ECONOMIC STAGNATION IN EUROPE: WHYS AND WHEREFORES
"To say that Europe has a growth problem is an understatement. Almost four years since the outbreak of the global financial crisis, only a handful of EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Slovakia, Sweden and Poland) have seen their economic output return above pre-crisis levels. In all the others, output is still below its peak in 2008 – in some cases dramatically so. Greece, Ireland and Latvia have endured catastrophic declines. But even in Italy, Spain and the UK, where the downturns have been less dramatic, output has already taken longer to return to pre-crisis levels than it did during the Great Depression of the 1930s. If this were not bad enough, many economies contracted in the final quarter of 2011 and will fall back into recession in 2012. How to explain this debacle?
Ask European policy-makers what their growth strategy for the region is, and chances are they will identify two ingredients. First, they will say, countries across the EU must push through structural reforms to improve the supply-side performance of their economies. Labour markets must be reformed; goods and services markets opened to greater competition; spending on research and development boosted; the EU’s single market deepened (notably in areas such as the digital economy); and so on. Second, they will argue, governments must restore confidence and lift ‘animal spirits’ in the private sector by consolidating their public finances. In combination, structural reforms and fiscal austerity will restore the region to long-term ‘competitiveness’, and consequently to economic growth.
The problem with this story is two-fold. The first is that supply-side reforms, though necessary over the medium to long term, are mostly irrelevant in the short term. Few observers doubt that EU countries, particularly those across southern Europe, would be well-advised to take supply-side reforms more seriously than they did under the Lisbon agenda. If they did, their productivity and living standards would rise over the medium to longer run. But to propose such reforms as an answer to Europe’s immediate growth problem is to miss the point: it is to provide a long-term (supply-side) answer to a short-term (demand-side) problem. Deepening the EU’s single market is a perfectly sound idea. But it will do nothing to offset the immediate impact of private-sector ‘deleveraging’ on demand.
If the first prong of Europe’s growth strategy is beside the point in the short term, the second is positively damaging. For the past two years, policy-makers across Europe seem to have persuaded themselves that fiscal consolidation will boost growth. Jean-Claude Trichet, for one, repeatedly dismissed claims that budgetary austerity would depress growth, arguing that “confidence-inspiring measures will foster and not hamper recovery”. Similar claims were made by other policy-makers, inside and outside the eurozone. The trouble is that these assertions had little evidence to support them. As a careful study conducted by the IMF concluded in 2010, “fiscal consolidations typically lower growth in the short term”. In other words, their net effect on demand is contractionary, rather than expansionary....
The short-term problem for Europe, then, is that demand across much of the region is chronically weak – and that fiscal policy is making matters worse. In balance sheet recessions, when households and firms cut spending and become net savers, governments must step into the breach by borrowing and spending. People who worry about the resulting deterioration of public finances should remember three things. First, large fiscal deficits are merely the counterpart of the increase in net savings among households and firms. Second, in balance sheet recessions fiscal deficits do not ‘crowd out’ private spending. And third, if governments cut spending when the private sector is ‘deleveraging’, activity will contract (unless foreigners come to the rescue by borrowing and spending more themselves).
The case against Europe’s growth strategy, then, is that it is all supply and no demand. There is no question that structural reforms are urgently needed to boost long-term growth. But fiscal policy is being tightened too rapidly. Europe has turned what should have been a marathon into a sprint. Governments are cutting public spending before private-sector balance sheets have been repaired. The result is that the more certain EU countries do to balance their budgets, the more output contracts. Fiscal virtue, in short, has become an economic vice. Not only does it risk pushing economic output in countries such as Spain the way of Greece, Ireland and Latvia. But it also risks discrediting much-needed structural reforms by associating them in voters’ minds with collapsing activity and rising job losses".
Philip Whyte, "Europe's Growth Strategy: All supply and no demand." Centre for European Reform. 27 February 2012, in www.cer.org.uk
"Madmen in Authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back."
Lord Keynes. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Chapter twenty-four.
The self-evident validity (at least it is self-evident to me) of Philip Whyte's essay is unfortunately, not in the least self-evident to the mad mandarins who command Europe's fiscal and monetary policy at the moment. To them the current crisis is a time for Europe's fiscal house to be put in order. Damn the employment torpedoes, 'full steam ahead'. Et cetera. Hence the ultra-nonchalance over the fact that most of the Eurozone and indeed most of the European Union will be facing another recession this year. Whereas the USA, who has been an extreme laggard as it relates to restoring its fiscal balance, will probably post for the first time in years, higher growth numbers than any of the countries of the EU. Of course to our modern day Brunning's, this fact has absolutely no importance whatsoever. Indeed, we have most recently seen European Commissioner Rehn, insisting upon punishing almost any country which he deems to be out of step with the current masochistic fiscal game-plan that Brussels has come up with. As Jean Pisani-Ferry, no stranger to the ways of Brussels, commented on to-day:
"Economic history teaches us that financial crises have long lasting, if not permanent, negative effects . Most European countries have already lost several percentage points of GDP and it seems wise to expect the second recession to do the same. Mr Rehn has good reasons to require action. However, demanding adherence to the 2013 targets has two major drawbacks.
First, immediate austerity measures would aggravate the recession. Recent research suggests that the short-run negative effects of austerity measures tend to be higher than we previously thought. Though most European governments have structural problems with their budgets, that does not call for impairing all automatic stabilisers in a recession year.
A second drawback of imposing immediate action is the form that this would almost certainly take. Closing a gap on short notice is not compatible with smart consolidation. The most effective way to achieve a dramatic result by next year would be to just raise existing taxes – with all the adverse consequences on potential output and no effects on the effectiveness of public spending....
Mr Rehn’s involvement in the budgetary policies of individual member states is motivated by their effects on other members. Attention has recently been focused on the negative effects of excess borrowing. However, in this era of major private deleveraging, the positives should also be considered.
This means minimum additional austerity over and above what is already planned in countries under direct financial stress and for no additional austerity at all in countries that do not face an immediate threat of losing access to the financial markets. Provided credible structural measures are implemented, this stance would be consistent with the EU treaty and budgetary sustainability. And it would certainly be better for the economy of the eurozone" 1.
