THE CRISIS IN EGYPT THE REGIONAL IMPACT: A VIEW FROM SYRIA
"It is easy to see the nationalism that has taken hold of all the peoples of the Middle East as if it were an epidemic disease whose symptoms are recognisable but whose cause is unknown. This view may lead to a search for palliatives rather than cure. It may also give rise to despair in the onlooker; tempting him to stand aside until the fever has run its course....But another powerful source of xenophobia is the vast reservoir of hate engendered primarily by the social injustice so common throughout the Middle East. This gives rise to frustration and envy among intellectuals, minor officials, students, and all those who feel that the future should be, but demonstrably is not, theirs. It is nonsense to talk of the British , as such being hated. But when British policy can be interpreted as aimed at preserving the intolerable domestic status quo (emphasis in the original), then we and other Westerners become the targets of this hate, crudely manipulated by those who have themselves most to fear from it. Here the solution is much more difficult to find, for it does not depend on ourselves alone. Direct political interference is impossible, and will anyway react against us. Good advice can always be ignored. We can however see to it that we do not become too closely identified with personalities and policies that are clearly retrograde, whilst at the same time we use what influence we have in the direction of greater social justice....Sham democracies that are really dictatorships may tide over awkward moments in our relations with Middle Eastern states, but dictatorships are highly vulnerable regimes and most uncertain in their sympathies. We may have to put up with them when we must, but it would be fatal to become dependent on them."
P.E.L. Fellowes, "Memorandum: Nationalism and Policy in the Middle East," 2nd March 1952, in
F.O. 371/98244/E102/1. PRO, Kew.
The following interview with the Syrian strongman, Assad Fils
in the American broadsheet, the Wall Street Journal to-day, is of interest I believe because it highlights the following fact: that if in fact the Mubarak / deep-state regime collapses or is negotiated out of power, the end result would seem to indicate a serious weakening of the American & Western power position in the Near and Middle East.
The closest examples of such a drastic weakening of Western power in the region being the collapse of the Shah's regime in Persia in 1978-1979 and the violently quick and brutal coup d'etat which destroyed the Monarchy in Iraq in 1958. And while per se there is nothing which would mandate that any successor state to the current regime in Egypt will necessarily be anti-Western / anti-American, the fact of the matter is that current American policies in the region in particular are extremely unpopular. And with that in mind, it is difficult to imagine that with an Egyptian government which has to pay much, much more attention to popular opinion (or what is thought of as 'popular opinion') will be as supine in the future as Mubarak (and General Suleiman for that matter) have been in the past. For examples from the past, one merely needs to recall the verbal and other pyrotechnics of the Wafd party in its salad days under the Egyptian Monarchy. As former CIA Near & Middle Eastern analyst Bruce Riedel, noted earlier Friday:
"A more representative government drawn from the diversity of Egypt's political opposition will be much more inclined to criticize American and Israeli policies. The Egyptian street may accept the strategic logic of peace with Israel and alliance with America, but it bristles at the humiliation of being a de facto silent partner in the siege of Gaza, Israel's wars against Hamas and Hezbollah and America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (which rely on transit via the Suez canal and Egyptian airspace)....In the event of another Israeli war against Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon — both very possible scenarios—a more democratic Egyptian government will have to listen to the voices of the street, both the left and the Muslim Brotherhood. Diplomatic ties could be broken, trade suspended and demands raised for renegotiating parts of the treaty like the demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula. A new question mark will be raised about the cost of military options in the prime minister's office in Jerusalem in place of the certitude of the last three decades. Similarly no Egyptian government will want to cut ties with America lightly. American assistance runs close to $2 billion a year, Egypt's army is equipped with American gear (including the tanks and the tear gas used this weekend). But democracies have to pay attention to their people. Mubarak could criticize George Bush's Iraq War and still allow the U.S. Navy and Air Force to use the canal and Cairo west airport to supply it. That may no longer be the case" 1.
With the above in mind, is it any surprise that as per the Israeli broadsheet, Haaretz, the Israeli government has been sending out plus fort
demarches to both Washington and to European capitals this week-end to support Mubarak and his regime 2
. Something which is perhaps also explained by what Joshua Landis' online journal Syria Comment, refers to the jubilant mood in Syrian government circles over what they see as the coming downfall of their long-time arch-enemy Mubarak 3
. Given all this, I for one notwithstanding the less entirely attractive motives of the Israeli government, am not prepared to gainsay their alleged demarches this week-end just past. It could very well be the case that theirs is indeed the right policy for now. For as Mr. Fellowes memorandum to the Eastern Department of the Foreign Office shows, the problem that we are dealing with, is a long-standing one, and was not invented tout `a coup aujourd'hui, as it were.
Please see below for portions of the Assad interview:
"Mr. Assad said he will have more time to make changes than Mr. Mubarak did, because his anti-American positions and confrontation with Israel have left him in better shape with the grassroots in his nation.
“Syria is stable. Why?” Mr. Assad said. “Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence…you will have this vacuum that creates disturbances.”
Mr. Assad said he would push through political reforms this year aimed at initiating municipal elections, granting more power to nongovernmental organizations and establishing a new media law.
…Assad:“I can talk about the region in general more than talking about Tunisia or Egypt because we are one region. We are not a copy of each other, but we have many things in common. So, I think it is about desperation. Whenever you have an uprising, it is self-evident that to say that you have anger, but this anger feeds on desperation. Desperation has two factors: internal and external.
The internal is that we are to blame, as states and as officials, and the external is that you are to blame, as great powers or what you call in the West ‘the international community’, while for them, the international community is made up of the United States and some few countries, but not the whole world. So, let us refer to the latter as the ‘greatest powers’ that have been involved in this region for decades.
As for the internal, it is about doing something that is changing; to change the society, and we have to keep up with this change, as a state and as institutions. You have to upgrade yourself with the upgrading of the society. There must be something to have this balance. This is the most important headline.
Regarding the west, it is about the problems that we have in our region, i.e. the lack of peace, the invasion of Iraq, what is happening in Afghanistan and now its repercussions in Pakistan and other regions. That led to this desperation and anger. What I tell you now is only the headlines, and as for the details, maybe you have details to talk about for days if you want to continue. I am just giving you the way we look at the situation in general.”…
His government already made adjustments to ease the kind of economic pressures that have helped fuel unrest in Tunisia and Algeria: Damascus this month raised heating oil allowances for public workers—a step back from an earlier plan to withdraw subsidies that keep the cost of living down for Syrians but drain the national budget. Tunisia, Algeria and Jordan have also tried to assuage protesters by lowering food prices….
“What pleases me is that this transition between the two [Lebanese] governments happened smoothly, because we were worried,” said Mr. Assad. “It was very easy to have a conflict of some kind that could evolve into a fully blown civil war.”…
“No, [the peace process] is not dead, because you do not have any other option,” Mr. Assad said. “If you talk about a ‘dead’ peace process, this means everybody should prepare for the next war.” The Syrian leader acknowledged his government is likely to continue to be at odds with the U.S. on key strategic issues…" 4.
. Bruce Riedel, "The End of the Mubarak Era", 29 January 2011, The Daily Beast
, in www.brookings.edu/opinions
. Barak Ravid,"Israel urges world to curb criticism of Egypt's Mubarak", Haaretz
, 31 January 2011, in www.haaretz.com
. Syria Comment, "Syrian Authorities Jubilant about Prospect of Mubarak's Fall and shifting balance of power in the region," 31 January 2011, in www.syriacomment.com
. Wall Street Journal, "Interview With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,"
31 January 2011, in www.wsj.com
EGYPT ON THE BRINK? PART TWO
"Egypt’s internal security forces are reportedly redeploying across the country Jan. 30 after abandoning the streets the previous day in a demonstration, showing what chaos would ensue should they be undermined by the military. As the protests show early signs of dwindling, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, who have negotiated a stay in power so far, are likely betting that the protesters, who thus far have been unable to coalesce into a unified group, will clear the streets under pressure. However, serious potential for clashes remain, especially considering hostilities between the army and the police and between the police and protesters. The coming hours will thus tell whether Mubarak’s bet on the opposition was a wise one.
The decision to redeploy the internal security forces follows a major confrontation that has played out behind the scenes between the Interior Ministry and the military. The animosity between Egypt’s police and soldiers was amplified Jan. 28 when demonstrators overwhelmed the CSF and plainclothes police and the army stepped in to attempt to restore order.
