THE LATEST CRISIS IN EGYPT: THE COSTS OF POLITICAL MALADROITISM
"Some thoughts, as we watch developments, on the key questions or mysteries facing Egypt in this uncertain moment:
What is the military's objective here? The ruling generals played their hand a few weeks earlier, demanding legal guarantees of their own independence and power in any new system. The military clearly wants elections to go forward so there can be a choreographed transitional process that placates the public without diminishing military power. So why allow violence to spiral out of control for four days? The military certainly has the muscle to step between the demonstrators and the police. No one has offered a compelling explanation for why the military hasn't stopped the fighting in Tahrir. Many observers posit that the military simply can't figure out what it wants and isn't competent enough to enforce minimal order.
Who controls the police? Egypt's detested police were never disbanded or held to account, including the secret police, which were simply renamed "homeland security" instead of "state security." On Saturday, they sparked Cairo's still-ongoing fight by attacking a tiny group of holdover demonstrators who stayed overnight in Tahrir, beating them gratuitously even by Egyptian standards. Were they out of control, bent on revenge after their humiliating rout at the hand of revolutionaries in January? Were they intentionally trying to create problems for their rivals in the military? Or were they acting on orders from Egypt's military rulers, who appear to approve of police brutality but don't want to be the ones in the front hurting civilians? No one has a clear answer to this very important question".
Thanassis Cambanis, "6 Key Questions on Egypt's Escalating Violence." The Atlantic.22 November 2011, in www.theatlantic.com.
"The proximate cause for the current confrontations in Cairo -- and now it seems elsewhere around the country -- is the result of trigger-happy security forces. They presumably thought that clearing Tahrir Square of a few hundred protesters would be an easy win and help re-establish their authority. Yet even though some lowly CSF troopers and military policemen are directly responsible for the violence engulfing central Cairo, it's the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that is clearly at fault for creating an environment that made the ongoing clashes inevitable.
Over the past nine months, SCAF's attempt at governing has faltered at every conceivable step, alienating former allies and laying the ground for the current unrest. SCAF chairman Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi and his officers have never offered Egyptians a political horizon, never empowered civilian ministers, and favored fleeting tactical agreements with political groups over serious negotiations. That's how you get stunning ironies like the 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz -- a prominent activist -- dragged before a military tribunal for merely insulting Tantawi and the SCAF, while Mubarak regime stalwarts like former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, a man responsible for actually killing Egyptians, goes before civilian judges who are suspected of being sympathetic to him.
Reservations about the SCAF's true intentions were further reinforced with their efforts to prejudice the content of Egypt's new constitution before the drafting process had even begun. It embraced a series of supra-constitutional principles designed to carve out an influential place for the armed forces in fashion similar to the privileges that Turkey's military enjoyed until recently. The idea was actually the brainchild of civilians such as Judge Hisham Bastawisi -- an ostensible liberal who was one of the first people to outline an enduring political role for the military -- and it is unclear whether he was working with the SCAF, or whether the military simply embraced the ideas floating around in the public debate that best suited their interests. Regardless, there can be no democracy in Egypt without civilian control of the armed forces. As to precedent, all the claims that the Turkish military prepared the ground for Turkey's transition to democracy through repression, forcing Islamists to moderate, run counter to both logic and history".
Steven Cook, "Revolution 2.0." Foreign Policy. 22 November 2011, in www.foreignpolicy.com.
Judging on the face of it, and merely the results in loss of life in the past five days, as well as their overall performance in the past few months, the Egyptian military must go down in the history of that country as the most incompetent
government since the overthrow of the Monarchy almost sixty years ago in July 1952. As Mr. Cambanis, notes the military au fond
could quite easily have cleared the streets of the capital of the rabble to be found in the same if it so wished. Sans such a wish, one is hard put to imagine what possible purpose was served by having the remnants of the Egyptian police in the capital, a force which was hard hit by the uprising in January-February of this year to endeavor by themselves to clear Tahrir Square this week-end just past. Indeed, it would appear to any intelligent observer that ANY
attempt by the police, by themselves, with no overt backing by the army to clear the square was madness. And so it proved with a series of mini-replays of the see-saw struggles of earlier this year. With much the same result: protesters one
, police nothing
. Almost every move that the military has made in the political realm in the past few months has been a maladroit
one. From floating a ballon d'essai
about retaining special powers under any new constitution, which after the predictable protests was quietly withdrawn, to being unable to control the countries borders properly (in the Sinai peninsula), to being unwilling to conclude an agreement with the International Monetary Fund for purposes of securing a credit line. What we seem to have is a level of incompetence which is only explainable by a deliberate policy of pire ca va, mieux ca est
. Unfortunately, given the rather less than intelligent looking faces that one sees on the chiefs of Egypt's military, and the fact that all of them were appointed by ex-President Mubarak, one can only conclude that their stupidity is deliberate rather than contrived. Be that as it may, one is at this point rather pessimistic about the ability of the current military government to keep a lid upon the situation, especially in Cairo and Alexandria. With I for one, afraid that at this point, short of a major and now, bloody crackdown, the time is not far off, when a Hobbesian omnium bellum contra omnes
might indeed come to pass. With a complete collapse of government authority all over the country. A situation tailor-made to be taken advantage of by Muslim extremists with dangerous consequences for Egypt's internal and external position.
