Tuesday, July 17, 2007


"What I really hate is the effort to paint me as anti-American, but I am happy to be described as anti-neo-con. If they see me as a villain, I will wear that as a badge of honour. My hope is that foreign policy will become much more impartial. We have a whole set of emerging countries. There will be lots of exciting things to do with Sarkozy and Merkel and other European leaders as well as strengthening our transatlantic relations....There is this global hub where there is the opportunity to connect Britain to a new way of doing things, when you think again about the partnerships to get things done - how you bring in an India or a China, how you can bring in civil society, Oxfam and Save The Children....Events determine relationships. For better of worse, it is very unlikely that the Brown/Bush relationship is going to go through the baptism of fire and therefore be joined together at the hip like the Blair/Bush relationship was. That was a relationship born of being war leaders together. There was an emotional intensity of being war leaders with much of the world against them. That is enough to put you on your knees and get you praying together."

Lord Malloch Brown (formerly Sir Mark Malloch Brown) 14 July 2007, in www.telegraph.co.uk.

An "appalling" choice, Irwin Stelzer, in www.spectator.co.uk.

In the history of diplomacy it is rather rare indeed, that the utterances of a subordinate, and, indeed the choice of one, should register such comment, as that of Lord Malloch Brown. The nearest that one can remember would be the twin choices of Andrew Cavendish (otherwise known as the 11th Duke of Devonshire) and Lord Home, by Harold MacMillan in the early in 1960's. And, as anyone can see for themselves, while Lord Malloch Brown, is not the most diplomatic of individuals (on which more later), my own surmise it is the content rather than the form of what he says which is annoying to people on both sides of the Atlantic. Obviously, for Americans, especially of the neo-conservative hue, his comments must seem rather on the harsh side of the ledger. The fact that they are true, perhaps makes it all the more difficult to read of course...With the same holding true, of those in the UK who still adhere to the Blairite belief in not allowing for any diplomatic space between the USA and the UK. For them, the comments by the new Minister of State at the Foreign Office, must be truly hard to bear. Of course the weight and numbers of such individuals in either the Labour or Conservative Party are hardly what they were say six or ten years ago. For which of course the ineptness of the Bush Administration, and the Iraq debacle are very much to blame. As per Lord Malloch Brown himself: while he is an obviously intelligent individual, with a good number of years, in the softer (indeed very soft) side of International Relations: the World Bank, United Nations, et cetera; the Daily Telegraph interview clearly shows that he is very much a novice in the world of Great Power diplomacy. It is not so much that he is wrong to say what he says, it is the manner of it which is the problem. It being very much wrong to shout it down from the rooftops. If in fact the new Brown Government is interested in realigning the UK away from being Bush's poodle, than the last thing that is needed, while that adjustment takes place is for someone of Lord Malloch Brown's position, is to rub Washington's nose in the dirt. Especially, this current regime in the USA, which does not take kindly to slights, and, has a long memory of those indeed. In addition, I would venture to surmise that our new Minister of State, will probably not last very long, given his (intentional?) slight, to his superior, the new (and very Blairite) Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. To refer to his superior as: "the young Foreign Secretary", while referring to himself as the "wise eminence", is fruit for an early ouster. Especially with the (on the whole negative) publicity that the Daily Telegraph interview has garnered him. So perhaps one may conclude by urging that Lord Malloch Brown, enjoy his new found position...while it lasts. On that note, I encourage you all to read and indeed enjoy the Lord Malloch Brown interview in the Telegraph.

Mark Malloch Brown:'Let's not rely just on US' By Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson Interview

Mark Malloch Brown hadn't even ordered his ermine before he became the most contentious appointment to Gordon Brown's Government of all the talents.

While the aid agencies and liberals were still toasting the arrival of "Saint Mark" to Whitehall, the neo-cons on both sides of the Atlantic were throwing darts at photographs of their devil.

The former deputy secretary general to the UN divides opinion between those who see him as the great hope for Africa and a principled opponent of the war in Iraq, and those who believe that he is an anti-American egotist who defended Kofi Annan over the oil-for-food scandal.

Irwin Stelzer, Rupert Murdoch's right-hand man, called his appointment, "appalling".

The newly ennobled Lord Malloch Brown, who is still wearing his Make Poverty History wristband, is unrepentant.

In his first interview since joining the Government, he said: "What I really hate is the effort to paint me as anti-American, but I am happy to be described as anti-neo-con. If they see me as a villain, I will wear that as a badge of honour."

In fact, it is increasingly clear that his appointment as the new minister for Africa, Asia and the UN was part of a shift in strategy.

This week, Douglas Alexander, the uber-Brownite new International Development Secretary, told an audience in America that it was time for a new era of "soft power", in which Britain forged "new alliances" in a multi-lateralist world.

Despite official denials, this has been seen as a shot across the bows of the White House ahead of Mr Brown's first official Washington trip.

Lord Malloch Brown is even less coded than Alexander. The new Foreign Office minister says he wants Britain to broaden its international partnerships rather than rely solely on the special relationship with America.

