Thursday, May 29, 2008


"Mr. Solana proposed two different dates for his visit to Tehran that I am considering...I think he will pay a visit to Tehran soon....

"Solana has given us a message that he wants to travel to Iran to deliver the package and we have agreed to the principle of the visit".

Persian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki quoted on 29 May, by Agence France-Presse in

The timing of the EU's diplomatic dogsbody & foreign minister manque, Javier Solana, could not be better or more interesting: on the one hand, the regime in Teheran must by definition feel that recent events in the region have played into its hands to a degree: a) the tactical and political victory by Hezbollah in the latest round of Lebanese infighting; b) the survival and indeed more than survival of the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. Notwithstanding Israeli efforts to sabotage and indeed destroy it. On the other hand, the fact that its closest regional ally, Syria has decided to open talks with its (and Persia's) arch enemy Israel, must be worrying to the regime in Persia. Especially since it is quite clear that separating the two powers is one of the Israeli pre-conditions for the success of the talks. In addition, notwithstanding the fact that the high price of oil should be all reason give a marvelous fillip to the Persian economy, the Beirut Daily Star tells us today that due to sanctions imposed by the USA and its allies on the UN Security Council, the population of Persia can expect power cuts this summer. Another headline from Persia notes that six Revolutionary Guards were killed in fighting with Kurdish rebels. A reminder for those ignorant of the fact that only half of the population of the Persian, are in fact 'Persian' language speakers. The rest belonging to other groupings like the Kurds for example (for both headlines, see:

The long and the short of it is, that with things carefully balanced for the Persian regime, with both negative and positive elements, it could very well be that the authorities in Teheran will be open to a 'grand compromise', with the USA and its allies. Of course the USA will not agree to anything at this stage, but, it could very well be the case that the Bush regime, faute de mieux, will agree to accept any plausible agreement that Solana is able to cobble together at this stage on the nuclear issue. As David Albright's Institute for Science and International Security, latest report shows, there has been considerable progress in Teheran's quest for nuclear power ( So the issue becomes, contra to those like ex-American Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton and his ilk, of not, 'appeasement' or Persian disarmament, and then hopefully 'regime change', in Teheran. Rather as a realistic and feasible proposition, something which any analyst of the region worth his salt will recognize immediately, negotiating some type of modus viviendi with the regime of Mullah's, and, by that means defuse the issue of Persian possession of nuclear weapons in the future. In return for which, by definition the West will indeed need to both forswear any idea of 'regime change', in Persia in the future (at least any which can be said to have been fostered by Western, outside assistance), and, to agree to recognize de facto, if not necessarily de jure, Persia's valid security interests in the region. Which of course, contrary to our neo-conservative ideologues, does not necessarily mean giving carte blanche to the Persians, but, simply an accommodation to regional realities. It is probably the case that we (meaning the West) are not yet ready for this type of grand compromise, but, hopefully in the future, either near or not so far, we will be. One can only hope so. Not that I for one, have any more sympathy for the regime of Mullah's than Ambassador Bolton does. I am one with him in hoping that the current regime in Teheran collapses completely. I am just of the opinion that based upon all the available evidence and logic available, that this hoped for utopia will not in fact occur anytime soon. Tant pis mais c'est la force de la chose. And, diplomacy means if nothing else accommodating oneself, even if only temporarily to inconvenient facts. A lesson which zealots like Ambassador Bolton, Mr. Elliott Abrams, et cetera, et cetera, appear to have failed yet to learn. Hopefully they will do so before it is too late. Based upon all the evidence, there is absolutely nothing to be gained for the West by waiting upon events in this matter.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


"Damascus,(SANA)- Syria and Israel have started off indirect peace talks under the patronage of Turkey…where both sides have expressed desire to conduct talks with good intention and have decided to pursue dialogue between them seriously and sustainably for the achievement of comprehensive peace in line with reference of Madrid Peace Conference.

The source added:" Syria highly appreciates in that connection the incessant efforts that have been exerted by Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan , and the role of Turkey for over a year .

It is noteworthy to say that President Bashar al-Assad told Qatari daily alWattan recently that the Turkish mediation which continued from April last year until April this year was led by Erdogan.

