Monday, May 30, 2011


"Pakistan has asked China to build a naval base at its south-western port of Gwadar and expects the Chinese navy to maintain a regular presence there, a plan likely to alarm both India and the US.

“We have asked our Chinese brothers to please build a naval base at Gwadar,” Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar, Pakistan’s defence minister, told the Financial Times, confirming that the request was conveyed to China during a visit last week by Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister.

Hitherto, China has shied away from moves that might alienate the US and Beijing’s neighbours, such as India, Malaysia and Indonesia. “China’s rise is a beneficial force for peace and we have no hegemonic ambitions,” said a Chinese official familiar with Beijing’s security policy.

But Christopher Yung, senior research fellow at National Defense University in Washington, said in a recent paper “the nature and degree of China’s access to out-of-area bases will be the ultimate indication and warning” of its eventual intention to become a global military power. A Pentagon official said: “We have questions and concerns about this development and [China’s] intentions. But that is why we believe it is important to have a healthy, stable and continuous military-to-military relationship.”

A senior Pakistani official familiar with Sino-Pakistani discussions on naval co-operation said: “The naval base is something we hope will allow Chinese vessels to regularly visit in [the] future and also use the place for repair and maintenance of their fleet in the [Indian Ocean region]....”

Kathrin Hille & Farhan Bokhari, "Pakistan turns to China for naval base," The Financial Times. 22 May 2011, in

The above story about the PRC possibly leasing and or building a naval base on Pakistani coastline, obviously is in part a result of the strain in Pakistani-American relations following the American incursion that resulted in the assassination of Bin Laden, earlier this month. And while as the Financial Times' diplomatic columnist, Gideon Rachman noted last week, the story received a good deal of attention in Chancelleries & Foreign Ministries of the USA and Asia, the question that I have is: would in fact the consequences that would result if the story were in fact true as bad as one is tempted to paint them 1? I for one think not. Why? Simply put, if in fact that PRC were to be take Pakistan up on the latter's invitation, then at that point the way would be clearly open for the Americans and their allies to withdraw completely from subsidizing the semi-failed state that is currently Pakistan. In which case the PRC could, nay would one would imagine be forced into assuming that same role, as a quid pro quo for the base transaction. And of course that is the same reason that I rather doubt that the Peking would be interested in taking up Pakistan's offer: simply put, it is unlikely that the PRC sees taking up the Pakistani tar baby as something which it would wish to voluntarily do. Au fond, the PRC is quite content to allow the Americans to do all of the heavy lifting in the Pakistan-Afghanistan area. And nothing that I can see, indicates that the Chinese are unhappy at this state of affairs. The fact that the PRC has never openly criticized the American / Western presence would seem to indicate the reverse in fact. Given the costs involved in taking up 'the White Man's burden', in Pakistan, I am willing to assume that the PRC will give an ultra-polite, ,'non possumus' to the Pakistani Prime Minister's offer. Which merely reinforces the point that per contra to those such as Anatol Lieven, who state that the West needs to indulge the Pakistani state apparatus in its dysfunctionality, terrorist subsidizing and all 2. On the contrary, it is only by pressing as hard as possible on the authorities in Islamabad that will result in the latter, in (possibly) reforming itself eventually. Which means that the situation requires more, not less cross-border raids and drone attacks. It is only by unrelenting pressure on the Pakistani army and government that one can see clear to a change in the current semi-failed state situation.

1. Gideon Rachman, "A Chinese Base in Pakistan," The Financial Times 23 May 2011, in

2.Anatol Lieven, "How American Folly could destroy Pakistan," The Financial Times. 24 May 2011, in An article which oddly enough differs substantially from his own piece earlier this month, where he urges that the USA demand the head of the ISI, inter alia. See: "A Faltering Bargain with Pakistan,"New America Foundation. 5 May 2011, in;

Sunday, May 29, 2011


"Cameron has been most conspicuously un-slavish on the Middle East. Along with France and Germany, Britain voted in favor of a U.N. resolution in February condemning Israeli settlements, while the United States vetoed it despite Obama’s repeated criticism of said settlements. Score one for British consistency over American contortionism....

There’s also been British un-slavishness on war and peace. The diplomatic push for the Libyan intervention came principally from Britain and France while Obama, with reason, fretted over a third U.S. military front in a Muslim country....

Libya has underscored the unique U.S. capacity to project power and the heavy European dependence on that projection. I don’t see a European public ready to bolster defense spending, but the need is there. Un-slavishness means little if it does not mean assumption of responsibility....

So the immediate test of the redefined U.S.-British relationship is the ability of Obama and Cameron to deliver change in Tripoli fast and stop the conflict festering. I think it’s doable. But the condition is no more wavering....

That in turn has relieved Cameron of the old British dilemma: Should it favor its European or American ties? With the European Union going AWOL, the answer is obvious. Still, it’s imperative that Obama’s European trip serve to focus Europe on debt relief, trade incentives, credit and private investment in Egypt and beyond. A condition of the Arab transformation is that reform must equal opportunity....

With Arab reform now “not a secondary interest,” in the words of Obama, but U.S. dependence on Riyadh for oil and Yemeni counterterrorism still great, the Saudi dilemma has intensified. It’s one that demands solid, un-slavish U.S.-British unity to avoid the mother of explosions".

Roger Cohen, "Cameron's America," The New York Times. 24 May 2011, in

"Withdrawal from a major commitment would affect the international status of the United Kingdom. By reducing the value of the United Kingdom as a partner and ally, it would undermine the cohesion of the Commonwealth and the special relationship of the United Kingdom with the United States and its European partners and allies. Their attitude towards us will depend largely upon our status as a world Power and upon their belief that we are ready and willing to support them. It is evident that in so far as we reduce our commitments and our power declines, our a special relationship with the United States will be pro tanto, diminished."

Anthony Eden to Cabinet, "British Overseas Obligations: Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs", 18 June 1952. CAB 129 / 53, PRO, Kew. Emphasis in the original.

The visit of the American President ('the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name') to the United Kingdom, in the midst of the Libyan Crisis, inspires in many observers (like Roger Cohen for one) 'deep thoughts', on the nature of the Anglo-American relationship in the 21st Century. With of course until recently (AKA the American President's current trip) most commentators stating that the relationship, while not in 'bad shape', were unlikely to return to the halcyon days of Presidents Bush / Clinton and Prime Minister Blair. With some highlighting the fact that the current American President lacks the solidly ancestral ties to the UK (and Europe), that prior American Presidents had. How far is this in fact true? Well, judging from today's joint article in the London Times, in which the American President and the British Prime Minister state that theirs is an “essential relationship":

“We can honestly say that despite being two leaders from two different political traditions, we see eye to eye,” Mr. Obama and Mr. Cameron wrote. “We look at the world in a similar way, share the same concerns, and see the same strategic possibilities
" 1.

