Tuesday, September 24, 2013


"Vladimir Putin called on Russians to strengthen a new national identity based on conservative and traditional values such as the Orthodox church on Thursday, warning that the west was facing a moral crisis. “Sovereignty, independence, the integrity of Russia – those are red lines that no one is allowed to cross,” the Russian president warned. Mr Putin said Russia should avoid the example of European countries that were “going away from their roots”, by legalising gay marriage and excessive “political correctness”. “A policy is being conducted of putting on the same level multi-child families and single-sex partnerships, belief in God and belief in Satan. The excesses of political correctness are leading to the point where people are talking seriously about registering parties whose goal is legalising the propaganda of paedophilia,” Mr Putin claimed. “People in many European countries are ashamed, and are afraid of talking about their religious convictions. [Religious] holidays are being taken away or called something else, shamefully hiding the essence of the holiday,” the Russian president added. “We need to respect the rights of minorities to be different, but the rights of the majority should not be in question,” he said."
Neil Buckley, "Putin urges Russians to return to values of religion." The Financial Times. 20 September 2013. in www.ft.com.
"Popularly labelled “Russia's anti-gay law” in the West, the bill has attracted fiery international criticism for its implications for the human rights of Russia's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities. Lyudmila Alexeyeva, former Soviet dissident and co-founder of the human-rights watchdog the Moscow Helsinki Group, has called the legislation "a step toward the Middle Ages." But Kirill Kobrin, journalist and historian at Radio Free Europe's Russia Service, has a different take: “it was unthinkable to even discuss these issues twenty years ago in Russia,” he says. Kobrin thinks there has been a major shift in public consciousness that now, under the Kremlin's lead, LGBT rights are the focus of public attention and debate in Russia — albeit [following the adoption of new law] censored debate. Elena Mizulina, the controversial deputy who co-authored the legislation and heads Russia's State Duma Committee on Family, Women, and Children, has said that the law aims to protect children from information that rejects "traditional family values”. Specifically, the bill prohibits “the spreading of information” which aims to: (1) create non-traditional sexual attitudes among children, (2) make non-traditional sexual relations seem attractive, (3) give “a distorted perception about the social equality between traditional and non-traditional sexual relations" or (4) enforce information about non-tradition sexual relations that evokes interest in such relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed his support for the new law, saying its purpose is only to “protect children.” Putin has also said that homosexuals are “not being discriminated against in any way.” But how, critics wonder, is this legislation anything but discriminatory? To argue that homosexuality is somehow both shameful and not to be discussed and that homosexuals won't be discriminated against is something the West can't get its head around".
Yaroslava Kiryukhina, "Is Russia's 'gay progaganda' law alienating it from the West?" Russia Beyond the Headlines. 10 September 2013, in www.rbth.ru
An Act to secure that local and other public authorities undertake certain activities only if they can do so competitively; to regulate certain functions of local and other public authorities in connection with public supply or works contracts; to authorise and regulate the provision of financial assistance by local authorities for certain housing purposes; to prohibit the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities; to make provision about local authorities’ publicity, local government administration, the powers of auditors, land held by public bodies, direct labour organisations, arrangements under the Employment and Training Act 1973, the Commission for Local Authority Accounts in Scotland, the auditing of accounts of local authorities in Scotland, and dog registration, dog licences and stray dogs; and for connected purposes.
Local Government Act 1988, 1988 CHAPTER 9, Section 28 [24th March 1988], in www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/9
"To cut himself off from Europe, from enlightenment, from the revolution of which he had been frightened since the Fourteenth of December, 1825, Nicholas on his side raised the banner of Orthodoxy, autocracy and nationalism, embellished after the fashion of Prussian standard and supported by anything that came to hand---the barbaric novels of Zagoskin, barbaric icon-painting, barbaric architecture, Uvarov, the persecution of the Uniats, and the 'The Hand of the Most High saved the Fatherland'. The encounter of the Moscow Slavophils with the Petersburg Slavophilism of Nicholas was a great misfortune for the former. Nicholas was simply flying to nationalism and Orthodoxy from revolutionary ideas. The Slavophils had nothing in common with him but words."
Alexander Herzen, My Past and Thoughts. Volume II. Translated by Constance Garnett and revised by Humphrey Higgins. (1968), pp. 514-515.
