Thursday, April 28, 2011


"Bashar al-Assad is determined to quell the Syrian revolt, which is why he has sent in the military with tanks and is now arresting the network of opposition activists and leaders that his intelligence agencies have been able to track.

There is an element of “shock and awe” to the operation. Tanks are clearly not useful for suppressing an urban rebellion, but they demonstrate the superior firepower of the state and the determination of the president. It is a classic military strategy – go hard and quick. Take out the opposition before it has a chance to harden and develop a durable command a reliable cell structure. This is precisely what the US military tried to do in Iraq. It is what it failed to do in Libya, when it allowed Qaddafi to regroup and regain control of Tripoli and Western Libya after his initial confusion and weakness.

I do not believe that the regime will be able to shut down the opposition. Unlike the Iranian opposition, which was successfully put down, the Syrian opposition is more revolutionary, even if, perhaps, not as numerous in the capital. The Green movement did not call for the overthrow of the regime and an end to the Islamic republic, but only reform. The Syrian opposition is revolutionary. Although it began by calling for reform, it quickly escalated to demand an end to the regime. It is convinced that reform of the Baathist regime is impossible and Syria must start over. It wants an end to the Baath Party, an end to Assad dynasty, an end to domination of the presidency and security forces by the Alawite religious community, and an end to the domination of the economy by the financial elite which has used nepotism, insider trading, and corruption to monopolize the ramparts of trade and industry. In short, the opposition abhors most aspects of the present regime and is working to uproot it. It is more determined and revolutionary than was the Iranian Green movement that Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei successfully suppressed....

In the face of the state’s superior military and willingness to use force, the opposition will be forced to turn to military means itself. The opposition leadership has already been able to smuggle loads of satellite phones and electronic equipment in to reinforce their activists inside the country. Smuggling arms will not be hard. The Syrian government has reported stopping several truck loads of arms being smuggled in from Iraq already. Both Lebanon and Iraq are awash with arms and the smuggling routes between them and Syria are well traveled. The Gulf will be a source of money and support".

Joshua Landis, "Quelling the revolt: will the opposition take up arms"?
Syria Comment. 26 April 2011, in

"A number of people have asked me for an assessment of what may happen in Syria during the coming days. Many Syrians have called for a “Day of Rage” on February 4 and 5. Of course Assad must fear the wave of popular protests demanding regime-change and freedom that is sweeping the Middle East. Syria shares the same economic problems as most Middle Eastern countries: poverty, inflation, joblessness, as well as the political woes of authoritarianism. Thirty-two percent of the Syrian population lives on $2 a day or less. Fifty percent spend close to half their income on food. They live in terrible insecurity and anxiety. Commodity prices are racing up worldwide. Wheat prices increased by 30% last year. Syria is liberalizing economically and cutting price supports and subsidies. The bottom half of Syrians are loosing what state supports they had at the same time as they are being hammered by rising food costs and natural calamities, such as the severe drought. Reform is not producing enough jobs.

Despite the economic similarities with Egypt, Syrian society and circumstances are different. Syrians have been traumatized by the violence and chaos of Iraq. The presence of almost one million Iraqi refugees has chastened Syrians. they understand the dangers of regime collapse in a religiously divided society. No Syrian wants to risk civil war. Freedom in Iraq has spelled disaster for the country’s minorities, both Sunnis and Christian. Iraq provides a cautionary tale for Syria’s minorities in particular. The Syrian regime is very tough. It will try to nip any demonstrations in the bud....

The Assad regime is looking at a significant improvement to its geostrategic position in the region, if it weathers the immediate storm of protest, which I suspect it will. The Camp David Agreement and America’s brokered peace between Israel and Egypt was a hard blow to Syria and the Palestinians. It meant they had no leverage to get back their occupied territories. The hope of weakening Israel’s sense of military security and improving security for Syria makes authorities in Damascus cheer on the collapse of the Mubarak regime.

Joshua Landis, "Will 'Day of Rage' Rock Syria?" Syria Comment. 2nd of February 2011, in

It is quite easy for myself or for that matter, anyone else to dig up old pronouncements by commentators AB or C, on current events in country XY or Z and show how good or bad, said personage was at predicting the chain of events in that particular instance. In the case of Syria, the lack of prescience of my old acquaintance, Professor Joshua Landis in his area of specialization (Modern day Syria of the last fifty years, and its society and politics) is however rather telling. For the past few years (2007 and forward), for reasons which would seem to be little more than 'pour epater les americaines', Landis has au fond, endorsed in a sotto voce fashion, the self-image of the Syrian regime, as being both 'popular' and fairly immune to any internal political weaknesses or vulnerabilities. If one were to have proposed say six months ago, to Landis that the regime in Damascus would be facing the sort of challenge that it now is, the good Professor would have laughed the scenario out of court, as highly implausible one and a neo-conservative nostrum to boot.

