Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Today's New York Times publishes a secret memorandum by the National Security Adviser, Mr. Stephen J. Hadley, dated 8 November, in which the Maliki government of Iraq, and, Maliki in particular are evaluated. What strikes one in reading the memorandum is the intellectual blockage, and refusal to face reality that Hadley constantly indulges in. It appears that Hadley refuses to acknowledge a fact that has emerged again and again, in Iraq since 2003, id est, that political identity and formation is based upon a sectarian rather than national basis. Consequently, the hopes that Hadley raises in the memorandum that Maliki can 'rise above the sectarian agendas being promoted by others', is a leitmotif which occurs again and again here. It is this intellectual blindness, on Hadley and his superiors part, which clearly shows the hole in which American policy has fallen in Iraq. The fact is of course, that Maliki is part and parcel of the 'sectarian' nature of current Iraqi politics. At this point, one would have thought that the repeated failure of American promoted, 'non-sectarian', 'national' leaders, to succeed in Iraq, would have clearly showed the lay of the land. As per this memorandum, apparently not. If and when the Bush regime begins to take into account this basic fact, perhaps American policy will begin to reassess its basic policy in Iraq, and, draw the appropriate conclusions.

Published: November 29, 2006
Following is the text of a Nov. 8 memorandum prepared for cabinet-level officials by Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, and his aides on the National Security Council. The five-page document, classified secret, was read and transcribed by The New York Times.

We returned from Iraq convinced we need to determine if Prime Minister Maliki is both willing and able to rise above the sectarian agendas being promoted by others. Do we and Prime Minister Maliki share the same vision for Iraq? If so, is he able to curb those who seek Shia hegemony or the reassertion of Sunni power? The answers to these questions are key in determining whether we have the right strategy in Iraq.

Maliki reiterated a vision of Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish partnership, and in my one-on-one meeting with him, he impressed me as a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so. Maliki pointed to incidents, such as the use of Iraqi forces in Shia Karbala, to demonstrate his even hand. Perhaps because he is frustrated over his limited ability to command Iraqi forces against terrorists and insurgents, Maliki has been trying to show strength by standing up to the coalition. Hence the public spats with us over benchmarks and the Sadr City roadblocks.

Despite Maliki’s reassuring words, repeated reports from our commanders on the ground contributed to our concerns about Maliki’s government. Reports of nondelivery of services to Sunni areas, intervention by the prime minister’s office to stop military action against Shia targets and to encourage them against Sunni ones, removal of Iraq’s most effective commanders on a sectarian basis and efforts to ensure Shia majorities in all ministries — when combined with the escalation of Jaish al-Mahdi’s (JAM) [the Arabic name for the Mahdi Army] killings — all suggest a campaign to consolidate Shia power in Baghdad.

While there does seem to be an aggressive push to consolidate Shia power and influence, it is less clear whether Maliki is a witting participant. The information he receives is undoubtedly skewed by his small circle of Dawa advisers, coloring his actions and interpretation of reality. His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change. But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.

Steps Maliki Could Take

There is a range of actions that Maliki could take to improve the information he receives, demonstrate his intentions to build an Iraq for all Iraqis and increase his capabilities. The actions listed below are in order of escalating difficulty and, at some point, may require additional political and security resources to execute, as described on Page 3 of this memo. Maliki should:

¶Compel his ministers to take small steps — such as providing health services and opening bank branches in Sunni neighborhoods — to demonstrate that his government serves all ethnic communities;

¶Bring his political strategy with Moktada al-Sadr to closure and bring to justice any JAM actors that do not eschew violence;

¶Shake up his cabinet by appointing nonsectarian, capable technocrats in key service (and security) ministries;

¶Announce an overhaul of his own personal staff so that “it reflects the face of Iraq”;

¶Demand that all government workers (in ministries, the Council of Representatives and his own offices) publicly renounce all violence for the pursuit of political goals as a condition for keeping their positions;

¶Declare that Iraq will support the renewal of the U.N. mandate for multinational forces and will seek, as appropriate, to address bilateral issues with the United States through a SOFA [status of forces agreement] to be negotiated over the next year;

¶Take one or more immediate steps to inject momentum back into the reconciliation process, such as a suspension of de-Baathification measures and the submission to the Parliament or “Council of Representatives” of a draft piece of legislation for a more judicial approach;

¶Announce plans to expand the Iraqi Army over the next nine months; and

¶Declare the immediate suspension of suspect Iraqi police units and a robust program of embedding coalition forces into MOI [Ministry of the Interior] units while the MOI is revetted and retrained.

What We Can Do to Help Maliki

If Maliki is willing to move decisively on the actions above, we can help him in a variety of ways. We should be willing to:

¶Continue to target Al Qaeda and insurgent strongholds in Baghdad to demonstrate the Shia do not need the JAM to protect their families — and that we are a reliable partner;

¶Encourage Zal [Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador] to move into the background and let Maliki take more credit for positive developments. (We want Maliki to exert his authority — and demonstrate to Iraqis that he is a strong leader — by taking action against extremists, not by pushing back on the United States and the Coalition.);

¶Continue our diplomatic efforts to keep the Sunnis in the political process by pushing for the negotiation of a national compact and by talking up provincial council elections next spring/summer as a mechanism for Sunni empowerment;

¶Support his announcement to expand the Iraqi Army and reform the MOI more aggressively;

¶Seek ways to strengthen Maliki immediately by giving him additional control over Iraqi forces, although we must recognize that in the immediate time frame, we would likely be able to give him more authority over existing forces, not more forces;

¶Continue to pressure Iran and Syria to end their interference in Iraq, in part by hitting back at Iranian proxies in Iraq and by Secretary Rice holding an Iraq-plus-neighbors meeting in the region in early December; and

¶Step up our efforts to get Saudi Arabia to take a leadership role in supporting Iraq by using its influence to move Sunni populations in Iraq out of violence into politics, to cut off any public or private funding provided to the insurgents or death squads from the region and to lean on Syria to terminate its support for Baathists and insurgent leaders.

Augmenting Maliki’s Political and Security Capabilities

The above approach may prove difficult to execute even if Maliki has the right intentions. He may simply not have the political or security capabilities to take such steps, which risk alienating his narrow Sadrist political base and require a greater number of more reliable forces. Pushing Maliki to take these steps without augmenting his capabilities could force him to failure — if the Parliament removes him from office with a majority vote or if action against the Mahdi militia (JAM) causes elements of the Iraqi Security Forces to fracture and leads to major Shia disturbances in southern Iraq. We must also be mindful of Maliki’s personal history as a figure in the Dawa Party — an underground conspiratorial movement — during Saddam’s rule. Maliki and those around him are naturally inclined to distrust new actors, and it may take strong assurances from the United States ultimately to convince him to expand his circle of advisers or take action against the interests of his own Shia coalition and for the benefit of Iraq as a whole.

If it is Maliki’s assessment that he does not have the capability — politically or militarily — to take the steps outlined above, we will need to work with him to augment his capabilities. We could do so in two ways. First, we could help him form a new political base among moderate politicians from Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and other communities. Ideally, this base would constitute a new parliamentary bloc that would free Maliki from his current narrow reliance on Shia actors. (This bloc would not require a new election, but would rather involve a realignment of political actors within the Parliament). In its creation, Maliki would need to be willing to risk alienating some of his Shia political base and may need to get the approval of Ayatollah Sistani for actions that could split the Shia politically. Second, we need to provide Maliki with additional forces of some kind.

This approach would require that we take steps beyond those laid out above, to include:

¶Actively support Maliki in helping him develop an alternative political base. We would likely need to use our own political capital to press moderates to align themselves with Maliki’s new political bloc;

¶Consider monetary support to moderate groups that have been seeking to break with larger, more sectarian parties, as well as to support Maliki himself as he declares himself the leader of his bloc and risks his position within Dawa and the Sadrists; and

¶Provide Maliki with more resources to help build a nonsectarian national movement.

• If we expect him to adopt a nonsectarian security agenda, we must ensure he has reasonably nonsectarian security institutions to execute it — such as through a more robust embedding program.

• We might also need to fill the current four-brigade gap in Baghdad with coalition forces if reliable Iraqi forces are not identified.