As someone who does not have a very high opinion of Grazhdanin Putin (at least not since 2008 if not earlier) or many of his policies, his stance on homosexual rights and his recent, oft-proclaimed endorsement of traditional values of leaves me both divided and skeptical. First, prior to his return to the Presidency in 2012, and in particular the rising tide of civil society opposition to his rule, it would be fair to say that Putin never made a strong point of endorsing 'traditional values'. With the possible exception of backing a return to the public and state sphere of the Orthodox Church. Viz: Russian television has never been known for being by any measure 'conservative' in its presentation of materials which would have been unthinkable to be presented in Sovietyskaya Vlast and indeed in the United States, twenty to thirty years ago. It seems fair to say that Putin's more recent 'conservative' turn on issues like homosexuality is more akin to a political tactic to garner support from the mostly conservative if passive Russian heartland outside of the major urban centers of Mosvka and Petersburg 1. A political tactic, which Herzen's comments on Tsar Nikolai Pavlovich policies quoted above, puts one in mind of. If there was as suitable amount of sincerity to Putin's conservative turn, one would perhaps be more supportive of his policies in this area. But of course, given the endemic corruption and at times overt criminality of the regime, it is indeed difficult to take on its own merits the policies that Putin is advocating. Which is not of course to agree with those like the British actor Stephen Fry who are arguing for boycotts of Russia and things Russian. That seems to me to be quite ridiculous and wrong-headed in turn. Per se, there is not much more in the recent Russian law on 'homosexual propaganda' then the UK's Section 28 dealing with the prohibiting 'the promotion of homosexuality' 2. And indeed, a speech (at the Conservative Party Conference in 1987) by then Premier Thatcher, broadcast on television, in which she argued that:
"Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay 3."
More than bears a resemblance to Putin's own recent statements on the subject as quoted in the Financial Times. Au fond, of course the much of the Western reaction to the recent Russian law, is senseless and idiotic insofar as it forgets that not so many years ago, statements such at Thatcher's were the norm and not the exception. Whether or not Russia will undergo a similar change as the West has in the past twenty to thirty years or so, no one can foresee. I for one hope not: the destruction of the traditional fabric of society with the norms which have accumulated over the past several thousand years since both senseless and shameful. The stance on homosexual marriage and adoption being of course the most egregious of all. One can only hope that matushka Russia is able in a sincere fashion, and not as a sort of political football `a la Putin to embrace and hold firmly to traditional moral order which is buttressed by Christianity. So in response to Mr. Fry: do not look for me to boycott Russian vodka. In fact never drinking the stuff, I might conversely even go out and purchase ever more quantities of the same in response to Mr. Fry and his antics.
1. Mykola Siruk, Lilia Shevtsova, "On Russian Illusions." The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 6 December 2013, in www.carnegie.ru; Lilia Shevtsova,"Turkey and Russia: What Their Protest Waves Say." Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 2 July 2013, in www.carnegie.ru.
2. Local Government Act 1988, 1988 CHAPTER 9, Section 28, op. cit. See also: Matthew Todd, Margaret Thatcher was no poster girl for gay rights: Feel free to admire her on the economy and Falklands. When it comes to LGBT issues, she threw gay kids like me to the wolves." The Guardian. 10 April 2013, in www.guardian.com.
3. Speech to the Conservative Party Conference. 9 October 1987, in http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/106941

Friday, September 20, 2013


"Three months ago, my platform of “prudence and hope” gained a broad, popular mandate. Iranians embraced my approach to domestic and international affairs because they saw it as long overdue. I’m committed to fulfilling my promises to my people, including my pledge to engage in constructive interaction with the world.... We must pay attention to the complexities of the issues at hand to solve them. Enter my definition of constructive engagement. In a world where global politics is no longer a zero-sum game, it is — or should be — counterintuitive to pursue one’s interests without considering the interests of others. A constructive approach to diplomacy doesn’t mean relinquishing one’s rights. It means engaging with one’s counterparts, on the basis of equal footing and mutual respect, to address shared concerns and achieve shared objectives. In other words, win-win outcomes are not just favorable but also achievable. A zero-sum, Cold War mentality leads to everyone’s loss.... The unilateral approach, which glorifies brute force and breeds violence, is clearly incapable of solving issues we all face, such as terrorism and extremism. I say all because nobody is immune to extremist-fueled violence, even though it might rage thousands of miles away. Americans woke up to this reality 12 years ago. My approach to foreign policy seeks to resolve these issues by addressing their underlying causes. We must work together to end the unhealthy rivalries and interferences that fuel violence and drive us apart. We must also pay attention to the issue of identity as a key driver of tension in, and beyond, the Middle East. At their core, the vicious battles in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are over the nature of those countries’ identities and their consequent roles in our region and the world. The centrality of identity extends to the case of our peaceful nuclear energy program. To us, mastering the atomic fuel cycle and generating nuclear power is as much about diversifying our energy resources as it is about who Iranians are as a nation, our demand for dignity and respect and our consequent place in the world. Without comprehending the role of identity, many issues we all face will remain unresolved".