Given the above facts, I for one am, more than a bit hesitant to endorse Landis'
current take on events in Syria. Per contra: not that one should not, as Lord Keynes once stated, 'change one's mind' when the facts change. Merely that the supposition that Landis appears to base his argument, appears to be less than well thought out. Simply put, the idea that per se, the degree of voluntarism of those elements in Syrian society who wish to over-throw the Baathist regime is the determining variable in the current political situation appears to be both misplaced and ahistorical. Merely using some examples from Syria's own history shows that, both in the case of the Druze revolt against French rule in 1925-1927, and in the Muslim Brotherhood revolt in Hamas in 1982, the failure of the revolt to succeed was not a result of the lack of voluntarism by those who were endeavoring to change the status quo. Rather the failure of the revolt to succeed was au fond, the result of the fact that the authorities in both cases, were able to employ in a thoroughly ruthless manner, superior amounts of force to in effect, subdue and destroy the opposition. Given the above history, I for one, fail to see, how in the absence of a substantial military mutiny by elements of the existing regime, how any uprising can possibly succeed. Which is not to gainsay the idea that for quite sometime to come, the regime of Assad Fils, will be bothered with internal challenges to its rule. Both of a violent and a non-violent variety. Nor is it to gainsay that as a long-term proposition, that regime if it is indeed, 'blacklisted', id est, isolated internationally by sanctions, both political and economic, will indeed be in a weakened condition. Merely, that the above state of affairs, will not necessarily result in a collapse of said regime. The best exampli gratia, being the Saddam Hussein regime from 1991 to 2003. In short, unlike Joshua Landis, I am quite willing to change my mind when the facts change, but said facts have to be those from the case at hand and not merely a phantom of one's own imagining.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


"Many tensions have bedevilled NATO's military operations in Libya – tensions between France and NATO, between Germany and its allies, and between active and less active partners in the coalition. But it is the clash between Turkey and France that should most worry the EU.

This is more serious than their difference of approach on military intervention to Muslim countries. A strategic rivalry is emerging that is compromising the ability of the West to respond cohesively and effectively to emerging threats. And this rivalry is damaging the EU's relationship with Turkey at a moment when both have much to gain by working together in the southern Mediterranean.

The relationship between Paris and Ankara has long been poor, but it has rarely been worse. Turkey was conspicuously absent from the meeting of leaders in Paris that, on 19 March, established the ad hoc coalition to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya. French President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision not to invite Turkey showed how deep the rift between Paris and Ankara has grown.

Usually, acrimony in bilateral relations can be addressed through political dialogue and direct contacts between leaders, but reconciliation looks far away. Sarkozy's visit to Turkey in March added insult to several years of injury, by repeating his opposition to Turkey's bid to the join the EU. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was furious about being frozen out of the Paris summit....

But, while France may have aspirations, the emerging political constituencies in Tunisia and Egypt find Turkey a more interesting model and more appealing partner for their transition processes.

Like France, Turkey has a difficult imperial legacy in the region, but it offers a successful combination of Muslim traditions, democracy and rising prosperity. And, in Arab eyes, the dynamism of its economic growth compares favourably with crisis-ridden Europe's sluggishness. In recent years, as its membership talks with the EU have slowed down, Turkey has focused on being a big power in its neighbourhood. In the process, it has regained self-confidence....

Both Turkey and the EU have much to gain from dovetailing their neighbourhood policies to form a common strategy for the southern Mediterranean. For that to happen, Turkey and the EU would need a high-level political dialogue on foreign policy. That is missing at the moment because Turkey's accession process is nearly at a standstill. Negotiators have no reason to meet to discuss foreign, security and external policies because those chapters are blocked. The EU should therefore establish a foreign-policy dialogue that allows Turkey to work in concert with the Union regardless of the progress of accession talks. This dialogue would be a forum for regular, institutionalised discussions about the aid, technical assistance, political support and economic opportunities that are needed to facilitate the Arab transitions.

