Wednesday, December 29, 2010


"That Alexander Lukashenko would be re-elected to a fourth term as president of Belarus on December 19 was never in doubt. Such is his popularity—and so strong is his control of the media and the political system—that he would likely have won even without the manipulations that heavily skewed the campaign against his fractious opposition....

This presents a problem for Europe. Belarus had been accepted into the Eastern Partnership on the basis of promises of political liberalization, in turn for closer political, trade, and visa cooperation, but against the advice of human rights organizations and Belarusian opposition leaders, who argued that Lukashenko’s promises could not be trusted. Brussels (and member state capitals) now face the uncomfortable choice of allowing Belarus to remain in the partnership—and thus eviscerating its democratization agenda—or booting it out, raising questions about further participation of other less-than-democratic members, such as Armenia and Azerbaijan.

This is also a problem for Russia’s leadership. In the short run, of course, Lukashenko will inevitably turn to Moscow for solace and may become more pliant on issues of trade, energy, and even possible recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But sheltering Lukashenko will not help Russia’s own relationship with Europe and the United States. Even more troubling, as Russia’s ruling tandem face their own upcoming elections, they will not be heartened by Lukashenko’s failure to maintain a stable balance between tight control and international legitimacy.

In the end, though, this is a problem for Lukashenko. A master at balancing, he remains standing and will, in all likelihood, serve out his five-year term. But he has never before faced a set of circumstances this challenging: an opposition clearly capable of mass mobilization, on the one hand, and international partners in Europe and Russia that are growing tired of paying increasing costs so he can maintain the status quo on the other. Lukashenko’s fourth term will inevitably bring change to Belarus, but with his room to maneuver rapidly running out, the president may find that he is no longer fully in control".

'“The UK Government has extremely serious concerns about the conduct of the Belarus Presidential election and the reports that the Belarusian authorities responded with excessive and apparently coordinated violence. Seven Presidential Candidates and over six hundred protesters were reported to have been arrested on the day of the election.

“I understand that the conditions in which detainees are being held are utterly unacceptable and designed to punish and intimidate. I am also extremely concerned at what appear to be forced recantations, broadcast on Belarusian state media, reminiscent of the show trials of a previous era.

“I therefore call on the Belarusian authorities to release immediately all those detained for politically motivated reasons as a matter of urgency. In particular, I call on the Belarusian authorities to make known the whereabouts of the opposition candidate Vladimir Neklyaev who was forcibly removed from intensive care in the early hours of Monday morning and whose location and wellbeing are still unknown.

“I urge the Belarusian authorities to ensure that all detainees are given access to adequate medical care and legal representation, and call on President Lukashenko and his government to engage in a dialogue with political parties, NGOs and civil society with a view to allowing them to fulfil their natural role in a democratic society."'

"Belarus is really the last dictatorship in the center of Europe, and it's time for a change in Belarus."

It would appear that tovarish Lukashenko has committed what the British call an 'own goal', in the way that he managed the Presidential election in Belarus. Originally, it was supposed to be his stepping stone to get back into the good graces of the European Union (and to a lesser extent the USA). Make no mistake: he was not supposed to 'lose' the elections, the way that say Kuchima's candidate (Yanukovych) lost the elections (if one properly tabulated all the ballots) back in 2004 in Ukraine. What was supposed to occur, was that Lukashenko's victory was meant to be seen as plausible or at worst, semi-plausible exercise, and a sort of political semi-thaw. Instead, for reasons which are not entirely clear, Lukashenko lost control of the situation and events quickly got out of the control of the authorities on the ground in Minsk. The upshot being that now Lukashenko is forced to go back to square one (AKA full blooded repression), which diplomatically speaking leaves him very much in Moskva's corner. A state of affairs which both Minsk and Moskva have not been very happy with for close to half a dozen years now. In the case of the former: Lukashenko apparently has a need to be one of those 'puppets who pull their own strings'. Id est in reality not a puppet at all. In the case of Moskva: that Lukashenko was not, strictly speaking, paying this way. His favors diplomatically speaking to Moskva were diminishing in value, while the cost of subsidizing his regime were not. Hence the near constant conflicts between the two sides in the past few years. Particularly over energy supplies and payments for the same.

Ideally of course, Belarus is as close to being a 'natural' ally that Moskva could imagine, based upon all of the usual variables: nationality, history, proximity, religion, culture, economics, et cetera. It is evidence of the bankruptcy (or should we say more politely 'second-rate' nature) of Russian foreign policy in the Putin era, that this is not the case. And under normal circumstances, Moskva should be tasked with the job of dragging Minsk from the less than ideal circumstances that it finds itself. Yet given the overall deficiencies of Moskva's own regime, it is rather difficult to imagine that Russia could anytime soon, provide a model or even much in the way of concrete assistance to Minsk to allow the latter to engage in a programme of modernization. Either politically or even economically. With all that being said, that leaves the European Union as the only power who could possibly assist Minsk in a big way to modernize. And as the Financial Times recently pointed out, but for the presence of its President, it is quite likely that Minsk would be well on the way to European Union membership 4. Unfortunately, as the recent events have shown, this is quite impossible as long as tovarish Lukashenko remains in power. And make no mistake, whatever pour parlers the regime in Minsk may commit itself to verbally, the fact of the matter is, that Lukashenko will never voluntarily give up power if he can help it. Which means that any positive European Union involvement with Minsk is a non-starter. And should remain so indeed until Lukashenko quits the scene. However long that may take. Until then let Moskva be saddled with propping up its soi-disant 'ally'.