Fearing that he and his forces were being sidelined, al-Adly was rumored to have ordered the police forces to stay home and leave it to the army to deal with the crisis. Meanwhile, multiple STRATFOR sources reported that many of the plainclothes policemen were involved in a number of the jailbreaks, robberies of major banks, and the spread of attacks and break-ins into high-class neighborhoods that occurred Jan. 29. In addition to allowing the police to blow off steam, the implicit message that the Interior Ministry was sending to the army through these actions was that the cost of undermining the internal security forces was a complete breakdown of law and order in the country that would in turn break the regime.
That message was apparently heard, and, according to STRATFOR sources, the Egyptian military and internal security forces have coordinated a crackdown for the hours ahead in an effort to clear the streets of the demonstrators. The interior minister has meanwhile negotiated his stay for the time being, in spite of widespread expectations that he, seen by many Egyptians as the source of police brutality in the country, would be one of the first ministers that would have to be sacked in order to quell the demonstrations. Instead, both Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and al-Adly, the two main targets of ire for the demonstrators, seem to be betting that they can ride this crisis out and remain in power. So far, the military seems to be acquiescing to these decisions.
The real test for the opposition has thus arrived. In spite of a minor reshuffling of the Cabinet and the military reasserting its authority behind the scenes, Mubarak and al-Adly remain in power. The opposition is unified in its hatred against these individuals, yet divided on most everything else. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist platform, for example, is very different from opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei’s secularist campaign, which explains why no one has been able to assume leadership of the demonstrations. In evaluating the situation on the streets, the regime appears willing to take a gamble that the opposition will not cohere into a meaningful threat and that an iron fist will succeed in putting down this uprising.
Within the next few hours, police and military officials are expected to redeploy in large numbers across major cities, with the CSF taking the first line of defense. Tensions are still running high between the internal security forces and the military, which could lead to serious clashes between the army and police on the streets. The size and scope of the protests appear to be dwindling into the low thousands, though there is still potential for the demonstrations to swell again after protesters rest themselves and wake up to the same government they have been trying to remove. Moreover, as the events of Jan. 28 and 29 illustrated, protesters are far more likely to clash with the CSF than with the military".
"Egyptian Police Redeploying,"Stratfor, 30 January 2011, www.stratfor.com.
As per the above posting by the American intelligence outfit Stratfor
, delivered at 22:40 GMT, the regime is basically following the scenario 'ii'
, which I outlined here yesterday. After allowing for twenty-four hours of chaos and looting on the streets (whether it was instigated directly by the Interior Ministry and the police is unknowable of course) of the country, it appears that the regime has decided (as per Stratfor) to redeploy in force on the street and one presumes use firearms without any restraint `a la what occurred during the food riots of 1977, when over eight hundred people were killed. Taking into account the increase in the population since, the contemporary equivalent would be close to 1,500 killed. The real issue is of course: will the firepower that the Interior Ministry forces & police have at their disposal be sufficient for the task (presuming that they use machine guns, the answer probably would be 'yes
')? The second question, as highlighted by Stratfor
is whether or not, if there are 'oceans of blood', will the army stand aside, and allow the 'job' to be done, or will its allegiance to its own hierarchy breakdown and will it then intervene? My own surmise (contrary to Stratfor's reliance of what occurred back in July 1952 with the 'Free Officers' Coup), is that the army will remain neutral and allow the dirty work to be done by the Interior Ministry troops and the police. Time will of course in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours will tell all.
EGYPT ON THE BRINK?
"Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak remains the lifeblood of the demonstrators, who still number in the tens of thousands in downtown Cairo and in other major cities, albeit on a lesser scale. After being overwhelmed in the Jan. 28 Day of Rage protests, Egypt’s internal security forces — with the anti-riot paramilitaries of the Central Security Forces (CSF) at the forefront — were glaringly absent from the streets Jan. 29. They were replaced with rows of tanks and armored personnel carriers carrying regular army soldiers. Unlike their CSF counterparts, the demonstrators demanding Mubarak’s exit from the political scene largely welcomed the soldiers. Despite Mubarak’s refusal to step down Jan. 28, the public’s positive perception of the military, seen as the only real gateway to a post-Mubarak Egypt, remained. It is unclear how long this perception will hold, especially as Egyptians are growing frustrated with the rising level of insecurity in the country and the army’s limits in patrolling the streets.
There is more to these demonstrations than meets the eye. The media will focus on the concept of reformers staging a revolution in the name of democracy and human rights. These may well have brought numerous demonstrators into the streets, but revolutions, including this one, are made up of many more actors than the liberal voices on Facebook and Twitter.
After three decades of Mubarak rule, a window of opportunity has opened for various political forces — from the moderate to the extreme — that preferred to keep the spotlight on the liberal face of the demonstrations while they maneuver from behind. As the Iranian Revolution of 1979 taught, the ideology and composition of protesters can wind up having very little to do with the political forces that end up in power. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) understands well the concerns the United States, Israel and others share over a political vacuum in Cairo being filled by Islamists. The MB so far is proceeding cautiously, taking care to help sustain the demonstrations by relying on the MB’s well-established social services to provide food and aid to the protesters. It simultaneously is calling for elections that would politically enable the MB. With Egypt in a state of crisis and the armed forces stepping in to manage that crisis, however, elections are nowhere near assured. What is now in question is what groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and others are considering should they fear that their historic opportunity could be slipping.
One thing that has become clear in the past several hours is a trend that STRATFOR has been following for some time in Egypt, namely, the military’s growing clout in the political affairs of the state. Former air force chief and outgoing civil aviation minister Ahmed Shafiq, who worked under Mubarak’s command in the air force (the most privileged military branch in Egypt), has been appointed prime minister and tasked with forming the new government. Outgoing Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, who has long stood by Mubarak, is now vice president, a spot that has been vacant for the past 30 years. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi (who oversees the Republican Guard) and Egypt’s chief of staff of the armed forces, Lt. Gen. Sami Annan — who returned to Cairo Jan. 29 after a week of intense discussions with senior U.S. officials — are likely managing the political process behind the scenes. More political shuffles are expected, and the military appears willing for now to give Mubarak the time to arrange his political exit. Until Mubarak finally does leave, the unrest in the streets is unlikely to subside, raising the question of just how much more delay from Mubarak the armed forces will tolerate".
"The Egyptian Unrest: A Special Report," 29 January 2011, in www.stratfor.com.
With the very conspicuous withdrawal of the police and Interior Ministry troops from the streets of Cairo and other large cities on Saturday, it is difficult to avoid the impression that either the regime (not merely Mubarak, but the entire 'deep state' military-economic apparatus which has existed since the mid-1970's): i) does not know what to do next, and are merely in a sauve qui peut
mode after the sacking by Mubarak of his entire Cabinet and the naming of Intelligence chief Suleiman as Vice-President and hence as most likely interim-successor. Hoping against hope that this will suffice to calm the situation down; ii) has deliberately withdrawn the police and para-military from the streets as preparatory to a very bloody 'clearance' operation of the streets by the army initially and then by the police / Interior Ministry troops. The point being that with the looting and growing chaos in the streets in the country, as well as possible food shortages and economic breakdown possible, the population will be more tolerant / welcome the assertion of order, however bloody it will be. In short creating a pire ca va, mieux ca est
, situation prior to using force ; iii) another possibility is that the withdrawal of the police, et. al., and the strangely unemployed army troops on the streets is a sign that the regime's nerve has collapsed, and its entire edifice will collapse within as little as twenty-four to forty-eight hours. My own surmise for what it is worth is that the most plausible scenarios are 'i' and 'iii'. And that unlike Stratfor, I can well see that if Mubarak remains in power by say the end of the upcoming week, he will have ridden out the storm and will no doubt retire in later on in the year. With General Suleiman as his immediate successor. It also seems clear that the shakeup going on, and the initial changes announced in the new Cabinet, that the Army will be taking a much more overt role in the governing of the country. And that the neo-liberal / grande bourgeois / cosmopolitan / modernizing elements in the regime, who had loosely grouped themselves under Mubarak fils, have almost completely lost out. And that one can foresee that in the future, even an Egypt controlled by the Army will be much more assertive playing to the 'gallery', AKA to the Egypt public opinion (whatever that may mean in a nation where thirty percent of the population is illiterate...), in terms of Egypt's 'Arab Role'
. Which means in turn that any repetition of 'Operation Cast Lead', where Egypt quietly remains on the sidelines is impossible. Same with any repetition of the Lebanon War of 2006. Egyptian-American relations will also cool, either considerably or to some extent, so that the relationship which has built-up in the thirty-six years six the Yom Kippur War will for all intents and purposes be at an end.