While for some, "essential relationship", may perhaps be a come-down from a "Special Relationship", to my mind this entire discussion obscures rather than enlightens us as to the real nature of Anglo-American relations since World War II. Au fond, the Anglo-American relationship from 1945 to the present, is built upon the following elements: i) ties of past history; ii) ties of culture and language; iii) the fact that both countries have been allied since 1949 de jure, and since 1947 de facto; iv) the fact that within the NATO alliance, both countries have maintained separately ties of unusually closeness in the defence planning / procurement, and intelligence areas. In particular in case of the latter. 2; v) the United Kingdom's envoys to Washington, DC, have been of an usually high quality and following from which have enjoyed an usual degree of access to the processes of American decision-making. In the cases of such individuals as Sir Oliver Franks (1948-1953), and Lord Harlech (1961-1964) one can almost speak of the Ambassador possessing an unofficial role as an American adviser vi) The upshot of items 'i'-'v', has been the fact that both powers have quite frequently been willing to modify pre-existing policies in order to accommodate the other power.

Throughout this period in question, it has been the United Kingdom, as the weaker of the two powers, which has had to 'accommodate itself' more often to the United States. Rather than the reverse. The thinking behind such being in the words of the then Ambassador to the United States, Sir Roger Makins in the midst of the Suez Crisis:

"There are times perhaps (they are surely very rare) when we must take our own line because of our national interest transcend even the need to uphold the Atlantic alliance....Here it is a case of our wanting to perform an operation one way and the Americans another. Ours may be better, but it we can keep their immense power working in our favour, is it not preferable to try theirs?"

Given this prior history, how does the current state of Anglo-American relations look? Overall, I for one say, surprising good given the fact that the relative power of the United Kingdom has declined, not admittedly precipitously, but still markedly in the past ten years, in relative terms. Especially economically. However this factum, is not as important when one notes that in Afghanistan as in Iraq, it is the United Kingdom, which has proven to be the only power which is willing to stand 'shoulder to shoulder' with the Americans in terms of sending combat troops into harms way 4. Which one assumes explains why the Americans proved to be willing to make so many positive noises about co-ordination and consultation in terms of future policies with London 5. It is with difficulty, hard to imagine the Americans be willing to engage in such types of policies co-ordination with any other power, even at this late date. And even with the current American chief executive. A state of affairs, I for one see continuing as long as London is willing to uphold its side, by engaging to send forces in harms way in the future as well as the past. Which in turn shall require that the government in London seriously re-think it current defence policy requirements in the next five to ten years going forward. For as one Foreign Office paper once noted presciently over fifty years ago:

"Anglo-American partnership is not a law of nature, and our present position is one which we could lose. Unless we are careful to shore it up."

1. Mark Lander, "In Britain, Pomp for Obama but serious business too," 24 May 2011, The New York Times, in

2. Christopher Andrew, Defend the Realm: the authorized history of
(2010), pp. 367-380 and passim. The reductio ad absurdum of the closeness of the relationship in many ways was the fact that in 1972, the then Deputy Under-secretary of State at the Foreign Office, Sir Thomas Brimelow, was conscripted by the then American National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger to (in the words of the then British Ambassador, Lord Cromer): "do its drafting for it while totally excluding its own Ministry of Foreign Affairs," on some of the finer points of the 1972 START treaty between the USA and the Soviet Union. See: Kathleen Burke, Old World, New World: Great Britain and America from the Beginning. (2007), p. 622. As per Kissinger in volume two of his memoirs, Brimelow's role in the matter was: "an example of the Anglo-American 'special relationship' at its best". See: Henry A. Kissinger, Years of Upheaval.(1982), pp. 282-283.

3. Sir Roger Makins (Washington) to Lloyd (London), 9 September 1956, PREM 11/1100, in PRO, Kew.

4. Patrick Porter, "Iraq, Afghanistan and the special relationship," International Affairs. (March 2010), pp. 355-375.

5. George Parker & Elizabeth Rigby,"Obama calls for joint effort on freedom," The Financial Times. 25 May 2011, in; See also: David Blackbourn, "An especially business-like relationship," The Spectator. 24 May 2011, in; "UK, U.S. launch joint national security body," in Reuters.25 May 2011, in

6."'The Future of Anglo-American relations': FO note for Future Policy Study working Group", 6 October 1959. Document found in: The Conservative Government and the End of Empire 1957-1964. Series A, Volume 4, of the series: British Documents on the End of Empire. Edited Ronald Hyam & William Roger Louis. Part I: High Policy, Political and Constitutional Change. (2000), p. 72.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


"I knew that I lacked the gifts for a political career. I should have like to be an orator; I was not....My temptation to engage in politics at this late stage [mid-1940's] resembled my youthful ambitions. I did not even have to take the test of joining an organized party - a test that I should certainly have failed. Never having done so, I cannot imagine how I could affiliate myself to a system over which I had no control and, on some subjects, no chance to exert any influence....

If there was stiff competition around the centres of power, there was practically none in the area where I wanted to work - preparing the future, which by definition is outside the glare of present publicity. Since I did not get in the statesman's way, I could count on their support. Moreover, although it takes a long time to reach the men at the top, it takes very little to explain to them how to escape from the difficulties of the present. This is something that they are glad to hear when the critical moment comes. They, when ideas are lacking, accept yours with gratitude - provided they can present them as their own....I have no particular taste for secrecy, despite what some people say; but if I can best expedite matters by self-effacement then I prefer to work behind the scenes."

Jean Monnet, Memoirs (1978), pp. 230-231. Emphasis added.

"It is getting harder, politically. Finland and Germany have approved the bail-out of Portugal. But it is not clear whether both will vote in favour of the second Greek loan package, due this autumn. I still think they might, but it is not hard to imagine some political accident, in Berlin, in Athens, in Helsinki, in all three or somewhere else....

From the perspective of a member of a national parliament, the real-world choice will not be whether they wish to bail out Greece or not. Of course, they do not. The choice will be between a costly bail-out and a costly default. Letting Greece default, whether inside or outside the eurozone, would require a fiscally crippling re-capitalisation of the European Central Bank, or a monetisation of Greek debt, and possibly more support for the financial system. A default may be inevitable at some point, but I doubt that it can, or should, happen before 2013 at the earliest.

Eurosceptic but risk-averse German or Finnish members of parliament might reluctantly vote in favour of a moderately sized rescue package, but a few things will still have to fall into place for that to happen. For example, there must be a plausible growth strategy for Greece. I doubt that MPs will vote for a loan package that relies on austerity alone. This has already failed. Any new package would have to focus on reforms in addition to continued austerity. For these reforms to work, they will have to be supported by the EU. And they will have to challenge powerful vested interests in the recipient countries. I would not rule out a token participation by the private sector, but there could be nothing resembling a debt restructuring....It is not hard to foresee political resistance to such a strategy. My hunch is that Europe’s policy elites will prevail, for a while at least, but the strategy is extremely risky, and dangerous, and prone to a large political accident".

