'A Pitiful Helpless Giant' Again?
"Why is the world today apparently becoming covered so quickly in troublesome abscesses of political, religious and ethnic violence?
One of the main reasons is the United States' loss of deterrent power. In the absence of a real permanent UN force,the United States is the only permanent Security Council member that has a credible modern army, capable of being dispatched quickly to any part of the world. The problem is that this force no longer really inspires fear.
Unfortunately for the West - and for world peace as a whole - the United States, by becoming bogged down in Iraq, has destroyed its deterrence power and thus its political credibility. Its advice, demands, and threats are much less heeded than they were just three years ago".
"He [Primakov] also criticized the invasion of Iraq and what the US calls as propagation of democracy in the region, pointing out to its current result in Iraq in terms of destructive chaos.
The former Russian premier saw that uni-polarity in the world would not last long as the world is on its way towards multiplicity and it is not acceptable any more that the US decides the fate of the world".
"The end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union brought about a fourth era in the region's history, during which the United States enjoyed unprecedented influence and freedom to act. Dominant features of this American era were the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait, the long-term stationing of U.S. ground and air forces on the Arabian Peninsula, and an active diplomatic interest in trying to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all (which culminated in the Clinton administration's intense but ultimately unsuccessful effort at Camp David). More than any other, this period exemplified what is now thought of as the "old Middle East." The region was defined by an aggressive but frustrated Iraq, a radical but divided and relatively weak Iran, Israel as the region's most powerful state and sole nuclear power, fluctuating oil prices, top-heavy Arab regimes that repressed their peoples, uneasy coexistence between Israel and both the Palestinians and the Arabs, and, more generally, American primacy.
What has brought this era to an end after less than two decades is a number of factors, some structural, some self-created. The most significant has been the Bush administration's decision to attack Iraq in 2003 and its conduct of the operation and resulting occupation. One casualty of the war has been a Sunni-dominated Iraq, which was strong enough and motivated enough to balance Shiite Iran. Sunni-Shiite tensions, dormant for a while, have come to the surface in Iraq and throughout the region. Terrorists have gained a base in Iraq and developed there a new set of techniques to export. Throughout much of the region, democracy has become associated with the loss of public order and the end of Sunni primacy. Anti-American sentiment, already considerable, has been reinforced. And by tying down a huge portion of the U.S. military, the war has reduced U.S. leverage worldwide. It is one of history's ironies that the first war in Iraq, a war of necessity, marked the beginning of the American era in the Middle East and the second Iraq war, a war of choice, has precipitated its end".
(In the November / December Issue of Foreign Affairs, see: www.foreignaffairs.org).
The musings of one of the leading figures of the American foreign policy establishment (State Department Policy Planning Staff under Colin Powell, NSC Near East head under General Scowcroft, current President of the Council of Foreign Relations), always makes for a good read. Especially when what he has to say, ties in, with the thinking of his counterparts abroad. Videlicet, almost simultaneous articles exhibiting the same type of pessimism about the current and near future role of the USA abroad. One, by the ex-Soviet spymaster, ex-foreign minister, ex-premier under Yeltsin, Yegeny Primakov, the second by the veteran foreign affairs commentator and reporter, for the French newspaper Le Figaro, Renaud Girard (see: www.syriacomment.com for Primakov's comments, and, www.lefigaro.fr for Girard's comments). All three gentleman, reflect, a current of thought, which while not widespread, can be seen to be gaining currency, among the more intelligent elements of the various elements of the commentariat, and, West European and East Coast elites. To wit: that the Iraq debacle, has seriously damaged not only American credibility abroad, but to some indefinable extent, even the American will to act. Something which this online journal has noted down here, several times in the last six to eight weeks. For good or ill, national prestige, both at home and abroad, is as much psychological as based upon reality. In real terms, of course the losses that the USA, has suffered, and will continue to suffer in Iraq, are nothing compared to those suffered in either Korea or Vietnam. And, considering the fact that the American population is approximately one third larger, than what it was at the height of the Indochina war, the relatively small number of American troops killed or injured, should not on the face of it, seriously damage the American will to power. But, it is all too apparent that it has. Partly no doubt, this is a result of the fact, that the essentially easy victories of the USA in the First Persian Gulf war, in Bosnia, in Kosovo, in Afghanistan, all set a very high bar, for American success. That and of course being the world's sole superpower.
Now of course, the atmosphere is entirely different than what it was in the fall of 2002 or even the late Winter of 2003. Like Napoleon's Grande Armee, prior to invading Russia, in June of 1812, the United States appeared like an unstoppable force on the world stage. With many American neo-conservative commentators arguing that the first stop was Baghdad, but, that second and third stops would be Persia and Syria. Where are those commentators now? I presume hiding under Mr. Bush's oval office desk at the moment, for lack of a better place to go. Unless of course it is the Mr. Kristol's desk at the Evening Standard....
Having been an early adherent to the above, new school of pessimism, I will admit to being loathed to criticize it but, it will not become my role as commenator if I did not. Because, while I quite agree that the post-Iraq, 'new world disorder', will most definitely be a much more multipolar one, than what the world previously experienced, I am not altogether sure that I am fully prepared to agree that Uncle Sam, is down for the count. However much, a part of me, would like to think that is true. That part of me being of course the 19th and 20th century diplomatic historian. Id est, multi-polar worlds by definition, are infinitely much more interesting, than either unipolar or bipolar worlds. More actors, hence the acting, the interaction is so much more interesting. However, I am old enough to remember the seemingly chronic pessimism of the 1974-1980 period, when the Richard Nixon quote above seemed to be fully borne out, by events following the fall of South Vietnam and the scandal of Watergate. This was the era, when Henry Kissinger was accused (to a certain extent rightly so, as one can see by carefully reading the first volume of his memoirs, written in 1978-1979) of having a strategy of 'managing American decline'. Of course, the upshot of that six to eight years, was the reassertion of American power (real or imagined, and let us say it was a bit of both) under Ronald Reagan. So dear reader, I agree, that the failure of the American project in Iraq, has and will result in a diminution of American power, and it will afford a greater degree of maneuver room for other world powers, most especially Russia under Putin. But, do not, yet count out, the USA. As the greatest Statesman of the 19th century, Furst von Bismarck, once put it: "the good Lord has always made special provision for drunks, fools and the United States".
EYELESS IN PRISTINA: A RESPONSE TO MORTON AMBRAMOWITZ
“The west must ignore Belgrade’s siren song. Serbian politics will be chaotic and unstable for the foreseeable future, and Serbian politicians will attempt to present this as an excuse to avoid facing the loss of Kosovo. Likewise, there will be problems establishing ties between Serbia and Kosovo under any circumstances.
But failure to proceed definitely now on Kosovo’s final status will produce a worse Balkan situation, one that blocks Serbia’s move toward the west and ultimate membership in the EU, condemns Kosovo’s ethnic minorities to dangerous ambiguity, and imperils fragile states like Bosnia and Macedonia.
No realistic solution exists for Kosovo but independence. If Serbia wants to join the west, it must not forsake that opportunity by trapping itself in its nationalist past.”
“Another Balkan High Noon” by Abramowitz & James Lyon, in www.crisisgroup.org
As per the week-end edition of the Financial Times, the USA, has sent a ‘special envoy', Frank Wisner, a highly experienced and esteemed State and Defense Department official, who was appointed in December 2005, to be Washington’s man overseeing the Kosovo Final status talks, to Pristina (on sending Wisner to Pristina see: www.ft.com
; on the announcement of the appointment, see: www.state.gov
). As per the Financial Times, the thinking is that the USA, and the other members of the ‘contact group’(Germany, France, the UK) with the vital exception of Russia, will seek some type of ‘managed’ or ‘conditional’ independence’ for Kosovo, in which the former Serbian province, will remain under ‘international protection and guidance possibly for three additional years’. As the Financial Times, like almost every other commentator, for quite awhile now, goes on to say: ‘the US and Europe are wondering what price President Putin will exact at the UN Security Council in exchange for consenting to Kosovo’s Independence or whether he will block the process completely.” Indeed, as per Putin himself, in a meeting back in September of this year, noted:
“He said he did not rule out using a veto in the Security Council if the question of Kosovo's independence came up without taking Serbia into account. “It is an extreme measure, of course, but it does not exist to simply lie about in a chest,” Putin said. He suggested that recognizing Kosovo's independence may lead to a further fracturing of the region. "In the case of Kosovo we need to think about what will happen in the region in the future if the independence of the state is legally fixed. In the case of Iraq, we were also told that everything would be fine and today we see in northern Kurdistan that only Kurdish flags are being raised. Did we think about this? We should have."
See: 10 September 2006, “A Dinner with Putin” in www.russianprofile.org .
Wise and intelligent words indeed! Certainly much more so than those emanating from Messers. Abramowitz and Lyon, from the Brussels based, International Crisis Group. Or it would appear from the America State department, which as per the Financial Times, may “be encouraged by the US to consider making a unilateral declaration of independence”. A very dangerous suggestion indeed. Hopefully, not one given, much less acted upon. Any such ‘declaration,’ would by definition result in, most likely several consequences all from bad to worse. First, a possible counter declaration by the Serbs living in the northern section on Kosovo, as well as more likely, the Serbs living in the Serb dominated, sector of Bosnia. With the potential of restarting the again, the Bosnian war. Other consequences would be similar declarations by Russian supported statelets in South Ossetia, Abkhazia & Transdnestr (on the latter possibility see: www.eurasianet.org
Such consequences, make it all the more necessary, contra to the thinking of both some inWashington and to our friends in Brussels, at the ICG, to follow the wise words of Grazdanin Putin. To wit, that the wishes of Belgrade must be taken into account, in coming to any decision about the future status of Kosovo. The idea that the West, aka the Contact Group, sans Russia, can just impose some type of diktat, or force majeure on Serbia is utterly foolish and dangerous. The last thing that Europe or even the USA, needs at this point, with crises going on in Iraq, North Korea and Persia, is for one to erupt in Kosovo. What is needed above all else, is for some type of modus vivendi to be negotiated, between the two concerned parties. Taking into account both sides concerns and interests. Talking down to Belgrade, de haute en bas, is absolutely out of the question. Any more, I might add, that one could imagine doing so, vis-`a-vis Pristina. Otherwise, I am afraid, that there might indeed, be the possibility of the Western Balkans again reclaiming our attentions, in the most negative way possible.