"My hope is that foreign policy will become much more impartial. We have a whole set of emerging countries. There will be lots of exciting things to do with Sarkozy and Merkel and other European leaders as well as strengthening our transatlantic relations.

"There is this global hub where there is the opportunity to connect Britain to a new way of doing things, when you think again about the partnerships to get things done - how you bring in an India or a China, how you can bring in civil society, Oxfam and Save The Children."

Mr Brown will not, he thinks, be cosying up to Mr Bush quite as much on the sofa. "Events determine relationships. For better of worse, it is very unlikely that the Brown/Bush relationship is going to go through the baptism of fire and therefore be joined together at the hip like the Blair/Bush relationship was.

"That was a relationship born of being war leaders together. There was an emotional intensity of being war leaders with much of the world against them. That is enough to put you on your knees and get you praying together."

Britain's approach to foreign policy is, he thinks, about to change radically. But he thinks Mr Brown will get on with the White House because American foreign policy has also changed.

"We are getting a dramatic reassertion of multi-lateralism and a more pragmatic diplomacy led by Condi Rice [the secretary of state], very much with the support of the White House."

The problems started, he said, when a small group of neo-conservatives in Washington got "out of control". Lord Malloch Brown spent his last two years at the UN fighting their advance. Indeed, the US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, was his fiercest critic.

In his view, the war with Saddam Hussein was the catalyst. "For the neo-cons what happened over Iraq was a completely unconscionable betrayal. The UN had forgotten its subordinate role to America. It was the ultimate humiliation of foreigners on America's own soil, breaking with the US on such a dramatic matter - as they saw it - of national interests. All kinds of emotions flared up."

He was happy to go into battle against the neo-cons on behalf of the UN. "I have spent all my life trying to build multi-national coalitions. For me, everything I had worked for and fought for was suddenly under attack from one corner of the American political system and if they wanted to go toe to toe on it, I was going to do it."

He believes he has always been in tune with mainstream America. "From Colin Powell to Condi Rice all the way through to Richard Holbrooke or Madeleine Albright, across that massive swath of American foreign policy, I would bet you a drink that you would find that I am their favourite multi-nationalist Brit.

"Over a dozen years or more I am the man who they have gone to. They were as upset for me as I was upset for myself that I had to go into the ring against the neo-cons."

The ornate splendour of the Foreign Office could not be more different to the stark concrete blocks of the UN building in New York but he said: "The architecture is the least of the differences."

The biggest contrast was over Iraq. He confirmed that he was against the war but said that he did not think Britain and America should now "cut and run".

"When last year there was an attempt to put together a new partnership for Iraq, I was the one who was called. Condi Rice came to Kofi Annan and said, 'the only person we want to run this is Malloch Brown. It is too serious to have anyone else do it' ."

Britain's reputation in the world has, he thinks, been damaged by the war. "I do believe that Iraq made Britain's position very difficult. I was sitting in a UN where most member states were on the other side of the argument. Obviously it had an isolating effect."

On Darfur, the British and Americans lost their moral authority, he said. "It frustrated me because Bush and Blair have led on this issue but their credibility was undermined by what had happened in Iraq."

He opposes the use of the phrase War on Terror. "At the UN we have always been a bit cautious of these broad-brush labels because they have a self fulfilling quality. We prefer more forensic rhetoric."

He is also sceptical about describing the new wave of terrorism as being committed by Muslims.

"Just labelling it in a way that bundles people together isn't always the best way." The West, he thinks, needs to be more willing to negotiate with some extremist groups for the sake of peace. I used to have to speak to the Khmer Rouge.

"We used to meet Taliban leaders and all kinds of Palestinian factions. It is not because by doing so you are giving them political support but you have to find ways of dealing with issues. There has to be some flexibility against some very firm principles."

But he draws the line at Hamas. "It is threatening the annihilation of its neighbour."

He does not, however, blame the recent terrorist attacks on the war in Iraq. "9/11 happened before Iraq," he said. "I grew up at a time when we saw certain parts of Europe go soft because of Baader-Meinhof (the German terrorist gang of the 1960s and 1970s).

"You saw their foreign policies being treated with disrespect by the rest of the world because they were seen as being craven to internal security threats."

On Iran, he thinks it is unlikely that there will now be military action. "We can't all stand idly by, but I think the baton is now clearly with those who favour negotiations."

His own priority is Afghanistan. "It has been in the shadow of Iraq and that has caused problems. We haven't always given it enough attention here or at the UN," he said. "It is painstakingly difficult to put it together again; there won't be any quick solutions. We are going to need a significant level of heavy commitment for some time."

The son of a South African, he thinks the world must also do more about Zimbabwe. At the UN he tried to force Robert Mugabe into line over land reform. "We have run out of adjectives to describe how bad it is and it is only getting worse. We have to persuade Europe and Africa that what is happening is completely unacceptable.''

