THE ARCHBISHOP'S GAMBIT: A LOOK AT ROWAN WILLIAMS' REMARKS ON ISLAMIC LAW & BRITISH SOCIETY
"The title of this series of lectures signals the existence of what is very widely felt to be a growing challenge in our society – that is, the presence of communities which, while no less 'law-abiding' than the rest of the population, relate to something other than the British legal system alone. But, as I hope to suggest, the issues that arise around what level of public or legal recognition, if any, might be allowed to the legal provisions of a religious group, are not peculiar to Islam: we might recall that, while the law of the Church of England is the law of the land, its daily operation is in the hands of authorities to whom considerable independence is granted. And beyond the specific issues that arise in relation to the practicalities of recognition or delegation, there are large questions in the background about what we understand by and expect from the law, questions that are more sharply focused than ever in a largely secular social environment. I shall therefore be concentrating on certain issues around Islamic law to begin with, in order to open up some of these wider matters.
Among the manifold anxieties that haunt the discussion of the place of Muslims in British society, one of the strongest, reinforced from time to time by the sensational reporting of opinion polls, is that Muslim communities in this country seek the freedom to live under sharia law. And what most people think they know of sharia is that it is repressive towards women and wedded to archaic and brutal physical punishments; just a few days ago, it was reported that a 'forced marriage' involving a young woman with learning difficulties had been 'sanctioned under sharia law' – the kind of story that, in its assumption that we all 'really' know what is involved in the practice of sharia, powerfully reinforces the image of – at best – a pre-modern system in which human rights have no role. The problem is freely admitted by Muslim scholars. 'In the West', writes Tariq Ramadan in his groundbreaking Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, 'the idea of Sharia calls up all the darkest images of Islam...It has reached the extent that many Muslim intellectuals do not dare even to refer to the concept for fear of frightening people or arousing suspicion of all their work by the mere mention of the word' (p.31). Even when some of the more dramatic fears are set aside, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about what degree of accommodation the law of the land can and should give to minority communities with their own strongly entrenched legal and moral codes. As such, this is not only an issue about Islam but about other faith groups, including Orthodox Judaism; and indeed it spills over into some of the questions which have surfaced sharply in the last twelve months about the right of religious believers in general to opt out of certain legal provisions – as in the problems around Roman Catholic adoption agencies which emerged in relation to the Sexual Orientation Regulations last spring.
This lecture will not attempt a detailed discussion of the nature of sharia, which would be far beyond my competence; my aim is only, as I have said, to tease out some of the broader issues around the rights of religious groups within a secular state, with a few thought about what might be entailed in crafting a just and constructive relationship between Islamic law and the statutory law of the United Kingdom. But it is important to begin by dispelling one or two myths about sharia; so far from being a monolithic system of detailed enactments, sharia designates primarily – to quote Ramadan again – 'the expression of the universal principles of Islam [and] the framework and the thinking that makes for their actualization in human history' (32). Universal principles: as any Muslim commentator will insist, what is in view is the eternal and absolute will of God for the universe and for its human inhabitants in particular; but also something that has to be 'actualized', not a ready-made system. If shar' designates the essence of the revealed Law, sharia is the practice of actualizing and applying it; while certain elements of the sharia are specified fairly exactly in the Qur'an and Sunna and in the hadith recognised as authoritative in this respect, there is no single code that can be identified as 'the' sharia. And when certain states impose what they refer to as sharia or when certain Muslim activists demand its recognition alongside secular jurisdictions, they are usually referring not to a universal and fixed code established once for all but to some particular concretisation of it at the hands of a tradition of jurists. In the hands of contemporary legal traditionalists, this means simply that the application of sharia must be governed by the judgements of representatives of the classical schools of legal interpretation. But there are a good many voices arguing for an extension of the liberty of ijtihad – basically reasoning from first principles rather than simply the collation of traditional judgements (see for example Louis Gardet, 'Un prealable aux questions soulevees par les droits de l'homme: l'actualisation de la Loi religieuse musulmane aujourd'hui', Islamochristiana 9, 1983, 1-12, and Abdullah Saeed, 'Trends in Contemporary Islam: a Preliminary Attempt at a Classification', The Muslim World, 97:3, 2007, 395-404, esp. 401-2).
Thus, in contrast to what is sometimes assumed, we do not simply have a standoff between two rival legal systems when we discuss Islamic and British law. On the one hand, sharia depends for its legitimacy not on any human decision, not on votes or preferences, but on the conviction that it represents the mind of God; on the other, it is to some extent unfinished business so far as codified and precise provisions are concerned. To recognise sharia is to recognise a method of jurisprudence governed by revealed texts rather than a single system. In a discussion based on a paper from Mona Siddiqui at a conference last year at Al Akhawayn University in Morocco, the point was made by one or two Muslim scholars that an excessively narrow understanding sharia as simply codified rules can have the effect of actually undermining the universal claims of the Qur'an.
