Tuesday, December 30, 2008


"Under Frederick the Great, Prussia had begun to assume a place among the major powers, although her size and population were barely a quarter as large as that of the others. Frederick's fame as a general, the wisdom and economy of his administration, and the strength and skill of his army were the tools with which he operated. Nevertheless, shrewd and skillful policies were required to maintain this artificially elevated position....But fishing in troubled waters is a dangerous business, which must be combined with great strength and firmness of purpose; for unless others fear us they will never allow themselves to be outwitted with impunity. Prussia's psychological ascendency gradually disappeared after Frederick's death, until in the end nothing was left but the prestige of an army that excelled in all military virtues".

Carl von Clausewitz, "Observations on Prussia in Her Great Catastrophe," (1823-1825).

"Bonaparte wanted to conduct and conclude the war in Russia as he had conducted and concluded all of his campaigns. To begin with decisive blows and to employ the advantages he gained from them to achieve further decisive battles, always placing his winnings on the next card until the bank was broken---that was his way, and it must be said that he owed the tremendous success that he had achieved only to this way; his degree of success was scarcely conceivable by any othe means".
Carl von Clausewitz, "The Campaign of 1812 in Russia," (1823-1825).

"The need for realism in assessing the ability to use airpower. At a tactical level, Israel placed reliance on air power that cannot be compared to the way the US has used air power in the Afghan and Iraq conflicts, but which repeated many of the miscalculations about the ability of strategic bombing to achieve decisive political and military effects that characterized at least some of the strategic air and interdiction campaign in the Gulf War in 2001. These limits to airpower are as old as, Douhet but they are lessons that military forces seem to have to constant relearn. There are other lessons more unique to the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict that may serve as a warning of the shape of things come in Afghanistan and Iraq, or in future conflicts. One was how ineffective most IAF close air support sorties were in dealing with a Hezbollah that could take advantage of tunnels, sheltered buildings, and well-prepared concealment".

Anthony Cordesman, "The Lessons of the Israel-Hezbollah War: A briefing," 12 March 2008 in www.csis.org

"C'est pire qu'un crime, c'est une faute."

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord attributed comment on Bonaparte's murder of the Duc d'Enghien in 1804.

The Israeli strike on the Hamas-ruled enclave of Gaza has entered its fourth day as I write these words. According to reuters close to 400 are known to have been killed in this military offensive(see: "Israel presses on with Gaza attacks," in www.uk.reuters.com). Many if not necessarily most of the dead probably civilians. And, while 400 killed, is an evil by any means, particularly during the current season of the year, betwixt Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany, it is not say the second coming of say the siege of Petersburg [Leningrad] or the firebombing of Toyko during the Second World War. And, of course in all honesty I myself personally have no love lost for the leadership of Hamas: they are unfortunately like most Islamicist political groupings in the Near and Middle East, made up for the most part of ignorant and stupid fanatics. Collectively they have all earned many a year in the salt mines of antiquity. Unfortunately, we are not in antiquity, hence we cannot collectively banish them, the way that the Romans banished the Jews from Palestine after the Second Jewish Rebellion in the 133-135 Anno Domini...

With that being understood one hopes, by my more intelligent readers. We come down not to questions of partiality for one particular nationality or the other (viz, the fact that I prefer on a personal level Jews to Arabs is irrelevent for this exercise), but merely a utilitarian question: will Israel's current tactics (I refuse to dignify them by characterizing them as a 'strategy') gain her what she wants: id est., the political destruction or silencing of Hamas as well as the shutting down of rocket attacks on Southern Israel from Gaza? Unfortunately from what I can see at this time, and, without claiming to be privy to all of the potential moves in the Israeli playbook, there does not appear to be much chance that the current Israeli operations, no matter how skillfully conducted will gain her what she claims to want. As I pointed out in my last entry, unless Israel is willing to completely level and depopulate the entirety of the Gaza Strip, there will always be places that Hamas operatives will be able to hold out and use as shields in order to launch rocket attacks onto Israel proper. Thankfully, Tel Aviv, shows no signs of any willingness to employ such tactics. Which means that we are back to the very same air-based strategy that worked so badly in the Lebanon back in 2006. As the American military specialist Anthony Cordesman has noted:

"There are other lessons more unique to the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict that may serve as a warning of the shape of things come in Afghanistan and Iraq, or in future conflicts. One was how ineffective most IAF close air support sorties were in dealing with a Hezbollah that could take advantage of tunnels, sheltered buildings, and well-prepared concealment".