Lord Malloch Brown believes that he is uniquely well placed to do just this kind of persuading.

The new minister first went to Washington as a graduate student and made his name heading various departments at the UN and the World Bank.

"He's the best connected man I have ever met. He knows all the world leaders," said one diplomat.

But he also made enemies. He became Kofi Annan's firefighter at a time when the UN was at loggerheads with Washington over the war in Iraq. "I am probably the only person in government who thinks he has got an easier job than his last job," he said.

"The last couple of years at the UN were extremely difficult. The idea that underpinned the organisation, of a strong relationship between the US and Europe, came uncoiled so it was crisis management every day."

His highly-paid job as vice-chairman of a hedge fund had to be sacrificed when he accepted Mr Brown's job offer.

"The call was impossible to resist ... I've got the politics bug," he said. "Twenty-five years ago I unintentionally left British politics after an utterly dismal abortive run through some SDP wine bars looking for a candidacy.

"There was a certain regret but I never expected to be able to do anything about it."

He only joined the Labour Party last week and is ready to annoy the traditionalists by sending at least one of his four children to private school.

He met Mr Brown 10 years ago when he was the vice president of the World Bank and his namesake was the new Chancellor. "We've talked a lot. Frankly I was really anxious to know who was going to be Foreign Secretary."

Some worry that Lord Malloch Brown, who is 53, will dominate the 42-year-old David Miliband, but he said: "It's fine for me to be, for the first time in my life, the older figure, the wise eminence behind the young Foreign Secretary."

What he wants to contribute, he said, is his less conventional, internationalist views. "I am not steeped in the British way of doing things. My whole career has been spent trying to get China or France or the international rescue committee to back me on some quixotic intervention on anything from child mortality to an ugly little civil war somewhere. I think in a more lateral, out-of-the-box way."

He said that he sees himself merely as a back-up. "I think David Miliband will score a hit when he goes to Washington. They know me very well. They have already started doing what they did at the UN, calling me when they have problems that they want to see fixed," he said.

"I think they are going to see this as just about as good a Foreign Office as they could ever get, with a very good sympathetic Prime Minister who wants a strong relationship


Thursday, July 12, 2007


Most recently, with the attempted bombings in London and Glasgow, there has been renewed speculation in the press, both here as well as in Europe, about the current status of Bin Laden's organization. Whether or not for example, it is still a 'player' in the shadowy world of Islamic Radicalism, or merely a beacon of ideological clarity, without any practical or concrete influence over the doings of the small radical circles, both in the Near East and elsewhere which have seemed to spring up, in the aftermath of the destruction of Al-Qaeda's base of operations in Afghanistan in the winter of 2001-2002. My own surmise for what it is worth, is that while it still operates as an ideological touchstone, to some extent, Bin-Laden's crew, no longer has any practical control over, or reach into the many small, but potentially deadly grouplets of Islamic Radicalism. Either in the Near East, North Africa or elsewhere. And, that it is in fact, Iraq, which serves as the training ground for potential future staff officers, of the future, minuscule armies of Jihadism. In these circumstances, Bin-Laden and his immediate circle, hold-up, in the mountain fastness of Pakistan's North-West frontier, is merely a fond memory of days gone by. Of a grand-father figure of struggles long past. In this context it is useful to remember that a good portion of the current recruits for Islamic Radicalism, were below the age of seven or eight, when Bin-Laden's organization was first formed in the late 1980's. And, that while no doubt for those of similar ideological predisposition, Bin-Laden is a figure of respect, he is probably no longer seen as being an 'active presence' in the ongoing struggles against the "Zionist-Crusaders", aka the West and Israel.In essence, Bin-Laden and the people around him, are men of the past. A recent past certainly, but of the past none the less.

It is for purposes of exploring where Al-Qaeda is at the moment, that I pro-offer to readers of this journal the following article by the American online journal Stratfor.com (www.stratfor.com). Please read and enjoy:

The Many Faces of Al Qaeda, By Peter Zeihan

"With all the talk about al Qaeda "leaders," al Qaeda "factions" and militants with "links" to al Qaeda, it is useful to take a step back and clarify precisely what al Qaeda actually is. Al Qaeda is a small core group of people who share strategic and operational characteristics that set them apart from all other militants -- Islamist or otherwise -- the world over. All signs indicate this group is no longer functional and cannot be replicated. Whether or not Osama bin Laden is still alive, al Qaeda as it once was is dead.

Strategically, these men envisioned a world in which the caliphate would rise anew as a consequence of events they would set into motion. The chief obstacle to this goal was not the United States but the panoply of secular, corrupt governments of the Middle East. Al Qaeda knew its limited numbers precluded it from defeating these governments, so it sought to provoke the Muslim masses into overthrowing them. Al Qaeda also knew it lacked the strength to do this provoking by itself so it sought to trick someone more powerful into doing it.

