Friday, March 30, 2012


"Reuters - Syria has accepted a U.N.-sponsored peace plan, international envoy Kofi Annan said on Tuesday, as troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad raided rebel forces who have taken refuge across the border in Lebanon. The United States reacted skeptically to Annan's announcement, saying it would judge Assad's sincerity in agreeing to the peace plan by what he did and not by what he said, given his record of "over-promising and under-delivering...."

Annan, who represents the United Nations and the Arab League, said through a spokesman that Assad had accepted the basic terms of a peace plan which calls for national dialogue but does not hinge on his leaving office.

However, Annan said earlier on a visit to China that "this is going to be a long difficult task."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reacted coolly. "Given Assad's history of over-promising and under-delivering, that commitment must now be matched by immediate actions," she told reporters in Washington.

"We will judge Assad's sincerity and seriousness by what he does, not by what he says," she said, calling on him to order his forces to stop firing and start withdrawing from populated areas. Western and Arab leaders are due to meet in Istanbul on April 1 to discuss a political transition, and Clinton joined the Arab League and Turkey in pressing various wings of the Syrian opposition to unite.

"They must be able to clearly demonstrate a commitment to including all Syrians and protecting the rights of all Syrians," she said. "We are going to be pushing them very hard to present such a vision in Istanbul...."

Annan said his plan calls for withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centers, humanitarian assistance being allowed in unimpeded, release of prisoners, freedom of movement and access for journalists to go in and out. The United Nations estimates more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria's upheaval over the past year, U.N. Middle East envoy Robert Serry told the Security Council. Syrian authorities blame foreign-backed terrorists for the violence and say 3,000 soldiers and police have been killed....

Russia and China have shielded Assad from Security Council condemnation by vetoing two Western-backed resolutions over the bloodshed, but approved a Security Council statement this week endorsing Annan's mission. Chinese Prime Wen Jiabao told Annan in Beijing that "the efforts to seek a solution to the Syrian crisis are at a critical juncture. We do believe that your mediation efforts will lead to progress in seeking a solution to the Syrian issue".

The opposition has so far rejected Assad's calls for dialogue saying it is too late. The crackdown has angered Arab countries including former allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which favor arming the rebels".

Erika Solomon & Oliver Holmes. "Annan says Syria accepts Peace Plan, U.S. skeptical."
Reuters.27 March 2012, in

The Annan Plan, whatever the purposes of its author (purely humanitarian of course) seems to my mind, merely an exercise in white washing the fact that the Assad regime will under no circumstances retreat from retaining power in that wretched country. Indeed, according to to-day's New York Times, fighting was ongoing in different sectors of the country 1. Given the fact that Assad has publicly stated that his acceptance of the plan is dependent upon the opposition ceasing any military activities and giving-up their weapons, I for one cannot for the life of me, understand how Annan, et. al., would expect anything positive to come of his so-called 'Peace Plan' 2. Obviously, the plan, such as it is, is a God-send to both Moskva and Peking, who have taken a battering diplomatically speaking from most of the Arab World. With this plan, both powers can contend with a straight face that with Assad's acceptance, any continuation of the fighting is the fault of not the Assad regime, but its opponents and foreign backers. In short, the Annan Plan, whether or not Annan realizes it, is truly a Russian & Chinese diplomats answer to an early Christmas. Unfortunately, one can not say the same for the poor people of Syria.

1. Anne Barnard. "Syrian Fighting Flares Ahead of Talks." The New York Times.30 March 2012, in

2. Ibid. See also the following for how much in favor of Assad continuation in power, is the Annan Plan: "Syrian Tremors at the Arab Summit." The Council on Foreign Relations. 29 March 2012, in

Monday, March 26, 2012


The opposition will have to rebuild itself to be more Islamic, militant and sectarian in order to take on the Assad regime. Opposition leaders on the ground, those who are actually fighting the regime, have already become more militant and Islamized. If the SNC doesn’t scramble to catch up, it will become irrelevant. I suspect that the upcoming opposition meeting in Turkey this Thursday and Friday (March 22-23) will reflect some of that shift. The recent high level defections within the the Syrian National Council suggest the opposition is responding to these pressures and new demands. The SNC is going through a period of soul searching and transformation in response to the government’s classic “clear and hold” operations carried out in Sednaya, Homs and Idlib.

The future strategy of the Syrian opposition will have to follow the outlines of a classic “phase two” insurgency predicated on guerrilla warfare. This phase is reached when the insurgent movement initiates organized continuous guerrilla warfare in an attempt to push government forces into a defensive role. “Phase three” insurgency is a war of movement. In this phase the insurgent can directly engage government forces and hold territory. The Syrian opposition prematurely tried to hold territory and take on the Syrian Army. This was a bad and costly mistake. In the first year of the Syrian uprising the opposition naively believed that the entire Syrian population would embrace it and abandon the regime or that Bashar al-Assad would hand over power. Based on the example of the North African uprisings, Syrian opposition members incorrectly believed a “Tahrir Square moment” would arrive within months of the uprising’s start, eliminating the need for a coherent military strategy, a defined leadership, or how to parry government counter-insurgency operations. The passions of Syrians who have tasted little but contempt from their own government led them to rise up in an act of incredible courage. Now, however, the reality of just how difficult attaining victory will be is setting in.

The Assad regime remains vigorous and will last longer than many thought. The reason that mass defections have not destroyed the regime are twofold: sectarian anxieties prevent Alawite defections, and the regime turns out to be more sectarian than many thought; and class anxieties are more important as well.

Members of the Sunni middle and upper classes are not defecting in the numbers the opposition hoped that they would. The reason that neither Damascus or Aleppo have become centers of the revolution is usually attributed to their privileged position in Syrian society. Wealthy Sunnis living in the West have joined the revolution, but that may be because they do not fear the disorder and incompetence of the opposition in the same way as those living in Syria. They have also experienced the freedom and dignity afforded by the rule of law. They look at the brutality of the Assad regime and wonder, “how come we cannot have this.”

Joshua Landis, "Upheveal within the opposition: defections, terrorism, and preparing for a Phase II insurgency." Syria Comment. 19 March 2012, in

"Increasingly, what we're going to see is the Islamization of the opposition, and that's causing a lot of soul-searching on the part of this largely external European leadership that doesn't approve of this--but they don't have an alternative because Syrians are Muslims, and the only available ideology to the insurgency in Syria is Islam. We have seen this play out in Iraq, in Palestine, in Lebanon, and in Afghanistan. If you need to take on a superior army or an occupying army, as they see the Syrian army, that has tanks, air force, helicopters, and superior weaponry, they're going to have to carry out martyrdom operations: terrorist attacks, assassinations, hit-and-run guerilla tactics. To do that, they're going to have to be highly motivated and willing to risk death at every turn, and only Islam can provide the cohesion and sense that victory is ultimately theirs, and that God is on their side.

We have seen fundraising rallies in Australia and in the United States, organized by Syrians to raise money and consciousness for the opposition. Those rallies have been following a pattern, which is extremely Islamist. They're not connected to the SNC. There's a new world of opposition that's getting organized and that's centering around highly Sunni, highly religious ideology. In these fundraisers around the United States and other places, we're seeing the resurgence of this Islamic language of an earlier age. It's quite radical--of martyrdom, anti-nationalism, and they're associating people like the Assad regime with the last hundred years of barbaric nationalist rule that's been imposed on the East by the colonial powers, which they want to undo, and that is what's causing people like Burhan Ghalyun and these other very Western Syrian leaders to balk at arming them or supporting them.