But while such universal claims are not open for renegotiation, they also assume the voluntary consent or submission of the believer, the free decision to be and to continue a member of the ummaSharia is not, in that sense, intrinsically to do with any demand for Muslim dominance over non-Muslims. Both historically and in the contemporary context, Muslim states have acknowledged that membership of the umma is not coterminous with membership in a particular political society: in modern times, the clearest articulation of this was in the foundation of the Pakistani state under Jinnah; but other examples (Morocco, Jordan) could be cited of societies where there is a concept of citizenship that is not identical with belonging to the umma. Such societies, while not compromising or weakening the possibility of unqualified belief in the authority and universality of sharia, or even the privileged status of Islam in a nation, recognise that there can be no guarantee that the state is religiously homogeneous and that the relationships in which the individual stands and which define him or her are not exclusively with other Muslims. There has therefore to be some concept of common good that is not prescribed solely in terms of revealed Law, however provisional or imperfect such a situation is thought to be. And this implies in turn that the Muslim, even in a predominantly Muslim state, has something of a dual identity, as citizen and as believer within the community of the faithful".
Archbishop Rowan Williams, "Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious perspective".
7 February 2008, in www.archbishopofcanterbury.org
"To begin with you've given this vision of if as a nation Britain wants to achieve social cohesion, that challenge is how to accommodate those of religious faith in relation to the law; and you're words are that the application of Sharia in certain circumstances if we want to achieve this cohesion and take seriously peoples' religion seems unavoidable?
ABC [Archbishop Williams] It seem unavoidable and indeed as a matter of fact certain provision of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law; so it's not as if we're bringing in an alien and rival system; we already have in this country a number of situations in which the law the internal law of religious communities is recognised by the law of the land as justified conscientious objections in certain circumstances in providing certain kinds of social relations, so I think we need to look at this with a clearer eye and not imagine either we know exactly what we mean by Sharia and not just associate it with what we read about Saudi Arabia or wherever".
BBC Interview of Archbishop Williams by Christopher Landau, 7 February 2008, in www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/
First off, please do allow me to remark that I did not study theology at University, nor for that matter in any real sense, metaphysics. I have dabbled in both, particularly Thomism, but, I am hardly anything approaching an expert on the subject. Second, I will admit that while I have never been an enthusiast for Dr. Williams particular brand of Low Church Anglicanism, I do not in any way gainsay his reputation as a erste-klasse theologian. Thirdly, any and all remarks that I make on this subject matter are I do hope reflective of the fact that I speak here, with two hats: one as a Christian believer, two as a historian. With all that being said, I do believe that as the Financial Times pointed out, much of the abuse that the Archbishop has suffered from since his lecture and more particularly the interview with the BBC that followed the same, are partly a result of a mis-understanding. Meaning that if one reads quite closely the lecture and indeed even the interview that explicates the lecture, one sees that the Archbishop is attempting to do two things at once: one) try to argue for some type of 'accommodation', between British 'Society', and the Muslim community in its midst; two) to also argue, and, indeed one gets the impression that this second aim is being poll vaulted on top of the first, that British Society has to re-position itself to allow for some type of place in it for its various religious communities, with one presumes that which the Archbishop heads being at the top of the list. Again, this second goal is one that has to read between the lines, in almost sotto voce fashion. One can certainly sense that much of the lecture itself is very much concerned about the need to reach some sort of modus vivendi, whereby people and indeed religious communities can be allowed some sort of autonomy alongside the 'secular city' (to use Harvey Cox's classic 1965 title). As the Archbishop commented after the BBC interviewer asked "do you think that some people might be surprised to hear that a Christian Archbishop is calling for greater consideration of the role of Islamic law":
"People may be surprised but I hope that that surprise will be modified when they think about the general question of how the law and religious community, religious principle are best and fruitfully accommodated. What we don't want I think is either a stand-off where the law squares up to religious consciences over something like abortion or indeed by forcing a vote on some aspects of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in the commons as it were a secular discourse saying 'we have no room for conscientious objections'; we don't want that, we don't either I think want a situation where because there's no way of legally monitoring what communities do, making them part of public process, people do what they like in private in such a way that that becomes a way of intensifying oppression within a community and that happens; that happens. So how does the law engage critically and intelligently – the law of the land – with the custom, the imperatives, the principles of distinctive religious communities? It's a large question, much larger than the question about Islam and I think it's a question which the Church can quite reasonably be thinking about.
For Dr. Williams, reaching an accommodation with the what he would regard as reasonable elements in the British Muslim community are part and parcel of reaching accommodation with all elements of British society which care to stand outside of the secular city and its consensus.
With all that being said, is there in fact any possibility of reaching the modus vivendi that the Archbishop wants between the British State and its laws and instituions, and the Muslim community? Unfortunately, much of the evidence, indeed some of the examples that Archbishop cites points to the manifold difficulties (to put it mildly) of trying to accommodate sharia into British, indeed, dare one say, any law or society which is not based upon Islam. In his lecture, which is (as a commentator in the British periodical the Spectator uncharitably noted) overburdened with citations to authors known but best ignored (Mr. Ramadan) and others completely unknown, the Archbishop cites three Muslim countries where as he puts it:
"While such universal claims [of Islam] are not open for renegotiations [and why not? cc], they also assume the voluntary consent or submission of the believer, the free decision to be and continue a member of the ummaSharia [sic?] is not, in that sense, instrinsically to do with any demand for Muslim dominance over non-Muslims".