Either the Eurozone countries learn from their past mistakes in obsessing over non-existent inflation and concentrate on the dangers of low to no-growth and permanent high-unemployment. As Martin Wolf, Lord Skidelsky among many others have insistently noted, the current debt levels in almost all the European Union countries are quite manageable provided that the economies in question return to pre-2008 trend-growth rates, or better 2
growth at all, or next to no growth, and the countries in question will soon enough follow Japan in having a 'lost decade' econmically speaking. With a concomitant effects on both Europe's place and standing in the world. Not only economically but in terms of pure machtpolitik1
. Jean Pisani-Ferry & Coen Teulings, "Eurozone countries must not be forced to meet deficit targets." The Financial Times
. 27 February 2012, in www.ft.com
. See Martin Wolf's many columns dealing with this topic in the Financial Times
. For a recent example, see: Martin Wolf, "Europe is stuck on life support." The Financial Times
. 31 January 2012, in www.ft.com
. See also: Lord Skidelsky, "Future Generations will curse us for cutting in a slump." The Financial Times.
27 July 2010, in www.ft.com
. Finally, for an American perspective, see the strongly Keynesian, Nobel Prize economist Paul Krugman (who is perhaps the only reason whatsoever to read the ultra-tedious, American broadsheet, the New York Times) in a recent piece: Paul Krugman, "European Crisis Realities." The New York Times
. 25 February 2012, in www.nytimes.com
RUMORS OF WAR, REVISITED
"(Reuters) - Iran has sharply stepped up its controversial uranium enrichment drive, the United Nations' nuclear agency said Friday in a report that will further inflame Israeli fears that the Islamic Republic is pushing ahead with atomic bomb plans.
The nuclear watchdog also gave details of its mission to Tehran this week where Iran failed to respond to allegations of research relevant to developing nuclear arms - a blow to the possible resumption of diplomatic talks that could help defuse fears of a new war in the Middle East.
"The Agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program," the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a quarterly report about Iran issued to its member states.
The Islamic Republic's increase of work which can have both civilian and military purposes underlines that it has no intention of backing down in a long-running row with the West that has sparked fears of war....
In what would be a big expansion, Iran has increased the number of centrifuge machines enriching uranium - material which can be used to make atomic bombs if refined much further - by roughly a third since late last year, the report indicated.
Preparatory work to install thousands more centrifuges is under way, potentially shortening the time needed to make high-grade uranium for a nuclear weapons".
(Additional reporting by Mitra Amiri in Tehran, Tabassum Zakaria in Washington and Justyna Pawlak in Brussels; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
Fredrik Dahl, "Iran has expanded sensitive nuclear work: UN Agency." Reuters. 24 February 2012, in www.reuters.com.
"The question of whether a war will break out over Iran’s nuclear programme has been around for so long that it is easy to become almost blasé. In 2006 Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, was already asserting dramatically: “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany.”
This year, however, feels different. The threat of war is much more real. A conflict would begin with an Israeli bombing raid on Iran. But it would be likely swiftly to draw in the US – probably the UK and France, as well, and possibly the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia.
Israeli fears are driving the process. Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, has talked of Iran entering a “zone of immunity” – in which its nuclear programme becomes unstoppable – in the coming months. The Israelis are particularly concerned about plans to put Iran’s uranium-enrichment facilities into hardened underground bunkers. Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, is said to believe there is a strong possibility of an Israeli attack in April, May or June.
But Israel is not the only factor. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are also obsessed with the need to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons. Barack Obama is still very keen to avoid conflict. But in a presidential election year, it is harder for him to rein in Israel. Britain and France – the two most important European military powers – are also seriously contemplating the prospect of conflict with Iran. Indeed, in marked contrast to the run-up to the Iraq war, the British and the French seem to be more bellicose than the Americans.
One European decision-maker recently laid out the possible cycle of escalation and counter-escalation. Israel would mount a bombing raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The US would not condemn the raid, while Europeans would speak out against the attack – but only halfheartedly. When Iran retaliated against Israel, the Europeans and Americans would come to Israel’s aid, with defensive measures: perhaps, initially, in the form of naval protection.
But it is also thought likely that Iranian retaliation would be aimed not just at Israel but also at western interests – and perhaps even at the Gulf states. That would lead to a much wider conflict. US air power would be used to knock out Iranian retaliatory capacity. Any Iranian blockade of the Strait of Hormuz would be swiftly challenged by the US navy, with some token European support. While the Gulf states could never support an Israeli attack on Iran, they might get involved in this second round of military action – if Iran were foolish enough to attack them first. All the discussion, however, is of the use of air and naval power. There is no appetite for sending ground troops.
Among some European decision-makers these steps are discussed with a calm – and even a hint of relish – that is slightly startling".
Gideon Rachmann, "The drift towards War with Iran [Persia, sic!]. The Financial Times. 21 February 2012, in www.ft.com.
Gideon Rachmann's article is of interest as it discusses a future event which many see as having an immediate likelihood 1
. How plausible is this and if indeed plausible should it be endorsed or condemned in advanced? Getting down to cases, I for one do not see any likelihood of the regime of Mullahs in Tehran launching an unprovoked attack on either the Western Powers, Israel or the Gulf States. Indeed, the rhetoric of a few weeks back that Persia was about to endeavor to blockade the Persian Gulf, in retaliation for the European Union's forthcoming decision to stop all imports of Persian oil, has in the aftermath of the same, suddenly stopped. A non-event which can only be explained by the fact that it was communicated quite directly to the Persians the heavy, indeed onerous costs involved in any such action. Short of an attempt at a naval blockade by the Western Powers (unfortunately not in the offing), it is extremely unlikely that Tehran and or its dwindling band of allies, will unilaterally strike at any Western targets in the region. That being said, we come then to the more plausible scenario which is discussed by Rachmann (among many others of course), which is: an Israeli missile and air strike on alleged nuclear-related targets in Persia. No one of course can predict how truly anxious the Israelis are at this particular moment. And whether that anxiety is so great at this particular juncture that they will take advantage of the American Presidential election-cycle to launch a strike or a series of strikes on Persia. Leaving aside the factum that if there ever was an 'open window' to launch such an attack on Persia, the period from say July to early October would be optimum time to do so, there is the crucial question to my mind of Israel's ability to in fact successfully destroy Persia's nuclear processing and other sites. As per the American military analyst and commentator, Anthony Cordesman, Israel's ability to successfuly destroy not only the primary but the secondary sites in question is somewhat questionable. As per Cordesman:
"A military strike by Israel against Iranian Nuclear Facilities is possible and the optimum route would be along the Syrian-Turkish border then over a small portion of Iraq then into Iran, and back the same route. However, the number of aircraft required, refueling along the way and getting to the targets without being detected or intercepted would be complex and high risk and would lack any assurances that the overall mission will have a high success rate" 2
With this being said, it would seem to my mind quite questionable to presuppose that the Israelis will unilaterally launch an air strike or missile strike on Persia without either: i) a much greater degree of evidence that Persia is within walking distance of achieving status of a being a nuclear armed state; ii) and American de facto if not de jure agreement to such a course. The latter is of course, almost out of the question. The current American Administration, would of course, not necessarily condemn outright, post-facto an Israeli attack. It simply would not be willing ex-ante to either endorse or assist in such a policy. Indeed for the current American administration, an Israeli attack on Persia, would be as close to a strategic nightmare as one may allow. Which, if one does indeed agree with Cordesman's analysis (as I indeed do) as to the likelihood of its success, then one may indeed agree with the American Administration on this point. If there is anything worse than a Persia which has nuclear weapons capability, it would be a Persia which has nuclear weapons capability notwithstanding an Israeli attack which has failed to prevent this state of affairs from occurring.