Why has President Assad not offered to really make a deal?

Because his Ba'athist, one-party state is extremely brittle. It's organized around loyalty to a family and ultimately one man. If you start tinkering with that system, it's going to collapse. You can't allow a parliament that's free. Syria has tinkered with this. When Assad first came to power in 2000, there was what was called a Damascus Spring, and he told Syrians to criticize and to say what they wanted, and within three weeks, almost every Syrian group that had organized itself was asking for an end to Allawite monopoly of the political power. They were asking for freedom and an end to dictatorship, and that's why the Damascus Spring lasted for only about a month. It was very clear that the system is highly corrupt and it's highly coercive, built on patronage and loyalty to a family. Once you undermine that, it will crumble".

Joshua Landis, "The Great Syrian Divide [Joshua Landis interview with Bernard Gwertzman]. The Council on Foreign Relations. 22 March 2012, in

With our now entering year two of the Syrian crisis, reading the latest thinking of Joshua Landis, who is, notwithstanding my occasion criticisms of him, probably the best American expert on Syria, is very much a worthwhile exercise. Having done that exercise, it would appear to me, that in the absence of Western military intervention, which at this time, absolutely no one anticipates anytime soon, the regime of Assad Fils, appears to be in a position to remain in power for quite awhile to come. As I have stated on this journal previously: those who argued that Syria would go the way of Egypt or Tunisia were suffering from a serious misreading of why politics in the Levant are quite different from the political situation in the former two countries. Given the religious and national divisions in the latter countries: Syria, the Lebanon and Israel, any political change will by definition me quite violent. A negotiated 'partial change of regime', along the lines of a Lampedusian 'if you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change', was never within the realm of possibility 1. Accordingly, the most likely outcome for Syria in the next year or two is simple a mixture of: i) economic deprivation and increasing misery for most of the population; ii) a low, but constant level of insurrection by an increasingly Islamist insurgency, funded & armed by the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia; iii) and an entrenched Baathist regime, which while not nearly as 'in control', as it was say eighteen months ago, will `a la Saddam Hussein, remain in power for quite some time to come. I should add, that the examples that Landis' cites for a 'Phase Two' insurgency (Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and the Lebanon), are in three of the four cases, examples of failed insurgencies. Only one of which (the Lebanon) in the case of Hezbollah, was there a successful insurrection. And even in that instance, the insurrection was against a foreign power. Whether or not this is a tragedy is a difficult question to answer. Obviously, from mere a Christian perspective, it is a tragedy for even one life to have been lost. However, au fond, it is a bit naive to think that even if in anno domini 2011, there was a 'peaceful' hand-over of power by the Baathist regime, that the situation in Syria would not have worsen `a Egypt and (a much better example) Iraq circa 2003. Once a dictatorship of the near-total variety of the Baathist regime comes apart, more likelier than not, a rather severe societal breakdown is almost inevitable. In the best of all possible worlds of course, Western military intervention, on a grander scale than say in Libya would have been preferable. But given the exhaustion and fear in Western capitals over the prospects of another military campaign in the Near and Middle East, the current, almost absolute 'non-interventionist' position is not very surprising. Given the less than inspiring examples of Iraq and Afghanistan, one wonders if perhaps that is for the best...

1. 'Lampedusian' is of course referring to the great mid-twentieth century novelist, Prince Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, whose chef d'oeuvre, Il Gattopardo, is perhaps the greatest geschichte roman of the second half of the century. The quote cited above can be found in the standard English language translation by Archibald Colquhoun (1960).

Friday, March 23, 2012


"One of the past’s most indelible patterns is that rising nations eventually expect their influence to be commensurate with their power. The proposition that countries such as India and Brazil will sit quietly in the global shadows as they become economic titans flies in the face of history. Other than modern-day Germany and Japan—both of which have punched well below their weight due to constraints imposed on them after World War II—a country’s geopolitical aspirations generally rise in step with its economic strength. During the 1890s, for instance, the United States tapped its industrial might to launch a blue-water navy, rapidly turning itself from an international lightweight into a world-class power. China is now in the midst of fashioning geopolitical aspirations that match its economic strength—as are other emerging powers. India is pouring resources into its navy; its fleet expansion includes 20 new warships and two aircraft carriers....

But today’s global landscape is new. By presuming that current circumstances are comparable with the Cold War, Kagan underestimates the centrifugal forces thwarting American influence. Bipolarity no longer constrains how far nations—even those aligned with Washington—will stray from the fold. And the United States no longer wields the economic influence that it once did. Its transition from creditor to debtor nation and from budget surpluses to massive deficits explains why it has been watching from the sidelines as its partners in Europe flirt with financial meltdown. The G-7, a grouping of like-minded democracies, used to oversee the global economy. Now that role is played by the G-20, a much more unwieldy group in which Washington has considerably less influence. And it is hardly business as usual when foreign countries lay claim to nearly 50 percent of publicly held U.S. government debt, with an emerging rival—China—holding about one-quarter of the American treasuries owned by foreigners....

Finally, Kagan’s timing is off. He is right that power shifts over decades, not years. But he underestimates the speed at which substantial changes can occur. He notes, for example, “The United States today is not remotely like Britain circa 1900, when that empire’s relative decline began to become apparent. It is more like Britain circa 1870, when the empire was at the height of its power.” After two draining wars, an economic crisis, and deepening defense cuts, this assertion seems doubtful. But let’s assume that the United States is indeed “at the height of its power,” comparable with Britain circa 1870.

In 1870, British hegemony rested on a combination of economic and naval supremacy that looked indefinitely durable. Two short decades later, however, that picture had completely changed. The simultaneous rise of the United States, Germany, and Japan altered the distribution of power, forcing Britain to revamp its grand strategy. Pax Britannica may have technically lasted until World War I, but London saw the writing on the wall much earlier—which is precisely why it was able to adjust its strategy by downsizing imperial commitments and countering Germany’s rise.

In 1896, Britain began courting the United States and soon backed down on a number of disputes in order to advance Anglo-American amity. The British adopted a similar approach in the Pacific, fashioning a naval alliance with Japan in 1902. In both cases, London used diplomacy to clear the way for retrenchment—and it worked. Rapprochement with Washington and Tokyo freed up the fleet, enabling the Royal Navy to concentrate its battleships closer to home as the Anglo-German rivalry heated up.

It was precisely because Britain, while still enjoying preponderant strength, looked over the horizon that it was able to successfully adapt its grand strategy to a changing distribution of power. Just like Britain in 1870, the United States probably has another two decades before it finds itself in a truly multi polar world. But due to globalization and the spread of new manufacturing and information technologies, global power is shifting far more rapidly today than it did in the 19th century. Now is the time for Washington to focus on managing the transition to a new geopolitical landscape. As the British experience makes clear, effective strategic adjustment means getting ahead of the curve. The alternative is to wait until it is too late—precisely what London did during the 1930s, with disastrous consequences for Britain and Europe. Despite the mounting threat posed by Nazi Germany, Britain clung to its overseas empire and postponed rearmament. After living in denial for the better part of a decade, it finally began to prepare for war in 1939, but by then it was way too late to stop the Nazi war machine.

Even Kagan seems to recognize that comparing the United States to Britain in 1870 may do his argument more harm than good. “Whether the United States begins to decline over the next two decades or not for another two centuries,” he writes, “will matter a great deal, both to Americans and to the nature of the world they live in.” The suggestion here is that the United States, as long as it marshals the willpower and makes the right choices, could still have a good 200 years of hegemony ahead of it. But two decades—more in line with the British analogy—is probably the better guess. It strains credibility to propose that, even as globalization speeds growth among developing nations, a country with less than 5 percent of the world’s population will run the show for two more centuries.

