Tuesday, June 24, 2014


"The 1953 coup in which the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) overthrew the highly popular government of Muhammad Mossadeq and thus laid the groundwork for the establishment of the autocratic rule of Muhammed Reza Shah Pahlavi. The 1953 coup, in turn is rooted in the 1951-1953 oil crisis between Iran and Britain....The crisis did not end until August 1953, when the CIA together with the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), better known as MI6 organized a group of tank officers to overthrow Mossadeq".
Ervand Abrahamian. The Coup: 1953, The CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.- Iranian Relations. (2013), pp. 1-2.
"Back in 2009, during his heavily promoted Cairo speech on American relations with the Muslim world, U.S. President Barack Obama noted, in passing, that “in the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.” Obama was referring to the 1953 coup that toppled Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq and consolidated the rule of the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Obama would go on to remind his audience that Iran had also committed its share of misdeeds against Americans. But he clearly intended his allusion to Washington’s role in the coup as a concession -- a public acknowledgment that the United States shared some of the blame for its long-simmering conflict with the Islamic Republic. Yet there was a supreme irony to Obama’s concession. The history of the U.S. role in Iran’s 1953 coup may be “well known,” as the president declared in his speech, but it is not well founded. On the contrary, it rests heavily on two related myths: that machinations by the CIA were the most important factor in Mosaddeq’s downfall and that Iran’s brief democratic interlude was spoiled primarily by American and British meddling. For decades, historians, journalists, and pundits have promoted these myths, injecting them not just into the political discourse but also into popular culture: most recently, Argo, a Hollywood thriller that won the 2013 Academy Award for Best Picture, suggested that Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution was a belated response to an injustice perpetrated by the United States a quarter century earlier. That version of events has also been promoted by Iran’s theocratic leaders, who have exploited it to stoke anti-Americanism and to obscure the fact that the clergy itself played a major role in toppling Mosaddeq. In reality, the CIA’s impact on the events of 1953 was ultimately insignificant. Regardless of anything the United States did or did not do, Mosaddeq was bound to fall and the shah was bound to retain his throne and expand his power. Yet the narrative of American culpability has become so entrenched that it now shapes how many Americans understand the history of U.S.-Iranian relations and influences how American leaders think about Iran. In reaching out to the Islamic Republic, the United States has cast itself as a sinner expiating its previous transgressions. This has allowed the Iranian theocracy, which has abused history in a thousand ways, to claim the moral high ground, giving it an unearned advantage over Washington and the West, even in situations that have nothing to do with 1953 and in which Iran’s behavior is the sole cause of the conflict, such as the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program.".
Ray Takeyh, "What Really Happened in Iran [Persia]: The CIA, the Ouster of Mosaddeq, and the Restoration of the Shah." Foreign Affairs. (July / August 2014), in www.foreignaffairs.com.
Professor Takeyh piece in the current issue of the American periodical Foreign Affairs is a wonderful exposition of the recent scholarship of the last fifteen to twenty years as it relates to the reality of what occurred and did not occur in Persia circa 1952-1953. While of course there was active, indeed highly active Anglo-American 'plotting' to overthrow the demagogic Persian Prime Minister Mossadeq, that mere fact does not obviate the actual character of what did indeed occur and how it occurred. As Professor Takeyh outlines quite cogently in his piece, Mossadeq while initially quite popular circa 1951, was gradually but consistently alienating more and more sections of Persian society with his political antics and anti-monarchical policies. So much so, that by 1953, the previously highly supportive Ayatollah Kashani (who in many ways was a forerunner of Ayatollah Khomeini), had become an out and out opponent of Mossadeq and his National Front political organization. As the British Foreign Office noted in the immediate aftermath of the coup, both the Shah and his appointed replacement for Mossadeq, General Zahedi:
"took the unprecedented step of calling on Kashani at his house and thanking him for his co-operation in the restoration of the monarchy" 1.
As one scholar noted more than twenty years ago, when the first archival research was beginning to be done on this subject, a successful coup d'état was only possible due to the chief fact of: "Mossadeq's diminished internal support" 2. Indeed, and oddly enough in complete contrast with his tendentious editorializing, Professor Abrahamian's narrative provides prodigious amounts of empirical evidence that it was Mossadeq's own political pyrotechnics, more than anything else which allowed the Anglo-American plotting to succeed 3. Aside of course from the importance of setting the historical record straight, the importance of Professor Takeyh's article is that enables the Americans and the West to negotiate with the regime of Mullahs in Teheran over the nuclear proliferation and other issues such as the current crisis in Iraq, without having to kowtow to the Persians due to a sense of guilt for what can now be clearly seen as a mis-remembered historical past.
1. See: Minute by Gandy, 17 September 1953, FO 371/104571/EP1015/233, PRO Office, Kew. See also: Minute by Gandy, 16 September 1953, titled: "Note for use by Sir Frank Roberts", Ibid.
2. See: Reza M. Ghods, "The Rise and Fall of General Razmara". Middle East Studies. (January 1990): pp. 23-31.
3. Abrahamian, op cit., pp. 130-136,165-170 and passim.

Friday, June 20, 2014

'Good-bye to Sykes-Picot' and all that?