The president indicated that the talks will be indirect through the Turkish mediation which will convey the basic data for finding a common ground which will be the basis for initiating direct negotiations later.

"An Official Foreign Ministry Source: Syria and Israel Have Indirect Peace Talks Under Turkish Patronage".

"Negotiations with Syria will not be easy and will not be simple, it may take a long time and it will involve concessions....After evaluating all the data and receiving the opinion of the defence establishment, I reached the conclusion that the chance [for success] is greater than the risk, and with this hope we are today getting on our way".
Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, speaking on the 21st of May, in

As I have predicted here in the past couple of weeks, all of the balance of forces are in the direction of an Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations and eventually a 'deal'. A sort of 'peace of the strong'. Those voices who worried or better yet predicted the possibility of a Syrian-Israeli War coming about, were I thought than, and, even more so think now, entirely mistaken. Neither Damascus or Tel Aviv, have much to gain from any conflict. Both have much to gain diplomatically from a peace accord. In the case of Damascus: to regain the Golan, to come out of the American-sponsored, diplomatic ice-box, to join the rest of the Near Eastern region's economic upswing. In the case of Tel Aviv: to gain peace on its northern front, to reduce the number of its enemies by one (and indeed the most important one), to also clamp down permanently the Lebanese-Hezbollah front as well, to reduce the Persian-radical Shiite influence in the region and to furthermore isolate the regime in Teheran (for this motivation, see: "Israelis see Syria peace as way to curb Iran [Persia] influence", in

Of course all of the above was foreseeable as far back as two years ago. Unfortunately the Bush regime, in the full flush of its 'pro-Democracy' blindness and hubris, deliberately chose to ignore those voices in Tel Aviv, pleading for an opportunity to pursue the diplomatic option vis-`a-vis Damascus. Now it would appear that the American 'veto', has been either broken or ignored by Olmert (for the breakdown of the American 'veto' power in the region, as least in part, see: "White House Policies crumble as US allies make peace moves in the region," in Whichever one it is, the timing could not be better, given the modus viviendi that was agreed to in Doha by the opposing parties in the Lebanon most recently. Of course no one should expect an immediate peace accord. Negotiations will be protracted and difficult. Indeed, I do not expect anything to be agreed at concretely until the arrival of the next American President in 2009. Then and only then, will a positively green light be given to Olmert, et. al., to arrive at an accord with the regime of Assad fils. Nothing of the sort can be expected from the current crew in Washington, DC. As was made quite clear from the press briefing at the State Department, where the entire matter was discussed through gritted teeth and the verbal equivalent of frowns (see: . From the next administration, it is entirely possible, and, indeed probable that a peace deal between these two longstanding antagonists, will be welcomed. Indeed, one can well imagine on the White House lawn no less...


"The United States welcomes the agreement reached by Lebanese leaders in Doha, Qatar. We view this agreement as a positive step towards resolving the current crisis by electing a President, forming a new government, and addressing Lebanon’s electoral law, consistent with the Arab League initiative. The United States supports the government of Lebanon and its complete authority over the entire territory of the country.

The United States commends the efforts of the Arab League’s committee of Foreign Ministers, in particular the leadership of the Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani, and Secretary General Amr Moussa.

We call upon all Lebanese leaders to implement this agreement in its entirety, in accordance with the Arab League initiative and in conformity with UN Security Council resolutions".

American Secretary of State Rice, 21st of May, in

"You must either conquer and rule, or serve and lose. Suffer or triumph, be the anvil or the hammer".
Wolfgang von Goethe

