MILIBAND ON THE AFGHANISTAN SITUATION: A COMMENT
"It is vital that we start by understanding the nature of the enemy – the insurgency we face. It is easy to brand the insurgency under a single label: ‘The Taliban’. The reality is more complex. And it requires our countries to work with Pakistan as well as Afghanistan....
In Afghanistan the southern insurgency is led by members of the former Taliban government. It has the largest number of fighters and the most hierarchical and well organised leadership under Mullah Omar. It is these people against whom British and American forces have been conducting major operations in the last few weeks....
The nature of the insurgency gives it some advantages and it’s important to be clear about them. The different groups can feed off and support each other - providing suicide bombers, training or equipment. The autonomy of local commanders makes their groups resilient, even when their superiors are killed or captured. And strong bonds of local and tribal loyalty make it easier for them to rally people against outsiders.
But as well as these advantages, it’s important to recognise their disadvantages too. The insurgents’ vulnerabilities are very clear.
The insurgency is a wide but shallow coalition of convenience: an amalgam of groups with different motivations and power centres. So they are divided.
The Taliban are the largest element of the insurgency but, because they exploit predominantly Pashtun communities and sentiment, their support base is limited to the Pashtun districts of the south and east, and to the Pashtun pockets in the north and west....
That shield today comes in military form from a partnership of international and Afghan forces. Over time, the military shield is going to have to be provided increasingly by Afghan combat troops.
But the shield must also be delivered by a clear political strategy, because strategic progress relies on undermining the insurgency through local politics. Three political challenges – that address the causes, not just the symptoms of the insurgency – will shape the future of Afghanistan.
First, a political strategy for dealing with the insurgency through reintegration and reconciliation. That means in the long term an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan, which draws away conservative Pashtun nationalists - separating those who want Islamic rule locally from those committed to violent jihad globally - and gives them a sufficient role in local politics that they leave the path of confrontation with their government.
Second, a political strategy for the wider population, through reassurance about their future. NATO needs to show the Afghan people that we will not abandon them to Taliban retribution; that our forces will stay until Afghan communities can protect themselves, but no longer than we are needed. And, as we transfer responsibility to Afghans and withdraw our troops from combat, the international community will continue to help Afghanistan – one of the poorest countries of earth - with aid and training.
Both of these tasks, the first two political challenges, depend on credible, clean local government at provincial and district level that works with the grain of tribal Afghan society....
That a meaningful package of incentives and sanctions can be developed to support reconciliation and reintegration. It is only with political will that genuine progress will be made in rooting out corrupt and incompetent Ministers at all levels of government; and that district by district, province by province, the Afghan Security Forces take on responsibility for security. And it is only with political will that the Afghan Government will succeed in deepening their cooperation with the Pakistani Authorities....
That is why my argument today has been about the centrality of politics. People like quoting Clausewitz that warfare is the continuation of politics by other means. But in Afghanistan, we need politics to become the continuation of warfare by other means.
We will not force the Taliban to surrender just through the force of arms and overwhelming might. Nor will we convert them to our point of view through force of argument and ideological conviction. But by challenging the insurgency, by dividing the different groups, by convincing the Afghans that we will not desert them to Taliban retribution, and by building legitimate governance especially at the local level with the grain of Afghan society, the Afghan government, with our support, can prevail".
British Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary of State, David Miliband, 27 July 2009, in www.fco.gov.uk
"The aim of war should be the what its very concept implies - to defeat the enemy".
Karl von Clausewitz, On War 1832.
British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband's speech at NATO headquarters in Brussels, on Monday has garnered a lot of attention. Rightly so (see: "UK urges fresh effort to split Taliban," 28 July 2009, in www.ft.com
). The issues that he raises have been discussed previously and indeed in this online journal and elsewhere. What he proposes to do is on the surface part and parcel of classical counterinsurgency strategy as first formulated by Field-Marshal Sir Gerald Templer in Malaysia in the 1950's. Aka: endeavor to peel off, as much of the opposition as possible, and, concentrate militarily on the rest. However this type of strategy works best when the 'core' opposition is a small or smaller national or religious grouping. `A la the Chinese in Malaysia or the Sunni in Iraq. The situation in Afghanistan is quite different: the insurgency centers on the Pashtuns who are the largest (40%) national grouping in the country. And, historically speaking the most important. It is all well and good as Miliband says (correctly) that:
"Afghanistan needs a political strategy to dismantle the insurgency’s power base. Afghans need effective governors and district leaders and local governance that works with the grain of tribal structures and history. An inclusive political settlement must bring in conservative Pashtuns and separate them from the hard line Taliban, who must be pursued relentlessly".
David Miliband, "How to help the Afghans defeat the insurgency," 26 July 2009, in www.ft.com
The key issue is that unless and until there is a change on the battlefield itself, in which NATO forces have clearly turned the tide, there is little prospect for the success of Miliband's political strategy. Indeed, it could very well be the case that the Taliban, their supporters and neutral Afghans themselves, will see this tactic as simply a means of arranging for a 'political solution', in which to allow for an early exit for NATO forces. Consequently, the end-result will be negative rather than positive in terms of endeavoring to push on for a military victory. Unfortunately, right now, the key is to contribute more men and material and grind down, in attrition warfare the Taliban. More unfortunately still, the example of Malaysia shows that this policy will take upwards of five or more years to succeed. Nothing else at this point however will work. To pretend otherwise is merely a pretence and a preparation for a policy of 'scuttle'. But, as Clausewitz once said: "Like everything else in life, a military operation takes time".
