Friday, August 28, 2015


"First the good news about the new role of China: it lies—at least up to now—in the economic side of the case. Alongside better monetary policy and more flexible exchange rates between the big industrial blocs, the response of China along with other big emerging market economies to the world financial crisis is the central explanation why the financial turbulence that emanated from the U.S. subprime crisis did not completely destroy the world economy and lead to a repeat of the 1930s Great Depression...How different the twenty-first century looks from the Depression story! It is as if the Chinese leadership were 'A' students in one of Kindleberger's courses. Throughout the crisis, the Chinese economy continued to grow at an amazing pace, in part as a consequence of large state countercyclical strategies. When anyone wants an example of how a Keynesian strategy can be highly effective in the short term, internationally as well as domestically, they should look at China's 4 trillion renmibi stimulus."
Harold James, "International order after the financial crisis". International Affairs. (May 2011), pp. 530-531.
August in China has been anything but the quiet month of myth. Developments in the equity and foreign exchange markets and even the appalling industrial accident in Tianjin might seem mere bad luck when considered individually. Together, however, they symbolise a slow-motion denouement of China’s economic and political model. The country is now going through a crisis of transition, unparalleled since Deng Xiaoping set out to put clear water between China’s future and the Mao era. The signs are that it is not going so well. Rebooting the authority and primacy of the Communist party, the pursuit of often contentious reforms, financial liberalisation and rebalancing the economy while trying to sustain an unrealistic rate of growth are complex and mutually incompatible goals....China’s economic transition was always going to be difficult, but developments this year suggest that things are not going according to plan. The centralisation of power is proving to be a double-edged sword for reform, the anti-corruption campaign is choking off initiative and growth and the economy cannot be kept on an unrealistic expansionary path by unending stimulus. The time for accepting a permanently lower growth rate is drawing closer. It will test the legitimacy and reform appetite of China’s leaders in ways that will determine the country’s prospects for years to come.
George Magnus, "The Chinese model is nearing its end". The Financial Times. 21 August 2015, in
As someone who was extremely skeptical of Professor James original thesis at the very time that he first presented the very same four years ago (in this very journal in fact), I would not be human if I did not show a little bit of Schadenfreude at the recent economical turbulence in China. Obviously, notwithstanding the 'hurrahs' of praise for the technocratic skills and decision making ethos of the new Mandarins of the PRC, all is not well in the Chinese capital these days 1. Given the endemic corruption and harsh authoritarian nature of the political regime in the PRC (infinitely worse than say in Putin's Russia), it is a wonder (at least to me) why or how anyone could have even the minimal sympathy for the regime in Peking. Not to speak of the fact that in the regime still pays lip service to the 'heroic' doings of that monster in human form, called Mao Tse-tung. Accordingly, it is not surprising, but indeed refreshing that the hollow nature of the so-called expertise of the technocrats who rule in China has clearly been shown to be hollow 2. Something that the ever-wise, George Magnus has been reminding people for quite awhile now. One can only hope that with the recent events, the legitimacy and sympathy that the regime in Peking has garnered since 2008, both at home and abroad, will quickly evaporate in short order. As Dr. Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute cogently commented yesterday:
"The way the Chinese leaders handled the crisis also tells us a great deal about the country’s political vulnerabilities.... The bottom line is that although there are plenty of officials in China who understand financial markets, the top leaders who approve decisions in time of emergency speak no foreign languages, talk to nobody outside their small circle of acolytes and have no idea of what makes markets and people tick. That has always been China’s Achilles heel, as it is for any authoritarian state: the idea that the Chinese have invented a miraculous system which preserves absolute power in the hands of a tiny self-selecting elite but somehow still allows for ‘technocrats’ to make sensible ‘meritocratic’ decisions was always nonsense, and remains nonsense, as the handling of the current crisis indicates" 3.
In short, while the BRIC countries of the world will also feel the after shocks of the economic turbulence that is contemporary China, it is far better for the future of the world, that the PRC be taken down a peg or two in every way possible, unless and until its system of governance changes. Nay indeed changes almost completely.
1. See in particular: David A. Bell. The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy. (2015). As well as: Martin Jacques. When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order (2009).
2. Jamil Anderlini, "China: Credibility on the line". The Financial Times. 28 August 2015, in
3. Jonathan Eyal, "China’s Stock Market Crash Threatens Her Global Power Ambitions". The Royal United Services Institute. 27 August 2015, in