The news from Doha indicates that the prediction made here one week ago, that the March 14 coalition would eventually capitulate to the Persian-backed opposition, has come to pass. As per the Financial Times, the two sides, have come to an agreement, in the talks sponsored by the Arab League in which Hezbollah will be given veto power over the decisions inside the Lebanese Cabinet, as well as allowed to retain its weapons arsenal(see: The only saving grace for the 14th of March coalition, is that permission has finally been given for General Michel Suleiman, the Army Commander to be finally elected President. General Suleiman while in origins a compromise candidate, is on the whole likely to be friendly, if not in an overt fashion to the 14th of March coalition, and, not an adherent of either Syria, or Hezbollah and its Persian backers. Overall, it is true to say that given the realities on the ground in the Lebanon since the failed Israeli War of 2006, no effort to rule the country without taking into account the power and influence of Hezbollah and its allies could have persisted for very long or successfully. The fact that the Siniora Cabinet managed to remain in office for almost twenty months after the end of the 2006 conflict remains in retrospect something close to miraculous. The agreement arrived at Doha reflects those underlying realities. To pretend that Lebanon could have remained firmly in the Western Camp, after what occurred and did not occur in the summer of 2006, is (in the words of Neville Chamberlain) 'the very mid-summer of madness'.

Need I or anyone else for that matter add, that outcome in Doha, represents a defeat, an unmitigated and absolute defeat for the Bush regime's diplomacy in the Lebanon for the last three years? The fact that both Secretary Rice and Assistant Secretary Welch attempted to put a positive face on this defeat does not obviate the reality of what has now occurred. The only saving grace perhaps is the knowledge that given the debacle of the Lebanon War of 2006, in the short to medium term, no other outcome could be expected.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


"Hezbollah continues to pose a challenge to the future of the Lebanese people in terms of realizing a broad-based, deep democracy that benefits all of the Lebanese people. You – we have seen over the past several days that Hezbollah is willing to kill Lebanese in the interest of their political agenda, which seems to have really no basis other than to try to expand their political power. It operates outside the political system in Lebanon.

And our view is, along with others, not only in the region, but around the world, is that we are going to continue to do what we can to strengthen this Lebanese Government that is democratically elected, that seeks only to govern on behalf of all the Lebanese people, to expand – extend its sovereignty over all of Lebanon, and to broaden and deepen Lebanese democracy, and to fiercely guard Lebanon’s sovereignty. It’s in – we believe in the Lebanese people’s interest, we believe it is in Lebanon’s interest. That is going to be a continuing challenge as long as you have groups like Hezbollah that are, at the very least, largely influenced, at the other end of the spectrum, controlled by parties outside of Lebanon: Iran and Syria.

So that is going to be a continuing – that is going to be a continuing challenge for the Lebanese people. It’s going to be a continuing challenge for those in the international system who have an interest in a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Lebanon. So it remains our view that we are going to stand with those democratically elected leaders who continue to fight on behalf of Lebanese democracy.

QUESTION: Why isn’t this appeasement?"

State Department, Spokesman, Thomas McCormack, 15 April 2008 in

Yes, indeed! Well if not necessarily appeasement, then something along the lines of a de facto acknowledgement by the State Department and official Washington in general, that American policy for the last few years, since in fact 2005 and the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri by Syrian agents, of seeking a pro-Western, 'Democratic', Lebanon, is in shambles if not in fact completely destroyed. The American and Saudi, Egyptian, French backed Sinioria government, chose one week ago to directly challenge the Persia and Syrian backed Hezbollah movement, in the latter's de facto control of Beirut's airport. Hezbollah responded to this action, immediately and dramatically occupying much of west Beirut as well as parts of the Shouf mountain, near the capital. And, just as quickly the Sinioria government used the fitful intervention of the army to back-down completely in a face saving compromise. However much the Bush regime may talk of upholding Lebanese sovereignty and integrity, as well as praise itself for its program of arming the Lebanese Army, the fact of the matter is that the Lebanese Army was again revealed this past week to be a completely worthless instrument of American or for that fact, any other power's, policy. As several postings this week on Joshua Landis's always excellent, online journal, Syria Comment ( note, the debacle this past week, is a mirror image of past attempts by the USA, to directly (1983-1984) or indirectly (1957-1958, et passim) change Lebanon's place in the regional constellation of powers, in a pro-Western / pro-American direction. In many such instances, the USA would talk of using the Lebanese Army as a means of such a policy. And, just as often, the Lebanese Army has showed itself to be completely useless. If not worse. The upshot of last week's events shows that unless there is a drastic change in the correlation of forces on the ground in Lebanon, the stalemate between the Siniora government and its pro-Persian / pro-Syrian opponents will continue. And, however unfortunate it may be, there is not much that the USA can do about it. Call it appeasement if you like but that is the reality of the situation.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


"Dmitry Medvedev was due on Wednesday to be inaugurated as Russia’s president in succession to Vladimir Putin, who will become prime minister. For the first time in Russia’s turbulent history, a leader in good health is peacefully handing over the keys of the Kremlin to a legally approved successor.

