ERIC HOBSBAWM, 1917-2012: REQUIESCANT IN PACE?
"One of the most impassioned pieces he did for a paper I edited was a defence of civil service practice as constituted by the Trevelyan reforms of the Victorian period. He can’t have relished the blackguarding of the civil service which Labour leaders like Harold Wilson and Tony Blair thought it wise to go in for. He was as decent as he was dialectical, and this intervention was a clue to his kindly English patriotism. But it was not the only sort of patriot he was. He was and remained a patriot of the Left, as doesn’t need saying. When Stalin fell from grace and the Soviet Union from sovereignty, he explained why he did not quit the Communist Party somewhere along that line. He did not leave because the party had once been his family, during the hard, wandering times he and his real family had endured from his birth in the throes of the Great War and the Russian Revolution. He worked hard for the British party and was eventually close to its summit, while also an antagonist of the Stalinist rearguard that held on after the Second World War. It was startling to see him quoted recently as saying that some Sappers he was with during the war had caused him to feel that the British working class ‘were not very clever, except for the Scots and Welsh, but they were very, very good people’. He could be synoptically sharp with persons and categories of person, but no one who saw much of him can have doubted his feeling for working-class folk and for the sufferings of poverty. One of the most dismal prejudices to be encountered in Anglo-America has been its worsening failure to imagine how decent people could choose to be communists in the 1930s".
Karl Miller, "Eric Hobsbawm". The London Review of Books
. 25 October 2012, in www.lrb.co.uk
Eric Hobsbawm, who has died at the age of 95, was a historian of the 19th and 20th centuries. In a long life he achieved global renown and excited wide controversy. His three Ages – The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848 (1962); The Age of Capital, 1848-1875 (1975) and The Age of Empire 1875-1914 (1987) – were masterpieces of political, social and, to a lesser degree, economic history in their ability to forge historical narrative and give it life....Hobsbawm hated nationalism in most of its forms: one of his most-read books – and one whose name has become a common phrase – is The Invention of Tradition (1983: editor, with Terence Ranger), which includes a sharp essay by Hugh Trevor-Roper on the English origin of the modern kilt.
He was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain for much of his adult life, leaving it a little before the party itself left the stage in 1991. There is no question that allegiance to the party and the world communist movement deeply influenced his historical writing; in his fourth Age – The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991 (1995) he was famously reticent or evasive or curt about the vast crimes of Stalinism. Hobsbawm would explain to interviewers, and in his writing, that “he had made his choice” and the global threat of Nazism, uniting Communists, Social Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives, was the primary struggle, one to which consideration of Stalin’s massacres before and during the war had to defer, “the chance of a new world being born amid great suffering would still have been worth backing”.
At the same time, he was a strong supporter of the reformist communism of Mikhail Gorbachev, and was critical both of Boris Yeltsin, who was later to become Russian president, and the leaders of the various republics for destabilising them by appealing to ethnic nationalism, once thought long buried. Hobsbawm saw the strife which was unleashed by the end of the USSR – especially in the Caucasus – as underpinning his objections".
John Lloyd. "Historian who inspired wide controversy." The Financial Times
. 1st October 2012, in www.ft.com
I was not a student of Eric Hobsbawm, nor did I know personally anyone who was. I did hear some amusing tales of his intellectually 'slumming' exercise in teaching as a lecturer in the New School for Social Research in the very early 1990's. I did read and was impressed by a collection of essays that came out in the 1970's, titled 'Revolutionaries'. Where Hobsbawm's caustic and laser-like wit, sarcasm and intelligence were on full display. I was also impressed, like many others by the essay collection that he co-edited with Terence Ranger. The four-volume opus
dealing with world history from 1789 to 1989, while cogent enough and in parts enjoyable, was not as impressive to my eyes as least. With many of his obiter dicta
reflecting a not very well concealed Marxist-Leninist based intellectual superiority. A superiority which in some instances, appears in retrospect rather threadbare if not slightly ridiculous. In short, Hobsbawm's reputation as a historian, will no doubt stand-up or not in ten to twenty years time, in not so different a fashion that his confreres
in academic Marxism in the historical profession: Christopher Hill, Edward Thompson and Victor Kiernan, have experienced. So far the collective stock of all three, it can safely be said is rather down, by a quarter if not more...Where however I wish to make a longer comment, is on the fraught issue of Hobsbawm's almost life-long membership of the British Communist Party (BCP). As both the obituaries in the Financial Times
and the London Review of Books
show, this aspect of Hobsbawm life has drawn a good deal of attention. And to my mind correctly so! Now of course there are two ways of trying to explain away Hobsbawm's, nearly life-long commitment to Communism: i
) it was something which reflected the 'choices' available in the 1930's with the rise of Fascism; ii
) that Hobsbawm 'choice' was something which was not so much reasoned but emotional in nature and that one cannot gainsay it, any more than one can gainsay being a member of a particular family. The first argument was made by John Lloyd, the second by Karl Miller. Both arguments are, once one has given each a moments thought, nonsensical and idiotic.