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


"On Aug. 21, Israeli Channel 2 Television aired a recording of Ehud Barak, Israel's former defense minister and former prime minister, saying that on three separate occasions, Israel had planned to attack Iran's nuclear facilities but canceled the attacks. According to Barak, in 2010 Israel's chief of staff at the time, Gabi Ashkenazi, refused to approve an attack plan. Israeli Cabinet members Moshe Yaalon and Yuval Steinitz backed out of another plan, and in 2012 an attack was canceled because it coincided with planned U.S.-Israeli military exercises and a visit from then-U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The fact that the interview was released at all is odd. Barak claimed to have believed that the tape would not be aired, and he supposedly tried unsuccessfully to stop the broadcast. It would seem that Barak didn't have enough clout to pressure the censor to block it, which I suppose is possible....It would seem, intentionally or unintentionally, that Barak is calling Israeli attention to two facts. The first is that militarily taking out Iranian facilities would be difficult, and the second is that attempting to do so would affect relations with Israel's indispensible ally, the United States. Military leaders' opposition to the strikes had been rumored and hinted at in public statements by retired military and intelligence heads; Barak is confirming that those objections were the decisive reason Israel did not attack. The military was not sure it could succeed".
George Friedman, "Israel: The Case Against Attacking Iran". Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 25 August 2015, in
"The US has military options for preventive strikes that Israel cannot come close to matching if it has the support of its Arab Gulf allies. This does not, however, make such military options desirable if there is any hope of successful negotiations with Iran, or more desirable than some form of containment. Any such conflict would have a major impact on world oil prices for an unknown period of time at a point the global economy is in crisis. It could trigger serious clashes in the Gulf and spill over into other parts of the region, including Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and the Levant, and lock the US and its Southern Gulf allies into a period of overwatch and restrikes for years to come. The warnings about the “law of unintended consequences” from two US Chiefs of Staff – Admiral Mullen and General Dempsey – are fully justified".
Anthony Cordesman, "Iran and U.S. Options for Preventive Military Strikes". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 6 September 2012, in
The intentions of the former Israeli Prime and Defense Minister, as well as former Chief of Staff, Ehud Barak in admitting publically that it was Israel's own strategic calculations which prevented it from proceeding with air strikes on Persia's nuclear weapons are or should be revealing. Not, mind you revealing to those who were reasonably informed about what the likelihood of any such endeavor (mixed at best) would be, but one may presume both a domestic (Israeli) audience and an American audience (Congressional and public) who may have swallowed whole, the argument that it was only American, official hesitations which caused Tel Aviv to pull back from launching any such attacks. Nothing could be further from the truth as Barak's radio interview clearly shows, wherein in it was stated that:
"an Israeli chief of staff blocked one plan, a former chief of staff blocked a second plan and concern for U.S. sensibilities blocked a third. To put it in different terms, the Israelis considered and abandoned attacks on Iran on several occasions, when senior commanders or Cabinet members with significant military experience refused to approve the plan. Unmentioned was that neither the prime minister nor the Cabinet overruled them. Their judgment — and the judgment of many others — was that an attack shouldn't be executed, at least not at that time 1."
Something that Anthony Cordesman, who is without a doubt the leading American commentator on military matters, own writing over the years in dealing with this topic have clearly shown to be the case: that Israel, by itself lacked and lacks the wherewithal to effectively prevent, nay guarantee that it could employ sufficient military force to cripple Persia's nuclear weapons programme. When people, either informed or not so informed discuss this rather fraught and difficult issue, the fact that the usually very tough-minded Israeli leadership refused to launch attacks on Persia clearly underlines the fact that the recent agreement between the Americans and their allies with Teheran is indeed 'the very best deal that we can get' 2. Pur et simple.
1. Friedman, op. cit.
2. Anthony Cordesman, "The Best Deal with Iran That We Can Get". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 24 November 2013, in