EGYPT: THE ALTERNATIVES
"After the biggest, most daring demonstrations President Hosni Mubarak has faced in his 30 years of iron rule in Egypt, a number of questions are becoming clearer. He will almost certainly not now be able to impose his banker son, Gamal, as his successor.
That option, already viewed sceptically inside a regime whose backbone lies in the military and central nervous system in the security services, would carry too much risk of instability, in the wake of this month’s sudden implosion of the Tunisian dictatorship of Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali, not to mention the spread of rioting to Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon – and now Egypt.
This month’s turn of events also makes it likely that Mr Mubarak, 82 and in poor health, will be discouraged by his military peers inside the regime from seeking a seventh term in presidential elections due in September.
But the question now is whether the regime itself is at risk, especially if tens of thousands of enraged demonstrators continue to defy its enforcers and demand that Mr Mubarak steps down. If they do, it is game on.
With more than 80m people, at the heart of the Arab world, Egypt, a strategic US ally, is bigger than Tunisia in almost every way. Upheaval there would have massive regional repercussions. And there is tinder aplenty to ignite.
Stop-go economic reform during the past 15 years has raised economic growth and performance, yet the number of Egyptians on or below the poverty line has risen from 39 to 43 per cent on Mr Mubarak’s watch. He rules under emergency laws, with manufactured electoral majorities, brooking no organised opposition; torture in Egypt is routine.
The regime has somewhat broadened its base, mainly by grafting on compliant business interests: army officers often sit on private company boards, while there are now scores of businessmen in the rubber-stamp parliament. The ruling National Democratic party, supposedly reformed by Gamal Mubarak, is not so much a party as a patronage system. Rather than reform, the Mubaraks have widened the circle of insiders".
Leader, "After Tunisia-the Egyptian Challenge," The Financial Times. 28 January 2011, in www.ft.com.
"The net result of the last five months has been to bring Egypt to the verge of anarchy. The present Egyptian Government is the best we can possibly hope for. Its position is precarious and its continuance in power depends on...some helpful move by us, and it needs it soon."
Anthony Eden to Winston Churchill, 10 March 1952, PREM 11/91. PRO, Kew.
The explosion that has taken place in Egypt this week, has shaken the ground on which all stability such as it is) exists in the Near and Middle East. The issue of the moment is not whether or not Mubarak himself remains in power. My own surmise, and like everyone else who has commented on the Near and Middle East in the past few weeks, my powers of prediction has not been very good, is that Mubarak, after his speech tonight, dismissing his cabinet and restating that he will remain in power, is that unless Mubarak is forced by the army to resign in the next week, due to mounting protests, will probably ride out the storm. Something which will require one would imagine a considerable spilling of blood. On the other hand, if the army refuses to enforce order on the streets by the widespread shedding of blood, then Mubarak's days will be quickly numbered. A third option is that a popular uprising takes place and the entire pre-existing structure is overthrown. And make no mistake, given the widespread poverty of Egypt as opposed to say Tunisia or even the rest of the Levant, and the much smaller size of the middle class elements, any true 'popular revolution' would have little resemblance to what occurred in Central & Eastern Europe in 1989, and more akin to what happened in Russia in 1905 or 1917 1
. In the first scenario, Mubarak will probably hand off power in a year or so to a military-nominated replacement. In the second scenario, the army itself will take control, directly or perhaps indirectly `a la the situation in the country since the Nasser regime. In terms of the wider Near and Middle East, the survival of the Mubarak regime, even if tarnished with oceans of blood, will mean that stability of some sort will probably return to the region. If Mubarak is forced from power, and a military regime is in power, than the result is pretty much the same. If however the unprecedented occurs, and the entire political structure dating back to the July 1952 coup d'etat is overthrown, then the skies are the limit as far as instability is concerned. With the governments in Jordan and the West Bank likely to be next ones to be seriously concerned about being overthrown. In such circumstances even some of the Gulf Monarchies might be ripe for some degree of unrest.
In terms of the geopolitical context of the current unrest in Egypt, the matter is rather simple: the Mubarak regime or a replacement one by the Army will continue to maintain Egypt's place in the American orbit as has been the case since the mid-1970's. If on the other hand if there is a complete overthrow of what now exists in Egypt, and some government or regime which is 'popular', much less Islamic comes to power, than that will have the force of a political earthquake. Any such Egypt will by definition not be willing to remain in the American alliance structure. Nor will it probably be willing to remain on the sidelines the next time an 'Operation Cast Lead', or a replay of the Lebanon War of 2006, were to occur. Indeed, it would seem likely that a breaking off of diplomatic relations between Tel Aviv and Cairo would be one of the first things that any popular regime would do. The effects on Israel by such a changeover are rather easy to predict: it would no doubt seriously consider its options for a preventative war. And for another war between Egypt and Israel to be on the cards even in theory, is for at least this observer the ultimate diplomatic and indeed strategic nightmare in not only the Near & Middle East but indeed the entire planet 2
. And based upon past form it seems to be beyond hope that the current or any other American Administration will help matters by pressuring the Israeli government to a just peace settlement. The recent leaks of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations showing how bankrupt is American bona fides
on that score.1
. As per Lise Storm in Chatham House's International Affairs 44% of Egypt's population is living below the poverty line
. See: "Persistence of authoritarianism as a source of radicalization in North Africa," International Affairs
, (September 2009), p. 1009. With such a degree of poverty, the violence which was seen to-day is rather explainable. See: "Clashes in Cairo extend Arabs World's days of Unrest," 28 January 2011, in www.nytimes.com
. On the early signs that this issue is coming to the fore, see the following article in tomorrow's Financial Times: Tobias Buck, "Israelis fear unwinding of political stability," 29 January 2011, in www.ft.com
. Where an Israeli commentator notes:"'In Tehran in 1979, there was a democratic moment, and we all know how that ended.” The official added: “A democratic opening is great – but will it last? And will it ultimately not unleash non-democratic and violent forces? That is our concern.” Eyal Zisser, senior research fellow at Tel Aviv’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, points to a another historical analogy. “This is not like eastern Europe in the late 1980s,” he says. “This is not a region where stable dictatorships can be replaced with stable democracies. Here the alternative means chaos, anarchy and ?radicalism....Try to imagine the results of an election in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood allowed to run freely. The consequences for Israel would be very negative."
AMBASSADOR JOHN BOLTON ON CHINA: A COMMENT
"Western business and political leaders have chattered for years about China as a globally “responsible stakeholder” enjoying a “peaceful rise”. This is the acceptable face Mr Hu will present in Washington. But just because the musclemen aren’t listed on the Chinese leader’s passenger manifest doesn’t mean they aren’t flying the plane. China’s Communist party remains unquestionably dominant, and the PLA remains its most potent element....
Both Mr Hu and the PLA undoubtedly understand that China is dealing with the most leftwing, least national-security-oriented, least assertive American president in decades. This matters because China will be heavily influenced by its perception of US policies and capabilities. Mr Obama’s extravagant domestic spending, and the consequent ballooning of America’s national debt, has enhanced China’s position at America’s expense. Indeed, the only budget line Mr Obama has been interested in cutting, which he has done with gusto, is defence.
Sensing growing weakness, therefore, it would be surprising if China did not continue its assertive economic, political and military policies. Thus, we can expect more discrimination against foreign investors and businesses in China, as both the US and European Union chambers of commerce there have recently complained. Further expansive, unjustifiable territorial claims in adjacent east Asian waters are also likely. While the Pentagon is clipping coupons and limiting its nuclear capabilities in treaties with Russia, the PLA is celebrating Mardi Gras.
Consider two further important issues: Taiwan and North Korea. When Beijing threatened Taipei in 1996 President Bill Clinton sent two carrier battle groups to the Taiwan strait, demonstrating America’s commitment to Taiwan’s defence. Does anyone, particularly in Beijing, believe Mr Obama would do anything nearly as muscular faced with comparable belligerence today? On the North Korean menace, meanwhile, Mr Obama is conforming to a 20-year pattern of US deference to China which has enabled a bellicose, nuclear Pyongyang.
Of course, if China sensed an America determined to maintain its dominant position in the western Pacific, and ready to match its determination with budget resources, it might be dissuaded from its recent objectionable behaviour. In such circumstances, more balanced, co-operative and ultimately more productive relations would likely follow. On the other hand, if China is determined to increase its military strength regardless of Washington’s posture, all the more reason for America to ready itself now".