Simply put, the first argument's flaw is the fact that Hobsbawm unlike his confreres in Marxist historiography
remained a member in good standing of the Communist Party after both the denunciation of Stalin in 1956 by Nikita Khrushchev and the crushing of the Hungarian Uprising in the same year. All three of Hobsbawm's ex-colleagues in the BCP, decided in the aftermath of the events of 1956 to hand in their party cards. Hobsbawm did not....The second argument made by Karl Miller, is of course infinitely more odious of the two. One response to it would simply be that if one's family is responsible for the mass murder of innocent women and children, then perhaps one should renounce one's membership in said family. However, I would like to end on a considerably more nuanced and eloquent comment by none other than the late, great Leszek Kolakowski
in a splendid dialogue with none other than Edward Thompson circa 1973:
"You and I were both active in our respective Communist Parties in the 40's and 50's, which means that, whatever our noble intentions and our charming ignorance (or refusal to get rid of ignorance) were, we supported within our modest means, a regime based upon mass slave labor and police terror of the worst kind in human history. Do you think that there are many people who could refuse to sit at the same table with us on these grounds? No, you are innocent, while I do not feel, as you put it, the 'sense of the politics of those years' when so many Western intellectuals were converted to Stalinism....You seem to imply the existence of a 'Marxist family' defined by spiritual descendence from Marx and to invite me to join it. Do you mean that all people who in one way or another call themselves Marxist form a family (never mind that they have been killing each other for half a century and still are) opposed as such to the rest of the world? And that this family is for you (and ought to be for me), a place of identification? If this is what you mean, I cannot even say that I refuse to join this family; it simply does not exist 1."
1. Leszek Kolakowski. "My Correct Views on Everything." in My Correct Views on Everything
. Edited Zbigniew Janowski. (2005), pp. 7,20.
TO INTERVENE OR NOT TO INTERVENE: THE DEBATE ON SYRIA CONTINUES
"This weekend Syria’s bloody conflict went regional. The killing of Lebanon’s top security official and tensions at the borders with Jordan and Turkey prove that Bashar al-Assad’s fierce battle to hold on to power is causing wider instability. This is making the west’s posture of concerned non-intervention harder to sustain.
The west has long walked a difficult line on the Syrian conflict. It has called for Assad to go but done nothing actively to promote this end, fearing the risks of being drawn into a prolonged and messy civil war. The result unfortunately has been to encourage Assad to fight on, while simultaneously leading to the radicalisation of the opposition. The result is now a vicious stalemate in Syria, with huge loss of life. But with neighbouring states being sucked into this morass, the stakes have risen beyond the purely humanitarian concern that everyone must feel for Syrian citizens.
Exhorting Assad to change tack has been a waste of breath. While he continues to be propped up by Russia and Iran, he has every incentive to prolong the war, even if he has no chance of prevailing militarily. Russia’s split with the international community, meanwhile, also rules out any consensus on a UN-led intervention.
This, then, is a choice between unappealing options. The international community can sit back and allow the war to burn on, sucking in more radical elements and potentially sparking a series of wider regional conflicts. Or it can offer more than rhetorical support for the anti-Assad forces in Syria.
This is far from a simple option. Not only would it risk a conflict with Russia and Iran, it could also end up militarising an opposition that may contain unsavoury jihadist elements. This is particularly concerning in a situation where Assad has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world.
If anything is to be done to change the dynamics of this conflict, the west must prepare the ground for greater intervention. This does not mean boots on the ground. But it does mean arming the rebels. This will not happen overnight. If the west is to supply more sophisticated weaponry to the opposition, it has to establish a more formal relationship with them. There have to be safeguards on how these weapons will be used. And when hostilities are concluded, it must be possible to recover them. Finally, a broader case needs to be built with regional powers, such as Turkey and the Arab world, to justify such intervention.
Non-intervention is only credible as a policy if it is respected by everyone. This is manifestly not the case in Syria. The Assad regime is receiving military and financial help from Iran and Russia. The rebels are being supplied by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The conflict is at a bloody impasse, while the policy of the international community amounts to little more than hand-wringing from the sidelines. This risks prolonging a dreadful conflict and radicalising the region. Now is the moment to change course".
Leader, "Time to Change course on Syria." The Financial Times
. 22 October 2012, in www.ft.com
"The US government should tell Assad that he must launch serious negotiations for a transition government. If he does not, Western governments should supply opposition militias with ground to air missiles in sufficient numbers to bring down the Syrian air-force. Circumstantial evidence suggests that US officials in Libya may already have been working to facilitate the transfer of portable heat-seeking missiles—the bulk of them SA-7s—from Libya to Syria. As soon as the elections are over in the US, Washington should redouble its efforts at changing the balance of power in Syria, if Assad does not begin to form a transitional government in earnest. He must come to terms with the most powerful rebel leaders or see his air force neutralized.