GEORGE KENNAN ON HIS HUGO CHAVEZ PROBLEM & OURS
"Latin American society lives, by and large, by a species of make-believe: not the systemized, purposeful make-believe of Russian communism, but a highly personalized, anarchical make-believe, in which each individual spins around him, like a cocoon, his own little world of pretense, and demands its recognition by others as the condition of his participation in the social process. Confronted with this phenomenon, many non-Latin American diplomatists first pause in dismay; for they see that only by accepting it can they achieve many of their purposes. Yet to plunge deeply into it, as many finally do, is to lose one’s self in a sort of Alice’s Wonderland, where normal relations between cause and effect have lost their validity, where nothing may be judged on its actual merits, where no idea has more than a relative integrity, where real things receive recognition only by their relation to the diseased and swollen human ego, where nothing is ever wholly finished because things are never more than symbols and there is no end to the those things which are the objects of the symbols. Here for the sensitive foreigner, there are only three forms of escape: cynicism, participation, or acute unhappiness. Most foreign representatives find refuge in a combination of all three.”
George F. Kennan, 29 March A. D. 1950, in PPS [Policy Planning Staff] Files, Lot 64 D 563. National Archives, Washington, D.C. [copy in my possession].
According to both the New York Times and the Financial Times, the candidature of Venezuela to the United Nations Security Council appears well on the way to being defeated. Notwithstanding the grand noise (if one wishes to call it that), that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made at the United Nation’s back in September of this year when he addressed the General Assembly. The highlight of that speech being when he characterized the current American President, Mr. Bush, as being associated with the prince of darkness….Similarly, it appears that Mr. Chavez’s candidate in the Presidential elections in Ecuador is also in the process of losing the elections to a ‘pro-American’ billionaire (see: www.nytimes.com
). So, in the light of these two facts, as well as the recent loses of pro-Chavez (Peru), or pro-Leftist (Mexico) Presidential candidates, it can be safely assumed I think that the ‘Chavez wave’, in Latin American politics has for now run its course. That being said, I think that looking at the problems of Latin America, which for a variety of reasons (mostly good) tend to be a bit of a back number, in International politics, since 1945, in a more historical perspective, might, just might allow us to look at the antics of Monsieur Chavez, a provincial, second-rate, trumped-up demagogue, in a more proper light.
For that exercise, I am going to go back to some observations of perhaps the greatest, certainly the most illuminating and discerning American diplomat of the second quarter of the twentieth century, Mr. George Frost Kennan (for perhaps the three best books dealing with George Kennan, see: David A. Mayers, Walter Hixson, and Wilson Miscamble, all to be supercede when the authorized biography by John Lewis Gaddis comes out). Without a doubt the maitre
of ‘realist’ thought as it pertains to 20th century diplomatic history, as well as the (misnamed) ‘father’ of the American, Cold War policy of ‘Containment’, Kennan’s thinking on American relations and interaction with Latin American has much to say to us today (on the concept of ‘realism’ in International relations theory and practice, see the various works by Raymond Aron, Hans J. Morgenthau, as well as Kenneth Waltz, Richard Ned Lebow among others, on Kennan’s tangled and less than happy relations with the Cold War American policy of Containment, see the various biographies cited above, as well as Gaddis’ various books dealing with the same period).
In the case of Latin America, Kennan’s observations were based upon one single experience: that of a two month visit to various countries in the continent, in the Spring of 1950, when he assumed the exalted (if relatively un-influential) position of ‘Counselor’ at the American State Department. As he noted at the time, in a cover letter to his report to then Secretary of State, Dean Acheson:
“I would not want it thought that I am over-rating this sort of a ‘Cook’s Tour’, as a basis for judgment, or that this report purports to represent a ‘study’ of Latin America….We must have some [emphasis in the original] opinions, well-founded or otherwise; and mine are presumably not less valuable by virtue of the fact that the trip enabled me to devote more time and thought to these matters than would ever have been possible in Washington.”
(For the above & the report see: PPS Files, op cit above).
As per Kennan’s later Memoirs, the reaction of the Department to his observations was one of ‘great shock’. So much so, that the Secretary of State ordered that the all copies of the report be “locked away and hidden from innocent eyes" (see Memoirs, 1925-1950, pp. 479-480). Notwithstanding the above, and the fact that the ‘locked away’ report never had any influence on American or other policy vis-`a-vis Latin America, that per se does not gainsay its cogency both for its time and for ours as well. In particular, the most interesting aspects of Kennan’s report is how well he qualifies and separates out the wheat and the chaff of national interest, and, dare one say it, grossmachtpolitik
from mere humbug and rhetoric. Those latter two being the standard bearers of American public policy in the last One hundred and Eighty years or so. As Kennan notes much in the way of American policy towards its Southern neighbors were based upon confusion about ‘the nature
of the importance to us of Latin America’ [emphasis in the original]. The issue was not of one of ‘bases, since Latin America offers little in this respect which could be of serious interest’. Noting that:
“In these days, when apprehension of Soviet military expansion assume such fantastic forms, we would do well to remember that not even the Russians can create military strength where the essential components of that strength , in manpower, in industrial background and in native leadership are lacking”.
For Kennan, the sine qua non
of Latin America's importance was two fold: one as a source of raw materials, and secondly as a matter of diplomatic psychology worldwide. Observing that: “more importantly [than raw materials] in the extent to which the attitudes of the Latin American peoples may influence the general political trend in the international community”. Following from the above, and following from the fact as he put it, that ‘with the possible exception of Guatemala,’ Communism was not a threat in the Southern Hemisphere, Kennan opined that:
“I think that this country should feel itself in a position to view indulgently such proclivities of the Latin American countries in the multilateral field as do not directly affect its own immediate and important interests.”
Following from which is a key statement that Kennan makes and which needs repetition, time and again, when one is dealing with verbose, populist demagogues, like Hugo Chavez. The worse possible reaction that one can have is to take them at their own measure. That is of course exactly what they would like for the great, outside powers to do. As Kennan clearly states, the most fundamental truth of the American policy vis-`a-vis Latin America, is that:
“It is important for us to keep before ourselves and the Latin American peoples at all times the reality of the thesis that we are a great power; that we are by and large much less in need of them than they are in need of us; that we are entirely prepared to leave to themselves those who evince no particular desire for the forms of collaboration that we have to offer; that the danger of a failure to exhaust the possibilities of our mutual relationship is always greater to them than to us; that we can afford to wait, patiently and good naturedly; and that we are more concerned to be respected than to be liked or understood.”
Something as I said needs to be endlessly repeated over and over again, as characters such as Chavez et, al. decide to foul the air with their style of rhetoric. Nota bene
: in reality, just as in Kennan’s time, aside from the psychological dynamic, the nature of American (indeed any other power’s) interest in Latin America can be said to revolve around the procurement of raw materials which in the absence of a severe and drastic return of mercantilism, and economic autarchy, is something to be obtained via the open market. Something that Peking has learned quite well. With the caveat of course that if autarchy were to return then proximity (read the USA) rather than cash (read the PRC) will rule the day. In the case of the United States the other admittedly minor issues that come to the fore vis-`a-vis Latin America are of course the migration of dirt-poor, illegal aliens and problems relating to the same (for a worrisome development in the migration of semi-militarized
, criminal drug gangs, north of the Rio Grande River, see: “Mexico’s Cartel Wars: The threat beyond the U.S. Border,” in www.stratfor.com
). For the rest of it, as Kennan notes cogently most of the ‘deep’, id est
, structural problems in the Braudelian sense of the word of the Southern American continent, deny easy solution, and we will conclude our ‘Latin American’ issue on the following :
“It seems to me unlikely that there could be any other region of the earth in which nature and human behavior could have combined to produce a more unhappy and hopeless background for the conduct of human life than in Latin America. As for nature, one is struck at once with the way in which South America is the reverse of our own North American continent from the standpoint of its merits as a human habitat. North America is broad and ample in those temperate regions which are most suitable to human life. As once moves southward into the subtropical zones, it tapers off to the narrow and mountainous Isthmus, which is a part of Latin America. South America, on the other hand, is wide and vast in those portions of it which are close to the equator and least suited to human habitation, and it is the temperate zone into which the continent narrows at its southern extremity, pinching off with a fateful abruptness the possibilities for a vigorous and hopeful development of human society. In North America, the Mississippi drains and serves the great basin of fertility which is the heart of the continent. The Amazon, on the other hand, reaches great fingers into a region singularly hostile to human activity. In North America, the great country stands in the center of the continent is highly developed, with a dense network of communications, and is well developed, with a dense network of communications, and is well qualified to act as a bond for the continent as a whole. In South America, the great pathless expanse of central Brazil, around the periphery of the which the other countries are arranged, acts rather as a barrier to their mutual access and communication….