Friday, August 21, 2015


"A critical criteria of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a twelve month breakout timeline for Iran's remaining gas centrifuge program. However, this 12 month criteria does not hold if Iran were to re-install the advanced IR-2m centrifuges during a breakout. Breakout timelines of seven months result if these centrifuges are re-installed. The U.S. administration makes the assessment that Iran will not re-install these centrifuges because they are unreliable and work poorly. This assessment preserves a 12-month breakout timeline but it appears questionable. The JCPOA has many strengths but one of its most serious shortcomings is that it almost ensures that Iran can emerge in 15-20 years as a nuclear power with the potential, at a time of its choosing, to make enough weapon-grade uranium for several nuclear weapons within a few weeks. Addressing this weakness, in particular by finding ways to ensure Iran does not build a semi-commercial enrichment program, should become a critical part of the implementation of the JCPOA and not left to future generations of decision makers."
David Albright, Houston Wood, and Andrea Stricker, "Breakout Timelines Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action". Institute for Science and International Security. 18 August 2015, in
"Preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death."
Fürst von Bismarck.
The remarks by the ultra-informative and insightful David Albright and his colleagues need to be taken seriously. And indeed one cannot gainsay the fact that per se there is a very good possibility that the regime in Persia, provided that it has the very same complexion as it does as present. The caveat employed by me is a deliberate one. There is no way to know what will be either the complexion or the policies of the future governors of Persia. It could of course very well be that the country will be saddled with the same mad Mullahs as at present. In which case, there is a very good likelihood that Persia will indeed (as Albright, et. al., state):
"Emerge in 15-20 years as a nuclear power with the potential, at a time of its choosing, to make enough weapon-grade uranium for several nuclear weapons within a few weeks 1."
But the crux of the matter is that at present, no one except the Good Lord in Heaven, has an idea as to the future nature of the governance of Persia circa Anno Domini 2025-2030. Unless one wishes to go down the path of the Bismarkian geopolitician who stages suicide in a futile effort to avoid death, there were no alternatives to the deal that was arrived at. Per contra to the musings of failed Neo-Conservative policymakers like the egregious Elliott Abrams, there was and is not in the offing a 'better deal' that could have been negotiated with Tehran 2. Which is not to say that the Americans and their allies had everything their own way. Obviously not. But that is the nature of diplomatic 'give and take'. 'Diplomacy' if the mot means anything, means that in a negotiations both sides must to at least some extent exchange gages. It is or should be self-evident that in order to arrive at any deal with Persia, the Americans, et. al., would had to agree to begin to dismantle the sanctions regime that has been constructed in the past fifteen years or so against Persia. Accordingly, the agreement does provide for the very same. Sans that concession there would not have been any agreement and the end-result of that would have been some combination of: i) Persian racing to begin developing nuclear weapons; ii) the Americans and the Israelis begin to contemplate taking military measures to forestall scenarios 'i' & 'ii'. Given the overall situation in the current Near & Middle East, to seriously give thought to beginning military activities against Persia would indeed be a case of madness. Given the alternatives available, the agreement, while far from perfect, is far better than the two scenarios outlined above. The incoherent yells of our Neo-Conservative failures notwithstanding.
1. Albright, et. al., op. cit.
2. Elliott Abrams, "Iran Got a Far Better Deal Than It Had Any Right to Expect". The National Review. 15 July 2015, in