These are Malaysia, Jordan and Morocco. All three being for Dr. Williams, cases where the State is willing to recognize "a concept of citizenship that is not identical with belonging to the umma". Unfortunately, and this is the key to the fallacy of Dr. William's entire thesis, the facts argue quite the contrary to his hypothesis. At least it does very strongly in two of the three cases. If one were to peruse the relative country files in the American State Department's 'religious freedom,' index (see:www.state.gov
), one sees the following: in the case of Jordan, which is widely regarded (and to some extent truthfully) as a 'moderate' Muslim country:
"Because Shari'a governs the personal status of Muslims, converting from Islam to Christianity and proselytism of Muslims are not allowed. Muslims who convert to another religion face societal and governmental discrimination. Under Shari'a, converts are regarded as apostates and may be denied their civil and property rights. The Government maintains it neither encourages nor prohibits apostasy. The Government does not recognize converts from Islam as falling under the jurisdiction of their new religious community's laws in matters of personal status; converts are still considered Muslims. Converts to Islam fall under the jurisdiction of Shari'a courts. Shari'a, in theory, provides for the death penalty for Muslims who apostatize; however, the Government has never applied such punishment. The Government allows conversion to Islam....
In September 2004, on the order of a Shari'a court, the authorities arrested a convert from Islam to Christianity and held him overnight on charges of apostasy. In November 2004 a Shari'a court found the defendant guilty of apostasy. The ruling was upheld in January 2005 by a Shari'a appeals court. The verdict declared the convert to be a ward of the state, stripped him of his civil rights, and annulled his marriage. It further declared him to be without any religious identity. It stated that he lost all rights to inheritance and may not remarry his (now former) wife unless he returns to Islam, and forbade his being considered an adherent of any other religion. The verdict implies the possibility that legal and physical custody of his child could be assigned to someone else. The convert left the country, received refugee status, and was resettled in the United States".
Of course, I am sure that the Archbishop would protest most vociferously that the above situation is very far indeed, from the type of accommodation that can and should be reached with sharia law. Peut-etre! But, the fact of the matter is that even in a non-coercive context, the idea of allowing a space for sharia in nominally Christian Britain, is fraught with difficulties and non-solvent problems. The above case in Jordan being one of them. History, something which I feel better able to speak about, does not encourage much in the way of positive examples about the type of 'accommmodation' that Dr. Williams somewhat optimistically, and, with all due respect, ignorantly supposes is readily reachable. Id est, historically speaking all Muslim countries (except Saudi Arabia...) have been quite willing to 'accommodate' as they understand the term (somewhat differently than Dr. Williams though...) other religious communities. Unfortunately, this 'accommodation' allows for, and, is regarded as part and parcel of sharia law and muslim practice, de jure discrimination towards any and all non-Muslim minorities. The State and its laws and institutions are regarded as being Islamic, and, everything else follows from that fact. The Ottoman Empire's barbaric treatment of its Christian minority is of a piece with this type of 'accommodation.'
The upshot of the above is there is little in the way of historical fact, or contemporary practice in majority Muslim countries to point to any optimism about the type of modus vivendi that Archbishop Williams seems to propose. No doubt if sharia were to gain some type of de jure recognition in British Law, the end result, would be a creeping Islamic take-over of parts of the entire British Isles. The creation of areas where Islamic laws on alcohol, Friday-night activities, et cetera, et cetera, would be enforced. Whether or not, those living in the areas in question voluntarily agreed to such legal restrictions or not. So, while one can readily agree with Dr. Williams desire to allow for religious members of society to obtain some degree of autonomy, from the demands of the State, the further accommodation of Islam in Britain is by far a case of the cure being worse than the disease.
KARABAKH UPDATE: IS BAKU AIMING FOR WAR?
The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been over, de facto, if not necessarily de jure, for upwards of fifteen years now. The demarcation lines between the forces of the two powers lies more or less where they were in 1993. With Armenian forces occupying large swaths of Azeri territory beyond Karabakh proper. With negotiations being pursued half-heartedly since 1994, it would appear that Armenian predominance over its Turkic-Muslim rival has been edged in stone. However changes which have accumulated in the past half dozen years, in Baku, under the Aliyev family dictatorship, have contributed to an appearance of a change in the balance between the two countries. Beginning in the mid-1990's, Baku has progressively grown wealthier (in nominal terms, if not necessarily in a widespread manner) due to its exploitation of its voluminous oil and gas reserves. This increase in wealth in the past few years has enabled Baku to fund a huge increase in its military budget. And, with this increase in military spending, Baku has more and more harped on its demand for the return of Karabakh, with its Armenian majority population to Azeri rule. Albeit with certain (no doubt worthless) 'guarantees' of 'autonomy' for the enclave. As the attached article from the Zurich based, online periodical, ISN makes clear, while Yerevan has no interest in restarting the war with Azerbajian, it also sees no need at this time to offer up unilateral concessions to Baku. The result being the same situation on the ground today as it has been for the last half dozen years: a stalemate. Sitting in the middle and on the sidelines of this pas de deux are Russia (allied with Christian Armenia), Persia (also allied with Armenia), Turkey and Georgia (allied with Baku). With the United States and the EU occupying the middle ground and hoping against hope that a suitable modus vivendi can be negotiated. At this juncture there seems to be slim hope that anything will be produced in the near future resembling a real and lasting peace.