With all that being said, what are the possible policy options for the Western Powers in this matter? I for one, would argue first for a naval blockade in conjunction with even more stringent economic sanctions on Persia (admittedly now rather strict). The hope being not per se that said policies would force Persia to abandon its policy, but that when added to plausible modus vivendi proposal, which while safeguarding Western interests, would still leave a figleaf for the Persians to retain a sense of amour propre by claiming that they have not capitulated completely, will offer the best route to a solution to the Persian nuclear conundrum. As the American commentator, Ray Takeh recently and cogently stated:
"It may still be possible to disarm Iran without using force. The key figure remains Khamenei, who maintains the authority and stature to impose a decision on his reluctant disciples. A coercive strategy that exploits not just Khamenei's economic distress but his political vulnerabilities may cause him to reach beyond his narrow circle, broaden his coalition and inject a measure of pragmatism into his state's deliberations. As with most ideologues, Iran's supreme leader worries more about political dissent than economic privation. Such a strategy requires not additional sanctions but considerable imagination" 3.
. James Blitz, "Hague resists ruling out armed action on Iran [Persia]. The Financial Times
. 20 February 2012, in www.ft.com
. Anthony Cordesman, "Study of Possible Israeli Strike on Iran [Persia] Nuclear Development facilities." Center for Strategic and International Studies.
16 March 2012, in www.csis.org3
Ray Takeh, "Why Iran thinks that it needs the Bomb." Council on Foreign Relations
. 17 February 2012, in www.cfr.org
TO INTERVENE OR NOT TO INTERVENE? WESTERN POLICY IN THE SYRIAN CRISIS
"As the death toll mounts on the streets in Syria, it is important to remember how we got here. Damascus has decided to reassert control over its restive cities by using the full might of its military. This should not come as a surprise to observers and policy makers. Indeed, the surprise is that the government has taken this long to order its offensive.
In the first three months of this crisis, it is fair to suggest that the opposition was largely peaceful. By the summer of 2011, this was beginning to change. The uprising was morphing into an armed resistance as weapons started to surface on Syrian streets. The defining moment was at the beginning of Ramadan. Contrary to consensus opinion, the government was not deterred by the start of the Holy month. Hama was stormed and taken back from the opposition to the shock of the region. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia made its first defining public comment on Alarabiya Television Channel immediately following Hama’s fall to the government, after withdrawing its ambassador from Syria.
Since Hama, Syrian opposition members have begun increasingly to call to demand weapons and a military response to overpower the regime. For the next 6 months, Syrian streets and neighborhoods became armed enough that the mighty Syrian army had to think twice before entering the developing mini enclaves ruled by the opposition within its cities. Not surprisingly, taking up arms suddenly became the accepted modus operandi of the opposition and the uprising. Those cautioning against such strategies were referred to as ignorant or regime supporters.
Young opposition activists who followed the advice to arm and fight the regime are now being left to fend for themselves against the military Goliath of the Syrian Army. As I wrote following my return from the country, many assured me that the armed forces were yet to use more than 20% of their capacity. As I listened to pronouncements by opposition leaders about the necessity to arm, I could not help but wonder what would happen when Damascus would unleash its full military might. We will now find out.
While Rastan, Homs and Zabadani were becoming hell for its residents, I was dismayed to see that the so-called brains of this revolution were landing in Doha airport. The purpose of the meeting is of course to focus on “the situation on the ground in Syria” and find ways of “helping the rebels”. How infuriating to see men in suites sit in the comfort of Doha hotels instructing the poor men, women and children of the restive neighborhoods of Syria on what they should do next. The fact is that since the first calls to arm the population, the brain trust of this revolution sent the people of Syria into a kamikaze mission. Did anyone really think that the Syrian army was going to be defeated at the hands of poor young men with Kalashnikovs?
Sadly, following the double veto at the U.N., many capitals have announced that they are willing to further arm the rebels. This is a travesty. The fact is that no amount of arms in the hands of such untrained rebels will come even close to defeating the Syrian army. This insanity must stop. The Syrian National Council and regional powers must come up with a different strategy if they truly care about the Syrian people who are now dying on the streets and in their homes. Some have argued that had it not been for the veto at the U.N., the Syrian army would not have responded this way over the past 48 hours. This is false. The decision to storm Homs and Zabadani was made before the vote. The central government decided to restore its control over all its cities before a Syrian Benghazi could be established.
At the beginning of this crisis, I was skeptical that the opposition was as armed as the government media claimed. By the end of Ramadan, I had no doubt that armed elements were indeed committing violence against government forces and others. This was confirmed to me by a first-rate reporter who has spent months in the most troubled cities and neighborhoods of Syria. This is not to give a pass to the government. It is the stronger of the two parties, and it must assume most blame for the violence. The leadership has been very consistent in its defiant attitude. In spite of this, many still speculate that the President will soon step down or leave the country. Such false signals have convinced those taking up arms that their strategy is somehow working and that a “win” is around the corner. This is regrettable and dangerous".
Ehsani, "Syria's opposition must find a different way." Syria Comment. 10 February 2012, in www.ft.com.
"The carnage in Syria is getting worse by the day as the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad and his clan continue their week-long bombardment of the all but defenceless city of Homs, killing hundreds to add to the more than 6,000 who have died in the past year....