Moving Ahead

We should waste no time in our efforts to determine Maliki’s intentions and, if necessary, to augment his capabilities. We might take the following steps immediately:

¶Convince Maliki to deliver on key actions that might reassure Sunnis (open banks and direct electricity rebuilding in Sunni areas, depoliticize hospitals);

¶Tell Maliki that we understand that he is working his own strategy for dealing with the Sadrists and that:

• you have asked General Casey to support Maliki in this effort

• it is important that we see some tangible results in this strategy soon;

¶Send your personal representative to Baghdad to discuss this strategy with Maliki and to press other leaders to work with him, especially if he determines that he must build an alternative political base;

¶Ask Casey to develop a plan to empower Maliki, including:

• Formation of National Strike Forces

• Dramatic increase in National Police embedding

• More forces under Maliki command and control

¶Ask Secretary of Defense and General Casey to make a recommendation about whether more forces are need in Baghdad;

¶Ask Secretary of Defense and General Casey to devise a more robust embedding plan and a plan to resource it;

¶Direct your cabinet to begin an intensive press on Saudi Arabia to play a leadership role on Iraq, connecting this role with other areas in which Saudi Arabia wants to see U.S. action;

¶If Maliki seeks to build an alternative political base:

• Press Sunni and other Iraqi leaders (especially Hakim) [Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Maliki rival] to support Maliki

• Engage Sistani to reassure and seek his support for a new nonsectarian political movement.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


According to today's New York Times, Mr. Philip Zelikow, who is the 'Counselor' at the State Department, and, probably the 'brains' of the entire department at present, has announced that he is resigning. As per the Times, Zelikow claims that his resignation is due to reasons of finance. However, according to anonymous sources, the Times claims that Zelikow, while having won some important bureacratic victories, in the 19 months that he has been at the department, is frustrated by the inertia of American policy, particularly in dealing with the Near East (see: "Senior Aide to Rice to resign from Post," in As readers of this journal know, back in September, Zelikow made an important speech in which he attempted to re-position in American policy, vis-`a-vis both the Arab-Israeli dispute, and, the overall problem of 'extremism' in the region. Now, at the time, I was quite critical of Zelikow's thinking, judging that it did not go far enough in distancing the USA away from its, unthinking support for Israel. I also judged that relying upon the Sunni Arab regimes in the region to reinforce American policy was a non-starter, due to the very negative fallout in the region of both the Iraq debacle, and, Israeli assault on the Lebanon in summer. Make no mistake these regimes are pro-American and pro-Western, as well as being very antagonistic towards Persia and Shiites extremism. It is just that these regimes, are too weak both internally and externally to act as a sort of cordon sanitaire vis`a-vis Persia and its local allies (Syria, Hezbollah) in the region. What needs to be done, is a pro-active American policy, which: a) definitively settles the Palestinian problem along the borders of 1967; if that requires imposing economic sanctions, cutting off of military and economic aid on Tel Aviv, so be it....b) resolving in some manner or other the Iraq debacle, by either bringing in many more troops, or conversely redeploying said troops on the periphery of Iraq, as well as in Kurdistan; c) using intelligent and collaborative diplomacy in handling Persia, and the problems that it poses for stability in the region, and, especially the issue of its nuclear programme; d) the same with Syria, especially in the hopes of reducing its ties with Persia to an extent, and in arriving at a grand settlement involving the Golan Heights & the Lebanon; e) the use of intelligent and subtle diplomacy, of the 'Helinski-watch' / Soros 'Open Society' type, in combination with the EU, to move forward, in the longue dureetowards greater pluralism, stronger civil society and parliamentarism in the Near East and the greater Arab World.

Now, notwithstanding my own caveats about the shortcomings in his ideas (no doubt heavily watered down by Rice, et al.) and policy proposals, Robert Zelikow coming depature from the administration is most definitely a bad thing. In an administration, where competence as opposed to cronyism and ideology are the defining choices for assigning higher office, Zelikow, and the more recently departed, Robert Zoelleck (from Deputy Secretary of State position), would be occupying the posts that Rice has so far filled in this administration: National Security Advisor and or Secretary of State. The quick departure of both gentleman from office, having occupied the same for less than two years, suggest that inertia, lack of imagination and sheer incompetence are becoming the defining features of Rice's tenure at Foggy Bottom. Something of course, which as Mark Danner's recent article in the New York Review of Books, has shown was most ably demonstrated in her tenure a the NSC (see:"Iraq: The War of Imagination" in What this will mean concretely in terms of future American diplomacy, particular in the Near East, is that one should not have high hopes, on any great sea change in American policy there, on specifically on the war with Iraq. Indeed, Mr. Bush statement made today at the NATO Summit, in Riga that:
"There is one thing that I'm not going to do. I am not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete" (see:

Based upon this reading, notwithstanding the recent election results, and the appointment of Mr. Gates to replace the egregious Rumsfeld, one can only expect the US administration to muddle along, in the same policy pit that it has been occupying for the last four years. Sad, frustrating but all too true. Makes it all to clear why both Messers. Zelikow and Zoellick have chosen to depart the corridors of power when they did.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Since the flaring up of the Russo-Georgian Crisis in late September of this year, the Kavkaz region, and Russo-Georgian relations, have dropped out of the sight of world attention. We thought that we would provide our readers with a quick update on the latest goings on in this important area of the world. First, and perhaps the most important event were the elections held in South Ossetia on the 12th November, in which 75% of South Ossetia's voters went to the polls, and, 90% of them voted in favor of declaring 'Independence', from Georgia. This vote had been preceeded three weeks earlier by a vote in the Abkhaz Parliament, asking that the Russian Duma, 'legitimise the de facto independence of Abkhazia', which had a similar vote back in 1999 (;;
As was to be expected, Georgia's government declared the vote to be null and void:
"Georgia will not recognize the legitimacy of such undertakings"
(see: the 11 November statement in:

A statement which was adhered to, although much more quietly by both Brussels [European Union], Western European powers and of course Washington (see:;; And, there for all intents and purposes the matters rest, as per the Western media. However, beneath the surfaces, there has been, in a sotto voce fashion, moves which signal that some, admittedly not definitive, but, some movement on the ground in the Kavkaz. First, and perhaps the most important event, was a non-one: to wit, while protesting the vote, Georgia did not attempt to either interfer with the voting, nor did it, make any moves which could be interpreted as being a military response to the vote, and what it may imply, id est, independence for South Ossetia. In line with this non-response by Tbilisi, and, indeed a preliminary to it, was the dismissal by Georgian President Saakashvili, on the 10th of November of his hardline Defence Minister, Irakli Okruashvili, who had previously declared that he would spend New Year's 2007 in a 'liberated' South Ossetia (see: While first just demoted, subsequently, the previously domineering Okrashvili resigned from the government entirely, within a mere ten days (see: Molly Corso's articles on this in: Others moves by Tbilisi indicating that perhaps, just perhaps Saakasvili, is starting to re-think his, so far failed policies vis`a-a-vis Moskva, are: one, dropping talk of having Georgia withdraw from the Commonwealth of Independent States, it being dominated by Russian notwithstanding; two, Georgia's statement that it will allow its own gas suppliers to the Russian energy combine, Gazprom, about its stated increases in prices to 'full market value'. Notwithstanding Saakashvili's prior statement that Georgia found such price increaes to be unacceptable (see: Molly Corso's 24 November article in & for Saakashvili's 14 November statement); three, Saakashvili's own statement before the European Parliament, on the 14th of November, in which he publicly held out his hand to Moskva in the hopes of resuming dialogue between the two countries, stating:
"I have no intention of using the European Parliament's podium to escalate tensions with Russia, and I am calling on the Russian leadership to get back on the path of dialogue with Georgia" (see:

What may one ask has prompted this change of heart by the once ardent and indeed almost hyper-aggressive Georgian leader? If one had to guess it was a combination of two elements: first, his evident recognition that in the current International climate, neither the European powers or the USA, are prepared to back Tbilisi in a full-fledged conflict with Moskva (see: Nina Backkatov's illuminating report in "Inside Russia and Eurasia", in; second, that his earlier hopes of having NATO vote at its upcoming summit meeting in Riga, to invite Georgia to join the military alliance is simply not in the cards. Despite his earlier high hopes of obtaining such an invitation, there appears to be no hope. As the American, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Daniel Fried admitted in on the 21st of this month: Georgia 'had a further way to go', prior to receiving an invitation to join the alliance (see: for the statement). This being merely a reiteration of an earlier remark by his deputy Mr. Matthew Bryza, who previously had given the appearence of being entirely in Tbilisi's corner in its dispute with Moskva. Speaking in Wien on the 16th of November, he noted that its conflict with Russia, as well as its struggle to re-absorb both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it was Tbilisi's responsibility to:
"It's Georgia's responsibility to chart a coursethat restores its territorial integrity, allows its democratic and market reforms to proceed (it has a lot of work to do) and coexist peacefully with Russia" (

Under the circumstances, Saaskashvili has made a virtue of necessity and tactfully and intelligently made changes to his prior policy. Hopefully, this will not be merely be a tactical maneuver, but a strategic shift, in which he recognizes that the only means to reunite Georgia with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is to come to some type of modus vivendi with Moskva. That and nothing else it would appear will result in the reunification of Georgia with its two dissident regions. To maintain an anti-Russian course, is one that will guarantee that Saakashvili will be forever remembered as the Georgian leader who ensured that his beloved homeland was partition into three parts. Something that one hopes Saakashvili recognizes and wishes to avoid at any cost.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Near East in the aftermath of the Gemayel assasination

"It is too early to know who ordered this week’s assassination of the Lebanese cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel, but there are many reasons to suspect Syria. Mr. Gemayel opposed Syria’s unrelenting campaign to dominate Lebanon’s fragile democracy. If the cabinet now loses even one more minister, through intimidation or worse, Lebanon’s pro-Western government will collapse — a collapse that Hezbollah, Syria’s ally and henchman, has been publicly seeking.