John Bolton, "The West needs to stand up to Beijing [Peking]," The Financial Times, 18 January 2011, in www.ft.com.
"Even if there is an argument for economic interaction with Beijing, China is still a potential threat to stability in the Asia-Pacific region. Its military power is currently no match for that of the United States. But that condition is not necessarily permanent. What we do know is that China is a great power with unresolved vital interests, particularly concerning Taiwan and the South China Sea. China resents the role of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region. This means that China is not a 'status quo' power but one that would like to alter Asia's balance of power in its own favor. That alone makes it a strategic competitor, not the 'strategic partner' the Clinton Administration once called it....Some things take time. U.S. policy toward China requires nuance and balance. It is important to promote China's internal transition through economic interaction while containing Chinese power and security ambitions."
Condolezza Rice, "Promoting the National Interest," Foreign Affairs (January / February 2000), pp. 56-57.
"Most Chinese I encounter outside of government, and some in government, seem convinced that the United States seeks to contain China and to constrict its rise. American strategic thinkers are calling attention to China's increasing global economic reach and the growing capability of its military forces. Care must be taken lest both sides analyze themselves into self-fulfilling prophecies. The nature of globalization and the reach of modern technology oblige the United States and China to interact around the world. A Cold War between them would bring about an international choosing of sides, spreading disputes into internal politics of every region at a time when issues such as nuclear proliferation, the environment, energy and climate require a comprehensive global solution.
Conflict is not inherent in a nation's rise. The United States in the 20th century is an example of a state achieving eminence without conflict with the then-dominant countries. Nor was the often-cited German-British conflict inevitable. Thoughtless and provocative policies played a role in transforming European diplomacy into a zero-sum game. Sino-U.S. relations need not take such a turn. On most contemporary issues, the two countries cooperate adequately; what the two countries lack is an overarching concept for their interaction. During the Cold War, a common adversary supplied the bond. Common concepts have not yet emerged from the multiplicity of new tasks facing a globalized world undergoing political, economic and technological upheaval....
America's exceptionalism finds it natural to condition its conduct toward other societies on their acceptance of American values. Most Chinese see their country's rise not as a challenge to America but as heralding a return to the normal state of affairs when China was preeminent. In the Chinese view, it is the past 200 years of relative weakness - not China's current resurgence - that represent an abnormality....
American diplomacy pursues specific outcomes with single-minded determination. Chinese negotiators are more likely to view the process as combining political, economic and strategic elements and to seek outcomes via an extended process. American negotiators become restless and impatient with deadlocks; Chinese negotiators consider them the inevitable mechanism of negotiation. American negotiators represent a society that has never suffered national catastrophe - except the Civil War, which is not viewed as an international experience. Chinese negotiators cannot forget the century of humiliation when foreign armies exacted tribute from a prostrate China. Chinese leaders are extremely sensitive to the slightest implication of condescension and are apt to translate American insistence as lack of respect.
North Korea provides a good example of differences in perspective. America is focused on the proliferation of nuclear weapons. China, which in the long run has more to fear from nuclear weapons there than we, in addition emphasizes propinquity. It is concerned about the turmoil that might follow if pressures on nonproliferation lead to the disintegration of the North Korean regime. America seeks a concrete solution to a specific problem. China views any such outcome as a midpoint in a series of interrelated challenges, with no finite end, about the future of Northeast Asia. For real progress, diplomacy with Korea needs a broader base....
The test of world order is the extent to which the contending can reassure each other. In the American-Chinese relationship, the overriding reality is that neither country will ever be able to dominate the other and that conflict between them would exhaust their societies. Can they find a conceptual framework to express this reality? A concept of a Pacific community could become an organizing principle of the 21st century to avoid the formation of blocs. For this, they need a consultative mechanism that permits the elaboration of common long-term objectives and coordinates the positions of the two countries at international conferences. The aim should be to create a tradition of respect and cooperation so that the successors of leaders meeting now continue to see it in their interest to build an emerging world order as a joint enterprise".
Henry Alfred Kissinger, "Avoiding a US-China Cold War," The Washington Post. 14 January 2011, in www.washingtonpost.com.
Reading Ambassador Bolton's remarks on China makes at the very least this observer scratch one's head. Given the fact that the greatest degree of Chinese advancement in power political terms occurred during the tenure of office of the administration in which he served (AKA the regime of Bush the Younger), one can only smile at the fact that this factum
, is ignored. At least overtly. Although the fact that he refers to the Clinton Administration as the prime example of a properly tough handling of the PRC perhaps is a sotto voce
way of admitting the truth of what took place between 2001 and 2009. Which is not to entirely gainsay what he has to say about the need to confront the PRC. In of course the proper circumstances. The issue is what are the proper circumstances? Can the Americans en fait
, adopt say the stance that the Clinton Administration did during the mini-crisis over Formosa in 1995? Especially when Peking is now the largest holder of American Treasury notes? Does in fact any American administration have the stomach to play the role that the Clinton Administration played? One is strongly tempted to say 'non
'. Simply by virtue of the fact that the last occasion that the USA had the opportunity to re-play the Formosa crisis of 1995, was back in the Spring of 2001, with the shooting down of an American aircraft in international waters by the PRC. What occurred was the direct opposite of the policy line that Mme. Rice's article in Foreign Affairs would have lead one to suspect. In short, Washington choose to overlook the incident and to avoid as much as possible, inflating it or using it to ensure that Peking remained on notice that there were certain lines that it was dangerous to cross, vis-`a-vis
the United States. Indeed, one gets the impression that the entire Bush national security team, suddenly awoke to realize that the concept of China as a 'strategic competitor', was a more akin to a cauchemar
than anything else. Hence, how happy they all seem to relish the prospect of concentrating on that allegedly much more worrisome issue of the Hussein regime in Iraq allegedly possessing weapons of mass destruction....Overall of course, Ambassador Bolton's remarks, if one abstracts out the nonsense emitted about the domestic policies of the current Administration (as if the Bush regime were any better in terms of its track record on the issue of deficit spending), is infinitely better than say the less than illuminating verbiage that former Secretary of State Kissinger reiterates on the occasion of the Hu visit to the United States. In the latter case of course, one is tempted to say that Kissinger's many millions of dollars in fees paid for by the regime in Peking over the past thirty-five years has bent his usual intelligence the wrong way. The real issue is how has the changed economic dynamics of the Sino-American relationship, both now and in ten to twenty years from now, going to change the perspective of American policymakers as they approach Peking in the future, as the PRC inevitably grows both economically, politically and militarily? Not mind you that the PRC will be able to convincingly challenge the USA on the military plane, ten to twenty years from now. As I have pointed out in this journal, it is highly unlikely that this is an outcome which will come into play. Even if the PRC's economic prospects are as good as many commentators say. The real issue is, if in say ten to twenty years time, will even the thought of a military conflict between the two powers become to American leaders unthinkable
, in the same fashion say that for British leaders by the early 20th century, military conflict with the USA, became viewed with(in the words of A.J. Balfour): "some of the unnatural horror of a civil war
. At which point a total American abdication from any power position in the Eastern Pacific and the South China Sea will most definitely be at hand. With all that implies for weltmachtpolitik.1
. On this British feeling, and for Balfour's quote, see: Kenneth Bourne, The Balance of Power in North America
. (1967), p. 411. See also: George Boyce, edited. The Crisis of British Power: the Imperial and Naval Powers of the Second Earl of Selbourne, 1895-1910
. (1990), p. 115, for Selbourne's quote when First Lord of the Admiralty in 1901, that: "I would not quarrel with the United States if I could possibly avoid it."
THE TUNISIAN REVOLT & THE NEAR/MIDDLE EAST: SOME PRELIMINARY THOUGHTS
"We all know this region faces serious challenges, even beyond the conflicts that dominate the headlines of the day. And we have a lot of work to do. This forum was designed to be not just an annual meeting where we talk with and at each other, but a launching pad for some of the institutional changes that will deal with the challenges that we all know are present. For example, a growing majority of this region is under the age of 30. In fact, it is predicted that in just one country, Yemen, the population will double in 30 years. These young people have a hard time finding work. In many places, there are simply not enough jobs. Across the region, one in five young people is unemployed. And in some places, the percentage is far more. While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order. They are demanding reform to make their governments more effective, more responsive, and more open. And all this is taking place against a backdrop of depleting resources: water tables are dropping, oil reserves are running out, and too few countries have adopted long-term plans for addressing these problems.
