is possible, as in the case of the export of sensitive military technology, a protectionist Congress ensures that Britain is treated in much the same way as other states. Tony Blair will argue that he never gave unconditional support to his counterpart in the White House, and he can cite the Kyoto Protocol and the establishment of the International Criminal Court as well as Britain’s voting record in the United Nations in his defence. Yet there is no doubt where his instincts lie and this message has been conveyed to his officials throughout the world. A distancing of the United Kingdom from the United States does not amount to a rupture and all likely candidates to succeed Blair as prime minister in the next few years will work to retain good relations. Furthermore, a new US president, from either party, will certainly make things easier in view of the extraordinary public hostility that George Bush has generated in Britain and elsewhere. However, like Suez 50 years ago, the Iraq débâcle marks a watershed in British foreign policy that will alter the relationship with the United States for many years to come. A different relationship with the United States has many consequences, the most important of which is Britain’s role in the European Union. No British government – indeed, no European government – can afford to distance itself from both the United States and the European Union at the same time (although John Major’s administration came close). This may be uncomfortable for both candidates with the best chance of being prime minister in the next five years. Gordon Brown’s instincts are strongly Atlanticist and he has been a strident critic of lagging performance in the Eurozone, while David Cameron has indicated his preference to ally the Conservative Party with European parties that represent the most Eurosceptic tendencies within the European Parliament. A closer relationship with Europe is not only a requirement of British foreign policy, it is also likely to be urged on Britain by future US presidents. A government such as Law and Justice in Poland does the United States no favours by combining a strong Atlanticist streak with Europhobia. What US governments want is a European Union that can make a real contribution to the international political and security agenda, and any European government with the diplomatic skills to deliver EU support will be hugely appreciated. Britain has an opportunity to play that role provided it is taken seriously by its European partners and contributes fully to the European project. In due course, that will require the United Kingdom to revisit its opposition to joining both the Schengen agreement and the Eurozone. Building support within the European Union requires allies – particularly among the six biggest countries. France seems certain to reinforce its partnership with Germany, whoever wins its presidential election in 2007, while both Italy and Poland are going through a prolonged period of introspection that will limit their ability to play a major role in the European Union for several years. That leaves Spain, and the prospects for deepening the bilateral relationship with Britain, once Blair has left office, are very good. The modernization of Spain in the last 20 years has been breathtaking in its speed and success; Spain’s international interests complement those of Britain and it is a natural link to the ‘Hispanics’ who are likely to play such a crucial role in the 2008 US presidential election. The rebalancing of the UK’s foreign policy between the United States and Europe will also affect the security debate. While the decision to replace Trident has effectively already been taken, it is unlikely to be reversed by Blair’s probable successor(s). It becomes harder to make the case for unilateral nuclear disarmament, if Britain ceases to be so close to the United States. The same is true of Britain’s membership of NATO. Blair’s preference, maintaining Britain’s central security role in the nuclear club as well as modernizing its armed forces to play a leading role in NATO, will not be seriously challenged. Even a hung parliament, with the Liberal Democrats holding the balance of power, is unlikely to make much difference. Blair’s foreign policy and its possible successor(s) 5

Positive parts

Some other parts of Tony Blair’s legacy also look secure. The African policy will evolve, partly to cope with the growing influence of China on the continent and partly as empirical evidence emerges on which component of the ‘trade, aid, debt relief’ trinity works best. However, the focus on Africa as the prime candidate for Britain’s growing programme of official development assistance seems certain to stay. The public is comfortable with it and there is cross-party support. And it is an area where Britain, together with France, can play a strong leadership role globally – not just within the EU – without antagonizing the United States. The most positive part of Blair’s legacy in foreign affairs will be climate change policy. While it is easy to criticize the gap between his rhetoric and government actions at home in mitigating climate change, there is no doubt that Blair’s powers of persuasion have been very effective in pushing this issue up the international agenda. And Blair has stuck to it consistently, raising climate change as an international policy concern throughout his premiership. While it will never be possible for him to escape from Iraq as the defining feature of his term, he can take some comfort from the knowledge that the debate on climate change – both domestically and internationally – has moved on significantly since he first came to power and that he can legitimately take some of the credit for this.
Professor Victor Bulmer-Thomas OBE has been Director at Chatham House since April 2001 and steps down on 31 December 2006.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Perhaps the first development of note, which took place recently and, which did not, dear reader receive the coverage that it should, was the surprise resignation of the Saudi Arabian Ambassador, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, last week, after only fifteen months on the job. Previously, His Excellency's other postings have included the embassy in London, and, being head of the Saudi security and intelligence services of many years. According to Agence France Presse, the sudden departure of Prince Turki, had official Washington swirling with rumors ranging from that he was being replaced due to bureacratic (Ruling Family actually) backstabbing, to that he was being groomed to replace his ailing brother, as foreign minister. Other sources claimed that his resignation was an attempt by Rihyad to emphasize to Washington that the Kingdom was seriously concerned about the chaotic situation in Iraq, and that if American policy failed to seriously consider the interests of the Sunni majority in the entire region, then the Kingdom would take steps to distance itself from Washington (see the ariticle in last Wednesday's AFP in However according to a press conference by the Saudi Foreign Minister in Rihyad held today, none of the above reasons are accurate in the least. According to Prince Saudi Al-Faisal, the reason for the resignation of his brother was merely the fact that he wanted to: "it was purely a personal decision". In addition, the foreign minister made clear that far from being interested in actively intervening in Iraq's civil war, on the side of the Sunni minority, the Kingdom:

"Stands at an equal distance from all factions in Iraq....

Since the beginning of the crisis in Iraq and the formation of the government ... the kingdom has been saying that it stands at an equal distance from all Iraqi factions....We do not pose as guardians of one faction or sect....

We cooperate with anyone who wants [to preserve] the unity ... and independence of Iraq,....

We hope Iraqi citizens will be treated equally before the law in terms of rights and duties"

If nothing else, these comments throw into doubt, as I and others have made clear, that Saudi Arabia, in contrast with its past history, would intervene overtly in a conflict among its neighbors.

The second development of note, was the extension and the rejection of a peace offering by Assad fils, this Friday just past. In an interview in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the Syrian leader offered to open talks with Israel without preconditions and, indeed, offered the same to the USA over Iraq (see the full text of the translated interview in Professor Joshua Landis's Within days of this diplomatic demarche, the Israeli Prime Minister, Omert, issued a complete non possumus, stating that: "we do not have the impression that there is a basis for opening negotiations with Syria". A stand which it would appear reflects fear that Washington will overtly oppose any moves by Tel Aviv to open a separate dialogue with the regime in Damascus. Perhaps a sign that this is in fact the case, were the statement pro-offered by visiting British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that:

"if Syria makes a choice to be constructive for peace, to support democratic governments, not undermine them, then we remain open, of course, to being constructive with them."

"But if ... they are supporting people engaged in terrorism or supporting the undermining of a democratically elected government, in this case the [Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora government in Lebanon," he added, "it's not us refusing to have anything to do with them, it's that the principles by which we are acting are transgressed"

Insofar as whatever else one may think of Damascus, it can and does play the role of spoiler, tremendously well, in the Levant, and elsewhere in the region, the American-Israeli-British 'non' to Assad fils, offer leaves much to be desired. Especially, with all the other troubles affecting the West in the region, needlessly ignoring or rejecting Syria's offers of talks, talks mind you without pre-conditions, seems scarcely reasonable. Indeed shows an almost complete lack of diplomatic reason altogether...

A final diplomatic development was the re-opening of six power talks in Peking dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue. This is the first time that talks have resumed, in well over a year, and, the first since Pyongyang's nuclear pseudo-test this fall. While the re-opening of the talks were a major victory for PRC diplomacy, it does not appear that any real progress is expected soon on the impasse between the USA and Japan on the one side, and North Korea on the other. With Pyongyang adamant that the USA scale-down or even halt, its financial measures which have substantially hurt the miniscule, but important North Korean foreign 'trade' (read: money laundering, smuggling and conterfeiting). The real issues are: whether or not, Japan and the USA can increase pressure that South Korea and China will decide that a nuclear North Korea is more of a danger, if that results in a Nuclear armed Japan, than not. It could be argued, that in the absence of a consistent and firm South Korean stance on the issue, that the USA and Japan, should in effect, wash their hands of South Korea, withdraw American troops, and, fall back on George Kennan's old idea of 1949, of making Japan (via its possession of nuclear weapons) the bulwark of American power in the region. Indeed, it may be that the only thing that the PRC fears more than a collapse of North Korea, is a nuclear armed Japan firmly tied to the American camp. And, while any settlement of the North Korean crisis will call for intelligent American concessions, it is doubtful that unless the PRC and South Korea fears something more than the collapse of the regime in Pyongyang, than nothing of substance will come of the talks (see some interesting essays in two online journals dealing with East Asian Affairs, on the North Korean crisis: Nautilus & China Security in &

Sunday, December 17, 2006


"Nagorno-Karabakh: Between Vote and Reality".