In a Middle East plagued by constant tragedy and defeat, Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution and the ousting of Syrian troops last year was a rare and precious victory. The United States and the international community must now rally to support Prime Minister Fouad Siniora — with cash, security advisers, and anything that might help him and his government survive.

Damascus must also be told that it will pay a high price — in scorn, isolation and sanctions — if it is found to have ordered Mr. Gemayel’s death, or the deaths or maiming of a half-dozen other anti-Syrian politicians and journalists. Hezbollah must be told that it will be shunned if it tries to grab power through further violence or intimidation.

The United Nations took an important step this week, approving the creation of a tribunal to prosecute the killers of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister. The only question there is which top Syrian official gave the order.

This page believes that the United States needs to begin a dialogue with Syria, about Iraq and regional peace. But President Bashar al-Assad needs to understand that neither the tribunal nor Lebanon’s independence will ever be on the bargaining table. Europe, Russia and all of Syria’s neighbors need to join Washington in delivering that message.

Hezbollah has been insisting on veto power over all government decisions, including whether it will participate in a U.N. tribunal. If there is any possible good to come from Mr. Gemayel’s death, it is that Hezbollah will now have to postpone its announced plan to call thousands of demonstrators into the street to bring down the government. We hope Mr. Siniora can use this time to rally the majority of Lebanese who still believe in national reconciliation and the spirit of the Cedar Revolution.

We would urge Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to go immediately to Beirut, except we’re not sure she would be welcome after President Bush’s failure last summer to restrain Israel’s disastrous air war. Ms. Rice might still do some good if she brought with her a large group of European and moderate Arab foreign ministers. That is a sad admission about the limits of American influence. But Mr. Siniora needs all the help he can get".
Editorial in New York Times, 23 November. See:

The assassination of the Christian Maronite leader, and government Minister, Pierre Gemayel, earlier this week, has brought the ongoing power struggle in the Lebanon to renewed prominance. Since, the failure this summer past of the Israeli-American war to break the back of the Syrian-Persian backed Hezbollah; Damascus & Teheran with its allies in the Lebanon, have been straining evermore to bring about the downfall of the pro-Western (meaning pro-Franco-American-Saudi-Gulf Arab) Siniora government. The government formed, due to the downfall of the prior, pro-Syrian regime, in the aftermath of the assassination of Hariri. In the last two weeks, Hezbollah and its allies resigned from the Siniora Cabinet. Hoping to topple it, and force new elections, in which they hope to win and oust the current one. Instead, Siniora and his colleagues decided to continue, and even voted to co-operate in the UN's ongoing of Hariri. An investigation which Damascus fears might just point fingers and the very top of the Assad regime.

The above is the foreground, of the Gemayel assassination. The real, outstanding issues are: one, what are the stakes for each side and, two, who has the better cards to play with at this time? First, the stakes for the two sides are quite different. As the above editorial in the New York Times, or the Financial Times the day prior clearly show, per se, there are no real hard, Western, American interests at risk in the Lebanon (see: For the Western powers, what is at stake is merely a prestige policy: that the Bush policy of Democratization's only success, not be reversed. Aside from that there will be no real costs to any decision, `a la that of 1984, to the Franco-American powers to just picking up their marbles and walking away. Even the Israelis, as long as the border with Hezbollah is quiet, will not be too much discontented with such a result. Particularly since, they were never adherents to the idea, espoused by the leading lights of the Bush regime, that the Assad fils, was ripe for being overthrown (See Charles Malik's article 18th November in Lebanese Political Journal in

In the case of Damascus, the stakes are quite different. Assad and his inner circle, view their withdrawal from the Lebanon, in 2005, and the election of the Siniora Cabinet, as being an unmitigated defeat of the very first magnitude. Indeed, such was the after shocks of this defeat, that to a degree, the whole stability of the regime appeared to be at stake. Especially when the former First Vice-President, and long-time, Lebanese 'Viceroy', Abdel-Halim Khaddam, resigned in June 2005, and, attempted to overthrow the Assad from abroad (see the 30 December 2005 issue of This threat to the regime appears to have been over by the end of the Israeli-Lebanese war of this summer. Israel's failure to crush Lebanon, resulted in an enormous prestige victory throughout both the Levant and the Near East for Damascus, and its Persian allies and Hezbollah (see the July / August 2006 issues of As we have shown above, in recent weeks Hezbollah and its allies on the Lebanese political scene: General Aoun, and Parlaimentary Speaker and head of the Amal party, Nabib Berri (see the 11th November issue of In combination with this political offensive, were diplomatic trial balloons, going on, about the need for, if not reapprochment, than at least pourparler between Damascus and Washington & its allies. The subject of any such parler being what Syria could contribute to stabilizing Iraq, and, possibly, what would be the price, for doing so. Perhaps as a first step in such a diplomatic maneuver, was the re-establishment of relations between Damascus and Baghdad this week, with the visit of the Syrian Foreign Minister to the same (on this and the possible repercussion therein see the article in LeFigaro on this: With the re-establishment of Syria's de facto, if not de jure hegemony over the Lebanon, being seen, as part and parcel of any such quid pro quo agreement with Washington. The other one being that Washington will definitely abandon, its goal of overthrowing the Assad regime, once and for all. Something that realpolitikers, around the incoming Defence Secretary, Mr. Gates, such as the very influential Mr. James A. Baker III, and his Iraq Study Group (on this see a report in the Council on Foreign Relations,'Daily Brief' on 15th November in

So, gentle reader, where are we now? On the surface, it would appear that Syria and its allies, while temporarily blocked by the killing of Gemayel, from taking to the streets, to bring down the Siniora Cabinet, as previously promised, are still in the drivers seat overall (on this prior threat see the Roma based online journal 'Power and Interest report: "Intelligence Brief: Pierre Gemayel Assassinated in Lebanon" in . However, aside from diplomatic outrage, which by its very nature tends to be temporary in scope, it would not appear that Washington and Paris have either the staying power, or the will, to actively and consistently back, with aid, overt, concrete assistance and diplomatic support, the 14th of March coalition. Already, at a summit meeting with French President Chirac in Lucca, Italia, Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, restated his recent view that:
"The Syrians must be confronted with their responsibilities, clearly and openly. Pressure must also be brought to bear on them. Not to speak with the Syrians is no solution. The prime objective is to guarantee Lebanon's independence. This also means Syria's independence" (in

Which is of course, merely a sotto voce, way of saying that push comes to shove, that in any type of grand bargain with Syria, the Lebanon is a tradeable commodity. Sad, but it would appear true. And, unfortunate, because the Lebanon, is by virtue of history and its rich population mix, part and parcel of Western, Chrisitian society. To abandon it, to the tender mercy of the Syrians and their local allies, with their violence, criminality, Islamic fanaticism and corruption, is the last thing that Lebanese society needs and wants. This all of course being the end result of the American debacle in Iraq, which means that the USA, is left holding very few cards, in the entire region. Perhaps as Michael Young recently put it in Beirut 'Daily Star' a few days prior to the Gemayel murder in an article titled: "Kiss Goodbye to a Liberal Middle East", with the neo-realists back in control in Washington, the words 'back to the future' takes on a new meaning:

Kiss goodbye to a liberal Middle East

By Michael Young
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Amid the joy surrounding the defeat of the Republicans in last week's midterm congressional elections, I might be forgiven this dissenting observation: With George W. Bush so roundly beaten, don't expect much American interest, in the foreseeable future and probably beyond that, for liberalism in the Middle East. We're returning to the days when the United States put its regional hopes mainly in leaders who were reliable thugs.

That's not to suggest that Bush was particularly consistent in his democratic preaching, or that he formulated his message in the most convincing of ways in Iraq. However, the historic mistake of Arab liberals was to stand elbow to elbow with the despots oppressing them in condemning the American democratic project for the region, instead of exploiting it. Rather than drawing on the Americans' presence in their midst for their own benefit, far too many of liberals fell back on a restricting cliche that the US was practicing a new form of imperialism. Perhaps it was, but early on it became painfully clear that that imperialism was as soft and malleable as a warm slug; that if the Americans could bend before the frail figure of Ayatollah Ali Sistani, they would probably listen to, even assist, those like the Lebanese who had decided to rid themselves of previously unassailable oppressors.