Hassan Rouhani, "Why Iran seeks constructive engagement." The Washington Post. 19 September 2013, in www.washingtonpost.com.
"Iran is on course to develop a nuclear bomb within six months and time has run out for further negotiations, a senior Israeli minister said. Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said Iran still believed it had room for maneuver in dealing with world powers, and that unless it faced a credible threat of U.S. military action, it would not stop its nuclear activities. "There is no more time to hold negotiations," Steinitz, who is close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said in an interview with the Israel Hayom daily published on Friday. The United States and its allies suspect Iran is working towards a nuclear weapons capability despite Tehran's insistence that its atomic program has only peaceful aims. During four years of international negotiations over its disputed nuclear program, during which U.N.-sponsored sanctions have hit Iran's economy hard, Steinitz said the Islamic Republic had only improved its capabilities. "If the Iranians continue to run, in another half a year they will have bomb capability," he said. Israel has dismissed overtures to the West by new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and his pledge in an interview on U.S. television that Iran would never develop nuclear weapons. "One must not be fooled by the Iranian president's fraudulent words," Netanyahu's office said in a statement on Thursday. "The Iranians are spinning in the media so that the centrifuges can keep on spinning."'
Ari Rabinovitch & Alison Williams, "No time left for negotiations with Iran: Israeli minister." Reuters. 19 September 2013, in www.reuters.com.
The upcoming annual meeting of world leaders at the United Nations in New York next week opens up the possibility of their being direct, pourparler between the Americans and the Persian Presidents and one presumes their staffs. The chief topic of discussion being of course the ongoing and currently deadlocked negotiations about Persia's alleged nuclear weapons programme. Reading between the lines of the new Persian President's statement in the Washington Post, it would seem that the there now appears to be room for substantive negotiations between the Western Powers and Teheran. How plausible in fact is this supposition? Based upon the mots in the article in the Post, the answer would be: very plausible. The only problem is that if one carefully examines the language employed by the admittedly moderate new Persian leader, then a certain degree of ambiguity emerges. Especially once one gets into the fraught area of Persian 'identity' and 'dignity' as viz the following comments by the Persian President indicate:
"To us, mastering the atomic fuel cycle and generating nuclear power is as much about diversifying our energy resources as it is about who Iranians are as a nation, our demand for dignity and respect and our consequent place in the world 1."
As the always wise David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security states in an 'appeal' to the Persian leadership, and in particular the new Persian President:
"If President Rouhani wants the world to believe Iran will not build nuclear weapons in the future, the Iranian government should reconsider its blanket denials of ever seeking nuclear weapons in the past. As demonstrated by the South African experience, transparency regarding past nuclear weapons development is integral to solving the nonproliferation concerns related to the Iranian nuclear program and creating the level of confidence and cooperation necessary for the lifting of sanctions and the peaceful development of the Iranian nuclear program" 2.
Personally I hope that negotiations between either directly between the USA and Persia or between the Western Powers and Persia will produce results in the very near future. As the results of any Israeli solo military strike does not in the least inspire confidence of true success. And the diplomatic and other fallout of an American military strike on Persian leaves a great deal to be desired. Unfortunately, the past history of Persian mendacity in matters relating to these negotiations does not inspire a great deal of confidence that the necessary level of transparency and trust will emerge from the talks. Notwithstanding the evident good faith of the new Persian leader and the fact that the sanctions regime has caused x amount of economic pain to the Persian economy 3. As was noted by British diplomat sixty years ago:
"Although the Persians display a veneer of Western civilization, the character still derives from their long history of autocratic rule and from their Islamic background. Among those chief traits are an intense national pride, extending at times to overwhelming conceit....an unabashed dishonesty; a fatalistic outlook on life and indifference to suffering; and a friendly and hospitable nature. The ordinary Persian is vain, unprincipled, eager to promise what he is incapable or had no intention of performing, wedded to procrastination and lacking in perseverance and energy. Above all he loves intrigue and readily employs prevarication and dishonesty whenever there is a even remote possibility of personal gain 4."