"On 10 December 2006, Nagorno-Karabakh held a referendum in which close to 75,000 people, or 83% of voters, approved the entity's first constitution. The document calls Nagorno-Karabakh a "sovereign democratic" state. The date of its approval is significant: the poll took place fifteen years to the day after the mountainous Caucasian enclave's Armenian population voted overwhelmingly for independence....

But neither the 1991 referendum nor that of 2006 is recognised as legitimate abroad. Nagorno-Karabakh may have been establishing state-like institutions since 1991, but it continues to be internationally considered as part of Azerbaijan, and no state - not even Armenia - has ever recognised its statehood....

Today, Nagorno-Karabakh's de facto authorities demand independence and international recognition, citing their right to national self-determination. Azerbaijan pledges that Nagorno-Karabakh's population will be provided with the highest form of self-government but within the country's frontiers. It claims the sanctity of international borders and its right to preserve its territorial integrity. It also blames Armenia for supporting Nagorno-Karabakh militarily and economically, in effect participating in the annexation of Azerbaijani land.

Since 1992, Azerbaijan and Armenia have been negotiating to find a solution. Talks have been facilitated by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk group, chaired by France, Russia and the United States. In 1997, 1998 and 2001 it seemed as though the sides were close to agreeing on a comprehensive settlement. However, each time, hopes were dashed....

Despite the difficulties, the building blocks of the potential settlement are well-known. The International Crisis Group spelled them out in two reports in 2005, and the mediators' summer statement confirmed the details: all sides would renounce the use of force; Armenian troops would withdraw from parts of Azerbaijan surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh; displaced persons would be allowed to return; and both sides would commit to holding a referendum - whose results would be recognised by all - in Nagorno-Karabakh on final status, with the participation of Karabakh Armenians and Azeris. In the meantime, the entity would have an interim status, and the international community would provide substantial assistance, including peacekeepers - for this, the only "frozen conflict" in Europe without international monitors....

In a surprise turnaround after a brief meeting between the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents on the sidelines of the CIS summit in Minsk on 28 November, President Aliyev optimistically declared, "we are approaching the final stage" of the negotiations process. Azerbaijani foreign minister Elmar Mammadyarov added that only one matter remains a source of disagreement.

What could this be? In the past, negotiations have stalled over several issues, including the future of two land corridors linking Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia (Lachin and Kelbajar), and the modalities of the future referendum and its conditioning on refugee return. After the Minsk meeting, Aliyev also stated "Azerbaijan's negotiating position remains unchanged." As Baku has refused to consider granting Nagorno-Karabakh any status outside Azerbaijan, the remaining sticking-point in the negotiations is likely to be the modalities of the referendum; and more specifically whether it would allow Nagorno-Karabakh to gain independence and international recognition or not....

Allowing Nagorno-Karabakh to hold an internationally accepted referendum on its future status, with the participation of Karabakh Azeris and Armenians, is a key element in any resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Such a deal would be comparable to what Serbia agreed to in signing the Belgrade agreement in 2002, which created the "State Union of Serbia and Montenegro". A clause was inserted into the Belgrade agreement stating that Montenegro could begin independence procedures in 2006, culminating in a referendum....

These post-Soviet referenda, like Nagorno-Karabakh on 10 December, are in no way comparable to Montenegro's. They did not meet the same conditions: most importantly, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova never gave their consent for them to occur. The Azerbaijani ministry of foreign affairs said that the Nagorno-Karabakh referendum "interferes with an ongoing peace process", and the vote could not be considered legitimate until the area's ethnic Azeris were able to return....