Wolfgang Munchau, "Dogmatists raise the costs of Eurozone crisis," The Financial Times. 16 May 2011, in

Au fond, the real origins of the current Eurozone crisis, and indeed the crisis of legitimacy of the European Union, originated with the politicking of that wonderful, arch-intriguer, Monsieur Jean Monnet. As one can see from this quite frank memoirs, he was quite honest in stating that quiet maneuvering, rather than popular politics was his modus operandi. And indeed for quite a long time, the European Union (EU) was built, institutionally speaking via Monnet's sort of 'politics of maneuver' (to perhaps coin a phrase). Until of course the crises of the failed referendums in Holland and France in 2004. When the essential hollowness at the centre of the European projet was there for all to see. A hollowness due to the fact that the whole apparatus of the union singularly lacks popular, and thus real legitimacy. The European projet as Monnet and his confreres originally conceived it, was not per se, meant to be in any sense, anti-democratic. Unfortunately, from the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 (this month is the sixtieth anniversary of the same) forwards, most of the key decisions that the community has taken, have been taken de haute en bas, as it were. Especially, after the defeat of the EDC in the summer of 1954 by the French National Assembly 1. The end result is that the Community, especially in the last twenty years or so, has relied much more upon a sort of 'stealth' decision-making to advance the EU's agenda 2. Which is not to gainsay, the brilliance of a whole roster of key European Union personalities, from Monnet himself to Jacques Delors (the very last, great personage associated with the EU projet). The matter is simply that in the absence of real, popular legitimacy, the type of difficult decision-making required to salvage the Eurozone is almost impossible to implement, due to a morbid fear of the electorates in various Northern European countries, who were never informed that the creation of the Eurozone and the Euro, would potentially result in the types of cross-border fiscal expenditures, that are now being actively contemplated by Brussels. And as Wolfgant Munchau cogently notes, in absence of concrete steps taken in the very near future, to 'bail-out' Greece and perhaps Ireland and Portugal as well, then the possibility exists of a complete collapse of the entire Eurozone 3. In short, it would not be too much to say that Monnet's dream has almost turned into a cauchemar for the peoples of Europe.

1. For the impact of the failure of the European Defence Community (EDC) on Monnet's thinking and future tactics, see: Monnet, op. cit., pp. 393-399 and passim.

2. As Tony Judt remarked back in 2005: "Legitimacy is also a function of territory. The European Union, as many observers have noted, is an utterly original animal: it is territorially defined without being a consistent territorial entity. Its laws and its regulations are territory-wide, but its citizens cannot vote in each other's national elections (while being free to cast their votes in local and European ballots). The geographical reach of the Union is quite belied by its relative unimportance in Europeans' daily affairs when compared to the country of their birth or residence. To be sure, the Union is a major provider of economic and other services. But this defines its citizens as consumers rather than participants---'a community of passive citizens...governed by strangers'---and thus risks provoking unflattering comparisons with pre-democratic Spain or Poland, or the quiescent political culture of Adenauer's West Germany: unpromising precedents for such an ambitious undertaking." See: Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945. (2005), P.798.

3. For an analysis similar to Munchau's see: Simon Tilford, "Debt restructuring will not end the euro crisis", The Centre for European Reform. 9 May 2011, in

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The American President's Speech on the Near East: Another Damp Squib?

"The greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the talent of its people. In the recent protests, we see that talent on display, as people harness technology to move the world. It’s no coincidence that one of the leaders of Tahrir Square was an executive for Google. That energy now needs to be channeled, in country after country, so that economic growth can solidify the accomplishments of the street. Just as democratic revolutions can be triggered by a lack of individual opportunity, successful democratic transitions depend upon an expansion of growth and broad-based prosperity....

First, we have asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week’s G-8 summit for what needs to be done to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt. Together, we must help them recover from the disruption of their democratic upheaval, and support the governments that will be elected later this year. And we are urging other countries to help Egypt and Tunisia meet its near-term financial needs.

Second, we do not want a democratic Egypt to be saddled by the debts of its past. So we will relieve a democratic Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt, and work with our Egyptian partners to invest these resources to foster growth and entrepreneurship. We will help Egypt regain access to markets by guaranteeing $1 billion in borrowing that is needed to finance infrastructure and job creation. And we will help newly democratic governments recover assets that were stolen.

Third, we are working with Congress to create Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt. These will be modeled on funds that supported the transitions in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. OPIC will soon launch a $2 billion facility to support private investment across the region. And we will work with allies to refocus the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development so that it provides the same support for democratic transitions and economic modernization in the Middle East and North Africa as it has in Europe.

Fourth, the United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa. If you take out oil exports, this region of over 400 million people exports roughly the same amount as Switzerland. So we will work with the EU to facilitate more trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote integration with U.S. and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement. Just as EU membership served as an incentive for reform in Europe, so should the vision of a modern and prosperous economy create a powerful force for reform in the Middle East and North Africa....

Ultimately, it is up to Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them, nor can endless delay make the problem go away. But what America and the international community can do is state frankly what everyone knows: a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state....

These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I know that these steps alone will not resolve this conflict. Two wrenching and emotional issues remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians.

Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table. In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel – how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist. In the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question. Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse."

"Obama's Mideast Speech," At the American State Department, 19 May 2011, in

The speech by the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name (aka The President of the United States) on events of the past six months in the Near and Middle East, earn from this observer a mark of 'pas mal'. No more and no less. It of course could have been worse: lots of moralistic, Wilsonian rhetoric without anything to support it. In this instance, at the very least, American policy to support the new regimes (if one may call them that at this point) in Tunisia and Egypt has been clarified somewhat, especially in the economic sphere. And while the debt forgiveness is small (One Billion Dollars) and the amount of new aid (actually merely credit guarantees) is also small (One Billion Dollars), at the very least it is a start. The initiatives to involve the G-8 and the European Union are to be welcomed. If unfortunately rather vague and hostage to follow-through by other parties. The same with the concept of a free-trade agreements with Tunisia and Egypt: given the reluctance of the American Congress to approve any trade-agreements in recent years, one is rather skeptical that anything of a positive nature will be done for either Near Eastern country in the near or indeed far future.