There was considerable hypocrisy in the Arab liberal reaction to Bush's wars. For decades, an unwavering lament of the liberals was that the US had abandoned democrats in favor of autocrats. That was true, particularly during the Cold War, when administrations pushing for greater openness on the part of their Arab allies were reminded by the latter that pushing too hard might induce them to lean toward the Soviet Union. In an era of superpower competition, the "realist" paradigm accepted such blackmail: It was better for the US to deal with states primarily on the basis of interests as opposed to values, even if values were never abandoned in Washington's public rhetoric.

That's where we are heading again today. American realists are making their comeback, most recently through Robert Gates at the Defense Department. However, Gates is part of a larger confederacy of old government hands rebounding thanks to the chaos in Iraq: "We told you so" is their leitmotif, and while many of these individuals can blend in an occasional value with their estimates of interests, their expectations remain decidedly low when it comes to the Middle East.

Prepare for more of what a realist paragon, Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush, told The New York Observer in summer 2004. "It's not that I don't believe Iraq is capable of democracy. But the notion that within every human being beats this primeval instinct for democracy has not ever been demonstrated to me."

In that phrase lies much contempt and a fundamental justification for tying America's wagon to Arab dictators. That is perhaps why Scowcroft, his colleague James Baker, who now co-chairs the Iraq Study Group, and their boss, the elder President Bush, never expressed noticeable remorse for two of their more callous decisions in the Middle East. One was their irresponsible encouragement of Iraqis to revolt against Saddam Hussein's regime in early 1991, after its army's defeat in the Gulf War. Bush's unwillingness to follow up on that invitation with American assistance led to a savage Baathist counterattack that killed tens of thousands of Shiites. And, prior to that, in October 1990, the Bush administration effectively ceded Lebanon to Syria so that President Hafez Assad would agree to join the international coalition convening to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

There are two problems with a return to realism past. The first is that 9/11, whichever way you cut it, was a by-product of that approach. Because militant Islam thrives in repressive Arab societies, because America can only appear more hateful to peoples who see it bolstering their absolute rulers, nothing prevents another terrorist attack against the US. That is the fatal flaw in the realists' approach. For them 9/11 was a glitch in the international order, albeit a substantial one, an event that should have merely brought retaliatory police action designed to re-establish an equilibrium. Realists were incapable of gauging the importance of ideas, of understanding that militant Islam is perilously eschatological in its ambitions. In their fixation on power, realists never see beyond the dry instruments increasing or lessening power.

The second problem is that America's traditional Arab allies, those many prominent realists continue to serve in sundry ways, particularly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are fast being marginalized by the region's non-Arab peripheral states - Iran, Turkey and Israel. Within the next decade, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but also Jordan and Syria, are liable to face considerable instability unless they can reform and become more democratic. To regard the Arab state system as stable in its mediocrity is to misread the recent past. On even the most basic of political issues, namely leadership succession, secular republics have regressed by resorting to dynastic ploys. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has no obvious successor today, and is trying to maneuver so his son can take over from him. In Syria, Hafez Assad had no alternative when his eldest son, Basel, was killed except to pick son number two. The poverty of such choices will only discredit secular nationalist leaders more than they already are, making revolutions, especially Islamic ones, ever more likely.

But American realists can't see that either, because in their deference to the natural order of states, to sovereignty, they cannot bring themselves to deplore what's happening inside states. That's why it's ironical that Arab liberals should now applaud the onset of a realist American foreign policy toward the Arab world. After all, the liberals always argued that unless the West preoccupied itself with the domestic evils of Arab regimes, they would be vulnerable to the policemen and intelligence agents tormenting them. They can now rest assured: The "neo-imperial" US has increasingly less of an intention to defend their cause, and with realists back in the forefront, ample philosophical justification not to do so".

Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


"IRAQ’S prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, is now saying that he wants the United States to stand back and let him use Iraqi forces to restore order. Within six months, he asserts, the bloodletting will cease. The United States must give this proposal very serious consideration. Critics of America’s current Iraq policy, particularly among the Congressional Democrats, have tended to concentrate on international diplomatic remedies. Experience, however, suggest that only the Iraqis themselves can end the chaos and violence.

The United States faced a very similar crisis a half-century ago. In 1955, the pro-American government of Ngo Dinh Diem sought to disband militias that belonged to religious sects, analogous to the Shiite militias in Iraq today. A self-interested faction controlled the South Vietnamese police, much as self-interested Shiites dominate the Iraqi police. In Vietnam as in Iraq, the only strong force not beholden to the sects was the army, and the army’s leadership was not entirely loyal to the national government.

When the South Vietnamese sects defied the authority of the Saigon government in the spring of 1955, the American special ambassador, Gen. J. Lawton Collins, urged Diem to compromise with them. Efforts to suppress the sects by force, Collins warned, would alienate the Vietnamese people, unhinge the army and lead to disastrous civil warfare. This advice was based on the mistaken premise that political solutions suitable in the United States would likewise be suitable in any other country.

Diem rejected Collins’s advice, and with good reason. In South Vietnam, as in other historically authoritarian countries, if the government failed to maintain a monopoly on power, it would lose prestige among its supporters and enemies. Only a strong national government could prevent the sects and other factions from tearing the country apart. While Diem was able to gain the submission of some groups by persuasion, others remained defiant.

In April 1955, fighting broke out between the South Vietnamese National Army and one of the militias. Diem sought to capitalize on the fighting to destroy the militia, which caused Collins to advocate Diem’s removal. Other Americans predicted chaos and wanted to abandon South Vietnam altogether.

President Dwight Eisenhower, however, decided that Diem should be allowed to use the army against the militias. In Eisenhower’s view, a leader who had the smarts and the strength to prevail on his own — even if it meant he discarded American advice — would be a better and more powerful ally than one who survived by doing whatever the United States recommended.

Through political acumen and force of personality, Diem gained the full cooperation of the National Army and used it to subdue the sects. Simultaneously, he seized control of the police by replacing its leaders with nationalists loyal to him. In a culture that respected the strong man for vanquishing his enemies, Diem’s suppression of the militias gained him many new followers.

Diem went on to become a highly effective national war leader. When, in August 1963, he suppressed challenges to his authority from another religious group, he again experienced an upsurge in prestige. Some American officials and journalists, however, denounced him for what they mistakenly saw as counterproductive heavy-handedness, and the officials prodded South Vietnamese generals into overthrowing him.

The South Vietnamese government rapidly deteriorated after the coup, in which Diem was assassinated. The new leaders were inept and tolerated strident opposition groups in order to satisfy the Americans. Violence proliferated among religious groups, and Viet Cong subversion accelerated.

South Vietnam’s history recommends the pursuit of two objectives that American officials are now urging upon Prime Minister Maliki: subduing the Shiite militias and transferring control of the police from Shiite partisans to Iraqi nationalists.

In Iraq as in Vietnam, the leader best able to end the violence will be one who possesses a very keen understanding of the country’s politics and can judge them better than outsiders can. Mr. Maliki has shown that he does not share America’s views on how to deal with the militias and the police. Vietnam tells us that we should welcome his willingness to act on his own initiative, rather than being alarmed by it.

Just as Diem established himself because Eisenhower let him participate unhindered in a Darwinian struggle, we should give Mr. Maliki the chance to restore order as he sees fit, provided his government does not try to suppress the insurgency through wholesale violence against Sunni civilians, as some fear it will.

If we pull back our troops temporarily and let Mr. Maliki deal with Iraq’s problems using Iraqi forces, we will be able to determine more quickly whether he can save his country as Diem saved his in 1955. We will see whether he has the political skills to cut deals with local leaders, the support of enough security forces to suppress those who won’t cut deals, and the determination to prevent the obliteration of the Sunnis.

If he does not have these attributes, it is to be hoped that the Iraqi Parliament, the Council of Representatives, will exercise its constitutional right to remove the prime minister by a vote of no confidence. Perhaps there is a better prime minister out there. It is also possible that nationalists will try to stage a coup and install a more authoritarian, less sectarian government. We may decide to condone a coup if the situation becomes desperate enough. But we would be best advised to avoid orchestrating one as we did so disastrously in 1963.

The United States may ultimately find that no Iraqi leader can neutralize both the insurgents and the militias. The benefits of a self-sufficient Iraqi government are so great, however, that we must give Mr. Maliki the opportunity to try".

Mark Moyar, an associate professor at the United States Marine Corps University, is the author of “Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965.” (see:

At a time when the USA, is trying to extricate itself from the Iraqi debacle, the
last thing that it needs are simplistic, ahistorical analogies from the past, to provide us with 'examples' which are both irrelevant and erroneous. Mr. Moyar's article, is a prime example of the genre. On both grounds: first, his recounting of the history of the Diem regime was and is inaccurate. At no time, would anyone who was not taken in, by anti-communist fantasies, would characterize Diem as a 'highly effective national war leader'. And, in a quite interesting narrative stretch, Moyar introduces Diem in 1955, and after his success with the sects, catapults him to 1963! Without caring to let us know that in between, South Vietnam, fell prey to a serious Communist insurgency, which most historians attribute blame to the misrule of Diem and his immediate family. A misrule, which much more than American, CIA plotting, paved the way for his bloody overthrow.