Each country, of course, has its own distinct challenges, and each its own achievements. But in too many places, in too many ways, the region’s foundations are sinking into the sand. The new and dynamic Middle East that I have seen needs firmer ground if it is to take root and grow everywhere. And that goal brings us to this Forum....So to my friends, the leaders of these countries, I would say: You can help build a future that your young people will believe in, stay for, and defend. Some of you are already demonstrating that. But for others it will take new visions, new strategies and new commitments. It is time to see civil society not as a threat, but as a partner. And it is time for the elites in every society to invest in the futures of their own countries.
Those who cling to the status quo may be able to hold back the full impact of their countries’ problems for a little while, but not forever. If leaders don’t offer a positive vision and give young people meaningful ways to contribute, others will fill the vacuum. Extremist elements, terrorist groups, and others who would prey on desperation and poverty are already out there, appealing for allegiance and competing for influence. So this is a critical moment, and this is a test of leadership for all of us. I am here to pledge my country’s support for those who step up to solve the problems that we and you face. We want to build stronger partnerships with societies that are on the path to long-term stability and progress -- business, government and civil society, as represented on this panel, must work together, as in our new regional initiative called Partners for a New Beginning. We know that what happens in this region will have implications far beyond".
American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "Forum for the Future: Partnership Dialogue Panel Session," Doha, Qatar. 18 January 2011, www.state.gov.
"Like the eastern European revolutions of 1989, the collapse of Tunisia’s autocracy serves as a reminder that no nation will forever endure political repression, denial of civil liberties and rampant corruption among its rulers. Tunisians deserve warm praise for their courage in effecting what promises to be the most positive change in their country’s system of government since it won independence from France in 1956....The US and the European Union have no reason to fear the consequences of Tunisia’s “Jasmine revolution”. For many decades, their default stance has been to prop up Arab autocracies lest something more sinister emerge. But Tunisia differs from other Maghreb and Middle Eastern countries. Though Arabic-speaking Sunni Muslims make up most of the population, European influences shape Tunisia’s economy and urban culture. Islamist agitation played next to no part in the uprising against Mr Ben Ali. There is little to suggest that Tunisians will vote political or religious fanatics into power. That said, Tunisia’s upheaval will reverberate in other Arab countries where a sudden political opening might generate unpleasant radicalism. It is late in the day, but Arab autocrats and their western supporters must think now about how to chart a controlled path to freedom for societies too long denied their rights".
Leader, "The Jasmine Revolution," The Financial Times. 17 January 2011, in www.ft.com.
"In the second half of the 20th century we cannot hope to maintain our position in the Middle East by the methods of the last century. However little we like it, we must face that fact. Commercial concessions whose local benefit appears to rebound mainly to Shahs and Pashas no longer serve in the same way to strengthen our influence in these countries, and they come increasingly under attack by local nationalist opinion....In most of the countries of the Middle East the social and economic aspirations of the common people are quickening and the tide of nationalism is rising fast. If we are to maintain our influence in this area, future policy must be designed to harness these movements rather than to struggle against them."
Anthony Eden [British Foreign Secretary], "Egypt: The Alternatives," 16 February
1953, PREM 11/48 XC14350, PRO, Kew.
The dilemmas point out almost sixty years ago by the future Earl of Avon are still with us (by 'us' I mean of course the 'West': AKA Europe and America). If nothing else the recent events in Tunisia: 'Jasmine Revolution' or merely political musical chairs `a la Algeria or Burma in 1988-1989 (or for that matter Tunisia itself in 1987), highlight the fact that the region is filled-up with aging autocrats of one type or other (Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Saudi Arabia) or younger dynasts (Jordan, Morocco, Syria) or indeed countries where there is already some degree of ongoing turmoil and division (the Lebanon, Iraq, the Palestinian territories). Except for the Gulf States, which oddly enough are both the least 'indigenous' and 'organic' entities in the entire region (AKA were ruled by the British until the mid to late 1960's), and the most pluralistic and closest to some version of representative democracy and Parliamentary rule. With all that being said, what is the likelihood of the recent events in Tunisia, real or imagined, spilling over into the rest of the region? In short an Arab / Near Eastern version of 1848 or 1989? According to some like Rami Khouri, Tunisia: "is a herald of change," in the Arab world . And the downfall of the Ben-Ali regime, can be replicated, sooner or later in the rest of the Arab world 1
. How likely is this to happen? To my mind, the events so far in Tunisia, as well as the now defunct Ben-Ali regime were so sui generis
, as to almost make any larger influences on the Near and Middle East to be slight at best. Why?
For the following reasons: the corruption of the Ben-Ali regime and indeed the nature of the regime itself was (for lack of a better term to describe it) 'personalist', rather than institutional. Unlike say in Algeria or Egypt, there is no 'deep state', no military hierarchy which is in essence an imperium in imperio
. Hence, when the regime in Tunis, faced mounting popular discontent in the first two weeks of this year, the military felt quite able and willing to step aside and allow Ben-Ali to fend for himself. Something which would on the surface at any rate be rather unlikely to occur in say Algeria, or Egypt. Added to which, as Professor Joshua Landis of Syria Comment, has pointed out: Tunisia is a homogeneous country, both in terms of religious affiliation and nationality. Therefore an upheaval like that which took place last week, can in essence occur without sectarian or nationality conflicts rising quickly to the surface. In that respect making Tunisia a perhaps isolated example of the model of Central and Eastern Europe in 1989. Unfortunately, this is not something which can be said in the rest of the Arab world. As Landis notes in the case of Syria:
"In Syria, because the military elite is dominated by the Alawite minority, it is unlikely to split. Members of the Syrian elite will look at what happened to the Sunnis of Iraq or the Christians of Iraq and close ranks. The sad history of sectarian violence in the region acts to enforce elite solidarity. Members of Syria’s Sunni elite are also chastened by the sectarian fighting that followed regime collapse in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine. The wealthy Sunni elite does not want civil war. The fear of civil war based on religious affiliation is the greatest legitimizer or bulwark of authoritarianism in Syria" 2.
Similar remarks as they pertain to the dangers of sectarianism and civil war, can be made of course about Egypt, most of the Gulf States, the Lebanon, as well of course about Iraq. Au fond, the real problem with the using Central & Eastern Europe circa 1989 as a model for the current Near and Middle East, is that in the case of the former, all of these regimes were puppets of Sovietskaya Vlast. And accordingly as soon as Sovietskaya Vlast withdraw its support for the same, the regimes accordingly collapsed. Now in the case of almost all of the current regimes in the Near and Middle East, with the exceptions of the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, all are without exception the legatees of Arab Nationalist regimes of the fifties and sixties. From Egypt's July 1952 coup d'etat to Qadaffi's coup in 1969 in Libya. And this fact in turn explains the pitfalls that will occur if Western policymakers endeavor to try to pressure the existing regimes in the region to liberalize and democratize in a uncontrolled fashion. Not have the positive variables that Tunisia has, most will either ignore the pressure silently, or worse endeavor to play the xenophobic, anti-Western, anti-Zionist card for all its worth in order to rally the domestic opinion at home. And certainly in the case of Egypt, any such action and response could be quite dangerous given its proximity to Israel, and, Tel Aviv's dependence upon a pacified if not very friendly Egypt in the regional, military balance. Which is not to deny the possibilities of Democracy emerging in the region in the years ahead. After all, if say the Philippines or Indonesia are democracies, there is certainly some hope that some if not all of the countries of the Near and Middle East may perhaps also follow this route of political development 3
. The issue is that this state of affairs can only emerge organically and not via Western fiat. We cannot unlike say Sir Miles Lampson, surround the Presidential Palace in Cairo with tanks to force a change of government, as he did back in February 1942 with King Farouk. In short, nothing much has changes since a member of the Eastern Department of the Foreign Office noted back in March of 1952:
"It is true that we cannot now put the clock back and that we can only hope that the sham democracy of to-day which by the passions it arouses is more dangerous than and as reactionary as the oligarchy or autocracy of yesterday, must eventually become a true democracy which will lead to government in the interests of the governed: but I do not think anything we can do will seriously advance the date" 4.