In short, while the American President's initiatives are welcome, it is hardly the second coming of the Marshall Plan to put mildly. With nothing resembling the energy or the will showing that the situation in the Near & Middle East requires special measures and not merely something akin to 'status quo plus'. Concerning the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the words employed were on the whole, not bad (once again), but hardly impresses one as expressing deep concern with the current impasse between the two sides. Nor were we given any idea that the Netanyahu's Cabinet, de facto veto of any substantive movement in the negotiations, has been removed or for that matter even broached with the Israeli Prime Minister (who is now in the USA on a visit). For the rest of it, the assigning of merit and demerit badges to the regimes in Persia, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria is par for the course, as was the total silence concerning the rest of the Gulf & Saudi Arabia. Similarly, the language used about the Libyan War was for the most part in keeping with Western policy, but one longed to hear something more substantive as to when the conflict will be wound-up. The same thing can be said, in spades about the Afghanistan War as well of course. To my genuine surprise, for once I find myself agreeing with that paragon of bien-pensant Liberal Bourgeois commentariat, the Financial Times Philip Stephens, who correctly I believe encapsulates the chief flaws of both the speech itself, as well as the policy behind it, and indeed the man who enunciated both to-day:

"The speeches – the latest on the Arab uprisings – are fine; better than fine really. They acknowledge the complexities of the choices: the unenviable trade-offs between short-term security and long-term strategic interest, and the limitations as well as the reach of US power....The doubts are about follow-through. Having set out his hopes, will Mr Obama invest serious political capital to support them? His administration’s decision this week to impose sanctions on Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime is one encouraging sign. But we have been here before....

Mr Obama, these distant admirers used to say, was careful, deliberative and admirably reluctant to rush into wars. What more could they ask after the Wild West policies of the Bush years. The snag is that laudable caution and scholarly reflection can drift easily into indecision....Still more pressing is what used to be called the Middle East peace process. This week Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu is in Washington setting terms that he knows the Palestinians can only reject. Mr Netanyahu’s implacable opposition to Palestinian statehood is a rare constant in the region. The expansion of illegal settlements on the West Bank has mocked US attempts to advance an even-handed approach. It has also cost Israel most of its friends. The remaining option for Mr Obama is to announce publicly the essential parameters for a settlement that would guarantee Israel security and the Palestinians a viable state. He has taken one step in that direction by reaffirming the region’s 1967 borders as the basis for an agreement.

White House aides argue that to set out the rest of the framework would risk his prestige. Maybe. But the US is not in control of events. Doing nothing carries its own dangers. Mr Obama has a strategic choice. He can help shape the future. Or he can analyse it"<>/em 1.

1. Philip Stephens, "A choice of Minefields for Obama," The Financial Times. 19 May 2011, in For a similar critique of both the policy and the speech see: Paul Pillar,"The oblique approach to Middle East Policy," The National Interest. 19 May 2011, in

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Whither American & Western Policy in Afghanistan? A comment

"The United States intervened in Afghanistan after September 11 to wreck al-Qaeda. Ousting the Taliban offered the added benefit of warning other governments that hosting terrorists was a sure ticket to destruction. Both objectives were quickly achieved...The death of bin Laden should be the signal for President Obama to begin a speedy disengagement.

The United States went into Afghanistan to disrupt and oust the Taliban. In that Washington has been successful. The original organization has been dismantled. The number of al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan is estimated to be in the scores. Bin Laden’s long sojourn in Pakistan demonstrates that Afghanistan’s neighbor is now al-Qaeda’s real home. Moreover, much terrorist energy has shifted to independent offshoots in other nations—today most importantly Yemen. For them Afghanistan is irrelevant. There is enough loosely governed territory on earth for terrorists to always find sanctuary somewhere.

Anyway, the lesson that America is able and willing to retaliate when attacked remains. Even in 2001 the Taliban appeared to be linked to al-Qaeda more by hospitality than ideology, and the Taliban leadership seemed none too pleased at what bin Laden brought down upon his hosts. The movement was committed to ruling Afghanistan, not provoking America. The last decade likely has reinforced those sentiments. Today’s Taliban contains some Islamic extremists, but much of its manpower comes from Pashtun villagers determined to fight outsiders at home, not attack foreigners abroad. It seems unlikely that the Taliban would risk any power regained by inviting back al-Qaeda. In fact, unverified accounts suggest that some Taliban officials have offered intelligence about al-Qaeda to demonstrate their interest in holding political talks with the Kabul government and the U.S.
If America is not in Afghanistan to stop terrorism, then what are roughly 100,000 U.S. military personnel, along with tens of thousands of allied troops, military contractors, and aid workers, doing? U.S. intervention is supposed to enforce “stability” in this “vital” region, just like Washington policy makers term most every other spot on earth. Yet for America’s first two centuries or so, no policy maker would have imagined having any reason to go to war in Central Asia. President Bush acted not because Afghanistan was strategically important to America but because it hosted al-Qaeda training camps.

The region is no more important today to the United States. Of course, Afghanistan matters much more to its neighbors, particularly Russia, China, Iran, India, and Pakistan. Some policy makers appear to fantasize that only a pro-Western government buttressed by an American military presence can prevent the region from degenerating into a renewed “Great Game” involving potentially violent geopolitical competition. But it’s too late. That struggle already is ongoing…”

Douglas Bandow, “Damage control in Kabul,” The National Interest. 16 May 2011, in

“Gone were the days when we enjoyed the luxury of choosing the moment to involve ourselves in world affairs. We were permanently involved---but not so physically or morally predominant as before. We had to take account of other power centers and strive for an equilibrium among them. The China initiative also restored perspective to our national policy. It reduced Indochina to its proper scale---a small peninsula on a major continent.”

Henry Alfred Kissinger, The White Hours Years (1979), p. 1049 (emphasis added).

With the death of Bin Laden, it is now possible to view the American, Western involvement in the Afghanistan imbroglio, in its proper perspective. Along the lines that Mr. Douglas Bandow lays out above. And that perspective is that per se, there are no great American / Western interests in the country of a positive variety. The only interests are of a negative variety: denying this country to any third party who wishes to make use of it, as a base and or safe harbor for terrorist activity. Id est, what the Al Qaeda was utilizing it for prior to the 11th of September 2001. And therefore, the proposal that the American Vice-President, Mr. Biden offered up, in the internal policy review conducted by the American administration approximately two years ago, was in fact a correct one: a light ‘footprint’, on the ground, with a much greater reliance upon drone strikes and air power, as well as the occasional special forces assault tactics (`a la the type of attack which eliminated Bin Laden). The only problem of such a strategy is that it recapitulates what was the Rumsfeldian strategy circa 2002-2006, with the only addition of the drone strikes, and of course the prospects of a ‘negotiated’ settlement of the conflict with elements of the Taliban. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing positively that those elements of the Taliban who do wish to opt out of the conflict are either the majority or the most important ones to speak of. Which in concrete terms means that there is a possibility, not perhaps a strong possibility, but still something that a return to the Rumsfeldian strategy plus, will result in a collapse of the existing regime in Kabul. Or at the very least, its presence in the entire Pashtun portion of the country in the South and West. And potentially a complete regime collapse `a la what happened in South Vietnam in the Spring of 1975. In short, the Rumsfeld-Biden policy is a calculated risk, but in the circumstances, it seems to me to be a better strategy, than pouring troops and money for what is au fond, a secondary strategic interest. Given the limited resources that the USA can count on at the moment, attempting to make Afghanistan into a secure, western-leaning country, seems to me to be a rather utopian prospect. I of course admit, that I among others, viewed this prospect as a necessary one, circa, one or two years ago, but, as Lord Keynes once put it: ‘when the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do sir?’