Whether American primacy lasts another 20 years or another 200, Kagan’s paramount worry is that Americans will commit “preemptive superpower suicide out of a misplaced fear of their own declining power.” In fact, the greater danger is that the United States could head into an era of global change with its eyes tightly shut—in denial of the tectonic redistribution of power that is remaking the globe. The United States will remain one of the world’s leading powers for the balance of the 21st century, but it must recognize the waning of the West’s primacy and work to shepherd the transition to a world it no longer dominates. Pretending otherwise is the real “preemptive superpower suicide.”'

Charles Kupchan. "Second Mates: Yes, the United States will remain one of the world's most influential nations. But let us stop pretending it will dominate forever." The National Journal. 15 March 2012, in

"Kupchan, undeterred, argues the opposite: America’s decline will result from the failure of this erstwhile European competitor. He acknowledges it’s “true that economic strength and military superiority will preserve U.S. influence over global affairs for decades to come,” but he says that “global power is undeniably flowing away from the West.”

There are two problems with this argument. First, although Europe’s and Japan’s share of global output is declining, it is absurd to argue that they are ceasing to be very influential players on the world scene—let alone that they are being surpassed in global influence by the likes of Brazil and Turkey, or even by India and China. Europe’s economy remains vast, and the influence it wields on the world stage on a broad range of issues remains greater than that of China. The United States and Europe, working together, have outmaneuvered both China and Russia on issues such as Iran, Libya, and perhaps increasingly Syria, pushing both powers toward positions that they would not otherwise have taken. In East Asia, Japan remains a major player, especially now that active American diplomacy has helped link Japan with India and others in an increasingly effective regional network. No one looking at the diplomatic score sheet of the past two years, whether the issue has been the South China Sea or North Korea, would argue that China has gotten the upper hand. There is more to international power than the size of a nation’s gross domestic product....

Kupchan seems to misunderstand the point I make about Great Britain in the last three decades of the 19th century. I cited the British example to show that decline is more than just a four-year affair, but I also wanted to show that when a nation does decline over time, there are measurable indicators. Britain went from unrivaled dominance on the high seas to one among equals. It went from No. 1 to No. 3 in overall economic output. My point was that until such measures of decline start appearing for the United States, it is premature to talk about inevitable decline. Kupchan agrees with me that no such declines have yet been visible.

We do disagree about the meaning of that British example, however, and about the history of the past century more generally. Kupchan, like many professional declinists, takes a rosy view of the past in order to make invidious comparisons with the present. He really does seem to think the world was better, and better for the United States, when a totalitarian government possessing massive conventional forces and an equally massive nuclear arsenal occupied half of Europe. He somehow finds the rise of Brazil more ominous for the United States. I personally would prefer Brazil’s challenges (if they can be called that) to a half-century of Cold War standoff....

Kupchan also looks back favorably on British foreign policy at the dawn of the 20th century, praising London’s strategic adjustment to new geopolitical realities. He wishes the United States would do the same, even before, as he admits, there are any visible measures of actual American decline. But somehow he ignores Britain’s failure to avert World War I, the greatest strategic and human calamity in recorded history—that is until World War II, which Britain also failed to avert. Whatever wisdom the British showed in adjusting to new realities, I hope the United States will do better".

Robert Kagan. "A Reply to Charles Kupchan." The National Journal. 15 March 2012, in

The Kupchan-Kagan exchange highlights the differing arguments and premises of the newest version of 'is American in decline' debate. A debate which has been going on, for upwards of almost thirty years. With that being said, purely on point-scoring who trumps who? Reluctant to admit the same, given Kagan's hurrah-patriotismus sort of Neo-conservatism (which I find personally repellent), I must admit that Mr. Kagan scores more points on both the historical and contemporary levels than does Professor Kupchan. How so? Au fond, Kupchan basic argument is a materialist one that 'base' (economic power) determines or over-determines 'superstructure' (foreign & military power). Which at some underlying level is of course correct. The United Kingdom of 1946, could not, due to reasons of a war-ravaged economy continue to be a Great Power on the level of the USA or Sovietskaya Vlast. Quite simply impossible. However, Mr. Kupchan is not referring to that episode in the United Kingdom's history. What he instead focuses on, is the forty sum years prior to the Great War: 1870-1914. When (using his narrative), the UK went from unrivaled economic and military power to that of declining power who had to 'make accommodations' to rival, rising powers like the USA and Japan. This story is an old one, and like many old stories, is not entirely, indeed mostly accurate. How so? Simply put, it overestimates the nature of Pax Britannica, both at Britain's height (circa 1815-1870) and during its alleged decline. Firstly, as Bernard Porter, has correctly shown a few years ago, there are very stark differences indeed, between the power potential vis-`a-vis its rivals, of the Pax Britannica and Pax Americana. To assume that the two are somewhat similar in nature, completely mis-understands the nature of British power in the one-hundred years after the Battle of Waterloo. American military power was and is greatly vaster both in its scope and depth than that of the United Kingdom 1. Secondly, as the Bismarckian diplomat, Friedrich von Holstein, noted in the late 1890's, Great Britain outside of the European continent, for most of the 19th century, enjoyed unrivaled power 2. It very much did not enjoy anywhere near such power on the European continent. Hence, the twin events of the year 1870, when the Germany Empire was created by the defeat of Bonapartist France, by Prussia and by Russia's denunciation of the Black Sea clauses of the treat of Paris of 1856. Two very important events which saw Britain completely on the sidelines and unable to influence seriously the course of events.

Whereas, circa the beginning of the twentieth century, the UK, via its ties with Japan and the Dual Alliance, was able to construct, what was seen as an 'encirclement' of the German Reich. So much for a declining power / hegemon. As anyone who has read the Riezler diaries has noted, notwithstanding the fact that Imperial Germany had a larger GDP than Britain, and was outproducing her in the production of steel, et cetera, it was the former and not the latter who felt that the current was running against her. Hence the fact that for the Kaiserreich decision-making elite, the decision to go to war in July 1914, was very much one of flucht nach vorn. As the Imperial Kanzler, Theobold von Bethmann-Hollweg was famously quoted in July 1914, by Riezler to the effect that:

"Russia is the land of the future. Whose great growth and colossal demands, dwell upon us, as an ever more terrible nightmare ,3.

The point I am trying to make is simply that, notwithstanding the fact that in certain economic indexes, the UK was no longer as powerful as it was forty year previously, it was still in the extra-European world, the prime, if not hegemonic power. And in the European theatre, it was in a more powerful position than at anytime since the 1840's if not earlier. Here, pace Kagan, politics and policy-making, trumps economics. In that respect, Kagan had indeed the better of the argument over Kupchan. Who as Kagan points out, in the past has tended to endow whatever latest trend or power (in the past the EU, now the PRC), as being 'the coming wave', which the USA will inevitably lose out to. Per se, of course if the USA, does indeed commit 'suicide' as a Great Power, than it will indeed lose its global primacy and hegemonic status. No one can gainsay that. The question is merely that even if the PRC, does by years 2018 or 2030, have a larger GDP than the USA, that will not change necessarily the power-equation because: i) the USA will still be a much, much wealthier country than the PRC, by a variable of three to four; ii) the PRC's current political and economic set-up is still highly unstable and thus not the best foundation for a hegemonic power; iii) unlike either the UK in the 19th century or the USA in the 20th century, the PRC is surrounded by powers who are opposed to it and have quarrels with it. In short, the PRC lacks perhaps the first basis of a global hegemon: a protected and safe backyard / immediate neighborhood. Something which is unlikely to change in the very near future. A situation which actually replicates to a good degree, Imperial Germany's situation ex-ante the Great War. Of course, Kupchan's point that the USA will never be as strong as it was circa 1991 or even earlier is correct. However, this truism overlooks the fact, that as David Stevenson's recent book on the end of the Great War, endurance and the ability to fight to the last man, is not something which can be measured as an mathematical formula. It is based fundamentally upon the inner strength of the society in question. And to that extent, Great Britain and even France, fought above what their material and even historical bases would argue that they could. Whereas Imperial Germany, the Dual Monarchy and Tsarist Russia all fought beneath what material bases would suggest 4. The real question that Kagan discusses but does not even endeavor to answer is: given its multi-cultural fabric, its rampant consumerism as well hedonistic culture overall, does the USA have the basic, inner strength to 'wield the sledgehammer' (to employ a Bismarckian phrase). When one looks at the contemporary political scene in the USA, and indeed in most of the other countries of the Western world, one is very hard put to answer 'yes'.