Strategic dialogue between the EU and Turkey needs to replace the emerging strategic rivalry between France and Turkey, to establish a smoother and more reliable regional security order led by NATO, and prevent a repeat of the debacles in the Libya crisis".

Heather Grabbe, Sinan Ulgen, "The High Price of Strategic Rivalry," The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 20 April 2011, in

A strategic rivalry between Paris and Ankara in the Near East? The idea or the premise has something distinctly pickwickian about it to the naked eye or the neutral observer. However, leaving that aspect aside for a moment, what are au fond, the politics of this alleged problem? Actually, quite simple: Turkish diplomacy, notwithstanding comments to the contrary (such as in the above article from the Carnegie Endowment), has not exactly 'enjoyed' a good crisis in the Near and Middle East in the past four months. Why is that? Simple: Ankara's very recent prominence in the region (nota bene: prominence per se not the same thing as macht), was to a large extent based upon its taking popular positions in the region over the Arab-Israeli dispute and to a lesser extent, Persia's nuclear standoff with the Western powers. However, the crisis in the Arab world since December 2010, has pushed both issues almost completely aside for the moment. And not only that, but it has brought to the fore, the unpopularity of some of Ankara's friends in the region, exampli gratia, Persia (with its alleged meddling in Bahrain), Syria (with its Baathist regime in crisis), and Libya and its civil war. Given the very close relationship that Ankara has forged in the past five years with each of these powers, one is hard put to believe that many people in the region, still view Turkish foreign policy in quite the same positive light that they did, say this time last year. The fact of the matter is, that if the regime in Damascus comes crashing down in flames, or the country becomes entangled in a Libya-type civil war, then Turkey will be, along with Persia a key loser. Similarly, the fact that the AKP government singularly failed to show any leadership over the events in Libya in the past few months, cannot but have negatively impressed 'public opinion', in the Arab world. Given all the above, I for one cannot for the life of me, see anything to be gained by Europe, involving itself with Turkey and Turkish diplomacy. The inevitable result of such a tie-up, will be that Europe's own prestige and indeed policy will be tarnished by association with Ankara's rather questionable friends in the area. No doubt, Ankara would love to be in a position to associate itself with the monetary assistance that the European Union will be dispensing in the coming years to the new democratic governments in the area. But, I for one, cannot for the life of me, see what possibly the European Union would have to gain in such a relationship. In light of the fact that having barely escaped recently being forever tarred by association with the ancien regimes in Cairo and Tunis, the last thing that European diplomacy needs is to be associated with some of the remaining authoritarian regimes in the region. Or for that matter, their Turkish enabler.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


"David Cameron scotched Gordon Brown ’s chances of becoming the next managing director of the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday as he indicated that his predecessor was not up to the job, writes the FT. Although there is not yet a vacancy for the post, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the fund’s head, would need to resign in the summer if he wanted to try to become the Socialist candidate for president of France. Mr Strauss-Kahn is widely thought to have been an excellent head of the fund, bringing the organisation back from obscurity, challenging national leaders to find a solution to the financial and economic crisis and leading the international efforts last week to address the crisis and set the world on a path towards sustainable and balanced growth. His possible departure was the talk of the IMF spring meetings in Washington last week but outside British circles, Mr Brown was not generally listed among possible candidates. Instead, the debate was whether a European candidate would again secure the post or if it would go for the first time to a candidate from an emerging market economy".

Cardiff Garcia, "Cameron dismisses idea of Brown at the IMF," The Financial Times. 20 April 2011, in

Cornelius Tacitus, "Omnium consensu capax imperii, nisi imperasset," Histories, Book One, Chapter 49, on the Emperor Galb (circa 69 A.D.).

As political backstabbing goes, the UK Prime Minister's job yesterday on his predecessor must rank as one of the best and most certainly one of the most amusing on record. For years, it was known that the one position that Gordon Brown wanted in the world as much as being Prime Minister, was being head of the IMF. Now, one year after being voted out of office, Brown is now very publicly told by the man who beat him, that he is too incompetent to hold the only other position in public life that he would ever want. In a few years time, Brown has gone from being the renown 'Iron Chancellor', to being merely another unemployed, job seeker. More seriously, Cameron's dismissal is in terms of actual merit, not entirely without any basis in fact. The fact is, that Brown's performance in running the UK's economy during the years 1997-2010, was hardily one to recommend itself necessarily to running the IMF. Clearly in retrospect, the British economy was fueled to a unhealthy degree by a housing speculation bubble and by 'hot money', coming into the UK's economy via the banking system. Indeed, the expansion of the City of London's place in the British economy was by definition merely another speculative bubble akin to the housing bubble. Sans these two variables and what one notices is that the British economy was much weaker structurally speaking than what Brown was claiming to the public in his salad days as Chancellor (1997-2007). That being said, there is an element of poetic justice about the fact that almost the minute that Brown ousts his predecessor from Number Ten and becomes Prime Minister, the economy commences to crash around his ears. Hubris followed by nemesis.