"Isaac Chotiner: How else do you think the borders of the Middle East might change?
Oliver Roy: There is a real possibility of territorial changes, although nobody, except the Kurds and some Israelis, advocate such changes. But the paradox is that the agents of changes are not the people who want such changes! The main drive for changes is not the assertiveness of new entities but the collapse of the old national constructions. The main factor that could lead to a reshuffle of borders is the widening of the new strategic fault-line in the Middle East; the divide between Shias and Sunnis. The first thing would be to have a true independent Kurdistan in Iraq, because of a collapse of Iraq first; Syria might collapse too, but except Kurdistan we will not see new nation-states with precise borders, but vague zones of influence with fluctuating boundaries. The collapse of the existing nation-states will in turn weaken the international borders, even if they are not redrawn. The border between Iran and Iraq and the border between Turkey and its southern neighbors will be de facto open. Goods, people, and weapons will move more easily.
IC: Do you see the Sunni/Shia rift as getting worse? Has it ever been this bad?
OR: The rift has little to do with religion as such. It seldom became a geostrategic issue in history, except when Iran turned Shia in the sixteenth century. During the twentieth century there was no rift at all until the Iranian-Islamic revolution. The rift has been a consequence of the Iranian Islamic revolution that has identified Iran with militant Shiism, and it entailed a religious radicalization of a Sunni fringe (the so-called "Salafis") that has been encouraged by Saudi Arabia both for religious reasons and for thwarting the growing Iranian influence in Afghanistan, the Gulf, and Iraq. And the rift is growing, because the mutual distrust is growing. Shias in the Gulf are systematically perceived as an Iranian fifth column, something they were not seen as in the past. The Shia-Sunni divide is a war through proxies waged by Iran and Saudi Arabia. But while the Shia axis is relatively coherent (Iran, Hezbollah, Assad and to a lesser extend Maliki), the Sunni front is utterly divided and has no common objectives. The U.S. invasion of Iraq has just destroyed the main Sunni bulwark against Iran, with two consequences: the solidifying of a de facto independent Kurdistan, the secession of a large Sunni populated area in Northern Iraq that shifted from Baathism to Jihadism and straddles the border with Syria. Saudi Arabia, instead of allying itself with the mainstream Sunni organizations (like the Muslim Brothers), wants to crush them, while it supported for decades the very radicals that are now taking the lead in Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria. Thus Iran is the great beneficiary of the collapse of the dominant order built between 1918 and 1948, with a minimum engagement on the field.
Isaac Chotiner, "What in God's Name Is Going on in Iraq? An Expert Explains: An interview with Olivier Roy". The New Republic. 16 June 2014 in www.newrepublic.com.
"As we approach the centenary of the First World War, one of its legacies, the Sykes-Picot agreement between Great Britain and France on the future of the post-Ottoman Middle East, finally looks to be unravelling. There will, of course, be no formal interment of an imperial diktat long resented throughout the region. In practice Syria and Iraq will continue to have their flags and seats at the United Nations but not much else, aside from capital cities and sectarian support limited to their core constituencies, the Alawaites of Syria and Shia of Iraq, with residual Christian backing....The international community, including the UN, needs to wake up to this ominous development. In the immediate post-colonial order dictated by Sykes – Picot strong states prevailed in the Middle East. That era is fast disappearing".
Lord Williams of Baglan, "Goodbye to Sykes-Picot? The Royal Institute of International Affairs. 17 June 2014 in www.chathamhouse.org
The that the organizers (if 'organized' is a mot that one may employ in connection with the Bush regime's invasion of Iraq) of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, are according to the Financial Times, making a comeback in the public sphere. As per the FT, former American Vice-President Cheney, former America Deputy Secretary of Defence Wolfowitz, and former Iraq Proconsul, Jerry Bremer have all re-emerged and or climbed out from under the rocks where they have been hiding low these many years, to argue that the current situation in Iraq requires the active intervention of American forces and that it is the current administration which is at fault in allowing the ISIS rebellion to break-out by withdrawing American forces at the end of 2011 1. What is one to make of these statements? While I am not in the least enamored of the current American Administration and or its policies in various places in the world, it is difficult to follow the logic of these Bush regime arguments (if one may employ that word to describe what is being said). Firstly, as Olivier Roy aptly notes, it was the American invasion of Iraq circa 2003, an invasion which had no geopolitical logic of any sort, other than some type of forlorn ideological crusade, which destroyed the dominance of the Sunni in not only Iraq, but also in the greater Near and Middle East. The destruction of a eighty plus years old equilibrium in the region and in Iraq has still not sorted itself out as of yet. And, indeed as Lord Williams of Chatham House notes, the work of destruction as it relates to the tottering of various Arab State apparatuses appears to be continuing before our very eyes. With perhaps the traditionally Western aligned Kingdom of Jordan as the next potential domino to commence tottering 2. And it may perhaps be that it will take another twenty years to reconstruct another, stable equilibrium. Whether and how that re-establishment will occur is almost impossible to predict at this time. And while it is imperative the Americans and the West prevent ISIS from forming some regional base or bastion for international terrorism, per se, there are not many other direct American and Western interests at play in the current situation in Iraq. Something which one may argue is also the case in Syria. In an ideal world or in a world which had a traditional, hegemonic, Great Power `a la the Ottoman Empire or the Pax Britannica, et cetera, one if not both conflicts would have been settled by forceful, outside intervention. Such is not at all possible with the American hegemon. Especially now that it is (allegedly) in 'decline'. Whether the latter is true of not, the America is many things, but a traditional, hegemonic Great Power it is not. Never has, never will be. This may be a good thing, or a bad thing, but unfortunately it is an empirical and historical fact.