AMERICAN ELITES AND RUSSIAN POLICY: A COMMENT
“Russia has to make some very difficult, calculated decisions. They have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they’re in a situation where the world is changing before them and they’re clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable.”
American Vice-President, Joseph Biden, 24 July 2009, in www.wsj.com
“The question is, who is shaping the US foreign policy, the president or the respectable members of his team? If some members of Obama’s team and government do not like this atmosphere, why don’t they say so? If they disagree with the course of their president, we just need to know this.”
Sergei Prikhodko ['Kremlin chief foreign policy adviser'], 27 July 2009 in www.ft.com
Notwithstanding the American Secretary of State's subsequent endeavor to smooth over Mr. Biden's comments (see: "Clinton moves to calm Russian spat," 27 July 2009, www.ft.com
) , one should not be unduly complacent or naive about what the remarks in question truly mean. Au fond, the American Vice-President, a long-standing member of the foreign policy elite, is for the most part representative of many in his comments about Moskva. As readers of this journal may recall, I have heard in camera, as it were, such 'great and good' eminences as current special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, express much the same opinion and point of view as Mr. Biden. Indeed, as a commentator in the Wall Street Journal noted a few days later:
"For example, why lock in lower numbers of U.S. nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles such as bombers and missiles in a new arms deal if Russia can’t afford to maintain its stockpile of either? Why indulge Russia’s illusions about its “privileged interest” in Eastern Europe, by signalling a desire to abandon missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic, when as the Vice President notes Moscow’s current regime lives “in the past” and dreams of reclaiming the Imperium? And what, precisely, does the U.S. expect to get in return for these concessions to a “withering” partner? Mr. Biden may not like the comparison. But in his willingness to speak the truth about Russia, Mr. Biden reminds us of Dick Cheney".
"Biden's Good Gaffe: Joe Biden sounds like Cheney on Russia," 27 July 2009, in www.wsj.com
Indeed, why should the Americans (or the Europeans for that matter) 'indulge Russia's illusions' about its Great Power position and its 'imperium' in its Near Abroad, and, elsewhere? Well there are many reasons, but, I will confine myself to two: a) notwithstanding its weaknesses, Russia is still a grossmacht in say Central Asia and in Kavkas, in a way that say neither the Americans nor the Europeans are; neither of the latter two parties have either the will or the means of projecting large number of troops and materials to either location, and, Matushka Russia does. Pur et simple; b) precisely because to some extent, what Mr. Biden said was true. Meaning that by virtue of Russia's current and (perhaps) long-term weaknesses, the dangers of indulging its illusions or whims, while perhaps annoying and irritating (and I will agree that in many ways, Grazhdanin Putin can be a very very irritating and obtuse man), are strategically speaking a lesser, rather than a greater evil. It is always easier to offer up concessions to a weaker party, because in the long-run, such concessions will mean very little due to said weaker party's endemic poorer position. Hence, Furst Bismarck's 'indulgence', of say Vienna in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War. Or Britain's indulgence of say France apres 1904. What is not easier to do, and, indeed, positively dangerous to endeavor to attempt is to indulge a rising or a greater power than oneself. By virtue of the fact that in the latter case, anything given up, will very very rarely ever be retrieved. Indeed, once such patterns are set, it is inevitable that the weaker party, or the 'declining' party, will ever be able to recoup its earlier position. Anglo-American relations from say 1895 to 1956 readily come to mind as one example. Another one perhaps is Sino-American relations in the last few years, as well as perhaps many more to come?
The upshot of the above, is that Mr. Biden's comments are widely shared by his fellows in the American foreign policy elite. And, that it will be difficult to prevent such views from poisoning Russo-American relations going forward. 'Re-set button' or no. Which is to my mind at any rate, a great pity, since such views are as I have demonstrated, wrong and shall have the end-result of weakening, rather than strengthening American and indeed Western power and influence in the future. For make no mistake about it: it is the PRC, the 'yellow peril' if you will, which represents (if anyone can be said to represent these days), the 'rising sun', the 'New Rome'. Moskva, whatever its many faults diplomatically speaking, in terms of being high-handed and at times lacking in proper diplomatic table manners, is not a rising power, and, thus to indulge or indeed to 'appease' it, is something which can be readily done, without any long-term damage to American or Western interests. Unfortunately, the current American regime, like its predecessors, appears to be following the opposite logic. As an Evelyn Waugh character says in his great war roman, 'The End of the Battle': "it is a mad world my masters".
SECRETARY GATES IN TEL AVIV: A COMMENT
"As you know, our president came to office with a very clear preference for talking with people and not prejudging what might come from those talks. Winston Churchill famously said it’s always better to jaw-jaw, meaning talk-talk, war-war. And of course, that is our view. And the president and I made it clear that we would be willing to have direct talks with Iran, and we had hoped that we would get a response that was positive, that would help to create the circumstances for that kind of dialogue....
So we have said that the door is open to what we would like to see as a one-on-one engagement with Iran. But they are so preoccupied right now, and at the same time, the nuclear clock is ticking. We know that they are continuing to pursue their nuclear program, so we’re discussing with our counterparts around the world if there is no meaningful and sincere engagement not only with us, but with other countries – there’s a mechanism called the P-5+1, which the Security Council basically – the United States, obviously – where we’ve been talking with the Iranians about their nuclear program for a couple of years.
So it’s not just us and Iran; it’s the world and Iran. And as you know, the people in Iran’s neighborhood are the most concerned and are the ones who come to see me and convey their deep apprehension about what might happen. So we will still hold the door open, but we also have made it clear that we’ll take actions, as I’ve said time and time again, crippling actions, working to upgrade the defense of our partners in the region. We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment, that if the United States extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it’s unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer, because they won’t be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon.