1. Sam Greene, "A Pyrrhic Victory for Lukashenko?" 20 December 2010, in

2. British Foreign Secretary William Hague, quoted in: "Foreign Secretary expresses UK concern following Belarus elections," 22 December 2010, in

3. American Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice, quoted on 20 April 2005, in

4. Jan Cienski, "Belarus juggles lure of West and reliance on East," The Financial Times, 23 December 2010, in

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


"When Mikhail Khodorkovsky was found guilty of fraud and tax evasion in 2005, many observers were prepared to believe he was guilty as charged. The injustice was that the punishment was selective. Other Russian tycoons, the infamous “oligarchs”, engaged in similar abuses in the 1990s. Only Mr Khodorkovsky, however, who had committed the cardinal sin of openly defying the then president Vladimir Putin, went to jail.

This time is different. It is hard to see the new charges of which Russia’s former richest man has been convicted – essentially that he stole the entire output of his Yukos oil company over several years – as anything but fanciful. Even former ministers under Mr Putin have suggested they strain credibility. At best, the case seems openly political. At worst, it looks like the latest instalment of a long-running vendetta waged by Mr Putin, now prime minister.

Mr Khodorkovsky is no saint. While he may be fairly described – especially after this second conviction – as a political prisoner, to portray him as a modern-day dissident, as do supporters and some human rights groups, is a stretch. He was a ruthlessly ambitious businessman, responsible for some of the worst corporate governance abuses of Russia’s post-Soviet “wild east” era. Even the philanthropy he later engaged in was initially part of an image makeover designed to boost the Yukos share price....

Mr Khodorkovsky’s second conviction reveals little new about Russia’s legal system. It was already well known that the country lacked an independent judiciary, and that a defendant stood little chance of receiving a fair trial in such a politically-charged case. However, in conjunction with a spate of brutal attacks on journalists – which the authorities have shown no inclination to prevent – this judicial travesty is a reminder of the risks run by those who challenge the regime and its acolytes. This gives a hollow ring to President Dmitry Medvedev’s election pledge to battle against Russia’s “legal nihilism”, and his more recent talk of modernisation and democratisation in the country.

What the case does reveal, however, is the fragile nature of political power in today’s Russia. Mr Medvedev, for one, is surely aware how damaging Mr Khodorkovsky’s continued imprisonment is to his country’s image. The only conceivable reason to keep him in jail is the fear – however far-fetched it may seem – that he could otherwise become a powerful political opponent to the Putin-Medvedev “tandem”. This suggests that, for all its control of the political apparatus, for all its robust approval ratings, for all the improvement in living standards that high energy prices have delivered in the past decade, the current leadership feels strangely nervous about its grip on power. This gnawing sense of insecurity is the hallmark of undemocratic regimes the world over. Until Russia replaces its mix of kleptocracy and authoritarianism with a functioning democracy, this fear will remain justified. Those overdue political and legal reforms are unlikely to happen, however, as long as the regime feels it necessary to keep Mr Khodorkovsky behind bars".

"The expansion of the state territory, straining beyond measure and exhausting the resources of the people only bolstered the power of the state without elevating the self-confidence of the people...The state swelled up; the people grew lean."

The Khodorkovsky trial and now verdict has resulted in many comments and opinions. Many `a la that of the leader in the Financial Times, neither particularly original or thoughtful. To talk for example of it being a new 'Beilis Case', would be the ne plus ultra of idiocy. Both the trial and the verdict were quite predictable. And above all unfortunate & stupid in the Talleyrand sense of "pire qu'un crime, c'est une faute"3. What it seems to reveal to at least me, is that: i) grazhdanin Putin, is determined to retain in full, or as close to full as possible, the system he has created over the past eleven years or so. The sentencing of Khordorkovsky for an additional term in prison is perhaps the biggest symbol of this fact. Indeed, one may even surmise that it was meant, au fond to serve this very purpose; ii) and following from which, is that Putin will resume the Presidency in 2012, displacing his successor and former protege, current President Medvedev. And no doubt endeavor to remain in office for another eight years. If not longer.

All of which is highly unfortunate, if not worse for matushka Russia, as to not put too fine a point on the matter, 'Putinism', as a positive model for Russia, is pretty much exhausted. Do not mis-understand me: for a good number of years, Putin's policies (if not necessarily the man himself: much too demotic and rigid for my taste) served Russia's positive purposes. They served to stop and indeed reverse the
a serious threat that the federation would collapse as an effective state entity. Something which American commentators were quite open in talking about circa 1999 and 2000 4. Unfortunately, the positive phrase of Putinism has passed. Probably it did so sometime between 2005 and 2007. The best example of the fact that Putin's policies have run their positive course is to compare the Russian performance economically since the onset of the global economic crisis with its fellow 'Bric' confreres. Russia's performance being the worst in the past three years of the four countries 5. Proving that the boost provided by the near decade upturn in commodity prices has about played itself out as a positive benefit for the Russian economy. The fact of the matter is that if Russia is to fulfill its economic and other potential going forward, the policies represented by Putin need to be gradually discarded. Not thrown overboard by any means, but, changed none the less. The verity of this point can be seen by the endemic corruption which Putinism has not answer to. Nor does it appear to have any positive answer to the nationality problems in European Russian cities that has recently emerged. As well as the ongoing, if low-level problems in the north Kavkaz region. Indeed, these issues and more make a mockery of Putin's notion that his policies are a return to those of 'practical' statesman of the late-Tsarist era, such as Graf Witte and Pyotr Stolypin. When indeed, for a time, it did seem as if (in the words of the then Reich Kanzler, Bethman-Hollweg), "Russia was the land of the future" 6. To-day one is tempted to say, it is anything but. As the Russian commentator Dmitri Trenin, has noted, at bottom, the real problem with the Putin-Medvedev duumvirate and their alleged policies of modernization, is simply that:

"Corruption is not an evil; it is the organizing principle. The business-bureaucracy nexus cannot be wished away; it can only be broken. Indivisible power cannot be separated into branches by simply appealing to the Constitution, which mandates this separation. Conservatism will only imitate change and compromise the vision. Revolutionary change, of course, is not the answer: Putin and Medvedev are correct regarding this question. What is needed is an effort which will not undermine the state, but replace the current politico-economic system: radical modernization....
The problem is, corruption in Russia has never been such a systemic factor as now. Modernization would seek to do away with it; conservation would seek to perpetuate it: the result would be a gridlock!"

In short, one can very well say of Grazhdanin Putin, the words that Leopold Amery pronounced in the House Common debate of May 1940 vis-`a-vis Neville Chamberlain, et. al:

"You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.

1. Editorial, "Legal nihilism triumphs in Russia," The Financial Times. 28 December 2010, in

2. V. O. Kliuchevsky, A Course in Russian History, (1911) Volume III, p. 11.

3. Sometimes the saying, is also attributed to Antoine Boulay de la Meurthe, apropos the murder of the Duc d'Enghien.

4. See for this: Anders Aslund, "Russia's Collapse," Foreign Affairs. (September / October 1999), pp. 64-77; Rajan Menon & Graham Fuller, "Russia's Ruinous Chechen War," Foreign Affairs. (March / April 2000), pp. 32-44.

5. Sergei Aleksashenko,"Russia: Optimism goes up in smoke," Carnegie Moscow Center. September 2010, in

6. For Bethman-Hollweg's quote of the 7th of July 1914, see Fritz Stern's essay: "Bethman-Hollweg and the War," in his, Failure of Illiberalism. (1972), p. 91. For Russian economic growth in comparative perspective in the late Tsarist period, see: Cyril Black, et. al. The Modernization of Japan and Russia: a comparative perspective. (1975), pp. 161-176 & passim. On Witte & Stolypin, see: Helene C. d'Encausse, Nicholas II: the interrupted transition. Translated George Holoch. (2002), pp. 46-49,114-115,117-140.

7. Dmitri Trenin, "Russia's Conservative Modernization: A Mission Impossible?" SAIS Review of International Affairs (Winter / Spring 2010), pp. 35-37.

8. Leopold S. Amery, Speech in the House of Commons, 7 May 1940.

Monday, December 27, 2010


"Since the events that led to mass displacements – 47 years ago in some cases – many properties have been assigned to new users, sold, destroyed or significantly developed. The two communities have grown apart and established new socio-economic structures in their respective areas, having lived behind closed front lines for nearly two generations and interacted only superficially since crossing points opened in 2003.

“Less than a quarter of Cypriots say they want to return to their old homes”, says Hugh Pope, Crisis Group’s Turkey/Cyprus Project Director. “Both sides should seize the opportunity of the current talks to strike a realistic balance between the right to return with the rights of the current users. Time is only making a property settlement harder”.

The flagging talks could be revived by compromises. Innovative proposals by the Turkish Cypriots deserve careful consideration. A Greek Cypriot proposal to link negotiations on property, territory and settlers could be adapted to become the first stage of a proposal the Turkish Cypriots have made for an international conference on all negotiating topics. The two sides should commission a rapid joint audit of land owned in both parts of the island and an economic impact study of redevelopment proposals.

Regardless of what happens in the negotiations, the Greek Cypriots should make legal provisions for mutually agreed property swaps between displaced owners from both sides. Turkish Cypriots must ensure fairness and transparency in the procedures of the Immovable Property Commission they have created to handle Greek Cypriot claims. Turkey should relaunch and sustain its efforts to assure Greek Cypriots of its commitment to a settlement, including the handing back of property and territory along the lines of previous UN plans.

“The 2011 election cycle sets a practical deadline for the current negotiations over a comprehensive Cyprus settlement”, says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director, “but the sides should push hard to reach compromises. New flexibility is urgently needed to bridge the positions and thereby demonstrate that the political will still exists to reunify the island”.

"Cyprus: Bridging the Property Divide," The International Crisis Group, 9 December 2010, in

"Cyprus is, in truth, an anomaly in the new Europe. Not, however, for reasons Brussels cares to dwell on. This is an EU member-state a large part of which is under long-standing occupation by a foreign army. Behind tanks and artillery, a population of settlers has been planted that is relatively more numerous than the settlers on the West Bank, without a flicker of protest from the Council or Commission. From its territory are further subtracted – not leased, but held in eminent domain – military enclaves three times the size of Guantánamo, under the control of a fellow member of the EU, the United Kingdom....