Against this unfavorable geographical background, which would have yielded only to the most progressive and happy of human approaches, humanity superimposed a series of events unfortunate and tragic almost beyond anything ever know to human history. The Spaniards came to Latin America as the bearers of a national and cultural development which was itself nearing its end; a development in which many of the more hopeful origins had already died and little was left but religious fanaticism, a burning, frustrated energy, and an addiction to the most merciless cruelty. To those portions of the New World where an Indian civilization was already in existence, they came like men from Mars: terrible, merciless conquerors—the bearers of some divine punishment—whose sympathy and understanding could never be enlisted for local traditions or institutions, and to whom the only possible relationship was one of tragic and total submission, involving the abandonment of all prior attachments and customs.
Human history, it seems to me, bears no record of anything more terrible ever having done to entire peoples. The shock to the national consciousness was profound and irreparable. Here, something violently broken which was essential to the hopeful development of human society; and the effects of that terrible rupture was destined to endure through the generations, to a point in time which we cannot clearly foresee. Here is the true illustration of the crimes of the fathers being visited on their progeny: for as the Spaniards intermarried with these native peoples the course of whose history had so ruthlessly been interrupted, they came to share the scars and weaknesses which they had themselves inflicted.
Elsewhere in Latin America, the large scale importation of Negro slave elements into considerable parts of the Spanish and other colonial empires, and the extensive intermarriage of all these elements, produced other unfortunate results which seemed to have weighed scarcely less heavily on the chances for human progress….
These bitter realities are ones, which people cannot face fully constantly. Human nature, with its insistence that life must go on, represses the consciousness of these things, turns away from them in healthy revulsion, and seeks to balance them out by over-compensation. Thus the inordinate splendor and pretense of the Latin American cities can be no other than an attempt to compensate for the wretchedness and the squalor of the hinterlands from which they spring. And, in the realm of individual personality, this subconscious recognition of the failure of group effort fids its expression in an exaggerated self-centeredness and egotism—in a pathetic urge to create illusion of desperate courage, supreme cleverness, an a limited virility where the more constructive virtues are so conspicuously lacking”.
THE PUTIN-EU SUMMIT: 'WHOM OVER WHO'?
Judging from the wire services and the various newspapers (Moscow Times, Financial Times, Novosti) it would appear that in the meetings just concluded in Finland, between the European Union heads of government, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, it was the latter who came out ahead, if not in fact can be said to have ‘triumphed’. Notwithstanding the fact that there were discussions, prior to the summit, that the EU would try to reprimand its Russian guest, particularly over Russian policy vis`a-vis Georgia, and over Russian Energy policy, that was not the outcome of the meetings. Far from it in fact. As one disgruntled EU diplomat complained about French President Jacques Chirac’s failure to tow the pre-arranged line about Georgia with Putin: “Chirac hung Georgia out to dry” (see the article in the Financial Times, in www.ft.com
). In addition, to not being lambasted by his EU counterparts over Russian policy over Georgia, which according to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, on Monday, which far from being loosened, was set to continue to apply economic sanctions on Tbilisi (see the report in Novosti in: www.en.rian.ru/russia
); Putin was able to announce that he and his European partners were in agreement to open negotiations on a “broad development of a system of sectoral relations”, which would include a free trade agreement, and “Russia’s gradual economic integration into Europe” (see: www.en.rian.ru/russia
In light of the fact, that both the Americans, over the recent UN resolution over Georgia, and, Georgia’s own allies Ukraine and Moldova, have also recently refused to publicly support Tbilisi, in its clash with Moskva, it is not entirely surprising that the Russian energy dependent, European Union were no more courageous or outspoken (on these two issues see, Molly Corso & Ariel Cohen in www.eurasiannet.org
& Sergei Markedonov’s article in www.russianprofile.org
). What all this means and portends is that with the Americans bogged down for awhile in Iraq (and it would appear that any thoughts that the Bush regime will vacate that country anytime soon are at this stage, wishful thinking…), and facing a major crisis in North Korea, as well as ongoing problems in the rest of the Near East, especially over Persia’s seeming quest to acquire nuclear weapons, Russia enjoys the luxury of an almost completely free hand. Something which possession of the world’s third largest currency reserves, and, the price of oil at 58 dollars a barrel, effectively means that it is definitely in the driver’s seat diplomatically. So, dear reader the question now becomes: how wisely will Svyatava Russe use this almost unique opportunity? Hopefully, both for its people and Europe in general it will use its strength and its position wisely. In the best traditions of the diplomacy of such figures as Munnich, Ostermann, Nesselrode, Gorchakov, Giers, Witte, Lambsdorf, and Benckendorf. Or in the words of the immortal Goethe: "genius is knowing when to stop!”
CRUNCH TIME FOR AMERICAN POLICY IN IRAQ?
"It’s no coincidence that the surge in attacks against coalition forces and the subsequent increase in U.S. casualties coincide with our increased presence in the streets of Baghdad and the run-up to the American mid-term elections….The enemy knows that killing innocent people and American will garner headlines and create a sense of frustration….We find the insurgent elements the extremists, are in fact punching back hard….They’re trying to get back into those areas [which were cleared of them in recent operations in Baghdad]. We’re constantly going back in and doing clearing operations again.”
Major General William B. Caldwell, IV. 20 Oct. 2006
See: NY Times .
The USA is now, it seems in the grasp of the tiger, and there is no simple way of rectifying the situation now on the ground in Iraq. I recently wrote in this journal, that American strategy and in the Near and Middle East was in a state of paralysis. The source of this paralysis was & is the failure of American policy in Iraq. That the policy has not been going well, and that all possible options for American policy, are less than ideal, has been readily apparent to most intelligent observers for awhile now. However in the last three to four weeks, the deteriorating situation on the ground in Iraq, has now reached such dimensions that for the first time, even the highest levels of the American government, previously, immune to any type of realistic thinking on the subject, has now embraced the growing pessimism. The best example of which, is President Bush’s comments to the George Stephanopoulos, that the current situation bears a certain resemblance to that of Viet Nam at the time of the Tet Offensive in early 1968 (see David Sanger’s article in today’s paper in www.nytimes.com). The oddly enough, despite the large differences in casualty figures in the two cases (roughly 72 killed in the past 20 days, and 1500-2000 killed during the first three weeks of the Tet Offensive), the psychological mood in the two cases among the both the pays legal, and pays Reel, is much the same: the steady draining away of both public support and elite support for the policy in the absence of any concrete signs that the declared policy is either succeeding or has any chance of succeeding in the near future. Just as American military commander in Viet Nam, William Westmoreland’s call for an additional 200,000+ troops, forced a wide ranging debate within the inner counsels of the Johnson Administration, which ultimately lead to President Johnson to declare an effective ‘halt’, to offensive operations to ‘win the war’; so to, it would appear that the combination of the upcoming Congressional elections, and, the now partially leaked recommendations of the Baker Commission, have started perhaps the same process within the Bush Administration (for the perhaps the two best studies on the inner dynamics of the decision to ‘de-escalate’ the conflict in Indochina, in the Spring of 1968, see: Townsend Hoopes, The Limits of Intervention & Paul Joseph, Cracks in the Empire).
Perhaps the best analysis of the current situation in Iraq is provided, as usual, by Anthony Cordesman, latest analysis. As Cordesman notes:
“Iraq is already in a state of serious civil war, and current efforts at political compromise and improving security at best are buying time. There is a critical risk that Iraq will drift into a major civil conflict over the coming months, see its present government fail, and/or divide or separate in some form. The US cannot simply ‘stay the course,’ and rely on its existing actions and strategy. It needs a new options to reverse the drift towards a major civil war and political failure. There are no truly good options that can guarantee success and there are many bad ones….There are no ‘silver bullets’ that can quickly rescue the situation, and many efforts to change the existing US strategy in Iraq could be extremely destabilizing. Bright, radical ideas are easy to formulate….The idea that Iraq would somehow become a democracy and example that would transform the region was a pathetic neoconservative fantasy from the start, and an initial probability approaching zero will not change in the future”.
The time for drift, for hoping, Mr. Micawber like, that ‘something will turn up’, is over. The time is now ripe to make hard and difficult decisions to try to salvage the situation in Iraq, not the ideal of any type of Democracy, nor even perhaps (a more difficult decision) that in the future, Iraq will be a bastion for American power in the region. Or as former invasion support, and ex-CIA /NSC expert, Kenneth Pollack has noted recently: “If it is not broken completely, it’s breaking and breaking fast” (see: www.cfr.org
). Indeed, it could very well be, that within two to three years time, or less, all American
forces will be forced to quit Iraq, never to return. The only issue, is whether this is done in an orderly way, or not. And, in addition, whether Iraq, will slide into an all out civil war, or manage, in some fashion or other, to remain relatively peaceful (relative being the key word here) and stable. In any case, something which even I did not think possible, now would seem to be all but inescapable: that in the near future, with the withdrawal of American forces, that it will be other powers, particularly Persia, which will exercise the greatest influence, if not on the country as a whole, than at the very least the Shiite led, central government in Baghdad (on this possibility see: "Iran, its neighbours and the regional crises," in www.Chathamhouse.org.uk
). These are hard truths to admit, but one must state the fact that the American project in Iraq, has been, we can now see clearly, an unmitigated failure. From start to finish. The issue is now, that in withdrawing from the country, that the retreat, does not become a rout. As the neo-conservative writer, Marc Gerecht ruefully but correctly points out:
“In Vietnam, the South Vietnamese government deployed a tolerably competent military force that held for a ‘decent interval’ after our departure. This is unlikely in Iraq. When we start withdrawing, the entire Iraqi governing structure, along with the Iraqi army, will probably fracture along ethnic and religious lines”
See: “Running from Iraq” in www.weeklystandard.com
On that question, time alone will tell whether a catastrophic collapse of the entire Iraqi governing structure (such as it is) will indeed, immediately fall apart, either before or perhaps even prior to a complete American pull-out. With perhaps the best comparison being the situation in the Indian Sub-continent, with the end of the Raj in 1948. In light of the close to one million people killed, one can only hope that this will not be the case. Of course, the above scenario assumes, that there will be something approaching a coup de tete, within the inner councils, and indeed the mindsets, of the current American administration. Something which, based upon past form, does not appear to be the case. Id est, mere facts have never been found to be a sufficient cause for a change in policy, in the Bush regime. Of course, the current situation, is one that is almost without parallel in terms of the nature of the crisis that it represents in American foreign policy.