What does the immediate future hold out for this section of the former Sovietskaya Vlast, and, how should the International Community react to this evolving situation? I for one, doubt very much that Baku will do more than rattle its saber. The Aliyev regime in Baku, stupid, corrupt, and inefficient, knows that if it were to 'roll the iron dice', by opening up hostilities with Armenia, failure on the battlefield, nay, lack of success on the battlefield would result in a 'regime crisis' and probably its quick overthrow. It seems to me, that any nominal 'patriotism' to be found in the upper reaches of the governing circles in Azerbajian, are of the 'hurrah patriotismus,' variety. Not the real coin. When faced with losing their ill gotten gains of oil & gas wealth, the Aliyev clique, will I strongly believe not fail to see that their continuation in power depends upon their keeping the peace. A situation which of course also suits Armenia as well. And, of course, it is probably the case, that Aliyev et. al., also realize that behind Yerevan stands Matushka Roissya, Armenia's Christian ally. And, further behind stands the worldwide Armenian diaspora of many millions in Western Europe and the United States. All of whom would immediately in the case of renewed hostilities see that the aggressors in Baku are suitably punished. Id est, UN, EU and American sanctions being the likely end result. A situation which would be for the latter two powers a veritable cauchemar. Indeed for all concerned it would truly be a nightmare. Hopefully it is one that will never occur.
Trouble anew for Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijan is up for a fight over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, but Armenia remains unbowed.www.isn.ethz.ch/news/
By Ahto Lobjakas for RFE/RL (12/02/08)
"EU officials touring the South Caucasus this week were confronted by heated words from President Ilham Aliyev, who told them Azerbaijan is ready to "wage war" with neighboring Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan's recent windfall of oil and gas revenues appears to have persuaded Aliyev that he could turn the tables on Armenia, which has long held the military upper hand in the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly ethnic-Armenian territory located within Azerbaijan.
In talks on 4 February with Slovenian Foreign Minister Dmitrij Rupel, who was representing the current EU Presidency, Aliyev indicated Baku was contemplating waging war for control of the disputed territory, which together with a strip of adjacent Azerbaijani territory has been under Yerevan's control since a 1988-94 war between the two countries.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's external relations commissioner, tells RFE/RL that Brussels firmly rejected Baku's "inflammatory" rhetoric. "I clearly said, not only to the authorities, but also at the press conference, that I think it is highly important that they avoid any inflammatory speech at the moment of presidential elections," she says.
Both countries are holding a presidential vote this year - Armenia on 19 February, and Azerbaijan in October. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has spent more than 15 years mediating talks between the two sides, has indicated an election year is not likely to see major progress on the issue.
Baku, however, appears impatient. The Azerbaijani leadership, Rupel said, appears to feel that "time is not on Armenia's side." Nor is money. Azerbaijan's defense budget this year will exceed US$1 billion; Armenia's is just one-third of that figure.
Azerbaijan has enjoyed spectacular economic growth over the past few years. The country's GDP grew by 25 percent in 2007, almost exclusively on the strength of oil and gas exports.
Azerbaijan's minister for economic development, Heydar Babayev, says he expects his government to generate upward of US$150 billion in oil and gas revenues by 2015.
Armenia, meanwhile, has no lucrative natural resources. It is landlocked, blockaded by neighbors Turkey and Azerbaijan, and - at Baku's behest - bypassed by oil and gas pipelines, as well as rail and road projects, which originate in Azerbaijan.
'Winning The Peace'
But, as Rupel notes, Armenia has "alliances that speak for it." This is a reference to Russian backing. Throughout the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Russia is rumored to have given Armenia military equipment worth US$1 billion. Russia provides for most of Armenia's energy needs and has bought up most of its energy infrastructure.
The Armenian government did not appeared cowed by Baku's fighting words. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian tells RFE/RL that Armenia is confident of its military capability. "No matter how strong the Azeris will be in the next 15 years, even with this kind of spending, even [if it] doubled every year, to catch up with Armenia's commitment to defend itself and Karabakh, that will require [as a] minimum 15-20 years," he says.
Oskanian says that Armenia would not be intimidated in any event. More importantly, he adds, he does not believe there can be a military solution to Nagorno-Karabakh. "We fought twice with the Azeris, we prevailed, but we never claimed that we won the war," he says. "Unless we win the peace, we will never claim that we won the war."
Oskanian acknowledges, however, that the chances of "winning the peace" are receding and that Azerbaijan's positions in the OSCE-mediated peace talks have hardened.
Rupel - an old OSCE hand, having chaired the organization in 2005 - also fears the Minsk Group, which oversees the mediation efforts, may face increasing obstinacy from Baku.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a key issue in both countries' election campaigns, and establishment candidates are expected to win in both countries, meaning novel approaches to the problem are not likely to be forthcoming.
Taking a longer-term view, Rupel says the conflict is rooted in the region's Soviet past, when Josef Stalin arranged their borders in a way apparently designed to exacerbate ethnic strife.
Rupel says both Armenia and Azerbaijan need a "generational change." "You know, a new generation, younger people, [would] deal with problems like Nagorno-Karabakh in an easier way," he says. "I think we have to rely on a new generation of politicians on both sides. There has been some generational change in Azerbaijan, as you know. We'll see how it happens here [in Armenia]. Certainly, it is not a pleasant situation."
And what of the EU's role? Rupel says the EU's Neighborhood Policy is "as balanced as possible" between the two countries. The EU, he says, is "very careful not to upset one side or the other," with even its economic assistance being as "similar" as possible.
But money appears to be no object in this standoff. The EU has not been directly involved in the peace talks, and there appears to be little desire on either side for it to engage. As an ally in a conflict, meanwhile, the EU remains of little use".