The result was the catastrophe that shapes Cyprus to this day. In complete command of the skies, Turkish forces seized a bridgehead at Kyrenia, and dropped paratroops further inland. Within three days, the junta had collapsed in Greece and Sampson had quit. After a few weeks’ ceasefire, during which Turkey made clear it had no interest in the treaty whose violation had been the technical grounds for its invasion, but wanted partition forthwith, its generals unleashed an all-out blitz – tanks, jets, artillery and warships – on the now restored legal government of Cyprus. In less than 72 hours, Turkey seized two-fifths of the island, including its most fertile region, up to a predetermined Attila Line running from Morphou Bay to Famagusta. With occupation came ethnic cleansing. Some 180,000 Cypriots – a third of the Greek community – were expelled from their homes, driven across the Attila Line to the south. About 4000 lost their lives, another 12,000 were wounded: equivalent to over 300,000 dead and a million wounded in Britain. Proportionately as many Turkish Cypriots died too, in reprisals. In due course, some 50,000 made their way in the opposite direction, partly in fear, but principally under pressure from the Turkish regime installed in the north, which needed demographic reinforcements and wanted complete separation of the two communities. Nicosia became a Mediterranean Berlin, divided by barbed wire and barricades, for the duration....

The enormity of these arrangements to ‘solve the Cyprus problem, once and for all’, as Annan hailed them, speak for themselves. At their core lies a ratification of ethnic cleansing, of a scale and thoroughness that has been the envy of settler politics in Israel, where Avigdor Lieberman – leader of the far right Yisrael Beiteinu, now the fifth largest party in the Knesset – publicly calls for a ‘Cypriot solution’ on the West Bank, a demand regarded as so extreme that it is disavowed by all his coalition partners. Not only does the plan absolve Turkey from any reparations for decades of occupation and plunder, imposing their cost instead on those who suffered them. It is further in breach of the Geneva Convention, which forbids an occupying power to introduce settlers into conquered territory. Far from compelling their withdrawal, the plan entrenched their presence: no one ‘will be forced to leave’, in Pfirter’s words. So little did legal norms matter in the conception of the plan, that care was taken to remove its provisions from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights and Court of Justice in advance....

In the past, there was no possibility even of raising such principles, given the Turkish military grip on the island. Today, however, what the whole UN process was designed to avert has come to pass. Cyprus possesses a veto over Turkish entry into the EU, and is in a position to force it to pull out its troops, on pain of exclusion. This enormous potential change has been the hidden stake of all the frantic diplomacy of the past years. It is true that a French refusal to admit Turkey to the EU, or a Turkish nationalist decathexis from the EU, might deprive Cyprus of the lever now resting in its hands. But the Western interests vested in Turkish entry, and the Turkish interests – not least those of capital – vested in Western status, are so great that the balance of probability is against either. That does not mean Cyprus will ever use the power it now has. It is a small society, and immense pressures will be brought to bear to ensure that it does not – for the EU, notoriously, referendums are mere paper for reversal. Sometimes small countries defy great powers, but it has become increasingly rare. The more likely outcome remains, in one version or another, the sentence pronounced on another Greek island: ‘The strong do what they can, the weak do what they must.’"

Perry Anderson, "The Divisions of Cyprus," The London Review of Books, 24 April 2008, in

"Let the Turks now carry away their abuses in the only possible manner, namely by carrying off themselves. Their Zaptiehs and their Mudirs, their Bimbashis and their Yuzbachis, the Kaimakams and their Pashas, one and all, bag and baggage, shall, I hope, clear out from the province they have desolated and profaned."

William Gladstone, The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East. (1876).

The notification by the International Crisis Group is of a piece of much bien pensant thinking about the question of Cyprus: forget the past (even though it was only just thirty-six years ago), forget the horrors of forced removal & expulsion and cobbled together a settlement so that the European Union can forget the crimes of the Turks and allow Ankara to join the EU as quickly as possible. As the leader writer in the Financial Times recently put it:

"Many states are impatient with the constant Greek Cypriot disruption of EU business on account of the Cyprus dispute. They believe Turkey’s rising geopolitical and economic importance makes it imperative to show Ankara that the EU will not be hostage to the Greek Cypriots for ever. Even Russia, a long-time friend of the Greek Cypriots, is signaling a possible change of course on account of its newly blossoming ties with Turkey. The isolation of the Turkish Cypriots may therefore not last much longer – a point the Greek Cypriots should bear in mind before letting the UN talks fail"

The fact that the UN's proposed 'settlement' legitimizes the Turks crimes of 1974 et passim, does not appear to merit any interest. The fact of the matter is, that both the Turks and the Turkish minority in Cyrpus have no case to stand on. The former brazenly violated the treaty that Ankara signed in 1964 establishing Cyprus' independence, as well as violated International Law by brazenly invading the defenceless island. Similarly, the Turkish minority in the island is nothing more than Muslim pied noirs. Colonists pur et simple. And I for one do not see any reason to treat them in any way differently than say Algeria treated its non-Algerian minority circa 1962. Tutti quanti...In the case of Cyprus, Gladstone's words of 1876 still fully apply. Scare stories that a failure to 'solve' the Cyprus conundrum in a fashion which will result in endorsing the crimes of the Turks are simply that: scare stories. Turkey's 'pro-European' orientation (such as it is) either has strong internal variables or it does not. If the latter, then irregardless of any favors shown over Cyprus, Turkey will not re-orient its foreign policy, over questions such as say Persia, Israel, Syria, et cetera, to curry favor with Brussels. In short, there is no machtpolitik rationale which requires that the Christian population of Cyprus be betrayed any more than it has been already.2

1. Editorial, “Cyprus endgame.” The Financial Times. 12 November 2010, in

2. For a well argued, if fatally flawed attempt at linking Turkish foreign and indeed internal policies to success of the EU accession talks, see: Katinka Barysch, "Turkey and the EU: can stalemate be avoided?" Center for European Reform.
17 December 2010, in

Monday, December 13, 2010


"A brilliant, sometimes abrasive infighter with a formidable arsenal of facts, bluffs, whispers, implied threats and, when necessary, pyrotechnic fits of anger, Mr. Holbrooke dazzled and often intimidated opponents and colleagues around a negotiating table. Some called him a bully, and he looked the part: the big chin thrust out, the broad shoulders, the tight smile that might mean anything. But admirers, including generations of State Department protégés and the presidents he served, called his peacemaking efforts extraordinary.