By al Qaeda's logic, an attack of sufficient force against the Americans would lure the United States to slam sideways into the Middle East on a mission of revenge, leading to direct and deep U.S. collaboration with those same secular, corrupt local governments. Al Qaeda's hope was that such collaboration with the Americans would lead to outrage -- and outrage would lead to revolution. Note that the 9/11 attacks were not al Qaeda's first attempt to light this flame. The 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings and the 2000 USS Cole bombing were also the work of this same al Qaeda cell, but the attacks lacked the strength to trigger what al Qaeda thought of as a sufficient U.S. response.

The Real Difference

But al Qaeda is hardly the first militant group to think big. What really set al Qaeda apart was its second characteristic -- its ability to evade detection. That ability was part and parcel of the way in which al Qaeda formed. Al Qaeda's roots are not merely within the various militant groups of the Arab Middle East but deep within the geopolitical struggles of the Cold War. Many of the mujahideen who relocated to Afghanistan to resist the Soviet invasion found themselves recruited and funded by Saudi intelligence, equipped and tasked by U.S. intelligence and managed and organized by Pakistani intelligence.

This exposure not only leveraged the Afghan resistance's paramilitary capabilities but also gave the mujahideen a deep appreciation for, and understanding of, the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. and Soviet intelligence systems. When the Cold War ended, some of those mujahideen reconstituted their efforts into what came to be known as al Qaeda, and those deep understandings became part of the organization's bedrock.

Such knowledge enables al Qaeda to operate beneath the radar of nearly all intelligence agencies. It knows how those agencies collect and analyze intelligence, where the blind spots are and, most important, how long it takes for an agency to turn raw information into actionable intelligence.

This characteristic is al Qaeda's greatest asset. Al Qaeda's standards of operation assume that intelligence agencies are always waiting and watching, and only al Qaeda's understanding of those operations keeps the "base" from being busted. Operational security -- not operational success -- is al Qaeda's paramount concern; its attacks are meticulously planned, fantastic in scope and sacrificed in a heartbeat if the leadership suspects a breach in security. This makes al Qaeda nearly impossible to track.

It also means that al Qaeda, by necessity, is a very small, close-knit group. The organization's core -- or the apex leadership, as we often call it -- consists of little more than Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and a double handful of trusted, heavily vetted relationships stretching back more than a decade. Disposable operatives with minimal training can be picked up for specific missions, but these people cannot do anything very complex (such as infiltrate a foreign country and hijack a civilian airliner).

Replacement of lost assets within this small group is negligible due to security concerns. Ultimately, the same security protocols that empowered al Qaeda to be a player of strategic scope are what removed al Qaeda from the chessboard.

Once the CIA and its affiliated allies named al Qaeda public enemy No. 1, al Qaeda's security instincts became its greatest liability. The rapid U.S. invasion of Afghanistan caught al Qaeda off guard -- the group had assumed it would have months of U.S. pre-mission staging before the invasion, a lesson it learned from watching the first Gulf War. The quick U.S. response meant al Qaeda was forced to go into hiding before it had fully secured redundant communication, funding and travel routes. Intelligence agency efforts to penetrate al Qaeda forced the group to constrict information flow, limit financial transfers, reduce recruiting and abandon operations. Once the United States succeeded in co-opting Saudi assistance against al Qaeda in 2003 -- something brought about both by a U.S. presence in Iraq and al Qaeda's own efforts to destabilize its ideological homeland -- al Qaeda's star stopped falling and started plummeting.

Al Qaeda has not only failed in its attempts to trigger region-wide uprisings against the Middle East's secular governments, it has also lost the ability to launch strategically meaningful attacks -- that is, attacks resulting in policy shifts by its targets. Al Qaeda can operate to a certain degree in regions where it has allies, many of whom flowed through its training camps in the 1990s, but the ability of the group that planned the 9/11 attacks to operate beyond the Middle East and South Asia seems to have disappeared. Attrition after years of confrontation with the Americans, coupled with self-imposed isolation, has rendered al Qaeda useless as a strategic actor. Not only is its ability to provide command and control nonexistent, but its self-enforced invisibility and inactivity have undermined its credibility.

Furthermore, al Qaeda has left no one truly capable of taking up its mantle. The training camps in the 1990s processed hundreds of would-be jihadists, but the quality of that training for the rank and file has been exaggerated. Most of it was a combination of poor conventional combat training and ideological indoctrination. Hence, most "veterans" of those camps have neither access to the core al Qaeda leadership nor the operational security or tactical training that would allow them to reconstitute a new elite core. They are no more members of the real "al Qaeda" than today's skinheads are members of the real Nazi party.

By the only criterion that matters -- successful attacks -- al Qaeda has slipped from readjusting global priorities (9/11) to contributing to the change in government of a middling U.S. ally (the March 2003 Spain attacks) to affecting nothing (the 2005 London bombings). No attacks since can be meaningfully linked to al Qaeda's control, or even its specific foreknown blessing. Al Qaeda had hoped for a conflagration of outrage that would sweep away the Middle East's political order; it only managed to raise a few sparks here and there, and now it is a prisoner of its own security.