The symbolism should not hide the political reality – Mr Putin will remain Russia’s real ruler for some time to come. And the ex-KGB men he promoted will stay close to the seat of power.

However, if Mr Medvedev plays his cards well he may succeed in accumulating authority, given signs that Mr Putin may eventually wish to retire and that power in Russia gravitates around the Kremlin.

While both men have put continuity high on the agenda, they have also cast the new presidency as an opportunity for a change of emphasis. The argument is not without foundation – Mr Medvedev is the first leader since 1917 to come from outside the Communist party.

A lawyer, he has pledged to promote the rule of law. That promise should be welcome to the many Russians who suffer daily from abuses of power, including corruption and judicial malpractice. Not the least among them is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed oil baron, who was imprisoned on politically motivated fraud charges and now faces new allegations. Mr Medvedev must show that by upholding the rule of law he means to strengthen the rights of citizens and not simply to reinforce the rights of an over-mighty state, as Mr Putin has done.

Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev also seem to want to ease tensions with the west. Mr Putin has made efforts to settle disputes, including with the US over missile defence and with the European Union over Poland’s meat trade. The west should make the most of the opportunity – co-operation with Russia is important on issues including energy, global terrorism, the Middle East and Iran.

But western leaders should not be naive. What Russia does matters more than what Russia says. Even as it is making semi-friendly overtures to the west, it is protesting against Nato enlargement and raising pressure on Georgia, by increasing its troops in breakaway Abkhazia. The rhetoric in Moscow and Tbilisi is alarming. While both states claim they do not want war, the danger of blundering into one is growing.

The west must be firm – the sovereignty of the ex-Soviet Union states must be upheld, like the sovereignty of countries elsewhere. Mr Medvedev must show that, as a lawyer, he has as much respect for international as for domestic law".

"Seize the moment, talk to Medvedev", The Financial Times, 8 May 2008, Editorial in

"I expect the relations to shift slowly to where they used to be at 2001 to 2002, because they went too far downwards during the last six years. There’s a fundamental contradiction in Russian foreign policy toward the West generally, and the United States in particular. Strategically, the needs of Russia dictate a very close alliance with the West because we face the same fundamental security challenges of Islamic radicalism and a rising China. But at the same time there have been a lot of internal political impulses pushing the Kremlin to strained relations with the West.

First, there is the deep psychological setback of defeat in the Cold War and loss of superpower status suffered by the Russian political elite. Second, it’s been useful politically to portray the West as the enemy to justify outgoing President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime. There are also the financial interests of the ruling group because they not only rule Russia; they also in effect “own” Russia, being de facto owners of the main oil and gas companies. They are interested in very high oil prices, so there is a tendency in Russian foreign policy to keep tensions high in the Middle East, and that’s especially clear in the case of Iran’s nuclear problem.

So it is inevitable that Russian foreign policy is contradictory and has a cyclic character. It seems to me that now we have reached the end of the latest negative confrontational cycle and there are the first indications of an upward tendency. Both during the recent ministers’ meeting in Moscow and during the Sochi summit [April 2008 meeting between Putin and Bush], Moscow was rather conciliatory. Earlier, the Kremlin had threatened to target its nuclear missiles on European cities and so on. But in Moscow and during Sochi, Putin went out of his way to emphasize that he believed that Russian concerns were understood by the United States and Americans were sincerely trying to assuage our concerns. There is now a tendency to reduce a bit the anti-Western posturing in government policy and propaganda".