When he named Mr. Holbrooke to represent the United States at the United Nations, President Bill Clinton said, “His remarkable diplomacy in Bosnia helped to stop the bloodshed, and at the talks in Dayton the force of his determination was the key to securing peace, restoring hope and saving lives.” Others said his work in Bosnia deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. Few diplomats could boast of his career accomplishments. Early on, Mr. Holbrooke devoted six years to the Vietnam War: first in the Mekong Delta seeking the allegiance of the civilian population, then at the embassy in Saigon as an aide to Ambassadors Maxwell Taylor and Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., and finally in the American delegation to the 1968-69 Paris peace talks led by W. Averell Harriman and Cyrus R. Vance. Mr. Holbrooke was the author of one volume of the Pentagon Papers, the secret Defense Department history of the Vietnam War that catalogued years of American duplicity in Southeast Asia. The papers were first brought to public attention by The New York Times in 1971.

As assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in the Carter administration, Mr. Holbrooke played a crucial role in establishing full diplomatic relations with China in 1979, a move that finessed America’s continuing commitment to China’s thorn in the side Taiwan and that followed up on the historic breakthrough of President Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 visit to China. During the Clinton presidency, Mr. Holbrooke served as ambassador to Germany in 1993-94, when he helped enlarge the North Atlantic alliance; achieved his diplomatic breakthroughs in Bosnia as assistant secretary of state for European affairs in 1994-95; and was chief representative to the United Nations, a cabinet post, for 17 months from 1999 to
2001....While he achieved prominence as a cabinet official and envoy to many of the world’s most troubled arenas, Mr. Holbrooke’s was frustrated in his ambition to be secretary of state; he was the runner-up to Madeleine K. Albright, Mr. Clinton’s choice in 1997, and a contender when Mr. Obama installed Hillary Rodham Clinton in the post in 2009.

Foreign policy was his life....But there was to be one more task. As Mr. Obama assumed office and attention shifted to Afghanistan, Mr. Holbrooke took on his last assignment. He began by trying to lower expectations, moving away from the grand, transformative goals of President George W. Bush toward something more readily achievable. But his boss and old friend, Mrs. Clinton, expressed absolute confidence in him. “Richard represents the kind of robust, persistent, determined diplomacy the president intends to pursue,” she said. “I admire deeply his ability to shoulder the most vexing and difficult challenges.”

Robert D. McFadden, "Richard C. Holbrooke, U.S. Diplomatic
Troubleshooter, Dies at 69," The New York Times, 13 December 2010, in

"All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs."

Enoch Powell, Joseph Chamberlain (1977), p. 151.

Richard Holbrooke, was a giant of contemporary diplomacy. A consummate diplomat, to his fingertips. His early passing away is a tragedy. Peut-etre. Because in all honesty, equally tragic was his failure to climb the gilded pole, to the top of Foggy Bottom. Id est become Secretary of State. He was of course one of the two remaining 'special envoys' (Ex-Senator Mitchell is the other one), that the current American Administration has employed to 'assist' the State Department in carrying out its policies. In Holbrooke's case in the ultra-difficult and murky waters of the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre. But anyone who had any real knowledge of Holbrooke's career, especially its latter part, understood how mis-placed and under-utilized Holbrooke's unique, Kissinger-like talents were by his not being given the State Department Secretaryship. First in 1997 and then again in 2009. Indeed, one is tempted to believe that au fond, it was the fact that Holbrooke did indeed, possess, Kissinger-like talents and energies, which oddly enough disqualified him. Something which I myself understood quite well, having seen him give a talk in early 2008 to members of the Oxonian Society. Where it was quite well evident that this was an individual who the fates clearly meant for disappointment at not being given the top prize which he so clearly deserved and wanted. Or as the late Cyril Connolly, once put it: 'whom the Gods wish to destroy they first call promising" 1. All this unfortunate history merely shows that a truly talented, ultra-experienced individual `a la Holbrooke, rarely makes it to the top in contemporary American politics and officialdom. Merely to name those given the top place at the State Department in the years since it was headed by James A. Baker III & Lawrence Eagleburger, shows this to be the case: Warren Christopher, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton. As the long-time American journalist, Elizabeth Drew, notes notwithstanding his alleged great self-confidence the current American President, like his predecessors prefers to appoint people who 'he is said to be comfortable with' 2. Unfortunately, this rather increasingly common habit bodes ill for competent and commanding diplomacy. Something which the diplomatic 'track-record', of the current American Administration demonstrably shows to be true. In the final analysis, one could say of Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke, what Harold Nicolson said of another great personage of the world of diplomacy and politics, Lord Curzon:

"Posterity will look back upon Lord Curzon, not as on some arrogant proconsul who gloried in the honors he obtained, but as on a man of superhuman energy and great gifts, who by the irony of fate, had been robbed of the gift of adaptability. Curzon did not fit. 3"

1. Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise (1938).