As it is, American prestige and American power, will, when the call for retreat is sounded, suffer an utter collapse, both inside and outside of the region. With consequences for world politics, which even this observer is not willing at this time to predict. Except that both the larger regional powers (such as Persia, and India), and world powers, such as Russia and China, will see it as a time to stretch their muscles and, take full opportunity to thumb their noses at ‘Uncle Sam’. For good or for ill…
KOSOVO: WHICH WAY FORWARD?
As per the week-end edition of the Financial Times, the Prime Minister of the Kosovo interim administration, expressed, concern at the possibility that there might be a delay in the United Nation’s decision on full independence, for the UN administered province. De jure
, still a part of Serbia. As per Premier Agim Ceku, the possibility that there might be a ‘delay’, could potentially “spark renewed conflict in the Balkans.” Ceku blaming the possibility of any postponement of a decision by the UN Security Council, on Russia, widely viewed as being the only member of the ‘Contact Group’ of powers overseeing the negotiations on Kosovo’s future, as ‘pro-Serbian’. Seeking to tilt the playing field, even more in Kosovo’s favor, Ceku stated that the reaction in Kosovo to any delay for even a short amount of time, or anything short of total independence would result in:
“Great disappointment, loss of credibility in the process…loss of credibility of our government. There would be political instability”. See: www.ft.com
Concerns, which were echoed by both other Albanian politicians in the province, as well as the UN appointed Administrator for the province, Herr Joachim Ruecker (see Reuters report on 4th of October in: www.reuters.com
). This concern being expressed notwithstanding the fact that the province has almost twenty thousand NATO troops to secure it. If we ignore for a second, Pristina’s verbal gambit at threatening violence, what do we have concretely at present? At present, the UN envoy responsible for solving Kosovo’s status, Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, has all but stated that he favors full and complete independence, with some ‘safeguards’, for the ten percent of the population who are not Serbian. Originally, it was intended that the Security Council would vote on the matter by the end of this year. The reason for the delay, is that Serbia, notwithstanding various (not really great though) inducements, being offered to be ‘reasonable’ about the matter, and agree, has chosen not to. Indeed, with elections coming up, and a new constitution, proposed that all but restates the Serbian position, that Kosovo is an integral part of the Serbian nation, any likelihood of Serbian concession at this point, look to be non-existent. One can of course attack, as many of adherents of the Albanian cause in Kosovo do, the reasoning of Belgrade (see for example Tim Judah’s article in the New York Review of Books
, on the 19th of October: “Serbia the coming Storm”). Fair enough. The point is however that we are not in a debating contest. The situation is, that de jure, in International law, Kosovo, is fully acknowledged as belonging to Serbia. Serbian agreement is needed, no matter how difficult that may be. Should and must be secured in order for the independence to be made legally valid. Of course, if the Security Council chooses to vote to grant independence to the province, then that changes things for all parties except for Serbia. Assuming of course, that Russia will let down its Serbian ‘friends’. Will it?
At this time it is difficult to predict what Russia will do. However it does appear that Moskva is thinking of doing a trade along quid pro quo lines, in which, in return for agreeing to some very truncated, but still, legally acknowledged ‘independence’ for Kosovo, it would secure a similar type of situation (modified independence) for the various statelets which it currently sponsors: Transdnestr, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. As per Russian diplomats, all three of these entities have as much right to some type of international recognition to being independent as Kosovo. As Putin himself, put it earlier this year, in a sort of ‘mais je ne vois pas ce qui ilya pour le Russe dans tout cela’
performance, he stated:
“If people think that Kosovo can have full independence, then why should we refuse the same to the Abkhaz and South Ossetian people?” see: www.russianprofile.org
It would appear that if Moskva obtained, something approaching a solid agreement, to this trade-off, than it is quite likely that it would sign off, on the above exchange. Of course, whether the Americans and the rest of the Contact Group would agree to this type of arrangement, is almost impossible to say. Certainly in the current environment, there does not appear to be any positive inducements that can be offered Russia, to agree to set Kosovo free. How could there be? The Russia of today is not the Russia of 1999, which reluctantly agreed, in a sort of ‘la force prime le droit
,’ fashion to let NATO, make war unilaterally on Serbia. Times have changed. Now, a Russian agreement, is necessary to make this particular diplomatic kite fly (see Simon Saradzhyan’s article in www.themoscowtimes.com
, and also a debate on this subject by Thomas de Waal & Zeyno Baran titled “Abkhazia-Georgia, Kosovo-Serbia: parallel worlds?” in www.opendemocracy.net ).
Assuming for arguments sake, that Russian can be in non-diplomatic verbiage, ‘bought off’, is the way forward for Kosovo to be independent? Should it be? I would argue, no. Why? Because, unless, Serbia itself, for whatever reason: billons of dollars in American or European aid, a concrete assurance about EU membership (pretty much the same thing), et cetera. Then the end result of Serbia being, in effect given a diktat, and Kosovo, being granted independence over the latter’s head, is that an irredentist situation, `a la the entre deux guerre
period, will be recreated, in the Balkans. Now it would seem rather clear, that what would make Serbia agreeable to granting Kosovo independence, is that the frontiers of the province be re-drawn to allow for the northern ten to twenty percent to be allowed inside Serbia proper. The area in which most of the Serbian speaking population currently lives. Of course, the ruling elements in Pristina will violently object to any such arrangement, as being an outrage, an illegal partition. But, the long and the short of it is, that in absence of Serbian agreement to granting Kosovo independence, Serbian outrage will be voiced in equally loud and truculent manner. And, the last time that I checked, there are many more Serbs, than there are Albanians. If we have to alienate one people or the other, I much rather alienate the Albanians. Perhaps that is a sad, or indeed a cynical calculation, but such, dear reader are the dilemmas of diplomacy. Tant pis
, get used to them!
THE UN’S VOTE ON NORTH KOREA: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
As of yesterday, the 14th of October, the United Nation’s Security Council, invoking Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which permits enforcement measures by the council, fully condemned North Korea for its nuclear test of the 9th of this month. The unanimously adopted resolution also enjoined North Korea to refrain from: “any further nuclear test or launch of a ballistic missile.” The Council also enjoined North Korea to return to the Six Party Talks over its nuclear ambitions, abandon its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes, “in a complete verifiable and irreversible manner.” The Council, as predicted on this site earlier, slapped economic sanctions on Pyongyang, specifically it prohibited any trade in armaments, and spare parts, as well as any items which could: “contribute to DPRK’s nuclear-related, ballistic missile-related or other weapons of mass destruction-related programmes.” Financial sanctions, on items and or individuals related to the above programmes, were also approved, as was a partial travel ban. Finally, and most controversially among the member states, all member states were called upon to cooperate in thoroughly inspecting cargo to and from the DPRK. In response, the DPRK’s representative denounced the Council’s as a "gangster-like" action, which his government “totally rejects.” On the Council’s vote and the resolution, see:www.un.org
As was widely reported elsewhere, the Council’s action came only after considerable discussion and negotiations between Russia, China, the United States and Japan. With the first two powers, insisting on the removal of any language that even hinted at the use of force. Something which the United States and its allies agreed to (see: www.ft.com, www.lemonde.fr & www.en.rian.ru
), in order to pass the resolution. So, what the Council in effect passed was a hodgepodge, a mixture of wrist slapping (the economic sanctions and travel ban), and a potentially significant measure (the interdiction and cargo inspection). As per the former, no one, accept for publicists for the current American administration, truly believes that North Korea’s current rulers, a clique that quite willingly allowed perhaps ten percent of its population to starve to death in the mid-1990’s, is going to be stopped from proceeding with its weapons programme, by virtue of such meager measures. As per the latter, its usefulness, lies in how it will be enforced. And, by whom. While Japan, enthusiastically and South Korea, reluctantly have agreed to abide by the Resolution, the key to the success of the measures taken is of course China. And, already, Peking has indicated that it is not entirely enthusiastic about the interdiction provisions of the UN resolution. As its Ambassador in New York, Wang Guangya, made quite clear on the Saturday the 14th, stating that:
“China strongly urges the countries concerned to adopt a prudent and responsible
attitude in this regard and refrain from taking any provocative steps that may intensify the tension.” See: www.afp.com.
So, the question is what concretely has been accomplished? That is not yet predictable. It would appear that much hinges on how aggressively the interdiction effort will be enforced. Especially of course by China. As per Secretary of State Rice, who plans to visit the Orient this week, China is fully on board with the programme, of reversing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Stating that: “I am quite certain that China is going to live up to its responsibilities” (see: www.afp.com
). The key issue being here how China defines its ‘responsibilities’? It would appear that they do not include economic sanctions which are so biting that they would threaten to bring down the North Korean regime. The question is quite simple actually: either the interdiction is harshly and effectively enforced in such a manner that they will, perhaps result in Pyongyang, returning to the Six Party talks, or they will not. And, while Rice and Bolton may prattle about Peking’s ‘obligation’ to enforce the measures voted on by the Council, it is highly unlikely that China will take any action which it sees at not being in its best interests. Of course, China was as outraged by the North Korean test as the other Great Powers, the only difference, is that it appears to be much more willing to accept the fact that Pyongyang is a nuclear power, as a sort of fait accompli, than the rest of the world is.