PREMIER PUTIN AT THE VALDAI CLUB DISCUSSION CLUB: A COMMENT
"Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has acknowledged that the Russian political system is imperfect, telling top experts on Russia that he is preparing a number of reforms to fix it. However, Putin, who announced last month that he would seek a new term as president next year, said the reforms would be evolutionary and gradual, according to the experts, who met with him in the early hours of Saturday. The Russian prime minister rejected what he described as “alarmist scenarios” offered by the experts, who came from around the world to debate on Russia at the annual Valdai Discussion Club.
“Of course we are thinking how to make it so that citizens both at the municipal, regional and federal level feel a greater connection to the authorities, have a greater influence with the authorities and can count on feedback,” Putin said, during the three-hour-long dinner which lasted till late on Friday night....
But Putin defended the political system that he and his allies had put in place since 2000 and credited it with helping to stop the war in the Caucasus and propelling the growth of the country’s economy and social welfare system.
“I hope [the changes] will take place in a calm, evolutionary way, in harmony between the positions of the ruling elites and the citizens,” RIA Novosti reported Putin as saying.
Georgetown University Professor Angela Stent said that her main impression was there would be continuity. “I don’t think that we got any responses that would indicate that something is going to be that different; just that he is aware of the problems,” said Stent, who is also affiliated with Brookings Institution, a Washington D.C.-based think tank....
After drawn-out debates, the experts presented Putin with a critical assessment of the situation in the country and stressed that the dominating opinion during the sessions about the likely scenarios for Russia’s prospect in a five to eight years is that of inertia. The best case scenario was what Columbia University Professor Robert Legvold called “muddling through up.” The worst case scenario was degradation.
Alexander Rahr, Director of the Berthold Beitz Center for Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Central Asia at the German Council on Foreign Relations, DGAP, said that Putin unceremoniously brushed aside those concerns. “Putin effectively told us that we don’t understand and don’t see how successful his leadership has been for Russia,” Rahr said. “He is confident that whatever was done by him was done right."
Russian Prime Minister reminded the Valdai Club members about the poor situation in which Russia had been economically and politically when he assumed presidency in 2000. He pointed at Russia’s recent growth, including growth in the real income of the population as well as the budget surplus achieved by his government despite the global economic crisis. Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., said Putin looked very comfortable and confident. “He never tried to be defensive in response to any questions,” Kuchins said.
He also said Putin assured his guests that he did not want to perpetuate a personalized system of power in the country. “The main goal in the next few years will be to strengthen the institutions that would promote Russian sovereignty and would long outlast the political personalities of today,” Kuchins related Putin as saying....
In their report, the experts had warned that Russia was under a serious threat of “degradation,” but there was little pressure for change from below. “People have little respect for law and property, paternalistic attitudes are still strong, the level of political morality is decreasing,” the report said. As a result, many educated Russians are emigrating.
“By losing the class of creative, energetic, educated, mostly young people, Russia is evolving towards an ‘African’ way of development, essentially – to degradation,” the report said. The mood among the intellectual elite and part of the business elite is increasingly reminiscent of the alienation of the late Soviet period that preceded the collapse of the Soviet Union".
Andrei Zolotov,"Putin dismisses pessimistic scenarios, promises vague reforms." Novosti. 12 November 2011, in en.rian.ru.
"As I have mentioned when I assumed the reins of government the country was virtually in a state of madness. The most evident signs of the breakdown of public and governmental life was the universal dissatisfaction with the status quo that united all classes of the population. They all wanted changes in the political structure, but their aspirations differed according to class and status....In any case, everyone wanted change. Everyone attacked the power of the Autocracy and its tool the bureaucracy."
Graf Witte, The Memoirs of Count Witte. Edited & translated by Sydney Harcave. (1990).
One does not have to be unduly pessimistic to not be entirely convinced by the protestations of Prime Minister, and now future President Putin, that tout va bien
and that all that Russia needs is some type of 'evolutionary' changes and reforms de haut en bas
. Which is not to gainsay the fact that: i) 'Putinism' was for perhaps upwards of six years a quite worthwhile and successful project for Russia; ii) that historically speaking, and 'Putinism' is no different in that respect, all reforms in Russia come from the top. The issue as I see it, is that perhaps (and in this I am speculating more than a bit with what may occur in the future), Russia is in the midst of one those odd switches of mentality. First elite and semi-elite mentality, then further down the social and economic scale. That the dissatisfaction with the status quo ante, is becoming more and more ingrained and accepted as the norm. This process (if it indeed is 'a process') can be stopped up to a certain point, after which, it becomes unstoppable. Id est., as in 1847 and early 1848, when Vormarz
becomes merely a prelude to revolution.