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


"The conventional wisdom is that China is miles behind in military terms, and that's certainly true if you conceive of a military conflict in 20th century technological terms. But in 21st century terms, in the realm of cyberspace, in fact the gap between China and the United States is very narrow indeed. There are even those who say that the Chinese have overtaken the United States in the battlefield of the future. Third, and finally on this point, when one contemplates China's medium-term future, a future in which growth will slow, that's almost guaranteed, but the Communist Party will seek to maintain its monopoly on power, a question arises. And that question is how does the Chinese regime legitimate itself in the eyes of its population if it can't deliver growth as rapid as eight, nine, 10 percent per annum? One obvious answer to that question which has some very familiar historical precedents, is through nationalism. And nationalism is one of the most important and growing factors in Chinese politics today. My argument, in other words, is that we shouldn't assume that China will somehow revert to Ming or Song, or for that matter Qing precedents in the way that it conducts its foreign policy, now that the great reconvergence has put China back to where it used to be in terms of its relative economic importance. It may be that in downloading the killer applications of capitalism, that China has also downloaded some other aspects of Western institutional life, of which informal empire is an extremely important part….

Either it can become the policy of the West to balance the rise of China with some kind of Asian coalition in which India would clearly have to play a crucial role, or we need to accept that that's not a viable strategy and that we must come to terms therefore with the rise of China through a kind of appeasement. Which, for example, would get rid of the kind of potential flashpoints that currently exist over, say, Taiwan. Anachronistic commitments by the United States which could prove extremely troublesome in the case of a showdown. At any event, the argument I want to make this afternoon is that the status quo is an illusion. Chimerica is dead and we are entering a new world in which I think after the change of leadership next year, China will be altogether more assertive and altogether less quiet about its rise. I hope that here at Chatham House, minds are already being applied seriously to this problem and to what it implies for the future of British foreign policy. For me, the troubling news is that I don't see much sign of that happening in the United States right now".

Niall Ferguson, "The West and the Rest: the Changing Global Balance of Power in Historical Perspective," The Royal Institute of International Affairs. 9 May 2011, in

Niall Ferguson is one of the marvels of the Anglo-American historical profession. In some ways he is a modern-day A.J.P. Taylor, in his wonderful ability to crank-out well-written books seemingly at will. In the erste-klasse, Oxonian, mandarin manner, which combines stylistic fluidity with a soupcon of profundity and at times indeed wisdom. Unfortunately, unlike Alan Taylor, Ferguson also suffers from a tendency to be facile and glib something which his 2004 book Colossus, with its celebration of American hyper-power primacy immediately brings to mind. With all that being said, what is one to make of the prognosis which he outlines here, given earlier this week, at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) headquarters in Saint James Square, on the future of the Chinese foreign policy?

Let me say that in point of fact, there is much sense in what Ferguson has to say about the likely evolution of the PRC's foreign policy. And while I am not as quite alarmed as Ferguson is about the PRC's ability to impact negatively the International system, since Ferguson in his thesis overlooks the fact that China's per capita income levels will not match the those of the United States for another fifty years if not longer, I do agree that the pattern of Peking's foreign policy is changing and is more likely than not to change future years in the manner that he describes. And indeed, I also agree with him why this will be the case: primat der innenpolitik. Simply put, as long as the current regime in Peking stays in place, there will be great incentives for China's rulers to shift any domestic discontent onto the foreign plane. This is something which China's leaders have practiced over the past twenty years and there is nothing short of real democratization with all that implies (id est. de facto if not de jure Independence for Sinkiang and Tibet), which will end such policies. Contrary to those like former American Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who believe that the PRC will in the future follow the path of sweet reason, or our bien-pensant liberal bourgeois commentators`a la Philip Stephens of the Financial Times, who believe that the PRC will eschew the path of machpolitik unless 'provoked' (id est. along the lines of 'China's peaceful rise') 1.

Where I disagree with Ferguson is in his 'geopolitical reductionism' (to coin a phrase) as per China's future great power status. Specifically, there is in Ferguson's analysis, an unstated tendency to assume that China's path in the next twenty to thirty years, will be akin to those of the USA or Great Britain. In addition to the issue of China's relative per capita income, Ferguson thesis seems to me to ignore salient aspects of China's strategic position vis-`a-vis its rivals. Whereas the USA at the beginning of the 20th century, had already achieved regional predominance, if not hegemony in North America, this is very far indeed the case for the PRC 2. In particular, unlike the USA circa anno domini 1900, the PRC, notwithstanding its current economic standing, and greatly increased military expenditure is still surrounded by powers who are either overtly hostile, or at the very least de facto opposed to China's perceived regional ambitions: Japan, India, Vietnam, South Korea, Formosa [Taiwan], and of course the USA. Which in effect means that there are serious structural constraints to China following the earlier paths of either USA or the UK. Similarly, while the PRC has world-wide economic interests, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and to a lesser extent Latin America, it has singularly failed to anchor these interests via military bases and or alliances. Indeed, given the extent of American military bases and alliance systems worldwide, it is somewhat difficult to imagine exactly how China (or for that matter any other power), could possibly 'muscle-in' and oust the USA from these various alliances & locations. In the absence of the USA unilaterally withdrawing from the same. And while Peking has made headlines with talk of its (finally) launching its first aircraft carrier in 2012, as one analyst has noted, militarily speaking the ship is more of a damp squib than anything else 3. Similarly, it does well to recall, the China's last military engagement was 1979, and in that episode it was ignominiously defeated by North Vietnam. Au fond, it is my surmise that while Ferguson is 'spot-on', in positing that the PRC's future foreign policy will feature more of a challenge to the existing international order, and in addition is correct in posting that the idea of Chinese-American symbiosis is indeed 'an illusion', that per se, does not obviate the structural blockages that can and will make difficult if not impossible for Peking to assume the mantle of primacy, much less hegemony `a la the USA and the UK in the 19th and 20th centuries. Which in turn does not in any fashion take away from Ferguson's point that now is the time for the West (Europe and the United States) to combine together, otherwise the regime in Peking shall happily play the old game of divide et impera against both.

1.On Kissinger's lastest thinking on China see: Henry Kissinger, On China (2011). For an initial review of the same, see: Max Frankel, "Henry Kissinger on China," The New York Times. 13 May 2011, in For a typical example of bien-pensant thinking on China see: Eswar Prasad, "Re-balancing the U.S.-China Relationship," The Brookings Institute. 17 January 2011, in; John Pomfret,"Interview:
U.S.-China Knotty but Necessary Ties," Council on Foreign Relations. 13 May 2011, in

2. Kenneth Bourne, The Balance of Power in North America (1967), pp. 321-398 and passim.

3. Douglas H. Paal, "The Chinese are Coming!" The Carnegie Endowment. 26 April 2011, in

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


"Americans are grappling with an unfamiliar role. They are accustomed to running things – especially when those things involve going to war. Not this time. As the west’s fighter jets patrol the skies over Libya, President Barack Obama has told his generals and diplomats to stand back. We have been shown the new geopolitical landscape....