I might perhaps be wrong, but as far as I am aware of, the IDF has not demonstrated any new tactics to deal with the same problem which it will no doubt encounter in the Gaza Strip in the coming days. Which again brings us back to the same dilemma that Tel Aviv faced in the Lebanon War of 2006: that while by far the greatest native military power in the Levant and probably in the region as a whole, Israel appears incapable of adapting its military power to uses which enable it to derive solid political gains from its victories (on Israel's military strength as compared to say its closest rival, Syria, see: "The Israeli-Syrian conventional military balance," in www.csis.org) . Instead steadily since the first Lebanon War (1982-1984), Tel Aviv seems afflicted with a sort of military Bonapartism, in which it assumes that mere military force and success of the same, will afford itself political successes. Unfortunately, if the same did not work for Bonaparte in Russia circa 1812 and Spain in 1809, there is scant chance that it will work in the contemporary Near East. The upshot is that I am afraid that however 'successful' the Israeli military campaign can be said to be, it will not produce the political results that its authors so dearly want. Id est., in the absence of victory it will produce defeat. A political defeat which will not only second its defeat in the Lebanon War of 2006, but, by virtue of it being a second defeat, top it. Which it will also have the result of dragging into this political mire, not only Tel Aviv, but, the current regimes in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia as well as of course the USA. Do we really want and need all this?

Sunday, December 28, 2008


GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli warplanes pounded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip for a third consecutive day on Monday and prepared for a possible invasion after killing 307 Palestinians in the air raids.

Israel, which stepped up the air strikes after dark on Sunday, said it launched the campaign on Saturday in response to almost daily rocket and mortar fire that intensified after the Islamist Hamas group ended a six-month ceasefire a week ago.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said the military action would go on until the population in southern Israel "no longer live in terror and in fear of constant rocket barrages."

"(The operation could) take many days," said military spokesman Avi Benayahu.

Israeli tanks were deployed on the edge of the Gaza Strip, poised to enter the densely populated coastal enclave of 1.5 million Palestinians. Olmert's cabinet approved a call-up of 6,500 reservists, a government official said.

Hamas remained defiant and the group's spokesman Fawzi Barhoum urged Palestinian groups to use "all available means, including martyrdom operations" -- a reference to suicide bombings in Israel.

World oil prices rose as much as $2 to nearly $40 a barrel on Monday as analysts said the conflict between Israel and Hamas had reminded traders of the geopolitical risk to crude supplies from the Middle East.

The U.N. Security Council called for a halt to the violence, but President George W. Bush's administration, in its final weeks in office, has put the onus on Hamas to renew the truce.

The Israeli offensive enraged Arabs across the Middle East, where protesters burned Israeli and U.S. flags to press for a stronger response from their leaders to the attack on Gaza. Israel, whose politicians have been under pressure to act over the rocket and mortar attacks ahead of a February 10 election, was feeling little international pressure to halt its offensive, said an Israeli official, who declined to be named.

"Israel Mounts Third Day of Gaza Raids," 28 December 2008 in www.reuters.com.

"The vision of an Israeli–Palestinian settlement to overjoyed Arab leaders and universal endorsement may not, under the circumstances, be quite so alluring. A peace plan that has grown tedious by virtue of repetition is unlikely to generate popular enthusiasm; its backing by fading Arab leaders is unlikely to give it a boost.

The new president enjoys an enormous, perhaps unprecedented reservoir of regional goodwill. Yet it is goodwill based on hope that Obama can break from past American conduct and style, not reinforce them. The surest way to diminish Obama's appeal to the region would be for him to present a plan with no real future in the company of leaders burdened by their past....

Amid all this, the question of what ought to be done on the Arab–Israeli front remains unanswered, and that may not be a bad thing. With so much that is novel, and with so much having gone so wrong for so long, basic issues should first be addressed. Among them are the reasons for recurring failures, the effectiveness of US mediation, the wisdom and realism of seeking a comprehensive, across-the-board settlement of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, or even the centrality of that conflict to US interests and the benefits that would accrue to America from its resolution. One also might ponder reasons behind America's chronic ineffectiveness in persuading lesser powers (Arafat, Hamas, Syria, or Hezbollah) to acquiesce in its demands, a pattern that suggests incapacity to identify local political forces, understand their interests, or comprehend their appeal.

Raising such questions might lead to heretical answers, or impractical ones, or none at all. But it is preferable to a headfirst rush to follow costly familiar patterns and to seek the comforting embrace of ideas that have been tried but never worked or that were never tried but can no longer work. Among the flurry of recommendations the next administration will receive, Obama could do worse than consider some simple advice. Don't rush. Take time, take a deep breath, and take stock. Who knows, fresh and more effective policies might even ensue. Now that would be change we could believe in".

Robert Malley & Hussein Agha "How Not to Make Peace in the Middle East," New York Review of Books, December 17, 2008.