So I think there is still a lot of opportunity here, but we are not going to keep the window open forever".
American Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, 22 July 2009, in www.state.gov
"We clearly believe that no option should be removed from the table. This is our policy. We mean it. We recommend to others to take the same position but we cannot dictate it to anyone."
Israel Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, 26 July 2009, in www.haaretz.com
The American Secretary of State, Mr. Gates is in Israel, meeting with his opposite numbers, and, it seems notwithstanding the tensions between the Netanyahu Cabinet and the American Administration, the American Defense Secretary is being as supportive of his hosts concerns about Persia's nuclear ambitions as possible. According to the excellent Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Secretary Gates stating that
"If the engagement process is not successful, the United States is prepared to press for significant additional sanctions...We would try to get international support for a much tougher position....Our hope remains that Iran would respond to the president's outstretched hand in a positive and constructive way, but we'll see."
"Gates vows Tougher Sanctions if nuclear talks fail," 26 July 2009, in www.haaretz.com
Adding that the United States would:
"continue to ensure that Israel has the most advanced weapons for its national defense".
Why the sudden concern, given the fact that the Americans have heretofore been reluctant to listen to the Netanyahu government's concern about the possibility of Persia acquiring nuclear weapons and or the capability to make them? Especially in conjunction with the ongoing difficulties between the two government over the settlement issue? If one would hazard a surmise, it is that: a) the outcome of the recent Persian Presidential elections and the aftermath of the same, seem to demonstrate that Teheran is not very likely to be willing to negotiate a plausible settlement of its nuclear ambitions with Washington and its allies; b) that the ballon d'essai, offered up, by Secretary Gates colleague, Secretary of State Clinton, in Thailand last week, to the effect that the Americans would 'extend a defence umbrella', over its allies in the Near East if necessary, was in effect 'punctured'by Tel Aviv. The Israelis, stating clearly and unequivocally that such a 'solution', was almost as worse as the problem that it was intended to fix. With Dan Meridor, the Israeli Intelligence Service Minister, stating that:
"This is a mistake....We cannot act now by assuming that Iran [Persia] will be able to arm itself with a nuclear weapon, but to prevent such a possibility".
"US pledges to defend Gulf against Iran," 23 July 2009, in www.ft.com
The fact that Secretary Clinton backtracked on her idea, does not obviate the fact that it was an attempt to put forward a non-military, plan 'b' option to deal with the possibility that Persia will in fact have, or be capable of producing nuclear weapons in the next two to four years time. The strong Israeli response had the end-result of Gates making his reassuring statements to his Israeli hosts. Unfortunately, as everyone now recognizes the diplomatic clock is ticking and if nothing of substance occurs by the end of October, then it would appear that Minister Barak's dictum that: 'no options be removed from the table', might have an even more threatening meaning to it, then it does even now. Given the way that things seem to look in Persia at the moment, it is difficult to surmise a way in which either diplomacy or even the threat of more sanctions will result in Teheran climbing down and seeing reason.
ANGLO-AMERICAN RELATIONS AND THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN: A COMMENT.
"Britain is committed to fighting in Afghanistan. While no generals ever possess all the resources they want, it is hard to dispute the army's claim that lack of means on the ground, especially helicopters and aircrew, grievously handicaps its ability to do its part in Nato operations. If the armed forces today commanded the same GDP share as when Labour took office in 1997, they would have another £4bn ($6.5bn, €4.7bn) to spend....
Perhaps the best way of expressing British under-resourcing is to compare the 20 per cent of overall US defence spending committed to active operations with our own 12.5 per cent. This is an approximation, but it is indisputable that the British in Helmand rely heavily on the Americans for helicopter lift, air support and now also troop reinforcements....
In war-fighting and peace-keeping, what matters is how many boots can be deployed on the ground. Iraq and Afghanistan suggest that even the 632,000-man US army is too small to achieve its present and plausible future aims. British strength of 98,000 is certainly inadequate, if our principal strategic purpose remains that of convincing the US of the UK's status as a credible fighting partner. An increase to 115,000 is deemed operationally desirable and politically - under a Tory government at least - narrowly credible".
Sir Max Hastings, "What Britain must give up for the soldiers needs", 15 July 2009, in www.ft.com
"I have said before, we can have effect where we have boots on the ground. I don't mind whether the feet in those boots are British, American or Afghan, but we need more to have the persistent effect to give the people (of Helmand) confidence in us. That is the top line and the bottom line....
We have got a plan to increase the amount of campaign equipment we have got. It has probably not moved as fast as I would have liked it to have moved, but we are increasing the numbers. I would like to get more energy behind it if we possibly can. We are trying to broaden and deepen our effect here, which is about people and about equipment, and of course to an extent it is about helicopters as well. We are reworking a number of Chinook helicopters - eight - which will come on line soon, and a number of Merlins that were previously in Iraq and they will come in soon too. Air mobility is a key enabler and I know the commanders need a lot of that."