Monday, April 18, 2011


"There was one striking thing missing from the events in the Middle East in past months: Israel. While certainly mentioned and condemned, none of the demonstrations centered on the issue of Israel. Israel was a side issue for the demonstrators, with the focus being on replacing unpopular rulers.

This is odd. Since even before the creation of the state of Israel, anti-Zionism has been a driving force among the Arab public, perhaps more than it has been with Arab governments. While a few have been willing to develop open diplomatic relations with Israel, many more have maintained informal relations: Numerous Arab governments have been willing to maintain covert relations with Israel, with extensive cooperation on intelligence and related matters. They have been unwilling to incur the displeasure of the Arab masses through open cooperation, however.

That makes it all the more strange that the Arab opposition movements — from Libya to Bahrain — have not made overt and covert cooperation with Israel a central issue, if for no other reason than to mobilize the Arab masses. Let me emphasize that Israel was frequently an issue, but not the central one. If we go far back to the rise of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and his revolution for Pan-Arabism and socialism, his issues against King Farouk were tightly bound with anti-Zionism. Similarly, radical Islamists have always made Israel a central issue, yet it wasn’t there in this round of unrest. This was particularly surprising with regimes like Egypt’s, which had formal relations with Israel.

It is not clear why Israel was not a rallying point. One possible explanation is that the demonstrations in the Islamic world were focused on unpopular leaders and regimes, and the question of local governance was at their heart. That is possible, but particularly as the demonstrations faltered, invoking Israel would have seemed logical as a way to legitimize their cause. Another explanation might have rested in the reason that most of these risings failed, at least to this point, to achieve fundamental change. They were not mass movements involving all classes of society, but to a great extent the young and the better educated. This class was more sophisticated about the world and understood the need for American and European support in the long run; they understood that including Israel in their mix of grievances was likely to reduce Western pressure on the risings’ targets. We know of several leaders of the Egyptian rising, for example, who were close to Hamas yet deliberately chose to downplay their relations. They clearly were intensely anti-Israeli but didn’t want to make this a crucial issue. In the case of Egypt, they didn’t want to alienate the military or the West. They were sophisticated enough to take the matter step by step....

Hamas had the same means for starting a war it had before Cast Lead and that Hezbollah had in 2006. It can still fire rockets at Israel. For the most part, these artillery rockets — homemade Qassams and mortars, do no harm. But some strike Israeli targets, and under any circumstances, the constant firing drives home the limits of Israeli intelligence to an uneasy Israeli public — Israel doesn’t know where the missiles are stored and can’t take them out. Add to this the rocket that landed 20 miles south of Tel Aviv and Israeli public perceptions of the murder of most of a Jewish family in the West Bank, including an infant, and it becomes clear that Hamas is creating the circumstances under which the Israelis have no choice but to attack Gaza....

It is not clear what the Israelis’ limit is. Clearly, they are trying to avoid an all-out assault on Gaza, limiting their response to a few airstrikes. The existence of Iron Dome, a new system to stop rockets, provides Israel some psychological comfort, but it is years from full deployment, and its effectiveness is still unknown. The rockets can be endured only so long before an attack. And the Goldstone reversal gives the Israelis a sense of vindication that gives them more room for maneuver.

Hamas appears to have plenty of rockets, and it will use them until Israel responds. Hamas will use the Israeli response to try to launch a broader Arab movement focused both on Israel and on regimes that openly or covertly collaborate with Israel. Hamas hopes above all to bring down the Egyptian regime with a newly energized movement. Israel above all does not want this to happen. It will resist responding to Hamas as long as it can, but given the political situation in Israel, its ability to do so is limited — and that is what Hamas is counting on.

For the United States and Europe, the merger of Islamists and democrats is an explosive combination. Apart, they do little. Together, they could genuinely destabilize the region and even further undermine the U.S. effort against jihadists. The United States and Europe want Israel to restrain itself but cannot restrain Hamas. Another war, therefore, is not out of the question — and in the end, the decision to launch one rests with Hamas".