Robert Malley with Hussein Agha, have had a lifetime of experience of dealing with the Arab-Israeli problem, and, in particular the negotiations over a 'final settlement', in 1998-2000, which broke down at Camp David and had the end-result of bringing on the Second Intifada and the return to power of General Sharon. Both men have authored in a series of essays since 2001, what has come to be the 'revisionist' view of the failure of Clinton, Barak and Arafat to come to an agreement both at Camp David in the summer of 2000 and prior to that. Malley and Agha stating that rather than merely being the fault of then PA President Arafat, the faults were much more those of Clinton and Barak. In particular the failure of the latter to work consistently and solidly for an agreement with Arafat (or for that matter with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad over the Golan Heights), and instead shifting from one point to the next, unintentionally sabotaging the entire process. With that background in mind, and, with the knowledge that Malley has ties both personal and political with the incoming Administration, id. est., the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name, one may assume that to some extent Malley may be said to 'speak', for at least some members of the same. Although, most likely not the incoming Secretary of State obviously.

The above being the case, what does one do with the sort of quieta non movere line that Mally and Agha advocate in the above essay in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books? A response would be that while in the best of circumstances, such a 'step back', might have a certain logic, the headlines which appear at the top of this entry clearly show that we are not in such times. With a state of affairs where over three hundred people are killed in a little over twenty-four hours, and, with more military Israeli operations to come, it does not seem to be the best time by far for a 'hands off,' American policy. Indeed, if the incoming Administration were even to give a semblance of having such a policy, the upshot would be that any prestige that the incoming Administration has (or is alleged to have) will shrivel immediately in the Near East and indeed in much of the rest of the world. The fact of the matter is that a deliberate American 'non-policy' and or 'hands off' policy would just confirm the reigning belief throughout the Near and Middle East, that the USA is a mere cats paw of government in Tel Aviv and the alleged 'Zionist Lobby'. Indeed, as of this moment, if one were to read the State Department's own comments on the crisis, it would seem that we are back to the policy of sotto voce support for Israeli military aggression `a la the Lebanon in 2006, viz:

"The United States is deeply concerned about the escalating violence in Gaza. We strongly condemn the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and hold Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire and for the renewal of violence there. The ceasefire must be restored immediately and fully respected. The United States calls on all concerned to protect innocent lives and to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza. "Statement by Secretary of State Condolezza Rice on the Situation in Gaza," Released on December 27, 2008, www.state.gov

For the incoming Administration to repeat this line, would be, let us not mince words here, deadly. Given Malley's own prior experience and his knowledge of the ongoing situation as well as his own contacts with Hamas in particular, one can only conclude that he fears that under the new American Administration, we shall see much more continuity than discontinuity. With the Clinton years, if not indeed with the Bush regime itself. Now that would indeed be something to worry about. As for the Israeli strikes into the Gaza Strip, while they do have some merit in a tit for tat sense, unless one is mistaken there appears to be next to no possibility of these air strikes being able to stop Hamas from raining rockets into Southern Israel. There are only a few ways of accomplishing that particular goal: a) flattening the entire Gaza Strip, and; b) re-occupying it militarily, and; c) and de-populating it; and, there are absolutely no signs that Tel Aviv has either the wish or the will to do any of these. Hence, after four to six weeks of Israeli air strikes, with perhaps thousands killed, and, with much of the territory destroyed, there will still be rockets fired into Southern Israel. Election antics aside (the Israeli elections being scheduled for the second week of February), and the need to keep the odious Netanyahu's Likud Bloc out of office, there appears to be absolutely no rhyme or reason behind the Israeli policy. It will be as successful as the late unlamented 2006 war in the Lebanon. With the end result that Israel will be seen as more not less weaker and Hamas and its regional allies, such as Hezbollah, Syria and Persia strengthened. This outcome is as plain as a pikestaff: cannot Tel Aviv see that?

Monday, December 22, 2008


"'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less'"

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland..

"Thus the new Administration confronted a world of turbulence and complexity, which would require of us qualities that had no precedent in American experience. Simultaneously we had to end a war, manage a global rivalry with the Soviet Union in the shadow of nuclear weapons, reinvigorate our alliance with the industrial democracies, and integrate the new nations into a new world equilibrium that would last only if it was compatible with the aspirations of all nations. We had to turn to new task of construction even while we had learned the limits of our capacities".

Henry Alfred Kissinger, White House Years, 1979.