1.Geoff Dyer, "Bush acolytes use Iraq crisis to defend their records". The Financial Times. 18 June 2014, in www.ft.com.
2. "Analysis: Jordan Could Be the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant's Next Target". Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 17 June 2014 in www.stratfor.com.

Monday, June 16, 2014


"President Obama revealed his long-awaited plan for Afghanistan on Tuesday, announcing that a residual force of 9,800 U.S. troops will remain there for one year following the end of combat operations in December. That number will be cut in half at the end of 2015, and reduced at the end of 2016 to a small military presence at the U.S. Embassy. The plan, despite White House warnings early this year of a possible “zero option,” is largely in line with what the U.S. military had requested. It also is in line with what NATO and other international partners said was necessary for them to retain a presence in Afghanistan. “We’re finishing the job we started” more than 12 years ago, when the United States embarked on a war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan following the September 2001 attacks against this country, Obama said in brief remarks in the Rose Garden. “It’s time to turn the page” from the conflicts that have dominated U.S. foreign policy for more than a decade, he said of the timetable that would end direct U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan at the end of his second term in office. The residual force, based at various locations around Afghanistan in 2015, will include troops to train and advise Afghan security forces and a separate group of Special Operations forces to continue counterterrorism missions against what Obama called “the remnants of al-Qaeda.” Beginning in 2016, about half that force will go home, while the rest will be stationed only in Kabul and at Bagram air base north of the capital. At the end of that year, the force will shrink to the size of a regular armed forces assistance group, largely to handle military sales, under the authority of the U.S. ambassador".
Karen DeYoung,"Obama to leave 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan". The Washington Post. 27 May 2014, in www.washingtonpost.com.
"President Obama announced troop levels for Afghanistan on May 27th in ways that make no effort to present a real plan or strategy. He simply set dates certain for the elimination of a meaningful U.S. military presence in 2015 – ignoring the fact that leaving half of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan in 2016 is too small in enabling capability to meet Afghan needs....He also ignored the fact that by setting dates certain without a hint of conditionality, he effectively told the Taliban, other insurgents, and the region that the United States will not reinforce Afghan forces in an emergency. Like his earlier deadline of 2014 for ending a U.S. combat presence, he has given the enemy a clear promise that all they have to do is wait, hitting Afghan forces where it is easy, and seeing all U.S. (and allied) forces gone by 2016. He did not provide any strategic explanation of his decision, or meaningful assessment of the risks. He did not explain how the remaining U.S. forces will be organized, based, what they will do, or what they will cost. He did not assess any of the risks in his decisions or the relative value of staying in Afghanistan in the way his decisions call for. All he did was provide a set of empty generalities".
Anthony Cordesman, "President Obama’s Announcement on Troop Levels in Afghanistan: No Plan, No Transparency, No Credibility, and No Leadership". The Center for Strategic and International Studies. 28 May 2014, in www.csis.org.
"We are ready to withdraw all of our forces [from South Vietnam] by a fixed date and let objective realities shape the political future. . . .We want a decent interval. You have our assurance".
Henry Kissinger hand written comments in a Briefing book for his first trip to Peking, circa July 1971, in www.shafr.org/passport/2001/sep/interval.htm#66
With the Financial Times headline of to-day stating that the American Administration is seriously considering raining down American airstrikes on the Islamic militants of ISIS more than two years after the Americans have fully withdrawn from that country, it is with some pertinence that one gives greater degree of attention to the American Administration's proposed phased withdrawal from Afghanistan 1. I will not repeat the harsh criticism made of the same by such biased commentators as Max Boot, but will instead focus on those offered up by a much more objective and what is more important, intelligent military commentator, Anthony Cordesman 2. In a scathing series of remarks, Cordesman, mentions among other things that the American President's declared policy in Afghanistan:
"ignore the fact that ISAF figures do not show any of the gains from the surge in Afghanistan that occurred from the surge in Iraq, and UN casualty data show that the situation sharply deteriorated in 2013. They talk about narrow missions, but it is unclear how a counterterrorism mission will take place if the United States cannot use drones to attack targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and now that President Karzai has effectively crippled Afghan Special Forces. They do not address the fact that Afghan forces have been rushed forward and have not met most of the goals necessary to fully take over the fight, and the Afghan Air Force was never supposed to be ready before 2016. He made no mention of the Italian and German forces that have been a key part of NATO/ISAF deployment plans, or that senior U.S. commanders have been forced to keep cutting the recommended total troop presence down from a level of 13,500 – which was then seen as an absolute minimum to provide assistance at the Afghan Corps level with virtually no ability to help or enable in any emergency. Once again, his timing effectively leaves a meaningful advisory presence for only one year at a time when both Department of Defense and SIGAR are reporting major issues about the quality of even the army portion of a total force that is more than 40% notoriously corrupt police 3".