1. President Rouhani, op. cit.
2. David Albright & Christina Walrond, "An Appeal to Iran." Institute for Science and International Security. 19 September 2013, in p://www.isis-online.org
3. On the ills that the Persian economy is suffering from, see: Najmeh Bozorgmehr, "Iran's cabinet promises reforms to kick-start ailing economy." The Financial Times. 20 September 2013, in www.ft.com.
4. Memorandum titled: "The Persian Character", is to be found in: Ervand Abrahamian. The Coup: 1953, The CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian [Persian] Relations. (2013), pp. 104-105.

Monday, September 16, 2013


We were eyeball to eyeball and I think the other guy just blinked."
American Secretary of State Dean Rusk to National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, 24 October 1962.
"Syria's Minister for National Reconciliation said on Sunday that the chemical weapons agreement between Russia and the United States was a "victory" for Damascus, won by its Russian allies, and had taken away the pretext for war".
Reuters, "Syrian minister calls chemical weapons deal a Russian-won 'victory' over U.S. 15 September 2013, in www.reuters.com.
"In Europe, Clausewitz is either dying (Britain and France) or dead (Germany and the rest). Recall the famous counsel of the Prussian general: "War is the continuation of policy with other means"—that is, with force. Germany, the loser of two world wars, cut this seamless web in 1945, followed by all those former warrior nations from Spain to Sweden. Force as tool of statecraft? Heaven forfend! Europe shall be an "empire of peace." Britain and France, ex-imperial powers both, are going down the same road. David Cameron was trashed by Parliament when he asked for a war resolution on Syria. France's François Hollande would suffer the same fate if he went to the National Assembly. In his heart, Mr. Obama also would like to ditch Clausewitz, as he signaled in his Tuesday speech. He would like to turn the U.S. into an XXL medium-power. He wants to unshoulder the burden of global leadership and to drag the U.S. out of harm's way. As in Europe, his priority is welfare rather than warfare—"nation-building at home." If it has to be force, it must be on the cheap—"limited" and "narrow." Mr. Obama is probably as grateful as Mr. Assad for the reprieve cooked up by the Russians, who want to save the despot at all cost. Ms. Merkel and Messrs. Cameron and Hollande are delighted as well. There is now no shame in hanging back. There is just one problem, and it is bigger than to strike or not. Or to extract well-hidden chemical weapons from a war zone the size of Oklahoma. The U.S. is not an XXL medium-power but the housekeeper of the world. If it outsources the job, there is nobody else—not Europe, Russia or China. And the vandals are watching".
Josef Joffe[in],"America, Syria and the World: How is President Obama's turnaround on Syria playing abroad? Seven views from around the globe." The Wall Street Journal. 14 September 2013, in www.wsj.com.
It is difficult for the independent or neutral observer to not come to similar conclusions as the intelligent and well respected German commentator Josef Joffe. Notwithstanding my own opinion that not launching military strikes at Syria is by far the best course in the current environment, the fact of the matter is that the American President's hesitancy in not launching military strikes on Syria was due to equal parts the American President's dislike of military action in Syria (which I agree with) and a fear of the unknown consequences of launching said attacks given the weak support both internationally and domestically for any such action. Once again: I applaud the agreement that the Americans and cobbled together with Putin's Russia. Notwithstanding the fact that there is no enforcement mechanism in said agreement 1. That fact however cannot gainsay the fact that the Americans only came round due to the other variables cited herein. Hence, the less than positive take on the outcome of the crisis internationally. In short: in this crisis, unlike in say the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, it was indeed the Americans who did 'blink' first 2. Whether or not (pace Herr Joffe) this is an important harbinger for the future, only time will tell.
1. James Blitz, "Syria crisis: US and Russia agree chemical weapons deal." The Financial Times. 15 September 2013, in www.ft.com.