I am told that US diplomats are finding it a struggle to adjust to the new disposition of responsibilities. They are used to driving off in their chosen direction as others clamber aboard. It’s the natural order: Americans do things; Europeans talk about them. Washington does not wait on Paris and London....

The domestic politics in the US speak for themselves. Mr Obama did not win the presidency on a promise to start a third war of choice in the Middle East. Now he has a second term to secure and he wants to focus on getting the domestic economy right. As much as Col Gaddafi is reviled, there is not much appetite among voters to commit US forces.

The mistake for America’s allies would be to see this more selective, almost diffident, posture as an aberration – a response to a unique set of political circumstances and regional sensitivities. Much more likely, it marks the structural shift in the geopolitical balance".

Philip Stephens, "Obama to Europe: bon courage," The Financial Times. 24 March 2011, in

"In my view, Vietnam was not the cause of our difficulties but a symptom. We were in a period of painful adjustment to a profound transformation of global politics; we were being forced to come to grips with the tension between our history and our new necessities....I was convinced that the deepest cause of our national unease was the realization-as yet dimly perceived-that we were becoming like other nations in the need to recognize that our power, while vast, had limits. Our resources were no longer infinite in relations to our problems; instead we had to set priorities, both intellectual and material."

Henry Alfred Kissinger, The White House Years, (1979), p. 57.

The thesis that Philip Stephens in the Financial Times presents is not an uncommon one in the European press. Indeed, the crisis in Libya has merely given it further plausibility. The question that I would like to raise though is if it is in fact correct? Are we in a new 'geopolitical landscape'? A landscape which differs from that of say the Spring of 2005 or 2006? With all the available evidence, it is my surmise that in point of fact, we are not in a 'new geopolitical landscape'. That while there has indeed been a change in the tenor and tone of American statecraft in the past few years, that this change is part of a normal adaptation that American foreign policy undergoes every decade and in some cases in even less time. And that coupled with this is the fact that in the current instance, the current American Administration has seen much more continuity than discontinuity with its predecessors.

The argument for those who make the point that there is a 'new geopolitical landscape', is something along that lines that due to: i) the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; ii) the financial crisis and subsequent 'great recession'; that American power is not much more seriously restrained than has been the norm. And by the 'norm', it is argued since the onset of the militarization of the Cold War in 1950. How factually accurate is this thesis? Based upon the historical record, the answer clearly is: not very. As the premier historian of post-1945 foreign policy, John Lewis Gaddis, posited correctly in his seminal book, 'Strategies of Containment' (first published in 1982), American foreign policy in the years after 1950 have seen a continual waxing and waning of American propensity to use force 1. With administrations such as Truman, Kennedy-Johnson, Reagan and Bush the Younger, all showing a much greater propensity to favor the use of force (sometimes unilaterally, sometimes multi-laterally), as well as higher defense spending, and generally offering up the tone (and sometimes the reality) of a more aggressive foreign policy. Contrasted with this are the administrations of Eisenhower, Nixon-Ford, Clinton and to an extent the current administration. All of which, saw a diminution of defense spending, and studied re-duction in overseas commitments, a much greater reliance upon working with allies and or foreign partners. As Gaddis correctly notes, Henry Kissinger in particular emphasised this aspect, as it related to the American power position, circa 1969-1970:

"Kissinger had long argued that the emerging shift from a bipolar to a multipular world was in the best interests of the United States. Bipolarity, he wrote in 1968, encouraged rigidity: 'A bipolarity world loses the perspective for nuance; a gain for one side appears as an absolute loss for the other. Every issue seems to involve a question of survival. The smaller countries are torn between a desire for protection and a wish to escape big power dominance. Each of the superpowers is beset by the desire to maintain its preeminence among its allies, to increase its influence among the uncommitted, and its security vis-`a-vis its opponent'... A multipolar system would provide greater opportunities for working out a shared concept of international order; it also had built into it a degree of 'snatural' or 'organic' balance not present in a bipolar sysem with, accordingly, less need for individual elements in hte balance to bear the primary burden of maintaining it. 'A more pluralistic world,' Kissinger concluded,'is profoundly in our long-term interests'

Viewed in the above light, the policies of the current administration can hardly be said to mark (pace Philip Stephens) a 'structural shift', in American foreign policy when viewed in the longue duree of over the past sixty years. Just as the Eisenhower administration proved reluctant to intervene in Southeast Asia circa 1954, in the absence of British assistance, so the current administration has similarly reduced its commitment to intervening in the Libyan conflict to what it sees (correctly I believe) are the rather limited American interest in the same. In point of fact, we have here nothing as 'structural' as say the 'Nixon Doctrine', which au fond, was a farming out, of American power positions in the Near East. Where Persia, under the Shah Pahlavi, was given carte blanche by Nixon and Kissinger in 1972, to assume the role of 'Gendarme of the Gulf' 3. Something which for a short time anyway, had the result of Persia assuming a power position, independent of the United States. Including as we now know, acquiring a nuclear weapons capacity. Looking at matters from this perspective, nothing that the current administration is doing and has done, bears anything like either the Eisenhower or Nixon administration's exercises in multi-laterialism and burden-sharing. If and only if, exampli gratia, the Afghanistan 'surge', was predicated upon NATO allies also sending in troops, would we see something akin to a structural shift in American foreign policy. In the absence of which, predictions `a la Philip Stephens and people of his ilk, are, like the reported demise of the American writer, Mark Twain, very much exaggerated.

1. John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment, Revised & expanded edition. (2005).

2. Gaddis, op. cit., p. 279.

3. Kissinger, op. cit. pp. 1261-1265. See also: Henry A. Kissinger, Years of Upheaval,
(1982). pp. 668-676.

Monday, May 09, 2011


"The Muslim Brotherhood opposition group in Egypt has called for a review of the 1978 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel and says it should be resubmitted to a “freely elected” parliament for approval.

Regarded as the best-organised political group in Egypt, the Brotherhood is poised to play an influential role in politics in the country after the fall of the regime of Hosni Mubarak, the former president. Egypt is due to hold parliamentary elections in September and the group is likely to emerge with the largest bloc in the assembly. It said this week that its candidates would compete for half the seats in parliament.

“We should now raise our voice to ask for: an end to normalisation [with Israel] which has given our enemy stability; an end to [Egyptian] efforts to secure from infiltrators the borders of the Zionists; the abolition of all [joint] economic interests such as the Qualified Industrial Zones agreement and the export of Egyptian gas to Israel,” said Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood’s leader".