Lakhdar Brahimi of the UN should be empowered to monitor and report on these negotiations, judging if they are sincere. Assad should be encouraged to work toward some sort of agreement comparable to the Taif Agreement — or National Reconciliation Accord — that ended the Lebanese civil war. It may be impossible to get the Sunni militias to accept such a solution, particularly as they remain so divided. All the same it is worth trying. It is unclear whether Assad will chose to fall back to the Alawite Mountains, where he can may struggle to protect Alawites from uncontrolled retribution, but where his capacity to damage to the rest of Syria is severely limited.
Assad has no possibility of regaining control of Syria. He does not have soldiers enough to retake lost cities. But he insists on using his air force to destroy what remains of rebel held towns. This is senseless destruction. He has no hope of recapturing them. It should be stopped. He has been carrying out a scorched earth policy that is killing thousands, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, and destroying Syria’s precious architectural heritage.
I have long resisted supporting US intervention, believing that the US should refuse to get sucked into Syria. It cannot determine what is fair. No one truly understands the “real” Syria today, as Syrians are only beginning to emerge from 40 years of sever authoritarianism that stopped politics in its tracks. What new social forces will emerge in the coming years is impossible to determine. Most importantly, the opposition has been too fragmented to replace the Syrian Army as a source of stability and security. Syrians need to find their own way forward and to create a new balance among the sects and regions. Decapitating the regime too suddenly, I believe, would likely result in a number of unhappy endings: a massacre of the Alawites, a civil war among militias that could bring even greater suffering, or a melt-down of security as happened in Iraq....
Assad and his increasingly Alawite manned army can no longer control Aleppo and Damascus, which are overwhelmingly Sunni. Assad may not even be able to defend the Alawite Mountains from the growing strength of Sunni militias. The fate of the Alawite region is likely to depend on whether Sunni forces can unify — an eventuality that is not assured. The US should stay out of the struggle to define the internal arrangement of Syrian factions. Who knows how Syria will look when the fighting is over? Will the Kurds gain independence or a large measure of autonomy? How will the Alawite Territory be connected to Syria? Will the city of Latakia become an Alawite or Sunni dominated city? Will the government in Damascus hold central power as firmly in its hands as it has over the last 50 years? Or will Syria find unity in a larger measure of federalism? One can change views on these questions every day — the outcome depends on decisions yet to be made by Syria’s many leaders — but it seems clear that the Syrian air force has simply become an instrument of destruction. The day of reckoning for Alawites and for Syrians at large is only being put off by the lopsided use of air power. The US has already played a decisive role in tipping the balance of power in Syria against the Assad regime. It is time to help the Syrian opposition stop the government use of air-power".
With the lastest collapse of an attempt at a cease-fire in the Syrian Conflict it is apropos I do believe to look seriously at the various proposals that have been made recently for the Western powers to intervene in a more overt fashion than previously in the conflict 1. As the usually well-informed Dr. Landis notes, it is probably the case, that there is some (admittedly low) level of Western military assistance to the rebels fighting the regime of Assad Fils
. Of course any such intervention so far, cannot said to be equal to the level of military and financial assistance given by the Gulf Monarchies, Saudi Arabia and of course Turkey. To my mind the real issues are as follows: i
) will the imposition of a Syria-wide 'no fly' zone, be possible? ii
) will such a step have a major impact on the fighting? iii
) and if 'i' and 'ii' are indeed true, what will be the positive end-result for the Western Powers of such military intervention? Will it result for example in the Western Powers being able to play 'King-maker'
among the disparate groupings which form the Syrian Opposition on the ground in Syria? Or at the very least, ensure that said groups endeavor to co-operate with the Western Powers `a la the current government (so-called) in Libya? iv
) what will be the response of the Western Powers if in reaction to Western intervention, even limited to that of enforcing a 'no fly' zone, Persia and its allies in the region (Hezbollah and perhaps Iraq) were to also step-up their own assistance and indeed to even take the opportunity of a non-UN sanctioned, Western military intervention to intervene overtly in the conflict? Indeed, what would be the reaction if (an unlikely contingency but still...) Moskva itself were to react by stepping up its undoubted, if admittedly limited military assistance? What if say Moskva were to supply Damascus with highly advanced air defense systems?