In short, if the drawn-down of American and other forces were to indeed occur as outlined on the 27th of May by the American Administration, then there is indeed a very good possibility of Afghanistan heading for another Kissingerian 'decent interval' scenario with all that implies in terms of future chaos in that country. Which one could indeed argue is mere a matter of tant pis, and that per se, Afghanistan does not merit, strategically speaking all the resources that the Americans and the other Western powers have been putting into it. Fair enough. However, given the ability in our globalized world for events in small countries which are very very far away, to impact on the other side of the globe, one would have to have a great belief in the good will of the Bon Dieu to suppose that if Afghanistan does become another failed state or for that matter a safe harbor for terrorist groupings, that nothing amiss will result from this. At the very least, what Afghanistan requires from both the Americans and the other Western powers can be summarized as: i) on site air power back-up in case of extreme need; ii) advisors and support, both in the field and throughout the army command and parts of the civilian bureaucracy; iii) financial support. In retrospect, it appears to have been the case, that the original Rumsfeldian, 'light-foot print' policy for Afghanistan, was the correct one. And that the introduction of large numbers of American and other forces into the country from 2006 onwards was a major mistake. With that being said, it defies logic of the past twelve years of conflict in Afghanistan to argue that the policy outlined by the American Administration will not eventually result in a collapse similar to the collapse seen in Iraq in the past few weeks and months or for that matter South Vietnam circa 1975. But it would appear in fact that logic does not really matter to the American Administration. In the words of the late, great British poet, Philip Larkin:
"Next year we are to bring the soldiers home / For lack of money, and it is all right. Places they guarded, or kept orderly / Must guard themselves, and keep themselves orderly. We want the money for ourselves at home / Instead of working. And this is all right. It's hard to say who wanted it to happen / But now it's been decided nobody minds. The places are a long way off, not here / Which is all right, and from what we hear / The soldiers there only made trouble happen. Next year we shall be easier in our minds " 4.
1. Geoff Dwyer, Simeon Kerr and Borzou Daragahi, "Obama considers military action in Iraq". The Financial Times. 13 June 2014, in www.ft.com.
2. Max Boot, "Obama’s Split-the-Difference Foreign Policy". Commentary. 27 May 2014, in www.commentarymagazine.com.
3. Anthony Cordesman, op. cit.
4. Philip Larkin, "Homage to a Government". In The Norton Anthology: English Literature Eighth Edition Volume 2. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2006, pp. 2571-2572.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


"Battles continue to rage across northern Iraq, pitting jihadist group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant against Iraqi security forces and their allies. The growing reach of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has escalated an already brutal campaign in Iraq. Alarmingly quick advances by the militants across an important region of the Middle East could draw in regional powers as well as the United States. Utilizing hit-and-run tactics, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL, has sought to keep Iraqi security forces under pressure and dispersed. ISIL has achieved this by striking at areas where security forces are weak and withdrawing from areas where Baghdad has concentrated its combat power. The jihadists have been working hard at improving their tradecraft by developing skill sets ranging from the staging of complex ambushes to using Iraqi army equipment effectively in surprise raids. ISIL has also sought to better develop its ties with local Sunni communities. As far back as the days of al Qaeda in Iraq and its predecessor, Jamaat Tawheed wa al-Jihad, founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, militancy has had a presence in Anbar province -- and indeed in Mosul. During the Iraq War, the U.S. military considered Mosul one of the key gateways for foreign al Qaeda in Iraq fighters to enter the country. ISIL operations in Mosul and the wider Nineveh Province are unsurprising. What is surprising is the degree of success that ISIL has managed to achieve in its latest offensive in the region".
STRATFOR: Global Intelligence, "Worsening Violence in Iraq Threatens Regional Security". 12 June 2014, in www.stratfor.com.
"The US is examining air strikes and other forms of direct military action against the jihadists who have taken control of a large area of northern Iraq but the White House remains deeply reluctant to involve itself again in the country’s conflicts. The Obama administration has received requests from the Iraqi government since the end of last year to use air power against extremist groups in the north. That pressure has become more urgent since the capture on Tuesday of Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, say current and former US officials. However, although the administration has indicated it will accelerate the sale of arms to Iraq, it has not yet decided to get directly involved in the conflict with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the al-Qaeda splinter group known as Isis" .
Geoff Dyer, "Isis drags US back to where Washington fears to tread". The Financial Times. 12 June 2014, in www.ft.com.