2. See the comments by the Near Eastern researcher and commentator at the Brookings Institute, Shadi Hamid, who comes to the same conclusion:
Assad and his Russian backers played on Obama's most evident weakness, exploiting his desire to find a way -- any way -- out of military action. There was a threat of military force, but it was a weak and not entirely credible one, and this has only been further confirmed by the events of the last few weeks. Assad is still in power, prosecuting his war. Before the "deal," Assad had to at least worry about the possibility of military intervention and modulate his daily kill rate accordingly.
Shadi Hamid, "The U.S.-Russian Deal on Syria: A Victory for Assad." The Brookings Institute. 14 September 2013 in www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2013/09/14-chemical-weapons-syria.

Friday, September 13, 2013


"The Colonial Secretary [Iain Macleod] has been too clever by half. I believe that he is a very fine bridge player. It is not considered immoral, or even bad form, to outwit one's opponent at bridge. It almost seems to me as if the Colonial Secretary, when he abandoned the sphere of bridge for the sphere of politics, brought his bridge technique with him".
The Fifth Marquess of Salisbury, Hansard 5L, 229.307, 7 March 1961.
"Designed as a call to arms, Barack Obama’s nationally televised address about the need to strike against Syria had turned into a plea for diplomacy by the time he strode to the podium at the White House on Tuesday evening. Caught between demanding military action and pushing talks at the same time as he is struggling to impose his authority both in Washington and overseas, Mr Obama and his presidency seemed as stranded as his Syria policy by the speech’s close. Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, said that Mr Obama’s wavering about whether to take military action against Syria will have a big impact on the credibility of US foreign policy. “US allies are going to be concerned about the commitments America has made to them,” he said. In his Tuesday night speech, Mr Obama attempted to weave between showing resolve and promising to avoid another Middle East quagmire. He insisted that the “United States military does not do pinpricks” and warned that “failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would . . . embolden Assad’s ally Iran”. But he also claimed that any military action would be a “limited strike”. “I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force,” he said. “We learnt from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next.” The military would retain is current posture of being prepared to launch air strikes, but for the time-being the US would “pursue this diplomatic path”. Ever since he announced in St Petersburg on the sidelines of the G20 meeting last week that he would rally the nation on Syria, Mr Obama has been undermined by the rapidly shifting political landscape at home and abroad. Support in Congress for a Syria strike began to evaporate among Republicans and Democrats, and Russia threw the president’s plans further off course by injecting an unexpected diplomatic initiative into the equation, to secure the Arab nation’s chemical weapons. At a moment when Mr Obama’s power is already reaching the point of inevitable decline that any second-term president faces, the danger is that his inability to execute a coherent and effective Syria policy will undermine his authority across the board. An apparent chemical attack by the regime of Bashar al-Assad on a Damascus suburb has shifted opinion in the west towards possible military intervention Mr Obama’s much-touted pivot to Asia in foreign policy has again been overwhelmed by upheaval in the Middle East, where Washington’s leverage has been diminishing since the so-called Arab Spring in 2011. The need for day-to-day crisis management of the Middle East could have substantial repercussions for Asia policy, at a time when China was expanding its naval power in the Asia-Pacific, according to Mr Bremmer. While Japan was firmly committed to its alliance with the US, other allies such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore could “start to hedge and to shore up their long-term relations with China because of what they have seen over the last few days”'.
Richard McGregor & Geoff Dyer, "Dilemma over Syria policy threatens to undermine Barack Obama." The Financial Times. 11 September 2013, in www.ft.com.
I am of two minds of the current mess or should one employ the mot 'impasse' that the American President has brought upon himself. On the one hand: insofar as the political and diplomatic chicanery that he has weaved has prevented the Americans and their allies from uselessly bombing Syria, for no strategic or other purposes whatsoever, that is I believe all to the good. On the other: hand, the manner in which we have arrived at the current state of affairs cannot but give one pause. To employ the term 'maladroit' seems about correct when describing the pass that American diplomacy has come to. It is as if, Sheridan's Mrs. Malaprop had come to life and was directing American foreign policy from the inner sanctums of the National Security Council. To add insult to injury is the air of triumph that the egregious Grazhdanin Putin has assumed in the last week 1. Au fond the true explanation of this entire state of affairs is that the now infamous 'red line' over Syria's possible use of chemical weapons was nothing more than a confidence trick, pur et simple by the American President. It was never meant to be taken seriously much less actually acted upon. In retrospect it is a truism that this supposedly supremely intelligent man has been found to have been (in the immortal mots of Lord Salisbury) 'too clever by half'.