Yet, public discussion of all things "al Qaeda," far from fading, has reached a fever pitch. But this talk -- all of it -- is about a fundamentally different beast.

Enter Al Qaeda the Franchise

It all started with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who put himself forward as the leader of the Iraqi node of al Qaeda in 2004. While one can argue that al-Zarqawi might have been through an al Qaeda training camp or shared many of bin Laden's ideological goals, no one seriously asserts he had the training, vetting or face time with bin Laden to qualify as an inner member of the al Qaeda leadership. He was a local leader of a local militant group who claimed an association with al Qaeda as a matter of establishing local gravitas and international credibility. Other groups, such as Southeast Asia's Jemaah Islamiyah, had associations with al Qaeda long before al-Zarqawi, but al-Zarqawi was the first to claim the name "al Qaeda" as his own.

For al Qaeda, prevented by its security concerns from engaging in its own attacks, repudiating al-Zarqawi would make the "base" come across as both impotent and out of touch. Accepting "association" with al-Zarqawi was the obvious choice, and bin Laden went so far as to issue an audio communique anointing al-Zarqawi as al Qaeda's point man in Iraq.

Others have also embraced the al-Zarqawi/al Qaeda association, as dubious as it was. Al Qaeda's operational security protocols -- and its ongoing presence just beyond the United States' reach in northwestern Pakistan -- meant that destroying al Qaeda (the real al Qaeda) was at best a difficult prospect. But al-Zarqawi was local and active and clearly valued launching attacks over maintaining hermetically sealed security. Al-Zarqawi could be brought down. And just as al-Zarqawi's "association" with al Qaeda increased his street cred with the Arab world, that "association" also increased his value to the U.S. military as a target. Taking down an "al Qaeda-linked terrorist" was much better for purposes of public relations and funding than taking down any random militant. The media, of course, stand ready to help; reporting on a militant with direct connections to bin Laden is sexy -- even if that connection was only catching a glimpse of Big "O" walking by during breakfast.

The result has been the formation of an odd iron triangle among an al Qaeda desperate for relevance, local jihadists seeking a fast track to importance and Western intelligence and law enforcement seeking credibility and funding. In the common lexicon, al Qaeda is no longer that core of highly trained and motivated individuals who tried to change the world by bringing down the World Trade Center, but a do-it-yourself jihadist franchise that almost anyone can join. Some nodes are copycats who look to the real al Qaeda for inspiration; others are existing militant groups -- such as Algeria's Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, now called the al Qaeda Organization for the Countries of the Arab Maghreb -- that can identify with their ideological brethren. But few to none have any real connections to al Qaeda.

Violence is certain to continue, but the lack of meaningful attacks in the West in general and the United States in particular suggests al Qaeda's degraded capacity and the West's improved security have minimized the chances of a geopolitically significant attack for the next several years.

This does not mean would-be "al Qaeda" groups are not dangerous, or that the "war on terror" is anywhere near over. While some of the would-be al Qaeda groups almost seem comical, others are competent militants in their own right -- with al-Zarqawi perhaps being the most lethal example. Their numbers are also growing. The ongoing war in Iraq has provided potential militants across the Islamic world with the motive to do something and the opportunity to gain some serious on-the-job training. Just as Soviet operations in Afghanistan created a training ground for a generation of Middle Eastern militants in the 1980s and 1990s, the Iraq war is in part a crucible for the next generation of Arab militants. Add in al Qaeda's offer of open association and we will be hearing from dozens of "al Qaedas" in the years to come.

Luckily, links between these new groups and their erstwhile sponsor are limited mostly to rhetoric. There might be a few thousand people out there claiming to be al Qaeda members, but the real al Qaeda does not exercise any control over them. They are not coordinated in their operations or even working toward a common goal. And while many of these new al Qaedas might be competent militant groups, they lack the combination of strategic vision and obsession with security that ultimately allowed the original al Qaeda to move mountains.

Top it off with terminology buy-in from Western intelligence, law enforcement and the media and the result is a war literally without end; the definition of al Qaeda is stretched by nearly any player to fit nearly any political need. The United States is now waging a war against jihadism as a phenomenon, rather than against any specific transnational jihadist movement.

Back to Square One?

The political situation in Pakistan has long imposed an unstable stasis on what many feel should have been the real focus of the war on terror all along. Since escaping from Afghanistan in 2001, the true al Qaeda has spent most of its time taking refuge in northwestern Pakistan, where a mix of political complications and ethnic and tribal allegiances have allowed it to stay out of harm's way.

The United States has been aware of al Qaeda's presence there, but ultimately has not attacked for three reasons. First, al Qaeda's internal security protocols forced the organization to isolate itself. During a time when the United States had a great many fish to fry, al Qaeda seemed to have put itself into lockdown; it was issuing videos, not starting wars like Hezbollah or reconstituting like the Taliban. Second, while U.S. intelligence knows the region in which al Qaeda resides, it has never gotten enough detail to allow for airstrikes to take care of business. Such not-quite-there intelligence has always been just diffuse enough to necessitate boots on the ground -- and raise the specter of a disastrously botched and politically problematic military operation.