Murray Wardrop & Aislinn Simpson, "British Army's Gen Sir Richard Dannatt wants 'more boots on the ground' in Afghanistan," 15 July 2009, in www.telegraph.co.uk
"Defence cooperation was at the heart of the special relationship from the outset, and remains central to it. ‘Britain has influence on American policy to the extent that it still has some power and influence itself in various parts of the world … the price of consultation is presence and participation,’ as one recent British ambassador to Washington has put it. Since the end of the Cold War, the UK has provided the largest and most effective non-American contingent in three US-led extra-European conflicts: the first Gulf war in 1991; the intervention in Afghanistan since 2001; and the second Gulf war of 2003 and the subsequent occupation of Iraq. ‘From the outset,’ the Secretary of State for Defence stated of Britain’s response to 9/11, ‘we demonstrated by our actions our wish to work closely with our most important ally, the US. Our ability to operate alongside the US … will be key to future success.’ The 2003 defence white paper spelled out the central importance of defence capability to the special relationship, and the clear trade-off between defence contribution and expectations of influence:
'The significant military contribution the UK is able to make to [US-led coalition operations] means that we secure an effective place in the political and military decision-making processes. To exploit this effectively, our Armed Forces will need to be interoperable with US command and control structures, match the US operational tempo and provide those capabilities that deliver the greatest impact when operating alongside the US. The 2008 defence white paper reaffirmed that ‘the importance of our relationship with the United States will not diminish’.
The US–UK special relationship is a security relationship. Its maintenance requires the British government to invest enough in military personnel, equipment and operations, and in intelligence resources, to justify continued access to US policy-making. Britain’s claim to privileged partnership over other European states in the postwar world was based upon the claim that Britain had global interests—and global military reach—beyond Germany, France or Italy. The contemporary rationale for the relationship, and for the additional investment needed to maintain the relationship, remains the same. The benefits from this investment must be measured in additional British influence over the direction and detail of US foreign policy and in the contribution this added influence makes to Britain’s claim to ‘punch above its weight’ in world affairs".
William Wallace & Christopher Phillips, "Reassessing the Special Relationship," International Affairs, March 2009.
The storm of criticism that the Brown government has endured in recent weeks, over its lack of full provisioning of British troops in Afghanistan in recent weeks, much of it orchestrated by the head of the Army, Sir Richard Dannatt, highlights a fact which Lord Wallace and Christopher Phillips article in the Royal Institute of International Affairs bi-monthly periodical, makes plain: that the day in which the UK is no longer 'punching above its weight', is the day that the Americans will no longer have any patience for their British 'cousins', advice. The travails of the British Army in Helmand province, following from the widely believed American perception that the UK 'failed' in its duties in the Southern Iraqi province of Basra, are not the sort of thing which signals a strong and capable ally. The fact that the Brown government has to some extent backed down and agreed to a bigger increase in the number of forces in the province (9,000), cannot obscure the fact that if the British are to indeed continued to be viewed as the America's key ally, then men, material, and indeed Pound Sterling will be needed as well. Mere rhetoric of a nostalgic, Churchillian variety is under the current circumstances quite meaningless. Whether or not, either the Brown government or indeed the future Cameron government will have the stomach to make the difficult choices called for, in order that the UK continue to be 'at the top table', is something that no one can know at present. But, then again we still do not know the answer to the question once posed by the late, great Raymond Aron 'how was it that the British went from being Romans to Italians in one generation'?
RUSSIA AND PERSIA OR RUSSIA IN PERSIA? A LOOK FROM STRATFOR.COM
I have been reading the American online journal, Stratfor.com
, for upwards of seven years now, and I have tended to find their articles (especially by Dr. Friedman) to be sometimes interesting and insightful. And, sometimes jejune and or sub-par. The latter suffering from ideological fixations & idee fixes on certain themes (Russia is a paper tiger, Russia is not a paper tiger and wishes to 'regain' its primacy in its old sphere of influence, the war in Iraq will be another modern day Blitz victory, et cetera, et cetera). Stratfor's strongpoints, are those of being able to bring forth obscure and or unusual information and data (the harvest one assumes of Dr. Friedman's proximity to certain elements in the American defence establishment), and, look at them from a different perspective. Dr. Friedman's article yesterday on Russia and Persia is something of this type. After reading it, one may ask oneself: is it true? Or does it make any sense? For my own part, I am extremely skeptical of the pro-offered thesis, and, think that there is much too great a reliance on variables which are not in fact related, such as the fact that some of the 'opposition' (aka Rafsanjani, et. al.) are apparently, or appear to wish to be seen to be anti-Russian. Which rather than being evidence that the Ahmadinejad and his clique are somehow or other in league with Moskva, may merely mean that the opposition may be endeavoring to cast aspertions on the nationalist bon fides of their opponents, just as the latter have on various occasions in the last ten to twelve years, indeed in the entire history of the Persian republic, accused their opponents of being in league with the Anglo-Americans and or the 'Zionists'. Et cetera. Which illustrates once again, the logical problems involved in adhering to a 'post hoc ergo propter hoc' thesis. However, with all that being said, I do find Dr. Friedman's thesis to be of great interest, and, I hereby offer it up for one and all to peruse and read.
Russia, Ahmadinejad and Iran Reconsidered, by George Friedman July 20, 2009
"At Friday prayers July 17 at Tehran University, the influential cleric and former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani gave his first sermon since Iran’s disputed presidential election and the subsequent demonstrations. The crowd listening to Rafsanjani inside the mosque was filled with Ahmadinejad supporters who chanted, among other things, “Death to America” and “Death to China.” Outside the university common grounds, anti-Ahmadinejad elements — many of whom were blocked by Basij militiamen and police from entering the mosque — persistently chanted “Death to Russia.”
Death to America is an old staple in Iran. Death to China had to do with the demonstrations in Xinjiang and the death of Uighurs at the hands of the Chinese. Death to Russia, however, stood out. Clearly, its use was planned before the protesters took to the streets. The meaning of this must be uncovered. To begin to do that, we must consider the political configuration in Iran at the moment.