As per Moyar's contemporary fantasies, what can one say except that: one, there are no, 'Iraqi Nationalists', strictly speaking, in sufficient numbers to even elect more than ten member of the current Parliament, much less, organize a coup d'etat. Not to speak of being able to rule, either forcefully or not, the entire country. Sadly but in actual fact, at present all Iraqi political groupings of any force, are organized along sectarian lines. Ask any Iraqi Sunni for example, and they will identify the current Maliki governent, as a Shiite, Persian backed one, pur et simple. Unfortunately, the political and historical evolution of Iraq, over the last twenty-five years, if not longer, has had the end result, of making sectarian, rather than the national-state the focal point for identity. To expect that this trend could be changed overnight, is both ahistorical and betrays an appalling ignorance of historical evolution in general and in contemporary societies in particular. Oddly enough, one of the great weaknesses of the Diem regime, was the fact, that it was widely viewed as being government by another sect: id est, a Catholic one, which in a nation made up mostly of Buddhists, was perhaps not the best pillar to rely upon for stability....In that if nothing else, the situation in Iraq seems to be better placed than that of South Vietnam.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


"All the above aside, however, I will stress again in these cyber-pages that a dramatic move to regionalize our approach to the Iraq issue is desperately needed. Not only will this signal to the American public that ‘stay the course’ is over and done with, it will also convince skeptical European capitals and chanceries that we are truly moving in a new direction, not merely providing a fig-leaf for a sequenced withdrawal that does not constitute a convincing new plan (offering Europeans and others non-discriminatory access to reconstruction bids is also advisable on this score). In my view, and as I’ve previously stated, we should convene a major Iraq Contact Group consisting of the Americans, British, Germans, French, Russians and Chinese—with full participation by each of Iraq’s neighbors (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Kuwait), as well as other critical Arab and/or Islamic countries as observers to the Contact Group (Egypt and Morocco, for instance). To represent the U.S. at the Six-Plus-Six Contact Group we should appoint some of the very best envoys the country has at its disposal.

One critical priority must be addressing directly the wider regional tensions Iraq has exacerbated so that the conflict does not spill over to other countries. There might well be surprising areas of common interest among many of the regional Contact Group members on this score. A variety of goals will need to be tackled, and the diplomatic might of the entire key “Big Six” of the Contact Group must be marshaled to 1) build on Syria’s (still not convincing enough) efforts to make the Iraqi-Syrian border less porous, 2) continue to assist Riyadh in minimizing insurgent flow from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, 3) bolstering via diplomatic and other efforts countries facing growing religious radicalism from within like Jordan and, less noticed, Syria, 4) engage Iran full-bore on the Iraq agenda (to include as necessary other issues of mutual concern on a discrete case by case basis) to assure that the most radical elements in Teheran are dissuaded from providing arms and materiel to the worst of the Shi’a militias (lately groups splintering away from Moktada-al-Sadr), 5) dialogue more closely with Turkey to assure that her vital interests are not being imperiled by Kurdish resurgence, and 6) get Arab countries more involved generally with the situation in Iraq (greater Arab influence, in terms of bolstering the Sunni position, might well help serve to contain some of Iran’s growing influence, while also perhaps reducing the appeal of the ‘alliance of convenience’ between Syria and Iran, the former 70% Sunni, the latter a predominately Shi’a country). This is an impartial list, but the point is clear: a massive, full-scale international effort comprising all the great powers and the key regional actors must be convened to, around the clock, tackle the Iraq crisis.

Many readers ask: what will we gain from direct discussions with Syria and Iran? I can think of several actions, without limitation, that the Syrians could take if we extended various carrots to them (such as facilitating a return to negotations with the Israelis over the Golan Heights issue), including: 1) making the Syrian-Iraqi border less porous, 2) reducing Iraqi Baath money floating about Syrian banks and thus ultimately getting to insurgents, 3) cutting down on former deviationist-type Iraqi Baath who fled to Syria during Saddam's regime trying to cut a non-Saddamite, neo-Baath resurgence in Iraq, and 4) inducing Damascus to be more cooperative with Maliki's government so as to help stabilize the national government in Baghdad. As for the Iranians, it's no secret they are hedging their bets and, not only supporting Shi'a militias, but also Sunni insurgents. Similar inducements (mixed with the specter of punitive actions) could get the Iranians to reduce support to some of the groups causing us the worst problems, whether Sunni or Shi'a. Neither Damascus nor Teheran want a total meltdown in Iraq--which would also involve large refugee flows to both their countries--countries with their own somewhat disgruntled minorities (Azeris in Iran) or indeed majorities (Sunnis in Syria). In diplomacy, as in life, you talk to your opponents on occasion to get results. Hope and 'they know what to do' isn't a plan."
(see: Gregory Djerejian

I have chosen to focus on a fellow online commentator, the eminent and intelligent, knowledgeable and fellow realpolitiker, Mr. Gregory Djerejian, because in his much more intelligent fashion, he summarizes the prevailing wisdom of the most highlighted fact among the Washington pays legal: that a regional conference, with the participation of all the internal Iraqi factions: Sunni, Shiite, Kurd, et cetera, plus all of the regional powers: Persia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, et cetera, and, the already existing 'contact group' dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian issue: Russia, the USA, France, UK, the EU and the UN, will be able to convene and miraculously able to resolve, or go towards resolving the internal unrest and conflict in Iraq, by in the words of Henry Kissinger, internationalizing the conflict (see: the Council on Foreign Relations 'Daily Brief' for 20 November in The point here is that like all such exercises at grasping at straws, the current obsession of viewing a 'regional conference', as some type of panacea is simply that: an illusion and nothing more. Per se, there is nothing wrong with attempting the regional conference route. And, of course, there is much to be said for the Americans talking with both the Syrians and the Persians, both about Iraq and regional questions in general. However, the idea that by mere talking with such regional powers, or that 'drawing in' such outside powers will resolve the Iraq imbroglio is nonsensical.

This is so for two reasons: one, that the strife affecting Iraq is internal, and, is not the plaything of outside powers, however much our neo-conservative ideologues would like to think otherwise. With a very long fuse, the violence in Iraq which has occurred since the fall of Saddam Hussein, has almost entirely internal origins. A classical case in fact of der primat der innenpolitik. While it is true that outside powers, such as Syria and Persia have added a few timbers to the flames, nothing suggests that their activities, have had substantial influence or causation therein; two, recent examples of the regional conference approach shows what can, and what cannot be done in instances such as the current conflict in Iraq: the first (positive) example is the Bonn Conference of 2001-2002, dealing with Afghanistan. Here was a conference where 'all' of the internal factions, the regional players, the UN, EU and the USA, met and decided on policy for a 'new' Afghanistan. All that is except of course for the Taliban, who had just been ousted from power. And, of course, it is precisely the ousted Taliban, who in the last couple of years have caused much in the way of violence in that poor country recently. The seond (negative) example, was the Rambouillet Conference of 1999, which attempted to resolve the problem of Kosovo. Notwithstanding all the same ingredients, as what is being proposed for Iraq, the conference failed, due to the fact that the two warring parties: Serbia and the Kosovo Albanians were unable to come to an agreement. NATO's war with Serbia soon followed (for Richard Holbrooke's less than positive view of the conference idea as panacea, see the Council on Foreign Relations Daily Analysis for 14th November: 'The Buzz over the Baker Report' in

Consequently, in the absence of an internal settlement between Sunni and Shiite, what is the prognosis for a resolution of the Iraq problem, via the regional conference route? I for one predict much journalist hyperbole and political rhetoric, but nothing of substance, id est, utter failure. The insurgency and the sectarian conflict will go on, unabated. The alternatives will swing back to essentially what they are in reality at present: a) the Bush approach of 'more of the same'; b) the Senator McCain approach of investing more troops: perhaps two to three divisions worth in order to damp down the conflict, and ultimately allow Iraq time to stabilize itself; c) some type of scheduled, negotiated withdrawal. Of the three alternatives outlined here: the first has been tried and and found wanting, both Internationally, and by the American people. The second alternative, while it perhaps had some logic to it, and, which I myself still favor to some degree (as does by the bye: Djerejian himself to an extent), seems for both, internal American political reasons, and, for Iraqi political reasons as well, a non-starter at this point in time. The last alternative, appears to possess the power of novelty and popularity. Erroneously, but perhaps not surprisingly, many both in Iraq, in the Near East and Internationally, are of the mistaken belief that with the withdrawal of Anglo-American forces, 'all will be well'. Indeed, the Syrian Foreign Minister visiting Iraq today, said as much (see Jonathan Steel's article in the Guardian in Of course for those who remember their history a bit, may well recall, similar remarks were made that the withdrawal of the British from the Indian Sub-continent in 1947-1948 and from Palestine at the same time, would have positive results for the situation on the ground. Something which subsequent events did not bear out in the least....Something which I am afraid will prove to be all too true in the case of Iraq as well if a policy of 'scuttle' is pursued.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Like a permanent leak, drip, drip, drip, each and every day brings new reports, discussions and arguments to the effect that the USA is on the run, in decline, strategic, diplomatic, et cetera, et cetera. For example of which, Bush's current trip to the Far East for the APEC Summit, inspired an analysis from the online journal Stratfor stating that:
"Bush will arrive in an Asia where North Korea has (somewhat) successfully tested a nuclear device, where Japan is openly discussing the merits of discussing the merits of a nuclear weapons program, South Korea seems to be coming into closer alignment with North Korea than with the United States, and China reportedly is shadowing U.S. carrier battle groups and planning to buy advanced carrier-based aircraft from Russia.