1. Bernard Porter. Empire and Superempire: Britain, America and the World. (2006). Where the limitations of the Pax Britannica as compared to the Pax Americana are fully explored.

2. Holstein's exact words, in a conversation with the British journalist and unofficial 'go-between', Sir Valentine Chirol, were that: "At the close of the Napoleonic era about a century ago and even later, England had been the paramount Power in every part of the world outside of Europe." See, "Memorandum by Baron von Holstein," 31 October 1901, in German Diplomatic Documents, 1871-1914, Volume III. Edited and Translated by E.T.S. Dugdale. (1930), p. 148. For a truer understanding of Britain's pre-Great War, 'Pax Britannica', see: John Darwin. The Empire Project: the rise and fall of the British World-System, 1830-1970 (2010), pp. 23-300 and passim.

3. Quoted in Fritz Stern. The Failure of Illiberalism. (1972), p. 91 & passim.
For this feeling that notwithstanding the fact that Germany's economy seemed to be going from strength to strength, its power position was in decline, see:
Fritz Fischer. The War of Illusions, German Policies from 1911 to 1914. Translated by Marion Jackson. (1975), pp. 291-403 and passim.

4. David Stevenson, With our backs the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918. (2011).

Sunday, March 18, 2012


"Power has a psychological and not only a technical component. Men can only be led by statistics only up to a certain point and then more fundamental values predominate. In the final analysis the military profession is the art of prevailing, and while in our time this required more careful calculations than in the past, it also depends on elemental psychological factors that are difficult to quantify. The military found themselves designing weapons on the basis of abstract criteria, carrying out strategies in which they did not really believe, and ultimately conducting a war that they did not understand. To be sure the military brought on some of their own troubles. They permitted themselves to be co-opted too readily. They accommodated to the new dispensation while inwardly resenting it....Throughout the 1960's the military were torn between the commitment to civilian supremacy inculcated through generations of service and their premonition of disaster, between trying to make the new system work and rebelling against it. They were demoralized by the order to procure weapons in which they did not believe and by the necessity of fighting a war whose purpose proved increasingly elusive. A new breed of military officer emerged: men who had learned the new jargon, who could present the systems analysis arguments so much in vogue, more articulate than the older generations and more skillful in bureaucratic maneuvering. On some levels it eased civilian-military relationships; on a deeper level it deprived the policy process of the simpler, cruder, but perhaps more relevant assessments which in the final analysis are needed when issues are reduced to at test of arms".

Henry Alfred Kissinger. The White House Years. (1979), pp. 34-35.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey spoke to a packed audience of members of the Oxonian Society to-day at the (admittedly poshlost) Russian Tea Room in mid-town Manhattan. General Dempsey who comes from upstate New York and who speaks a mostly Northeastern American nasal tone of voice, intermixed with the usual pseudo-American Business School / corporate language ('opportunity costs', et cetera), while not in the least a shy man, he gave the impression to this observer as being less of a physical presence then most of the higher military officers that the American military tends to produce, with their booming voices and exuberant (so-called 'type A') personalities. The General spoke to an enthusiastic and agreeable audience of people. The following were some of the General's remarks:

Concerning the transition that the American military is undergoing, General Dempsey stated that he and his colleagues in the Joint Chiefs were: 'building on a foundation of strength' in terms of the institutional structure of the armed forces. Following from which, the General mentioned that the following were some of the transitions that the military were undergoing at the moment: i) recovering from ten years of almost 'constant redeployment' overseas; ii) going from bigger to smaller budgets; iii) losing 125,000 troops from the military as the three services 'downsize'.

As per the new national security strategy announced by the American President in January of this year, the General opinioned that au fond this consisted of the following elements: a) 'keeping the pressure on the terrorists'; b) learning the lessons of the last ten years, including usage of special operational forces; cyberspace; using creatively, new, high technology such as drones; c) re-balancing forces and focus from the Near East to the Pacific Ocean region; d) new fiscal reality of smaller (in constant dollar terms from the high point of 2009-2010) budgets in the next five to ten years time.

Concerning the ongoing negotiations and pressures dealing with the regime of mullahs in Persia, General Dempsey reiterated his recently stated belief that Persia is a 'rational actor', and thus can be dealt with as such, rather than a Hitlerian menace, who is impervious to sweet or hard reason. That au fond, the USA and the Israeli government agree on the ultimate goal of a non-nuclear Persia. And that both governments have a 'good understanding' on the issue, and that there is 'constant contact' between the two country's armed forces. The General expressing the fear that once Persia had nuclear weapons, that almost every regime in the area would have them also. Concerning the issue of the the possibility of Persia endeavoring to close the Straits of Hormuz, the General admitted that 'not with certainty' could the USA prevent for a short time Tehran from closing that waterway. As per General Dempsey, the dangers of a pre-emptive strike on the regime in Tehran outweighed completely any possible gains from losing both international support on the issue and reinforcing the domestic support of the Persian regime from its restive population.

Concerning the likelihood of intervention by the Western and other powers in Syria, the General stated that he believe both arming the opposition and endeavoring to enforce a 'no-fly' zone, were premature. That the lack of international consensus on the issue made it unproductive to take any action by the Americans and their allies at this time. As the General stated clearly: "I do not advocate doing anything unilateral in the case of Syria."

And with those comments, the General concluded his talk. What can one say of this event? I for one view it as confirmation that the current American Administration, like its predecessor, has managed, finally, to find the perfect spokesman in uniform for its views on international relations and the use of force. Which is indeed more or less the norm in American Administrations since the Vietnam War (the difficulties that the Clinton Administration experienced being somewhat of an exception to this trend). The perception that the American military were out of control to an extent in the first two years of the current American Administration, can I now believe be relegated to the dustbin. On almost every issue that may occupy the American President in the near future, General Dempsey would appear to be an ardent advocate & supporter of the former's policies. Which rightly or wrongly, is indeed the best form of civilian-military interaction. Unfortunately, General Dempsey also appears to be completely lacking in that je ne sais quoi which is as Kissinger aptly puts it is 'the art of prevailing'. Or as the great Clausewitz aptly put in in his magnum opus, Vom Kreige:

"Everything in strategy is very simple, but that does not mean everything is very easy. Once it has been determined, from the political conditions, what a war is meant to achieve and what it can achieve, it is easy to chart the course. But great strength of character, as well as great lucidity and firmness of mind, is required in order to follow through steadily, to carry out the plan, and not to thrown off course by thousands of diversions. Take any number of outstanding men, some noted for intellect, others for their acumen, still others for boldness or tenacity of will: not one may possess the combination of qualities needed to make him a greater than average commander 1."