If Stepanakert wants to be gain legitimacy, it needs to show the international community not only that it can organise orderly and fair referendums, but also that it allows all those who should be eligible to vote to actually cast their ballots. In other words, they must begin to accept the return of the 40,000 Karabakh Azeris who were forced to flee in 1991-92
". Sabine Freizer 14 December 2006, in

As in the past, our good friends of the noteworthy and no doubt humanitarianly inclined International Crisis Group, have put out a statement about one of the disputes afflicting the Kavkaz region: to wit the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, over the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabak. The conflict over the enclave, erupted back in the early Nineties of the last century, when in the breakup of Sovietskaya Vlast, the Armenian enclave fearing persecution by the overwhelming Muslim and nationalist regime in Baku, revolted and with the aid of their confreres in Armenia proper, threw-out the Azeri forces, as well as thousands of Azeris inhabitants of the enclave. Fighting which soon spilled over into Azeri territory proper, resulted in Armenian forces occupying considerable portions of Azeri territory, when a cease-fire was declared in 1994. Since then, negotiations between the two sides have been continuous, especially in the last six years, and, in those six years neither side has offered up the concessions necessary for a breakthrough. Id est, notwithstanding the fact that as far back as January of 2002 the American Special Envoy for resolving the talks stated that: "Current geopolitical conditions are well suited to for a deal", nothing of substance has occurred to make a settlement come any closer to reality (See Kenan Aliyev's article of 14 January 2002 in Indeed, it is merely a year ago, that the self-same Mlle. Frezier was optimistic that:

"Our understanding and our feeling is that there will be a progress in the talks, especially in 2006. And we are very hopeful that a settlement will possibly be found"
see above:

The recent talks in Minsk conducted at the Russian embassy, as part of the CSIS meeting, are part and parcel of this longstanding pattern. While the Azeri President Aliyev considered the talks had resulted in progress on a number of points, stating that the "we are approaching the final stage", his Armenia counterpart was much more muted. And, even President Aliyev admitted that neither side had in fact budged from their more important positions. In the case of Baku, that there is absolutely no question of Azerbaijan agreeing to any type of settlement which could result in Karabakh being granted independence. Whether or not such was endorsed by a popular referendum, of all 1992 residents of the enclave(on this see: Liz Fuller's article in 2 December 2006 article on the talks in ). Indeed, Baku has in effect disowned the ballon d'essai, that it would be willing to accept the results of any such referendum, which it temporarily flew late in 2005 (see: 23 January 2006 report in And, in turn, Armenia refuses to endorse any settlement which the authorities in Stepanakert would object to. In short, there is about as much reason to be optimistic now, as one year ago, or indeed six or ten years ago. Indeed, the Baku based regional commentator Zardust Alizade, was I believe speaking realistically when he stated that the upshot of the talks, in the absence of an attempt at a miliatary solution would that the conflict "will stay frozen for ten years more" (see:

As per the international implications of the conflict they are as follows: roughly speaking, Christian Armenia is allied with equally Christian Russian, and with Muslim Persia (!). While Azerbaijian is allied with Christian, but anti-Russian, Georgia and Muslim Turkey. The Western powers are as it were in the middle: the ideal situation for both the United States and the EU is for a resolution of the conflict which is acceptable to all sides. Principally because of the oil and gas exports which have now started to flow from Azerbajian to Western Europe. However, due to the large Armenia diaspora in both Western Europe and the United States, it is not possible for either to overtly support, oil and gas rich Baku. Particularly if, as it seems likely Baku were to attempt a coup de main and try to overthrow the status quo post bellum. Indeed from an Amerian perspective, that scenario would be the worst of all possible worlds: one of its two favorite clients in the Kavkaz region (Georgia being the other one), would be overtly violating international law by engaging in open aggression. And, precisely because of this open aggression the USA and the EU would be powerless to assist Baku.

While indeed, if the first shot were to be fired by Baku in an offensive against Armenia, the end result would be that both Russia and Persia (especially the former) would intervene on the side of Armenia. With sotto voce American encouragement for the purchasing of heavy military equipment, being possibly taken in Baku as encouragement to some type of future use of force, one can only hope that both the United States and the EU will strongly discourage any type of adventurism. Since indeed the end result of such an adventure is that Azerbajian will, due to the better elan vital of Armenia forces,and, the strength of its diaspora, again defeat the Azeris. With the only difference being that the oil and gas pipelines which are readily within reach of any future conflict zones, will no doubt be destroyed. And, no doubt a Azeri defeat would be followed by the overthrow of the currently, pro-Western, if corrupt Aliyev regime in Baku. Something that is in the interest of no one.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


"The Statesman manipulates reality; his first goal is survival; he feels responsible not only for the best but also forthe worse conceivable outcome. His view of human nature is wary; he is conscious of many great hopes which have failed, of many good intentions that could not be realized, of selfishness and ambitions and violence. He is therefore, inclined to erect hedges against the possibility that even the most brillant Idea might prove abortive and that the most eloquent formulation might hide ulterior motives. He will try to avoid certain experiments, not because he would object to the results if they succeeded, but because he would feel himself responsible for the consequences if they failed. He is suspicious of those who personalize foreign policy, for history teaches him the fragility of structures dependent on individuals. To the statesman, gradualism is the essence of stability; he represents an era of average performance, of gradual change and slow construction.