Heba Saleh, "Muslim Brotherhood urges review of Israel ties," The Financial Times. 5 May 2011, in

"Egypt's foreign policy tends to be dominated to an embarrassing degree by the day-to-day exigencies of internal politics....Egyptian politicians will I fear always try to outdo each other in patriotism; to misquote the old saying, it is 'surtout pas d'ennemi `a droite' in Egypt. When we made the 1936 Treaty, we took the wise precaution of getting virtually every political leader of importance into a coalition government and having his signature on the treaty. This procedure is out of the question to-day. In the present political situation it seems really impossible to get the Wafd or even the Moslem Brotherhood to share responsibility with the present Government. In any case even the procedure we adopted in 1936 did not stop the Wafd in general or Nahas Pasha [long-time Egyptian Prime Minister under the Monarchy] personally from attacking the agreement they had signed or even from abrogating it altogether. This is a sobering reflexion for any who are tempted to believe that we can ever place much trust in the Egyptians. It also shows that a treaty concluded with an Egyptian government based on overwhelming popular support is not paradoxically, any more likely to endure than one concluded with a military junta."

Robin Hankey (Cairo) to the Marquess of Salisbury (London), 29 September 1953, in F[oreign]O[ffice] 371/102706, PRO Office, Kew, UK.

The report in the last Friday's Financial Times is quite ominous and worrying. It in effect raises the likelihood that there is a possibility of a Muslim Brotherhood dominated government, come this October will wish to either modify or even do away with the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. The treaty which is the foundation stone of peace in the region and indeed American and Western security in the Near and Middle East. Sans this treaty and there is no gainsaying what may occur in the region. The skeptic (or should one say 'optimist'?) would argue that the Egyptian army will never allow this to happen. Perhaps this is the case, but given the changes already under way in Egyptian foreign policy, even before the real beginnings of popular politics, would seem to indicate that the military might not feel willing or able to overrule what are seem to be policies which are near uniformally popular. Something which the 1979 treaty is most definitely not. Either now, nor previously. Is there anything which can be done by the USA and the European powers to prevent things from getting out of control? Yes, and oddly enough, Robin Hankey, Churchill's personal choice to scuttle the approaching Anglo-Egyptian treaty back in 1953, has already suggested what should be done, and I would say immediately, namely:

"We can and in my opinion must do something on a big scale to boost [the] Egyptian economy and should be prepared to make a very early start in doing so, if the Council for the Revolutionary Command [Id est, the Nasserist regime] is not sooner rather than later to sink beneath the weight of its economic troubles. I have suggested elsewhere that we should combine in this with the Americans who seem to be willing to cooperate."

Given the massive disruption that Egypt has experienced already from the overthrow of Mubarak, it goes without saying that economic assistance, on a large-scale is an immediate necessity. According to the Washington-based, Institute of International Finance, Egypt's economy is likely to suffer a recession during the current year. With output potentially falling as much as two and half percent 2. Given this factum, a programme of large-scale economic assistance before the upcoming Parliamentary & Presidential elections, is nothing other than a necessity. Otherwise, I am afraid that the more extremist elements in the country will receive even more popular backing for their policies.

1. Hankey to Salisbury, Op. cit.

2. Robin Harding, "Recession Fears for Egypt and Tunisia," The Financial Times. 3 May 2011, in

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


"The great man of the age is the one who can put into words the will of his age, tell his age what its will is, and accomplish it. What he does is the heart and essence of his age; he actualises his age."

Georg Wilhelm Fredrich Hegel, The Philosophy of Right. (1820)

The happy demise of the Arab world's modern-day Napoleon of terrorist crime, Bin Laden has called forth many comments and thoughts. Some pertinent, some less so and some of the arriere-pensee variety. Regardless, what can one say of this rather twisted and seemingly demonic individual? First and foremost is that his historical importance, such as it is, is tied up with the political and cultural zeitgeist of the Arab and to a lesser extent Muslim world from the late 1970's to say circa 2010. Just as to pronounce the name 'Nasser', will immediately conjure up the era of the 1950's and 1960's, the era of classical Arab secular nationalism. So in the future, pronouncing the name 'Bin Laden', will conjure up, the era of Arab / Muslim terrorist outrages and Islamic extremist ideology. And just as the first era was eventually proven to be politically stillborn and bankrupt, so it appears that with the so-called 'Arab Spring', Bin Laden's form of Islamic radicalism has been shown to be similarly bankrupt. The question which puzzles me, and which an answer is not entirely clear, is why did the era of Bin Laden result in this widespread Arab, and Muslim urge to intervene in foreign conflicts? Per se there is nothing in the prior history of either the Arabs or Islam which either mandated or saw that volunteers for Jihadism in places as far afield as Bosnia, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq, Kashmir, among others, emerge ex nihilo. Where was this urge circa 1975 in the Lebanese Civil War? Or in the first three Indian-Pakistani Wars? Much less in earlier conflicts. Which seems to suggest that like all ideologies, the Islamic radicalism of the last thirty to forty years or so, is part and parcel of a certain dysfunctional dynamic of Arab and to a lesser extent Muslim, society & culture. For reasons which have been perhaps best explained by the French scholar, Olivier Roy, there seems to be endemic to the nature of Islam as a form of religious practice, aspects which seems to grant a form of legitimacy to the types of violence which 'Bin Ladenism' best exemplifies. As Roy noted a few years back in an interview:

"I think Islam provides a common denominator for different categories of the population. A young, modern, Western-educated intellectual can speak with an illiterate peasant in terms of Islam. Secondly, Islam provides a universal ideology, which is not the case with Hinduism, Shintoism, whatever you want. It's a universal religion with a tradition of fighting. Not necessarily of blood and things like that, but there is [conquest] in the history of Islam, which goes along with the nostalgia of the idea that we lost our identity, we lost our territories, so we now can restore that by using the paradigm of the time of the Prophet, when Islam was expanding world religion. This is a dimension of internationalism and universalism which is specifically at work in the new Islamic militancy." 1

Which seems to result in this militant felt need, nay necessity to use violence in extraneous conflicts, whose only commonality is that one of the parties, shares the same religion as oneself. The sheer absurdity of this (now seemingly common) point of view is perhaps best displayed, per contra by the notion that the recent, or current conflicts in Nigeria or the Sudan would necessitate Christians in either North America or Western Europe, volunteering to join their coreligionists in the fighting. This absurdity, puts paid to the idea (fondly evoked from time to time by our liberal bien pensants in the Anglo-American world) that Muslim extremists, are merely mirror images of so-called 'Christian extremists'.

Where the above state of affairs leaves us at this point in time is difficult to say. Except that in the absence of either a successful liberalization of both Arab political cultures in the Near and Middle East, as well in the surrounding Muslim countries, and a fundamental change in the nature of Islamic theology and practice, I am afraid that 'Bin Ladenism', while perhaps now in decline, may one day soon stage a return to the forefront.