The calls grow louder for external actors in Europe, Turkey and the Gulf to start arming the disparate defectors operating under the franchise of the Free Syrian Army and, as the regime’s assault will certainly continue, to devise ways of protecting civilians, trapped in towns they can neither defend nor evacuate. There are no easy answers to this appalling situation, but there are plenty of questions.
Until now, the western powers that flew to the aid of Libya’s rebels last year have insisted that Syria is different – in geography and geopolitical weight, and because it is a complex religious and ethnic mosaic that could disintegrate into the sort of sectarian wars that have scarred its neighbours in Lebanon and Iraq if it came under external attack....
Arming the rebels will raise the price of regime repression, and perhaps raise a pole of resistance that will become a magnet for defectors. Every regime offensive, however bloody, has shown the Assads can rely only on two loyal units staffed by their minority sect, the heterodox Shia Alawites, and that when they deploy units reflecting Syria’s 70 per cent Sunni majority, troops defect.
But a decision to arm the FSA could speed the spiral into sectarian war. It would probably also soon require further steps: such as safe havens for refugees that would then have to be defended, including by aerial bombardment. To do otherwise would be to risk another Srebrenica.
But there is a further lesson from Bosnia. Then, western powers dithered so long that by the time they took action they found that jihadis – some sponsored by the Gulf – had got there before them. In Bosnia’s case most moved on to new campaigns in Chechnya. That is unlikely to happen in an Arab heartland country such as Syria – whereas Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and Qatar are likely to swing behind the rebels soon. Ayman Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s new leader, has already scented the opportunity, by calling for jihad in Syria in a new video.
It is important, therefore, that the Arab League reaffirms its transition plan and recognises the Syrian National Council, the main political front of the opposition, paving the way for western nations to follow. As a second step, and in alliance with Turkey, which has provided an organising hub for the SNC and the FSA, every effort must be made to develop the unity and the programmatic coherence of the until now fractious rebel camp. It, in both its own and Syria’s interests, must spell out a plural and multi-confessional future for the country’s minorities, not just Alawites but Christians, Kurds and Druze clinging to the regime through fear of Sunni reprisals.
It then becomes easier to ratchet up international pressure and to contemplate safe havens that should help the opposition solidify.
The situation is finely poised. It could change quickly with the emergence of a new element in the equation. One notable factor would be the defection of significant army units. The opposition’s goal must be to split the army. But it will eventually need help, including arms, to do so, and it would be better for Turkey and the Arab League to be at the heart of this than Gulf states operating solo – and tilting Syria towards the Wahhabi strain of Islam".
Leader, "Stopping the Syrian Carnage." The Financial Times.17 February, in www.ft.com.
"To be, or not to be, that is the question: whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them".
Shakespeare, Hamlet. Act 3, scene 1.
The crisis in Syria continues with it would appear no end in sight. Except for perhaps the regime drowning the opposition in oceans of blood, via unrestricted bombardment of civilian areas in cities likes Homs. Judging from the language that is coming out of both Moskva, Peking and Teheran, there does not appear to be any real slippage in the outside support for the Assad regime. Nor does the likelihood of increased economic sanctions by the Western powers appear to be influencing Assad, et. al, in their decision-making 1
. In short, we have a situation akin to that of Libya circa one year ago, Bosnia-Herzegovina circa 1992 and Kosovo circa 1998. The question for the Western powers is: do they stand aside from the conflict and allow a civil war of perhaps uncontrolled proportions break-out, presuming that the Assad regime is unable to put down the rebellion. There are of course cogent arguments to be had for both a policy of strict non-intervention and overt intervention. In the case of the former, the Center for European Reform put out last week a note, by Edward Burke who observes that au fond
the real problem with Western policy in the crisis is:
"A number of diplomatic rules have been ignored by Western governments in Syria. First, never rule out force publicly even if you have done so privately....
The West should try to rein in efforts by Gulf countries to arm a range of insurgent groups, many of which are deeply mistrusted by important minority groups such as Syria's Kurds and could do significant damage to the credibility of the opposition movement. Syria badly needs a credible shadow government to negotiate with external parties. Until one emerges, Western diplomats should discourage the distribution of weapons to disparate groups feuding for leadership.
Given the enduring strength and resistance of the Syrian regime, and the lack of any immediate military means to weaken it, it is disappointing that Western countries have all but cut off diplomatic contacts with Damascus. The West should re-start diplomatic dialogue with Syria without pre-conditions. In the end an unsavoury deal such as that made with President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen – granting him immunity from prosecution – may be appropriate for key members of the Syrian elite. Western leaders need to grapple with what an acceptable deal could look like. Issuing statements that condemn a regime is easy; but it is tough diplomatic negotiations with the government in Damascus that can best help the Syrian people" 2.
In essence having sold the pass by from the very beginning letting the Assad regime know that there was no possibility of Western military intervention `a la that in Libya. Having done so, there is very little possibility (as per this argument) for the West to recoup it position other than via diplomatic means. And that any support for arming the rebels, especially rebels supported by the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia will make a prolonged and bloody conflict more
rather than less
likely. Especially, since all those national and religious groups in Syria who have so far failed to join the opposition: Christians, Alawites, Shiites, will hardly be encouraged to do so, by said oppositions being backed by Sunni Arab countries who are notorious in their religious intolerance for minority groups. The example of Iraq of course being upper most in every one's mind as it comes to the fate of minorities when nation x,y
is faced with political tumult. With all that in mind, the very best that can be done is to endeavor, to play the diplomatic hand 'long' and rely upon economic sanctions to work as a long-term proposition. Something which as per the piece in Syria Comment
, may take upwards of two to three years to work.