With its resources and priorities squarely centered on Iraq, the United States has paid scant attention to East Asia -- despite its involvement in six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program and trade negotiations with Vietnam, South Korea and China. Asia, as a result, has been left to develop in its own natural direction, without U.S. "interference" and with emphasis more on regional concerns than global ones. The Cold War paradigm of global blocs has been swept away, and the post-Cold War sense of supreme and unchallengeable U.S. global hegemony has been shattered".

On the same day, analyzing the latest developments in the Lebanon, specifically the resignation of all the pro-Hezbollah ministers from the Sinora Cabinet, with the possibilites of the downfall of the Sinora's government, and new elections bringing to power, a pro-Syrian, Hezbollah backed, government; the American academic specialist on Syria, Joshua Landis, in an interview for the Council on Foreign Relations, opined that with the Iraq debacle, American influence in the Levant (the Lebanon, Syria and Israel-Palestine) was in

"as America’s authority starts to drain out of the region because of the Iraq debacle, Syria and its allies in Lebanon are trying to capitalize on a weakened America. America tried to stick its finger in the dike this summer by supporting this Israeli air war to try to destroy Hezbollah and to keep Lebanon securely within America’s sphere of influence. But they failed. And so Syria’s back on the march and the Shiites and Aoun are re-invigorated. And they’re making another assault on this pro-America government.

American power is diminishing in the region. And even if the United States can hold this government together for the time being, the Americans cannot win the battle right now. I think that Lebanon is going to have to make some kind of compromise. Unless if falls apart, it’s got to find some modus vivendi with Syria. Syria’s too powerful right now"
(see: Council on Foreign Relations Daily Brief for 16 November in

In Afghanistan, the USA-NATO backed, President Ahmed Karzai, in an interview with Radio Free Europe, admitted that the security situation in the country has in the past two years, due to what he claims is Pakistani collaboration with elements of the Taliban (for the interview see: . A charge, with the Rome based, online journal, 'Power and Interest' agrees, since according to their recent analysis, the Pakistani authorities have recently concluded that:

As the international effort in Afghanistan failed to rout the remnants of the Taliban completely, the insurgency there grew stronger. This Taliban revivalist insurgency, which is predominately composed of Pashtun elements, drew its support and rear base from Pakistan. Now, five years after the U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan, the conditions in western Pakistan have become restive, and Musharraf no longer believes that the situation is containable or acceptable without a change in policies....

As part of this assessment, Islamabad recognizes that it cannot afford to lose political influence with the Pashtun tribes on the border. For instance, if the Taliban and its Pashtun supporters are not defeated in Afghanistan, then the movement will flourish. For Pakistan, which is most concerned about its eastern front with India, it would be a strategic blunder to spark an insurgency in the west.

Therefore, Islamabad's dealing with tribal militants displays its revised assessment that the Taliban will not be defeated in Afghanistan. The reason, however, that Islamabad continues to launch occasional strikes against tribal leaders, such as the incident that recently occurred in Bajaur Agency, is because Islamabad is still subject to its interest of cooperating with the United States and its allies in the "war on terrorism." Pakistan, therefore, is forced to follow dual policies which are, at some moments, contradictory.

Therefore, Musharraf and the rest of the government in Islamabad are forced to walk a tightrope in the handling of Pashtun elements in the border region. Until it becomes clear which side is going to prevail -- either Kabul agrees to some form of a government power-sharing role with the resurgent Taliban, or the U.S.-led coalition turns the tide on the Taliban insurgency -- Islamabad will continue to pursue these contradictory policies.
(see: 15 November newsletter from

Similarly, in a little noticed change of front earlier this week, the South Korea government, announced that it will in the future, not join in the American-backed Proliferation Security Initative (PSI), which aims to block using naval and other means, North Korea from possibly exporting weapons and other dangerous materials abroad. In making its announcement, Seoul, made clear that its fear of possible North Korean reaction to its joining the PSI, outweighed American pressure to join the initative. And, notwithstanding the fact that the failure of South Korea to join the initiative, as well as its repeated refusal to fully clamp down upon its perhaps One Billion dollars plus, trade with its northern neighbor, makes putting any real pressure on Pyongyang, almost fruitless. Something which was predicted here, back in early October at the time of the North Korean test (see: Council on Foreign Relations Daily Brief for 13 November in

The upshot to all of the above events is that it would appear that events are gradually, or not so gradually slipping out, not only of American control, but of anyone's control. In short, for perhaps the first time, since 1945, diplomatically speaking, the world faces the possibility of the return of 'International Anarchy'.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


"My Lord Mayor, My Late Lord Mayor, Your Grace, My Lord High Chancellor, Your Excellencies, My Lords, Aldermen, Sheriffs, Chief Commoner, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Remembrance weekend took on a special poignancy this year. No longer do we only look back, nostalgia mixed with emotion and pride, on the supreme sacrifices of two World Wars. In this century, a new and unconventional enemy has appeared: a global terrorism, based on a thoroughly warped misinterpretation of Islam, which is fanatical and deadly. It was present for years but little noticed by us, before 9/11. Since 9/11, it has cast its shadow over the Western world.Just as the situation is evolving, so our strategy should evolve to meet it.

Inside Iraq we should empower the Iraqi leadership that wants to take responsibility - that knows that they, not us, must lead and win the fight against terrorism. To do this, effectively, they need our support, politically, in their economy and for their armed forces.

First, we need a strong political compact in Iraq led by the Iraqi Government to bring all parties together, with clear commitments to non-sectarian government and to democracy; Second, we need to build Iraqi governing capability, especially in the disbursement of money for reconstruction and rebuilding of the economy;
Third, we must plug any gaps in training, equipment and command and control in the Iraqi Army and help the new Interior Minister root out sectarianism in the police, which in turn will allow us, within the timeframe set down by General Casey, to transition to Iraqi control.

However, most crucial is this. Just as it is, in significant part, forces outside Iraq that are trying to create mayhem inside Iraq, so we have to have a strategy that pins them back, not only in Iraq but outside it too.

In other words, a major part of the answer to Iraq lies not in Iraq itself but outside it, in the whole of the region where the same forces are at work, where the roots of this global terrorism are to be found, where the extremism flourishes, with a propaganda that may be, indeed is, totally false; but is, nonetheless, attractive to much of the Arab street.

That is what I call a "whole Middle East" strategy.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding that this is about changing policy on Syria and Iran. First, those two countries do not at all share identical interests. But in any event that is not where we start.

On the contrary, we should start with Israel/Palestine. That is the core. We should then make progress on Lebanon. We should unite all moderate Arab and Moslem voices behind a push for peace in those countries but also in Iraq. We should be standing up for, empowering, respecting those with a moderate and modern view of the faith of Islam everywhere.

What is happening in the Middle East today is not complex. It is simple. Iran is being confronted over its nuclear weapons ambitions. Its stock market has lost a third of its value in the last year and foreign credit is increasingly hard to come by. The statements of its President - such as wiping Israel from the face of the earth - are causing alarm, even in Iran.

To be fair, they have a genuine, if entirely misplaced fear, that the US seeks a military solution in Iran. They don't. But we all want Iran to suspend its enrichment process which if allowed to continue, will give them a nuclear weapon. Under the agreement we brokered in June, the US has said they will talk to Iran direct for the first time in 30 years, if they abide by the UN demand to suspend enrichment. But Iran is refusing to do it.

Instead they are using the pressure points in the region to thwart us. So they help the most extreme elements of Hamas in Palestine; Hizbollah in the Lebanon; Shia militia in Iraq. That way, they put obstacles in the path to peace, paint us, as they did over the Israel/Lebanon conflict, as the aggressors, inflame the Arab street and create political turmoil in our democratic politics.