Monday, August 17, 2015


The following is an exchange between myself and the famous British scholar of Russian history and culture, Lesley Chamberlain dealing with Graf Uvarov, Slavophilism and the nature of 19th century Russian nationalism and its aftermath in the 20th century. Please do reader peruse and enjoy.
"Dear Mr Coutinho,
Thank you for your letter. I realise I'm talking to someone extremely well informed on these matters. On your first point I'd just say that Uvarov who as you rightly say belonged to the German-Germanophile class ruling Russia at the time, nevertheless 'invented' the idea of Official Nationality to steer grassroots national feeling (being encouraged by European movements of the kind) in a direction useful to the tsarist state, ie without the component of liberty. I was always interested in Uvarov because he was nevertheless a Russian, and when he could have stayed abroad as a foreign diplomat and Count Razumovsky's nephew, nevertheless chose a career at home, where, to compensate he wrote in French, 'corresponded' with Goethe, at lease from his point of view, and effectively led a foreigner's life in Russia, just as the higher apparatchiks would do in Soviet times (although rather more in consumerist terms than intellectual - Uvarov was at least an intellectual). Your second and third points I take absolutely. There only wasn't space to venture down these byways. Roman Jakobson, an aesthetic Bolshevik of the late Silver Age, was a Eurasian and close friend of Prince Trubetskoy who was one of the founders of the movement in Prague. Like you I hope - or hoped - that my article would provoke interest, especially in Uvarov, whose biography I have written but not yet published. Alas the only US publisher I contacted feared no one had heard of him in America, to which I replied, justly, I think, that with their non-interest now it was quite sure no one would. Well, that's the life of a writer for you!"
All best wishes,
Lesley Chamberlain
8 August A. D. 2015
"My dear Mrs. Chamberlain,
I wanted to write to offer my congratulations on your splendid piece in the TLS back in May dealing with the subject of ‘Eurasianism’ and Russia, past and present. It is a truly interesting and informative essay and hopefully will inspire further discussion on this very important topic. With that being said, I did have three caveats to offer up: i) in your discussion of Graf Uvarov and ‘Narodnost’, you seem to ignore the variables which set apart the regime policy of early to mid-19th century Tsarism from both contemporary nationalist movements in Europe and Russian ‘nationalism’ in both the Soviet and post-Soviet period. Specifically, the fact that due to its relative backwardness and to its multi-national composition, the Russian Empire to an extra-ordinary degree, had an extremely cosmopolitan and indeed one may say ‘European’ ruling elite. AKA the Empire was being run overtly, by people who were neither Russian nor Pravoslovie. Such as Benckendorf, Kankrin, Nesselrode, Kleinmickel, Dubelt, Kaufman, Meyendorf, et cetera. Not surprisingly, not only the emerging Slavophil movement (Samarin’s ‘Letters from Riga’ being a prime example), but even people who were not of Slavophilic inclination, such as Alexander Herzen, characterized the Tsarist Russia as having a ‘Germanised Government’. Under the circumstances, an overt policy of ‘Russian nationalism’, even of the conservative kind was almost impossible and consequently, it was not until very late in the Tsarist period do we see evidence of the very same. In that respect, Russia under say Alexander I & Nicholas I were far different from say Russian society under Stalin or the Russian Federation under Putin; ii) in your discussion of the emergence of Eurasianism as an ideology, you seem to ignore the fact that Silver Age Russia (roughly from 1890’s to 1916), was culturally speaking, full of ‘Eurasian’ imagery and motifs: from Stravinsky’s ‘Sacre du Printemps’, to Blok’s poetry and Roerich’s designs. Given this background the ‘Eurasian turn’, is not that surprising, is it? iii) What ties if any existed between the Eurasianist movement in Russia emigration and the almost exactly contemporaneous movement (also originating in Prague in the early 1920’s) of Smenovekhovtsy? Was there any? On the surface at any rate, there should have been some, no?"
Charles Coutinho