There are two factions claiming to speak for the people. Rafsanjani represents the first faction. During his sermon, he spoke for the tradition of the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who took power during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Rafjsanjani argued that Khomeini wanted an Islamic republic faithful to the will of the people, albeit within the confines of Islamic law. Rafsanjani argued that he was the true heir to the Islamic revolution. He added that Khomeini’s successor — the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — had violated the principles of the revolution when he accepted that Rafsanjani’s archenemy, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had won Iran’s recent presidential election. (There is enormous irony in foreigners describing Rafsanjani as a moderate reformer who supports greater liberalization. Though he has long cultivated this image in the West, in 30 years of public political life it is hard to see a time when has supported Western-style liberal democracy.)
The other faction is led by Ahmadinejad, who takes the position that Rafsanjani in particular — along with the generation of leaders who ascended to power during the first phase of the Islamic republic — has betrayed the Iranian people. Rather than serving the people, Ahmadinejad claims they have used their positions to become so wealthy that they dominate the Iranian economy and have made the reforms needed to revitalize the Iranian economy impossible. According to Ahmadinejad’s charges, these elements now blame Ahmadinejad for Iran’s economic failings when the root of these failings is their own corruption. Ahmadinejad claims that the recent presidential election represents a national rejection of the status quo. He adds that claims of fraud represent attempts by Rafsanjani — who he portrays as defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi’s sponsor — and his ilk to protect their positions from Ahmadinejad....
This debate is, of course, more complex than this. Khamenei, a key associate of Khomeini, appears to support Ahmadinejad’s position. And Ahmadinejad hardly speaks for all of the poor as he would like to claim. The lines of political disputes are never drawn as neatly as we would like. Ultimately, Rafsanjani’s opposition to the recent election did not have as much to do with concerns (valid or not) over voter fraud. It had everything to do with the fact that the outcome threatened his personal position. Which brings us back to the question of why Rafsanjani’s followers were chanting “Death to Russia?”
For months prior to the election, Ahmadinejad’s allies warned that the United States was planning a “color” revolution. Color revolutions, like the one in Ukraine, occurred widely in the former Soviet Union after its collapse, and these revolutions followed certain steps. An opposition political party was organized to mount an electoral challenge the establishment. Then, an election occurred that was either fraudulent or claimed by the opposition as having been fraudulent. Next, widespread peaceful protests against the regime (all using a national color as the symbol of the revolution) took place, followed by the collapse of the government through a variety of paths. Ultimately, the opposition — which was invariably pro-Western and particularly pro-American — took power.
Moscow openly claimed that Western intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA, organized and funded the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution in Ukraine. These agencies allegedly used nongovernmental organizations (human rights groups, pro-democracy groups, etc.) to delegitimize the existing regime, repudiate the outcome of election regardless of its validity and impose what the Russians regarded as a pro-American puppet regime. The Russians saw Ukraine’s Orange Revolution as the breakpoint in their relationship with the West, with the creation of a pro-American, pro-NATO regime in Ukraine representing a direct attack on Russian national security. The Americans argued that to the contrary, they had done nothing but facilitate a democratic movement that opposed the existing regime for its own reasons, demanding that rigged elections be repudiated.
In warning that the United States was planning a color revolution in Iran, Ahmadinejad took the Russian position. Namely, he was arguing that behind the cover of national self-determination, human rights and commitment to democratic institutions, the United States was funding an Iranian opposition movement on the order of those active in the former Soviet Union. Regardless of whether the opposition actually had more votes, this opposition movement would immediately regard an Ahmadinejad win as the result of fraud. Large demonstrations would ensue, and if left unopposed, the Islamic republic would come under threat.
In doing this, Ahmadinejad’s faction positioned itself against the actuality that such a rising would occur. If it did, Ahmadinejad could claim that the demonstrators were — wittingly or not — operating on behalf of the United States, thus delegitimizing the demonstrators. In so doing, he could discredit supporters of the demonstrators as not tough enough on the United States, a useful charge against Rafsanjani, whom the West long has held up as an Iranian moderate.
Interestingly, while demonstrations were at their height, Ahmadinejad chose to attend — albeit a day late — a multinational Shanghai Cooperation Organization conference in Moscow on the Tuesday after the election. It was very odd that he would leave Iran at the time of the greatest unrest; we assumed that he had decided to demonstrate to Iranians that he didn’t take the demonstrations seriously.
The charge that seems to be emerging on the Rafsanjani side is that Ahmadinejad’s fears of a color revolution were not simply political, but were encouraged by the Russians. It was the Russians who had been talking to Ahmadinejad and his lieutenants on a host of issues, who warned him about the possibility of a color revolution. More important, the Russians helped prepare Ahmadinejad for the unrest that would come — and given the Russian experience, how to manage it. Though we speculate here, if this theory is correct, it could explain some of the efficiency with which Ahmadinejad shut down cell phone and other communications during the postelection unrest, as he may have had Russian advisers.
Rafsanjani’s followers were not shouting “Death to Russia” without a reason, at least in their own minds. They are certainly charging that Ahmadinejad took advice from the Russians, and went to Russia in the midst of political unrest for consultations. Rafsanjani’s charge may or may not be true. Either way, there is no question that Ahmadinejad did claim that the United States was planning a color revolution in Iran. If he believed that charge, it would have been irrational not to reach out to the Russians. But whether or not the CIA was involved, the Russians might well have provided Ahmadinejad with intelligence of such a plot and helped shape his response, and thereby may have created a closer relationship with him.
How Iran’s internal struggle will work itself out remains unclear. But one dimension is shaping up: Ahmadinejad is trying to position Rafsanjani as leading a pro-American faction intent on a color revolution, while Rafsanjani is trying to position Ahmadinejad as part of a pro-Russian faction. In this argument, the claim that Ahmadinejad had some degree of advice or collaboration with the Russians is credible, just as the claim that Rafsanjani maintained some channels with the Americans is credible. And this makes an internal dispute geopolitically significant.