The countervailing argument is that the absence of Western military action, now will either: i
) see the Assad regime remain in power for an extended period of time, `a la the Saddam Hussein's regime circa 1992-2003; ii
) or the country fall into a very bloody and prolonged civil war `a la what occurred in the Lebanon from 1975 to 1990. How likely are these scenarios? The first of the two 'i', is I believe very likely indeed. Even with perhaps military assistance being given to the rebels by the Gulf Arab states. Once again as the commentator in Syria Comment clearly states, military assistance sans
trained units to properly use the same, will merely provide a license to the Assad regime to massacre and kill in much greater numbers than at present. With the excuse that the gloves are off, in the context of a military rebellion and or civil war in the offing. In that respect, the prospectus by the American intelligence firm, Stratfor,
that 'the Syrian state is still very much holding and the rebel forces remain divided and do not appear to be capable of serious advances against the government', seems to support the notion that sans
overt Western military intervention, greater than what occurred in Libya and akin to what happened in Iraq circa 2003, the Assad regime will remain in power for some time to come 3
. With that being said, the issue then becomes: what are the risks and or losses involved in that outcome? Per se
, the 'risks' involved in the Assad regime remaining in power for x
amount of time are simply that of a continuation of the status quo ante
, as it relates to the geopolitical balance of power in the Levant. Albeit with a Syrian regime which is both politically and militarily weaker than previously. Which from a Western perspective is all to the good. But not so weak that it could be easily overthrown. Once again, akin to the situation that existed in Iraq circa 1992 to 2003. Not by any means the best of situations in the Near and Middle East, but by no means the worse of the same. Or as Voltaire once aptly put it best: 'le mieux est l'ennemi du bien'
To sum up, I would like to analyze this situation in light of a recent appraisal of the variables involved in the successes and lack thereof in recent Western military interventions in the tiers monde
, by the Member of Parliament and writer, Rory Stewart, in the London Review of Books
. As per Stewart:
"The last two decades of intervention suggest one thing: that interventions are intrinsically unpredictable, chaotic and uncertain. They can work: the international community played a prudent and constructive role in Bosnia, and the Bosnia of 2005 was far better than that of 1995. But in Iraq and Afghanistan, disorder and chaos seemed predestined. Guilt at lost lives, embarrassment, pride, fear of Islamists and hubris all prevented the West from acknowledging failure: instead of pulling back, they dived ever deeper. And their occupation bloated, warped and corrupted the fundamental structures – social, political and economic – of the countries they were purporting to help" 4.
With all that being said and understood, it seems to this observer that the time for overt Western military intervention has not yet arrived in the case of Syria. And indeed that the West will be better put to endeavor to exercise as much restraint over the Sunni Arab Gulf states as possible. A programme of covert military assistance to the rebels by these countries has the possibility (admittedly unlikely) of causing a very difficult and bloody situation to become worse not better. The very last thing that the nations and the peoples of the Levant need, require or desire is a replay of Afghanistan-style jihad in Syria. 1
. Angus MacSwan, "Iranian Ships reach Syria, Assad allies show support." Reuters.
20 February 2012, in www.reuters.com
. Edward Burke, "Russia is not completely wrong about Syria." Center for European Reform.
17 February 2012, in www.cer.org.uk
. Bokhari, "Geopolitical Weekly: Jihadist opportunities in Syria." Stratfor: Global Intelligence.
14 February 2012, in www.stratfor.com
. Rory Stewart, "Because we weren't there?" The London Review of Books
.22 September 2011, in www.lrb.co.uk
APPEARANCES & REALITY IN THE DEBATE ABOUT AMERICAN 'DECLINE'
"Something puzzling just happened in Washington: a liberal American president who opposed the invasion of Iraq endorsed one of its chief neoconservative advocates. By embracing Robert Kagan’s essay, “The Myth of America’s Decline”, Barack Obama has done the author a turn. The essay is excerpted from Mr Kagan’s book, The World that America Made, which comes out later this month....
Mr Kagan, who also wrote Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus, the provocative post-Iraq book, has written a clear and powerfully-argued essay. But Mr Obama might want to scan it more closely. Start with its economic facts. Mr Kagan says that in 1969 the US had “roughly a quarter” of the world’s income. “Today it still produces roughly a quarter,” Kagan wrote. “America’s share of the world’s GDP has held remarkably steady.”
That would seem pretty conclusive. Here are more precise measures. In 1969, the US accounted for 36 per cent of global income at market prices, according to the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook. America’s share had fallen to 31 per cent by 2000. Then it started to plummet. By 2010, the US accounted for just 23.1 per cent of world income. In one decade America lost 7 per cent of world share. More than half that loss occurred before the Great Recession.
China’s economy, meanwhile, was barely an eighth the size of the US’s in 2000. Today it is 41 per cent – and that is based on current exchange rates. Were Beijing to float the renminbi, China’s economy could be valued considerably higher. Far from being “remarkably steady”, the shift over the past decade has been uniquely rapid by any historic measure. Another decade like that and America’s pre-eminence will look very shaky. Indeed, as Arvind Subramanian writes, China would surpass the US within 12 years even if its growth slowed to 7 per cent a year and the US hit an unlikely annual pace of 3 per cent.
But the book’s real subject is American exceptionalism. Mr Kagan believes that it is largely up to Americans to decide whether their country’s dominance will continue. In a clear echo of the author’s criticisms of Bill Clinton in the 1990s, Mr Kagan fears the US is losing its will for muscular world leadership. “In the end, the decision is in the hands of Americans,” he writes. “Decline, as Charles Krauthammer [a commentator] has observed, is a choice.”
And here we arrive at the book’s main puzzle. Mr Kagan denies America is in relative decline – and mistakenly insists there is no economic evidence for it. Yet he argues that America’s decline is being actively willed by unnamed “politicians and policymakers”. They are “in danger of committing pre-emptive superpower suicide out of a misplaced fear of declining power....”
Mr Kagan believes America’s future will hinge largely on taking a very different turn to the one in which US foreign policy and the Pentagon is apparently headed. The continuation of the international liberal order depends on the presence of a strong and active US, he argues".
Edward Luce, "The Reality of American Decline. " The Financial Times. 6 February 2012, in www.ft.com
"Edward Luce’s critique of my book The World America Made rests almost entirely on a disputed figure for US share of global gross domestic product (“The reality of American decline”, Comment, February 6). My argument that the US share has remained at roughly a quarter of world GDP since 1969 rests on the US government’s figures, which can be found at www.ers.usda.gov/Data/Macroeconomics
Mr Luce cites as his source the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook. However, even according to that database (which can be found at www.econstats.com/weo/V012.htm), the US share of global GDP, measured in purchasing power parity, was a little over 24 per cent in 1980 (the database does not go back farther), a little over 23 per cent in 2000, and a little over 21 per cent prior to the recession that began in 2008. This is not a world-altering shift in economic weight.
But even if Mr Luce’s numbers were the only measure out there, it is simplistic to judge the distribution of power in the international system entirely on the basis of the size of a nation’s economy. China’s economy was also the largest in the world in 1800. Mr Luce does not address such complicating matters as the fact that China’s per capita GDP is a small fraction of that of the US.