George Friedman, "The Arab Risings, Israel and Hamas," Stratfor. 12 April 2011, in

It seems by definition that the real 'wild card', in the Near & Middle Eastern diplomatic and strategic deck would be another Gaza War. So far, while the Islamist governing entity in the Gaza Strip has fitfully endeavored to provoke the Israelis, they have not been able to spur Tel Aviv into another 'Operation Cast Lead'. As Dr. Friedman correctly notes, there are limits to Israel's willingness to refrain from responding forcefully to Hamas' rocket and other attacks. One may safely presume that the American Administration has pointed out to the Netanyahu Cabinet precisely the same points made by Dr. Friedman in his essay. Exampli gratia: that another Gaza War, whether provoked by Hamas's attack or no, has the possibility of completely rocking the entire Near and Middle East from end to end. What is missing however from Dr. Friedman's surmises, is the fact that there is another actor, nay indeed, two actors who may tip the balance in favor of war, which Dr. Friedman does not mention: namely the regimes in Syria and Persia. Both regimes, especially the former are currently hard pressed by internal unrest and challenges to its rule by its population. Both to a good degree, have in the past based their legitimacy and or popularity with its population, on their 'rejectionist' credentials vis-`a-vis Israel 1. Both powers, especially Persia have in recent months, endeavored to send military equipment and supplies to the Hamas 2. With all this in mind, it would not to my mind, especially in the case of the regime in Syria, which is the more challenged of the two, be very surprising if Damascus endeavored to push and or pull Hamas towards an open policy of va banque, vis-`a-vis Tel Aviv. Come what may. This is not to argue that this state of affairs is inevitable. There are good and sound reasons why Hamas would like to avoid another round with Israel. Principally, the fact that the population of Gaza has hardly recovered from the catastrophic pounding that the Israeli Defence forces inflicted on Hamas at little over two years ago. Hopefully, Hamas will take into account its responsibilities as the governing power in Gaza and ignore whatever fanciful entreaties that the regimes in Persia and Damascus are making.

1. Claire Spencer, "A Stark Lesson for Aging Arab Autocrats," The Financial Times. 13 January 2011, in; Joshua Landis, "Syrian Authorities jubilant at the prospect of Mubarak fall and the shifting balance of power in the region," 30 January 2011, in

2. Tobias Buck, "Iran insists on warships bound for Suez Canal," The Financial Times. 16 February 2011, in

Thursday, April 14, 2011


"Britain and France were rebuffed by a number of Nato states on Thursday as the two nations pleaded with alliance members to supply more combat aircraft for attack missions against Colonel Muammer Gaddafi’s ground forces.

At a meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Berlin, the UK and France implored a range of countries – including Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Greece and Turkey – to provide aircraft that could conduct precision strikes on Col Gaddafi’s tanks and artillery. But in a development that triggered dismay at Britain’s Ministry of Defence, it emerged that none of these countries seemed likely to provide jets for these kinds of attacks on Col Gaddafi’s forces in the near future.

Instead, the bulk of ground attacks on Col Gaddafi’s forces will continue to be conducted by the UK and France, with four other Nato members – Belgium, Canada, Denmark and Norway – carrying out a similar role. In Berlin, Nato officials were keen to play down suggestions that the alliance is divided over resourcing the mission.

Nato officials stressed that the alliance was already making a considerable effort to contain Col Gaddafi’s capability and that it was fully capable of carrying out its mission. But in London, there was irritation at the unwillingness of Nato members to back the mission with the required assets. “Moments like this do bring into question the entire Nato set-up,” said one person at the UK Ministry of Defence. “Nato is not just a body with a political mission. It has a military role. When it takes a decision to act, member states need to share the burden.”

Since the start of the campaign, Nato aircraft have flown more than 2,000 sorties, including 890 “strike” sorties. On Wednesday, Nato hit 13 of Col Gaddafi’s bunkers, a tank, an armoured personnel-carrier and three rocket launchers. US Admiral James Stavridis, Nato’s top soldier and Supreme Allied Commander, said at the meeting in Berlin that the alliance “overall [has] the necessary assets to carry out this mission”. But he warned Col Gaddafi’s troops and armoured vehicles were operating in built-up areas. That meant “sophisticated equipment” and, in particular, “a few more” air-to-ground fighter-bombers were needed to avoid civilian casualties.