2. Elizabeth Drew, "In the bitter new Washington," The New York Review of Books, 23 December 2010, p. 93.

3. Harold Nicolson, "Curzon," Foreign Affairs, January 1929.

Friday, December 10, 2010


"Date 2009-11-04 06:44:00

Source Embassy Manama

Classification SECRET//NOFORN

S E C R E T MANAMA 000642

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/04/2019

Classified By: Ambassador Adam Ereli, reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: In an hour-long meeting on November 1 with CENTCOM Commander General Petraeus, Bahrain's King Hamad said Arab states need to do more to engage Iraq, discussed Afghanistan and the positive role India could play, urged action to stop Iran's nuclear program, and reviewed regional plans for the peaceful use of nuclear energy. END SUMMARY.

2.(C) IRAQ: King Hamad fully endorsed General Petraeus's point that increased Arab engagement and influence would help frustrate Iranian designs in Iraq. He added that the Arabs need Egyptian and Saudi leadership in this matter and that he had tried to make this point to the Saudi government, but with little effect.

3.(C) AFGHANISTAN: General Petraeus praised Bahrain's commitment of a police company for internal security at FOB Leatherneck. King Hamad confirmed that he would personally see the force off at the airport on December 16. This date will be the 10th anniversary of the King's assuming the throne, and General Petraeus said that U.S. air assets would be available on the 16th to transport the company to
Afghanistan. King Hamad inquired about the extent of India's involvement in Afghanistan and noted that Bahrain saw India as very positive force in the region. "It's a new era," he said. "They can be of great help."

4.(C) IRAN: King Hamad pointed to Iran as the source of much of the trouble in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He argued forcefully for taking action to terminate their nuclear program, by whatever means necessary. "That program must be stopped," he said. "The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it." King Hamad added that in light of these regional developments, Bahrain was working to
strengthen GCC coordination and its relations with allies and international organizations. He specifically mentioned NATO and confirmed that Bahrain had agreed to the Alliance's request to use Isa Airbase for AWACS missions, although the detail on numbers and timing have yet to be discussed.


Source Embassy Seoul
Classification SECRET
S E C R E T SEOUL 000272


Classified By: AMB D. Kathleen Stephens. Reasons 1.4 (b/d).


1. (S) Vice Foreign Minister Chun Yung-woo told the Ambassador February 17th that China would not be able to stop North Korea's collapse following the death of Kim Jong-il (KJI). The DPRK, Chun said, had already collapsed economically and would collapse politically two to three years after the death of Kim Jong-il. Chun dismissed ROK media reports that Chinese companies had agreed to pump 10 billion USD into the North's economy. Beijing had "no will" to use its modest economic leverage to force a change in Pyongyang's policies -- and the DPRK leadership "knows it."
It was "a very bad thing" that Wu Dawei -- whom Chun characterized as "the most incompetent official in China" -- had retained his position as chief of the PRC's 6PT delegation. Describing a generational difference in Chinese attitudes toward North Korea, Chun claimed Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai and another senior PRC official from the younger generation both believed Korea should be unified under ROK control. Chun acknowledged the Ambassador's point that a strong ROK-Japan relationship would help Tokyo accept a reunified Korean Peninsula.

End summary....


"State Secrets: A Selection of the Cache of Diplomatic Dispatches," 29 November 2010 and passim. New York Times, in

"At my [Baron Eckardstein] yesterday's conversation Lord Lansdowne began at once on the alliance question. He remarked that, as he had already said, he and some of his colleagues would much desire a defensive alliance with Germany."

Graf Hatzfeldt [German Ambassador to London] to German Foreign Office, 16 May 1901, in German Diplomatic Documents, 1871-1914, Volume III. Edited E.T.S. Dugdale,
(1930), p. 145.

"In my despatches of the 18th and 29th March and 9th April I have recorded conversations with Baron Eckardstein in which the latter unofficially pressed on my attention the project of an Anglo-German Alliance. In one of our interviews on this subject, which have recently been renewed by him, Baron Eckardstein mentioned incidentially that Austria and Italy would have to be included in such an arrangement as he proposed."

The Marquess of Lansdowne [British Foreign Secretary] to Sir Frank Lascelles [British Ambassador to Berlin], 24 May 1901, in British Documents on the Origins of the War, 1898-1914, Volume II. Edited G.P. Gooch & Harold Temperley, (1927), p. 65.

Over and above the scandal that the whole affair with the release of the Wikileaks cache of documents has raised, is one another matter which deserves a better hearing: namely how accurate en fait, are these documents? Id est can they be trusted to relay what these various American diplomatic and other personnel claim that they have been told by other parties? This it seems to me is not in fact as straightforward a matter, as the many articles dealing with the documents seem to suggest. As any one who has toiled in the diplomatic archives from different countries such as myself well knows, one of the more interesting as well as frustrating aspects of researching diplomatic history, is that it is quite often the case, that a tet-`a-tet, between one Foreign Minister and another Foreign Minister, are not necessarily in an agreement as to what was exactly said or not said. And while in the annuals of diplomacy, aide-memoires are supposed to obviate points of dispute in such matters, this in point of fact is not nearly full-proof a means of verification as one would like to think. Particularly in the past forty years or so with the decline of good note-taking by younger diplomats, and the rise of telephone conversations & electronic mailings as a substitute for 'face to face' meetings between officials. Even prior to that though, the best example of a diplomatic malentendu of a simple series of tet-`a-tets between a Foreign Minister and a foreign envoy, was that in 1900-1901, between Lord Lansdowne and Baron Eckardstein over the proposed Anglo-German treaty of alliance. Which given the fact that the conversations took place in francais (which both knew intimately), draws ones attention to the infinitely possibilities of much greater mis-understandings and selective listenings in contemporary diplomacy. Especially, given the fact that one presumes that many of the conversations reported in the Wikileaks archives, were conducted in English, which many if not most of the foreign officials involved would only know at best in a second-rate fashion.