The above referenced questions are to my mind au fond
, the ones that should be asked prior to the Western Powers undertaking any form of military intervention, even the limited ones suggested by the Financial Times and Dr. Landis among others. As per the particulars of the above referenced questions: the answers to 'i
' is a most definite 'yes'. The answer to 'ii
' is a probable 'yes'. The answer to questions 'iii
' and 'iv
' are at this time completely unknown. Unless there is a greater degree of Western, sub rosa
involvement, on the ground in Syria itself, it is highly doubtful that the Western powers, sans
the introduction of ground forces in the conflict, will be able to ensure that so-called 'moderates' in Syria will emerge in control, once Assad, et. al., are deposed from power. Similarly, it is not clear to me, that the Western Powers or their local allies have readily usable options, in case of Persia, et. al., were to intervene overtly in the conflict on the ground. Will for example, the Western powers step-up their intervention in response to any greater involvement by Persia? Unless there is a sea-change in the thinking of the governing elites in Western Europe and the United States, the question answers itself. Id est
., a most definitive non
The upshot is that the question of Western military intervention is a much more complex one than what its proponents make a claim for. It is probably the case, that the enforcement of a 'no-fly' zone will indeed allow the rebel forces in Syria to battle the regimes forces with a greater degree of equality. It is uncertain though that merely the fact that there is a no-fly zone will be enough to lead to the near-term collapse or ouster of the regime. Particularly if there were overt Persian military intervention on the side of the Assad regime. Not to speak of the possibility of Russian counter-intervention in support of the regime in Damascus. The real quandry in this debate is perhaps best expressed by the American military expert Anthony Cordesman last year:
“Syria is not Libya. While the later may be geographically much larger, it is a mostly empty country with a small population and very limited military capacity. In contrast, Syria’s population is more than three times larger than Libya, has almost 30 times the latter’s population density and a much larger and far more capable military overall. All of these factors complicate any calculus on military intervention in Syria, whether in terms of the level of potential military opposition, or with regards to the risk of high civilian casualties…. It could be argued that even without further escalation, a year of Syrian instability has been a critical setback not only to the Asad (sic) regime, but also to Iran and Hezbollah. Syria’s future will be governed largely by uncertainty and prolonged malaise. Given the range of risks, the US and its allies should consider carefully the potential costs and unintended consequences of further intervention in Syria”2.
Please do not doubt that in the Leibnizian best of all possible worlds, Assad, et. al., would be out of power and spending many years working as a galley slave. There is no gainsaying the fact that the overthrow of the Assad regime would be a defeat, a very clear and unmitigated defeat for Persia and its allies in the Levant. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen anyone who has yet cogently thought about the costs and repercussions of overt Western military intervention in a fashion which does indeed goes some way to answer all four questions raised above. Until someone does, I am afraid that the best answer to the question of intervening in the Syrian conflict is still for me 'non'.
1. BBC World Service, "Damascus Car Bombing wrecks Syria Eid Al-adha Truce." BBC World Service
. 26 October 2012, in www.bbc.com
2. Anthony Cordesman, "Instability in Syria: Assessing the risks of military intervention." Center for Strategic and International Studies.
13 December 2011, in www.csis.org
THE PERSIAN NUCLEAR CONUNDRUM: ANOTHER LOOK
"Among other absurdities Mr Ahmadi-Nejad uttered on his New York trip were invented statistics that were meant to demonstrate the economy’s success under his seven-year stewardship. Iran, he told another interviewer, had in fact gone from being the world’s 22nd largest economy to the 17th. No sooner was he back in Tehran, however, than reality intruded on his fantasy world. Within days, he was facing a full-blown currency crisis, as the rial, which had already lost almost half its value over the past year, went into free fall.
Iranians, who have seen inflation soar in recent months, were dumping the rial. America might be the Islamic Republic’s number-one enemy – but the dollar was now Iranians’ number-one friend. The merchant class in Tehran’s bazaar, never supportive of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, closed their shops. Protests erupted in the capital in a limited show of popular discontent, rare since the mass demonstrations of 2009, when Mr Ahmadi-Nejad was handed a second term in a rigged election. Merchants in other cities could join the strike and we will see in the coming days whether the unrest will spread.
Abroad, policy makers determined to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions watched the unrest with apparent satisfaction. This was, after all, unmistakable proof that economic warfare was effective. The combination of American and European sanctions, which have isolated Iran from the world financial system and reduced its ability to export its main commodity – oil – were biting, and biting hard. No matter that the pain was borne by ordinary people and businessmen. There was uproar in the bazaar – which was instrumental in the 1979 Islamic revolution – as well as clashes with police and denunciations of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad as a dictator, images that play in favour of Barack Obama ahead of the US presidential election.
It might be too soon for jubilation, however. Western nations eager to accelerate Iran’s economic decline would be wise to consider whether pushing for more sanctions – including restrictions on Iran’s exports of gas – is sound. The regime is not likely to buckle suddenly under the pressure and bow to international demands for limits on the nuclear programme. No doubt it will try to exploit intensifying economic pressures, rallying support against a vengeful west. True, Iran could already be experiencing hyperinflation, as John Hopkins’ Steve Hanke believes, estimating that inflation is running at almost 70 per cent a month. But the professor, who has been studying Iran’s currency (as well as other cases of hyperinflation, including Zimbabwe), also points out that the regime can survive while the people suffer. He expects it to wield a big stick to contain the currency crisis. Already, by Thursday, the government had announced that a dozen foreign currency traders had been arrested....