It is a perfectly straightforward and clear strategy. It will only be defeated by an equally clear one: to relieve these pressure points one by one and then, from a position of strength to talk, in a way I described in July in my speech in Los Angeles: offer Iran a clear strategic choice: they help the MEPP not hinder it; they stop supporting terrorism in Lebanon or Iraq; and they abide by, not flout, their international obligations. In that case, a new partnership is possible. Or alternatively they face the consequences of not doing so: isolation.

The basic point I come back to, again and again and which I have made many times here - is that whether in Iraq, or Afghanistan or indeed combating terrorism here, these battles are inextricably bound together. It is a global issue. It needs a global response"
('PM's world affairs speech to Lord Mayor's Banquet' in

In his annual speech foreign policy speech made by the British Prime Minister, at the Lord Mayor’s banquet on Monday the 13th of November, Tony Blair, made a speech which garnered an extraordinary amount of attention from the media (sic) and commentator’s on both sides of the Atlantic. A typical reading of it could be found in the New York Time’s, the next day, which headlined the story as: “Blair urges Strategy Change in Mideast” (see: As per the article, Blair, ‘confronted by likely changes in American policy on the war in Iraq’…called for a new ‘Western Strategy in the Middle East’…including the possibility of ‘a new partnership with Iran [Persia]’. This reading of the speech was given some currency by the inevitable leaks preceding it, which stated that Blair was actively in the process of trying to urge the American administration to:

“open talks with its great adversaries Syria and Iran (Persia), as a way to break the impasse in Iraq and the wider middle east” (the Sunday Guardian quoted in".

As per this reading, the trip taken to the region by Blair’s foreign policy advisor, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, in recent weeks, with trips to both Damascus and Teheran, was to prepare the groundwork for possible overtures by the UK, in conjunction with the its EU partners, and, hopefully the USA. Blair’s speech being the opening prelude to such pour parler talks (see especially for this line of thought: & the Council on Foreign Relations ‘Daily Brief’ for 13th of November in:

On the face of it, this reading of Blair’s speech has a logic and a consistency which makes absolute sense, and, it is in keeping with the British PM’s concern to open up avenues of communication and dialogue, as well as pose as a peacemaker in his remaining time in office. Unfortunately, this analysis of Blair’s speech is quite incorrect! A close reading of the speech clearly shows that while Blair with one hand does offer Teheran and Damascus a dialogue of sorts, it is as Blair himself says one which requires that Teheran:
“to suspend its enrichment process which if allowed to continue, will give them a nuclear weapon….help the MEPP [Middle East Peace Process] not hinder it; they stop supporting terrorism in Lebanon or Iraq; and they abide by, not flout, their international obligations. In that case, a new partnership is possible”. Or alternatively they face the consequences of not doing so: isolation”.

With diplomatic and financial ‘isolation’ the inevitable result of Teheran’s (and one presumes Syria as well) failure to abide by the Anglo-American desiderata. Perhaps not so oddly enough, Blair’s confrere across the Atlantic, Mr. Bush, reiterated the same line of thinking, stating on the same day as the Blair speech that:
“We expect the Syrians to be, one, out of Lebanon so that the Lebanese democracy can exist; two, not harbouring extremists that create – that empower these radicals to stop the advance of democracies; three to help this young democracy in Iraq succeed. And the Syrian president knows my position….If the Iranians want to have a dialogue with us, we have shown them a way forward, and that is for them to verify – verifiably suspend their enrichment activities” (see:

As the BBC’s Paul Reynold’s characterized it, both speeches very much represent a case of “talking tough from a weak position”. So, while the allegedly ‘new’ atmospherics inspired by the Congressional elections, and the upcoming retirement of Mr. Rumsfeld, may incline some to think that Bush, Blair, et al., are ready to open up negotiations with their opponents in Damascus and Teheran, this is far from the case. Indeed, recent days has seen renewed American complaints about Syrian behavior in Lebanon, and an agreement between Israeli Prime Minister Omert and Bush, that there was no point resuming any type of peace discussion with Syria. Either over the Israeli held Golan Heights or anything else (see: & ). Indeed, notwithstanding the political drubbing that his party took last week, and, the failure of Anglo-American forces to stabilize Iraq, there does not appear to be at this juncture any signs that the Bush regime is prepared, much less ready yet, to face the prospects of offering meaningful concessions to Syria and Persia. Rightly or wrongly, any such maneuver by Washington, would be seen as a diplomatic defeat, by the USA. Something which I will predict for my readership, is never, I repeat never going to happen on Mr. Bush’s watch. He would much prefer to see, Iraq, fall into complete and utter chaos, rather than to admit, de jure, that he needs to assistance of parties he regards as being his opponents. The concept, that the USA, is in a weaken condition, and must act as such is not one that Bush and Blair seem willing to recognize, much less act upon. As Royal Institute of International Affairs specialist Rosemary Hollis comments:

“The US and UK have no idea that the shoe is on the other foot. It is they who are weak. Yet they still expect Iran [and Syria too] to make all the concessions” (see:

Thursday, November 09, 2006


The American mid-term elections are now over. And, the results are truly a ‘thumping’, as Mr. Bush, in his colloquial English, put it, for both his party, and, his policies. In particular, the election results were a referendum on the stalemated situation in Iraq. And, not surprisingly, like the American pays legal, the pays reel, has made evident its extreme dissatisfaction with the direction of events in Iraq. Hence, the announcement today by Mr. Bush, that his Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was resigning, being replaced by ex-CIA Director, ex-Deputy National Security Advisor, Robert Gates. Gates, who filled both of the above roles in the administration of Bush the Elder, and, who it would appear is personally close to the latter, is like his former chief, a member in good standing of the Realpolitik, wing of the Republican foreign policy establishment. What however makes Gates appointment perhaps a potential breakthrough in Bush the Younger’s policies, is that fact, that Gates is a senior member of the Iraq Study Group, lead by another luminary of the regime of Bush the Elder, Mr. James A. Baker III.

Baker, long-time family friend and associate of Bush pere, ex-Secretary of State, Secretary of Treasury, White House Chief of Staff, is perhaps one of Washington’s leading figures in the circles of power. Another member of the Realpolitik school of diplomacy, Baker, has via hints and winks made evident, his lack of confidence in the Bush the Younger’s policies, both in Iraq, and, in the Near East in general. Something that Gates, has also, in the case of Persia, has made evident as well (on Baker’s views, see: Michael Rubin’s overtly hostile article in the, neo-conservative Weekly Standard in:; on Gates, see: Michael Moran’s article in The fact that Baker and Rumsfeld, have been at daggers drawn, since the Ford Presidency, probably makes, Gates’ replacement of the latter, all the more the case of a partial takeover, if not in fact a total one, of American diplomacy, by the adherents of old-fashioned realism (see an interesting group of short essays in the online version of the excellent, old-school, realpolitk oriented, National Interest, in

In terms of the specifics of any change in American policy, based upon the leaks that have emanated, from the Iraq Study Group, it would appear that Baker, et al., will recommend, that the USA, both, scale-down the American military presence in Iraq, and attempt to engage diplomatically, with both Syria and Persia, over Iraq. In the case of the latter, disentangling the Iraq, from the ongoing negotiations over Persia’s nuclear ambitions (for this see: the article in: In essence, if implemented, what these recommendations would mean, is that the Bush regime, has decided to bury, in an unmarked grave, the neo-conservative vision, of regime change, throughout the entire Near East. The fact that this ‘retreat’, if true, will have occurred, on the fiftieth anniversary, of the Anglo-French, capitulation to American pressure during the Suez Crisis, is an irony, which one may either savor, relish, or resent, but, irony, indeed, a historical irony at that, seems to be very much the case here.

Of course, it is too soon, to see, whether this possible (and I repeat at this point, only possible) change in American policy in Iraq, and vis-`a-vis Syria and Persia, will also result in changes in for example, in the current, 'do nothing', ostrich-like, policy towards Israel and the Palestinians. With perhaps, a chance, that American policy, will revert, to the line that Baker, and Bush the Elder, adopted towards the problem, at the time of the Madrid Summit of 1991. And, hopefully, towards more creative and intelligent stances towards the world in general. First thing first however, and, that is need to restore a sense of sanity to American Near Eastern policy, which in the last 18 months, if not in fact since the summer of 2002, bears all the marks of an out of control carriage, in which the alarmed passengers debate among themselves, whether the mad driver, should be subdued, in order to prevent a catastrophe. Based on the events of the last two days, it would appear that in fact, the passengers have finally decided to act before it is too late.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

'Imitation Russia’? A Response to Lilia Shevtsova

The State swelled up, the people grew lean

V. O. Kliuchevskii, Kurs russkoi istorii

"It remains an open question as to whether genuine liberalism in post-Soviet Russia was possible but multiply mismanaged, or whether Russia’s historical baggage was just too heavy for a liberal destination, no matter the effort. What is clear, however, is that Russia’s political trajectory since December 1991 has undermined several scholarly beliefs about regime classifications. It has prompted Samuel Huntington to discuss ‘executive arrogation’ as a threat to democratization and caused others to acknowledge the exhaustion of the ‘third wave’ of ‘democratic transitions. [2] Many who once saw Russia as a ‘democracy with adjectives’ (‘electoral democracy’ was the most popular cliché), who believed that ‘immature’ democracies evolve ineluctably into the full-fledged variety, have now been compelled to define Russia as an autocracy. Others perceive Russia to have fallen into a ‘political gray zone’ between democracy and dictatorship, a view which recognizes that the political teleology presumed by the very term ‘transition’ does not accord with an empirical reality that has turned out to be even messier than imagined.