A NEW LIGHT SHED ON THE MATTER OF KOSOVO
"Kosovo is going to be independent one way or another. . . . It will either be done in a controlled, supervised way that provides for the well-being of the Serbian people, or it will take place in an uncontrolled way."
Daniel Fried, American Assistant Secretary of State, quoted by Alan W. Dowd, in "An Independent Kosovo: the least bad option," www.worldpoliticsreview.com.
"Sergei Ivanov, first deputy prime minister of Russia, said yesterday that recognition of an independent Kosovo by European governments would open a Pandora's box".."
The Financial Times, 11 February 2008
For ages it seems, it has been the antagonists of the dominant consensus of Western elites, particulary in Western Europe and the USA, such as myself, about the prevailing bias in favor of an independent Kosovo, who have felt themselves to be in the wilderness. Ever since the Kosovo war of 1999, a war without merit and a bit of a fraud to boot (not entirely of course), it has been the cry of the bien pensant consensus, that an 'independent Kosovo,' damned the consequences to both Serbia and to the larger region as a whole, is the ne plus ultra. The fact that without both Serbian approval and more importantly Russian approval any such independence would both: a) patently illegal under international law; b) without Security Council approval, and, hence without international legitimacy, has been completely ignored. Now however we are nearing the countdown to this horrible event: on the 17th of this month, it is widely mooted that the authorities in Pristina, egged on by the Americans and their more supine allies, will 'declare,' Kosovo's independence of Belgrade. What that 'independence' will mean in reality of course is an entirely different kettle of fish. Particulary since Belgrade, has declared that it will impose an economic blockade of the province, and, do all it can to scuttle Pristina's unilateral action, short of using force.
Now, at the very last moment, some in official Washington, albeit on the sidelines of power, but, still individuals who can be said to have held the highest offices of state in the past have come to recognize that the matter of Kosovo requires much more than simply mouthing idiotic platitudes. In a statement appearing in the Washington Times, and, reprinted by the Brookings Institute(www.brookings.edu/opinions
), Messieurs John Bolton, Lawrence Eagleburger and Peter Rodman, argue that the USA and its NATO / EU allies must carefully weigh their options before mindlessly agreeing to Kosovo's self-declared independence. As this highly experienced trio write:
"We believe an imposed settlement of the Kosovo question and seeking to partition Serbia's sovereign territory without its consent is not in the interest of the United States. The blithe assumption of American policy — that the mere passage of nine years of relative quiet would be enough to lull Serbia and Russia into reversing their positions on a conflict that goes back centuries — has proven to be naive in the extreme.
We believe U.S. policy on Kosovo must be re-examined without delay, and we urge the Bush administration to make it clear that pending the results of such re-examination it would withhold recognition of a Kosovo independence declaration and discourage Kosovo's Albanians from taking that step".
As this the gang of three correctly note, the idea, nay the idee fixe of American
policy that it can impose Kosovo's independence on Belgrade `a la some type of diktat is highly dangerous both for Kosovo and the wider region:
"Recognition of Kosovo's independence without Serbia's consent would set a precedent with far-reaching and unpredictable consequences for many other regions of the world. The Kosovo model already has been cited by supporters of the Basque separatist movement in Spain and the Turkish-controlled area of northern Cyprus. Neither the Security Council nor any other international body has the power or authority to impose a change of any country's borders".
Equally dangerous is of course the reaction in Moskva. To merely dismiss it, as individuals such as Richard Holbrooke have done recently as mere play-acting is as Bolton, Eagleburger and Rodman note, seriously mistaken:
"Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the current policy is the dismissive attitude displayed toward Russia's objections. Whatever disagreements the United States may have with Moscow on other issues, and there are many, the United States should not prompt an unnecessary crisis in U.S.-Russia relations. There are urgent matters regarding which the United States must work with Russia, including Iran's nuclear intentions and North Korea's nuclear capability. Such cooperation would be undercut by American action to neutralize Moscow's legitimate concerns regarding Kosovo.
If the U.S. moves forward with recognizing Kosovo, Moscow's passivity cannot be taken for granted. It may have been one thing in 1999 for the United States and NATO to take action against Yugoslavia over the objections of a weak Russia.
Today, it would be unwise to dismiss Russia's willingness and ability to assist Serbia. On an issue of minor importance to the United States, is this a useful expenditure of significant political capital with Russia"?
In short, our three learned gentlemen, maintain what I and many others with an unbiased and balanced opinion have stated in public for quite awhile now: that Pristina's quest for independence is both a dangerous move and one which at this juncture is quite unnecessary. To blindly back it for erroneous reasons relating to dislike of the Milosevic regime of the 1990's, is a mistake of historic proportions. Hopefully the words of our trio will be taken to heart, by people in authority both in the USA and in Westen Europe before it is too late.
AMERICA AS A 'SOFT' HEGEMON? JOSEPH NYE ON THE EVOLUTION OF AMERICAN POWER
"I think the Americans, as the largest power, have to remain involved without falling into the trap of becoming the world's policemen and becoming over involved. And I think what that means is that there are certain key things that we need to do, because if we don't do them no one else will, and if nobody does them it will be a much more chaotic world. One of them is to maintain the overall balance of power. That means that American military power remains very important to stability in Europe, in Asia, in an area like the Persian Gulf where we still are dependent on oil supplies. And therefore the primary or first thing that America has to do is make sure that we have a stable balance. That's why we have 100,000 troops in Europe, 100,000 in Asia, about 20,000 in the Gulf, essentially because it is a stabilizing factor and we benefit from that stability.