I have enclosed the entirety, or close to it, of Dr. Rice's valedictorian interview with the Financial Times. It is part and parcel of a series of interviews and other such public events in which our parting Secretary of State, endeavors to make us believe that her parting is something that we need to feel sorry for. And, sotto voce, the President and his Administration that she has served in (see a special interview in the Sunday New York Times Magazine one month back). Is there any degree of validity to the line that she has been promoting of late, that the Bush regime has given to its successors a 'stable' and productive 'diplomatic structures', in which to manage the world from Washington. Including of course, what she characterized in the Near East as "real gains", for 'Democracy' and the peace process(see "Welcome to My World Barak", 13 November 2008 in www.nytimes.com). This at a time, when (as I write these words) the Israelis are (for reasons which are to some extent justifiable if not very logical) conducting horrific bombing raids on the Gaza Strip. With almost three hundred people killed in one day (see: www.afp.com). Not one would think the best example of an improving situation that one would wish to hand off to a successor Administration. Especially considering all of the time and attention that Dr. Rice has chosen to spend on the Israeli-Palestinian problem, and, the Near East in general. However this is of a peace with an individual who as National Security Advisor was totally unfitted for her role, and, who consequently, merits being listed as one of the worst national security advisers in history. Of course as Secretary of State, her conduct in office while not as egregiously bad, as in her prior post, does - did show her to be a complete lightweight. More interested in 'shuttle than substance' (in the words of Richard Betts). The end result is that the new incoming administration, in many areas of the world, with the partial exception of East Asia and Iraq, faces one that is much more challenging than any faced since 1980, if not 1969. Whether the Clintonian epigones who will occupy the commanding heights of the foreign policy apparatus (Defence Secretary Gates excluded) will prove any better, has yet to be seen. But, as the late John Kenneth Galbreath once put it, while he was ambassador in New Delhi, in the early 18\960's: 'nothing succeeds like successors'.

[This is an edited transcript of a Financial Times interview with Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State, on December 19 2008]

"FT: What do you make of people who say that in your second term you really made a valiant effort to rebuild the international ties which frayed in the first?

Rice: In the first term we had to do some difficult things, not all of which were well received in all quarters. I might note I think the relationships with our Asian friends and partners - China, Japan, South Korea, the deepening relationship with India - were never subject to those sorts of stress. But I don’t think it’s any secret that there were strains with some of our Nato allies; not all, but some.

And the proximate reason for that was Iraq and disagreements about Iraq, but by the time I became secretary people had moved on to be concerned about stabilising Iraq because, whether you agreed with the war or not, everyone understood that a stable Iraq was going to be essential to everyone’s interest.

Similarly, I think that we were in a post-war phase in a number of circumstances and trying to then reassure that we were going to turn to diplomacy to stabilise various situations around the world.…

The one area in which I really did, with the President’s very strong support, take a conscious decision to change course was on Iran, where I went to Europe in February of 2005 and it was my first trip as Secretary and I was stunned at the degree to which there was a split with our allies, closest allies…

So that was a conscious decision to change course because I thought we were in the wrong place.

FT: Presumably you take it as a compliment that you probably can’t divulge as taking as a compliment that the first term was seen as non-diplomacy, the second as diplomacy, and you happen to be the diplomat in the second term.

Rice: I know, but I was national security adviser in the first term and I don’t think of it as a period in which we didn’t have diplomacy.

[Former Secretary of State] Colin Powell did extraordinary work on Iraq, for instance, with [United Nations Security Council Resolution ] 1441 passed unanimously, and then putting together a strong coalition on Sudan, where we got a comprehensive peace agreement.

There are a lot of examples of diplomacy. But there’s no doubt that the first term, both because of the attack on September 11 and then the war in Afghanistan, then the war in Iraq, was less a time of solidifying gains and building relationships and more a time of a different kind of engagement.

FT: When you talk about things like Iran, is it right that there seems to be strong elements of continuity with the Obama approach?

Rice: I don’t want to speak for the new administration; they will do things in their own way. But I think that we’ve left in place some diplomatic structures that are ways of managing and I think ultimately resolving these really difficult issues, whether it is the P5 plus one on Iran [the group of five permanent UN Security Council members plus Russia that work on a common approach on Tehran’s nuclear programme]… When I talk to our allies they believe that that is the structure with which this is ultimately going to be resolved.

So if you look at the six party talks [on North Korea], even though we have had a recent set of difficulties, we managed to get an agreement with the North Koreans that they will de-nuclearise, shut down the reactors so they haven’t made any plutonium since 2005…

I think the reason why there might be some elements of continuity is that what we’ve tried to do is to arrange or organize international groupings that can first manage and then resolve these very difficult problems in a multilateral way.

FT: Is there any sign however on Iran that it’s working? People talk an awful lot about process and yet Iran continues enriching and is getting closer to nuclear capacity.

Rice: That’s a fair argument on Iran. On North Korea, there have been real outcomes. I think on Iran, we’ve managed to levy great costs onto Iran for what they are doing. They’re very isolated, they can’t use the international financial system…

Investment credits have dried up. All of the major western oil companies are out, Total was the last one to go. And so we are imposing costs. I suspect those costs will be amplified by the lower price of oil. And then we will see whether the ferment that you’re hearing inside of Iran, which does question whether Iran’s president is on the right course with the international community, begins to produce a change in behaviour. I think it probably will. There’s also an election coming up…

FT: Will it in time, given how close they’ve come?