There is a far more sophisticated argument for China’s growing economic power, presented by Arvind Subramanian in his book Eclipse, which I acknowledge and address in my book".
Robert Kagan, Letter to the Financial Times: "US Share is still about a quarter of Global GDP." The Financial Times. 6 February 2012, in www.ft.com..
The on again and off again, now inspired by Mr. Kagan's newest book, on once again,debate about American decline still rages as per the exchange in the Financial Times
between its chief American correspondent, Mr. Edward Luce and Mr. Kagan himself. Aside from the conflict over how to measure precisely national GDP (pricing parity or via exchange rates), there is a larger and more important variable which to an extent is obscured by the current debate. In point of fact, per se
measurements of World GDP, have never been a good measurement of whether Great Power x
, was rising or declining. Something which reductionist accounts like Professor Paul Kennedy's late 1980's opus on the subject obscured rather than illuminated 1
. With his many epigoni
i of course indulging in much worse exercises in this vein. In one of the more cogent critiques of Kennedy's opus
which appeared at the time, a critique which indeed can be said to apply to most of his epigoni
as well, the American economic historian and former policy-maker, W.W. Rostow noted that:
"Kennedy's generalizations from the historical record down to 1942 suffer from a confusion of two quite different links between economic resources and power in the world arena: the progressive economic strains imposed by the pursuit of hegemonic dreams in the face of affronted nationalism; and the progressive dilution of relative economic power as the British demonstration of industrial and commercial takeoff, starting in the 1780's, was followed during the succeeding two centuries by a sequence of takeoffs in continental Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. This distinction becomes central when Kennedy moves beyond 1942. Kennedy theory takes the form of a double analogy: he treats the post-1945 rise in the U.S. power by analogy with hegemonic empires of the past; its decline by analogy with his interpretation of the decline of Britain. Neither analogy in my view is applicable....my most fundamental disagreement with Kennedy is his tendency to regards history as linear. He clearly believes, for example, that societies cannot regenerate. He regards calls for regeneration as the province of right-wing patriotic politicians trying fruitlessly to swim against the tides of history 2."
While I for one cannot for the life of me, indulge in, much less agree with the late Professor Rostow little exercise in urrah patriotismus
at the end, the point that he makes in this regard is in fact accurate if one does indeed look a bit at the historical record for say the twentieth century. Viz, as per Stephen Broadberry's & Mark Harrison's exhaustive study on the economics of the Great War clearly show, circa 1914, Tsarist Russia, who one does not ordinarily identify as being the premier European Great Power, had a larger GDP than either Great Britain or Imperial Germany and indeed almost twice as large as that of France, and two-half times the size of the Dual Monarchy 3
. And yet notwithstanding this fact, it was Tsarist Russia which was first to be knocked out of the conflict. Along a similar vein, one can point out, that while Imperial Germany had a GDP which was larger than that of Britain and twice as large as that of France, its total expenditure on the war was only two-thirds that of Great Britain and not much larger then that of France 4
. With perhaps the piece de resistance
, in such a category of the dangers of economic determinism and reductionism, is the fact that the American army in France, went to war, one year after declaring war on Germany, using predominately French and British heavy weapons: artillery, tanks and airplanes. So much for the idea of America as the coming hegemon circa 1918 5
. All of the above is not to gainsay the fact that economically, and even to a small extent geopolitically, the Americans and indeed the West as a whole are not as strong or a good position as they were circa anno domini
2000. Merely that per se
, the overall size of a nation's economy does not necessarily determine automatically its machtpolitik
position vis-`a-vis other countries. Or as importantly its ability to command resources in the inevitable competition that is the 'politics among nations' (to use Hans Morgenthau's phrase). Inasmuch as Professor Kagan's thesis is that 'American / Western decline', is more myth than reality and that insofar as it is reality it is a reality that can be changed provided that the overall society is willing and able to adjust itself accordingly, than indeed Professor Kagan is in the right. Whether or not, both American and indeed Western political culture can make the adjustment to reassert itself in a hegemonic fashion has yet to be seen. One need not be a Spenglerian pessimist to note that nothing seems as far away from the contemporary societies of the West than the heroic self-sacrifices made by the generation that entered into combat in the summer of 1914. 1
. Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers
. Walt Whitman Rostow, "Book Review Essay: Beware of Historian bearing False analogies." Foreign Affairs
. (Spring 1988), pp. 864-865. For Kennedy's response to this critique, see: Paul Kennedy, "Comment and Correspondence: Pointers from the Past." Foreign Affairs
. (Summer 1988), pp. 1108-1111. 3
. Stephen Broadberry & Mark Harrison, Edited. The Economics of World War I
. pp. 7-10, et passim.4
. David Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and defeat in 1918
. (2011), pp. 420, et passim. 5
. Ibid., pp. 350-380 et passim.
THE RUSSO-CHINESE VETO IN THE UNITED NATIONS: WHAT DOES IT PORTEND?
"UNITED NATIONS — A United Nations Security Council effort to end the violence in Syria collapsed in acrimony with a double veto by Russia and China on Saturday, hours after the Syrian military attacked the city of Homs in what opposition leaders described as the deadliest government assault in the nearly 11-month uprising.
The veto and the mounting violence underlined the dynamics shaping what is proving to be the Arab world’s bloodiest revolt: diplomatic stalemate and failure as Syria plunges deeper into what many are already calling a civil war. Diplomats have lamented their lack of options in pressuring the Syrian government, and even some Syrian dissidents worry about what the growing confrontation will mean for a country reeling from bloodshed and hardship.
The veto is almost sure to embolden the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which brazenly carried out the assault on Homs on the day that the Security Council had planned to vote. It came, too, around the anniversary of its crackdown in 1982 on another Syrian city, Hama, by Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez, in which at least 10,000 people were killed in one of the bloodiest episodes in modern Arab history.
“It’s quite clear — this is a license to do more of the same and worse,” said Peter Harling, an expert on Syria at the International Crisis Group. “The regime will take it for granted that it can escalate further. We’re entering a new phase that will be far more violent still than what we’ve seen now.”
The Security Council voted 13 to 2 in favor of a resolution backing an Arab League peace plan for Syria, but passage was blocked by Russia and China, which opposed what they saw as a potential violation of Syria’s sovereignty. The support of those countries has proved crucial in bolstering the Syrian government’s confidence, despite an isolation more pronounced than any time since the Assad family seized power more than four decades ago.