1. Charles Clover, "Russia’s Vladimir Putin plays to strengths on foreign policy." The Financial Times. 12 September 2012, in www.ft.com.

Friday, September 06, 2013


"It was Friday afternoon in London, the day after Mr Cameron’s stunning House of Commons defeat on Syria. The White House had been shocked, and some aides furious, at what they considered to be the British prime minister’s mismanagement of the vote. But Mr Obama’s tone in his phone conversation with his British colleague was a sign that the US president was turning over in his own mind the same problems that had been highlighted by the No vote of British MPs. With the British experience in mind, Mr Obama was in the early stages of doing an about-turn himself, culminating in his Saturday announcement in the Rose Garden that he would seek approval from Congress before he attacked Syria. In doing so, Mr Obama put on the line decades of presidential prerogative, in which the White House has asserted its right to wage war in the face of consistent complaints from Congress that its constitutional role in authorising military action was being bypassed. Mr Obama had tracked Mr Cameron down to his Cornwall holiday retreat a week earlier, setting in train a series of missteps that has damaged the US-UK alliance, tarnished America’s global standing and imperilled the military action itself. The president telephoned Mr Cameron to say the US wanted to punish the regime of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, for using chemical weapons. Bombing, he indicated, would start just a week later. Mr Cameron’s decision to recall parliament for an emergency session on Thursday to authorise British participation in the strikes was essential to fit in with the Obama timetable. Later, Mr Cameron’s advisers complained that his chaotic defeat that evening was partly a result of Mr Obama’s accelerated political timetable. There had been nothing rushed about Mr Obama’s response to the two-year long Syrian civil war. In 2012, in the midst of a hard-fought election campaign, Mr Obama batted off pressure to intervene in Syria by warning Mr Assad that if he used chemical weapons he would be crossing a “red line”. Since that first “red line” statement, several instances of gas attacks in Syria have been well documented, but each time Mr Obama demurred, citing the need for absolute confirmation that chemical weapons had been used. That changed on August 21, when the reports, with graphic television footage of victims, flooded out of Syria of a gas attack on rebel-held areas in Damascus. Deliberative to the point of inaction until then, Mr Obama could wait no longer. An apparent chemical attack by the regime of Bashar al-Assad on a Damascus suburb has shifted opinion in the west towards possible military intervention John Kerry, his secretary of state, like Hillary Clinton before him, had been pushing for a stronger US response to events in Syria. Mr Obama also had a new foreign policy team in place, headed by Susan Rice at the National Security Council and Samantha Power at the UN, two advisers with an interventionist bent. But the key decision maker, as ever in an administration in which the White House has tightly managed foreign policy, was Mr Obama himself. As flummoxed and angry as they were after the UK vote, Mr Obama’s aides made clear on Thursday evening in Washington that the president was sticking to his guns. The US would act “in its own national interest”, they said. On Friday, Mr Kerry delivered a stirring statement, chronicling in far greater detail than the UK had done the gruesome attacks and the number of people killed. The number of dead children, he said with precision, was 426. Mr Obama gave no indication he was thinking about going to Congress when he spoke with Mr Cameron on Friday, although he did muse in general terms about the need to square public opinion. Later in the afternoon, as he sat down with Baltic leaders, Mr Obama was still sticking with his timetable of a weekend strike, saying he supported “a limited, narrow act” in response to the gas attack. In the evening, however, the president reversed course. Two things were weighing on his mind, senior administration officials said, as he took a 45-minute stroll around the White House gardens with Denis McDonough, his chief of staff. The first was the UK vote, and what it signalled about the shaky lack of legitimacy of military strikes after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The second was something he had heard in a briefing from General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who had said the timing of any strike did not matter. Mr Obama believed he did not need to go to Congress to seek approval for a strike, but to the consternation of his national security staff he resolved to go anyway. He did not consult Mr Kerry or Chuck Hagel, defence secretary. Although Mr Cameron’s team believe the UK vote was a factor, they think the president was also bowing to Capitol Hill, which had grown more assertive about the need to be consulted throughout the week."