For my own part, I foresee that the PRC, will do the minimum necessary to both maintain face with the International community in exercising its ‘obligations’ and ‘responsibilities’, vis-`a-vis North Korea, but in such a fashion that Pyongyang, can regard it as more of a pro forma action, than anything else. Meaning of course, that the deadlock on the nuclear issue will continue. Which means that if the United States truly wishes to stop or reverse the North Korean programme, it must climb down and enter bilateral talks with Kim Jong Il. However distasteful that may be. Unfortunately, nothing else will possibly result in a positive resolution of this problem. A problem, which contrary to Bush et. al., will not get better as time goes on. Only worse (on Peking’s real concerns about the crisis, see Alexandre Y. Mansourov’s article in www.nautilus.org
) & Francoise Gere in www.lefigaro.fr.com
RICE’S NEW NEAR EASTERN POLICY:
WHAT IS IT AND WILL IT SUCCEED?
“I am afraid that this reaction from the State Department was inevitable sooner or later. Apart from the problem of maintaining U.S. (and other outside) sympathy, this telegram raises the whole question of whether the Egyptians and other Arab governments are more likely to be impressed by ruthlessness or reasonableness. In the nature of things our policy must be neatly balanced between the two, but I think that we must try to persuade the Americans that mass sentiment in Egypt and other Middle East states is not likely to be much influenced by the degree of restraint which we show in maintaining our position in the Canal Zone. I should have thought that Arab ‘public opinion’ would find little difficulty in accepting the fact that we must use some degree of force to maintain our position in the Canal Zone, and may even respect it. Were it, however, to be suspected that we were afraid of the consequences of using force or unduly reluctant to offend world opinion, Arab opinion would undoubtedly become even more hostile.”
Minute by J. V. Bendall, 29 October 1951
Copy of the original in my possession.
Recently, in the early part of October, Secretary of State Rice, went on a trip to the Near East. An area of the world which she had conspicuously had absented herself, since the beginning of the Lebanon War, when she made her infamous misstatement, about that conflict being a sign of the ‘birth pangs of a new Middle East’. The purpose of the trip was to explore and bring about, a new alignment of forces in the area, an alignment of what her Counselor at the State Department (and arguably a much better choice for both National Security Advisor and Secretary of State), Philip Zelikow, called in a speech before the moderate (in American terms only!) Washington Institute for Near East Policy, on the 15th of September ‘strategies for the multifront war against Islamic radicalism’ (see: www.state.gov/s/c/rls/rm72855.htm
). In the speech, Zelikow, identified the United States natural allies in combating the ‘corrosive agent’, of terrorism, and religious fanaticism, as:
“Key European allies, the state of Israel and the Arab moderates—Arabs who seek a peaceful future. You could call it the coalition of the builders, not just the coalition of the willing. The coalition of the builders as opposed to the coalition of the destroyers”.
As per Zelikow, it is with these allies, and the “practical idealism” of American policy which will enable the USA, and its allies listed above, to overcome the ‘multifront’ threats confronting all of them, in the region, id est, Islamic radicalism, Iran, Syria, and the Palestinian problem. It was for the purpose of cementing and building upon the assets listed above, that Rice made her trip to the area. Or in her own words, to “consult with, and in effect rally moderate forces, and moderate voices in the Middle East” (see a transcript of an interview in: www.nytimes.com
). With the trip having been made, and the Secretary of State, now returned to the USA, what can one make of this initial foray?
The reactions in the region to both the Secretary and to this new term (or semi-turn) in American policy was less than thrilling. Notwithstanding her warm words of praise for the Saudis, and other moderate, pro-American regimes in the region (Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf States, Mahmud Abbas, et al.), none appeared to be either greatly interested in meeting with Rice, nor at all interested in playing the role of spear carriers for what is now widely seen as a discredited and or failed, American policy in Iraq, in Lebanon and in dealing with Syria, Persia and the Palestinian issue. While perhaps it is a bit of an exaggeration to argue as did the British scholar, Patrick Seale, that the region is about to go ‘up in flames’, it does appear that the American administration’s unwillingness to either propose any type of forward looking policy to deal with the Palestinian problem, except bringing pressure on the Hamas government, in the hope that it will collapse has for all intents and purposes few defenders in the region (on Seale’s comments see: www.JoshuaLandis.com
). Even the normally pro-American, periodical, the Economist of London, commented on the 7th of October that:
“The whole notion of ‘resistance’ to America’s perceived desire to dominate the region has gained ground among the wider Arab public. While the Hizbullah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and even Iran’s president, Mahmound Ahmadinejad, win popular acclaim as Robin Hood-like heroes, stalwart Arab ‘moderates’, such as Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah of Jordan, are tarred as American puppets. Their sense of vulnerability to such charges explains why Ms. Rice’s reception in Arab capitals was relatively muted. Arab diplomats seemed as concerned to show the y were not creating a new, pro-American coalition, and were not acting against anyone in particular, as they were to emphasise any positive result of their talks. Yet aside from reflecting the current toxicity of America to Arab public opinion, this coolness also reflected diverging priorities between America and its allies”.
In short, the upshot of Rice’s trip to the region, was a nullity. Nothing was changed for the better. The standoff between Hamas and Abbas, continues. The standoff, between Hizbullah, and the relatively pro-American, and weak, government of Lebanon, continues. The Palestinian problem continues to be unresolved, the regime in Damascus, continues to be spurned by the USA, notwithstanding the fact, that it has as much legitimacy perhaps, as any of the USA’s Sunni Arab allies. And, of course, the twin peaks of crisis in the region, that of Iraq, and its ever increasing drift towards civil war, with American troops both too conspicuous to avoid being targeted, and too weak to douse the ever increasing flames; and that of Persia, and its forward march (however slow and measured) towards acquiring nuclear weapons. Something with the outbreak of the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear test, appears to be an ever more impossible problem to resolve. Indeed, one has the impression that the Administration is almost on the brink of permanent irresolution, more than anything else. Neither able nor willing to enforce its power of decision on anyone in the region, either friend or foe. The sense of drift, of hoping Mr. Micawber like, that ‘something will turn up’, seems inescapable. At least to this observer. Short of either a revolution in personnel, or in caste of mind, it would appear that Washington is incapable to taking even the minimal real steps to solve or attempt to resolve any of the outstanding issues in the region. With an ideological caste of mind, which prevents logical thought, `a la Mr. Elliott Abrams (the fanatically pro-Israeli, head of the Near Eastern desk at the National Security Council Staff), ‘nothing doing’ appears to be in the works as official American policy (on the recent drift in American policy and the growing worldwide feeling that a space for anti-American policies has opened up worldwide, see: “US Vulnerability and Windows of Opportunity,” in www.Stratfor.com
THE KOREA EXPLOSION: THE FAILURE OF THE BUSH POLICY?
“The regime of Kim Jong Il is so opaque that it is difficult to know its motivations, other than that they malign. But North Korea also lives outside of the international system. Like East Germany, North Korea is the evil twin of a successful regime just across its border….Pyongyang, too has little to gain and everything to lose from engagement in the international economy. The development of WMD thus provides the destructive way out of for Kim Jong Il….Any U.S. policy towards the north should depend heavily on coordination with Seoul and Tokyo. In that context, the 1994 framework agreement that attempted to bribe North Korea into forsaking nuclear weapons cannot easily be set aside. Still there is a trap inherent in this approach: sooner or later Pyongyang will threaten to test a missile one too many times, and the United States will not respond with further benefits. Then what will Kim Jong Il do? The possibility for miscalculation is very high”.
Condoleezza Rice, Foreign Affairs (January 2000).
“Postponing the elimination of Kim Jong Il’s nuclear weapons program will only allow him time to amass even more nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and to develop even longer range missiles. Any doubts that Kim Jong Il would peddle nuclear materials or nuclear weapons to any buyer on the International market were dispelled last April when his envoy threatened to do just that. This will not stand. Some have speculated that the U. S. is resigned to nuclear weapons on the peninsula and we will simply have to learn to live with nuclear weapons in the hands of a tyrannical dictator who has threatened to export them. Nothing could be further from the truth”.
John R. Bolton, Under Secretary for Arms Control 31 July 2003 at www.state.gov.
“So how are we to respond to this very serious situation in which North Korea has lifted the freeze on its plutonium-based nuclear arms program and its aggressively pursuing an enriched-uranium arms program? The United States has adopted two basic principals for resolving this situation. First, we cannot accept anything less than the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of the North’s nuclear programs. Second, the diplomatic format for achieving that outcome must be a multiparty framework….We will not be satisfied with a resolution that is not complete. North Korea must dismantle not only its plutonium program but also its uranium enrichment program and its existing nuclear weapons. We will not be satisfied with a resolution that is not verifiable. In this regard, the burden is not on the international community but on North Korea to come clean….We will not be satisfied with a ‘reversible solution’. This must be once and for all. North Korea’s nuclear programs and facilities must be dismantled, and never reconstituted.”