. Rami Khouri, "Tunisia is a Herald of Change", The Financial Times
. 17 January 2011, in www.ft.com
. For similar thinking, see the article by the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Claire Spencer, who is Chatham House's director of its North African programme, also in the Financial Times: "A Stark Lessons for Aging Autocrats," 13 January 2011, in www.ft.com
."Why Tunisia is unlikely in Syria," 15 January 2011, in www.syriacomment.com
. On the 'personalist' corruption in Tunisia as opposed to the more institutional variety in say Algeria or Egypt, see: Jon Marks, "Nationalist policy-making and crony capitalism in the Maghreb: the old economics hinder the new," International Affairs
, (September 2009), pp. 960-961. 3
. One must point out though that both the Philippines & Indonesia, under respectively Marcos & Suharto had, like Tunisia under Ben-Ali, 'personalist' regimes, with high degree of corruption centered around the President and his family. Institutionally, none of these countries resemble either Syria, Egypt or Algeria, with its 'deep state' apparatus and or its sectarian alignments and divisions. 4
. Christopher Gandy, "Minute: Observations on Mr. Fellowes' Paper 'Nationalisation and Policy in the Middle East," 20 March 1952. FO 371 / 98244 XC14185, PRO, Kew.
THE 'EVENEMENTS' IN TUNISIA: POPULAR UPRISING OR REGIME MUSICAL CHAIRS?
"A month-long wave of violent protests has swept Tunisia’s president from power, bringing an extraordinary end to the 23-year rule of one of the Arab world’s most autocratic leaders. Tunisians were astounded by the speed of developments after the televised announcement by Mohamad Ghannouchi, prime minister, that he had taken over from Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali, the 74-year-old president, who was thought to have fled the country....But the end of the Ben Ali era marks a rare case of an Arab leader brought down by popular revolt. It will alarm the region’s autocratic leaders but give hope to younger people that change is possible. Riots started a month ago with protests by unemployed graduates but quickly spread from town to town, reaching Tunis earlier this week and threatening the survival of the Ben Ali regime. Although the ex-president rolled out one concession after another, the demands of Tunisians coalesced around one issue: that Mr Ben Ali had to leave.
A population that has been silenced by restrictions on free speech suddenly found a voice. Much of the fury was directed at Mr Ben Ali’s family, whose tales of corruption and attempts to monopolise economic power have been feeding resentment for years. “Hearts were so filled with anger,” said one Tunisian analyst. “Once the fear was gone, all the elements of civil society emerged to protest.” The month-long unrest in the country of 10m people left dozens dead, as police fired on protesters. The army, more respected than the police, was deployed across the country over the past week, but for the most part stayed outside towns. Earlier on Friday, Mr Ben Ali was still desperately clinging to power, announcing that he was dismissing his government and holding legislative elections in six months, having promised the night before that he would not stand in the presidential poll in 2014. But the thousands of Tunisians, mostly from the middle classes, who took to the streets of the capital were not satisfied. “Go, go, go ... game over,” they chanted.
The spontaneous protests were not organised by any opposition because political parties have been weakened by decades of repression. However, this also raised concern about what comes next. Mr Ghannouchi, the prime minister, has been a close aide of Mr Ben Ali and politics have been dominated by the ruling RCD party".
Roula Khalaf, "Tunisian President swept from power," The Financial Times, 14 January 2011, in www.ft.com.
"North Africa is notable for the remarkable stability of its political systems despite the increasingly hostile social and economic environment in which they operate. In part this results from their current security engagement with Europe but more important, perhaps, is the shared political culture that informs them. This is, in part, typified by the very similar mechanisms they have each developed to ensure political continuity, based either on monarchical succession or dynastic republicanism. It is less clear, however, that they will be able to resist the most recent challenges arising from Islamist social movements, although any new political dispensations that emerge may not be so very different from their predecessors....Even Algeria and Tunisia, both post-colonial states in their present forms, can justifiably trace their origins back beyond the dates when they achieved independence, Algeria through war in 1962 and Tunisia by negotiations with France some six years earlier. This is a remarkable record of apparent political stability in the Middle Eastern and North African region, without parallel outside of the monarchies of the Gulf and Jordan."
George Joffe, "Political dynamics in North Africa," International Affairs (September 2009), p. 931.
"It is not always going from bad to worse that a society falls into revolution...The social order destroyed by a revolution is almost always better than that which immediately preceded it, and experience shows that the most dangerous moment for a bad government is generally that in which it sets about reform."
Alexis de Tocqueville, L'Ancien Regime et la Revolution (1856).
The political evenements
in Tunisia in the past four weeks, seems to belie the survey of the Maghreb made by George Joffe fifteen months ago. With of course the caveat that we still do not quite know how genuine is the overthrow of the ex-regime of Monsieur Ben-Ali. Is what took place a genuine 'popular uprising', `a la what took place in Persia circa 1978-1979, or merely another game of regime musical chairs? While on the surface what seems to have occurred would indicate that what happened was the overthrow of the former Ben-Ali regime by a popular movement, the quickness of events seem (to my mind at any rate) belie this rather straightforward proposition. The fact of the matter is that prior instances of street riots, the authorities either quickly crush and disperse those involve or in a few instances, use the mere fact of happenings on the street to play 'insider politics'. That the Prime Minister, has not followed the ex-President into exile seems to follow prior examples whereby regime insiders utilize popular protests for purposes of making changes at the top 1
. The Prime Minister being a potential beneficiary of the fact that with Ben-Ali in exile, the likelihood of the latter's son-in-law 'inheriting' power `a la Assad Fils in Syria is one assumes completely void. With both Tunisia in 1987 and Algeria in 1988-1989 very much following this particular script of regime musical chairs. The fact that the protests seem to have been singularly without any overtly 'political' message or without any political baggage, is odd, considering that most political analysts were until recently of the opinion that the only political opposition worthy of the name in Tunisia (and elsewhere in the Maghreb) was supposed to be Islamist 2
. Which is not to ignore the fact that the underlying socioeconomic dynamics of both Tunisia and the entire Maghreb are the very opposite of optimistic, with as Claire Spencer noting in the same issue of Chatham House's International Affairs, that up to seventy-five percent (75%) of the population under the age of thirty. And with youth un-employment being more than rife 3
. Given the fact that Tunisia was widely regarded prior to the events of the past month, as the most economically dynamic of all the North African regimes, one can indeed only hope that my surmise is in fact true and what occurred in Tunisia is merely another case of plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose 4
. Or as the late, great Fernand Braudel would have labeled it: 'une evenement', AKA, a mere event. 1
. On this see: Joffe, op. cit., pp. 937-945, and passim; Alison Pargeter, "Localism and radicalism in North Africa: local factors and the development of political Islam in Morocco, Tunisia and Libya," International Affairs
(September 2009), pp. 1033-1035, and passim. 2
. Lise Storm, "The persistence of authoritarianism as a source of radicalization in North Africa," International Affairs
(September 2009), pp. 1000-1007.3
. Claire Spencer, "Introduction: North Africa and Britain," International Affairs
(September 2009), p. 924. 4
. As per one report: "Tunisia under Mr Ben Ali has often been touted as a model of stability and prudent economic management. The country opened up to foreign investment and Mr Ben Ali encouraged the development of a diversified industrial base supplying European markets
". See: "Heba Saleh, "Street anger smashes authoritarian rule," Financial Times
, 14 January 2011, in www.ft.com
THE HEZBOLLAH'S 'NEW YEAR'S SURPRISE': A COMMENT
Lebanon’s national unity government, led by a pro-western prime minister, collapsed on Wednesday after Hizbollah and its allies resigned ahead of expected indictments against members of the Shia party by a UN-backed court....
The resignation of 11 members of the cabinet followed the failure of efforts by Saudi Arabia, which backs Mr Hariri, and Syria, which with Iran is a main backer of Hizbollah, to broker a compromise acceptable to all sides....
Hizbollah has been on a campaign against the international court, insisting that the indictments are based on fabrications by its enemies, Israel and the US. Mr Hariri, however, has refused Hizbollah’s demands to distance himself and the Lebanese government from the court....
Analysts say, however, that Hizbollah, which is Lebanon’s only armed group and fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006, is reluctant to again turn its guns against other Lebanese. Whether the opposition will resort to street actions depends on progress in the formation of a new government.
One senior official told the Financial Times on Wednesday that Saad Hariri could well be nominated once again as prime minister by Lebanon’s president, Michel Suleiman, if a majority of parliament members continued to back him. But he would not be able to form a national unity government – which all parties say is necessary given Lebanon’s sectarian make-up – without meeting the demands of the opposition.
It is not clear, moreover, whether any leader from the Sunni community, from which Lebanese prime ministers are usually drawn, would be able to renounce co-operation with the tribunal without severely affecting their credibility within their own constituency.
Debate over the legitimacy of the tribunal has already brought the government of the country almost to a standstill. The opposition has been demanding that witnesses who it claims misled the tribunal be investigated by the Lebanese justice system. Mr Hariri and his allies, however, say this would preempt the tribunal’s findings and is designed to disrupt the international court.