1. Harry Kreisler, "Conversation with Olivier Roy," 16 April 2002. See also, Roy's best-known book: The Failure of Political Islam (1994). For a different approach which reaches similar conclusions to Roy, see some of the pertinent essays in: Bernard Lewis, From Babel to Dragomans: interpreting the Middle East. (2004).

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


"Two apparently distinct facts have drawn our attention. The first and most obvious is U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement late May 1 that Osama bin Laden had been killed. The second is Obama’s April 28 announcement that Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, will replace Leon Panetta as CIA director. Together, the events create the conditions for the U.S. president to expand his room to maneuver in the war in Afghanistan and ultimately reorient U.S. foreign-policy priorities.

The U.S. mission in Afghanistan, as stated by Obama, is the destruction of al Qaeda—in particular, of the apex leadership that once proved capable of carrying out transnational, high-casualty attacks. Although al Qaeda had already been severely weakened in Afghanistan and has recently focused more on surviving inside Pakistan than executing meaningful operations, the inability to capture or kill bin Laden meant that the U.S. mission itself had not been completed. With the death of bin Laden, a plausible, if not altogether accurate, political narrative in the United States can develop, claiming that the mission in Afghanistan has been accomplished. During a White House press conference on Monday, U.S. Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan commented on bin Laden’s death, saying "We are going to try to take advantage of this to demonstrate to people in the area that al Qaeda is a thing of the past, and we are hoping to bury the rest of al Qaeda along with Osama bin Laden."

Petraeus was the architect of the American counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. He symbolized American will in the region. The new appointment effectively sidelines the general. By appointing Petraeus as CIA director (he is expected to assume the position in July), Obama has put the popular general in charge of a complex intelligence bureaucracy. From Langley, Petraeus can no longer be the authoritative military voice on the war effort in Afghanistan. Obama has retained Petraeus as a senior member of the administration while simultaneously isolating him.

Together, the two steps open the door for serious consideration of an accelerated withdrawal of most U.S. forces from Afghanistan. The U.S. political leadership faced difficulty in shaping an exit strategy from Afghanistan with Petraeus in command because the general continued to insist that the war was going reasonably well. Whether or not this accurately represented the military campaign (and we tend to think that the war had more troubles than Petraeus was admitting), Petraeus' prestige made it difficult to withdraw over his objections.

Petraeus is now being removed from the Afghanistan picture. Bin Laden has already been removed. With his death, an argument in the United States can be made that the U.S. mission has been accomplished and that, while there may be room for some manner of special-operations counterterrorism forces, the need for additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan no longer exists. It is difficult to ignore the fact that bin Laden was killed, not in Afghanistan, but deep within Pakistani borders. With the counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan dissipating, the nation-building mission in Afghanistan becomes unnecessary and nonessential. In addition, with tensions in the Persian Gulf building in the lead-up to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, ending the war in Afghanistan critically releases U.S. forces for operations elsewhere. It is therefore possible for the United States to consider an accelerated withdrawal in a way that wasn’t possible before.

We are not saying that bin Laden's death and Petraeus' new appointment are anything beyond coincidental. We are saying that the confluence of the two events creates politically strategic opportunities for the U.S. administration that did not exist before, the most important of which is the possibility for a dramatic shift in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan".

George Friedman, "Geopolitical Diary: The Death of Bin Laden and a strategic shift in Washington," Stratfor. 3 May 2011, in

"We should select first those areas of the world which...we cannot fall into hands hostile to us, and...we [should] put forward, as the first specific, objective of our policy and as an irreducible minimum of national security, the maintenance of political regimes in those areas as least favorable to the continued power and independence of our nation."

George Frost Kennan, "Comments on the general trend of U.S. Foreign policy,"
20 August 1948, in Kennan Papers, Seeley Mudd Library, Princeton University.

What can one make of the above referenced prediction? And what is the likelihood of such a 'scuttle' scenario (in the eyes of some) coming about? In terms of the situation on the ground, Western forces, the Americans in particular are exhausted by the non-improvement in 'nation-building' in Afghanistan. The scale of the corruption and incompetence of the Karzai regime both at the centre (Kabul) and in the provinces beggars belief 1. And as the example of both the last presidential and the parliamentary elections have shown, corruption and fraud are almost inherent to the nature of the existing regime in Kabul. When added to the regular series of verbal pyrotechnics by the mercurial Afghan President, it is not very surprising that Washington, et. al., are visibly exhausted with the war in Afghanistan. This is not only true of civilians in the American administration (not to speak of the Europeans), but also the military both in the USA and in the rest of NATO, are also less than enthusiastic about continuing the now almost ten year effort. Albeit, only in its third year, at anything approaching its current scale in terms of numbers of troops 'in country'. Another consideration is that the successful elimination of Bin Laden, highlights the idea that rather than attempting to proceed with the 'nation-building' exercise in its current form, a better alternative would be to return to the Rumsfeldian strategy of a 'light-foot print', on the ground with a greater reliance on drones, air power and the occasional deep penetration raid with special, elite forces. Id est, what was tried in Afghanistan between November 2001 and early 2007. The only difference being that as Western forces leave the country (in this scenario), there would be even more emphasis on building up, the Afghan Army. Any such change-over in strategy, being coupled with pourparlers with the Afghan Taliban.

The fact that the war in Afghanistan, while not widely unpopular, is hardly popular in any country which is supplying forces, would add to the pressure to change strategy on the ground and expedite the withdrawal of NATO forces. Something which the current American administration can hardly fail to be aware of. Similarly, the fact that any such change-over in strategy will allow the American administration to reduce its military expenditure, is also not something which it cannot be unaware of. The underlying aspect is that from a larger, 'geo-strategic' point of view, Afghanistan cannot per se, be viewed as an important, primary interest. It is au fond merely a place to be denied to 'others' (in this case Islamist terrorists with international ambitions). And the current effort, both in terms of lives, money and attention is not worthwhile strategically speaking. Something which is, in fact the case admittedly. The only issue is that the previous attempt at a Rumsfeldian strategy in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2006, failed to work. And while perhaps the Afghan army is now better prepared, marginally speaking to operate on its own. No one seriously believes that it could defeat, nay hold-off the Taliban if the latter were to go over on the offensive in full strength, once NATO troops were to leave the country. Unless of course, the Americans were willing to re-enter the war, at least from the air, on a massive scale `a la the Christmas bombing of Hanoi in 1972. Something which while technically possible, may not be possible politically, in say anno domini 2014, 2015, 2017? That in a nutshell is the real Afghan quandary: no strategy on the ground has proven to be successful so far. And on one has in fact suggested one that in the short-term promises anything approaching real and lasting success.

1. Anthony Cordesman, "Afghanistan and the uncertain metrics of progress," The Center for Strategic and International Studies. 21 March 2011,