The downfall of Mosul in a lightning attack by the "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant" otherwise known as 'ISIS' is both surprising and alarming. That an ultra-extreme Sunni group of out and out terrorists have managed to attack and take Iraq's second largest city without almost any opposition by the nominal Iraqi army seems to indicate the pitfalls post-facto to the 'decent interval' American strategy towards Iraq since 2009. Which is not to have any nostalgia for the endemic idiocy which caused the United States to invade Iraq in 2003 in the first place. Merely that having invaded and overthrown the Saddam Hussein regime, the Americans did indeed to a degree 'reap the whirlwind' by not ensuring that either a sufficiently strong regime remained on the ground once they decided to withdraw or conversely ensure that a trip-wire American presence remained 'in country'. Of course, both the former and the latter are in retrospect easier said then done. The egregious Maliki government, which being au fond, a junior ally of the regime of Mullahs in Persia, was hardily enthusiastic about a continuing American presence. Nor did the fact that Maliki has insisted on governing as not a national Iraqi leader but a sectarian and partisan Shiite and pro-Persian one make matters any better. Indeed there would have been and in indeed would be something quite absurd in having American forces prop-up a irresponsible, pro-Persian, sectarian Shiite regime in Baghdad. While the American, neo-conservative commentator, Mr. Max Boot's own prior history on the subject of Iraq is riddled with errata to numerous to speak of, his comments to-day point up to an obvious fact: that the Maliki government must go 1. That aside from perhaps air strikes (which may result in horrific civilian deaths) on ISIS forces, there does not appear to be much that the Americans can do at this stage:
"Maliki has presided over the disintegration of Iraq. He doesn’t deserve a third term. The country desperately needs a new leader. Until a change of leadership happens, there is little point in sending more U.S. aid which, if Mosul is anything to go by, is likely to wind up arming the insurgents 2."
Indeed according to perhaps the premier American military strategist and commentator, Anthony Cordesman, the Americans and indeed the West do not have much of a choice, when it comes to either Maliki or ISIS:
Whether Iraq can move forward as long as Maliki remains its leader. He may still be able to bribe some key Sunni tribal leaders, and ISIS may soon alienate many Sunnis in the areas it occupies, but Maliki has emerged as something approaching the Shiite equivalent of Saddam Hussein, and is as much a threat to Iraq as ISIS. Iraq desperately needs a truly national leader and one who puts the nation above himself. Without one, ISIS may become a lasting enclave and regional threat -- dividing Iraq into Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish sections -- or drag Iraq back to the worst days of its civil war and create another Syria-type conflict in the region" 3.
In short the Americans and damned if they do something, and equally damned if they do nothing. At this point in time, masterly inactivity appears to be the only realistic option. Indeed if one were to look at the matter from a purely regional perspective, ISIS rampage will force the regime of Mullahs to spend a considerable amount of money, arms and perhaps even men to prop-up the Maliki regime if indeed ISIS does endeavor to take Baghdad in a similar lightning strike. Given the expenditures that Tehran is already undertaking propping-up the Assad regime in Syria, one may well wonder if Persia will have the necessary wherewithal to endeavor something similar in Iraq. Of course, if that were to indeed occur and Persia were to intervene militarily and successfully, then it would represent a strategic breakthrough for Tehran in the region. It would at that point, with its forces on the ground in Iraq, truly be the leading regional power or hegemon. Which merely highlights the strategic cul de sac that the Americans are in at the moment as per both Iraq and the larger Near and Middle East. The entire affair is merely one is afraid a harbinger of another failed 'decent interval' scenario in Afghanistan circa 2016-2018.
1. Max Boot, "Maliki Must Go". Commentary. 11 June 2014, in www.commentary.com.
2. Ibid.
3. Anthony Cordesman, "Shaping Iraq’s Security Forces". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 12 June 2014, in www.csis.org

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


"The Middle Eastern strongman is back. This week, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad staged an election in which he won a landslide victory, and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was declared winner of last week’s contentious presidential poll, having secured 96.9 per cent of the vote. A few weeks earlier, Iraq held a more genuine election, in which the highest score went to a coalition led by the increasingly authoritarian leader, prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. In Libya, meanwhile, a renegade general, Khalifa Haftar, is waging battle for control of the state in the name of weeding out unruly Islamist militias. Three years after Arab uprisings awakened long-suppressed hopes for a democratic future, the Arab world is lurching back to the old autocratic order. In the scorched political landscape of the region today, only Tunisia appears to have a chance of a stable democratic future. For much of the rest of the Arab world, it is a time of democratic setback".
Roula Khalaf, "Strongmen are back to dash hopes of the Arab spring." The Financial Times. 5 June 2014, in www.ft.com.
"This divorce between the revolutionaries and the people determined the happenings of 1848. The revolution had officers but no rank and file. The old forces, on which the system of 1815 rested, succumbed to their own weaknesses and confusion; but no new forces took their place. There followed instead the rule of ideas, and this rule ended as soon as the old forces recovered their nerve."
Alan John Percival Taylor. The Course of German History. (1945), pp. 70-71.
What the three plus years after the overthrow of the sclerotic regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya plus disturbances in Bahrain, Yemen and of course famously in Syria seemed at the time to indicate was that the Near and Middle East was finally on the cusp of a true 'Democratic Awakening' `a la 1848 or 1989. Some of course, like myself were quite skeptical and therefore was surprised by the quickness of events in both Egypt, Libya and indeed in Syria. Thereafter, the balance of forces and thus events seemed slowly but surely to tend towards elements of the status quo ante. First in Libya, which would have seen a Qaddafi restoration, without the military intervention by NATO. Then later on in the year in Syria, where the progressive deterioration of the situation for the regime, was gradually stopped and then reversed. So much so that the year 2013 and 2014 has seen the regime back in the saddle militarily speaking. Albeit at the cost of perhaps two-hundred thousand dead and the destruction of much of the country, with five-million refugees from the fighting. The arch, the highlight of the reversal of fortunes in the region, was of course in 2013, With the overthrow of the elected Muslim Brotherhood President by the Army. Subsequent events have seen the Army entrench itself fully in power `a la the situation say in 1952. Which is not to gainsay the fact that as the bien-pensant commentator for the FT, Mme. Khalaf, further points out in her piece that regardless of the counter-revolution which has overcome the region, that it will be difficult if not impossible to turn back the clock:
"But Arabs are also likely to prove far more impatient and demanding of accountability than in the past" 2.