Rice: That’s the question, and that’s why it’s important to if anything tighten even further the constraints on Iran so that it has to make those choices soon….

And by the way, there are other elements to this. Iran’s allies lost in the south of Iraq, in Basra. The Iraqi security forces, the people they defeated were Iran’s allies, those special groups that Iran had trained. Iran did everything it could to stop the Sofa [status of forces agreement] with the US and they couldn’t. Iraq is emerging again as an independent Arab state which is a bulwark against Iranian influence in the region…. We’ve succeeded in large part in making life very difficult for the Iranians. When that will have an effect on their decisions about enrichment and reprocessing I cannot tell you.

FT: What do you think is the best realistic scenario of stabilizing Afghanistan and how do we get there?

Rice: While the situation in Afghanistan is not by any means ideal it is also not as dire as I sometimes read. The Taliban tend to hit and run and they tend to hit and run in the south and so it’s a matter of extending government control and increasing probably the counter insurgency capacity in that region…

People say win the hearts and minds of the people, but first you need have to help them secure the bodies and then you can work on the hearts and minds. I think we have just not been attentive enough to population security.

FT: Do you think it’s right to have two or three more brigades go in?

Rice: Yes, I think it [is], the US is to going to send in more military forces. [But] I don’t think you want to get into the idea that… it’s just more military force and more military force…. You don’t want to be overbearing… The Afghan army is clearly a national institution, clearly effective and well respected, it’s just not big enough

Afghanistan has two problems that Iraq does not and one is, it’s desperately poor… the other problem is the safe haven across the border and there the stability and activity in Pakistan [is important]

FT: Do you think you misjudged former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf?

Rice: In fact, I’ve made just the opposite argument. I think Musharraf after 2001 did a lot to try and rid Pakistan of extremism, but it’s very deeply buried in the country, it goes all the way back to [former Pakistani president] Zia al Haq.

I have been impressed with the way that the [new Pakistani] civilian government has dealt with certain circumstances, the economic circumstances. They have managed to get an IMF programme. That was not easy.

They are however really going to have to take on this issue of terrorism and extremism. They now know it will consume them if they don’t, but this is a very tough problem for this civilian government.

FT: In the light of Mumbai, how worried are you about a recrudescence of India-Pakistan tensions when this whole argument has been precisely for Pakistan to focus on its internal extremists?

Rice: Well, it is a far different and better circumstance than we had in 2001 and 2002.

FT: That’s not a great baseline.

Rice: No, no, no, but it’s important. I’ll give you a retrospective.

In 2001 on Christmas day, with my family downstairs, I was on the phone with Jack Straw [former UK foreign secretary], David Manning [former Downing Street foreign policy adviser] and Colin Powell trying to figure out which foreigner could go and visit so they didn’t go to war. It was pretty dire.

They had no relationship between them, we had not terribly deep relations with India or with Pakistan, this was just post September 11. Now we have very strong relations with India, really deep relations with India, very good relations with Pakistan…. But this really comes down to dealing with the problem. That means Pakistan really has to do everything it can to bring the perpetrators to justice and then also make sure that they know as much as they possibly can, so they don’t have a follow on attack or something.

FT: On Russia, you gave a set-piece speech earlier this year, a few months ago, where you talked about its paranoid aggressive impulse, authoritarian at home, aggressive abroad. What kind of relationship can or should the US have with such a partner?

Rice: Well, we will have a relationship where we have common interests; we have to.. We have excellent cooperation on North Korea and the six party talks…We actually have really good cooperation on Iran.

FT: But they aren’t signing any substantive Security Council sanctions any more.

Rice: But the Security Council sanctions we’ve gotten we’ve gotten because we have cooperated. They have been faithful to the two tracks [of sanctions and an offer of negotiations], they have. We’ve had really good cooperation on terrorism, really good cooperation on proliferation issues.

Where we part company is on the periphery of Russia, where they have a view that Russsia has a special place and special influence and therefore special rights concerning their neighbours. And we believe their neighbours are independent states that ought to be able to choose their own course. And that’s caused a flash, of course the most heated over Georgia...

[US-EU] unity has frustrated Russian strategic objectives on Georgia. The Georgian president and his government are still there. The Georgian economy was not destroyed; quite the contrary the Georgians got more money at the donor conference than perhaps they even need… The question is, that is on everybody’s mind, is: ‘Is Russia a good partner?’

So I believe we will continue to have a relationship with Russia based on interests.

I think what we had hoped for and tried to give an opening for was a relationship that was based not just on interests but on interests and values…

And it hasn’t turned out that way. Now I don’t think it is lost for ever. Because it is not the Soviet Union, this is not a big ideological conflict in which the Soviet Union had one narrative about how human history ought to develop and we had another…

FT: How stable is it given that the Putin narrative of providing stability and prosperity is now under such stress?