As the Financial Times
Moskva correspondent, noted in his report on the Valdai Club discussions:
"The mood in Russia has changed since the last electoral cycle four years ago. Back then, the economy was still growing at 7 per cent a year, the global financial crisis a distant cloud. Moscow’s leadership brimmed with confidence. Most Russians would have been happy to see then president Vladimir Putin remove a constitutional limit of two consecutive presidential terms and stay on. Instead, he installed Dmitry Medvedev as placeholder president and moved to the prime minister’s chair – respecting the letter, if not spirit, of the constitution.
Now Mr Putin is coming back for a third presidential term, Russia’s intellectual and business elites, at least, are no longer sure this is a good thing. Debates at last week’s annual Valdai Discussion Club, a Putin initiative dating from 2004 that brings together top foreign and domestic specialists on Russia, revealed deep unease. Emboldened, perhaps, by the off-the-record format, many Russian participants – including those who once broadly backed Mr Putin – openly questioned whether today’s ossified political system could deliver the modernisation Russia needs....1.”
Once again, I am not making a prediction about a Russian version of the so-called 'Arab Spring' a few years hence. What I am stating is that in the absence of some genuine reforms which shall free-up Russia's economic potential and in addition, change the dis-organized system of rampant government corruption and incompetence, then one should not be so readily assume that Grazhdanin Putin will be in the position to so readily and confidently offer up to his elite audience the plethora of sarcastic bon mots
that are his wont. 1
.Neil Buckley, "Rising Unease over Putin's return." The Financial Times
. 16 November 2011, in www.ft.com
EX-SECRETARY OF DEFENCE WILLIAM COHEN AT THE OXONIAN SOCIETY
On Tuesday the 15th of November, ex-Congressman, Senator and Secretary of Defence in the Clinton Administration (1997-2001), William Cohen spoke to members of the Oxonian Society at the Cornell Club. The following are some of the remarks made by the ex-Secretary of Defence:
States that his ex-chief, President Clinton 'possessed a brilliant intellect'. And that Clinton gave him approximately ninety-nine percent of what he wanted while in office. On the threat posed by Al-Qaeda during his term of office, Cohen stated that he was in ignorance of their true ambitions, even after the attack on the USS Cole in the year 2000. Concerning the retaliatory missile attack on Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in 1998, Cohen related that due to the fact that the United States at the time did not possess any bases in the immediate area, and that any attack on Afghanistan had to come from the sea, the firing of cruise missiles was the only feasible alternative. A form of military action which by its very nature was 'imprecise' and subject to possible Pakistani leaks.
As per the current unrest in the Near East, Cohen stated that he foresees the regime in Damascus as being 'one the way out'. And the upshot of the so-called Arab Spring is that the United State 'will have less influence', both in the region and indeed in the rest of the world. With the USA, in 'relative decline', as opposed to Peking's being a 'rising power'. As per how to handle Peking, Cohen advocates a mixture of 'stakeholder' tactics and containment. As per Cohen, the regime in North Korea will survive as long as the PRC will prop it up.
Cohen itemized five major threats to the United States in the upcoming years, with the first two being: i) the American economy, stating 'you cannot be a strong country with a weak economy'. Citing of all people, the British emigre historian Niel Ferguson. Cohen argued that dealing imaginatively with the American fiscal deficit was a fundamental action to remedy the American economy for the long-term; ii) the spread of nuclear weapons, especially if Persia managed to become a nuclear power. The danger of uncontrollable proliferation in the Near East with Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia among others in a rush to acquire nuclear weapons. As per Cohen, none of the three widely discussed options to deal with the Persian situation: a) containment; b) military action; c)sanctions, offers a full-proof and effective 'solution' to this complex problem. With the problem of nuclear weapons falling into terrorist hands a frightening possibility for Cohen.
Overall, my reaction to Cohen's talk was that he while an ultra-safe pair of hands while in office during the Clinton years, he was almost completely out of his depth as soon as a more dangerous and challenging international climate came into being in September 2001. Although I should add, that his successor Mr. Rumsfeld, was not by any means the answer to the problem of imaginative thinking required in the new environment of the 11th of September attacks. That only came with the succession of Secretary Gates in 2006. Five years too late unfortunately.
SHOULD WE BOMB PERSIA? A COMMENT
"Iran's acquisition of a nuclear bomb would upend the Middle East. It is unclear how a nuclear-armed Iran would weigh the costs, benefits, and risks of brinkmanship, meaning that it could be difficult to deter Tehran from attacking the United States' interests or partners in the region.
The November 8 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report casts further doubt on Iran's continual claims that its nuclear program is intended solely for peaceful use. Rather than halting its weapons program in 2003, as was reported in a controversial 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, Iran has apparently continued to develop the various components necessary to produce a nuclear weapon, including neutron initiators, which trigger nuclear chain reactions, and complex explosives needed to build a warhead small enough to place atop a ballistic missile. Meanwhile, Tehran has openly worked to increase its stockpile of low-enriched uranium -- especially uranium enriched to 20 percent -- which could be further refined to weapons grade. If the IAEA's suspicions are correct, Iran might have both the technology and material to build a nuclear bomb in a matter of months.