1. Carl von Clausewitz. On War. Edited & Translated by Sir Michael Howard & Peter Paret. (1976), p. 178.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


"In an army of 150,000 US and Nato soldiers in Afghanistan, one rogue soldier who massacres 16 civilians, including nine children, does not necessarily mean that the discipline and morale of the whole force is breaking down. However, when the spate of recent incidents is put together – US soldiers burning copies of the Koran, footage apparently showing US marines urinating on bodies of dead Taliban fighters and a series of accidental killings of civilians during US attacks on the Taliban – the situation looks far more grim. There can be no doubt that the western forces in Afghanistan are facing a crisis of confidence, across the Muslim world and also in their home countries.

The Afghan people are exhausted by a war that has gone on in one form or other since 1979, when most US soldiers now in Afghanistan were not even born. Increasing numbers of Afghans would agree with what the Taliban have been arguing for almost a decade: that the western presence in Afghanistan is prolonging the war, causing misery and bloodshed. The hundreds of civilians killed already this year across the country are almost forgotten now in the aftermath of the killing of children by a farengi, or foreigner.

Moreover, faced with an increasingly corrupt and incompetent government, Afghans are seeing fewer improvements on the ground. So-called “nation building” has ground to a halt, simple justice and rule of law is unobtainable and a third of the population is suffering from malnutrition. The people blame not just the Americans but equally Hamid Karzai and his inner circle, which gives him conflicting and contradictory advice, leading him to flip and flop on policy issues.

The Afghan president’s desire to seek a strategic partnership agreement with the US is becoming more and more unacceptable to the Afghan people. At the same time he also wants to make peace with the Taliban, but they have no desire for a pact with Washington. His dilemma, which he still refuses to understand, is that he can either ask for a long-term US presence or peace with the Taliban, but not both.

America is clearly also exhausted by the two wars it has waged in Iraq and Afghanistan – the latter becoming the longest war in US history. Officers and soldiers have done several tours of duty in both countries, while the wars themselves have been virtually ignored at home. Neither war has yielded the dividends that Washington once hoped for. Osama bin Laden may be dead but al-Qaeda’s beliefs have spread their net into many more countries since 2001, while the Taliban have proved to be far more resilient than western forces could conceive of a few years ago.

Yet the US military high command has been lobbying in Washington, insisting that some kind of victory in Afghanistan is still possible if only President Barack Obama would not withdraw so many troops so soon and if only Congress would keep the funding flowing. US generals have done their best to delay and undermine the still-weak hand played by the State Department in its efforts to get talks with the Taliban going. But now even the Republicans, many of whom have supported the military and condemned Mr Obama for daring to open talks with the Taliban, appear to be at a loss as to how to move forwards in Afghanistan.

After the spate of incidents this year, there should be no doubt in Washington that seeking a negotiated settlement to end the war with the Taliban as quickly as possible is the only way out. Mr Obama has to put his weight behind this strategy to ensure an orderly withdrawal and to give the Afghan people the chance of an end to this war. A power-sharing formula with the Taliban, which now appears increasingly unavoidable, and an accord with neighbouring states to limit their interference, will be key.

In 1989 it was America and Pakistan who refused to allow a political solution to end the fighting because they wanted not just the Soviets gone but also Moscow’s Afghan protégées led by Mohammad Najibullah. Instead he hung on for three years, resulting in a civil war. America cannot again leave Afghanistan with a civil war as its bequest to the Afghans. Washington, and Nato, must seek an end to the war before withdrawing their forces. Despite the tragic death of so many innocent children, this is still possible if there is a concerted diplomatic and political push".

Ahmed Rashid, "A deal with the Taliban is the only way out." The Financial Times. 13 March 2012, in

"The US announcement that it will start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan is causing consternation in Kabul.

Speaking at the Pentagon on January 4, US President George Bush confirmed that American forces in Afghanistan would be reduced from 19,000 to about 16,500 during 2006. Over the same timeframe US troop levels in Iraq will decline from 17 to 15 combat brigades.

Many Afghans are interpreting Bush's comments as laying the groundwork for a complete pull-out of American troops in Afghanistan, despite repeated assurances made by US officials that Washington "will never abandon" Kabul. In private conversations, senior Afghan officials are using harsh language in criticizing the Bush administration's decision. They see the withdrawal as driven by US domestic factors, namely the Bush administration's desire to bolster the Republican Party's prospects in congressional elections in late 2006. Republicans have been weakened by a widening corruption probe in Washington. Bringing troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan could help revive the Republican Party's image....

Over the past year, Taliban militants have posed an increasing security threat to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's administration. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Insurgent attacks claimed the lives of about 1,500 Afghans and 90 Americans troops in 2005. In addition, Taliban-al Qaeda forces in 2005 began emulating tactics used by Islamic radicals in Iraq, namely the use of suicide bombers. On January 5, at least 10 people were killed when a Taliban suicide bomber detonated himself in Tarin Kot, capital of southern Uruzgen Province.

Local political analysts say that Afghanistan's stabilization hopes will depend on the government's ability to respond to the Taliban insurgency. At present, the Afghan government remains heavily dependent on NATO and US forces for security. On December 8, NATO announced that it would deploy 6,000 troops, including 4,000 British soldiers, in southern Afghanistan, where Taliban militants are most active. The announcement was undermined the next day, when Dutch officials revealed they were having second thoughts about the deployment of a 1,000-strong Dutch contingent. Eventually, officials in the Hague said the deployment would proceed, provided that the Dutch parliament ratified the move. Dutch opposition parties are opposed to deployment....

In his January 4 comments, Bush painted an upbeat picture of Afghan political conditions. "We've made steady progress on the road to democracy," Bush insisted. "Karzai got elected; there's a sitting parliament. It's amazing how far Afghanistan has come from the days of the Taliban [1996-2001]." While new political institutions exist, many political experts express concern about their ability to function effectively. For example, up to 40 percent of Afghan MPs reportedly have links to warlords and drug traffickers who have helped fuel the country's vicious cycle of violence for over two decades. Bush insisted that the "the international community is stepping up." However, many Afghans believe the international community has not fulfilled promises of assistance. Indeed, Kabul is experiencing a severe winter, featuring sporadic electricity supplies. In addition, Karzai's administration has seemed reluctant to take politically difficult steps to curb corruption and other problems hampering reconstruction".

Ahmed Rashid, "Afghan Officials Concerned About Pending US Pullout." EurasiaNet.6 January 2006, in

Over the past fifteen years, Ahmed Rashid, has made himself the authority on the Afghanistan-Pakistan conundrum. Via series of books and articles, he has made himself the 'go-to' person on the problems posed by the troublesome and wretched region. Anyone who is interested in acquiring any deep knowledge of these two countries, must acquaint himself with the writings of Ahmed Rashid. With all that being said, I for one am not in the least taken-in by the current line that he has been trumpeting these past two to three years, that negotiations with the Taliban, with or without International participation will be the only possible 'solution' to the War in Afghanistan. I say this, as someone who looks forward to the almost complete withdrawal American and Western forces in the region. Why then do I say this? Simply put, there is absolutely no evidence that the Taliban, who have so far shown themselves completely unwilling to come to terms with either Afghanistan President Karzai or the Americans, while the latter and their allies have approximately one-hundred and fifty thousand troops in the country, will use the occasion of the withdrawal of said troops to come to some sort of modus vivendi with the former. There is absolutely nothing in the modus operandi of the Taliban in either past or present to suggest that they would see the occasion of the withdrawal of the Western forces as a time to come to reasonable terms with the current regime in Kabul. Based upon past form, it is evident to me, that the Taliban will use the occasion of the withdrawal of Western ground forces to launch a major offensive to destroy the existing Aghan government in Kabul.