The second thing we need to do is to help preserve an open international economy so that you have benefits that can flow from international economic transactions. There are lots of problems with this, it creates friction at home, it can create a number of difficulties, but I do believe that in the long run a liberal international economic trading system is better than one which becomes closed and protectionist. That's an important role.
A third thing I think the Americans need to do is act as the organizer of coalitions of the willing, of countries that can deal with serious issues as we did in the Gulf War. I think we need to, in that same context, provide support for international institutions. People complain about UN peacekeeping, but when you do something through the UN it means that 75 percent of the costs are being provided by others. It also means there's a legitimization of what we're doing. So we need to be the "organizer of the posse" or the supporter of the institutions by which countries can pull together to accomplish certain common purposes.
And then finally, I think we need to be the peacemaker and the country that tries to mediate the difficult conflicts, whether it be Northern Ireland or the Middle East or South Asia, because that again is a role that, because of our size and power, we're able to do. So those are the international roles.
I should add to that a fifth point which is that we still need to continue to act as a beacon at home. Our soft power, our appeal to other countries, depends very much on our maintaining an open, vibrant democracy and a successful economy at home. Sometimes people think, "Well, that's domestic policy. It has nothing to do with foreign policy." I would argue that you can't make that distinction, that our ability to run a good society at home is central to our position abroad".
Joseph Nye, 8 April 1998, in www.globetrotter.berkeley.edu
Josephy Nye, Jr., is without a doubt one of the most intelligent men to have ever held a post in the American government in the last fifty years. A graduate of Princeton, Oxford and Harvard, one of the key theorists in International Relations theory in the United States in the last fifty years, Nye is without a doubt at the heart of the American foreign policy establishment, such as it is. While no doubt, a true blue, Democrat, Nye is also someone who it can be accurately said, has always veered right of center in his views of foreign policy. As someone who (correctly) torpedoed, the Paul Kennedy school of 'declinism' in the late 1980's, as well as the coiner of the concept of 'soft power' (at the same time), Nye has proven himself time and again to be an astute observer and commentator on International affairs and American foreign policy. No doubt his two terms in office during the Carter and Clinton Administrations, helped Nye in this respect as well. Like many of his ilk, Nye has watched with less than enthusiasm, if not with the same degree of dislike &disdain, as say Zbigniew Brzezinski, the antics of the Bush regime as it relates to foreign policy. In his two books (titled respectively: 'The Changing Nature of American Power' and 'Soft Power') published in the last six years, Nye in a very sotto voce fashion, criticized the often overbearing and clumsy nature of American diplomacy in the Bush era. Which he (not surprisingly enough) viewed as a falling off from American diplomacy in the Clinton and Bush the Elder years. A common enough point of view, as any readers of this journal knows quite well.
Now, with the American Presidential elections upon us, in lo so many months hence, Nye has chosen to favor the American public with a new book on American's leadership in the contemporary world. Being a 'soft' (51% to 49% in his own words) supporter of Senator Clinton over her rival Senator Obama, for the Presidency, Nye no doubt views his upcoming book as a primer for the next Democratic Party, President. Although to be fair, given his age (71) it is highly unlikely that he views himself as being up to occupying high office in the future. A precis of this volume, has just come out in the journal Survival, which is published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. The journal itself I can strongly recommend: it has articles by Sir Michael Howard, the Oxford historian, Hew Strachan, Colonel McMaster and David Calleo. Nye's aticle is titled: "Recovering American Leadership" (for a free pass to see the entire issue go to: www.informaworld.com
) And, it is without a doubt an entirely depressing and predictable exercise. At least to this reader. This most intelligent of men, cannot for the life of him, avoid rehashing cliches and jejeune comments about International Affairs which to be honest have no more currency than the Divine Right of Kings. We are back to Nye's 1990 classic, "Bound to Lead," in which the USA is once again, the 'indispensible power' (Madelyn Albright), or as Nye puts it, the "predominant power," `a la the UK in the 19th century. Any emerging challengers (The EU, Russia or China ) are immediately knocked out of the box, with one swing of the Nye club. Indeed with Nye (just as for that matter with Senator McCain) one has the feeling, that one has gone back to TR and the 'big stick'. Of course this nostalgia for the pre-Bush, pre-Iraq debacle form of genteel, American, 'soft hegemony,' is of a piece with many in the Clinton Presidency in exile group. One heard much the same last evening at the Princeton Club from Strobe Talbott (see my prior journal entry for the specifics of Talbott's comments).
In his conclusion, Nye raises up for his readers the following scenario of the future shape of American power:
"the United States will continue to be in a position to provide leadership in managing global security in all its dimensions. But it will have to learn to work with other countries to share such leadership. That will require combining the soft power of attraction with hard power into a ‘smart-power’ strategy. The information revolution, technological change, and globalisation will not eliminate the nation-state, but they will continue to complicate world politics for all states. The paradox of American power in the twenty-first century is that the largest power cannot achieve its objectives by acting alone. Just as shared and participatory leadership is becoming more prevalent in managing modern organisations, so too will the international situation require more cooperative leadership".
In short, to utilize a vulgar expression from the world of the cinema, we are with Nye, quite literally 'back to the future,' where One hundred dollars for a barrel of oil, the Iraq debacle, Chinese and other foreign companies are buying up portions of American financial institutions, et cetera, are non-existent problems and, we can with the right (Democratic) leadership, go back to the halycon days of Clinton-Gore-Christoper-Albright, et cetera. May God Help us!