Friday, August 14, 2015


"Russia's recent show of strength toward the West may come at the price of its own internal stability. On Aug. 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a crackdown on violations of the Kremlin's food sanctions against the European Union and the United States, during which some illegally imported food was destroyed. The move was very unpopular among Russian officials and the public. Since food imports to Russia fell by more than half within a single day of Putin's order, many criticized the Kremlin for destroying food at a time when Russians are under increased financial and economic pressure. If the Kremlin continues to crack down on those who violate the order, protests will only grow louder."
"Why Is Russia Destroying Food?". Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 13 August 2015, in
"Cornered by economic crisis and Western boycott, the regime has now fallen back on Russian nationalism as its ideological mainstay. Historically, rulers could appeal to that in time of war—1812, 1914, 1941—but always episodically, capped by other orders of value. There is no such war today, nor any further value-system. This is the first time in conditions of peace that a government is banking everything on Russian nationalism pure and simple, to all appearances for the duration. How effective is that resort likely to be? As domestic recession deepens, welfare expenditure is cut, and popular living standards fall, it is bound to come under strain. While political protests in the capital have so far failed to make much dent on the regime, if social protests in the provinces—simmering here and there since 2011—were to spread across the country, it would be in danger: the current wave of Russian national feeling is plainly liable to the external check of material hardship. Another question, which will outlast the present crisis, is its internal strength."
Perry Anderson, "Incommensurate Russia". The New Left Review. July / August 2015, in
With its recession becoming nastier by the day and with the self-defeating quality of its crackdown on the smuggling of 'foreign food' becoming more evident with every passing minute, it is time to consider how the Putin Regime will manage to survive the current, Ukraine-inspired crisis 1. As Perry Anderson cogently points out in the current issue of the New Left Review, by relying almost entirely upon regime-inspired Russian nationalism as a means of rallying support for itself, Putin and his clique are it would appear from the longue durée perspective, digging their own graves. Looked at in isolation, Russian nationalism has never provided a solid buttress for any of Russia's previous regimes. With the current recession apparently growing in intensity, especially with a barrel of oil more than sixty-percent lower than a mere fifteen months ago, the outlook for the average Russian's economic welfare does not look at all healthy. Especially, in light of the fact that even before the imposition of sanctions over Ukraine, Russia had failed to recover fully from the crisis of 2007-2009. Sans either a major rise in the price of oil in the next year or two (which appears unlikely), or a restoration of the status quo ante bellum in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, look for a gradual tightening of the economic screws on both Russian elites and the Russian narod. In view of such a set of circumstances, the survival of Putinism, appears to my mind at any rate to be in question. As a recent analysis noted, notwithstanding the very strong polling numbers for Putin personally, the fact is:
"A further deterioration of the economy could undermine the key basis of the regime’s popularity: social stability. It should also be noted that the widespread public approval that is heavily dependent on compelling an apolitical majority to make “correct” political choices can rapidly dissolve 2."
One may only hope that if Putinism does indeed collapse it does not result in the larger collapse of the Russian Federation as well. Pyotr Durnovo, a one-time Minister of the Interior of the Tsarist regime, prescient warning of early 1914, that Tsarist Russia would collapse into revolutionary turmoil under the pressure and strains of war, holds as much weight to-day as it did then 3. The only question is how long will Putin's Russia will be able to stand the accumulating rush of economic pressures and events. Particularly given the alienation of the educated classes of Moskva and Petersburg from the regime since 2012. As Durnovo himself noted back in 1906:
"Educated Russia governs the state. One must try to have as many loyal people as possible among the educated" 4.
1. Kathrin Hille, "Fears of financial crisis rise as Russia’s economy shrinks". The Financial Times. 10 August 2015, in On the food issue, see: Courtney Weaver, "Russia incinerates contraband food". The Financial Times. 6 August 2015, in See also: Tatyana Stanovaya, "Destroy at Any Cost: The Political Rationale Behind Russia’s Food Burnings". Carnegie Moscow Center. 14 August 2015, in
2. Denis Volkov, "How Authentic is Putin’s Approval Rating?" Carnegie Moscow Center. 27 July 2015, in For a sense that there is a fin de régime air to Moskva at the moment, see: Brian Whitmore, "Panic In The Kremlin". Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty. 13 August 2015, in
3. On the Durnovo memorandum, see the discussion by the British historian, Dominic Lieven in: Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia. (2015), pp. 303-307 and passim.
4. Dominic Lieven. Russia's Rulers under the old Regime. (1989), p. 229.