Russia’s experience has clearly undermined a basic assumption of the transition paradigm: the determinative importance of elections. But Russia’s post-communist evolution has also proved that Francis Fukuyama was right to conclude in 1995 that ‘few alternative institutional arrangements elicit any enthusiasm’ aside from liberal democracy. [3] The political regime that has emerged in Russia confirms that democracy is the only ‘broadly legitimate regime form’ and that, as Larry Diamond has put it, post-totalitarian regimes have felt ‘unprecedented pressure to adopt or at least mimic the democratic form’. [4] This has led to what we may call ‘imitation democracy’, which is defined by the existence of formal democratic institutions-including multiparty electoral competitions-that conceal autocratic, bureaucratic or oligarchic practice. In imitation democracies, in other words, it is inconceivable that elections could be truly competitive because democratic forms are not actual political processes, only stage props fabricated so expertly that they often engross not just the viewers but the actors themselves.”

Lilia Shevtsova, “Imitation Russia”

In the realm of political typology, Professor Shevtsova, has come up with something new and of interest; ‘Imitation Democracy’. A faux version of the real type, which Shevtsova claims, is the malady which afflicts Matushka Rossiya, as well as such countries as Venezuela, Egypt and Iran, and pre-Orange Revolution Ukraine. As per Shevstova, relying upon other political scientists, the characteristics of ‘Imitation Democracy’ include:

“In the Russian case, we are dealing not with the ‘collapse’ of Democracy, as many think, but with the deliberate use of Democratic institutions as Potemkin villages in order to conceal traditional power arrangements….As in many other oil-rich states, resource rents have stoked corruption, vitiated the vital link between taxation and services that binds citizens to the state, and distorted both domestic and foreign economic investments.

If one controls, so to speak, for the effects of oil, the political regime that has consolidated itself owing to the efforts of Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin closely resembles the ‘bureaucratic authoritarianism’ of Latin American regimes in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It has all the characteristics: personified power, a bureaucratization of society, political exclusion of the popular sector, the leading role of technocrats (Russia’s Chicago boys) in setting the economic agenda, and an active role for the secret services (in Latin America it was the military)”.

Now, what dear reader is one to make of this schema? One should of course, acknowledge the intelligence and the evident wisdom of much of Professor Shevtsova’s ideas, as she has formulated them here. As she correctly notes, the typology of Russia’s political formation under Putin is to a degree unique, inasmuch as it does not readily, come to mind, as being akin to prior political regimes in Russia’s, nay European history (with the exception of Ukraine under Kuchma, all of her comparisons, are non-European, indeed, of the Tier Monde). So, one must duly thank Shevtsova, for providing us, with a starting point, in analyzing the nature of the current regime in Russia, and, for providing us with some clues as to how said regime, might and might not, evolve. As per the latter, Shevtsova claims that while in the long term, ‘any new pattern of modernization is likely to come from the business community”, in the short term, the prospects for Russia, après Putin are, either a continuation of the current ‘stagnant stability’, a regime crisis and societal breakdown, and, some variant of successful Liberal Modernization.

Now, as per the problems with Shevtsova’s diagnosis, of the patient, Ivan Ivanovich Rossiya, they are I would argue, such, that her conclusions fails to do justice to her penetrating analysis. In particular, her thesis, that species ‘Imitation Democracy’ is part and parcel of ‘post-totalitarian’ regimes, seems on the face of it, to be both illogical and historically nonsensical. Id est, non-functioning ‘multi-party’ political systems, were, as ex-Tovarisch Shevtsova, seems to have forgotten, part and parcel of the former, ‘People’s Democracies’, of Central and Eastern Europe. Each one of which, could not do without its own Peasant, Catholic, even Liberal-bourgeois parties, of the perfectly hollowed out harmless variety. Each one of the ‘PD’s, had their own, futile and powerless, Parliaments, and, even, elections. Even Sovietskaya Vlast, had of course, a shell like forms which required endless rounds of political organizing, demonstrations and such like (‘Brezhnev Constitution’ anyone?).

As per her comparison of Russia to the ‘authoritarian-bureaucratic’, military regimes of Latin America of the 1945 to 1985 period, or indeed, present day Egypt, well, here is where Shevtsova’s analysis becomes thoroughly unstuck (her throwing present day Persia, into the mix, seems too bizarre for comment, so I will just ignore). First off, all such regimes were not ‘bureaucratic’ regimes, if by the bureaucracy, one is using the word, in the Weberian sense. Nor can it be said, `a la, 19th century Prussia, or Austria, that the bureaucracy, was an important player in the overall power structure. Nothing could be further from the truth. All such regimes were, or are, as is present day Egypt, and other such in the Arab world, both de facto, and often as not, de jure, military regimes, pur et simple. Insofar as such regimes can be said to have a raison d’etre, it is the clear and indeed pronounced intertwining, of the military [usually the army] with the state apparatus. Hence, the fact that all the heads of such regimes were military officers, and usually Generals. Hence, the fact, that often such regimes came into being, as part of an overt military coup d’etat. And, just as often, as part of an ongoing military campaign against guerrillas or the perceived threat of a ‘Leftist’ takeover. Of course, Russia, neither under Putin, nor in the latter part of the Yeltsin period has seen anything like this. Nor is there much likelihood, that Putin’s successor need be per se, a member or an ex-member of the FSB. Nor is there much fear, even with the ongoing conflict in Chechnya, of an insurgency which necessitates a state of siege, and or emergency. The sine qua non, of the regimes mentioned above. Nor, is there the degree of state violence, which all of such regimes, inflict on the society, which they stand above. While, that is not to deny, that the Russian state, has committed atrocities in Chechnya, as well as winking, at the occasional political assassination and thugery, there is nothing that would approximate the degree of ongoing state violence, consisting of torture, death squads, long term imprisonment for political prisoners, et cetera, et cetera. Again, all part and parcel, of many of the political regimes that she compares Putin’s Russia to. Indeed, the whole of Putin’s reign as President, has even failed to produce a case similar to Kuchma’s alleged involvement in the murder of his political opponents. To put Putin’s Russia in such company, only obscures and obfuscates proper context of where such a regime should be placed.

Oddly enough, without pursuing the matter much further, nor expanding upon it, Shevstova, provides us with a clue as to where we should locate Putin’s Russia, as a political typology: in Russia’s past. As Shevstova says, the key question for Russia today, as it has been for the last three hundred and twenty years, has been the proper pattern of modernization. As she correctly points out, the old Petrine model of modernization from above, `a la Prussia (which Stalin in essence reused) for purposes of war and state building, no longer makes sense in the current International environment. Nor, does a Knyazhestva, patrimonal regime, makes sense as being the best way for Russia’s people to best develop their many talents and to build and strengthen civil society. Again, as Shevstova points out, it is the manifest failure of Putin, et al., to clearly and fundamentally understand this point, which throws into relief the reason why his regime, has failed to pursue a systemic policy of economic reform, and political liberalization (in the sense of a making Russia a Rechtstat). Instead, dreams of making Russia into an ‘energy superpower’, and using the energy weapon in an attempt to regain, Russia’s lost influence in its ‘near abroad’, appears to be upper most in the minds of Russia’s ruling circles. Which is not to gainsay, that many of Putin’s foreign policy maneuverings, do make a certain degree of sense. In that respect, Shevstova, with her anti-regime biases, appears to be on less than firm ground in criticizing on a blanket basis, Putin’s foreign policy. Where one can thoroughly agree with Shevstova is in her conclusion, where she states that the very last thing that Russia needs, is indiscriminate criticism, in a loud and hectoring voice. What Russia needs is more, much more, Western, especially, West European involvement, investments, co-operation. As Shevstova concludes on (for a Russian analysis!) hopeful note:

“In the next decade the post-Soviet elite in Russia will be a thing of the past. A new generation will be in charge that may opt for an open Russia basically at peace with the West. For this to happen Russia must discard the hopes it associates with its ‘elective monarchy’ and the false promise of authoritarian modernization that goes with it. That may be the only route from an imitation Russia to a real one, and eventually a democratic one”.