It is unlikely the supreme leader will suddenly shift his priorities or end his defiance of demands to limit his nuclear programme. But as Ray Takeyh, a former US official and expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Congress earlier this year, at least sanctions show that nuclear defiance has a steep price. Iran, he notes, depends on revenues from an export commodity whose price and means of transport are determined by actors beyond its control, and which requires access to customers, tankers, insurance and global financial institutions."
Roula Khalaf, "Rial slide is little cause for jubilation." The Financial Times
5 October 2012, in www.ft.com
"European Union governments agreed further sanctions against Iran's banking, shipping and industrial sectors on Monday, cranking up financial pressure on Tehran in the hope of drawing it into serious negotiations on its nuclear program.
The decision by EU foreign ministers reflected mounting concerns over Iran's nuclear intentions and Israeli threats to attack Iranian atomic installations if a mix of sanctions and diplomacy fails to lead to a peaceful solution.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she hoped that turning up the heat on the Islamic Republic would persuade it to make concessions and that negotiations could resume "very soon".
"I absolutely do think there is room for negotiations," said Ashton, who represents the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany in their on-and-off talks with Iran. "I hope we will be able to make progress very soon."
The new sanctions mark one of the EU's toughest moves against Iran to date and a significant change of policy for the 27-member bloc, which has hitherto focused largely on targeting specific people and companies with economic restrictions.
The EU has lagged the United States in imposing blanket industry bans because it says it is concerned not to punish ordinary Iranian citizens while inflicting pain on the Tehran government. Iran maintains that its nuclear project has only peaceful energy purposes and has refused in three rounds of talks since April to scale back its uranium enrichment activity unless major economic sanctions are rescinded.
But governments in Europe and the United States, doubting Iran's preparedness for more than dilatory "talks about talks", are instead tightening the financial screws on Tehran and fears of a descent into a new Middle East war are growing.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was more pessimistic than Ashton about the prospect that additional economic pain might drive Tehran - whose Islamic Revolution has long thrived on defiance of the West - to make concessions.
"Iran is still playing for time," he told reporters. "We don't see a sufficient readiness for substantial talks about the nuclear program."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kicked off his re-election campaign on Monday by saying Israel had new unspecified "capabilities" to act against Iran's nuclear threat".
Justyna Pawlak & Sebastian Moffet, "EU tightens Iran sanctions, Ashton sees more talks." Reuters
. 15 October 2012, in www.reuters.com
The story line on the situation in Persia is janus-faced: on the one hand the regime of Mullahs appears to be suffering from the ongoing and increasingly severe sanctions regime as applied by the Western Powers (The EU and the USA). On the other hand, as was widely reported in the Western press, the Washington, DC-based, Institute for Science and International Security
has stated categorically, that the Persian regime has now in effect assembled enough nuclear materials that its 'breakout potential' can now be timed as merely:
"that Iran [Persia] would require at least 2-4 months to produce one SQ of WGU at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant and would need to utilize its stocks of 3.5 and near 20 percent LEU. The quickest estimates are 2 to 2.3 months" 1.
Given this state of affairs, with the Persian regime seemingly determined, come what may to obtain a nuclear arsenal, regardless of the costs, both economic, social and political, what are the Western Powers options in the next twelve months? Objectively speaking, the regime in Tehran is indeed 'hurting', but per se that does not it would appear on the surface mean that the Mullahs who run the country will necessarily agree to some type of modus vivendi
with the Western Powers 2. Indeed, as per a statement by the Persian foreign ministry yesterday, the net effect of more Western sanctions is practically nil
, as it relates to getting Tehran to agree to constructive talks with the Europeans and Americans 3. Of course it could be argued that this statement is merely an anticipatory pour parler
and that after a satisfactory diplomatic equivalent of a 'decent interval', the Persian regime will climb down `a la its climb down in 1989, when it agreed to a humiliating conclusion to the Iran-Iraq War. In which case, the current and common Western policy of increased and heavy sanctions on the regime, will bear fruit soon enough. Perhaps so
. Equally, it could be argued that the regime, for reasons of Primat der Innenpolitik
, will forgo the path of rationality and insist upon going down the road of obtaining nuclear weapons, or at the very least being able to produce them on very short notice. In which case, au fond
, the argument of the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu is if nothing else accurate:
"We will know if the sanctions are achieving their goal if the centrifuges will stop spinning and the program is rolled back" 4.