James A. Kelly, Assistant Secretary for East Asian Affairs 13 February 2004 in www.state.gov
“Let me start by noting that the goal of the Six-Party Talks is the prompt and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. When this goal is achieved, it will open up a new chapter for all Korean people. We know that the document includes undertakings for all the parties; my government is prepared to fulfill all our undertakings. All elements of the DPRK’s past and present nuclear programs-plutonium and uranium-and all nuclear weapons will be comprehensively declared and completely, verifiably and irreversibly eliminated, and will not be reconstituted in the future. According to these principles, the DPRK will return, at an early date, to the NPT [Non-proliferation Treaty], and come into full compliance with IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards.”
Christopher R. Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian Affairs
19 September 2005, in www.state.gov
So, dear reader, perhaps if one did pay too much attention to the utterances of the leading figures of the American government in the past couple of years, on the issue of North Korea having or about to have nuclear weapons, one may be forgiven for believing that the announcement today, that the latter appears to have tested, a small, perhaps even very small (from 1 kiloton to half a kiloton) nuclear device, would at the very least, call forth the ‘dogs of war’, if not in fact the Armageddon itself (on the differing estimates of the size of the explosion, see: GlobalSecurity.org
) & “Red Alert: North Korea: Underground Nuclear Test Reported,” in Stratfor
also: Anthony Cordesman analysis in “The Meaning of the North Korean Nuclear Test”, CSIS.org
). As far as we can see from the American President’s speech, nothing of the sort is planned! Instead we are told that: “the United States remains committed to diplomacy, and we will continue to protect ourselves and our interests”. And, while the USA, still claims to be committed to the “de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”, how this lofty goal is to be achieved is not altogether apparent. Instead we are informed that “proclaimed actions taken by North Korean are unacceptable and deserve an immediate response by the United Nations Security Council” (for Mr. Bush’s statement, see: State.gov
As per the latter possibility, the auguries are less than inspiring: to wit, the comment by the Russian Ambassador to the UN, Mr. Vitaly Churkin, that: “there is no mention of the use of force”, in any proposed Security Council Resolution to deal with the crisis. With Churkin no doubt adding for his American counterpart, Mr. Bolton, that: “we must not act on emotion”(see the report in Novosti
). And, while his superior, Mr. Putin, in an earlier telephone conversation with Bush, had stated that Russia “absolutely condemns the test”, it does not appear that Churkin is taking a line, which is at variance with Moskva’s own true position (see: Simon Saradzhyan article in: Moscow News
). As per China, the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, in a telephone conversation with his American counterpart, while clearly condemning the North Korean action, also stated that “no actions should be taken that would lead to escalation or loss of control of the situation and urged caution, dialogue and negotiations.” A line which was followed by his envoy to the UN today as well And while both the Japanese and the South Korean governments have taken a more robust line, in reacting to the reported test, neither government either has a deciding vote in the Security Council, nor great influence with Pyongyang (see the reports from Agence France Presse
& the Financial Times
At last report, the USA and Japan were aiming for a Chapter Seven resolution in the Security Council, which would among other things, call for in effect an embargo on all goods coming into and out of the isolated Communist Dictatorship, at least those which move via the sea, and to freeze all financial assets that it may possess internationally. Whether these steps would be enough to force Pyongyang, to alter its policy of nuclear policy remains in doubt. While no doubt harmful, they amount to more of a slap on the wrist, than meaningful, ‘tough sanctions’, that would either possibly cause a ‘regime crisis’, or force Kim Jong Il, to reverse course (see an interesting article by a mainland Chinese scholar, Shen Dingli, along these lines in: Nautilus
). As for the latter possibility, according to Le Figaro’s Peking, correspondent, the likelihood, that the PRC, would voluntarily carry out sanctions of a truly forceful nature are very limited, if non-existent. To Peking, the collapse of the North Korean regime, is perhaps just as acute a danger, if not more so, than a nuclear armed North Korea (see: Le Figaro
). And, without meaningful action by Peking, and to a lesser extent, Moskva, the fact is that Kim Jong Il, is much more likely to continue to be of the opinion, that the testing of nuclear weapons by the DPRK, will (in the words of Pyongyang’s own news service) “will contribute to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula” (see: www.KCNA.co.jp/
). And, of course, the military option, by the USA, has for all intents been ruled out, quite awhile ago. For good or ill, to my mind, for good. As the leading lights of the Pentagon friendly Stratfor.com cogently argue: “every situation does not have a satisfactory military solution. This seems to be one of them” (on this see: “Red Alert: North Korea—is there a military solution?” in Stratfor
). Where that the American administration been open and intelligent enough to admit as much, and conduct its policy accordingly, five plus years ago!
In light of the above, one may ask, that eternal Russian question: ‘what is to be done’? Well, first one must openly admit, that the current American policy of trying to persuade the other, non-DPRK parties (Russia, Japan, China, South Korea) to tighten the screws in the hopes that Pyongyang, will either renounce the nuclear option, or better yet, from the American perspective, cause the regime to collapse, is a chimera. While no doubt, ‘hawks’, like Ambassador Bolton, and the rest of the neo-Conservative crew, within the American Administration, would love for that occur (like most of the human race too, I would think…other than South Korea and the PRC), there is little likelihood, of that happening, as we have seen above. At least within the short term. It appears however, that the de facto, American policy of hiding behind the six power framework, of negotiations, in order to ‘not negotiate’, directly with the PRC, is merely an attempt to not negotiate at all, ipso facto. Reasoning which has little to do with objective facts, and much to do, with Washington’s ideological distaste for the possible compromises necessary to have real negotiations. The upshot is that Bush policy of “threaten and neglect”, in dealing with the Korean problem, can be rightly characterized in the words of the American academic Graham Allison, “abject failure” (see: www.CFRG.org
With the North Korean nuclear program growing, and not weakening, in the almost six years of the Bush Presidency. It would appear that ideological cleanliness, counts for more, that getting actual results. Hopefully, but, I will admit not too optimistically one may hope that official Washington, either before or after the elections will soon adopt another approach. What you may ask would that entail? Obviously, quickly started negotiations, which would in effect make the hard and fast trade off, that the American administration has put off, making: regime survival, in return for verifiable de-nuclearization. If that means that the American government (in reality the South Korean and Japanese governments) is in effect propping up, Pyongyang’s nasty little regime, so be it. In the longue duree, it is more than likely that the North Korean Party-State apparatus, will collapse from within, as opposed to without. As Dr. Rice, in one of her more (and few) refreshing insights, observed above, just like the DDR [East Germany] collapsed, due to its inability to compete peacefully with its opposite number across the border, so will, in the fullness of time, the DPRK. The real trick is to allow that crucial time frame for that event to occur. Something which requires that the USA engage in real negotiations, give and take, rather than hide behind ideological smokescreens, which seems to be the leading excuse for thought in Washington in the last five plus years. To the detriment of all of us (for an interesting article on possible way forward in dealing with the DPRK, by Peter Hayes & Tim Savage, “Dr. Strangelove in Pyongyang”, see:Nautilus
KAVKAZ CRISIS: GEORGIA v RUSSIA OR THE ‘PIG WAR’ REVIDIVUS?
“The term ‘Pig War’ is used to refer to an economic conflict [1906-1909] in which the Habsburg Empire imposed a customs blockade on Serbia. Serbia at the beginning of the Twentieth century was (economically at least) little more than a satellite of the Habsburg Empire, its major export being pork, most of which was bought by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When Serbia started trying to evade economic and political control by the Habsburgs, and build links with other countries, particularly Bulgaria and France, Vienna decided to punish the Serbs with economic sanctions. These failed, and Serbia found other markets for its pork. The importance of this conflict lies in that (sic) fact that It was a crucial stage running up to the decision of the Habsburg Empire to finally (unsuccessfully) strike at Serbia militarily in 1914, and wipe her from the map. It is therefore has a place in the build-up to the First World War”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/pig_w_(Serbia)
See also: A. J. P. Taylor, The Habsburg Monarchy, 1815-1918, pp. 258-262.
Gentle reader, history can be very very deceptive indeed! Notwithstanding certain similarities, the commonality between the aforementioned historical event, and today’s diplomatic crisis in the Kavkaz [Caucasus] can be quite deceptive as we shall see. It is not so much that there is only a limited resemblance between Freiherr Alexa von Aehrenthal (Austrian Foreign Minister, 1906-1912) and Sergei Lavrov (besides the fact that both are consummate, and cosmopolitan, career diplomats). Whereas Aehrenthal can no doubt be regarded as instigator of the ‘Pig War’, and the single most important actor, on the Austrian side, no one, truly regards Lavrov, as being much more than the projector of ‘his master’s voice', aka Vladimir Putin. Nor, is the comparison between the Austrian Empire & Serbia and present day Russia & Georgia, an entirely exact, except for the fact that in both situations, a smaller, formerly client state, confronts head-on, a larger, more powerful state. So while some of the symptoms are similar, the overall diagnosis, is different. So, what one may ask, is this diplomatic dispute about in essence? And, why is it different than the ‘Pig War’?