Rice: Well, I think it’s stable, I don’t worry about the stability of Russia. But I think there is a question going forward on what is Russia going to base its legitimacy. If it’s not a set of values, if it’s not the ability to deliver a better life, if it’s not modernity, both domestically and internationally, I don’t know quite where that leaves Russia. And I think that’s probably the debate that’s going on internally in Russia.

I thought that when President [Dmitry] Medvedev made his speech about the ‘I’s- investment and innovation and so forth - that that was where Russia wanted to go. Maybe it still is, maybe it still is.

FT: So you see it as a state of flux, rather than instability.

Rice: I think it is in a state of flux, I don’t think stability is quite the right word for it, but it’s definitely this great transformation or transition, this post-Soviet transformation isn’t over.

FT: Why as Secretary of State are you reluctant to say who you voted for?

Rice: It’s a tradition actually, because Treasury, State, Defence and Attorney General are in effect non partisan, non political positions and so if you’re out there during a campaign talking about who you are voting for, or even after, who you voted for, it just crosses the line, you are kind of breaking that tradition".www.ft.com

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


"We reaffirm all elements of the decisions regarding Ukraine and Georgia taken by our Heads of State and Government in Bucharest. Both countries have made progress, yet both have significant work left to do. Therefore, we have decided to provide further assistance to both countries in implementing needed reforms as they progress towards NATO membership.

Through a performance based process NATO will maximise its advice, assistance, and support for their reform efforts in the framework of the NATO-Ukraine Commission and NATO-Georgia Commission, which have a central role to play in supervising the process set in hand at the Bucharest Summit. In this context, we have decided to amend the NATO-Ukraine Charter on a Distinctive Partnership together with our Ukrainian partners to reflect this central role of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, as is already the case in the NATO-Georgia Commission. We have also decided to reinforce the NATO information and liaison offices in Kyiv and Tbilisi. Finally, without prejudice to further decisions which must be taken about MAP, we have agreed that under the NATO-Georgia Commission and NATO-Ukraine Commission, Annual National Programmes will be developed to help Georgia and Ukraine advance their reforms, which will be annually reviewed by the Allies".

Final Communique: "Meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Foreign Ministers held at the NATO headquarters, Brussels," 3 December 2008, in www.nato.int.

"As to MAP, again, we did not take up a decision about MAP. A lot has transpired since Bucharest. We did want to reaffirm the Bucharest decisions, and we have done that. But I think the really important thing here is that everyone knows that this is going to be a long process. And the practical steps that we can take within the Georgia – the NATO-Georgia Commission and the NATO-Russia Commission to help these states progress toward the goals of Bucharest, I think that’s the new element here. And we’re very pleased that that was accepted by the alliance....

It’s also the case when one talks about Georgia and Ukraine, Bucharest clearly set the terms, clearly talked about the eventual membership for Georgia and Ukraine. And a lot has transpired and not just – let’s be frank, not just in terms of the invasion of Georgia, but also a lot has transpired in those two countries. And I think we all want to concentrate on helping to solidify and consolidate their democratic governments. And to help them to do that, I do think that the engagement through the commissions will help them, and most certainly the engagement through the commissions will help them to answer a number of the questions that countries have about how to move them forward in accordance with Bucharest".

American Secretary of State, Dr. Rice, 2nd December 2008, "Remarks at NATO Headquarters", http://www.state.gov"

"You can argue as much as you want as long as you obey." Friedrich der Grosse.

Notwithstanding the attempt at putting an optimistic gloss on it, the fact of the matter is, that the US administration, has suffered a diplomatic reverse, admittedly one that was readily apparent for sometime beforehand, in NATO's decision on the 3rd of this month in refusing to approve Georgia and Ukraine for MAP membership. MAP -'military action programme' is an alliance programme, which is a stepping stone to eventual NATO membership, was as per the Americans, virtually promised and thus certain for both Kiev & Tbilisi approximately seven months ago, at NATO's meeting in Bucharest. We were told then, by official Washington, that notwithstanding the caveats coming from both Paris, Berlin, and Roma at the time, that MAP status would be given to both countries one year later. Aka, this month. As the above comments show, the Americans have had to retract their earlier promises, and, Tbilisi in particular has been forced to eat humble pie:

"Unfortunately, this is not some big news for us. We were waiting for [a] further decision about this [membership] . . . we were expecting more. It is a sort of disappointment for us....

Unfortunately, it is an unofficial [veto]. I don’t know how we should convince them. That is essential for us . . . we don’t know what will be tomorrow [since Russian troops are still on Georgian territory]."

Khatuna Mshvidobadze, Deputy Director of the Centre on NATO, Tbilisi, in "Georgia: Moving on Toward NATO, Without a Map," 3 December 2008, in www.eurasia.net.