At the moment, Ahmadinejad appears to have the upper hand. Khamenei has certified his re-election. The crowds have dissipated; nothing even close to the numbers of the first few days have since materialized. For Ahmadinejad to lose, Rafsanjani would have to mobilize much of the clergy — many of whom are seemingly content to let Rafsanjani be the brunt of Ahmadinejad’s attacks — in return for leaving their own interests and fortunes intact. There are things that could bring Ahmadinejad down and put Rafsanjani in control, but all of them would require Khamenei to endorse social and political instability, which he will not do.
If the Russians have in fact have intervened in Iran to the extent of providing intelligence to Ahmadinejad and advice to him during his visit on how to handle the postelection unrest (as the chants suggest), then Russian influence in Iran is not surging — it has surged. In some measure, Ahmadinejad would owe his position to Russian warnings and advice. There is little gratitude in the world of international affairs, but Ahmadinejad has enemies, and the Russians would have proven their utility in helping contain those enemies.
From the Russian point of view, Ahmadinejad would be a superb asset — even if not truly under their control. His very existence focuses American attention on Iran, not on Russia. It follows, then, that Russia would have made a strategic decision to involve itself in the postelection unrest, and that for the purposes of its own negotiations with Washington, Moscow will follow through to protect the Iranian state to the extent possible. The Russians have already denied U.S. requests for assistance on Iran. But if Moscow has intervened in Iran to help safeguard Ahmadinejad’s position, then the potential increases for Russia to provide Iran with the S-300 strategic air defense systems that it has been dangling in front of Tehran for more than a decade.
If the United States perceives an entente between Moscow and Tehran emerging, then the entire dynamic of the region shifts and the United States must change its game. The threat to Washington’s interests becomes more intense as the potential of a Russian S-300 sale to Iran increases, and the need to disrupt the Russian-Iranian entente would become all the more important. U.S. influence in Iran already has declined substantially, and Ahmadinejad is more distrustful and hostile than ever of the United States after having to deal with the postelection unrest. If a Russian-Iranian entente emerges out of all this — which at the moment is merely a possibility, not an imminent reality — then the United States would have some serious strategic problems on its hands.
For the past few years, STRATFOR has assumed that a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran was unlikely. Iran was not as advanced in its nuclear program as some claimed, and the complexities of any attack were greater than assumed. The threat of an attack was thus a U.S. bargaining chip, much as Iran’s nuclear program itself was an Iranian bargaining chip for use in achieving Tehran’s objectives in Iraq and the wider region. To this point, our net assessment has been accurate.
At this point, however, we need to stop and reconsider. If Iran and Russia begin serious cooperation, Washington’s existing dilemma with Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its ongoing standoff with the Russians would fuse to become a single, integrated problem. This is something the United States would find difficult to manage. Washington’s primary goal would become preventing this from happening.
Ahmadinejad has long argued that the United States was never about to attack Iran, and that charges by Rafsanjani and others that he has pursued a reckless foreign policy were groundless. But with the “Death to Russia” chants and signaling of increased Russian support for Iran, the United States may begin to reconsider its approach to the region.
Iran’s clerical elite does not want to go to war. They therefore can only view with alarm the recent ostentatious transiting of the Suez Canal into the Red Sea by Israeli submarines and corvettes. This transiting did not happen without U.S. approval. Moreover, in spite of U.S. opposition to expanded Israeli settlements and Israeli refusals to comply with this opposition, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will be visiting Israel in two weeks. The Israelis have said that there must be a deadline on negotiations with Iran over the nuclear program when the next G-8 meeting takes place in September; a deadline that the G-8 has already approved. The consequences if Iran ignores the deadline were left open-ended....
All of this assumes that there is substance behind a mob chanting “Death to Russia.” There appears to be, but of course, Ahmadinejad’s enemies would want to magnify that substance to its limits and beyond. This is why we are not ready to simply abandon our previous net assessment of Iran, even though it is definitely time to rethink it".
THE MEANING OF A HISTORICAL DATE
The age of chivalry is gone. -- That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold a generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, achieved defensive nations, the nurse of the manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage while it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness. . . ."
Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790.
"I must say it's pretty dreary living in the American Age - unless you're an American of course."
John Osborne, Look Back in Anger, Act One. 1956
Yes, notwithstanding the debacles, economic and military, we still live in the 'American Age,' at least for awhile yet. Perhaps to be succeeded, in fifty years time to a 'Chinese Age', God forbid....Regardless, one may well ask, how or why
the 'European Age', has passed away and or disappeared. In the mots of the immortal Burke, 'extinguished forever'. Where I disagree with Burke, is in positing that the crucible was in the cataclysm of the Great War, rather than say 1789. The French Revolution, merely introduced into the blood stream of European politics a dangerous mixture of nationalism and egalitarianism. It did not per se, prevent Europe from dominating the nascent world order in the hundred years between the battle of Waterloo, and, August 1914. It was the inability of the Kaiserreich to achieve a 'blitz victory' in September 1914 (in the words of the German historian Fritz Fischer), that had the ultimate end-result of beginning the decline of the European world order. As it was put at the time by Kurt Reizler, the aide-de-camp of then German Imperial Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg:
"People today do not have a single idea that corresponds to the greatness of the age. But, it would be the ruin of Europe if on this occasion it would not find a possible form of permanence and community."