Just as, one may point out (and in this respect, the example of 1848 is indeed quite pertinent), the years after 1848-1849, were years in which in country after country, the forces of order, either ancien (the German Confederation, the Italian peninsula and the Habsburg Monarchy) or nouvelle (Napoleonic France), steadily asserted themselves. However the restoration of the 1850's, was not quite the same order as which existed circa 1847. Except perhaps in the Bourbon Monarchy of Italia and in the Papal States. Similarly, Mme. Khalaf is no doubt correct to surmise that the future of the region, however retrograde and indeed depressing it looks to be at the moment, will not be a replica of what it once was. If nothing else, it is highly unlikely that either the 'Presidency for life', with an option for dynastic succession `a la Syria, Egypt and Tunisia will ever occur again. Similarly, what the American commentator Thomas Lippman once called "long period of comatose politics in the Arab world", has indeed come to an end 3. With what results no one can so far say. Per se, there is nothing to prevent some of the more stable countries in the region from following (hopefully) Tunisia into a pluralist and democratic direction. The examples of Indonesia and Malaysia come immediately to mind as possible models. Unfortunately, to indeed proceed in that direction involves an almost complete break with regional politics as practiced in the past sixty plus years. The politics of 'winner takes all'. Not an impossible task but not an easy one either. As nominally 'democratic' Iraq proves all too well. Only time will tell if it proves to be possible or not for other countries in the region to break free from the dead hand of the past.
As someone in the Eastern Department of the British Foreign Office noted circa 1952:
"It is true that we cannot now put the clock back and that we can only hope that the sham democracy of to-day which by the passions it arouses is more dangerous than and as reactionary as the oligarchy or autocracy of yesterday, must eventually become a true democracy which will lead to government in the interests of the governed 4".
1. See for one example: Charles Coutinho, "Egypt: the Alternatives". Diplomat of the Future. 28 January 2011 in www.diplomatofthefuture.blogspot.com
2. Khalaf, op. cit. See also for a similarly optimistic appraisal of the Arab Spring: Katerina Dalacoura, "The 2011 uprisings in the Arab Middle East: political change and geopolitical implications". International Affairs. (January 2012), pp. 63-79.
3. Thomas W. Lippman,"A Politically 'Comatose' Mideast Awakens," The Council on Foreign Relations. 18 February 2011, in www.cfr.org
4.Christopher Gandy, "Minute: Observations on Mr. Fellowes' Paper 'Nationalisation and Policy in the Middle East," 20 March 1952. FO 371 / 98244 XC14185, PRO, Kew (copy of the original in my possession).

Friday, June 06, 2014


The resounding gains made by the anti-EU parties in last week's European parliamentary elections have alerted Europe's mainstream leadership to its fundamentally precarious position. This is a warning Stratfor sounded more than two years ago, when we predicted the rise of the far right and cautioned that these fringe groups should not be underestimated, precisely because they were tapping into very real and deepening sentiments that emerged from the economic and social malaise that has developed since 2008. The highest levels of European leadership are finally and unequivocally feeling the political consequences of years of unemployment and stagnating growth across much of the continent. The dismal election results for many of the mainstream European parties (particularly in France, Spain and the United Kingdom) overshadowed the small but much-lauded gross domestic product growth figures for the year to date that dominated headlines until last week. The current European leadership sees the rapid rise of Euroskeptical parties as an existential threat to the postwar order in Europe. This is not only because of old specters of Europe's bloody nationalist past, but also because the economic and financial stability of the continent has been rigged (sometimes haphazardly) around the open market and common currency that these Euroskeptical parties want to recuse.
Stratfor: Geopolitical Diary, "Europe's Political Mainstream Gets A Wake-Up Call." Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 29 May 2014, in www.stratfor.com.
After five years of economic crisis, the 2014 elections to the European Parliament were always expected to produce victories for the populist parties that reject the EU and its political values. And so it has proved, with fringe and nationalist movements dealing a blow not just to the European project but to national governments who appear out of touch. The populist surge has been startling. In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front has won its biggest victory at a national poll since it was founded in 1972. In Britain, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence party came first, humiliating the three main parties. Denmark’s far right People’s party and Greece’s radical left Syriza also emerged victorious. While this has been a moment of triumph for populist parties, the results are far from a comprehensive rejection of the EU by voters across the bloc. Eurosceptics will remain a clear minority in the European Parliament. Given the scale of the economic crisis that Europe has endured, this is hardly a coup for the European rejectionists. Moreover, it is significant that mainstream party leaders with strong reform programmes beat off the populist challenge. In Italy, Matteo Renzi, the centre-left leader, saw off the anti-establishment Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo. In Germany, Angela Merkel’s CDU did less well than in the 2009 European elections. But the German chancellor retained her commanding lead over the Social Democrats, leaving her unchallenged as Europe’s dominant political leader.