Which brings us to the third and, in many ways, most important reason for leaving al Qaeda alone. The United States felt it could not risk an assault for fear of political fallout. Ultimately, the United States needs Pakistani cooperation to wage war in Afghanistan -- after all, Pakistan has the only easily traversable land border with the landlocked country -- and support for radical Islam runs deep in both Pakistani society and government. So, yes, U.S. attacks against militant sites located on Pakistani soil happen all the time, but they are small pinprick operations. Any large attack could not be disavowed and, therefore, could result in the fall of the very Pakistani government that makes the hotter parts of the war on terror possible.

Back in 2005, the United States believed it had credible intelligence about a planned meeting of the core al Qaeda leadership in northwestern Pakistan. A strike force of several hundred to several thousand was assembled in order to punch through the Pakistani tribes hiding and shielding bin Laden and his allies, but the strike was ultimately abandoned because then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld felt the operation could not be kept quiet. It is one thing when Pakistanis think there are a few Americans running over the border to do something tactical. It is quite another when Pakistanis know that several thousand Americans with heavy air support are surging across to do something strategic. The U.S. might have been able to take out its target, but probably not without losing a critical ally.

Details of this attack plan were leaked July 8 to The New York Times. For us at Stratfor, news of the plans was nothing new. It made perfect sense that this plan, and likely dozens of others like it, were at various times in the works stretching back as far as 2003 (and we have noted such on numerous occasions). What caught our attention was the timing of The New York Times article. The United States has been eyeing northwestern Pakistan for years. Why draw attention to that fact now?

The United States' core fear in 2005 was that the Pakistani government would destabilize. Well, in 2007, the Pakistani government is horrendously unstable. On July 10, Islamabad launched a multi-hour raid replete with Branch Davidian overtones against the Red Mosque complex and a gathering of radical (some would say mentally unhinged) Islamists challenging the government's writ. Be worried when the government of an Islamic republic feels it must take such action. Be doubly worried when the government taking the action already seems to be in its death throes.

Previous efforts by Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to strengthen his political grip on the country by firing the chief justice rebounded on him so severely that he cannot even depend upon his oldest allies. Various political, military and cultural power centers are sniping at the president, making their own independent and often contradictory demands. There are also hints that Musharraf's faculties are beginning to crack. The government -- as well as the president -- is now teetering on the edge of oblivion, facing an unsavory menu of crushing compromise with one force or another to stay in power in name, and risking the turbulent waters of emergency rule over an increasingly hostile population.

If the threat of a government fall was the only thing holding Washington back in 2005, and now that the fall is imminent through no action of the United States, what does Washington have to gain from restraining itself any further?

This is more than a rhetorical question. The relative inactivity of al Qaeda these past six years, as well as the political situation in Pakistan, has imposed a shaky equilibrium on the issue. Al Qaeda's security protocols curtail al Qaeda's threat level, and that has allowed the United States to shelve the issue for another day. Meanwhile, the instability of Musharraf's government limits the United States' ability to pressure Islamabad over the issue of al Qaeda. Consequently, al Qaeda has been more or less hiding in plain sight.

Alter any aspect of this scenario -- in this case, drastically increase the tottering of the Musharraf government -- and the "stability" of the other pieces immediately breaks and the United States is forced to surge assets into Pakistan.

Washington has to assume that an al Qaeda anywhere but Pakistan is an al Qaeda that will act with less conservatism. By the American logic, al Qaeda assets in Saudi Arabia, long drilled that security is paramount, would naturally doubt that a telegram from bin Laden ordering a new attack is genuine -- but they would certainly believe bin Laden himself should he show up at their door. By al Qaeda's logic, Musharraf's fall would force al Qaeda to relocate from Pakistan because the group would have to assume that the Americans would be coming.

Which means the odd stasis in the war on terror these past six years could be about to loosen up, and a front that has proven oddly cold might be about to catch fire"


Wednesday, July 11, 2007


The following article is republished from the American online journal 'World Politics Review'(www.worldpoliticsreview.com), with the kind permission of the author, Miss Daria Solovieva. We present it here without further comment, for your edification:

Russia Continues to Wield Energy as Tool of State Power, by Daria Solovieva

"President Bush's meeting with Vladimir Putin last week found U.S.-Russian relations in a far different state than six years ago, when President Putin was the first leader to call the Oval Office and pledge his support following September 11. While there is yet no real basis for proclaiming a new Cold War, a long list of thorny issues includes sanctions against Iran, location of the proposed U.S. missile defense system, and the unresolved question of Kosovar independence.

Perhaps the most important recent change U.S.-Russian relations, however, is Russia's much greater reluctance to support the Bush administration's Middle East and Europe policies. Russia's new assertiveness is largely the result of the financial stability brought about by its booming energy sector. With 60 percent of Russia's federal budget coming from oil and gas revenues, energy policy has for years been at the center of Putin's plan to reclaim Russia's global power status.