With the failure of the German army at the battle of the Marne, a plausible and long-lasting European world order, was most likely no longer possible. Assuming as I do that the Entente was not in a position to impose one itself, regardless of whether it had won the war in 1915 or 1916. Of course with the accursed February and October Revolutions in Russia, this rather slim possibility was no longer on the cards in any case. Instead, we had the mangled and botched Anglo-American victory of November 1918. A victory which by its very nature, more of exhaustion rather than permanence could not find a plausible equilibrium. The evenments of l'entre deux guerre, being of course histoire. And, that is the reason why we live in the 'declining' American Age. And, (some of us) celebrate this rather egregious and facile holiday. Enjoy it while it lasts.
THE RUSSO-AMERICAN SUMMIT: WHAT LIES AHEAD?
"President Barack Obama should have three central goals in mind when he meets Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin next week: first, to advance US-Russian co-operation in areas where our interests coincide; second, to emphasise the mutual benefits in handling disagreements between the two countries within internationally respected “rules of the game”; and third, to help shape a geopolitical context in which Russia becomes increasingly conscious of its own interest in eventually becoming a genuinely post-imperial partner of the Euro-Atlantic community....
Nor should one ignore the reality that there are serious – though not war-threatening – geopolitical conflicts of interest between the US and the Russian Federation. The bottom line is that Mr Putin resents and wants in some fashion to reverse the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Gaining control over Ukraine would restore in effect an imperial Russia, with the potential to ignite conflicts in Central Europe. Subduing Georgia would cut the west’s vital energy connection (the Baku-Çeyhan pipeline) to the Caspian Sea and to Central Asia. Azerbaijan then would have no choice but to submit to Moscow’s control.
Indeed, in the summit meetings, Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev will be looking for signs that the new US administration disowns the charters on partnership with Ukraine and Georgia signed by former President George W. Bush. Even an unintentional signal to that effect would be seen as a green light for more muscular Russian actions against these two countries.
Hence a frank discussion is needed to lay down some mutually accepted “rules of the game”. The US can indicate that Nato membership is not imminent for either country, but that the US and Russia have to respect Ukraine’s or Georgia’s right to make that choice. In the meantime, Russia must understand that the use of force or promotion of ethnic conflicts to destabilise Ukraine or Georgia would poison American-Russian relations.
Clarity on these matters, achieved through respectful but realistic discussions, would reduce the risks of Russia trying to restore an imperial system in the space previously occupied by the Tsarist empire and then the Soviet Union. Gradual consolidation of the existing national pluralism in that space would accelerate the fading of historically futile imperial ambitions".
Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Russia must re-focus with post-Imperial eyes," 2 July 2009, in www.ft.com
"I think it is the beginning of a new cold war...I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs....
What bothers me is how superficial and ill informed the whole Senate debate was....I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don't people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime....
It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are -- but this is just wrong."
George F. Kennan, quoted in: "Foreign Affairs; Now a word from X," by Thomas Friedman, 2 May 1998, in www.nytimes.com
The predictions of the late, great George Frost Kennan, the greatest diplomatic mind produced by the United States in the twentieth century, did not, and, has not come to pass yet, as they relate to a 'new cold war'. Thankfully, one of the few, indeed, very very few advantages presented by the new regime in Washington, DC., is a more measured and realistic point of view about Matushka Roissya. Gone it would appear are the days when it was possible to hear that the USA and its allies should law down the law, vis-`a-vis Moskva, on a range of issues, such as say Kosovo, or Russo-Georgian relations, or on Ukrainian prospects to join NATO. Et cetera. Those days are it would appear gone for now, if not forever. Their disappearence is part and parcel perhaps of the disappearence of that bygone period when the USA, was at its epitome of power and prestige, say from 1992 to 2005. As a recent Russian research group (the Valdai International Discussion Group) put it:
"Russian-U.S. relations are developing in an international environment that is crucially different from not only the Cold War times, but also from the subsequent transitional period. This new situation is distinguished, in particular, by the following factors....The most significant change is the failure of America’s attempt to use the post-Cold War “unipolar moment” for building an international system mostly favorable and beneficial for the U.S., one based on “soft” hegemony, on spreading of the U.S. model of democracy and the liberal market economy to the rest of the world. American attempts to control international processes and to respond to the new challenges and threats to international security unilaterally and relying on its own force have failed. Moreover, by the end of this decade, the U.S. international leadership itself turned out to be in crisis. The system of American alliances was weakened".
"Reconfiguration, not just reset: Russia's interests in relations with the United States of America," 1st of July 2009, in www.en.rian.ru
The upshot was the well-noted (and in the case of some in the USA, 'over-well noted'), Russian resurgence, which culminated in the Russian victory over Tbilisi in the Russo-Georgian War of last August. Subsequently, of course, Russia has (like the USA, and, the West in general) taken a 'hit' economically speaking due to the economic crisis of 2008-2009. With the concomitant weakening of both its ambitions and its diplomatic and economic reach. Albeit, from the very very high reaching level of late 2007, early 2008. Not that the Kremlin feels that it needs to climb down considerably from its desiderata, as per the upcoming meeting with the American President, as noted by Richard Weitz, while there does appear to be some nuances in the Russian position, on some topics, primarily it is the Americans who are going to have to make all of the big concessions, in order for their to be any announcements of Russo-American agreements from this Summit meeting (For these proposed concessions, see: "Foreshadowing the Medvedev-Obama Summit," 2 July 2009, in www.eurasianet.org
). Raising the query: should this be so? A quick answer is: da, da, da. By virtue of the simple fact, that the items that the Americans are giving way on: Georgian & Ukrainian membership of NATO, support for Georgia in general, anti-missile bases in the Chech Republic and Poland, are all items which have no real worth or weight in the true scale of things, diplomatically speaking. As the (semi-official) American analyst, Stephen Blank, recently put it:
"Still, the upcoming Moscow summit may present the Obama administration with an opportunity to lay the groundwork for closer US-Russian cooperation on Iran. Obama could encourage the Kremlin to take a tougher line toward Tehran by linking such a behavioral change to Moscow’s long-standing desire to block the deployment of anti-missile systems in Central Europe."