To date, the United States has relied on a combination of sticks and carrots to prevent Iran from going nuclear. It has tightened economic sanctions against the regime, isolated it diplomatically, and offered improved relations in return for Tehran abandoning its nuclear ambitions. The attractions of this approach are readily apparent. The main alternative, a military operation against Iran's nuclear infrastructure, would likely be extremely costly and might not even succeed. Moreover, by slowing Iran's progress toward a nuclear weapon, sanctions and isolation buy time for a "silver bullet," such as an internal political change that brings a more moderate Iranian leadership to power or a sabotage effort that derails the program for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, no such solution has presented itself: The current Iranian regime has remained in control despite popular unrest and an ongoing dispute between the president and the supreme leader, and the new IAEA report suggests that efforts to disrupt Iran's nuclear program have so far yielded naught. All the while, Iran is getting closer to crossing the nuclear threshold.
Even so, the U.S. government might persist with its existing approach if it believes that the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran are manageable through a combination of containment and deterrence. In fact, the Obama administration has downplayed the findings of the new IAEA report, suggesting that a change in U.S. policy is unlikely. Yet this view underestimates the challenges that the United States would confront once Iran acquired nuclear weapons.
For example, the Obama administration should not discount the possibility of an Israeli-Iranian nuclear conflict. From the very start, the nuclear balance between these two antagonists would be unstable. Because of the significant disparity in the sizes of their respective arsenals (Iran would have a handful of warheads compared to Israel's estimated 100-200), both sides would have huge incentives to strike first in the event of a crisis. Israel would likely believe that it had only a short period during which it could launch a nuclear attack that would wipe out most, if not all, of Iran's weapons and much of its nuclear infrastructure without Tehran being able to retaliate. For its part, Iran might decide to use its arsenal before Israel could destroy it with a preemptive attack. The absence of early warning systems on both sides and the extremely short flight time for ballistic missiles heading from one country to the other would only heighten the danger. Decision-makers would be under tremendous pressure to act quickly.
If Iran became a nuclear power and the United States reacted with a policy of containment, nuclear weapons would only be more appealing as the ultimate deterrent to outside intervention.
Beyond regional nuclear war, Tehran's acquisition of these weapons could be a catalyst for additional proliferation throughout the Middle East and beyond. Few observers have failed to note that the United States has treated nuclear-armed rogues, such as North Korea, very differently from non-nuclear ones, such as Iraq and Libya. If Iran became a nuclear power and the United States reacted with a policy of containment, nuclear weapons would only be more appealing as the ultimate deterrent to outside intervention.
Meanwhile, Iran's rivals for regional dominance, such as Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, might seek their own nuclear devices to counterbalance Tehran. The road to acquiring nuclear weapons is generally a long and difficult one, but these nations might have shortcuts. Riyadh, for example, could exploit its close ties to Islamabad -- which has a history of illicit proliferation and a rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal -- to become a nuclear power almost overnight.
During the Cold War, of course, the United States managed to prevent nuclear use and discourage proliferation by containing the Soviet Union and providing security commitments to U.S. allies. According to the conventional wisdom, a similar approach would work in the Middle East today. Yet there are a number of important differences between the two cases, the biggest being that the United States had formal security commitments with partners across Europe and Asia and deployed hundreds of thousands of troops to their territories.
The closer Iran gets to acquiring nuclear weapons, the fewer options will be available to stop its progress. At the same time, Iran's incentives to back down will only decrease as it approaches the nuclear threshold. Given these trends, the United States faces the difficult decision of using military force soon to prevent Iran from going nuclear, or living with a nuclear Iran and the regional fallout."
Eric Edelman, Andrew Krepinevich & Evan Braden Montgomery, "Why Obama Should Take Out Iran's Nuclear Programe. Foreign Affairs. 9 November 2011, in www.foreignaffairs.com.
The IAEA 'Safeguard Report' on Persia which was released last week, shows on balance that Persia is actively seeking to create a nuclear weapons programme 1
. As per the report, Persia has enriched enough plutonium for upwards of four to five nuclear weapons. And while one does not have to necessarily accept the 'existentialist threat' rhetoric of the current Israeli government to be actively concerned with the situation 2
. As the above referenced essay by two highly respected, high-level ex-government officials clearly show that the mere fact of Persia's possession nuclear weapons will au fond greatly change the underlying premises of the balance of power in the region. With not only a greatly increased likelihood of an Israeli-Persian nuclear clash, but also the danger that Persia's regional allies may, toute `a coup
suddenly come under Persia's nascent nuclear umbrella. In particular the idea that Hezbollah or Hamas may come under de facto Persian nuclear protection will make the likelihood of an Israeli-Persian conflict, either nuclear or non-nuclear much more likely. Not to speak of the fact that the remaining non-nuclear powers in the region: Turkey, Saudi Arabia and perhaps Egypt may all decide to acquire nuclear weapons as well. Given the fact that so far economic sanctions have not yet plus fort
to divert Persia's mad mullah elites from their goal of acquiring nuclear weapons. And while for one, do not regard the possibility of an Israeli 'surgical strike' with anything but skepticism, I for one am gradually coming to the conclusion that a military or at the very least, a semi-military option (such as a naval blockade of oil exports) is which needs to be actively considered. With the current American administration public comments deprecating a military or semi-military solution becoming more and more problematic.