THE PAST AS PROLOGUE: STROBE TALBOTT ON THE FUTURE OF AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY
"Ils n'ont rien appris, ni rien oublie." Talleyrand.
Tonight one had the pleasure of hearing speak, in the appropriate upper crust accent, at the Princeton Club in Mid-town Manhattan, the former Deputy Secretary of State on the future challenges of American foreign policy. At an event sponsored by the Oxonian Society (www.oxoniansociety.com
), Talbott now President of the Brookings Institution, spoke at length, without notes on both the past and the future of American foreign policy. It was, dear reader on the whole a rather depressing event. Let me be first clear however that I have the highest appreciation for Talbott's personal and indeed diplomatic qualities. He is perhaps the third, best qualified individual, in the entire United States, to occupy the position of the Secretary of State (after of course Richard Holbrooke and Richard Armitage). With degrees from Hotchkiss, Yale and Oxford, a brillant journalist career, and his translations of Khrushchev's expurgated memoirs at the tender age of twenty-five, Talbott, was justly rewarded by his old Oxford chum, William Jefferson Clinton with high posts at the State Department in his administration (Ambassador at Large to the CIS, Deputy Secretary of State). Posts which it can safely be said that Talbott filled if not brillantly, than at the very least admirably. Safely in exile during the entirety of the Bush years at the Brookings Institution, Talbott spoke warmly and concisely tonight, from his quite comfortable perch, about how he sees American foreign policy: past, present and future.
The reasons for why I viewed this most intelligent man's critique of the policies of the regime of Bush the Younger (Talbott's second cousin, by the bye), are as follows: he has all of the novelty and originality of Talleyrand's Bourbons apres
1789. For Talbott, and I should add many of his ilk, time has stopped since the 20th of January 2001, and, it is his fondest hope, that the 'radical departure', that constitute the Bush years for Talbott, will quickly be relegated to the history books. As per Talbott, the cardinal sins of the Bush regime are: 'diplomacy suspended', 'allies and friends alienated' all adding up to what Talbott calls the 'consequential aberration' of the last seven years. American diplomacy needs to go back to, what Talbott calls the 'tradition of American multilaterialism', especially as displayed by Bush the Elder (another cousin of Talbott) who Talbott characterized as an 'arch multi-laterialist'. And of course by his old ami, former President Clinton. According to Talbott, those adherents of his brand of 'ethical realism' (of Kantian foundations no less...) and any of those disgruntled by the foreign policy of the Bush period, can rest assured that any one of the three remaining Presidential contenders: Senators Clinton, McCain and Obama, will in Talbott's words: 'move us back to traditional American diplomacy'.
Again, dear reader a most depressing evening and discourse. I say 'depressing' simply because like the Bourbons who thought (or at least we were once told that they thought) they could return France to 1788, so Talbott and his like-minded crew of Democratic foreign policy specialists in exile, running the gamet from second-rate (Tony Lake) to the egregiously sub-human (Samantha Powers) all have the perverse idea that by flipping the switch, one can turn back the world clock to anno domini 2000. Futile Illusions of the worse sort. The world has moved on, for bad or for good since 2000. American power, if not necessarily on the wane, is most definitely not what it was eight years ago. Both Russia and China are now immensely rich, with money (seemingly endless amounts of it) to throw around. Both are no longer content to merely nod and say 'da da,' to whatever the USA indicates is it's wishes. And, the Iraqi debacle, as well as the ongoing crises in the Near East has drawn both American power and attention away from any other concern. A situation which is likely to continue for much more than the year one of the Democratic-Clinton-Obama-ethical realist restoration. In short: 2009, cannot and will not be a return to 1999.
FROM CONJUNCTURE TO EVENEMENT: PERRY ANDERSON ON THE CONTEMPORARY INTERNATIONAL SCENE
"Together, China, Japan, the eu, Russia, India, Brazil aand the us account for well over half of the world’s population, and 80 per cent of global gdp. If the twin objectives of American foreign policy since World War Two have been to extend capitalism to the ends of the earth, and uphold the primacy of the us within the international state system—the second viewed as a condition for realizing the first—how does the reckoning of the first years of the 21st century look? Overwhelmingly positive, so far as the widening and deepening of the grip of capital goes. Financial markets have advanced at the expense of older forms of social or economic relationship across the board. Regardless of the parties in power—Communist, Liberal-Democratic, Gaullist, New Labour, United Russia, Congress, Workers or Republican—the same basic bundle of property rights and policies has rolled forward, at varying speeds and in differing stages, but with no significant counter-marches in the opposite direction. Rather, with world trade still racing ahead of world growth, there has been a steady increase in the interlocking of all the major capitalist economies in a common dependence on each other".