In terms of specifics, the two above referenced conversations, which have been widely discussed in the newspapers, seem to typify the issues that I am focusing on. In both cases, the officials (in one case American, in the other South Korean) involved related tet-`a-tets, in which the tenor of the discussion more or less reflected the pre-existing views of not only the officials involved perhaps, but more than likely the views of the State Department as well. Once again, as anyone who has slaved away in the archives will know, it is virtually impossible to accurately reproduce a diplomatic encounter without evidence from both sides of said exchange. Here, in this huge archive of documents, we only have one side. And, while it may be the case, that the Chinese vice-foreign minister did in fact tell his South Korean counter-part, what he relates to the American Ambassador to Seoul, it could also well be the case, that the South Korean official was engaged in an exercise of 'selective hearing'. A pathology which is one of the most dangerous, as well as widespread in the jeu of diplomacy. Similarly, it could very well be that the American Ambassador in Bahrain, was accurately reproducing the conversation between General Petraeus and the King as it relates to Persia. And, it could also be the case that the Ambassador exaggerated, if not distorted what actually was said at the meeting. Especially since what was related by the embassy in Bahrain to the State Department, would have seemed very much what the latter party would like to hear. For my own part, my surmise is that the second conversation is no doubt a fairly accurate version of the views of the government in Bahrain, while the first exchange is more likelier than not an inaccurate version of the opinion of the regime in Peking on the North Korean situation. Au fond, the fact of the matter is that in the absence of diplomatic documentation from both sides of these various exchanges and reports, the Wikileaks trove of documents can only be said to provide a partial view of what what actually was said at these various meetings. As we have no evidence of the accuracy of these reports from both sides of said conversations. And are not likely to have for quite sometime to come. In the case of certain regimes (the PRC, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, et cetera), not for a very long time to come. Indeed perhaps never. Something that we should all bear in mind as more and more of these documents are released.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


"WASHINGTON — After three weeks of fruitless haggling with the Israeli government, the Obama administration has given up its effort to persuade Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to renew an expired freeze on the construction of Jewish settlements for 90days, two senior officials said on Tuesday. The decision leaves Middle East peace talks in limbo, with the Palestinians refusing to resume negotiations absent a settlement freeze and the United States struggling to find another formula to bring them back to negotiations. It is the latest setback in what has proved to be a tortuous engagement for President Obama. Officials said the administration decided to pull the plug because it concluded that even if Mr. Netanyahu persuaded his cabinet to accept an extension — which he had not yet been able to do — the 90-day negotiating period would not have produced the progress on core issues that the administration originally had hoped for.

“There were different expectations on the terms of moratorium, the issues to be discussed during the moratorium, and what would happen after the moratorium expired,” said a person briefed on the decision. The administration’s abrupt decision could also fray relations with Israel. The United States had offered Mr. Netanyahu a lucrative package of security and other incentives to agree to a 90-day extension. Mr. Netanyahu could face renewed pressure from the United States and the Palestinians as the hurdle to resumed talks. Administration officials did not immediately offer a Plan B, even though Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was expected to sketch out new American proposals in a speech on Friday at the Brookings Institution".

Mark Landler, "U.S. Ends Push to Renew Israeli Freeze on Settlements," 7 December 2010, The New York Times, in

"The most heartfelt hope for peace has been placed in Barack Obama. The young President offers the prospect of a clean break with the past and an early start on a more engaged and sustained policy. Underpinning the faith is a straightforward logic: Israel depends on US support; no Israeli leader will dare jeopardize good relations with Washington; if the administration plays “hard ball” while proffering “tough love,” Israel will follow. Obama’s first steps have prompted doubts. By initially insisting on a comprehensive Israeli settlement freeze, then negotiating its details, then seemingly backing down and pushing Palestinians to resume their talks with Israel, the administration increased friction with Jerusalem, squandered credibility with the Arab world, and weakened Abbas.

In this last respect, Obama is only the latest in a string of American presidents who have shown few limits to the harm they can inflict on those Palestinians they purport to strengthen. By twice twisting Abbas’s arm, first to attend a meeting with Netanyahu and then to withdraw the Goldstone report, the administration unwittingly hurt him more in the space of two weeks than its predecessor had done in as many terms. The US hope was to tame Netanyahu, empower Abbas, motivate peace advocates, curtail extremists, and energize negotiations. So far, it has accomplished the precise opposite.

Obama will have opportunities to recover. But for those who remain persuaded that the US has the power to produce a meaningful peace agreement, his record so far is hardly a good omen. It fits into a larger pattern and helps make a broader point: the absence of convincing historical evidence that a sufficient degree of American pressure can be applied to persuade an Israeli government to act against its self-perceived fundamental interests. Israelis and Palestinians have their weaknesses, but they have mastered the art of saying no or at least meaning it, and then of living to wage the next fight. Possibly, this time will be different and Obama will achieve what none of his predecessors could, but nothing in his first nine months suggests he can. To harbor that expectation would be to allow the surrender of experience to hope".