Essentially, the diplomatic and political conflict between Georgia and Russia, is an old-fashioned, nay almost 19th century, diplomatic spat, involving irredentism, national re-unification, territorial boundaries, prestige, and notions of national honor. The background to the dispute is as follows: in the early 1990’s, with the breakup of Sovietskaya Vlast, two northern, border regions of the ex-Soviet Republic of Georgia with large minority populations (Abkhazia & South Ossetia), revolted against what they regarded as discriminatory Georgian rule. An endeavor in which they were assisted, by Russian forces, who, de facto amalgamated the two regions, with Russia, proper. Many of the remaining minority populations, being granted, Russian citizenship. With the large Georgian population, being expelled, en masse during the fighting, their status, and wish to return to their homes (violently opposed by the authorities of the two breakaway regions), have formed a constant source of tension between Tbilisi and Moskva. Under the overtly corrupt, old-fashioned, and almost neo-Soviet (admittedly of a ‘late’ variety) Eduard Shevardnadze, the conflict between the two countries over the issue was somewhat muted. Especially, since Shevardnadze, was forced to rely upon Russian assistance, in remaining in power, in 1993-1995. The upshot of that episode, being that about 3,000 Russian troops, are stationed in Georgia (On the problems posed by the return of refugees, see: the following in the Brussels-based, International Crisis Group, Reports # 176 and Briefing #38, in: www.crisisgroup.org
With the overthrow of Shevardnadze, in November 2003, in the ‘Rose Revolution’, and the coming to power of the American educated, pro-Western, Mikhail Saakashvili, tensions between Tbilisi and Moskva started to quickly increase. In particular, Moskva, was concerned by Saakashvili’s rhetoric about the future, re-unification of the two breakaway regions with Georgia proper. The fact that Saaskashvili campaigned in favor of ‘Orange Revolution’, in Ukraine the following year, only served to increase Moskva’s displeasure. As did his diplomatic campaign to gain NATO membership for the isolated country. A campaign which received some backing from the American administration, which also supplied Saakashvili with financial and military assistance, as well as extensive training of the Georgian military by American forces. Notwithstanding all these tensions, the two countries were able to sign an agreement, in May of 2005, which called for the withdrawal of all Russian forces (sans Russian ‘peacekeepers’ in the two breakaway Republics) from Georgia by 2008 (see an extensive list of informative reports covering Georgia over the past couple of years in: www.eurasianet.org
From that apparent hiatus, Russo-Georgian relations have progressively worsen throughout the past eleven months. Beginning with a severe power outage in the Winter, which effectively cut off, all of Georgian electric and gas supplies, which Saakashvili blamed on Russia, tensions between the two countries have constantly increased in 2006. In February of this year, the Georgian Parliament, voted to oust, Russian peacekeepers from South Ossetia. A move which Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, at the time denounced, as being an attempt by Tbilisi to blame the deadlock on talks with the two breakaway Republics, on Moskva. No doubt in retaliation, Moskva commenced an embargo of Georgian wines into Russia, in March. Later extended to Georgian mineral water as well. Also in March, Ossetian leaders floated the idea of ‘reunifying’ South Ossetia, with the North Ossetia republic belonging to the Russian Federation. In seemingly tit for tat fashion, Tbilisi in turn raised both the idea of quitting the Commonwealth of Independent States, which Russia had pressured Shevardnadze into joining over ten years previously, and, increasing efforts to join NATO. Notwithstanding the fact that any invitation to join in 2006, as Saakashvili predicted would occur, is less than realistic in light of the many problems, that Georgia faces: human rights violations, problems with electoral laws, and of course the likelihood of conflict with the two breakaway Republics. And, of course the biggest obstacle of all: Russia. Which is adamantly opposed to Georgia joining. Indeed, it seems unlikely that all 26 NATO members would agree to cross Russia by accepting Georgia for membership. Particularly since, Ukraine itself, is no longer as committed to joining NATO, under its new premier, Viktor Yanukovych (see: www.moscowtimes.com/2006/10/05
& Dmitry Babich’s 22 September article in www.russianprofile.org
). In sum, the arrest of the four (originally five) Russian soldiers, on the charge of espionage, by Tbilisi, was the last in a long line of moves and counter-moves by both countries (see www.Lefigaro.fr/International/2006929
Regardless, drawing Russia into a serious diplomatic confrontation, one in which Georgia, can be seen as being bullied by its larger neighbor, has many pluses for Saakashvili, and it would appear that it is due to these positive variables that he has chosen to throw the diplomatic dice as it were. First, is that with his political popularity in less than stellar shape prior to the arrests, with elections coming up this month, as well as charges by the opposition, that he is engaging in dictatorial behavior, Saaskashvili, by playing the anti-Russian card, has both regained immense popularity, and forced the opposition to rally to his side (see: Alexi Makarkin’s article in Novosti in: http://en.rian/analysis20061002
). In addition, with the possibility that Moskva, might, use the example of Kosovo being granted, independence by the UN Security Council, over Serbia’s objections, as a precedent for a something similar occurring in South Ossetia, and Abkhazia, in the very near future, Saakashvili might have seen the need to act, in an attempt to draw the West into his conflict with Moskva before it was too late (see: Jen Alic’s article in www.res.ethz.ch/news
). And, indeed, with the arrests, Moskva, did indeed jump to the bait. These include as we all know, withdrawal of much of the Russian embassy from Tbilisi, second, several harsh statements by both Lavrov and Putin, with the former stating that:
“The actions of the Georgian leadership have unquestionable become consistently anti-Russian….the officers [case] is not even the culmination, but a reflection of the policy conducted by the Georgian leadership, which is looking to attract attention to Russia interfering with Georgian affairs”.
And, the latter stating that:
“I would not recommend anyone use the language of provocation and blackmail against Russia”. (For both statements see RIA).
And, of course their statements were followed or were following in the footsteps of actions by the Russian authorities, to make Tbilisi realize the errors of its ways, including: cutting off of all transport, mail links between the two countries, as well as putting police pressure, especially in Moksva, on the resident 300,000+ (almost 7.5% of the entire Georgian population) Georgian community in Russia. With money transfers now cut off, perhaps upwards of ten percent (10%) of Georgia’s national income might be lost. And, with Putin raising the possibility that mass expulsions from Russia of the Georgian community might follow, it may be wondered if Saakashvili now realizes that he has overplayed his hand? (see: Moscow Times
). No doubt with this in mind, Saakashvili, released the four soldiers on Monday, in the hope that it would lower the diplomatic temperature, and forestall Moskva taking any drastic steps. In fact of course it appear that the opposite has now occurred, with almost all the Russian actions, occurring or being reaffirmed, after the release. This raises the issue of course, of what does Russia want? Ideally, of course, Moskva may like to engineer a policy of ‘overthrow’, and oust Saakashvili and his regime, tutti quanti. That would certainly be the underlying meaning of Lavrov’s statement’s and to a lesser extent Putin’s of the last few days. What seems unlikely though, it that Moskva would directly attempt to oust Saakashvili, id est, `a la the Americans in Iraq in 2003. The costs both in terms of occupying the country, and the potential International backlash, would be more expensive, than the gains to be derived by getting rid of Saaskashvili. Much more likely, is the idea that Moskva will put as much pressure as possible, on Georgia, and its people, in the hopes that the population, will turn against the current government. In addition, with South Ossetia, readying for a referendum on de jure independence in November, it is more than likely, that one or both breakaway territories, will be declared legally independent, and supported in their claim by Moskva, in a few months time. More evidence to the Georgian population that rather than bringing the re-unification closer, its leader’s policies are having the opposite effect. And, of course, if Tbilisi were to attempt to use force to stop any moves towards independence by the breakaway regions, than there is the possibility that Moskva might use any such attempt to overthrow Saakashvili once and for all (on the idea that Moskva’s policy is in fact one of ‘regime change’ see Pavel Felgenhaur’s 4 October article in the Eurasia Daily monitor: www.jamestown.org
What is the reaction of the outside world, and in particular Europe and the USA? Aside from calling on restraint by both sides, it would appear that both have a great deal of interest in not getting too much involved in the dispute, in absence of a truly unprovoked Russian military invasion of the country, and perhaps not even then. While, there are some, particularly in the United States, who feel that the United States, should not allow Moskva, to strangle an ‘emerging Democracy’, these voices appear to be in the minority (for some such voices along these lines see: CFR
). But, with both the North Korean and the Persia crises about to burst open, as I write these lines, it is highly unlikely that Washington, much less the European countries, will stir themselves to intervene in an energetic fashion, diplomatically, much less offer any real assistance to Tbilisi. It would appear, that by goading, Moskva, in the way that he has, Saakashvili, has seriously overplayed his hand. As mentioned, there is little likelihood, that NATO, will accede to his request to be invited to join the organization this year (see: Molly Corso’s 27 September article in: EurasiaNet
). Nor will any Western country, be able to effectively assist Saakashvili, in ousting Russia from its position in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A position which will be strengthened by the referendums occurring later this year. The upshot is that rather than effectively acting in a way to reunite his country, Saakashvili’s policies, have had the opposite effect intended. The exact opposite result that the Serbs were able to engineer, in their conflict with the Austrian Empire in the run up to the Great War. The difference being, that while the two breakaway regions are in fact, ‘unredeemed’ lands, there is no ‘unredeemed’ Georgian population inhabiting them (due to the earlier, no doubt illegal, expulsions). In the absence of which, and in the absence of an effective Great Power sponsor, to fight its battles for it, as Tsarist Russia eventually did Serbia’s, Georgia is being lead, into a diplomatic cul de sac. As the Russian language émigré, scholar, Dmitri Simes cogently argues:
“Sympathy towards Saakashvili is not a substitute for facts however….Georgia cannot gain control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia without Russian acquiescence. That acquiescence becomes harder and harder to imagine as tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi continue to grow. And America’s ability to help win Russian cooperation on the issue declines the more closely Washington is identified with Saaskashvili. So, will the United States and NATO want to make the fate of Abkhazia and South Ossetia a key issue in their relationships with Moscow? Even if they do, the territories will not go back to Georgia without Russian agreement”. See: www.nationalinterest.org/BlogSE.aspx) .