By contrast, the prophet is less concerned with manipulating than with creating reality. What is possible interests him less than what is 'right'. He offers his vision as the test and his good faith as a guarantee. He believes in total solutions; he is less absorbed in methodology than in purpose. He believes in the perfectability of man. His approach is timeless and not dependent on circumstances. He objects to gradualism as an unnecessary concession to circumstance. He will risk everything because his vision is the primary significant reality to him. Paradoxically, his more optimistic view of human nature makes him more intolerant than the statesman. If truth is both knowable and attainable, only immorality or stupidity can keep man from realizing it. The prophet represents an era of exaltation, of great upheveals, of vast accomplishments, but also of enormous disasters."

Henry Alfred Kissinger, "Domestic Structure and Foreign Policy", in Daedalus (Spring 1966).

With the diplomatic and military debacle in the Near East, followed by political debacle in the recent American Congressional elections, the sacking of Secretary Rumsfeld, and the release of the Iraq Study Group report, it was hoped that the American President George Bush and his closest advisors, would relent and recognize the dangerous pass that their policy has landed the United States in. However, from the public statements and comments by Mr. Bush, it would appear that a newfound appreciation of 'realism' is the very last thing that the American President has time for. On the 13th of this month for example, the White House put out a statement attacking the current regime of Assad fils, for ruling by 'brute force' (see the statement in Similar statements have been made about there being no 'graceful exit' from Iraq, and, that there is no need for any type of negotiations with Persia over the same.

In a similar vein were the comments made by Secretary of State Rice, to the Washington Post, which were published on Friday the 15th. The interview is quite remarkable due to the essentially positive, indeed almost optimistic sounding, language and verbiage that Dr. Rice used. A good example of which is her comment that the present time in the Near East far from being a difficult one for American policy, was in fact, one that: 'provided the United States with new opportunities'. And, while she did promise to pursue much more aggressively some type of peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, for the most part, Rice's words betray a stubborn adherence to prior American policy in the area. A policy which has been roundly condemned by not only much of the American public, but, by much of Official Washington as well. Indeed, at this point, it would appear that it is only the President and his innermost circle, which still holds fast to the neo-conservative concept of forced Democratization of the Near East. In that respect, using the definitions offered up by Henry Kissinger forty years ago, both Bush and his Secretary of State, are in effect 'revolutionaries', and definitely not Statesmen. Belief in the ideology of both 'regime change', and forced Democratization, appears consistently to have trumped any realistic concepts or knowledge of the region. Which given the abysmal ignorance of both the history and politics of the region , displayed by much of the inner circle of the Bush regime is very much par for the course. Concomitant with the virtual exclusion from decision-making, almost anyone who did possess any such knowledge...

To conclude what Rice's interview (see below) clearly shows, is that both she and the Mr. Bush are truly the last of the Mohicans,insofar as it concerns American policy in the Near East. Unfortunately, unlike some more optimistic observers, such as Professor Joshua Landis, who think that the Bush policy has about four months to run, before being forced by pressure here and abroad to change course altogether, I am more doubtful. Even the appointment of Mr. Robert Gates to replace, while a positive step, does not, to my way of seeing things, fundamentally change the internal dynamics of the Bush regime: a Presidency where the decision-making circle, is probably the smallest and the most incompetent, at least in terms of foreign affairs, in probably the twentieth century. The comparisons that spring to mind, are in fact less with those of previous American history, than such discredited (if not worse) regimes as late Tsarist Russia and late Wilhelmine Germany. Regimes where Weberian bureacratic rationality of the decision-making process was overthrown due to the whims (if not worse) of the Head of State. Consequently I do not see any change occurring in the Administration's policy dealing with either Iraq or the Near East. I only see a failed set of policies being followed through to the very end. Please see below for the interview:

Rice Rejects Overture To Iran And Syria
By Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 15, 2006; A01

"Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday rejected a bipartisan panel's recommendation that the United States seek the help of Syria and Iran in Iraq, saying the "compensation" required by any deal might be too high. She argued that neither country should need incentives to foster stability in Iraq.