After the vote, and the failure before that of the Arab League peace plan to stem the violence, predictions were grim about what is ahead in a conflict that the United Nations says has claimed more than 5,000 lives. To many, two inexorable forces were at work: a government bent on crushing the uprising by force and an opposition that, if not increasing in numbers, appeared to be growing even more determined.
“What more do we need to know to act decisively in the Security Council?” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton fumed at a news conference in Munich. “To block this resolution is to bear responsibility for the horrors that are occurring on the ground in Syria.”
Responding to the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, who asked, “What’s the endgame?” Mrs. Clinton replied: “The endgame in the absence of us acting together as the international community, I fear, is civil war.”
The attack in Homs, where Syrian opposition leaders said more than 200 people were killed, drew outrage from around the world and intensified pressure on the Security Council to act.
President Obama condemned what he called “the Syrian government’s unspeakable assault against the people of Homs,” saying in a statement that Mr. Assad “has no right to lead Syria, and has lost all legitimacy with his people and the international community.” He accused Syria of having “murdered hundreds of Syrian citizens, including women and children.”
The French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, said, “The massacre in Homs is a crime against humanity, and those responsible will have to answer for it.”
Protests broke out at Syrian Embassies around the world, including in Egypt, Germany, Greece and Kuwait, and Tunisia expelled Syria’s ambassador.
But at the United Nations, Russia, Syria’s staunch ally, had promised to veto any resolution that could open the way to foreign military intervention or insist on Mr. Assad’s removal".
Neil MacFarquhar & Anthony Shadid, "Russia and China Block UN action on Syrian Crisis." The New York Times. 4 February 2012. www.nytimes.com.
"Responding to the vote in the UN Security council on Syria, the Foreign Secretary said the following:
"Russia and China faced a simple choice today: would they support the people of Syria and the Arab League or not? They decided not to, and instead sided with the Syrian regime and its brutal suppression of the Syrian people in support of their own national interests. Their approach lets the Syrian people down, and will only encourage President Assad’s brutal regime to increase the killing, as it has done in Homs over the past 24 hours.
"The draft resolution, tabled by Morocco, supported Arab League efforts to resolve the crisis in Syria and called for an immediate end to all violence. It did not impose any sanctions, nor did it authorise military action. At every stage we worked to accommodate the concerns of some Council members and tabled a text which did just that. There was nothing in the draft to warrant opposition.
"More than 2,000 people have died since Russia and China vetoed the last draft resolution in October 2011. Over 6,000 people have died in the 10 months since the uprising began. Many more have been tortured and detained. How many more need to die before Russia and China allow the UN Security Council to act? Those opposing UN Security Council action will have to account to the Syrian people for their actions which do nothing to help bring an end to the violence that is ravaging the country.
"The United Kingdom will continue to support the people of Syria and the Arab League to find an end to the violence and allow a Syrian-led political transition."'
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, "Foreign Secretary Responds to UNSC vote on Syria." Foreign & Commonwealth Office. 4 April 2012, in www.fco.gov.uk
The Russian and Chinese veto in the United Nation's Security Council on Saturday past of the Western-Arab League resolution dealing with Syria kicks the problem squarely in the geo-political grass as far as the Security Council is concerned. For all intents and purposes that ally of diplomatic actions is effectively closed off hereafter. Which leaves only the following possible scenarios for a 'resolution' of the crisis in Syria: i) the regime `a la Saddam Hussein circa 1991-1992, gradually puts down the rebellion, using its still overwhelming monopoly of firepower. That and assistance from its allies in Iraq, Hezbollah, Persia, Russia & China (admittedly half-hearted), can probably be enough to perhaps see the regime through the next six months. After which, the rebellion, and any Resistance to the Assad Regime will gradually die-down; ii) with the rejection of the Security Council resolution, any illusions that remained by the Syrian opposition that the regime could be negotiated out of power by the international community are rendered null and void. With this in mind, and with the possibility of a Libyan Scenario no longer on the cards (if it ever was), the only avenue open to changing the regime is for those members of the Arab League who remain openly interested in a policy of overthrow: Saudi Arabia, Qatar as well as Turkey, beginning to arm the nascent opposition forces both inside and outside the country. The issue here is that unless the opposition is able to inflict a series of military defeats on the regime, or conversely, to gradually gain control of defined areas of the country, it is not entirely clear how or even why the regime's grip on power will lessen. Ultimately, as Mao pointed out, powers flows from a gun. And right now, that gun is almost exclusively being aimed by the Assad controlled military and para-military forces. Unless and until that changes, then do not expect much in the way of a positive resolution of the crisis in Syria 1
Ian Black, "Syria on the Brink of Civil War." Syria Comment
5 February 2012, in www.syriacomment.com
. See also along these lines: Roula Khallaf & Abigal Fielding-Smith, "Syria intensifies attacks on Homs." The Financial Times. 6 April 2012, in www.ft.com
THE AMERICAN ANNOUNCEMENT ON AFGHANISTAN: A POLICY OF SCUTTLE?
"BRUSSELS — In a major milestone toward ending a decade of war in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Wednesday that American forces would step back from a combat role there as early as mid-2013, more than a year before all American troops are scheduled to come home.
Mr. Panetta cast the decision as an orderly step in a withdrawal process long planned by the United States and its allies, but his comments were the first time that the United States had put a date on stepping back from its central role in the war. The defense secretary’s words reflected the Obama administration’s eagerness to bring to a close the second of two grinding ground wars it inherited from the Bush administration.
Promising the end of the American combat mission in Afghanistan next year would also give Mr. Obama a certain applause line in his re-election stump speech this year.
Mr. Panetta said no decisions had been made about the number of American troops to be withdrawn in 2013, and he made clear that substantial fighting lies ahead. “It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be combat-ready; we will be, because we always have to be in order to defend ourselves,” he told reporters on his plane on his way to a NATO meeting in Brussels, where Afghanistan is to be a central focus.
The United States has about 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, but 22,000 of them are due home by this fall. There has been no schedule set for the pace of the withdrawal of the 68,000 American troops who will remain, only that all are to be out by the end of 2014.
Mr. Panetta offered no details of what stepping back from combat would mean, saying only that the troops would move into an “advise and assist” role to Afghanistan’s security forces. Such definitions are typically murky, particularly in a country like Afghanistan, where American forces are spread widely among small bases across the desert, farmland and mountains, and where the native security forces have a mixed record of success at best.