Unfortunately, the Near East circa anno domini 2011, is not Central Europe circa 1950, and Persia under the Mullahs is not Sovietskaya Vlast
under Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin. This difference of course undermining the notion that a policy of 'containment' will work in the contemporary situation.1
. For the report see: The Institute for Science and International Security's web site for a link to the report, at www.isis.online.org
. The ISIS is probably the pre-eminent online resource on the technical aspects of Persia's nuclear ambitions.2
. See: Tobias Buck, "Ex-Spymaster's oppose Iran Attack." The Financial Times
9 November 2011, in www.ft.com
SYRIA: IS THE END IN SIGHT FOR THE ASSAD REGIME?
"After seven months, the uprising in Syria shows no sign of abating. An estimated 3,000 people have been killed in a brutal crackdown on civilian protesters. Fears are growing of a full-blown civil war between the army and Sunni defectors, amid reports of increasing sectarian tensions. On 29 October, more than 40 people were reported to have been killed in the city of Homs, and President Bashar al-Assad warned against foreign intervention. Syria’s precarious sectarian balance makes it prone to the threat of civil war. A minority Alawite elite rules over a majority Sunni Muslim population and sizable minorities of Christians and Kurds. The regime has maintained a 40-year grip on power through heavy use of divide-and-rule tactics, while favouring the Alawite minority for high-level military and political positions.
Protesters who took to the streets in mid-March in a quest for greater political freedoms have been openly calling for regime change and even Assad's execution. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of mainly low-level Sunni soldiers have defected from the Alawite-led army. Activists have accused the government of deliberately stirring sectarian tensions in recent months, to try to deflect anger against it. But weekly Friday demonstrations and smaller daily protests continue across much of Syria. 'Gadhafi is gone; your turn is coming Bashar,' is among the latest chants from the streets.
Reports of small-scale army defections began surfacing in June, as soldiers refused orders to shoot unarmed demonstrators. As with most reports coming out of Syria, a general ban on foreign journalists meant these reports were unverified, and when several senior defectors declared a Free Syrian Army (FSA) at the end of July, there were doubts about its significance. Now, however, defections are accelerating and the FSA is being seen as a growing challenge to Assad.
The group is led by officers, including General Riadh Asaad, who is based across Syria's northern border in Turkey. He has said that the FSA's aim is to establish control over northern Syria and use the area as a launch pad for attacks against the regime, in much the same way as Libyan rebels used the region around Benghazi. Having done this, the FSA planned to call for a no-fly zone over the area, and launch an onslaught against the regime. 'It is the beginning of armed rebellion,' Gen. Asaad told the Washington Post in September. 'You cannot remove this regime except by force and bloodshed.'
The exact size of the FSA and the wider support for its proposed initiatives are still unknown. Gen. Asaad claims that 10,000 soldiers have defected, but some commentators put the FSA's strength in the hundreds. Before he left Syria in fear of his life, the outspoken US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, said he did not think the numbers were 'big enough to have an impact one way or another on the contest between the protesters and the government’. He stressed that 'the vast majority of protests are still unarmed'.
Nevertheless, in October the FSA engaged in a four-day clash against government troops in Rastan, a town of 40,000 near Homs and home to the best-known of the FSA's units, the Khaled bin al-Walid Brigade. Syrian army tanks backed by helicopters pounded the city, and seven soldiers and police officers were reported to have been killed. This was the most coordinated and sustained period of fighting launched by the opposition so far. On 18 October, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that gunmen in the northwestern province of Idlib blew up an army vehicle, killing an officer and three soldiers. Earlier, five soldiers were also killed in clashes with gunmen in Homs. Since April, weapons have reportedly been smuggled into Syria, and this illicit trade is now flourishing, albeit apparently more as a means of individual self-defence than a concerted effort by foreign powers, as the Syrian government has often claimed".
Strategic Comments, "Signs of Civil War in Syria." International Institute of Strategic Studies. October 2011, in www.iiss.org.
"Today, the opposition remains weak and the Syrian military has the upper hand. That could change if the opposition begins to construct a real insurgency, if Turkey goes to war against Syria by supporting some sort of insurgency, or if a foreign intervention is launched, such as happened in Libya...None of these possibilities is on the horizon."
Professor Joshua Landis, quoted in, Alison Lyon, "Analysis: Syrian Attack on rebel city mocks Arab peace plan." Reuters. 8 November 2011, in www.reuters.com.