Leader, "Stark warning from Europe’s voters: Populists have gained but so have the reformers." The Financial Times. 26 May 2014, in www.ft.com.
The political earthquake that some were predicting to occur in the European elections: either joyfully or in dread has to some degree occurred 1. The fact that in four (France, Uk, Greece and Denmark) EU countries the anti-European Union, populist parties came in first and in several more (Italia, Hungary, Finland, Austria) they came in either second or third is of course revealing. It is a startling indication of the disconnection between the European pays legal and pays reel. Something that this online journal has been talking about for a good number of years now. Even pre-dating the crisis over the Euro. With that being said, the results per se are not 1933 redivivus. Why? Well simply put, the elections themselves are not, in the larger scheme of things really important. The results of the elections do not per se, decide or determine for example the complexion of the next European Commission or its President (albeit the latter was supposed to have been based upon which list: Christian-Democratic or Socialist came in first). Accordingly, in many ways the European Union elections, with its very low turn-out (at least for European elections) lend themselves to wide swings and protest votes of parties which are not in terms of national elections very important. If and only if, something akin to the same results in at least two or three of the above named countries were to occur, would it be accurate to say that the cauchmar of populist rabblerousing had became an important variable in European politics. Which is not, per contra to the usual bien-pensant, European intelligentsia to discount aspects of the anti-metropolitan discourse that is utilized (often highly cynically of course) by populist showman. Many, many years ago, the late, great Enoch Powell back in 1968 illustrated to all and sundry the end results of refusing, ostrich-like, to tabulate the consequences of third-world, non-white immigration to the European continent. Nothing which has occurred from that time to this has shown him to be wrong. As he brilliantly argued:
"We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependants, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre. So insane are we that we actually permit unmarried persons to immigrate for the purpose of founding a family with spouses and fiancées whom they have never seen....As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see "the River Tiber foaming with much blood". That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century. Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now". 2
Of course the populist politicians like Mr. Wilders of the Netherlands have no solutions to the problems outlined by Enoch Powell, and indeed one is tempted to say that they would prefer to have the problem of immigration continue in order to have a political football to kick around. Accordingly, it is my surmise that in the absence of a deep and prolonged depression in EU Europe, that the populist wave will soon enough spend itself and it will be politics as usual in both Brussels and elsewhere in Europe. Of which all one can say is: more is the pity.
1. Besides the Financial Times leader, see: Valentina Pop, "EU leaders digest anti-establishment vote." EU Observer. 27 May 2014 in www.euobserver.com.
2. Enoch Powell, Quoted from Speech to Annual Meeting of the West Midlands Area Conservative Political Centre, Birmingham, 20 April 1968.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014


"Saudi Arabia has called for a donor conference to assist Egypt as the Gulf’s Arab superpower seeks to muster regional support for its vital regional ally against what it regards as the threat of political Islam. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud called on states to support Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was elected president with nearly 97 per cent of the vote on a low turnout. Mr Sisi faces severe economic challenges, such as low tourism revenues and poor investor confidence as government wage bills soar amid large state subsidy costs. Concerned at the rise of political Islam in the aftermath of the Arab spring, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have led Gulf support for Mr Sisi, who deposed the elected Islamist Muslim Brotherhood government last year. “I urge you all to attend a donors’ conference to help Egypt overcome its economic difficulties,” he said. King Abdullah said any country that did not contribute to Egypt’s future would “have no future place among us”.... Egypt’s Gulf allies are mulling various schemes that could be used to support the Sisi government’s finances. Bankers are working on ideas including Gulf states guaranteeing Egyptian bonds or buying Egyptian bonds guaranteed by western powers. Egypt, bankers add, has asked Gulf states for additional financial help, including as much as $2bn in immediate aid to allow the north African state to pay energy bills."
Simeon Kerr, "Saudi Arabia calls on region to assist Egypt". The Financial Times. 3 June 2014, in www.ft.com.
"The net result of the last five months has been to bring Egypt to the verge of anarchy. The present Egyptian Government is the best we can possibly hope for. Its position is precarious and its continuance in power depends on...some helpful move by us, and it needs it soon."
Anthony Eden to Winston Churchill, 10 March 1952, PREM 11/91. PRO, Kew (copy in my possession).
The mots uttered by then British Foreign Secretary to Churchill still hold to-day. Whatever one feels or indeed believes about the new military regime in Egypt, the fact of the matter is, that it is indeed at the present time: 'The present Egyptian Government is the best we can possibly hope for'. No end of castigation will conjure up a Democratically-inclined and secular, responsible and peaceful government in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, unfortunately proved to be abysmal in the art of government. And while a moderate, peaceful and not overtly Islamist, Muslim Brotherhood government would have been ideal for Egypt, circumstances were not favorable and accordingly the previous government was racked with chaos and soon enough was overthrown. I for one am not in the least optimistic about the chances of things coming up trumps in Egypt anytime soon. The performance of the Army in the past sixty-two years leaves very little room for optimism. With that being said, there does not appear to be at the present time, any viable alternatives available. And as the late, great Fürst von Bismarck aptly put it: 'politics is the art of the possible'. And one may add, not the impossible. Which is perhaps what man bien-pensant liberals in the West are expecting from the Near and Middle East. Hence, notwithstanding my less than favorable views of the Saudi regime and its allies in the Gulf, they and not the Americans have a correct or should one say, 'more realistic' view of what is on offer in Egypt and what needs to be done to shore up a crumbling position. Au fond, the Sisi regime is politically speaking the ultimate faute de mieux.