Perry Anderson, "Jottings on the Conjuncture",
It is dear readers, once again, what one may call, 'Perry Anderson time'. That time of year, when the eminent, British ex-Marxist critic and analyst, comments on the goings on, in International Politics and Economics. As Anderson would be the first to admit, he is not by any means a seer, much less one whose prognosises, can be characterized as foolproof. As he notes in the attached essay, the full version of which, first appeared in the current issue of the British periodical, New Left Review, he was surprised as anyone by the virulent resistance of the Sunni, Baathist element in Iraq since the Spring of 2003. Similarly, it would appear that he has been also taken aback by the relative failure (or should we say, 'lack of success') of the American project in Afghanistan, since the same time period. Additionally, it now appears that for the first time, since he commenced to pen these occasional pieces for either the New Left Review or the London Review of Books, that Anderson detects au fond, of American foreign policy, something which others (such as myself) have noticed for ages, to wit: the essential irrationality, of its policies in the Near East. Vis-`a-vis Israel. As Anderson puts it quite cogently:
"Historically, however, a circumstantial irrationality—typically, some gratuitous yet fatal decision, like Hitler’s declaration of war on the us in 1941—is nearly always the product of some larger structural irrationality. So it was with Operation Iraqi Freedom. Putting it simply, the reality was—and remains—this. The Middle East is the one part of the world where the us political system, as presently constituted, cannot act according to a rational calculus of national interest, because it is inhabited by another, supervening interest. For its entire position in the Arab—and by extension Muslim—world is compromised by its massive, ostentatious support for Israel. Universally regarded in the region as a predator state that could never have enjoyed forty years of impunity without vast supplies of American arms and money, and unconditional American protection in the un, Israel is the target of popular hatred for its expropriation and persecution of the Palestinians. By logical extension, America is detested for the same reason. Al-Qaeda’s attack on it was rooted in this context. From the standpoint of American power, rationally considered, a Palestinian state that was somewhat more than a Bantustan would pose no threat whatever, and could have been created at any time in the past half century by merely holding back the flow of dollars, guns and vetoes for Israel. The reason why this has never happened is perfectly clear. It lies in the grip of the Israeli lobby, drawing strength from the powerful Jewish community in the us, on the American political and media system. Not only does this lobby distort ‘normal’ decision-making processes at all levels where the Middle East is concerned. Until recently—and even then, only incipiently—it could not even be mentioned in any mainstream arena of discussion: a taboo that, as with all such repressions, injected a further massive dose of irrationality into the formation of us policy in the region".
Aside from the above novelty (for him), how in essence does Anderson see the current international scene? First, unlike many an Anglo-American bien pensant commentator on foreign affairs recently(aka Roger Cohen of the International Herald Tribune or Philip Stephens of the Financial Times), Anderson looks squarely at the current correlations of forces in the International system, and, sees that even in the likelihood of a complete American debacle in Iraq (which at this time, as opposed to say fifteen months ago, appears less and less likely), the USA, will still hold all of the levers of power, real and potential, both in the Near East, and, in the world at large in its hands. As he accurately notes, all of the regimes in the area, with the exceptions of Persia and Syria, are in the American camp. And, show no signs of either wishing to vacate that position, or being able to do so in the near future.
Similarly, again in contradiction to the prognosises of certain Anglo-American 'gloom and doom' commentators (which I will admit include myself from time to time), Anderson does not think that the near future will see either Peking or Moskva, either in concert or individually attempt to break with the American hegemon. Both regimes have way too much to lose, by deliberately crossing any red lines that Washington chooses to draw in the sand. As for Europe, as formerly, Anderson is completely without any illusions about the EU and Europe as a whole, noting that it is nothing so much as a gigantic:"free trade area, dotted with governments representing a somewhat wider spectrum than in the US or Japan, but without much external common will or coherant inner direction".
Another field where Anderson breaks with the common herd of bien pensant Anglo-American commentators, is in his emphasis once again (as other essays over the last six years), on the predominance of continuity, rather than discontinuity of American foreign policy, during the Bush-Cheney years. Rather than concentrating on the manner, in which policy has been conducted, Anderson focuses on the ends of the policy, and, he sees (quite rightly) that far from the last seven years seeing a break, what has been very much evident, from American policy in the Near East, Europe, vis-`a-vis Russia, China and India, as well as International trade and finance, is a high degree of similarity with American policy during the Clinton years and before. Even in reference to the Iraq War, Anderson notes correctly, how much the Bush strategy of 'overthrow', had been prepared beforehand during the prior period. In short, according to Anderson, the last year of the Bush regime presents us with the following mise en scene:"On matters of substance, the Administration has registered major gains, not only propelling EU enlargement behind NATO expansion, but obtaining the admission of Turkey into Europe as a top objective of Brussels to come. In Europe, as in Japan, China, India, Russia and Brazil, American strategy has been, not rhetorically, but structurally continuous since the end of the Cold War ".
Beyond all of the evenement of International Politics, the key underlying conjuncture and structure, are for Anderson the fact that with the end of the Cold War, and the opening up of the formerly closed markets of Central and Eastern Europe as well as the PRC and India, has been the addition of two billion people to the world labour force, tripling the absolute number. Massively reinforcing the power and the wealth of the elites in all countries of the globe, especially in the advanced countries as they are the ones, who have in the last twenty-five years, have been able to take the most advantage of this systemic change. And, of course massively reinforcing income inequalities of almost all countries on the face of the planet. With much of the new lower orders, being reduced to Dickensian conditions if not worse. As world elites under the gisement of 'globalization', appear more and more approximate and united.
In short, as usual Perry Anderson presents to the reader an erste-klasse mind, which delights in logic chopping and unsentimentality. Habits of mind of someone who has been mentally educated in the (now dead) school of neo-Marxism. With that said, I encourage you all to go to the New Left Review to read his most delightful and instructive essay.