British officials are privately concerned that without additional military assets it may be difficult in the long run to contain the assault on rebel cities, most notably Misurata. “On Sunday and Monday, we took out 10 of Gaddafi’s tanks so it’s not as though we’re not operating at a high tempo,” said a British defence official. “But if we are to maintain the pressure over time and be flexible in our approach, it would be useful to have others in there as well.”

Gerrit Wiesman, James Blitz & Peggy Hollinger, "UK and France isolated on action in Libya," The Financial Times. 14 April 2011, in

"When taken together, the cuts are actually far greater than those that were imposed by any previous UK defence review. The nearest comparable experience was that of the demobilization period of 1945–8. Many of the planned cutbacks are in highly significant areas. The cancellation of the £14 billion Defence Training Rationalization project (on the same day as the publication of the SDSR) was the first in what appears to be a series of saving measures. More controversially, the Nimrod MRA4 maritime patrol aircraft was cancelled shortly before it was to enter service. With the cut to the RAF’s Sentinel force, the gap between the Nimrod R1 spy planes leaving service and their US-supplied replacements entering service, and the decision to take the Type 22 frigates out of service without replacement, there are significant gaps emerging in the UK’s surveillance capabilities. As well as these high-profile decisions, there were reductions in the fast jet fleet with the withdrawal from service of the Harrier and the shrinkage of the Tornado GR4 force, as well as cuts in the amphibious force and in the holdings of tanks and self-propelled guns. There are also plans for significant personnel reductions, with the navy losing 5,000, the air force 5,000, the army 7,000 and the civil service 25,000 by 2015. The SDSR acknowledged that in consequence Britain’s ability to engage in expeditionary operations and maintain an enduring stabilization operation such as those undertaken recently in Iraq or Afghanistan would be significantly reduced".

Paul Cornish & Andrew Dorman, "Dr Fox and the Philosopher's Stone: the alchemy of national defence in an age of austerity," International Affairs. (March 2011),
p. 341.

The conundrum that the British and French find themselves was of course predictable. Nay indeed was predicted in this very journal a week or more back. The issue now is that with a military stalemate on the ground, and with no variable on the horizon which would be able to tip the balance on the side of the rebels, the mot 'debacle' appears to be forming on one's lips to describe the current situation from an Anglo-French perspective. Per contra, it is the case that the fear of a horrid massacre of innocents, which was what first impelled the International community to intervene in Libya is no longer in prospect. That per se, does not however obviate the fact that with no military or political solution in sight, it will only be a matter of time (my own surmise perhaps as little as two months if not less) before there will be publicly ventured calls for a diminution of NATO's role, or worse, a reduction in the Anglo-French role in the current operation. As was noted in the British periodical the Spectator, earlier this week:

"The air campaign has come under sustained criticism from rebels, who feel that NATO has been both bureaucratic and backward-leaning. Media-wise, Nato certainly seems to have lost control of its message. And then there is what has been called the "durability issue". Since the US dialled down its role, questions have emerged about the alliance's capacity — actual planes available — to continue the

The fact that the British and the French are the heart of the same, would en faitmean the veritable collapse of the whole effort. A political defait of the highest magnitude. Of course the real problem is that both London and Paris (not to speak of the rest of the European members of NATO) has been parsimonious to the point of imbecility as it relates to their defence spending in the last fifteen years. With an end result that all European military powers (other than Russia) are almost wholely dependent upon American military support and assistance, nay indeed, American military leaderhship one is tempted to say. As we can now see, some very nasty chickens are coming home to roost at a most inopportune moment for both London and Paris.

1. Daniel Korski, "Can NATO cope in Libya?" The Spectator. 11 April 2011, in

Monday, April 04, 2011


"Pentagon civilian leaders and the military brass see nothing but trouble looming as the Obama administration takes one step after another into the Libyan morass. The next step appears to be arming the Libyan rebels, a move that would inevitably entail pressures to send U.S. trainers and even more potent arms—and a move that Defense Secretary Robert Gates flat-out rejected in testimony before Congress on Thursday. “What the opposition needs as much as anything right now is some training, some command and control, and some organization,” Gates said. As for providing weapons, that is “not a unique capability for the United States, and as far as I’m concerned, somebody else can do that.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, testify before a House Armed Services committee hearing in Rayburn Building on the situation in Libya on March 31, 2011 in Washington. (Photo by Tom William Military officials also have slim sympathy in general for those who advocate U.S. combat operations for humanitarian missions, when other nations and other means should be leading such efforts. And with surging demands to cut the Pentagon budget, Pentagon brass aren't thrilled with the more than $500 million tab for the extra operations over Libya. Despite these concerns, Pentagon leaders have been saluting in public, hoping their private warnings will be sufficient to prevent deeper involvement....Pressures to do more and more will continue to lurk. All the Pentagon can do, then, is to raise tough questions....