In recent months, the Putin administration has further tightened state control of Russia's oil and gas industry and has demonstrated increasing willingness to use the country's energy resources as an instrument of power in foreign policy.

In a landmark deal June 22, ending years of speculation and negotiations, the British-Russian venture TNK-BP sold its 62.9 percent stake in Russia Petroleum to Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom. Rosnedra, the Russian licensing agency, had been threatening for months to revoke TNK-BP's license to develop the Kovykta natural gas field, threats that were apparently used as a pretext for facilitating state ownership of the British-Russian firm's largest natural gas project in Russia.

The licensing agency claimed the Kovytka field should have been producing 9 billion cubic meters of gas per year under the licensing terms, while TNK-BP produced less than 2.5 billion cubic meters. Meanwhile Gazprom is the only company in Russia legally allowed to export gas.

While TNK-BP President and CEO Bob Dudley was characteristically optimistic, calling the new agreement an "important development in the future growth of TNK-BP," President Putin's remarks were dismissive of TNK-BP's claims regarding the Kovytka gas field license. "I am not even going to mention how they acquired the license," he said June 4. "Leave it to the conscience of those who got the license in the early 1990s."

Last year, Royal Dutch Shell PLC came under similar pressure following charges of environmental violations and eventually ceded control of the giant Sakhalin-II oil and gas venture to Gazprom. Gazprom now holds 50 percent of the shares in Sakhalin-II, while Shell, Mitsui, and Mitsubishi own 27.5 percent, 12.5 percent, and 10 percent, respectively.

Moscow has also been seeking an increasing energy presence in the former Soviet sphere and Europe, the latter of which receives 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia. Russia is likely to remain Europe's most important supplier, according to the World Energy Council.

In a steady expansion over the last year, Gazprom has secured several new long-term (up to 25 years) bilateral agreements that undercut attempts to decrease Europe's enduring dependency on Russian gas supplies.

Gazprom's separate agreements with German energy supplier E.ON Ruhrgas, Gas de France, Hungary's MOL and Eni of Italy also undermine attempts to agree on a common European policy towards Russia and its gas supplies. Germany presents another potential problem for developing a common policy, as Burckhard Bergmann, chairman of the board at E.ON, which has recently agreed to build a $12 billion natural gas pipeline in the North Sea, has a seat on the board of Gazprom.

In March, Putin signed agreements with Greece and Bulgaria to build an oil pipeline circumventing the congested Bosporus Straits. Greece was quick to propose that Gazprom also build a gas pipeline along the same route.

The May 21 approval of the second leg of the Baltic Pipeline System (BPS-2) was another effort in a series of successful Russian moves aimed at further securing energy transit routes outside Russia and ensuring Europe's continued dependency on Russia's natural gas supplies. The Baltic Pipeline System will run from Unecha in western Russia to the Russian port of Primorsk on the Baltic Sea, bypassing current gas export routes through Belarus.

While Russian leaders and an overwhelming majority of the population embrace Putin's energy policy as a sign of Russia's resurgence as a global power, others see the country's dependency on the oil and gas sector as increasingly problematic.

Andrei Illarionov, Putin's former economic advisor, has harshly criticized the government for failing to use economic stabilization as a foundation for liberalization.

Gazprom's predominant position in the Energy sector poses several risks for the Russian economy. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that the Russian gas sector has not been as successful as its oil industry due in large part to Gazprom's inability to modernize its aging fields. In addition, insufficient export pipelines, export restrictions and crippling state regulations hamper the gas sector. The Russian government and Gazprom both estimate steep declines in Russia's natural gas output between 2008 and 2020.

As many European leaders, including outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair, have warned recently, Russia's statist economic policies may deter future foreign investment in Russia. ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson said last month that his company needs "more clarity about how the Russian government will treat foreign companies" before it will undertake further projects there.

Meanwhile, Putin supporters argue that Russia's foreign policy is merely aimed at strengthening Russia's economic dynamism and addressing the poor management and corruption that characterized the Yeltsin years. The refrain of the Putin presidency has been the argument that short-term curbs on market freedoms and increased state intervention will lead to greater economic stability and eventually create a favorable investment climate.

At the St. Petersburg Economic Forum on June 8, Putin again asserted that argument, promising the "most favorable climate" for foreign investment" (www.worldpoliticsreview.com).

Daria Solovieva is an executive support officer at CHF International, a non-profit emergency management and disaster relief provider in conflict zones worldwide.

Friday, July 06, 2007


It is reassuring that an acknowledged Near Eastern specialist, such as Professor Barry Rubin agrees with ones views on a matter of high policy. In the case of the Israeli-American decision to back the Fatah remnant in the West Bank. As has been pointed out here on more than one occasion, it is self-evidently the case that the Islamist, Hamas, unfortunately has the whip hand, vis-`a-vis the secular, nationalist, but highly corrupt Fatah. By continuing to ally ourselves with Fatah, all American policy does is to bury deeper and deeper the possibilities of some type of accomodation and negotiations with Hamas.

