Monday, October 31, 2011


On Wednesday the 26th of October, at the august and ultra-elegant, beaux-arts, ‘Studio Building’, Dr. Robin Niblett, Director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (‘Chatham House’), spoke to a select audience of attendees (the total party was approximately twenty in all), in the splendidly luxurious & palatial apartment quarters of Mr. & Mrs. John Heimann, the patrician-like, Investment Banker, and former Comptroller of the Currency (1977-1981). In the midst of offerings of black caviar and champagne, the following were some of the pensee that Dr. Niblett threw-out in a most intellectually interesting tour d’horizon:

  1. that the successful termination of the Libyan War, notwithstanding, Europe has a colossal need to rectify its ‘troubled’ relationship with the countries of North Africa and that rather than viewing the Mediterranean as merely a 'border', what European Union needs to do is view the Mediterranean as a meeting place, a venue of goods, peoples and ideas. Something that Dr. Niblett contended was the case, prior to the nineteenth century. That the failure to remedy this situation would produce many worse problems than what one sees on the horizon currently.

  2. contrary to the headlines that one reads currently, the crisis over the Euro and the solvency of Greece and other peripheral countries of the Eurozone, is something hat EU can overcome, and that this will be done by simply expanding and deepening the institutional structures and capacities of the common institutions of the Eurozone. That a common Finance Ministry, and a common Eurozone budget will inevitably be the solution to the current problems of the Eurozone.

  3. that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires a serious effort by Israel to meet the moderates of the Palestinian Authority ‘half-way’ and that in the absence of which, there is a very real danger that the situation will muddle on indefinitely unresolved with negative effects on the region as a whole.

What is one to make of Dr. Niblett’s exposition? Well aside from agreeing with his thoughts on the current impasse between the Israelis and the Palestinians, I cannot entirely agree with his suppositions. In particular, the idea that a ‘Braudelian’ view of the Mediterranean was ever a reality is completely ahistorical. The fact is that the Mediterranean has not been ‘whole’ in terms of being an economic and cultural center since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century anno domini. Conflict, not commonality was the hallmark of the Mediterranean in the period prior to European colonization in the second, third and forth quarters of the nineteenth century. With the ‘Retreat from Empire’, in the third quarter of the twentieth century, the earlier type of relationships between Europe and North Africa has merely reasserted itself. Quod erat demonstrandum. As per the future relations between Europe and North Africa, in the absence of the possibility of membership of the European Union, which even Dr. Niblett agrees is an impossibility, the only realistic scenarios from my perspective are: a) more financial assistance to develop the region’s economies; b) greater diplomatic and political ‘guidance’ and assistance in terms of institution-building and civil-society assistance; c) infinitely greater degrees of immigration controls and checks to ensure that illegal immigration from North Africa does not swamp Southern Europe in the next twenty years.

As per what Dr. Niblett regards as a de minimis, problem of the Euro, all one can say is that Dr. Niblett overlooks the fact that the Euro crisis has exposed the problem of the legitimacy of the entire European Union vis-`a-vis it's pays reel. That the fact is that the Euro project, was one which in retrospect was misguided and incompetently handled by the same pays legal, the bien-pensant, Europhile elites who now proclaim, urbi i orbi, that the only solution to the problem that they en fait created is more of the same. With the culprits who presided over this entire debacle, allowed to completely go scot-free. It is due to such hazy thinking that the entire Euro projet has come under scrutiny from the collective European pays reel. I for one, cannot fathom how possibly what Dr. Niblett proposes can in any way assist to lay aside the widespread skepticism that exists in many EU countries at the at the present time.

Friday, October 28, 2011


"President Barack Obama has declared that all 46,000 US troops still in Iraq will be withdrawn by the end of the year, with his administration telling Baghdad that time has run out to reach a deal that would have allowed a small American training force to remain in the country next year.

The decision, made despite fears that Iraq could fall back into sectarian chaos or further into Iran’s orbit, comes after months of negotiations in which the two sides failed to agree on the terms under which American trainers would remain beyond

It will enable Mr Obama to take political credit at home for ending the unpopular $1,000bn war as his re-election campaign picks up speed.