In any event, if Gaddafi's troops continue to rout the rebels, outside arms will flow plentifully. At that point, escalatory reality takes hold once again. The rebels won't be able to use most arms, even relatively simply ones like anti-tank rockets and rifles, without extensive training. The White House might be tempted to ask for help from the ultra-secret U.S. special operations forces. These impressive commandos are not subject to the same Congressional approval process as CIA operatives. The commandos can be dispatched more or less on the president's orders. The Pentagon will resist, and the best bet is that Obama will use C.I.A. personnel.

Remember, underneath everything happening now are the two driving goals that President Obama set: to protect populations and to oust Colonel Gaddafi. In all likelihood, U.S. coalition partners cannot achieve these goals without U.S. jets resuming combat missions. Even with more U.S. air power, it probably won't be possible to stop Gaddafi without using some coalition ground forces. So, pressures to do more and more will continue to lurk. All the Pentagon can do, then, is to raise tough questions (Who are those rebels we're determined to help, could they be Muslim extremists?) to diffuse pressures on the U.S. military to do more".

Leslie Gelb, "U.S. Military not happey over Libya," The Daily Beast. 31 March 2011, in

"BREGA, Libya — A senior Libyan rebel leader sharply criticized NATO on Monday for bureaucratic delays that he said were putting civilians’ lives at risk and complicating rebel efforts to fight the Qaddafi forces on the ground. The official Ali al-Essawi, the foreign policy director of the National Transitional Council, made his remarks as the rebels’ disorganized and quixotic fight again stalled under fire in the eastern oil town of Brega, where loyalist forces have fought off repeated rebel attacks, and as more people were reported to have been killed in the siege at the beleaguered city of Misrata.

In Brega, after forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi ceded their presence in a residential quarter of the town, a rebel attack in the evening against loyalists at a university campus and oil infrastructure was met by ferocious heavy machine gun fire and an artillery or mortar barrage.

The loyalists’ firepower, coordinated and accurate, killed at least several rebel fighters and wounded many more, and sent others scrambling north in retreat.

Throughout the day, no air power was visible overhead. A Pentagon spokesman said that American air power had played a smaller role in the war since Sunday, and with command-and-control of the air campaign officially shifted to NATO, by midnight on Monday in Washington the United States had no strike sorties planned.

American aircraft, he said, would now be on a so-called “stand-by mode” and would fly only when requested by NATO and approved by the Pentagon. The withdrawal of American assets means, among other things, that the rebels will have less support from two classes of aircraft that made several successful attacks against the Qaddafi forces in eastern Libya — the AC-130 gunship and A-10 — when the loyalist forces were turned back just short of Benghazi, the rebel capital, two weeks ago.

The quiet in the eastern skies on Monday seemed to underscore Mr. Essawi’s sentiment that the international military campaign, after initially turning back Colonel Qaddafi’s army and militias as they swept eastern Libya, had lost momentum, leaving adrift the ground war, waged by rebels with virtually no military experience or structure....Any long-lasting campaign raises questions as well about the prospects for rebel success in the east, where a small, ill-trained rebel column had been stalled for days along the two-lane highway to Brega."

C.J. Chivers & David D. Kirkpatrick, "Rebel leader criticizes NATO effort in Libya,"
The New York Times. 4 April 2011, in