Of course, it is also true, that for all the alarms and excursions, emanating in Moskva at the moment, in point of fact, its own policies vis`-a-vis Tbilisi, hardly stand up to much serious scrutiny either. Id est, Moskva wants two, incompatible goals simultaneously: one, to have Georgia completely in its sphere of influence; two, to maintain the status quo ante, in the two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The fact is of course is that the second goal, makes the first completely impossible. No Georgian government, worthy of the name, will ever agree, de jure, to accept the truncation of its territorial integrity. It is precisely for this reason, as well as others, both idealistic as well as opportunistic, that Saakashvili, made turning to the West and especially the USA, a major focus of his policies in the first place. While it is difficult to say for certain, it was not entirely impossible, that if Moskva, had seriously attempted to reach some type of modus vivendi, back in early 2004 with Saakashvili, that the latter might very well, have been found agreeable. Of course, no government in Moskva, worthy of the name as well, would ever, agree to accept that Georgia, should become a member of NATO. Any more than say Ukraine. The question is whether Moskva’s policies are in its own best long term interests. While it can quite easily subvert, any aspirations that Saakashvili, or any other Georgian leader has towards reunifying the country, and perhaps even Georgia joining NATO, it is less than certain that the resulting endemic instability, serves Russian interests in the longue duree. For which one only need to look at the situation in the Northern Kavkas, e. g., Chechnya….Under the circumstances, the last thing that Russia should be looking to do, is to import more instability, into an area which is already quite unstable. The best response in retrospect, by Moskva to Saakashvili’s diplomatic pyrotechnics, is not responding to them in kind, no matter how atrocious the antics, but quietly making clear that by his behavior, Saakashvili is digging his own, and his nation’s grave. Unfortunately, things appear to have progressed way too much, for that this tack to be tried. With no doubt ill consequences for all concerned. Which would, looking at matters from a historical perspective be an utter tragedy: these are two peoples, who while hardly very similar, do have much that unites them: a shared faith, a shared history of the last two hundred plus years, shared villains (Stalin & Beria) and shared heroes (Knyiaz [Prince] Bagration of the battle of Borodino fame). In many ways, Russia and Georgia, should be natural allies, rather than fated to be enemies. It seems to this diplomatic observer, that to allow the conflicts of the last eighteen years to cloud over and perhaps destroy that shared commonality, would be a great and utter waste.
Islamic Radicalism on the March Again
Dear reader, as some of you might know, most probably not, in France, there has recently occurred another repetition of the murderous onslaught, of Islamic radicalism, `a la the cases of Salman Rushdie, and the Danish cartoons. Specifically, on the 19th of September, a French, Philosophy Lycee Professeur, and an editoral board member, of the celebrated French journal of opinion, Les Temps Moderne (founded by J-P Sartre) by the name of Robert Redeker, published, a op-ed, article in the French newspaper Le Figaro, titled: “Faced with Islamic Intimidation what should the Free World do?” (see Le Monde’s editorial titled: ‘Pour Robert Redeker’, 1st of October, in www.Lemonde.fr/web/article
& The Brussels Journal in www.Brusselsjournals.com/node/1392
& The Financial Times in www.ft.com
for the story). Following the lead of the Holy Father, earlier this month, Redeker, a friend and follower of the French, Nouvelle Philosophe, Andre Glucksmann, denounced Islam the Koran as: “a book of incredible violence”. And in particular its founder, Mohammed, as:
“Pitiless war leader, pillager, butcher of Jews, and polygamous, this is how Mohammed is revealed by the Koran”.
All comments which we ourselves endorse fully and, in fact pointed out, as being part and parcel, the very sine qua non in fact, of Islam, in our remarks on the Holy Father’s learned words about Islam and violence, in my blog entry, on the subject, on the 19th of September. For his courage in uttering these words, comments which need to be stated again and again, as often as possible, so that by repetition, the truth of them, will finally break through the veiled wall of silence, that our bien pensants intelligentsia, academics and (worse of all!) politicians, have all erected, Redeker has been forced to go into hiding, telling his friend Glucksmann, in an e-mail, the other day:
“Its quite sad. I exercise my constitutional rights, and I am punished for it, even n the territory of the Republic. This affair is also an attack against national sovereignty ---foreign rules decided by criminally minded fanatics, punish me for having exercised a constitutional right and I am subjected, even in France, to great injury”.
To all of which, all we can say is VIVAT! And, in solidarity with Professeur Redeker, the following is the translation in full, of his original article in Le Figaro (see: www.extremecentre.org
). Please read and reflect on the words, which have already cost this poor man much:
What should the free world do while facing Islamist intimidation?
The reactions caused by Benedict XVI’s analysis of Islam and violence highlight the underhanded maneuver carried out by Islam to stifle what the West values more than anything, and which does not exist in any Moslem country: freedom of thought and expression.
Islam tries to impose its rules on Europe : opening of public swimming pools at certain hours reserved exclusively for women, ban on caricaturing this religion, demands for special diets for Muslim children in school cafeterias, struggle to impose the veil at school, accusations of Islamophobia against free spirits.
How can one explain the ban on the wearing thongs on Paris-Beaches* this summer? The reasoning put forth was bizarre: women wering thongs would risk “disturbing the peace”. Did this mean that bands of frustrated youths would become violent while being offended by displays of beauty? Or were the authorities scared of Islamist demonstrations by virtue squads near Paris-Beaches?
However, the authorization of the veil on the street is more disturbing to public peace than wearing a thong, because it invites complaints against the upholding the oppression of women .This ban represents an Islamization of sensibilities in France, a more or less conscious submission to the diktats of Islam. At the very least it is the result of the insidious Muslim pressure on the minds: even those who protested the introduction of a “Jean Paul II Square” in Paris would not be opposed to the construction of mosques. Islam is trying to force Europe to yield to its vision of humanity.
As in the past with Communism, the West finds itself under ideological watch. Islam presents itself, like defunct Communism, as an alternative to the Western world. In the way of Communism before it, Islam, to conquer spirits, plays on a sensitive string. It prides itself on a legitimacy which troubles Western conscience, which is attentive to others: it claims to be the voice of the oppressed of the planet. Yesterday, the voice of the poor supposedly came from Moscow, today it originates in Mecca! Again, today, western intellectuals incarnate the eye of the Koran, as they have incarnated the eye of Moscow. They now excommunicate people because of Islamophobia, as they did before because of anti-communism.
This opening to others, specific to the West, is a secularization of Christianity that can be summarized thus:the other person must come before myself. The Westerner, heir to Christianity, is the that exposes his soul bare. He runs the risk of being seen as weak. With the same ardor as Communism, Islam treats generosity, broadmindedness, tolerance, gentleness, freedom of women and of manners, democratic values, as marks of decadence. They are weaknesses that it seeks to exploit, by means of useful idiots, self-rigtheous consciences drowning in nice feelings, in order to impose the Koranic order on the Western world itself.
The Koran is a book of unparalleled violence. Maxime Rodinson states, in Encyclopedia Universalis, some truths that in France are as significant as they are taboo. On one hand: “Mohammed revealed in Medina unsuspected qualities as political leader and military chief (…) He resorted to private war, by then a prevalent custom in Arabia (….) Mohammed soon sent small groups of partisans to attack the Meccan caravans, thus punishing his unbelieving compatriots and simultaneously acquiring the booty of a wealthy man.”
There is more: “Mohammed profited from this success by eradicating the Jewish tribe which resided in Medina, the Quarayza, whom he accused of suspect behaviour.” And: “After the death of Khadija, he married a widow, a good housewife, called Sawda, and in addition to the little Aisha, barely ten years old. His erotic predilections, held in check for a long time, led him to ten simultaneous marriages .”
A merciless war chief, plunderer, slaughterer of Jews and a polygamist, such is the man revealed through the Koran.
Of , the Catholic church is not above reproach. Its history is strewn with dark pages, for which it has officially repentaed. The Inquisition, the hounding of witches, the execution of the philosophers Giordano Bruno and Vanini, those wrong-thinking Epicureans, in the 18th century the execution of the knight of La Barre for impiety, do not plead in the church’s favor. But what differentiates Christianity from Islam is obvious: it is always possible to go back to true evangelical values, the peaceful character of Jesus as opposed to the deviations of the Church.
None of the faults of the Church have their roots in the Gospel. Jesus is non-violent. Going back to Jesus is akin to forswear the excesses of the Church. Going back to Mahomet, to the conbtrary, reinforces hate and violence. Jesus is a master of love, Mahomet is a master of hatred.
The stoning of Satan, each year in Mecca, is not only an obsolete superstition. It not only sets the stage for a hysterical crowd flirting with barbarity. Its importis anthropological. Here is a rite, which each Muslim is invited to submit to, that emphasizes violence as a sacred duty in the very heart of the believer.
This stoning, accompanied each year by the acciedental trampling to death of some of the believers, sometimes up to several hundreds, is a rite that feeds archaic violence.
Instead of getting rid of this archaic violence, and thus imitating Judaism and Christianity (Judaism starts when it abandons human sacrifice, and enters civilization; Christianity transforms sacrifice through the Eucharist), Islam builds a nest for this violence, where it will incubate. Whereas Judaism and Christianity are religions whose rites spurn violence, by delegitimizing it, Islam is a religion that exalts violence and hatred in its everyday rites and sacred book.
Hatred and violence dwell in the book with which every Muslim is brought up, the Koran. As in the Cold War, where violence and intimidation were the methods used by an ideology hell bent on hegemony, so today Islam tries to put its leaden mantel all over the world. Benedict XVI’s cruel experience is testimony to this. Nowadays, the West has to be called the “free world” in comparison to the Muslim world; likewise, the enemies of the “free world”, the zealous bureaucrats of the Koran’s vision, swarm in the very center of the free World.