The sub-text of this statement being that in the absence of Persia's nuclear programme stopping, then the time to employ force as the ultimate force majeure
, has arrived. How plausible in turn is this particular scenario? I for one, am skeptical that in fact, force
, at least by the Israelis themselves will ever be employed. Why is that the case? For the simple reason that all of the indicators seem to show that solely by itself, Israel lacks sufficient military capacity to strike hard enough at all the necessary Persian targets to destroy effectively all the Persian nuclear reprocessing sites. As the always knowledgeable American military expert, Mr. Anthony Cordesman has recently noted:
"The payloads required to hit underground enrichment facilities with a high level of damage, to carry out the scale of initial and follow‐up attacks, and providing resources such as near real time intelligence required to detect and destroy other potentially lethal Iranian [Persian] military weapons, for instance ballistic missiles that could be used in a retaliation, can only be carried out by the United States"5.
In other words the likelihood of an Israeli military strike without American backing and support is next to nil
. And the likelihood of American support for any military strike on Persia's nuclear processing facilities is less than nil
. And, indeed perhaps that is as it should be. The upshot is that for the foreseeable future, economic sanctions, backed up, one would hope, but not necessarily expect by a naval blockade, will have to do the work that military force would under other circumstances would do. It is not of course an ideal situation by any means. But given alternatives available it is to my mind at this juncture an acceptable faite de mieux
1. William C. Witt, et. al., "Iran [Persia]'s evolving breakout potential." The Institute for Science and International Security.
8 October 2012, in www.isis-online.org
2. See for this the following analysis: Alireza Nader, "The Iranian [Persian] regime is in trouble." The Rand Corporation.
4 October 2012, in www.rand.org
3. For this lastest statement, see: Haaretz, "Iran [Persia] Official says new EU sanctions won't force Tehran into nuclear talks." Haaretz
. 16 October 2012, in www.haaretz.com
4. Barak Ravid, "Netanyahu: EU sanctions will prove effective if Iran [Persia] stops program." Haaretz
. 16 October 2012, in www.haaretz.com
5. Anthony Cordesman & Abdullah Toukan. "Analyzing the Impact of Preventative Strikes against Iran's [Persia] nuclear capability." The Center for Strategic & International Studies
. 10th of September 2012. in www.csis.org
THE QUESTION OF 'INACTION' IN SYRIA: A COMMENT
>"Considerable ink has been spilled in recent weeks over the growing threat Al Qaeda fighters pose to the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. One of the many arguments being put forward for why the United States should not supply more direct assistance to Syrian rebels is that a rebel victory could result in Al Qaeda or its sympathizers coming to power in a post-Assad Syria. Given how Afghanistan's US-supported mujahideen later morphed into Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the Obama administration's caution is understandable.
Yet ironically, this view transforms Al Qaeda into one of Mr. Assad's most effective assets. For the Syrian regime, the jihadist challenge in Syria is small yet growing, but the prospect of the US providing rebels with surface-to-air capabilities, a no-fly zone, or more direct assistance presents an existential threat. If Al Qaeda's presence is deterring US policymakers from getting further involved in the Syrian crisis, then it may be a presence that the Assad regime finds well worth preserving.
The other problem with focusing too much on the prospect of an Al Qaeda ascension is that the costs of inaction in Syria are woefully underrepresented in the policy debate. Even if the rebels ultimately prevail, if the US continues to sit on the sidelines as the human toll rises, it could face a decidedly anti-American government in Damascus whether jihadists come to power or not.
Of course, the prospect of Al Qaeda or other extremists coming to power, or having influence on a post-Assad regime would also be a nightmare for US regional interests. So that scenario should be factored into policy calculations, even if it is unlikely at this time. Yet the amount of attention that this scenario is receiving, especially in US intelligence circles, suggests that the magnitude of its effect on policy formation may be disproportionate to its likelihood. Focusing on Al Qaeda's potential for exploiting the Syrian conflict distracts from the rapidly mounting costs of US inaction. As Washington dithers, resentment of America is growing among the Syrian population and the broader Middle East. These are not potential costs; they are mounting costs.
Anti-US sentiment weakens America's regional allies and empowers its enemies—like Al Qaeda. US influence on the Arab-Israeli issue, nascent Arab political reform, and even the future of Iraq is diminishing. Without clearer US engagement, the conflict in Syria will likely drag on. The longer it does, the more time Assad has to visit brutality upon the Syrian population—and the more likely would-be US supporters will turn in frustration to other sources of protection. The possibility of US arms and training for the Syrian opposition somehow empowering Al Qaeda is frightening, but so too is the establishment of any post-Assad regime that is hostile to US interests. If policymakers let fears of Al Qaeda keep them from providing more extensive support for Syrian rebels, they could help create the very conditions they were assiduously trying to avoid."
Julie Taylor, "By Fearing Rise of Al-Qaeda in Syria, U.S. Ignores Greater Threat: inaction." The Rand Corporation
. 19 September 2012, in www.rand.org.