Professor Joshua Landis' most recent comments on the ongoing situation in Syria are of course more or less my own since the beginning of the unrest in that country. Unlike the good professor himself and many others, I have never subscribed to the idea that the Assad regime was about to collapse due to the protests in the various cities. And indeed the fact that the regime is able to both parlay with the Arab League on a so-called 'peace plan', while at the same time employ overwhelming force in the city of Homs and elsewhere merely shows that the regime is absolutely determined, come what may to remain in control of the country 1
. And that any pour parlers
with the Arab League or for that matter anyone else is merely a diplomatic smokescreen to divide et impera
any potential international coalition in opposition to the Syrian regime from forming, `a la what occurred in the case of Libyan this past Spring. With the likelihood of either Turkey or NATO intervening militarily being the ultimate non-starter. In short, I for one, cannot fathom at the present time, any short-term collapse of rule of Assad Fils and his clique. To imagine anything else is merely a phantasm of the highest order. 1
. For the situation in the city of Homs, see: Abigal Fielding-Smith, "Defiance of city seen as key to Syria's Fate." The Financial Times
.10 November 2011, in www.ft.com
. Obviously, I do not agree with the premise of the headline of this article, which one quickly notices is not supported by the information conveyed therein.
THE G-20: A DAMP SQUIB?
"As a direct consequence of the 'Great Recession' of 2008-2009 and the continuing financial instability left in its wake, the G20 has moved into the putative position of premier forum for global economic governance. The immediate impace ofthe G20 as a 'crisis breaker' has been palpable. From the initial leaders' summit in Washington DC (November 2008) to the second in London (April 2009) and the third in Pittsburgh (September 2009), the G20 served as an effective catalyst for generating both big domestic stimulus packages and promises of new resources for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other multilateral development banks. Between the first two G20 summits nations raised their commitment to spending up to a combined 1.8 per cent GDP. London added the largest pledge in history, over $1 trillion. The collective desire to prevent a repeat of the crisis also produced additional reforms in the international institutional architecture, most notably through the move to a reconfigured Financial Stability Board (FSB). Beyond its immediate role as the primary locus for concerted initiatives on the crisis, the G20 attracts attention as a new form of reordering in global governance."
Andrew F. Cooper. "G20 as an improvised crisis committee and/or a contested 'steering committee' for the world." International Affairs. (May 2010), p. 741.
"After all of the talk of a 'Second Bretton Woods,' by people who should know better like Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown, it is not surprising that post-facto the entire G20 meeting has aspects of an exploded bicycle pump: something which generates a great deal of noise, but, with almost nothing to show for it. In retrospect it is quite obvious, that the entire 'event', was more of a media circus rather than a productive exercise in crisis management. The real parallel to the meeting, as the prolific if sometimes facile, British expatriate historian, Niall Ferguson reminded us over the week-end, was that pre-eminent exercise in failed economic, crisis-management: the London Economic Conference of 1933."
Charles Giovanni Vanzan Coutinho, "The World Economic Summit: What did it mean and why?" Diplomat of the Future.18 November 2008, in Diplomat of the Future.
The much heralded meeting of the G20 group of leading economies has come and gone in Cannes. The upshot has anyone who has closely followed the prior meetings of the much-talked of grouping is negatory at best. Rather tha taking any measures to deal with the ongoing Eurozone crisis the meeting in essence produced little more than a series of press conferences and questions and answer sessions. In one of which, French President Sarkozy let the world know of his real (and not very favorable) opinion of Israeli Premier Netanyahu 1
. Aside from this singular 'accomplishment', I for one do not see anything substantive or even mildly concrete that has resulted from the meeting. With Italian premier Berlusconi's adamant refusal in a press conference to accept that Italia is on the breaking point being perhaps the sine qua non of this state of affairs. In short, if the world economy is to be steered in the correct direction, if the Eurozone is to be 'saved' from the multi-layered crisies in Greece, Italia, Portugal and Spain, than none of this will occur as a result of anything that the G20 grouping does or does not do. Au fond this economic forum is merely the ultimate of talking shops. As the ever insightful German commentator Wolfgan Munchau, noted yesterday:
"The Group of 20 leading nations comprises the most powerful people on the planet. There is a tremendous competition over which countries should, and should not, be represented. Yet last week’s summit proved almost comically irrelevant to the future of the global economy. It was a big mistake to try to push Italy into an International Monetary Fund programme without being able to deliver such an outcome. If you really want to force such a momentous decision, the minimum condition is for leaders to say so openly, and for the European Central Bank to announce that it will no longer support the Italian bond market. But they blinked, and let Silvio Berlusconi once again off the hook. The prime minister’s assertion that Italy had no crisis because the restaurants are full is an appropriate reflection of the intellectual depth seen at such gatherings" 2.