"If they have an interest in a stable Iraq, they will do it anyway," Rice said in a wide-ranging interview with Washington Post reporters and editors. She said she did not want to trade away Lebanese sovereignty to Syria or allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon as a price for peace in Iraq.

Rice also said there would be no retreat from the administration's push to promote democracy in the Middle East, a goal that was de-emphasized by the Iraq Study Group in its report last week but that Rice insisted was a "matter of strategic interest." She reiterated her commitment to pursuing peace between Palestinians and Israelis -- a new effort that President Bush announced in September but that has yielded little so far.

"Get ready. We are going to the Middle East a lot," Rice said.

In a separate interview with Post editors and reporters, Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte provided an assessment of the situation in Iraq that did not deviate much from the Iraq Study Group's grim appraisal. He said the Iraqi insurgency could now finance itself from inside Iraq "through corruption, oil smuggling and kidnappings."

Rice's remarks indicated that, despite a maelstrom of criticism of Bush's policies by outside experts and Democrats, the administration's extensive review of policy in Iraq and the region will not yield major changes in its approach. Rice said that Bush could be "quite expansive" in terms of a policy review and that the new plan would be a "departure." But the president will not radically change any of his long-term goals or commitment to Iraq, she said.

Indeed, Rice argued that the Middle East is being rearranged in ways that provide the United States with new opportunities, what she repeatedly called a "new strategic context."

She said the range of struggles in the Middle East, such as the election of Hamas in the Palestinian territories, the conflict between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government, and strife in Iraq, represents a "clarifying moment" between extremists and what she called mainstream Arabs.

"This is a time for pushing and consulting and pressing and seeing what we can do to take advantage of this new strategic context," Rice said.

But she said democracy in the Middle East is "not going to be concluded on our watch" and acknowledged that "we've not always been able to pursue it in ways that have been effective."

"I take that criticism," she added.

Rice's comments on Iran and Syria were among her strongest on one of the key recommendations of the Iraq panel, co-chaired by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton. The report noted that Iran cooperated with the United States on Afghanistan and urged the administration to "explore whether this model could be replicated in the case of Iraq."

Bush called Iran part of an "axis of evil" shortly after the 2001 Bonn conference that led to the formation of the Afghan government, a label that Iranian diplomats have said soured Tehran's interest in cooperation.

In May, Rice offered to join talks on Iran's nuclear program if Tehran suspended its uranium-enrichment program, but Iran has rejected that condition. She said that Syrian officials have been unreceptive to previous entreaties by U.S. diplomats.

Negroponte noted that Iran was in a "defensive posture" three years ago when Iraq was invaded, wondering whether it would soon be a target. But now, flush with oil wealth, he said, it has become a major factor in the Middle East.

Rice said the administration's goal over the next two years is to give Iraqis the space to marginalize extremists and create a moderate middle that can hold the country together. The violence may not have ended before the administration leaves office, she acknowledged, but she said she hopes that Iraqis would "get to a place that is sustainable" by the end of 2008.

Although the administration is reviewing its troubled strategy in Iraq, Rice said the United States ultimately does not hold the key to solving the country's multifaceted military and political crises.

"The solutions to what is happening in Iraq lie in Baghdad, in their ability to deal with their own political differences," she said. The U.S. role is only in a support capacity, she said, reflecting the emerging undercurrent of the ongoing White House policy review to shift the mission from combat to support in both security and political reconciliation.

Rice said Iraqi officials have appealed to the administration to show greater flexibility and to hand over more responsibility to the new government, which was elected last December and took office in May.

Rice voiced support for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki but said the full array of sectarian and ethnic leaders must be prepared to bring their diverse communities along in tackling the most sensitive issues, including political reconciliation and disarming militias.

The administration has been pressing this message in meetings with two of Iraq's most prominent leaders, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of Iraq's largest Shiite party, who was in Washington last week, and this week with Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, the highest-ranking Sunni in Iraq's government.

"You can't ask a prime minister in a democracy to take difficult steps that nobody will back that up," Rice said.

Although Shiite militias and death squads are behind much of the sectarian violence, Rice said she believes that most Iraqi Shiites are "firmly" on the side of democracy. The Shiite-dominated government is committed to Iraq's national identity and does not want Iraq to be dominated by Iran, Rice said."