The above argument by the very learned, American 'think-tank' (the original 'think-tank' actually), the Rand Corporation, repeats in a more learned fashion the types of arguments that one has been hearing from commentators and policy-makers as different as the leader writer of the Financial Times
and the 2008 Presidential contender, Senator John McCain among others 1. What does one make of it? As an argument, for the West intervening in the Syrian conflict, the thesis raises more questions than it answers. For example: what happens if the initial level of Western intervention (supplying of arms and training outside of Syria, as well as providing intelligence on the regime's military) fails to have the required effect? Does the Western powers then go 'va banque'
and double the initial intervention by (to employ a frequently urged move) enforcing a 'non-fly' zone of the entire country? And, if that move fails to result in the ouster of the regime? Et cetera
. The commentators who advocate Western intervention in the Syrian conflict fail to state what is to occur if the initial policy fails to have the required effect on the ground. I for one well recall the atmosphere of doom and gloom, which was prevalent circa August of last year, before the regime in Libya suddenly collapsed. Here we are dealing with a much stronger regime and a much weaker opposition on the ground. Not to speak of the assistance: financial and military which Assad Fils appears to be receiving from his allies in Persia, Iraq and Moskva 2. Secondly, little thought is given by the proponents of Western intervention as to who is to succeed the ousted Assad regime. That just as the ouster of the Qaddafi regime lead to a situation in which numerous groupings, some of whom are overtly opposed to Western interests, are now well-armed and able to operate in the open, similarly it would appear that the same may well be the case in Syria. Already we have both Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Monarchies providing indiscriminate assistance to Islamist elements in Syria 2. Unless there is much greater Western covert assistance than is being acknowledged, it is highly doubtful that even military assistance on a Afghanistan level circa 1985, will necessarily have any more likelihood of resulting in the Western powers being able to control events on the ground, post-facto
the ouster of the Assad regime. After all, we all know the trajectory of events in Afghanistan, post-facto to the withdrawal of Russian troops in 1989, notwithstanding the very large-scale Western (American) and Saudi military assistance to the anti-Russian forces. The fact of the matter is that sans
large-scale, overt, Western (read American) military intervention on an Iraq War scale, no amount of Western military assistance will necessarily result in the coming to power of pro-Western, secular, moderate forces in Syria. Au fond
, the real flaw in the thesis that 'inaction' in the Syrian conflict will hurt Western interests, is that per se
, one is not in fact told what those interests are. Obviously, in the Leibnizian best of all possible worlds, all will be peace and light in Damascus and Assad Fils and his clique would be peacefully enjoying an early retirement in some third-world watering hole. Unfortunately, we do not (yet) reside in the world according to Dr. Pangloss
. With that fact in mind and once one thinks seriously about what are hard Western interests in the Levant, one comes to the sad conclusion that as long as the conflict in Syria remains in Syria, then the only people who ultimately have any real interest in ending this conflict is the poor, wretched people of Syria itself. Which is not to gainsay the fact that the downfall of the Assad regime, would strike a hard and serious blow against Persia and its regional allies in Baghdad and Beirut (Hezbollah). Merely that this positive outcome is not worth the bones of Furst von Bismarck's Pomeranian (or indeed American) Grenadier. And it is via overt Western military intervention, that the positive outcome that those who advocate involvement in the Syrian conflict can only be determined.
1. Senator John McCain, et. al., "The Risks of Inaction in Syria." The Washington Post.
5 August 2012, in www.washingtonpost.com
. Leader, "Containing Assad." The Financial Times
. 4 October 2012, in www.ft.com.
2. For the assistance which the Assad regime is receiving from its allies, see: Michael Peel & Lina Saigol, "Iraq sends crucial fuel oil to Syria." The Financial Times.
8 October 2012 & Daniel Dombey & Courtney Weaver, "Moscow accused of arms supply to Syria." The Financial Times
. 11 October 2012 & finally, Michael Peel & Najmeh Bozorgmehr, "Iran [Persia] acknowledges elite troops in Syria." The Financial Times
, 16 September, 2012, all in www.ft.com
3. For the weakness of the opposition and the fact that the Gulf Monarchies and Saudi Arabia are directly or indirectly arming Islamist elements, see: David Lesch, "Interview: No end in sight in Syria Conflict." The Council on Foreign Relations
. 6 September 2012, in www.cfr.org
; David Ignatius, "Face to face with a revolution." Syria Comment
. 10 October 2012, in www.syriacomment.com.
Ilhan Tanir, "In the land of the Free Syria Army." Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
. 4 October 2012, in www.carnegieendowment.org
; For the rise of extremists elements, in the aftermath of the downfall of the Qaddafi regime, see: George Friedman, "Geopolitical Weekly: From Gadhafi (sic!) to Benghazi". Stratfor: Global Intelligence
. 18 September 2012, in www.stratfor.com
THE ELECTIONS IN GEORGIA: THE GEOPOLITICAL RAMIFICATIONS
"President Mikheil Saakashvili has admitted his party has lost Georgia's parliamentary election, in a live TV announcement. He said the Georgian Dream bloc of his main rival, billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, had won Monday's election. Victory for Mr Ivanishvili means the first democratic transfer of power in Georgia's post-Soviet history. Mr Ivanishvili said the "only right decision" would now be for Mr Saakashvili to resign. While Mr Ivanishvili, 56, is set to become prime minister, his rival, who has led the country since 2003, is due to remain in power until presidential elections next year....