The upshot is that while Russia is in a slightly weakened position due to the international economic crisis which has hit it exceptionally hard, it still was able to rely upon its partners inside NATO, id est., Germany, France, and Italia to block the proposed move by the USA (on Russia's sudden economic weakness, see: "Russian Economy," in www.ft.com). And, while Dr. Rice can crow all she wants about Russia having suffered diplomatically from its little war with Georgia, the fact of the matter is that the denial of MAP membership to both Ukraine and Georgia, was immensely added by the mere fact of the Kavkaz war this summer just past. Try as she might, there is nothing that the outgoing failure at Foggy Bottom, can say to the contrary.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008



Fouad Ajami, a once brilliant Arab emigre academic from the Lebanon, whose initial books on Arab political culture in the aftermath of the failure of Nasserism and the debacle of the Six Day War were marvels to read, returns to the fore once again, with an article in the Wall Street Journal, on the likely future of American foreign policy in the Near East in the new American administration. Widely seen as discredited by his advocacy of the American invasion of Iraq, Ajami, still mostly adheres to the ideas, if not to the reality of what was at one time called the 'freedom agenda'. As the above quote clearly shows, for Ajami, the possibility offered up by the American toppling of the Baathist regime in Baghdad, were what Count Galeazzo Ciano, once called: "the chance of five thousand years'. Meaning an opportunity to use the Americans to oust not only Saddam Hussein but all of the other corrupt, nepotistic, reactionary, autocratic, and despotic, Sunni Arab regimes, whether pro or contra the USA, either directly or indirectly. As Ajami aptly put it at the time:

"A successful war in Iraq would be true to this pattern. It would embolden those who wish for the Arab World deliverance from retrogression and political decay....A new war should come with the promise that the United States is on the side of reform."

Of course we know that the upshot of the American policy of overthrow in Iraq, was a debacle of catastrophic proportions, which has put paid to any ideas of the USA being able by fiat to unilaterally decide the future of the region and its people. That being said, and, with the incoming administration of the junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name, being unwilling to follow in the footsteps of the Bush regime, it is not altogether surprising that Ajami would like to use the last days of this peculiarly American interregnum, to offer up both an apologia and a warning against the dangers of backsliding to what Ajami calls somewhat accurately as the 'Scowcroftian' form of Realpolitik. Calls which supplement those made recntly by his friend the outgoing American Secretary of State, Dr. Rice. As Ajami puts it so well:

"Mr. Obama and his foreign policy advisers portend a return to realpolitik and to a resigned acceptance of the ways of foreign autocracies".

So, what can one say of the above prognosis, and, of Ajami's critique realpolitik? Well, one can say that: the reasons that the 'Freedom Agenda', failed in the Near East, over and above the sheer ignorance and incompetence of those who attempted to implement it, is the simple fact that the realities on the ground, those little olde things which those like Ajami, and the less than attractive crew of neo-conservatives who he had the misfortune to align himself with back in 2000-2004, like to ignore when inconvenient, were stacked against both the American project in Iraq, and in the Near East as a whole. A simple matter of both hubris and nemesis. And, while a Near East, without the Baathist regime in Baghdad, yes, that was quite doable. A Neat East, which would have been put on the road to Western-style, Liberal, Bourgeois Democracy `a la say Israel or Turkey, is another matter altogether. A beautiful idea in the abstract difficult if not impossible to super-impose on another society, in this post-modern world of ours. The simple fact of the matter is, that while perhaps in some distant date in the future, Liberal Bourgeois Democracy will come to the Near East, it will only arrive there, after all of the other forms of governance have been tried and failed first. Sad but true. Insofar as practitioners of realpolitik recognize this salient fact, then, one can only applaud them for their wisdom, and, hope for the best. Hence I say: three cheers for Realpolitik! With that being said, I encourage you all to read Dr. Ajami's article.

Realpolitik in Arabia: Bush's 'diplomacy of freedom' gives way to Obama's caution and reticence. The Middle East may test our fatigue. By FOUAD AJAMI

President Bush assumed office promising a "humble foreign policy." But it was his luck, or fate, to have much of his presidency consumed by adventures in the Greater Middle East. It is clear from the passion of his valedictory tour that he has caught the bug of that region, that it has worked its way on him as he himself worked his will, and the power available to him, on its settled and ruinous ways.

President-elect Barack Obama has signaled that the foreign world will not be his primary concern, that the repair of the American economy will trump all other pursuits and temptations. On the lands and the peoples of the Middle East, Mr. Obama has been largely silent, if not detached. He was in the Illinois Senate when a huge storm blew over the Islamic world. He was lucky, as his secretary of state designate endlessly reminded us, to have given a solitary speech on Iraq when the challenge came calling.