“Today, I can report that as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over,” Mr Obama said at a hastily arranged press appearance on Friday, after a videoconference with Nouri al-Maliki in which he informed the Iraqi prime minister of his decision.

“But even as we mark this important milestone, we’re also moving into a new phase in the relationship between the United States and Iraq,” the president said, adding that the two countries would move to “a normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect”.

Baghdad and Washington had been in discussions for months about the size and scope of a continued US mission in Iraq next year, with senior Pentagon officials expressing certainty that there would be some kind of residual force involving several thousand American military trainers".

Anna Fifield, "US troops to leave Iraq by end of year." The Financial Times. 21 October 2011, in

"There should be no illusions about the sort of Arab landscape that America is destined to find if, or when it embarks on a war against the Iraqi regime. There will be no 'hearts and minds' to be won in the Arab world, no public diplomacy that would convince the over-whelming majority of Arabs that this war would be a just war. An American expedition in the wake of thwarted UN inspections would be seen by the vast majority of Arabs as an imperial reach into their world, a favor to Israel, or a way for the United States to secure control over Iraq's oil....For American power, there are two ways in the Arab world. One is restraint, pessimistic about the possibility of changing that stubborn world, reticent about the uses of American power. In this vision of things, the United States would either spare the Iraqi dictator or wage a war with limited political goals for Iraq and for the region as a whole. The other choice, more ambitious, would envisage a more profound American role in Arab political life: the spearheading of a reformist project that seeks to modernize and transform the Arab landscape. Iraq would be the starting point, and beyond Iraq lies an Arab political and economic tradition and a culture whose agonies and failures have been on cruel display....Iraq should not be burdened, however with the weight of great expectations. This is the Arab world, after all, and Americans do not know it with such intimacy. Iraq could disappoint its American liberators. There has been heartbreak in Iraq, and vengeance and retribution could sour Americans on this latest sphere of influence in the Muslim world".

Foud Ajami, "Iraq and the Arabs' Future." Foreign Affairs. (January / February 2003), pp. 2,7.

The announcement last week by the American Administration, that at the end of current anno domini, that the USA will withdraw all the remaining forty-six thousand troops from the country, means that the 'American interlude' in Iraqi history will be at an end. As will an 'Iraq War' interlude in American history as well. What does the historian, especially the diplomatic historian make of it all? Simply put, that notwithstanding the expenditure of hundred of billions of dollars, and the loss of more than four thousand dead, the American adventure into Iraq desires inclusion into the pantheon of 'miserable failures'. That while Iraq has been truly 'neutered' as a power political force in the region for years to come, the upshot of that factum is that Persia has to a degree assumed a much greater weight in the region. Albeit, not as a great a weight as it would like to imagine or some were predicting a few years back. That what remains in Iraq is a society which is as divided as it was previously, the only difference is that whereas there was a unstable Sunni Arab hegemony over close to eighty percent of the population, now there is an even more unstable Shiite primacy, vis-`a-vis the remaining half of the population that is either Sunni or Kurdish.

That the Maliki government, while not in any real way, 'anti-American', is en faite, quite willing to fall in to a degree with Persian political aims in the region. Something which is evident in the Baghdad government's policies towards Syria at the moment. This is not to say that the USA is engaged in a sort of 'scuttle' from the entire Near and Middle East. Indeed, the USA is still by far the leading power in the region. With more troops now in the area, then was the case back in 2001. What the Iraq debacle does indicate is that regardless of the need or not to overthrow the Hussein regime circa 2003, American society is completely incapable of undertaking the sort of 'nation-building' project which it handled fairly easily circa 1945 (Japan / West Germany) and in the 1950's (South Korea). As the long-time Near Eastern academic expert, then Iraq War enthusiast, subsequently disillusioned by the whole business, Fouad Ajami, noted presciently in 2003:

"If and when it comes, that task of repairing - or detoxifying - Iraq will be a major undertaking. The remarkable rehabilitation of Japan between its surrender in 1945 and the restoration of its sovereignty in 1952 offers a historic precedent....Granted no analogy is perfect; Iraq with its heterogeneity, differs from Japan. America, too is radically different society than it was in 1945 - more diverse, more given to doubt, and lacking the sense of righteous mission that drove it through the war years and into the work in Japan....But Iraq would also provide, as it did under British tutelage, a mirror for American power as well. A new American primacy in Iraq would play out under watchful eyes....The judgment that matters will be made at home, in the United States itself, as to the costs and returns of Imperial burden. The British Empire's moment in Iraq came when it was exhausted; on the eve of its occupation of Iraq, the United Kingdom's GDP was 8 percent of the world product, when the comparable figure for America today is at least three times as large. America can afford a big role in Iraq, and beyond. Whether the will and the interest are there is an entirely different matter 1."

With the definitive end of the direct American role in Iraq, a partial answer to Ajami's question can now be made. The only other question still outstanding is: will the current political 'set-up' in Iraq, remain in place as long as the Monarchy that the British left behind them in 1930 (twenty-eight years)? Or will there be merely a Kissingerian 'decent interval'?

1. Ajami, op. cit. pp. 15, 17.

Friday, October 21, 2011


"Qaddafi was the last of the old-style Arab nationalist strongmen, and his death on Thursday marks the end of an era. His contemporaries were the likes of Saddam and of Assad's father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad -- military men from poor families and hardscrabble towns who fought their way to the top, riding the wave of revolutionary sentiment that swept the Middle East in the 1960s and 1970s. Their inspiration was Egypt's charismatic military officer, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who overthrew the British-backed King Farouk in 1952. Nasser's rousing speeches, heard across the region via the newly invented transistor radio, kindled visions of Arab unity. It was a time of upheaval, in which the merchant and feudal elites -- the allies of the old European colonial powers -- were losing their grip. At first, Saddam, Qaddafi, and Assad seemed to embody a promising new era of populist reform.

Arab nationalism began to wane after the humiliating Arab defeat in the 1967 war with Israel, which left many Arabs feeling betrayed by their leaders. With Nasser's death three years later, the great hope of Arab unity was extinguished. Citizens figured out that their heroes had turned into corrupt, authoritarian despots who suppressed any opposition, executed their critics, and squandered national resources. By the 1980s, Islamist movements were gaining ground across the region, buoyed by Iran's Islamic Revolution and the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Arab societies turned more conservative, and Islamic movements dislodged pan-Arab and secular parties, exerting significant influence over cultural and personal life. In an effort to crush any challenge to their authority, the region's autocrats built elaborate security apparatuses aimed at both Islamists and secular opponents. The Arab liberation movement would end in betrayal, exile, and carnage.

Now, one by one, the strongmen have begun to teeter and fall. A new generation of revolutionaries has fostered a revitalized sense of pan-Arab identity united around demands for broad political and social rights. As the protests that began in Tunisia have spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria, each uprising has been inspired by the others. A vanguard of civilian leaders is beginning to emerge from the revolts, and although they draw on some of the old Arab nationalist doctrines, such as anticolonial rhetoric and resistance to Israel, they are well aware of the failures of Qaddafi's generation.

At the height of Arab nationalist and pan-Arab fervor, leaders such as Nasser sought to mobilize political support across borders by appealing to the idea that Arabs are bound by a common language, culture, history, and political identity. Today's revolutionaries are using similar rhetoric in their struggle against authoritarianism. It is no accident that the crowds in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and elsewhere have been largely peaceful and repeat the same Arabic slogan: Al-shaab yurid isqat al-nizam ("The people want the fall of the regime"). Arabs are inspired by one another's methods and goals, and they no longer accept a social contract in which they effectively make peace with government repression, arbitrary laws, state-run media and censorship, and single-party rule, in exchange for security and stability. Instead, they demand justice, freedom, and dignity. "The people should not fear their government. Governments should fear their people," read a popular placard in Cairo's Tahrir Square earlier this year.