Fatah: Our `Ally` Prof. Barry Rubin - 7/7/2007

"During World War One, Germany concluded that its chief ally, Austria-Hungary, was more of a burden than an asset. As one German official put it, being in that alliance was like being "shackled to a corpse." And more than a century earlier, it was said of the doomed French dynasty, the Bourbons, that they learned nothing and forgot nothing.

Welcome to the alliance with Fatah, sort of Austria-Hungary and the Bourbons rolled up into one. The group is now ruler of a West Bank-only semi-state after Hamas captured the Gaza Strip from it. The United States is backing Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas with aid and probably military assistance. Israel's government will do everything possible to preserve that regime, too.

This is a completely logical policy decision. It makes perfect sense given the balance of forces and the overall situation. I understand why it is being done. The problem is that it isn't going to work very well, or at least only to a limited extent. And if we know that now, perhaps this fact should shape policy just a bit?

But first, let's sweep the floor of all the debris that belongs in the garbage can. There are those now arguing for backing, or at least parlaying with, Hamas. Reportedly, the European Union is going to keep giving aid to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in order to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

As I recall, in wartime one does not send aid to enemy-ruled states, even to help the civilians there. Putting on pressure is necessary to defeat the enemy. Of course, the United States and Europe are not at war with Hamas, or Hizballah, Syria, or Iran for that matter. The problem is that the West generally doesn't understand that these forces are at war with them.

If you send aid to the Gaza Strip, it will strengthen Hamas's rule. Aid will be diverted to pay terrorists and buy arms. The schoolteachers whose salary you pay will teach children that their highest duty is to become a suicide bomber and that Christians and Jews are sub-human. The salaries paid are used to buy support for Hamas. Those loyal get money; those who oppose Hamas don't. Is all this so hard to understand?

And if one wants to do something humanitarian, take the money that would have gone to the Gaza Strip and give it to poor people in Africa, Asia, South America, Iraq, even the West Bank. Don't finance terrorism, antisemitism, and radical Islamism for goodness sake. Is that so hard to understand?

The second piece of nonsense is that this is some great opportunity for advancing the peace process. Have no doubt. The United States and Israel may give Fatah money, trade some intelligence, and try to get them to stop cross-border terror attacks. But serious negotiations? Forget it.

In understanding the Fatah world view let's try a simple test. You are a Fatah official. You receive money. What do you do with it? Answer: put it into your foreign bank account. Why? Because aside from pure greed and a culture of corruption, you are afraid that Hamas will take over the West Bank too. You will need a bankroll so that you and your family can flee abroad and live comfortably, very comfortably.

As for Abbas, he is a loser and only if he is replaced can one even begin to believe in Fatah's survival. He is the closest thing in the Palestinian movement to a French intellectual, not the kind of person you would like to have by your side in a knife fight.

Consider his first two decisions. Who did Abbas make prime minister? Muhammad Dahlan, who has been warning about the Hamas threat for more than five years, or some other warrior? No, Salam Fayyad, a professional economist. Why? Does Abbas intend to launch a major development and anti-poverty campaign? No, it's because Fayyad, an honest and experienced guy it is true, but certainly no wartime consigliore, is more likely to bring in Western aid money.

In addition, Abbas has refused to outlaw Hamas on the West Bank. Perhaps he hopes for reconciliation? Or wants to avoid a confrontation on his remaining turf? If Abbas is thinking like a European Union bureaucrat he is really doomed.

There is something deeper, too, in the desire by many in the West or Israel to believe in an alliance with Fatah, a group which still carries on terrorist attacks and doesn't believe in Israel's right to exist. This is the obsession with the peace process dream.

Now peace is a very good thing. It is certainly preferable to war. Peace far better serves the interests of average people. But, unfortunately, a comprehensive, formal peace is not going to happen. Get over it. Smell the coffee. Deal with unpleasant reality.

OK, so we have to deal with the cards which have been dealt. But this means a tough policy, showing adversaries that it is costly to be enemies; pressing supposed allies to deliver the goods.

What lesson does Iran draw from Western weakness in opposing its nuclear weapons' program? To paraphrase the words of the Union admiral during the Civil War, "Damn the diplomatic notes! Full speed ahead!"

What lesson does Syria draw from Israel's failure to retaliate against it last summer and the stream of Western suitors bearing gifts and flattering the dictatorship? Escalate the war against Lebanon!

What lesson does Hizballah draw from Western refusal to get tough on arms smuggling and Europeans trembling lest it attack the UNIFIL peacekeeping forces in Lebanon? Rearm, rebuild positions in the south, and start firing rockets against Israel again!

So, all right, work with Fatah but have no illusions or expectations. And don't give something for nothing"
. www.globalpolitician.com

Prof. Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary university. His new book is The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).