With that being said, I for one do not advocate that there be a total withdrawal of American & Western forces from the country. Certainly 'special forces' and air squadrons, as well as drones, need to remain in Afghanistan. As well as a limited number of trainers and advisers in the various ministries. Recognizing of course that the latter element will remain at risk, as has been seen most recently. Unlike I presume Rashid, I believe that even sans Western ground forces, the Karzai regime, with the Western assistance outlined and with financial assistance continuing, and with the backing of the non-Pashtun majority of the country, can indeed remain in power over perhaps two-thirds to half of the country. Enough, I believe to prevent the Taliban from regaining power and possibly turning the country once again into a hotbed of International terrorist outrages and violence `a la 1997-2001. The real issue then is not 'negotiating with the Taliban', which essentially means negotiating terms of surrender. What has to be done, with or without Western ground forces is ensuring the survival of the Karzai regime and the maintenance of a semblence of stability. As Wadir Safi, a lecturer in law and political science at Kabul State University, thus providing a 'grounds eyes view' of the situation (unlike the safely residing in Europe, Rashid):

"The Americans must determine if they have fulfilled their job or not," Safi says. "The U.S. must think if they can really leave in 2013 or 2014. If they leave without reaching an agreement with the government and the insurgents, what will be the consequences of a withdrawal? If we can reach an agreement now, I would ask the Americans to go tomorrow, but if not, then they must stay here until they are sure that things will not become worse than they were 10 years ago, before they came." Leaving behind chaos in Afghanistan "will show that the U.S. is not a superpower"

1. Quoted in: John Wendle, "Afghanistan: Rising Anger over American's rampage, but also fear of US departure." Time. 13 March 2012, in

Monday, March 12, 2012


"WASHINGTON, D.C. - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at the AIPAC conference in Washington on Monday, called on the international community to acknowledge the fact that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

"Amazingly, some people refuse to acknowledge that Iran's goal is to develop nuclear weapons. You see, Iran claims that it's enriching uranium to develop medical research. Yeah, right," Netanyahu said.

"If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then what is it? That's right, it's a duck. But this duck is a nuclear duck and it's time the world started calling a duck a duck," he said.

Netanyahu reiterated the fact that Israel reserves its right to protect itself. He added that for Israel all options remain on the table. “I will never gamble with the security of Israel.,” he explained. Netanyahu warned of the dangers of a nuclear Iran. “A nuclear-armed Iran would dramatically increase terrorism by giving terrorists a nuclear umbrella,” he said. "That means that Iran’s terror proxies like Hezbollah, Hamas will be emboldened to attack America, Israel, and others because they will be backed by a power with atomic weapons."

Drawing a parallel with arguments against attacking Iran, Netanyahu said the War Department explained that such an operation at Auschwitz could provoke "even more vindictive action by the Germans".

"Think about that, even more vindictive action than the Holocaust," Netanyahu said. He dismissed arguments that an attack on Iran would exact too heavy a toll by provoking Iranian retaliation. He held up a copy of a 1944 letter from the U.S. War Department rejecting world Jewish leaders' entreaties to bomb the Auschwitz death camp because it would be "ineffective" and "might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans."

"My friends, 2012 is not 1944," Netanyahu said. "Today, we have a state of our own. And the purpose of the Jewish state is to defend Jewish lives and to secure the Jewish future."

Earlier on Monday, Netanyahu met with U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House and said that Israel has not made any decision on attacking Iran to stop its nuclear program. Sources who were briefed on the meeting afterward said Obama and Netanyahu agreed to increase their coordination on Iran. Israel's Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz is to visit Washington in two weeks to discuss the issue with U.S. officials.

During their meeting, Obama told Netanyahu that Israel and the United States have an identical goal with regard to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

"I have no intention of trying to contain the Iranian issue," Obama reportedly told Netanyahu.

"I think that there's time for diplomacy and in any case I am not taking any options off the table, including a military option."

The New York Times reported that Obama said that discussion of a possible strike on Iran was leading to global oil price increases, and was undermining sanctions on Iran. Prime Minister Netanyahu responded that U.S. officials' remarks against an Iran strike may be showing weakness to the Iran regime, according to the New York Times report.

Barak Ravid & Chemi Chalev. "Netanyahu in AIPAC Speech: Israel cannot afford to wait much longer on Iran [Persia]." Haaretz. 6 March 2012, in

"The US joint chiefs of staff, General Martin Dempsey, said an Israeli attack on Iran would have grave consequences for the entire region and urged Israel to give international sanctions against Iran more time to work.

“I believe it is unclear (that Iran would assemble a bomb) and on that basis, I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us,” Gen Dempsey said.

He said he was confident Israel knew that this was the general US attitude, but he stopped short of suggesting that the Americans had persuaded the Israelis that it was best not to attack Iran. “I'm confident that they (Israel) understand our concerns that a strike at this time would be destabilising and wouldn’t achieve their long-term objectives,” he said.

“I wouldn’t suggest, sitting here today, that we’ve persuaded them that our view is the correct view.”'

James Blitz, "Iran set to expand Uranium enrichment." The Financial Times. 20 February 2012. in

Yesterday, the New American Foundation, had a forum here in Manhattan at their lovely Manhattan headquarters, dealing with a most pertinent and topical issue:"Iran [Persia] and Israel: the New Cold War?" The two invited guests who discussed this most interesting of topics were Peter Beinart the influential, former editor of the neo-liberal & neo-conservative publication 'the New Republic', who was (like a lot of other people of similar ideological persuasion) back in 2003 an advocate of the Iraq War. Beinart being the 'Israeli' specialist for the purposes of the event. His counter-part for the evening and Persian specialist (a much more justifiable characterization actually) was Afshin Molavi a journalist and author of Persian descent who is has reported from Persia and the Near East region in general of a good number of years. Au fond, both gentlemen agreed with each other that a military conflict over the issue of Persia's perceived quest for nuclear weapons would be extremely unfortunate and perhaps unnecessary. According to Beinart, much of the extreme rhetoric coming from the Netanyahu Cabinet reflects a point of view which is not found in the rest of Israeli society. Which as Beinart cogently points out, is not to say that other members of Netanyahu's government (like Defence Chief Barak) are not considerably worried by the threat of Persia obtaining nuclear weapons. Merely that for much of the elite of Israeli decision-makers, the threat from Persia is strategic and geopolitical and not of a Hitlerian threat variety. In essence if Persia were to obtain nuclear weapons, the likelihood is that Israel's margin for strategic safety and indeed its perceived strategic superiority in the region would be considerably eroded. That being said, as Beinart points out, in this instance, even with the successful track record of the unilateral strikes of 1981 (against Iraq) and 2007 (against Syria), most of the Israeli pays legal, is insistent that nothing be done by way of military strikes unless and until there is, at the very least, American acquiescence if not outright support. As Beinart nicely characterized the matter: "Israeli policy is to get the US to do something." As per Beinart, his sense of the matter in the aftermath of Netanyahu's meeting with American officials last week, is that the Israelis have agreed to give more time for sanctions and that the question of a military strike was not in reality broached much less seriously discussed.