Richard McGregor and George Parker, "Obama’s last-minute wobble puts Syria strikes in doubt." The Financial Timnes. 1 September 2013, in www.ft.com.
"But regardless of the outcome of this particular battle, I fear that the French cannot alone see the thing through, this despite the very substantial assistance that in money and matérial that we are giving them...[if the French lose this war] and Indochina passes into the hands of the Communists, the ultimate effect on our and your global strategic position with the consequent shift in the power ratios throughout Asia and the Pacific could be disastrous and I know unacceptable to you and me....This has led us to the hard conclusion that the situation in Southeast Asia requires us urgently to take serious and far-reaching decisions....I believe that the best way to put teeth in this concept and to bring greater moral and material resources to the support of the French effort is through the establishment of a new ad hoc grouping or coalition composed of nations which have a vital concern in the checking of Communist expansion in the area. I have in mind in addition to our two countries, France, the Associated States, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and the Philippines....The important thing is that the coalition must be strong and it must be willing to join the fight if necessary. I do not envisage the need of any appreciable ground forces on your or our part."
American President Dwight Eisenhower to Prime Minister Churchill, 4 April 1954, in The Churchill-Eisenhower Correspondence, 1953-1955. Edited by Peter G. Boyle. (1990), pp. 136-137.
"Latest reports from Foster Dulles indicates that the British have taken a very definite stand against any collective conversations looking toward the development of an anticommunist coalition in Southeast Asia. Moreover Eden [Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden] has apparently gone to the Geneva Conference under strict instructions to press earnestly for a 'cease-fire' in Indochina, possibly with complete indifference to the complex decisions that the French and the Vietnamese will have to make. The only reason that we can visualize for such action is that the British are afraid that if the fighting continues we--and possibly other counties--might become involved....The attitude of Britain in this respect is bitterly resented by Australia and New Zealand. It is entirely possible that these two countries will approach the United States separately...we form a coalition to the complete exclusion of the British. This would be a tough one for us, but I think that I would go along with the idea because I believe that the British government is showing woeful unawareness of the risks we run in the region."
Diary Entry by American President Dwight Eisenhower, 27 April 1954, in The Eisenhower Diaries. Edited Robert H. Farrell. (1981), pp. 279-280.
At this point in time, it is difficult to ascertain if the former junior Senator from Illinois' step back from overtly intervening in the Syrian conflict was a case of someone who was forced by events to apply to the American Congress or conversely was sotto voce, quite happy to use the David Cameron's debacle in the House of Commons to see if the American Congress could provide a similar veto to his own alleged inclinations towards military intervention. The example from history of President Eisenhower, who while publicly and indeed even to some extent privately at first, was anxious to intervene in the conflict in Indochina, turned out to be quite willing if not necessarily happy to allow the British to veto the proposed intervention, seems most pertinent to my mind 1. And of all American Presidents in the post-war period, it is perhaps Eisenhower who the current American President most resembles in his views on the employment of force. In particular his reluctance in to employ force unilaterally in uncertain instances such as the Indochinese and Syrian conflicts 2. Au fond, it seems to me that if the American President decides to not intervene in the Syrian conflict due to a Congressional 'veto', 'red-lines' having been crossed or not, it will be more of a case of his using a negative Congressional vote as a fig leaf to get out of the paying up the Syrian blank cheque that he so incautiously issued earlier this year. And given the lack of logic which the proposed air & missile strikes on Syria commands, perhaps that is just as well.
1. For the historical literature over what course Eisenhower ultimately did or did not favor in the Indochina crisis, see: George Herring & Richard Immerman, "Eisenhower, Dulles and Dien Bien Phu: 'the day we didn't go to war' revisited." In Dien Bien Phu and the Crisis of Franco-American Relations, 1954-1955. Edited. Denise Artaud, et. al. (1990); Richard Immerman, "A Good Stout Effort: John Foster Dulles and the Indochina Crisis, 1954-1955." In John Foster Dulles and the Diplomacy of Cold War. Edited Richard H. Immerman, (1990); Melanie Billings-Yun, Decision Against War. (1988).