Andrei Piontkovsky [Director of the Strategic Studies Center in Moskva], in

There has indeed been a changing of the guard in Moskva. Putin has in accordance with the constitution of the Russian Federation, become the first Russian leader in history to serve out his term and see a peaceful transfer of power. Moving over to the premiership, and the head of the ruling party, Putin will of course for quite some time to come, be the primus inter pares in the duumvirate with Medvedev. However history shows that such arrangements (Marc Anthony and Octavian come to mind as does Tsars Pyotr I and his half-brother Ivan VI) rarely last very long, especially in Russia. So, assuming that within a not very long amount of time that Medvedev will be the senior partner in this modern day dvoetsarstvovanie, what can we expect from him diplomatically? And, how will Russian diplomacy change, both in content and in form from the Putin regime? Well first off, Medvedev is an entirely different animal than any Russian leader since 1917, if not since the great pre-war premier, P.A. Stolypin. In essence both men were not chinovnikii or appartchikii, but members of civil society, what in Russia is termed the 'intelligentsia' (in the original, 19th century Russian meaning of the word). As Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski has recently commented the mere fact that Medvedev is "the first Russian leader in my memory who doesn't come from the Communist Party or the security services" (see: "Medvedev Good for the West, says Poland," in, is a reason for welcoming him. Second, unlike Grazhdanin Putin, Medvedev does not appear to harbour any deep suspicions of the West, nor is he prone to have any nostalgia for the now defunct Sovietskaya Vlast. Something that Putin and many members of his entourage still suffer from. In short, with Medvedev the outside world is now dealing with the future not the past of Russian foreign policy.

What however it may well be asked is the 'future of Russian foreign policy'? I would argue that it will consist of a the following points, points strongly held and not liable to be easily given up or away: upholding, in a non-belligerent, if at times perhaps annoying fashion, Russian prestige and Russian's position in the world. The days when Russia could simply be presented with faite accompli's, by the Americans as was the case in the Yeltsin regime is long past. Similarly, you can count on Russia upholding the power and the prestige of institutions like the United Nations, which it is a member. The same can be said for the Middle East Quartet, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Council of Europe. Similarly do not expect Moskva to be inclined to smile warmly upon any unilateral American proposals `a la the Iraq War in the future. Russia's opposition in 2003, was of course opportunistic, but, it also derived from a calculated stance that to give legitimacy to any American, unilateral power plays could very well be a harbinger of a similar type of maneuver against Russia itself. In short, expect to see a continuation of Putin's multi-lateral, anti-hegemonic diplomatic card, vis-`a-vis the Americans. Other points that one can foresee Medvedev pursuing are: attempting to reinsert itself diplomatically, using the oil and gas card, into the Balkans. Similarly, Medvedev's Russia will try to maintain as much influence as possible in both Ukraine, and, in Belarus. With it not impossible to foresee the time when, in the case of the latter country, when the Lukashenko regime implodes that Moskva may finally chose to reunite with the now isolated country rather than allowing it to 'fall' into the 'Western Camp'. Vis-`a-vis the European Union, it is likely the relations will veer from cordial and correct, to warm and friendly. Depending upon both the issues and which particular group of countries that one is talking of. With the warmest relations being with Germany, France and Italia. Relations being colder with Poland, the Baltic Countries and the UK as well. It would not be unlikely that Medvedev will follow Putin's practice of attempting, to play the jeu of divida et impera with the EU as a whole. Towards the Americans, Russia's relations will again veer: from difficult if not a bit frosty, to at times perhaps lukewarm and correct. Do not expect much in the way of any real closeness or improvements to the Russian-American relationship anytime soon. There is simply not enough similarity of interests, either diplomatic or economic for the Americans to be willing to treat Moskva in a more equal or at the very least a more quid pro quo fashion. The usual American habit of asking Russia for concessions, gratis, is all too likely to set to continue. And, it does not matter in the least if the President is a Republican or a Democrat. A liberal or a Conservative. The underlying mentality, of the makers of American foreign policy is the same towards Moskva: demand the world, and, pay nothing for it. Parque ils travailler pour le Roi de Prusse!