The current Arab revolutions are different from those of the mid-twentieth century in one crucial way: They are not top-down movements like those that brought the autocrats to power. They are not being led or instigated by military men or charismatic figures. The age of the Arab strongmen is over, and although it remains unclear who or what will ultimately take their place, today's revolutionaries are redefining Arab nationalism by making it more populist and grassroots".

Mohamad Bazzi, "The Death of the Qaddafi Generation: the era of the Arab Strongman comes to an end." Foreign Affairs. 21 October 2011, in

"A corpse died yesterday."

L'Humanite on the death of Andre Gide, 19 February 1951.

The death of the Libyan ex-dictator, Qaddafi represents au fond the terminus of the 'Arab Nationalist' generation of dictators, strongman, politicians in the Arab speaking world. With yesterday's killing, that generation which commenced with Nasser's July Revolution in 1952 has seen its role in world history played out. Finis. Which in its way is historical justice, as Qadaffi's revolution in 1969 overthrowing the Monarchy in Libya was the very last of the Arab Nationalist 'revolutions' in the region to succeed. No doubt in the future there will be other dictators in the Arab world, but insofar as they exist, they will not care to adorn themselves with the mantel of Pan-Arab nationalism `a la Nasser. For good or for ill (I happen to think for good), secular, statist, autocratic, Arab Nationalism has been played and found wanting. History I would surmise will not be very kind to it. Coming to power in the immediate aftermath of the colonial era, in the 1950's and 1960's, Arab Nationalism proclaimed that it would overthrow the existing, pro-Western elites and usher in an era of economic growth, political equality and independent development. Of course quite the opposite happened. The comparative statistics on the Arab World's economic well-being has been widely noted in recent years, and they make rather sad reading. Perhaps the best quoted one is that the State of Israel has more patents registered in the United States by a factor of three, then the entire Arab World 1. Whether or not, the newer generation coming to power in much of the region in the next five to ten years time, does better only time can tell. I will venture however, that if nothing else, they can hardly do as bad as the generation spanning Nasser to Qaddafi.

1. Bernard Lewis, "Free at Last? The Arab World in the Twenty-first Century." Foreign Affairs. (March / April 2009), pp. 81-82, for these and other sufficiently depressing statistics.

Monday, October 10, 2011


"Already people are claiming that the euphoria and calm after the fall of Tripoli could have been predicted and can be easily explained. But such civility was not inevitable; it could not have been assumed from Libyan history or culture. Libya shares many features of countries where anarchy has prevailed. Like Afghanistan or Iraq, it has a distinguished history and has experienced periods of stability but lacks the essential trinity of the international state-building apostles: ‘a vibrant civil society’, ‘rule of law’ and ‘good governance’. It has a rapidly growing young population, which is only partially educated, and few jobs. The traditional forces of tribe and Islam co-exist with more cosmopolitan aspirations, as they do in the rest of the Islamic world.

Many of the positive things that can be said about Libya can be said about other more troubled countries – right down to the small details. Libyans, like Iraqis and Afghans, remember a moderate, tolerant, Western-friendly country in the late 1960s and 1970s, which fell unexpectedly victim to leaders – and an ideology – alien to its indigenous culture. In the same way, the Lebanese writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb maintained that there was nothing preordained in Lebanon’s civil war, that Lebanon had been ‘at peace for centuries’. And in the Balkans in the 1990s, people insisted: ‘I did not even know people’s ethnic group – I have a Serb father, a Croat mother … We were Yugoslavs.’

All these countries can offer equally plausible explanations of why things go right and why things go wrong. One Libyan woman said, ‘it is orderly because there is not the corrupt, gangster class in Libya that there was in Iraq’; but Suleiman, a 20-year-old businessman from Benghazi, replied that under Gaddafi every businessman paid bribes of more than half the value of the contract. An older Libyan minister said there was no looting because the population was ‘educated’, but Suleiman complained of how bad his schooling had been, and how ignorant and isolated Libyans had become. Huda, a young woman working with the TNC, suggested that the paperknives had not been stolen because Libyans were wealthy; others emphasised rural squalor and 30 per cent unemployment. One of the most senior members of the new government said that the mid-level civil service worked well, regardless of the ministers. All other Libyans assured me that Gaddafi had ‘hollowed out the state’ and left nothing functioning behind....