Robert Malley & Hussein Agha, "Israel & Palestine: can they start over?" 3 December 2009, The New York Review of Books, in

As predicted in this space in the immediate aftermath of the election of the current American President and as repeated at various times since, it was against both recent history and all existing evidence to expect that the current American Administration would endeavor to seriously consider the employment of pressure to get the Israeli government of Mr. Netanyahu to commit to the settlement freeze for the West Bank, much less to offer serious concessions to make a peace settlement with the Palestinians possible. The settlement freeze having expired back in September of this year. With today's announcement being perhaps the coup de grace of any positive movement on this front for perhaps the next two years, if not longer. And, while I did have some hopes that the ultra-capable Denis Ross would be able to cobble together some type of modus vivendi that would both placate most members of Netanyahu's Cabinet and thus make possible some type of settlement freeze, it would appear that once again, even Mr. Ross's considerable negotiating talents could not cover the gap between the two sides. And of course sans a settlement freeze, there is absolutely no possibility of any forward movement in negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The only possible gagne in today's announcement being that it might, just might be a very public, and yet at the same time, sotto voce lever to get Netanyahu to make enough concessions to agree to the American proposal. Admittedly this does seem to be the ultimate in faute de mieux's, if not in fact sauve qui peut, but, in the absence of which there does not appear to be even the glimmer of any possible light at the end of this particular tunnel. Which is of course not to gainsay the fact that in the best of all possible worlds, an American Administration which possessed a much greater idea of the diplomatic albatross that is the current impass in the Near East, would have ventured to employ those diplomatic weapons that Washington possesses but it seems dares not use vis-`a-vis Tel Aviv. And having employed the same, would no doubt have quickly brought the Israelis to heel. `A la the Eisenhower Administration in 1957. Failing which I for one do not expect that the Americans and the West can climb out of the muddle that we have found ourselves in consistently since 1948. Or as the greatest American diplomat of the twentieth century, George Kennan aptly put it:

"In supporting a Jewish state in Palestine we were in fact supporting the extreme objectives of political Zionism, to the detriment of overall US security interests."

George Kennan, 19 January 1948, in Anna K. Nelson, edited. The State Department Policy Planning Staff Papers, 1947-1949, Vol. II, (1983), p. 42.

Monday, December 06, 2010


"The “revelations” in the latest download from WikiLeaks strike me as surprisingly dull. You would have thought that, in 250,000 pages of diplomatic cables, there would be insights that were a bit more startling than the suggestions that Angela Merkel is cautious, Silvio Berlusconi is vain, Nicolas Sarkozy is thin-skinned and David Cameron is a bit of a lightweight. Tell me something, I didn’t know.

It may be that, as people trawl through the data, they come across something genuinely interesting. For the moment, however, the only thing that made me raise even half an eyebrow was the suggestion that the Saudis and the other Gulf Arabs are pushing the Americans to bomb Iran. The Israelis have been saying that this is the Saudi position for ages - but, hitherto, I’ve always taken that with a pinch of salt, since it is obviously in Israel’s interests to make that case. So it is a bit surprising to find out that the Saudis really do seem to want a strike on Iran.

Other than that, I’m distinctly underwhelmed by WikiLeaks. But perhaps I’ve missed something fascinating".

Gideon Rachman, "The Dullness of Wikileaks," 29 November 2010, Financial Times, in

"More dangerous even than popular ignorance are certain forms of popular knowledge. The professional diplomatist, having spent his life studying the psychology and conditions of foreign countries, is very chary of basing generalizations upon hastily observed phenomena. The elector shows no such hesitation. A summer cruise to Dalmatia, a bicycling tour in the Black Forest, three happy weeks at Porto Fino, and he returns equipped with certain profound convictions regarding the Near East, the relations between Herr Hitler and his General Staff, and the effect of the Abyssinian venture upon Italian public opinion. Since his judgement is based upon feelings rather than upon thoughts, he is at the mercy of any chance encounter or accidential conversation....Even such accidents as bad weather or a missed railway connection may permanently influence an elector's attitude towards foreign affairs. Such effects are not the least disturbing symptoms of democratic irresponsibility."

Sir Harold Nicolson, Diplomacy. 1939, pp. 94-95.

"An Ambassador is a honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country."

Sir Henry Wotton, circa 1604.

I have no particular wish to add to the torrential storm of comments provoked by the WikiLeaks story which erupted last week. Gideon Rachman’s comments in the Financial Times on the subject more or less express my own opinion on the matter insofar as it concerns the quality & importance or lack there of, of the documents which were stolen by the miscreant, now thankfully imprisoned for his misdeeds and crimes. With that being said, what can one point out that notwithstanding the longstanding American naivete on the subject matter, there is no such thing (President Woodrow Wilson to the contrary) as ‘open diplomacy’. One can either have diplomacy as traditionally understood, or one may have ‘openness’, one by the very nature of things cannot have both unfortunately. At least not in this world. Ultimately, diplomacy works best, when least discussed or indeed reflected upon. The best example to my mind was the diplomacy of George Bush the Elder & James Baker, who in 1990, studiously and secretly worked for the reunification of Germany, while remaining almost completely in the background. Making it appear that the Germans and the Russians were making all the running, and that the Americans were being left behind by events. When in fact as we now know, the opposite was in fact true. As I well remember the attacks that both gentlemen received in the New York Times, by the Times then chief European the correspondent, the bien pensant, Roger Cohen. The point of this story simply is that the careful diplomacy of German reunification, which au fond required that the Bonn not Washington nominally lead the process, would have been completely upset if the true state of affairs were in fact known at the time. And, nothing in the intervening years has changed very much to alter the above state of things. Ultimately, if diplomacy is to work at all it must remain a species of imperii arcanae. Anything else reduces the art of diplomacy to merely xenophobic cheer leading and exercises in hurrah patriotismus. If we need to re-institute a sort of lettre de chacet, to deal effectively with people of the ilk of Monsieur Julian Assange so be it. I can easily see worse things happening in modern day life.