The air campaign, nay the entire military effort has apparently grounded to a halt in Libya. That appears to be the reality, given the growing criticize coming from the rebel headquarters in Benghazi in recent days. With the inability of NATO's command of the air to materially assist the rebels with their ground offensive, leading increasingly it appears to frustration and hence criticism of the air campaign 1. With this state of affairs, and with it appears the only likely change in the situation coming from some rather vague, pourparlers from elements in the extended Qadaffi family 2. Given this situation, a state of affairs that Leslie Gelb's American defence department sources predicted last week, what is the possible salvation of the situation? I for one, in absence of a deux ex machina in the form of coup d'etat by one of Qadaffi's sons, see nothing in the near future but a prolonged stalemate. A situation which as time marches one, will become more and more entrenched. Therefore, if the absence of a string of rebel successes on the ground in the next one to two weeks, look for a military deadlock. As per the American Defence Secretary, Mr. Gates' last week, the rebels desperately need widespread training by a few thousand military advisers. Coming from one presumes, a Western military power. For reasons which have already been outlined ad nauseum, and thus do not require repetition here, none of the Western powers, with perhaps the partial exception of France, has either the intention or the stomach to put in place such a policy. Which merely means that we shall not see any change on the ground in the Libyan desert. Which in turn raises the issue as to the ultimate rationale for Western intervention in the Libyan sands. If the original idea of a 'no-fly' zone was to protect innocents from the depredations of the Qadaffi regime, the subsequent air attacks on Qadaffi's forces were surely meant to implement (on the 'cheap' of course) a policy of overthrow. All well and good. Except of course as we have seen, of the two instruments for the task, one (the rebels) is unfit for the purpose. And it appears that air power per se will not do the business. Therefore the present stalemate. I conclude by observing that either the goal of the 'overthrow' must be modified, or further force and assistance on the side of the rebels is necessary, in order to make them fit for the purpose. As the Clausewitz once noted, in military conflict it is best to observe:

"The rule, then that we are trying to develop is this: all forces intended and available for a strategic purpose should be applied simultaneously; their employment will be the more effective the more everything can be concentrated a single action at a single moment"

The only question is when will the Western powers realize that a wise decision will require that they either engage more forces in the conflict or reconsider their decision to endeavor to overthrow the Libyan regime. Hopefully, the answer to this question is 'sooner' rather than 'later'.

1. Andrew England, "Benghazi Commanders seek greater air power," The Financial Times. 4 April 2011,

2. C.J. Chivers & David Kirkpatrick, op. cit.

3. Karl von Clausewitz, On War. Edited & translated by Michael Howard & Peter Paret. (1976), p. 209.

Friday, April 01, 2011


"The State Department’s No. 2 official, James B. Steinberg, is leaving to become dean of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a letter to her staff Wednesday. President Obama plans to nominate William J. Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, to succeed Mr. Steinberg as deputy secretary.

Mr. Steinberg’s departure is not a big surprise: there had been rumors he wanted to return to academia for some time. He had been dean of the Lyndon Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas before joining the Obama administration in January 2009. He also never became particularly close to Mrs. Clinton, despite having served as deputy national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, her husband....The choice of Mr. Burns is likely to be welcomed by the State Department bureaucracy. The highest-ranking career diplomat in the department, he has won the confidence of the White House and been deeply involved in issues like the showdown with Iran over its nuclear program and the upheaval in the Arab world".

Mark Landler, "No. 2 Official at State Department is leaving," 30 March 2011, in

"Embassies do not exist to house the friends of politicians or discards from the home front. They cannot be misused without taking the heart out of great service".

Lord Vansittart, The Mist Procession. 1957. p. 183.

In these challenging times, it is somewhat rare to be able to celebrate something for the better rather than the reverse. In the appointment of Mr. William Burns to the post of Deputy Secretary of State, one has indeed such an instance. A career foreign service officer, Mr. Burns has been for the past three years the number three man in the American State Department. With prior Ambassadorial postings in among other places Russia and Jordan, with a command of French, Russian and Arabic, as well as a erste-klasse book on American policy towards Egypt in the early cold war, it is difficult to imagine a better candidate for the post than Mr. Burns. May one hope that `a la the late Lawrence Eagleburger, that Mr. Burns may someday soon succeed to the top post in the department? While perhaps a bit forlorn, it is useful to remember the mots of the late, great George Frost Kennan, the greatest diplomat produced by the United States in the twentieth century, as they pertain to the present age and its manifold problems of diplomacy and foreign policy. Problems which can only be managed successfully by having a policy determined by those who possess a true command of the subject, based upon both a high intelligence and a long experience dealing with the assorted issues involved:

"As one who has occupied himself professionally with foreign affairs for a quarter of a century, I cannot refrain from saying that I firmly believe that we could make much more effective use of the principal of professionalism in the conduct of foreign policy; that we could, if we wished, develop a corps of professional officers superior to anything that exists or ever has existed in this field; and that by treating these men with respect and drawing on their insight and experience, we could help ourselves considerably."

1. George Frost Kennan, American Diplomacy, 1900-1950. (1950), pp. 93-94.