The defense secretary offered the withdrawal of the United States from Iraq as a model. American troops there eventually pulled back to large bases and left the bulk of the fighting to the Iraqis.
At the same time, Mr. Panetta said the NATO discussions would also focus on a potential downsizing of Afghan security forces from 350,000 troops, largely because of the expense of maintaining such a large army. The United States and other NATO countries support those forces at a cost of around $6 billion a year, but financial crises in Europe are causing countries to balk at the bill".
Elizabeth Bumiller, "U.S. to end combat role in Afghanistan as Early as Next year, Panetta says." The New York Times. 1 February 2012, in www.nytimes.com.
"After the May 14 speech outlining our compromise terms for negotiation, we turned to the unilateral withdrawal of American troops. We had inherited, in one of the less felicitous phrases of foreign policy in this century, a general commitment to 'de-Americanize' the war....In our innocence we thought that withdrawals of American troops might help us win public support so that the troops which remained and our enhanced staying power might give Hanoi an incentive to negotiate seriously. At the same time, if we strengthened the South Vietnamese sufficiently, our withdrawals might gradually even end our involvement without agreement with Hanoi....It was clear that the military approached the subject with a heavy heart. Deep down they knew that it was a reversal of what they had fought for. However presented, it would make victory impossible and even an honorable outcome problematical. The process of withdrawal was likely to become irreversible. Henceforth, we would be in a race between the decline in our combat capability and the improvement of South Vietnamese forces --- a race whose outcome was at best uncertain."
Henry A. Kissinger. The White House Year. (1979). pp. 271-272.
The statement by the American Secretary of Defence, Mr. Panetta, that the U.S.A. will end or at the very least downgrade considerably its combat role in Afghanistan as of the middle of next year, leaves at least this commentator in a quandary. The reason for this is rather simple: on the one hand, as the one of the leading American military analysts Mr. Anthony Cordesman, noted yesterday, the American Administration has as per its Afghanistan policy:
"There is no overall plan for transition and withdrawal that links US and other allied forces, changes in the aid efforts of the US and other countries, and the build-up of Afghan security forces and governance in given areas. The military may have a campaign plan, but the US and its allies do not have an integrated civil-military war plan. The development of Afghan national security forces (ANSF) is in a state of total confusion. It is being rushed forward while spending is being drastically cut, long before it is clear how long it will take to create effective force elements and how serious the limits will be to the quality of much of the military and police forces. This is particularly critical because major elements of the ANSF cannot possibly be ready to stand on their own by the end of 2014, and the Afghan government officially stated at the Bonn Conference that it will need major outside aid and support through at least 2020. It is all too clear that the ANSF will not be ready to take on a major combat role in 2013 without significant ISAF support, and that the current ISAF campaign plan to secure key areas in the east and consolidate gains in the south cannot be implemented if major US and ISAF force cuts take place....There is no consensus within the US government over the level of troops that should be kept, how to phase down US and allied forces through 2014, how to phase down US aid efforts, what level of defense and foreign aid spending will be needed through 2014 and beyond. Concepts are not plans, and intentions are not money" 1.
In short, to a degree perhaps unprecedented in American military history, the American forces, if the statement made by the Defence Secretary has any meaning, are preparing to do a 'super scuttle'
. Making Nixon & Kissinger's policy of 'Vietnamization' in 1969-1972 look in retrospect as brilliantly thought out and statesman-like in comparison. With the only historical examples that come to mind are the British withdrawals from Palestine and the Indian Sub-continent circa 1947-1948. In both cases of course, said withdrawal resulting in considerable bloodbaths in both locations. However, looking at the matter from a strictly machtpolitik
point of view, id est., from the point of view of Western and American interests there is an argument to be made that the current Western troop presence in Afghanistan is unnecessary and at the very least has not shown much evidence that it is having a positive result. As the ever wise, Leslie Gelb, one of the 'authors' of the Pentagon Papers has argued this week:
"With this strategy, the administration accomplishes three goals: (1) U.S. troops are removed from combat earlier, reducing lives lost and cost; (2) U.S. troops return home earlier; and (3) both security and political risks are made manageable....But for the United States, the war is coming to an end. Its critical goals have been achieved. Osama bin Laden is dead. Al Qaeda there is virtually dead. There are no vital interests to justify further great sacrifices. And now it’s time to act upon this reality and bring the heroes home" 2.
, Afghanistan by itself has absolutely no strategic importance or value. Its only importance is that in the recent past it has been a base for extra-territorial terrorist attacks on third-countries. Au fond
the real and indeed perhaps only issue raised by the American statement is: will the end of American and Western combat forces from the fighting and the possibly reduction in the size of the Afghan Army mean what exactly vis-`a-vis the Taliban forces in the field? Only this week, there was a leak of a American military document which clearly seems to show that sans
the American-lead forces, the Taliban feel quite capable to ousting the Karzai regime from power and installing themselves instead 3
. If this is in fact the case, what will be the extra-Afghanistan repercussions of the ouster of the American-Western backed Karzai government? Will there be none because the Taliban will concentrate upon remaining in power and unlike the situation in the 1990's, not care to meddle in the affairs of other countries? Or conversely will a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan be once more a magnet for terrorist elements world-wide? And if so, how will this state of affairs differ in anyway from say what is now going on in parts of say Yemen and Somalia? Per contra
, it could be argued that lying as it does at the crossroads of the Middle East, the Asia Sub-continent and Central Asia, that Afghanistan is the ultimate 'road to somewhere'
and thus cannot be simply abandoned without there being some negative strategic repercussions `a la what occurred the last time that the Americans left circa 1989-1992 4
. Anthony Cordesman, "The Real issues in Afghanistan: looking beyond undefined policy statements and slogans." Center of Strategic and International Studies
. 2 February 2012, in www.csis.org
. Leslie Gelb, "Obama's Faster, Smarter, Afghan Exit." The Daily Beast
. 1 February 2012. 3
. "Taliban will take over from U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan-leaked U.S. report." Strategic Culture Foundation: online journal
. 3 February 2012, ,in www.strategic-culture.org
. For the Lord Avon's amusing expression: the 'road to somewhere', see: Sir Charles Arthur Evelyn Shuckburgh, Descent to Suez: Foreign Office Diaries, 1951-1956
. 1987, p.