But it would have been easy to take the same factors – a weak Gaddafi state, a light foreign footprint and a weak rebel government – and assume these were ingredients for disaster. This is why the major lesson of the post-1989 interventions should not be a renewed confidence in ‘the responsibility to protect’, or a belief that we have found a new secret recipe in targeted air-power. We shouldn’t think we know how to construct ‘a transitional administration’; even to attempt to pin down the common elements in the successful cases – population size, GDP per capita, ethnic composition – would be misguided.

These events are inherently unpredictable. There are no universal traits that condemn a society to anarchy when the leviathan falls. The violence I witnessed in Iraq, and felt was the inevitable result of a revolution, was in fact specific to that moment in that place and in particular to its Shia parties, their fraught and contradictory relationship to their neighbours and to their nation. But even apparently clear differences between countries aren’t as helpful as they seem. For example, Libya, unlike Iraq or Afghanistan, has no serious ethnic or sectarian divisions – no Arab-Kurd, no Pashtun-Tajik, no Sunni-Shia divides – but this on its own can’t explain the difference: Libya’s neighbour Algeria has no Shia population and has nevertheless experienced decades of civil war.

The lesson of all this shouldn’t be inaction. Intervention isn’t doomed to fail – countries can turn out unpredictably well, as well as unpredictably badly. If we cannot come to any satisfactory conclusions on the London riots – a limited event, exhaustively documented, in our own capital – what sense can we make of why they did not riot in Tripoli?"

Rory Stewart, "Because we weren't there?" The London Review of Books. 9 September 2011, in

"To history has been assigned the office of judging the past, of instructing the present for the benefit of future ages. To such high offices this work does not aspire: it only wants to show what actually happened."

Leopold von Ranke, The History of the Latin and Teutonic Peoples from 1494 to 1514. (1824).

Rory Stewart is perhaps for some of us, the only, I repeat the only good thing to have come out of the Iraq debacle. A graduate of Eton and Balliol College, Oxford with a a First in PPE, Stewart spent his early years in an unusual fashion for someone of his generation: a gap year with the corps d'elite Black Watch unit, and following his graduation from Oxford entering the equally elite Foreign Office where he was posted to among other places, such hot spots as East Timor and the Balkans. Between 2000 and 2002, he undertook a 'walking tour' in the manner of such 'traveler' luminaries of the past as the recently deceased, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Robert Byron, of Afghanistan, Persia, Pakistan and India. Traveling by foot upwards of ten thousand kilometers. In 2003, he was appointed deputy provincial governor of two Iraqi provinces in the British sector in the south of the country. His erste-klasse book: 'The Prince of the Marshes', is perhaps the best description of the 'on the ground', experience of the Iraqi morass circa 2003-2004. After stints at Harvard University among other places, Stewart stood and was elected to Parliament for the Conservative Party in 2010. One hopes that he will go far in his new career. With all that being said, what does one make of Stewart analysis of the Libyan Intervention? Simply put, Stewart cogently points out the fact is that per se there are no single overriding variables which ensure that intervention x, y, or z will or will not succeed. Each and every intervention has to be undertaken or not, on its own merits. Just as there were pre-existing historical aspects which perhaps made the Iraq War by definition unwinnable, similarly there were pre-existing historical and other variables which made the Libyan intervention and the intervention in Kosovo and Bosnia successful. In short, what Stewart shows to us, is that history cannot (per contra to the writings of Political Scientists and International Relation theorists) be predicted, planned or compiled on a spread sheet. As Leopold von Ranke, the founder, of modern, scientific history noted, history is an empiricist, not a predictive activity. History can of course provide us a certain degree of insights into specific situations and contexts. It cannot provide us with a blueprint. Caveat lector, statesmen & diplomats!