The cabinet has not met for several weeks and there is now a backlog of around 500 issues requiring cabinet discussion, including approval for the development of much-needed broadband internet infrastructure.
Abigal Fielding-Smith, "Hezbollah moves topples Lebanese Government," The Financial Times, 12 January 2010, in www.ft.com.
"We view what happened today as a transparent effort by those forces inside Lebanon as well as interests outside Lebanon to subvert justice and undermine Lebanon’s stability and progress. When President Obama met with Prime Minister Hariri earlier today, the President commended the prime minister for his leadership in protecting and advancing the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon and for staying focused on the real needs and interests of the Lebanese people....
Well, first, the United States supported the efforts that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia undertook to try to create a climate and arrive at understandings that would persuade Syria to be supportive of Lebanese sovereignty and independence and to work toward an outcome that would promote both justice and stability. You would have to ask the parties as to why that did not succeed. But we certainly were supportive of the effort, and unfortunately there was not a positive response to all of the Saudi efforts.
But I think let’s keep our eye on what’s really going on here. When the current government entered into their positions, all parties agreed to support the tribunal, including Hezbollah. And the work of the tribunal has been carried out over a number of years. We know that from news reports from the tribunal, they are on the verge of issuing indictments. And this is a matter that should be allowed to proceed as previously agreed to. And I would only add that this not only about the tragic assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri, but many other people died and were injured as well. So it’s not only to seek justice for a former leader whose murder should not be allowed to go unaccountable, but what about all the other families and all the other people who came from across Lebanon?
So this really goes to a very important point, which is that Lebanon needs now to rally behind its own interests. The Lebanese people need to get beyond political parties. And it’s not political parties that would be put on trial; it’s individuals who would either be found guilty or innocent of having plotted and carried out such a horrific crime....
I think that there’s a long and complicated history between Syria and Lebanon that many of you know and some of you have not only followed, but lived. It is our hope, and as Sheikh Hamad just said, our commitment to try to work with all the parties to determine what is a peaceful way forward. We don’t think it is, at this moment, useful to be pointing fingers or blaming or going about the business of recriminations about what did or didn’t happen and who did or did not do what. We have to deal with the reality as we see it today.
And I think it’s in everyone’s interest, whether it be different elements within Lebanon or Syria or any of the neighbors and many of us who care deeply about what happens to the Lebanese people, to come together around some very simple principles. Lebanon is a sovereign, independent nation. The Lebanese people need to be empowered in order to solve their own issues without outside interference or without threats from within Lebanon. And countries like the two of ours stand ready to help, to facilitate, to support such a process. It’s happened before, as has already been referenced, but we think it’s imperative that everyone try to play a responsible and positive role. And that is certainly the goal of the United States over the next days and weeks".
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "Remarks with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad
bin Jassim Al Thani," Dohar, Qatar. 12 January 2011, in www.state.gov.
To-day's break-up of the Lebanese Cabinet is as Michael Young put it yesterday (in a very prescient prediction), a va banque maneuver. Not of course merely by Hezbollah but of course by Damascus (and to a lesser extent Persia - perhaps), as well. It is Damascus which probably has as much at stake as Hezbollah in any publicly released findings by the UN Tribunal. 1
Why in Assad Fils, decided to in effect end the pour parler discussions that have been going on with Saudi Arabia in the past couple of months is not known at this time. And, while Persia in a sort of sotto voce way endorsed the move, no doubt, it is rather doubtful that it made the decision to end any discussions with Saudis and their Sunni Arab allies in the Levant. Whether or not the majority of the former Lebanese Cabinet were not willing to endorse the wild conspiracy theories being emitted by Hezbollah & Damascus (that Hariri pere was murdered by 'Zionist agents') is not quite clear 2
. At least not to me. What does seem clear is that Damascus & its allies on the ground in the Lebanon, seem ready to throw down the gauntlet and engage in political (if not military) warfare in the hopes of completely toppling the pro-Western government in Beirut. In short a sort of coup de main if not coup d'etat. Which in turn begs the question: what if anything are the Americans, French and Saudis going to do, if things on the ground 'get out of hand'? Merely engage in more pour parlers and stand on the sideslines as in 2008, or will something more substantive come into play? If the latter, how far are the Americans and Saudis in particular willing to support the March 14th coalition? And for how long? A situation which definitely bears close watching.1
. Michael Young, "Amid Stalemate let negotiations begin!" The Daily Star, 12 January 2010, in www.dailystar.com.lb
; Nada Bakri, "Hezbollah forces collapse of Lebanese government." New York Times. 12 January 2011, in www.nytimes.com
. For a different view of the crisis' origins, see: Zvi Bar'el, "Timing of Hezbollah's resignation from Lebanon government no
coincidence." Haaretz. 12 January 2011, in www.haaretz.com
. Qifa Nabki, "Justice in the Bazaar," 6 January 2011, in www.Qifanabki.com
. For the Tribunal itself, see: "The Special Tribunal for Lebanon: and the quest for Truth, Justice and Stability," Chatham House Meeting Report. December 2010, in www.chathamhouse.org.uk
A CHINESE 'STRATEGIC THREAT'? A DEFLATIONARY POINT OF VIEW
"A new Chinese anti-ship missile that will significantly alter the balance of military power in the Pacific is now operational, according to a senior US commander. Admiral Robert Willard, the top US commander in the Pacific, said the Chinese ballistic missile, which was designed to threaten US aircraft carriers in the region, had reached “initial operational capability”.
His remarks signal that China is challenging the US ability to project military power in Asia much sooner than many had expected. The US and other countries in the Pacific region are increasingly concerned at the speed with which China is developing its naval power. Japan, for example, recently decided to refocus its military on the potential threat from China.
“So now we know – China’s [anti-ship ballistic missile] is no longer aspirational,” Andrew Erickson, an expert on the Chinese military at the US Naval War College, said in response to Adm Willard’s comments to the Asahi newspaper. Defence analysts have called the Dongfeng 21 D missile a “game changer” since it could force US aircraft carriers to stay away from waters where China does not want to see them. These include the Taiwan Strait where a potential conflict could develop over the self-ruled island which China claims.
The land-based missile is designed to target and track aircraft carrier groups with the help of satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles and over-the-horizon radar. Aircraft carriers and their accompanying ships are unable to defend themselves against such a threat".
Kathrin Hille, "Chinese missile shifts power in the Pacific," The Financial Times.
28 December 2010, in www.ft.com.
"About thirty years ago the fear of the 'Yellow Peril' was the fashion. It was said that China and Japan were about to advance towards the economic and perhaps also military conquest of Europe and other regions. Much was written to stress the vast size of the yellow races, their modest standard of living which ensured the low prices of manufactured goods, the political sense of Japan, the reawkening of China after a sleep of centuries. Then gradually these fears abated and were replaced by others..."
Vilfredo Pareto, "Russia," 13 June 1922, in The Other Pareto, Edited and translated Placido & Gillian Bucolo. (1980), p. 258.
The American Defence Secretary, Dr. Gates is now in Peking for discussions with his PRC counter-parts. Which is something of an improvement considering the sometimes childish reactions of the Chinese leadership to American (and other) powers policies which they disapprove of. Given the prevalence of recent reports such as that in the Financial Times on the 28th of last month, about some alleged threat to the current American military pre-dominance in the Orient, I thought that it would be worthwhile to have a more in depth look at the actual contents of what the PRC is doing on the military side. There one finds that, while Peking is indeed greatly increasing its military spending, it is doing so from a very very low base: about still only one percent of Gross Domestic Product. And, as a Sino-American China expert, recently noted for example notwithstanding the discovery over the New Year's holiday that the Chinese military had developed its own 'stealth' fighter, the PRC's
military capabilities were still rather limited:
"'They [the PRC] lack a suitable engine,” says Tai Ming Cheung, an expert on Chinese defence technology at the University of California, San Diego. “Judging from the development cycle of their earlier fighter, the J-10, it will be another eight to 10 years until this aircraft can fly.” He points out that China still lags far behind the US and Russia in both shipbuilding and even more in aviation". 1
Similarly, as the American defence analyst, Thomas Barnett recently noted, notwithstanding all of the bombastic utterances that occasionally come from the PRC's military leadership, that fact is:
"Despite our strategists’ rather breathless hyping of China’s self-declared capacity for delivering a debilitating pre-emptive strike (the “assassin’s mace” strategy that clearly apes Imperial Japan’s approach to its opening Pearl Harbor strike), the PLA’s Achilles heel is clearly its high-tech reliance on wide-area surveillance. Destroy that, or merely “blind” it, and China’s ability to follow through on its crushing first blow disintegrates. Along these lines, all the US military needs to do is demonstrate just enough implied capacity for offensive cyber/electronic/space operations to make the PLA doubt in its own ability to deliver a decisive first-round knockout. Again, Reagan’s employment of the “Star Wars” challenge is instructive: the Soviets could never discount the possibility that those devious and ingenious Americans might just secretly pull it off.