In the case of Persia, as per Molavi, the perceived idea that there is mass support for Teheran's quest for nuclear weapons is in fact erroneous (something which I have always contended was the case). That it is much more a policy goal by the revolutionary guard elites around the current Persian President as well as the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, rather than not. That fundamentally Persia is a 'survivalist state', and that if economic and other sanctions were to seriously threaten the existence of the regime, then and only then will the regime of Mullahs be willing to stage a diplomatic climbdown and negotiate a reasonable and plausible solution to the nuclear question. That in the current climate of more and harsher economic sanctions as well as the greater diplomatic isolation due to the crisis in Syria, that there is indeed space for a modus vivendi agreement between the West and the regime in Teheran. As Molavi accurately stated the fact, Persia: 'cannot live without exports'. That at heart the regime will `a la its settlement of the war with Iraq in 1989, 'accept the unacceptable and endure the unendurable'.. (to quote from the Showa Emperor in August 1945). To sum up, I for one, came away from the event with the feeling that with the full weight of sanctions being applied to Persia circa July of this year, that indeed diplomacy will have a chance of sorting out the mess of Persia's nuclear ambitions, provided the the Israelis do not jump the gun by pre-maturely launching an attack. Based upon the tea leave reading of newspaper reports from last weeks meetings in Washington, DC., it appears that time has indeed been gained sufficiently for one last effort to resolve the matter peacefully.

Friday, March 09, 2012


"The political upheavals in the Arab world during 2011 have irrevocably transformed the Middle East. Yet, as the year draws to a close and the euphoria subsides, it is clear that comparisons of the ‘Arab spring’ to the end of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 were premature. There has been—and there will be—no serial collapse of authoritarian regimes leading to democratic future. Instead of 'revolution’, the talk now is of ‘uprising’, ‘revolt’ or even simply ‘crisis’. One reason for the disagreement on how to label the events of 2011 is the inclination to think of the ‘Arab world’ as a unified entity. Arab societies and polities do indeed have tight interconnections and share at least some important characteristics. The potent myth of the Arab nation and the common public space pervaded by the idea of ‘Arabism’ has had complex effects since the beginning of the modern state system in the Middle East. It has been cultivated by powerful media, such as the satellite television channel Al-Jazeera. The contagious nature of the uprisings that started in Tunisia in December 2010 and spread to a number of other Arab states, helped by these media (among other factors), is confirmation that the component parts of the ‘Arab world’ are linked by strong internal bonds. Nevertheless, thinking in terms of ‘Arab’ events—or even an Arab event—may also constitute a set of blinkers. First, by compelling us to search for common trends and characteristics, it prevents us from seeing the profoundly different causes, contexts and outcomes of the developments of 2011—from seeing that each uprising was different, focused on domestic, national issues and comprehensible in its own light. Second, it stops us from placing these developments in other, possibly equally relevant, contexts of crisis and contestation. One such context could be the Mediterranean and more widely European—even global—protests which also unfolded in 2011. Another is the Middle Eastern context, which would locate the Arab uprisings alongside the post-2009 Green movement in Iran. Although the Arab framework is important, other perspectives can also yield invaluable insights. A series of interconnected yet diverse events....

The Arab uprisings of 2011 were a series of diverse albeit interconnected events. In Tunisia and Egypt, mass civic insurrections led to the ousting of dictators but only a partial overthrow of authoritarian regimes. In Bahrain, the uprising was severely suppressed. In Libya, the regime was toppled following civil war and outside military intervention. In Syria, the bloody confrontation between the regime and significant parts of society is continuing. In Yemen, crisis is simmering. More violent conflict and even civil war are not off the agenda in any of the latter three cases. Other parts of the Middle East have experienced less turbulence, while in Jordan and Morocco monarchs offered limited reforms to pre-empt a greater political challenge. It is difficult to establish unifying causal factors behind such disparate events. Focusing on the reasons for and the mechanisms of popular mobilization is not enough; the manner of regime response was equally important in explaining outcomes. This response was determined by the relationship in each case between regime and state institutions, including the army and security services, and the ability of the regime to retain the support of significant societal allies....

A major question is whether the uprisings will lead to the democratization of the Arab Middle East and the dislodging of the longstanding authoritarianism which has bedevilled its political life. How far this will happen, if at all, will vary in each case and, although the region overall has been profoundly affected, there will be no wholesale democratization as a result of the uprisings. In some instances, as in Morocco and Jordan, the regimes have introduced reforms to ensure regime survival: plus ça change … In other cases, such as Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, the situation is too fluid, contested and outright violent for future prospects to be properly assessed. In the most hopeful instances, Egypt and above all Tunisia, a degree of democratization and political liberalization will occur. Paradoxically, the lack of profound upheaval bodes well for partial positive political change in these two countries, because the risks of violent backlash will be averted: if a revolution has not occurred, it cannot be betrayed".

Katerina Dalacoura, "The 2011 Uprisings in the Arab Middle East." International Affairs. January 2012, pp. 63,78-79.

To-day, the Royal Institute for International Affairs which is headquartered in London, had a breakfast briefing for some of its members who reside in either New York or Washington, DC. The topic discussed was: 'the Political Outlook for the Middle East Region'. Among those attending the event were Jane Kinninmont, a Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House's Middle East and North Africa Programme, as well as such local luminaries as Byron Wien, Vice-Chairman of the Blackstone Group, among others. The sense of the meeting was as follows: on the whole the so-called 'Arab Spring', qua event, was seen to be by no means similar to the events of 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe. Indeed there was a definite air of, if not pessimism then at the very least, a lack of concrete optimism about the ongoing situation in the region. With perhaps the only definite air of optimism that I was able to gather in the discussions, was the idea (to my mind somewhat questionable) that Turkey under the AK government could indeed prove a plausible model for new Islamist governments in the region. Among other comments and observations was that per se, 'tribalism' in the region, while at times not an unimportant variable in political calculations, were not indeed makeweights in the overall political context.

Concerning the Islamist governments and or parties in such places as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya (as well as elsewhere), the sense was that au fond these parties were not in reality hostile to capitalism and the market. And that while such parties, movements and or governments did need from time to time to respond to popular pressure, per se that was more a case of day-to-day political dynamics rather than anything ideological in nature. This observation while true to a degree, seems to me to under-estimate the fact that in much of the region, the neo-liberal policies of the ancien regime in Egypt, Tunisia, and (in the future perhaps) Syria as well as elsewhere seem to be almost completely discredited in terms of popular legitimacy. Indeed, one of the precursors of the crisis that was and is the so-called Arab Spring, is the fact that the rigors of neo-liberal economics depleted the legitimacy of the pre-existing political orders. With this being the case, to my mind the crucial fact then becomes not so much the abstract thinking of this or that Islamist regime in say Egypt, Tunisia or Libya, but what to what if any extent these regimes can resurrect some type of neo-liberal policy framework, when the political support for the same has been almost completely eaten away. The best parallels being the rather lonely and isolated position of the Kadet party in the aftermath of the February Revolution. At the commencement of that horrid event, a majority of parties in the State Duma were upholders of Capitalism and private property. As events and public opinion marched way beyond that position, so eventually did the political supports for such policies and of course soon enough there came to power a group who promised to put an end to

Other observations were made that with the crisis in Syria, the Hamas regime in Gaza, was now most anxious indeed to cast aside its former patron in Damascus and was now in the process of moving their regional headquarters to the Kingdom of Jordan. The quid pro quo for such a move being that Hamas become in essence a normal, purely political movement. Eschewing violence almost completely. Similarly affected by the crisis in Syria was Russia. As per some observations, the diplomatic position of Russia in the Near and Middle East, outside of Syria proper had reached catastrophic lows due to Moskva's policy on Syria. With Russia's relations with the Gulf Monarchies in particular being quite horrid. Another victim of the crisis, in a similarly self-inflicted fashion, is the USA. The sense of the meeting was the under the current American administration, at least as it relates to the Near and Middle East, the key words were 'withdrawal' and 'decline'. And while in pure military power, the Americans are more powerful to-day then they were at almost anytime during the Cold War (1945-1989) in the region, the apparent inability of the American Administration to pressure the Netanyahu Cabinet into making concessions on the Palestinian issue, has feed into a spectre, real or imagined that Washington's policies can be ignored with impunity. Id est., the self-same spectre of decline in impotence. And unfortunately, perceptions in diplomacy are sometimes as important as diplomatic realities. Something that the current American Administration seems to be almost completely oblivious of. With that being said the meeting to a close as does this post.