To sum up: the watchword as the Putin Regime gives way to the Medvedev Regime is: continuity of purpose and the underlying focus of Russian foreign policy, with discontinuity as per the manner in which policy is presented to the outside world. I do not anticipate any of the diplomatic maladroit antics that Putin has cared to indulge in the past few years. The infamous speech at the Security Conference at Munich, a few years back being the ne plus ultra. I expect that Medvedev will allow his capable Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov to manage more of Russian foreign policy and to present a more friendly and negotiable visage to the world. In short, I agree with those who argue that the coming of the new Russian President is a cause, if not necessarily for joy than certainly for quiet appreciation that there are new possibilities available, both in Russia domestically and for Russia abroad.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008





Tonight, General Ricardo Sanchez, C-in-C of coalition forces in Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004, spoke to the members of the Oxonian Society in the ornate and august ballroom of the 3 West Club in mid-town Manhattan. The now retired General is peddling his recently published book, "Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's Story" to the public. Treated to a warm and respectful applause both before and after his talk, General Sanchez, speaking with his native South Texas drawl, offered up a curious defence of his conduct as Allied Commander in chief in Iraq during the initial period of the insurgency, after the defeat of Saddam Hussein's conventional forces in March-April of 2003. Rather than pleading 'mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa', Sanchez in the time honored fashion of the American military hierarchy during the Vietnam War, choose to blame official Washington for the Iraq debacle. Among the more interesting if not very informative or original comments of Sanchez on his time in Baghdad were: American forces were, 'not trained for urban warfare', which they soon had to face; that there was both at his (Corp commander) level and higher in the military hierarchy, no real planning for the post-conventional phase of military operations in Iraq. As per Sanchez, in comments which have been endorsed elsewhere, by the time that he took over the command in Baghdad, all planning in Washington at the time was for withdrawing forces and just leaving a skelton force. However, Sanchez did not offer up any defence of his own (mis)-conduct in the summer of 2003 in not seriously revamping occupation forces so that they could tackle successfully the growing insurgency on the ground from the Sunni insurgents. Nor did he offer any but the weakest defence, in essence again blaming the Rumsfeld Department of Defence and the CIA, for the abuses that lead to the Abu Ghraib Scandal. Notwithstanding the fact that much of the subsequent research has shown that General Sanchez appears to have been singularly incompetent in not exercising the proper supervision of the military prison system in Iraq. In his other remarks, Sanchez blames the then American proconsul in Baghdad, Ambassador Jerry Bremer for the political mistakes (such as de-ba'athization), which helped to make the Iraqi insurgency ever more popular & powerful. He also blames official Washington for the start and stop military offensive in Fallejua in the early Spring of 2004. The General finished his remarks by arguing that Iraq and the Iraq War, was a 'vital national interest', both for 'moral and legal' reasons.

What is one to make of the above performance? One is tempted to recall Clemenceau's comments at the top of this posting, and add to them that soldier's, especially American soldiers should be prevented from thinking too hard...Certainly General Sanchez both at the time and listening to him tonight, appears to have been singularly over his head and out of his depth as C-in-C of American forces in Iraq. No doubt this was partly due to the fact that unlike say the British Army, with such recent commanders as Field-Marshal Lord Carver (Winchester), Sir Mike Jackson (Stamford), Sir Rupert Smith (Haileybury) and Sir Richard Dannatt (Felsted), all from the Upper or Upper-middle classes, the American officer corp is rife with individuals for whom the military is merely a ladder of social advancement and mobility. Consequently, the current C-in-C, General Petraeus notwithstanding, the level of intellectual and tactical sophistication and leadership, to be found in much of the American military hierarchy leaves a great deal to be desired. It is not surprising therefore that Sanchez himself did not go to West Point, nor did he graduate from the Army War College or the General Staff College. No doubt General Sanchez is on a personal level a most humble and agreeable chap. Probably the type of fellow that many of his fellow Americans would like to have a glass of beer with. Unfortunately, it is precisely this, 'hail fellow well met' category of military leadership which was singularly inappropriate in the crucial time that Sanchez was in command in Iraq. A time which in retrospect will never come again in terms of offering up the possibility of preventing the subsequent debacle that has become Iraq for the United States. Among others who we have to thank for this state of affairs is General Sanchez.