Unless and until the world economic system has a hegemon which is able to function in a consistent and forceful fashion, which currently the world economy lacks, then I for one do not expect anything approaching either a functioning G20 as a 'steering committee' for the world economy, much less one that is able to put into place a new 'Bretton Woods' for the world economy. 1
. Geoff Dwyer, Tobias Buck & Hugh Carnegy, "Sarkozy calls Netanyahu 'liar' in remarks to Obama." The Financial Times
. 8 November 2011, in www.ft.com
. Wolfgang Munchau, "Summitry again proves its own irrelevance." The Financial Times
. 7 November 2011, in www.ft.com
A TURKISH 'NO FLY-ZONE' IN SYRIA? A COMMENT
"Turkey has signalled possible support for a buffer zone to protect Syrian civilians if Damascus continues its crackdown on democracy protests, as tensions rise between the two former strategic partners. Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, told the Financial Times that Ankara was preparing targeted sanctions against Damascus and left the door open for more drastic steps at a later date, such as a buffer zone or a no fly-zone on Syrian territory.
“The Syrian regime is attacking the Syrian people, which is unacceptable,” Mr Davutoglu said in an interview. “When we see such an event next door to us of course we will never be silent.”
When asked about Turkey’s stance on a buffer zone or a no-fly zone, he said: “We hope that there will be no need for these type of measures but of course humanitarian issues are important…There are certain universal values all of us need to respect and protecting citizens is the responsibility of every state.”
His comments are an indication of the growing pressure Turkey is putting on Syria, on the rhetorical level at least, to halt the crackdown. By contrast, in August Turkish officials rejected reports they were planning to impose a buffer zone, while Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato’s secretary general, dismissed the idea of a no-fly zone this week.
Turkey’s position is important because the country cultivated closer ties with Damascus until this year and is now taking an active role in reaching out to the Syrian opposition. Speaking at the Turkish parliament on Tuesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, praised the Syrian protests as “glorious” and expressed his belief that they would succeed.
Ankara’s tougher approach has been greatly welcomed by the US, which has been leading calls for Bashar al-Assad, Syrian president, to leave power. On Tuesday Syrian state television announced that a final agreement had been reached between the Syrian government and an Arab League committee working to find a solution that could end the unrest, although it did not provide any details. The US said it welcomed any international efforts to end the violence in Syria, but reiterated its call for Mr Assad to step down.
Although in the interview Mr Davutoglu denied claims that Turkey allowed armed Syrian rebels to operate from its territory, last week he became one of the first international officials to meet leaders of the Istanbul-based opposition Syrian national council. Mr Erdogan is also likely to visit Syrian refugee camps in Turkey in the near future, and could announce further sanctions against Damascus when he does. The trip had previously been scheduled for last month, but was postponed because of the death of Mr Erdogan’s mother.
Although Mr Davutoglu said Turkish sanctions against Syria would be targeted rather than broad, any unilateral steps would mark a change of tack for Turkey, which has long depicted sanctions against its neighbours as both ineffective and damaging to its own economy. “We have always been against sanctions, economic sanctions which will harm people,” Mr Davutoglu said. “But certain measures [that] have an impact on a regime fighting against its own people are different.”
Daniel Dombey, "Turkey hardens stance against Syria." The Financial Times. 1 November 2011, in www.ft.com.
'“As civilian deaths increase in Syria we see that reforms have not materialized and they [Damascus] did not speak honestly. The Syrian people do not believe in Assad, nor do I. We also do not believe him...
“We have offered Syrian leader al-Assad every type of assistance from the outset, and recommended him to implement the necessary reforms in line with the legitimate demands of the Syrian people.”'
Turkish Premier Erdogna quoted in, "Syrian People don't believe in Al-Assad." Hurriyet Daily News. 14 September 2011, in www.hurriyetdailynews.com.
The idea which has been floated that the regime in Ankara is seriously interested in imposing a 'no-fly zone' upon its Syrian neighbors is to my mind nothing more than a ballon d'essai
by the AK government to give the impression of acting positively in the Syrian crisis 1
. In point of fact, aside from keeping its borders open with Syria, and thus to a degree sheltering refugees from the repression by the Assad regime, Turkey has been a laggard as it relates to taking positive action in the crisis. Certainly except for some harsh rhetoric in the last two months, Turkey has not taken any more active measures than the its NATO allies or the European Union. Indeed, as it relates to oil sanctions, in point of fact, Turkey has been less active 2
. Au fond
, what we have on display is another case of Ankara posturing for its domestic audience. Something akin to its rhetorical onslaught against Israel in the past two years. I for one do not anticipate that Prime Minister Erdogan's government will do anything of substance unless or until the Assad regime gives evidence that it is about to collapse. Then and perhaps only then, can one expect to see Ankara to move forcefully in this crisis. 1
. For other examples of this, see: Lian Stack, "In slap at Syria, Turkey Shelters Anti-Assad Fighters." The New York Times
. 27 October 2011, in www.nytimes.com
. On this point, see: Leader, "False Promises: International community must keep pressure on Syria." The Financial Times
. 4 November 2011, in www.ft.com
GREECE'S PROPOSED 'REFERENDUM': WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
"Greece plans to hold a referendum on whether it should remain in the euro, sources close to the ruling party said, in the latest twist in Europe’s sovereign debt crisis ahead of a summit of world leaders in France.... Markets have seen sharp falls since George Papandreou, Greece’s prime minister, stunned his fellow European leaders by announcing on Monday that he would offer hard-pressed Greeks a plebiscite in the wake of the agreement between EU leaders and Greece’s creditors.