Stephen Blank, "Russia: Obama trip to Moscow offers a chance for better US-Russian co-operation on Iran," 1st of July 2009, in www.eurasianet.org
With it being quite clear to me (and I hope to everyone else), that Russian assistance and co-operation in dealing with Persia, is infinitely worth more than any of the concessions that Moskva is asking for on other issues. In short, the name of the game is: quid pro quo. Pur et simple. The days of unilateral American dominance and near-hegemony in Russo-Americans relations are over. With that being said, I look forward to a high likelihood of Russo-American concord and a series of agreements. With perhaps the most important being de facto agreements on co-operating with each other on facing down the threat from Persia.
THE CRISIS IN PERSIA, THE REGIONAL IMPACT: A LOOK
"Western analysts ( See the three articles excerpted below) argue that the troubles in Iran will cause the weakening of the Islamic Republic and lead to Syria’s loss of trust in Iran. They further argue that this will create an opportunity for the US to “flip” Syria, which means getting it to cut support for Hamas and Hizbullah and sign peace with Israel.
This argument makes little sense to me. Let me offer two reasons why I fail to be convinced. 1) How will Iran be weakened by cracking down on liberals, reformers, and factional opponents? Is this something the Iranian government has not done many times before? Did Iranians believe that Iran was a liberal republic before the elections, such that everything has now changed, as some Western analysts seem to believe? Will the Iranian government now forswear the development of nuclear power, abandon its support for Syria, or collapse into political chaos? I doubt it.
2. Will Syria decide to sacrifice claims to the Golan in order to sign a peace agreement with an Israel that refuses to trade land for peace? That is the implication of all these analysts. What will the US or Israel offer Syria that it was not offering prior to Iran’s disputed elections to make Syria abandon its foreign policy priorities of retrieving its occupied land, not abandoning Lebanon to America’s and Israel’s sphere of influence, and supporting Palestinians in their struggle to retain ownership of their land.
Many Americans and Israelis share a belief that they can solve the Arab-Israeli conflict by breaking the Arabs. The analysts recorded in the following articles seem to be swayed by this conviction. They may turn out to be correct, but it will take many more decades of struggle before we will know. In the mean time, I doubt that the events in Iran will bring a sea change in regional attitudes toward Israel or the balance in power".
Joshua Landis, "Why Turmoil in Iran [Persia] will not cause Peace between Israel and Syria," 28 June 2009, in www.syriacomment.com
Joshua Landis' comments are quite pertinent and apt. Contrary to some of the commentary, that Landis cites, I do not see how the ongoing crisis in Persia can possibly result in an increased chance that the Syrian regime can be 'flipped' diplomatically. At least not 'gratis', which as Landis' likes to argue, is the perceived fashion that many American officials seem inclined to operate vis-`a-vis the regime in Damascus. As a practical matter, and, the following analysis applies to not only Syria, but all of the existing regimes in the Levant and the Near & Middle East, the crisis in Persia and its impact on the region, will be by definition muted in scale and tone. Why one might well ask? For the simple reason that the foreign policies of almost all of the regimes in question are primarily a result of domestic political variables, and, not simply pressures by outside powers abroad. Even if that outside power is the United States. In short what the late, great 20th century German historian, Eckart Kehr, once characterized as: 'der primat der Innenpolitik'. In the case of the regime in Syria, to cite one example, the alignment with Persia is part and parcel of the internal political balances of both Assad Pere and Assad Fils. Id est., that Syria has been ruled by a small clique of elites, centered around the Alawaite sect. Which makes up no more than eight to ten percent of Syria's population. A sect which is widely viewed by the Sunni majority with hostility and suspicion. Consequently, from the point of view of the regime in Damascus, Shiite Persia, is a natural ally in every sense of the word. Both being viewed with suspicion if not open hostility by the Sunni majority regimes in the rest of the Near East. For Syria to tout `a coup, to go over to the Americans and their Sunni Allies in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and, the Gulf States, would be from the vantage point of internal regime security, a highly dangerous maneuver. One that Assad Fils, will most definitely not undertake, unless and until Damascus has been promised not merely the diplomatic equivalent of 'chicken feed', but genuine 'gold dust'. And, for Syria 'gold' is an unrestricted return of the Golan Heights by Israel, along the lines of status quo ante bellum. Something which the current Netanyahu Cabinet in Tel Aviv, has shown absolutely no sign of be willing to endorse, much less seriously consider.
Once, one goes beyond Syria, many of the same variables dealing with foreign policies in the region, come into play: the internal, domestic, political influence on foreign policy. For the very same reason, for example it is quite fruitless to expect or anticipate, that Baghdad, will ever, regardless of who is in power in Persia, pursue an anti-Persia foreign policy. Unless and until the Shiite-majority regime in Baghdad is overthrown, then no government, will ever seriously consider such a diplomatic position. One can almost state for the record that this is a fact which has been written in stone. In short, one cannot at this point, expect much in the way of any great changes in the foreign policies of the various regimes in the region, as a result of the internal upheavals in Peria at the moment. However much that is something which American neo-conservatives and their friends abroad would like to come about.