1. For a good analysis as to the way that the neo-liberal policies in the years prior to 2011 had eaten away the political supports of the ancien regime Arab governments in say Egypt, Tunisia and Syria see: Dalacoura, op. cit., pp. 66-74 and passim; Raymond Hinnerbusch, "Syria: from 'authoritarian upgrading' to revolution?"
International Affairs. January 2012, pp. 98-113, and passim. For the Russian case, see: Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution. (1990), pp. 300-436, & Virgil Medlin & Steven Parsons Edited, V.D. Nabokov and the Russian Provisional Government, 1917. (1976). The latter are memoirs and contemporaneous notes from one of the key individuals in the Kadet Party both prior to and after 1917.

Friday, March 02, 2012


"In the course of one week, the burning of copies of the Koran by U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan has set off a deadly chain of events that has not only inflamed tensions but possibly exposed a crippling weakness in the American strategy to wind down the war. The emerging U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is built around plans to replace large NATO combat formations with small teams of advisers who will live and work alongside their Afghan partners. But the killing of two high-ranking NATO officers by an Afghan security official — and the subsequent decision by the top NATO commander in the country to recall his personnel from top Afghan ministries — has spurred doubts about whether Afghan security forces can be relied upon to provide for the protection of their Western partners. The consequences of that erosion of confidence, former U.S. officials and analysts say, could be devastating.

“If the trust, ability and willingness to partner falls apart, you are looking at the endgame here,” said Mark Jacobson, who served until last summer as the NATO deputy senior civilian representative in Kabul.

The killing of the U.S. officers on Saturday occurred two days after a man wearing an Afghan army uniform fatally shot two American troops in eastern Afghanistan, the latest in a string of incidents in recent months in which local security forces have turned against NATO personnel. Some of the killings have been perpetrated by Afghan troops whose loyalties lay with the Taliban. But, in most cases, the attacks have been the result of tensions between U.S. forces and Afghans who felt as though they had suffered an insult to themselves or their faith....For now, though, much of the cooperation between U.S. advisers and their Afghan partners is on hold. And even though the decision to withdraw the advisers is probably temporary, it is not clear how U.S. troops will be able to reestablish trust with Afghan security forces".

Greg Jaffe, "Violence in wake of Koran incident fuels U.S. doubts about Afghan partners." The Washington Post. 26 February 2012, in

"I spent last year in Afghanistan, visiting and talking with U.S. troops and their Afghan partners. My duties with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force took me into every significant area where our soldiers engage the enemy. Over the course of 12 months, I covered more than 9,000 miles and talked, traveled and patrolled with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces.

What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground. Entering this deployment, I was sincerely hoping to learn that the claims were true: that conditions in Afghanistan were improving, that the local government and military were progressing toward self-sufficiency. I did not need to witness dramatic improvements to be reassured, but merely hoped to see evidence of positive trends, to see companies or battalions produce even minimal but sustainable progress.

Instead, I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level.

My arrival in country in late 2010 marked the start of my fourth combat deployment, and my second in Afghanistan. A Regular Army officer in the Armor Branch, I served in Operation Desert Storm, in Afghanistan in 2005-06 and in Iraq in 2008-09. In the middle of my career, I spent eight years in the U.S. Army Reserve and held a number of civilian jobs — among them, legislative correspondent for defense and foreign affairs for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. As a representative for the Rapid Equipping Force, I set out to talk to our troops about their needs and their circumstances. Along the way, I conducted mounted and dismounted combat patrols, spending time with conventional and Special Forces troops. I interviewed or had conversations with more than 250 soldiers in the field, from the lowest-ranking 19-year-old private to division commanders and staff members at every echelon. I spoke at length with Afghan security officials, Afghan civilians and a few village elders.

I saw the incredible difficulties any military force would have to pacify even a single area of any of those provinces; I heard many stories of how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of a U.S. or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base. I saw little to no evidence the local governments were able to provide for the basic needs of the people. Some of the Afghan civilians I talked with said the people didn’t want to be connected to a predatory or incapable local government.

From time to time, I observed Afghan Security forces collude with the insurgency".

Lt. Colonel Daniel Davis, "Truth, lies and Afghanistan". Armed Forces Journal. February 2012, in

"The Paris accords with all their ambiguities reflected the balance of forces in Vietnam in the wake of the climatic battles of 1972.
As with any peace settlement, it depended on the maintenance of that balance of forces. We had no illusions about Hanoi's
long range goal if subjugating all of Indochina. In the final phase of negotiations in November and December 1972, I repeatedly
warned Nixon to that effect. But I was also persuaded that our people would not sustaine prolongation of the war for a period
of time that would make a military difference....We were in short not just getting out under the cynical cover of a 'decent interval'
before a final collapse. We hoped for a decent settlement....A non-communist South Vietnam had been given the chance to

Henry Alfred Kissinger. Years of Upheaval. (1982),p. 11.

One does not have to be much of a pessimist to agree with aspects of Colonel Davis' comments. It is not difficult to imagine at this point in time, with it would appear great pressure being exercised on the American and Allied forces by their political overlords to withdraw forces at an increasingly quick pace to see that circa 2014-2015, that Afghanistan could indeed be facing a potential Kissingerian 'decent interval' scenario. Which while in many ways horrendous, particular morally, given the commitments made by many of these same governments to the people of Afghanistan in the early years of this war (circa 2001 and 2002), from a machtpolitik perspective, it matters little per se, if the government in Kabul is pro-American / pro-Western or anti-American / anti-Western. The only strategic rationale for American and Western involvement in this dreadful place is simply that it not be a base for terrorist outrages and attacks on other parts of the world. Or at the very least, no more so than say Yemen or Pakistan is currently. And while I do not gainsay the fact that a precipitous withdrawal of Western forces may have a very negative impact on Pakistan, one is at this point in time, scarcely able to imagine (albeit one can indeed imagine quite well), how possibly the situation in Pakistan can get worse. What I for one fear, is that once there is a rush to the exit doors by the Western powers from Afghanistan, then the entire rickety, Kabul-centered, Afghanistan state apparatus will collapse quite quickly `a la South Vietnam circa 1975. What one hopes will be done, is that some semblance of a Western presence: a combination of air bases and special forces, numbering say at least five to ten thousand, will remain 'in-country' and not be evacuated. Unless there remains some sort of American-Western presence on the ground, it is difficult to imagine that a thousand or so advisers will be able to stop the rot from spreading. Unfortunately, I am afraid that incidents such as this idiotic Koran burning (what sort of people kill because of the burning of some wretched book? Indeed this wretched book!), will only quicken a pre-existing Western strategy of 'Scuttle' in all but name.