Sources close to the ruling Pasok socialist party told the Financial Times on Wednesday that voters would be asked not to approve or reject the terms for Greece’s next financial rescue but to vote on a broader question centred on support for Greece’s membership of the European Union and 17-nation eurozone. The government plans to hold the referendum in mid-December. However, it will go ahead only if the government survives the confidence vote, expected to be held late on Friday.
European policymakers fear that the referendum plan could undermine efforts to avoid a disorderly default on Greek debt, potentially worsening the pressure on other heavily indebted eurozone countries, partiularly Italy. One senior European official said: “I have no words to describe what I feel regarding Greece. A country in this kind of situation and they are making politics. Not only are they putting at risk their country, which I think is incredible, but they are putting at risk the euro area stability, and this is too much.”'
FT Reporters, "Greece to vote on Euro membership." The Financial Times. 2 November 2011, in www.ft.com.
"My instinctive response last night, confirmed by reading the newspapers, is that Greece's decision is a fearful, desperate gamble, which could so easily go horribly wrong and impoverish, not just Greeks, but all of us.
More than that, it is a shameful dereliction of duty by a government elected to take decisions, not pass the buck back to voters who put them in power and cannot sensibly be asked to resolve what are usually highly technical questions. Let's be generous to George Papandreou, the US-born Greek prime minister, leader of the Pasok socialist party of the left. His act of "unprecedented brinkmanship" - Guardian Athens correspondent, Helena Smith's description – may force angry and frightened citizens to face up to hard choices and accept that, as ministers put it overnight, they must take their collective medicine and stay inside modern Europe – or slip back into the long Levantine past.
Greeks tell pollsters they want to stay in the eurozone, but they don't want to pay off their debts, they want to have their baklava and eat it. Neither option is attractive, but the temptation to opt for debt default and a return to the drachma will be huge for voters who are suffering job losses, pay and pension cuts, the loss of public services and hope. Opposition parties – the politicians most responsible for Greece's plight before 2009 – may play fast and loose again. Soft options are usually repented at leisure.
It was Greece's past – its long Ottoman inheritance, as some commentators put it – which allowed successive governments to fiddle the books, play patronage politics, allow business to run on similar lines and the rich to avoid their taxes (around 30% goes uncollected). It also allowed ministers to fiddle the books in order to qualify for eurozone membership in 2002, compounding their subsequent difficulties.
As with Enron or Lehman Brothers, the dodgy accountancy should not have been believed in northern Europe, but it was. I well remember being assured at a press conference of pro-euro British politicians of all parties that Italy would not be allowed to join the new currency either. But in the spirit of the moment it was. As in Athens, Rome's government too is now tottering on the brink of collapse (a good thing too, if Silvio Berlusconi is finally driven out) with no clear political alternative or credible policy options.
But what if Papandreou's gamble fails"?
Michael White, "Greek Referendum: an abdication of responsibility." The Guardian. 1 November 2011, in www.guardian.co.uk.
The Greek - Euro sovereign debt crisis rumbles on, with this week's headlines about Greek Prime Minister Georges Papandreou's va banque
policy of putting before the Greek electorate the option of a referendum on the EU and the Bail-out plan. A political manoeuvre which has absolutely shocked his fellow European Union and Eurozone members. Given the harshness of the proposed austerity measures on the table, it would not surprise anyone that the electorate will vote emotionally to turn-down the proposed measures. I for one, while not in the least a believe in any types of referendum / referenda, can understand the rationale of the Greek premier's decision. With all of the protests, strikes and political arguments, with his own Socialist Party divided and increasingly unpopular, and an absolutely irresponsible opposition party, it is not very surprising to my mind, that Papandreou decided to turn the tables on his opponents by unleashing the referendum option. The fact that the bien-pensant
elites of the Eurozone are horrified by Papandreou's decision points up to the fundamental lack of legitimacy of the entire Euro project. A project, which au fond
required that the various electorates be ignored and or not consulted when key decisions needed to be taken. The upshot is the current crisis where political leaders are prevented from taking difficult decisions because it requires consulting their populations on making unpopular and thus difficult decisions. Hence the political schizophrenia which has been on display in Berlin & to a lesser extent Paris, during the entire crisis. Au fond
, the 'great and the good' of the European Union & the Eurozone are one with the DDR official, whose disquiet at the East Berlin uprising in the Spring of 1953, caused Bertolt Brecht to comment:
"Some party hack decreed that the people had lost the government's confidence and could only regain it with redoubled effort. If that is the case, would it not be be simpler, If the government simply dissolved the people and elected another" 1?
. "The Solution" ["Die Lösung"] (c. 1953), as translated in Brecht on Brecht : An Improvisation (1967) by George Tabori, p. 17