And if that argument doesn’t resonate, then simply realize that the PLA spent the last decade watching the world’s finest military attempt a shock-and-awe effort against lowly Iraq, only to be trapped into a prolonged unconventional conflict. The US military is battle-hardened in this regard, whereas the PLA is downright virginal by comparison (the PLA’s last war fighting experience was just over three decades ago, meaning only a small sliver of senior officers have ever seen combat). The United States likewise has the capacity to swap out its political leadership when wars go badly, while China’s single-party dictatorship possesses no such flexibility. Then there’s China’s single-child family structure: even under the spell of nationalism, how many people would be willing to sacrifice their “little emperors” in combat before social unrest skyrocketed beyond Beijing’s control? Nationalism is the promise of political will during wartime—not its guarantor....
Finally, the PLA and China’s senior Communist Party leadership give no serious indication of being anywhere near immune to deterrence on the Taiwan scenario, which lies at the heart of the ASBC’s ['Air-Sea-Battle Concept'] strategic rationale (with Iran a distant second). Off the record, senior Chinese officials readily indicate a complete understanding of the logic of deterrence with regard to Taiwan. They view the “assassin’s mace” as PLA’s capacity to threaten the US Navy’s capacity to threaten the PLA Navy’s capacity to threaten Taiwan with invasion". 2
the Americans and their allies in the Orient (not even including India of course), still have by far the upper-hand in the military balance. While that may change somewhat in the moyen duree
(to use a Braudelian term), the likelihood is that any changes will not be of such scale to seriously threaten that favorable balance to the West. Notwithstanding reports to the contrary, the decline and fall of the West in the East has yet to occur. Quod erat demonstrandum1
. Daniel Dombey, "Gates warns over Chinese stealth aircraft," The Financial Times.
9 January 2011, in www.ft.com
. Thomas Barnett, "Big-War Thinking in a Small-War era," China Security. 21 October 2010, in www.chinasecurity.us
AN ORIENTAL 21ST CENTURY?
"Is this the Chinese century, and will Beijing again dominate the global system as it did from before the birth of Christ to roughly 1800? These weighty questions have received additional impetus in the wake of the devastating financial crisis and its tough and protracted consequences for the United States and other western nations. The contrast with an economically and increasingly politically self-confident China could hardly be more stark. Yet, global futures cannot be projected in the linear and a political form, which many employ. There are serious challenges ahead for China.
The comprehensive reforms unleashed by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 set China off on an explosive path to become America's main geopolitical rival, the world's second largest economy, its biggest exporter and its major creditor with over three trillion dollars of foreign financial assets, or the equivalent of three quarters of its gross domestic product (GDP).
By 2030, on current form, China's GDP will overtake the US, possibly a bit earlier. Income per head of population, which has trebled in thirty years to about $3,700, could reach $13,000. With the west in postcrisis economic and political disarray, China's enormous impact is very clear nowadays on neighbours and the world system. What could possibly go wrong in the increasingly common refrain that the future belongs to China?"
George Magnus, "China: Uncertain Leap Forward," The World Today (December 2010), pp. 7-8.
"The Middle Kingdom, this, is merely a middle power. It is not that China does not matter at all, but that it matters far less than it and most of the West think. China matters about as much as Brazil for the global economy. It is a medium-rank military power, and it exerts no political pull at all."
Gerald Seigel, "Does China Matter?" Foreign Affairs, (September / October 1999), p. 35.
"It has not dawned on our countrymen yet, but doubtless it has on you as it has on me, that if the Americans choose to pay for what they can easily afford, they can gradually build up a Navy, firstly as large and then larger than ours."
The Earl of Selbourne to Lord Curzon, 19 April 1901, in The Crisis of British Power: The Imperial and naval powers of the Second Earl of Selbourne, edited. D. George Boyce. (1990), p. 115.
Will the 21st century be an Asiatic or Oriental one? Well on present form, insofar as facts have meaning, the answer is most likely no
. And that will hold true even twenty years or less hence, when the PRC (presuming that the state apparatus which carries that name still exists) finally does have a bigger gross domestic product than the USA. Why one may ask will this event, not have an earthquake like shock on world politics? For the very simple reason, that unlike say when in the late-19th century, the USA outstripped the United Kingdom in gross domestic product, the United States was already a wealthier country in per capita terms. 1
If it were the case, that the PRC had a per capita income which was say half the American average, then it could well be, that with the disparity in populations, that the PRC, will be able to quickly devote sufficient amounts of national wealth to outstrip the USA in military spending and in spending on high-technology. However that is not the case at present, nor does it appear will it be be the case in x numbers of years hence. And furthermore, one may recall, that it was almost fifty years, before the United States translated its great economic wealth into pure military power. And, as per Chatham House's in-house World Today article, even by 2030, the PRC will only have a per capita income of $13,000.00. A figure which as per the international monetary fund, already sixty-four (64) other countries have or higher. Which raises the point, that aside from the original "Asian Tigers" of Singapore, South Korea, Formosa, and Hong Kong, none of the so-called rising (or not so rising) nations of the Orient, have even mid-level per capita incomes. With all of the countries which have populations of fifty million or larger, being in world comparative terms, poor. And in the case of say India, Pakistan or Vietnam, being in the category of dirt-poor. Id est, over half of the population
of the Indian sub-continent 'survives' (if one may use that term in this context) on two dollars a day
Countries which are that poor, and not even the greatest optimists among the many rather naive boosters of our Asiatic friends in the Anglo-American press have surmised that future growth in non-PRC, Asia will be higher than that of the PRC in the next twenty years; countries which are that poor, both now and in the future, will not as a plausible matter be able to act as Great Powers, in any normative sense. Much less convert their admittedly potentially great increase in national wealth, into being 'Super-Powers' `a la the current USA. Sans, being even a medium-level income country, the likelihood that any of these larger Asian nations can play the future roles that some have marked out for them is to my mind, based upon past history, rather difficult to imagine. For a quick reminder, one may only recall, the difficulty that Tsarist Russia, had in competing successful in the Great Power game, after the onset of West European industrialization in the second and third quarters of the 19th century. Even though, its per capita income at the beginning of the process, was half the West European average, and at the end, still one-third. 3
. Currently of course, the PRC, has a per capita income only 1/7th that of the USA, India 1/14th of that of the USA. In short, those who simplistically mark-out that the 21st century is to be the 'Asiatic' or 'Oriental' century have a rather reductionist view of power political realities. Both at the present time and in the future.1
. For this see: A. J. P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe
. (1954), pp. xxv-xxxi; Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers
. (1987), pp. 228-248. Especially pertinent are Kennedy's comment apropos the USA: "The United States seemed to have all
(emphasis in the original) the economic advantages which some of the other powers possessed in part, but none of their disadvantages....It was not therefore surprising that U.S.
national income, in absolute figures and per capita, was so far above everyone else's by 1914."2
. Currently, China's current per capita income world ranking is 93 ($7,518). With 64countries have currently per capita incomes higher than $13,000.00. India's ranking is 127 ($3,290); Indonesia is 122 ($4,380); Pakistan is 133 ($2,789); Vietnam is 128
($3,123). All IMF figures from 2009, in "Report for Select Countries and Subjects," www.imf.org
. Cyril Black, et. al. The Modernization of Japan and Russia: A comparative Study
. (1975), p. 16-17. And, Kennedy, op. cit., pp. 232-241, where he comments: "that Russia's power and influence had declined throughout much of the nineteenth century in rough proportion to her increasing economic backwardness."
FELIX ANNO DOMINI 2011!
"As I have pointed out, it is the Christian tradition that is the most fundamental element in Western culture. It lies at the base not only of Western religion, but also of Western morals and Western social idealism....
Every society rests in the last resort on the recognition of common principles and common ideals, and if it makes no moral or spiritual appeal to the loyalty of its members, it must inevitably fall to pieces".
Christopher Dawson, writer, scholar, British Catholic convert, and Professor of Divinity at Harvard University (1958-1962).