There is a detached tone to Mr. Obama's utterances on the Islamic world, a kind of knowingness. In part, it is no doubt an intended contrast to the heat and fervor of George W. Bush. If Mr. Bush believed he could remake that old and broken and wily region, Mr. Obama signals a fatigue with it, an acceptance of its order of power. If Mr. Bush believed that he could insert himself into the internal affairs of distant Islamic lands, Mr. Obama and his foreign-policy advisers portend a return to realpolitik and to a resigned acceptance of the ways of foreign autocracies. We have erred, the Obama worldview preaches, and overreached. We have overread the verdict of 9/11, and it is time to make our peace with regimes we have offended in the Bush years. It is the Scowcroftian way -- other lands, other ways.

Then, too, the Obama reticence about those burning grounds of the Islamic world is, in part, a matter of biography. The Islamic faith was the faith of his father. A candidate with the middle name of Hussein could not afford soaring rhetoric about the ability of freedom to survive on Islamic soil.

In contrast, George W. Bush had been free and confident enough to take up the cause of reform and drastic change in the Islamic world. True, he did not know much about the ways of those lands, but neither did Woodrow Wilson. His doctrine of self-determination in the aftermath of the Great War, and the dissolution of the Ottoman empire, endures as the most consequential and revolutionary American message taken to the lands of old empires.

Wilson himself, it should be recalled, had been chastened by the radical sweep and impact of his own doctrine; he had preached the gospel of self-determination, he said, "without the knowledge that nationalities existed, which are coming to us day after day." Detailed "knowledge" can be overrated in the choices that history opens up. The post-Ottoman world was never the same after that American president who had known so little about it. A circle was closed between that Wilsonian policy and the massive American push into Arab and Islamic lands by George W. Bush.

One thing is sure to go with Mr. Bush when he departs to Crawford, Texas: his "diplomacy of freedom." That diplomacy -- which propelled the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which drove the Syrians out of Lebanon after they had all but destroyed the sovereignty of that country, and had challenged pro-American allies in Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula -- is gone for good.

It was an odd spectacle, the time behind us: a conservative American president preaching the gospel of liberty for lands beyond, his liberal detractors at home giving voice to a deep skepticism about liberty's chances in inhospitable settings. No one was more revealing of the liberal temper -- and of things to come -- than Vice President-elect Joe Biden (then the point man for foreign policy among the Democrats) speaking in December 2006 about the hazards of believing in liberty's appeal to Muslim lands. Of President Bush, he said: "He has this wholesome but naive view that Westerners' notions of liberty are easily transported to that area of the world." Mr. Biden knew better: He warned the president, he said, that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's view of liberty differed from "our view of liberty . . . I think the president thinks there's a Thomas Jefferson or Madison behind every sand dune waiting to jump up. And there are none."

The course of history can shred the most detailed of briefing books. On the face of it, the new team tells us that there shall be no attachment to the gains we made in Iraq. This is not Mr. Obama's cause, or call. That country can fend for itself, it is implied. The new cause shall be a return to the struggle for Afghanistan. This is the liberal narrative: the bad, unilateral "war of choice" in Iraq, the good, multilateral "war of necessity" in Afghanistan. The doves on Iraq can thus be hawks on the Afghan-Pakistan frontier. The strategic gurus who preached that Iraq is a hopeless, artificial state put together by Gertrude Bell and Winston Churchill and T.E. Lawrence can try for victory and nation building in the unforgiving tribal lands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. If there is an artificial state in our world of nations, Afghanistan must be its closest approximation. If there is a false national boundary -- mocked by ethnicity and historical allegiance -- it is the Durand Line, drawn up by British power in the 1890s, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, through the lands of the Pashtuns. Afghanistan could yet thwart President Bush's successors, frustrate them in the way Iraq frustrated him.

Our country will be forgiving toward the new foreign-policy team, it is fair to assume. The hubris and self-confidence needed for expeditions into foreign lands have been devastated by the economic meltdown in our midst.

Of the good manners and pliability of foreign regimes, we can be less certain. Nature abhors a vacuum, and challengers are sure to step forth. To its surprise, the new administration could yet discover that our adversaries do not wish to see our withdrawal from their midst. The Iranians thrive on the American presence in the Persian Gulf and feed off it. They are the quintessential oppositional force. They are not good at generating policies of their own. Their work consists of subversive attacks on Pax Americana in the region. The call by President Bush's critics for a dialogue with Iran will be exposed for the pathetic fraud it has been all along. The American drama swirling around the rise of Mr. Obama is of no interest to the theocrats in Tehran. For them, it is business as usual in the Persian Gulf.

We have witnessed the gains and the heartbreak of American activism and ambition on foreign shores. Around the corner lurk the risks of caution and reticence, of enemies who could see through, and test, our fatigue. The world is under no obligation to accommodate us.