By admitting defeat, President Saakashvili is allowing a peaceful transition of power. And for the first time in modern Georgia's history, a change of government is the result of a peaceful election, rather than a revolution. Western observers are calling these the most credible elections Georgia has ever known. Mr Saakashvili's party will be in opposition, instead of enjoying the huge majority it has been used to for the past nine years. And some voters will feel worried about this new government. Mr Ivanishvili is suspected by some of having links to the Kremlin. Under agreed reforms, the parliament and prime minister will acquire greater powers than the president after that election. With results in from 72% of polling stations, Georgian Dream led the party list vote, which accounts for 77 of the 150 seats, with 54% of the vote. The president's United National Movement was on 41%....
"It's clear from the preliminary results that the opposition has the lead and it should form the government - and I as president should help them with this."
The US congratulated Georgians on the "historic milestone" of their parliamentary election and praised the president's response to the result. In a later news briefing, Mr Ivanishvili called on Mr Saakashvili to admit he would not be able to retain power, to resign and call a snap presidential election. Mr Saakashvili, a pro-Western leader who champions the free market, has warned that the Georgian Dream bloc will move Georgia away from the West and back into Moscow's sphere of influence. Russia defeated Georgian forces in a brief war in 2008. But in his briefing Mr Ivanishvili said both normalisation of relations with Russia and membership of Nato would be pursued. Mr Ivanishvili celebrated with his supporters in Tbilisi on Monday night "If you ask me 'America or Russia?', I say we need to have good relations with everybody," Mr Ivanishvili said according to AFP news agency.
Mr Ivanishvili made his fortune in Russia in the early 1990s, with stakes in the metals industry, banking and later property, including hotels. Forbes business website estimates his wealth at $6.4bn (£4bn). His success was welcomed in Moscow where Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said it would mean more "constructive forces" entering parliament. Vyacheslav Nikonov, deputy head of the parliament's international affairs committee in Moscow, said that in the eyes of both Mr Medvedev and President Vladimir Putin the Georgian president was a war criminal.
"Anything that would keep Saakashvili further away from the instruments of power is a plus for Russian-Georgian relations'".
BBC World Service
. "Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili admits election loss." 2 October 2012, in www.bbc.co.uk.
"I think Russia's position of irritation about Georgia's integration in NATO was deepened by Saakashvili. I know that Georgia's integration in NATO is not very pleasant for Russia, but I don't think it is a strategic issue for Russia. I think it is possible with correct diplomacy to convince Russia that Georgia's integration in NATO is not a threat.... The Baltic countries are an example of NATO integration and good relations with Russia. We will not change our strategy of NATO integration for anything....
My opponents said that Russia was planning to invade for three years, I'm saying Russia wanted to come to the Caucasus for centuries. Russia wanted to come to Caucasus for centuries, but it was our government's provocation that allowed them to do so....
It will be very hard for a small country like Georgia to have several strategic partners but we should be acceptable to our neighbors and our strategic partner, the U.S.... Georgia cannot be a big geopolitical player, and Saakashvili [tried[ to do this. We [Georgia] should be a regional player."
Georgian Prime Minister-elect, Bidzina Ivanishvili quoted at a press conference on the
2nd of October 2012, see: Joshua Kucera, "Ivanishvili on NATO, Russia and Georgia's Geopolitics." Eurasianet
. 3 October 2012, in www.eurasianet.org
The views of the Prime Minister-elect of Georgia au fond
, represent something that has been the hallmarks of this journals thinking on the relations between Georgia and Russia in the past half dozen years. Given its geographical location vis-`a-vis Russia, the idea that Georgian President Saakashvili entertained that Georgia would be able to in some fashion or other able to re-imagine itself as a 'Western' or European nation, in opposition to Russia was a hugely fantastic. And as can now been seen landed Georgia in a diplomatic cul de sac
. The American Administration, like its predecessor, while quite happy to have a friendly and co-operative Georgia on its side, was quite unwilling to destroy relations with Moskva for this purpose. Given the new tone coming from Georgia, the issue of its relations with Washington will be soon removed one hopes as a diplomatic headache in relations between Moskva and Washington. One can only welcome the thinking of the new Georgian Premier in his willingness to review on a positive basis relations with Moskva 1. One can only hope that assured future disappearance of President Saakashvili will result in Moskva taking an open mind and an intelligent approach to relations with Georgia. Seeking equitable relations with historically speaking a friendly people and not abasement from a vassal state. Unfortunately, Moskva's past history & practice in such matters does not give me much hope. Time will tell...
1. Neil Buckley, "Ivanishvili promises to defend Democracy." The Financial Times.
3 October 2012, in www.ft.com