Monday, June 02, 2014


"A top Chinese general has lashed out at the US and Japan, accusing the two countries of teaming up against China and making “provocative” comments amid escalating Asian maritime tensions. Speaking at a defence forum in Singapore on Sunday, Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of the Chinese general staff, lambasted the US and Japanese defence ministers for telling Asian counterparts that China was using intimidation to assert its territorial claims. US defence secretary Chuck Hagel said on Saturday that the US would “not look the other way when fundamental principles of the international order are being challenged”. He added that China was undermining​ its claims that the South China Sea was a “sea of peace, friendship and co-operation” by using coercive tactics. The spat came as US President Barack Obama prepared for a trip to Europe where he will attend a G7 meeting and second world war D-day commemorations. Republican senator and presidential candidate hopeful Ted Cruz on Sunday attacked Mr Obama’s foreign policy, saying: “Every region of the world has gotten worse; America has weakened, our enemies have been strengthened.” In the face of mounting efforts by the US and Japan to shore up new security relationships in Asia, Gen Wang said China opposed both the practice of building military alliances and “attempts by any country to dominate regional affairs”. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday that Japan would give more support to southeast Asian nations facing Chinese pressure. Gen Wang said: “The speeches by Mr Abe and Mr Hagel gave me the impression that they co-ordinated with each other, they supported each other, they encouraged each other and they took the advantage of speaking first . . . and staged provocative actions and challenges against China." The Shangri-La Dialogue forum has become one of the key defense events in Asia, particularly as China becomes more willing to voice its views. Gen Wang said he had not intended to deliver a critical speech, but felt compelled to respond to Mr Hagel whose speech was “full of hegemony”. This year’s event became more heated because of the escalating disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea. China is embroiled in maritime disputes around the region, including with Manila and Tokyo. Scores of Chinese and Vietnamese ships are also involved in a stand-off near the disputed Paracel Islands after China started drilling for oil there in early May. China’s neighbours are concerned about the “nine-dash line”, a demarcation on Chinese maps that encloses much of the South China Sea, suggesting that Beijing lays claim to most of the resource-rich waters".
Demetri Sevastopulo, "Beijing [Peking] hits out at US and Japan alliance". The Financial Times. 1 June 2014, in www.ft.com.
"Even if there is an argument for economic interaction with Beijing, China is still a potential threat to stability in the Asia-Pacific region. Its military power is currently no match for that of the United States. But that condition is not necessarily permanent. What we do know is that China is a great power with unresolved vital interests, particularly concerning Taiwan and the South China Sea. China resents the role of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region. This means that China is not a 'status quo' power but one that would like to alter Asia's balance of power in its own favor. That alone makes it a strategic competitor, not the 'strategic partner' the Clinton Administration once called it....Some things take time. U.S. policy toward China requires nuance and balance. It is important to promote China's internal transition through economic interaction while containing Chinese power and security ambitions."
Condolezza Rice, "Promoting the National Interest," Foreign Affairs (January / February 2000), pp. 56-57.
The comments by the deputy chief of the Chinese general staff, General Wang give the lie, if such were indeed needed or required at this point in time, that the Peoples Republic is either a 'responsible stakeholder' or indeed a status quo ante bellum power, `a la Henry Kissinger's fantasies 1. It is nothing of the sort of course. Indeed it is a revisionist, expansionist, albeit not suicidal, Great Power, which would like to enjoy regional dominance if not hegemony. Hence the comments by General Wang underscore the fact that sans, the Japanese-American alliance, the Far East would be much more vulnerable to Chinese power grabs then it is at present. This is not to say that the PRC aims to either attack Japan or the American Seventh fleet in the near or not so near future. This is unlikely. It is merely the case that left to itself, Peking will endeavor to browbeat and pressure its neighbors in the South China Seas to accepting Peking's expansionist and self-serving definitions of its maritime and other borders. The only response to recent Chinese policies in this vein are a strengthening of the alliance between Tokyo and Washington as well as offering diplomatic and other support to those nations in the region who feel threatened by Peking. In the words of Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe over the past week-end:
"Japan will offer its utmost support for the efforts of the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as they work to ensure the security of the seas and the skies, and thoroughly maintain freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight 2".
The Orient would be a much safer place if the American President would reiterate the same language as his Japanese ally. And forcefully back-up his mots with action.
1. For a typically Kissingerian view along these lines, see: "Avoiding a US-China Cold War," The Washington Post. 14 January 2011, in www.washingtonpost.com
2. Demetri Sevastopulo, "Abe says Japan will support nations in disputes with China". The Financial Times. 30 May 2014, in www.ft.com.