2. For this similarity of both outlook and policy, see: John Lewis Gaddis. Strategies of Containment. Revised Edition.(2005),pp.128-159.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013


"The British Parliament’s rejection of a motion endorsing UK participation in expected military action against Syria is nothing less than stunning – an event with a political significance that transcends the immediate debate over whether and how to respond to what appears to have been wide-scale use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces against civilians in their own country.... In part, the vote also reflects an always-present anti-Americanism. And the vote reflects what former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates described as “the demilitarization of Europe–where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it....” But the British decision will have far-reaching consequences. These go beyond a loss of influence in the world (and in Washington, in particular). The label “special relationship” will come in for some derision. Indeed, the UK is in danger of separating itself from both the EU and the US, an undesirable status for a medium size country that wants to play a world role but has few independent options.... But to a larger extent the change reflects the reality that Britain and the rest of Europe are neither able nor willing to play a substantial role in these other regions that will define the 21st century. Instead, European politics are likely to become more parochial, focused mostly on matters of governance and economic policy on the continent. ."
Richard Haas, "Britain drifts towards isolation." The Financial Times. 30 August 2013, in www.ft.com.
"Britain has not rejected America nor abdicated its role in the world. The Sun’s reports of the death of the special relationship are exaggerated. Thursday’s vote may have given John Kerry a chance to indulge his Francophillia (‘our oldest ally,’ purred the Swiss-educated State Secretary) but this was not us chickening out. It was a very British omnishambles. Today’s Daily Telegraph splash carries the depressing details of what went wrong. This is not the first time Cameron has conjured up an historic defeat from nowhere. Remember the Health Bill? The 2012 Backfiring Budget? The 71 U-turns? You could add the general election campaign, perhaps the biggest self-inflicted wound of all. The Syria vote fits a trend".
Fraser Nelson, "Syria defeat: the anatomy of an omnishambles." The Spectator. 31 August 2013, in www.spectator.co.uk
"The ultimate aim of any Government in the United Kingdom must always remain the security of these islands from foreign domination or attack, the prosperity of the British people and the protection of our individual freedom and liberty. The following paragraphs consider how best these aims may be safeguarded over the next 10 years, in light of the international situation depicted in Part I and the estimate of the United Kingdom's material resources in Part II....Whether we like it or not, our interests are inextricably linked with those of the whole free world. We cannot hope to preserve them by our own independent action, and we are much too important a part of the free world to be able to retreat into a passive role like Sweden or Switzerland".
"'Future Policy Study, 1960-1970': Cabinet memorandum, report of the officials committee," 24 February 1960 CAB[inet] 129 / 100, C(60) 35, Public Records Office, Kew.
The key question in interpreting last week's parliamentary vote in the House of Commons' is: was it a sign that the UK is shirking its (remaining) Great Power responsibilities or is it merely a damp squib, brought on by incompetent parliamentary management? Given the fact that the self-same government a little over two years ago, was able to obtain almost universal approval for a policy towards Libya which involved a considerably more expenditure of monies and potential fatalities, it is easy and indeed au fond accurate to say that last week's vote was a mere événement. However, that prognosis overlooks the fact that such 'events' can and do have consequences: that what was merely perhaps an erratum committed by a second eleven, Tory Party House of Commons management team, may over time, become the beginnings of a long-term trend in policy. Currently, it is impossible to make a reasoned surmise as to what the future might hold. And while I am quite willing to believe that British PM Cameron, notwithstanding all his good qualities, may perhaps be rated as the worst Tory leader in government since Austen Chamberlain, the fact is, that the savage cuts in British defense spending by the self-same Tory-lead government, was perhaps one the of the main reasons that many in the parliamentary party voted against their own Prime Minister 1. And unless the cuts in question are reversed in the next five to ten years, then contrary to the then smug prediction made back in 1960, about the UK's future world role, it will indeed be the case, that 'retreat into a passive role like Sweden or Switzerland' will be the future.
1. For some of the underlying reasons for the vote by the Tory rebels, see: Fraser Nelson, "David Cameron failed the test of trust, and paid the price." The Telegraph. 29 August 2013, in www.telegraph.co.uk; Isabel Hardman, "Syria defeat: what happened to the whips?" The Spectator. 29 August 2013, in www.spectator.co.uk.
2. On the defense cuts that the Tory-lead coalition government has agreed to, see: Andrew Dorman, "Evaluating the 2010 Strategic Review," Chatham House: reports and papers, October 2010, p. 7; Paul Cornish, "Defence: Muddling Through," The World Today (November 2010), p. 6.