Friday, August 07, 2015


"After exposing themselves so disastrously to US air power at Kobani, Islamic State commanders have changed their tactics. They are now giving up territory if it can’t easily be held, before launching surprise counterattacks elsewhere. This new approach means not fighting to the last bullet unless conditions are favourable. They make many pinprick assaults up and down the weakly held frontlines; the Iraqi Kurdish front with Islamic State is six hundred miles long (the whole Western Front in 1914 was four hundred miles). These attacks often fail, but they are partly diversionary, intended to keep the enemy guessing about when and where the main assault will come. Foreign volunteers are often used as cannon fodder. Islamic State, for all its exaltation of martyrdom, is more careful now with the lives of its Iraqi and Syrian fighters. The number of local fighters has been growing rapidly because Islamic State has been conscripting all young men over the age of 16 in the area it controls – an area about the size of Great Britain with a population of six million. The recruitment drive has enabled it this year, more easily than last, to fight on multiple fronts, from the outskirts of Baghdad to the suburbs of Damascus.... At this point, Faraj says he met many foreign fighters from Britain, Turkey and France, some of whom had learned Arabic well. He wasn’t impressed by them: ‘I know many fighters from the Gulf states, Europe and Australia who are fighting for arms, fame, women and money.’ When he asked volunteers from Europe why they were in Syria some told him that their lives were miserable at home or that they had simply been bored. Many had found ‘spiritual happiness in Islam’, but Faraj said that they were often recent converts who didn’t seem to know much about Islam or local customs. The foreign fighters, he said, were mostly used for suicide attacks and propaganda, ‘while the locals are used for fighting’. This is the pattern across the territory controlled by Islamic State. It’s often difficult to know how many foreign fighters are present in a battle: Kurdish and Iraqi army commanders like to claim that almost all the fighters facing them are heavily armed foreigners from the Muslim world or Western Europe. This was the official line when the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga was defeated by Islamic State last August. But when I talked to Christian and Yazidi villagers who had seen their attackers before they fled, they said the fighters were all Iraqis, few in number and driving unarmoured vehicles. There are, however, some parts of the front that foreigners do hold. At Mount Abdul Aziz, Kurdish fighters showed me a notebook that had been found in an Islamic State headquarters: in neat handwriting it listed the Arabic equivalent for various common Russian words. On one page there was the plan of a room with arrows pointing to a table, chairs and other items with their Arabic names noted. Presumably, the owner of the notebook had come from a Russian-speaking Muslim country in the Caucasus or Central Asia.... The capture of Tal Abyad by the Kurds may well lead to a fresh wave of speculation that Islamic State is going into decline. But, like most of the other participants in the civil wars in Iraq and Syria, the self-declared caliphate is too well rooted to disappear. Its quasi-guerrilla style of warfare makes the loss or gain of a single town or city less significant than it may appear. Its slogan, ‘the Islamic State remains, the Islamic State expands,’ is still true."
Patrick Cockburn, "Why join Islamic State?" The London Review of Books. 2 July 2015, in
"The clearest evidence that we do not understand this phenomenon is our consistent inability to predict—still less control—these developments. Who predicted that Zarqawi would grow in strength after the US destroyed his training camps in 2001? It seemed unlikely to almost everyone that the movement would regroup so quickly after his death in 2006, or again after the surge in 2007. We now know more and more facts about the movement and its members, but this did not prevent most analysts from believing as recently as two months ago that the defeats in Kobane and Tikrit had tipped the scales against the movement, and that it was unlikely to take Ramadi. We are missing something. Part of the problem may be that commentators still prefer to focus on political, financial, and physical explanations, such as anti-Sunni discrimination, corruption, lack of government services in captured territories, and ISIS’s use of violence. Western audiences are, therefore, rarely forced to focus on ISIS’s bewildering ideological appeal. I was surprised when I saw that even a Syrian opponent of ISIS was deeply moved by a video showing how ISIS destroyed the “Sykes-Picot border” between Iraq and Syria, established since 1916, and how it went on to reunite divided tribes. I was intrigued by the condemnation issued by Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar—one of the most revered Sunni clerics in the world: “This group is Satanic—they should have their limbs amputated or they should be crucified.” I was taken aback by bin Laden’s elegy for Zarqawi: his “story will live forever with the stories of the nobles…. Even if we lost one of our greatest knights and princes, we are happy that we have found a symbol….” But the “ideology” of ISIS is also an insufficient explanation. Al-Qaeda understood better than anyone the peculiar blend of Koranic verses, Arab nationalism, crusader history, poetic reference, sentimentalism, and horror that can animate and sustain such movements. But even its leaders thought that Zarqawi’s particular approach was irrational, culturally inappropriate, and unappealing. In 2005, for example, al-Qaeda leaders sent messages advising Zarqawi to stop publicizing his horrors. They used modern strategy jargon—“more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media”—and told him that the “lesson” of Afghanistan was that the Taliban had lost because they had relied—like Zarqawi—on too narrow a sectarian base. And the al-Qaeda leaders were not the only Salafi jihadists who assumed that their core supporters preferred serious religious teachings to snuff videos (just as al-Tayeb apparently assumed that an Islamist movement would not burn a Sunni Arab pilot alive in a cage).... The thinkers, tacticians, soldiers, and leaders of the movement we know as ISIS are not great strategists; their policies are often haphazard, reckless, even preposterous; regardless of whether their government is, as some argue, skillful, or as others imply, hapless, it is not delivering genuine economic growth or sustainable social justice. The theology, principles, and ethics of the ISIS leaders are neither robust nor defensible. Our analytical spade hits bedrock very fast. I have often been tempted to argue that we simply need more and better information. But that is to underestimate the alien and bewildering nature of this phenomenon. To take only one example, five years ago not even the most austere Salafi theorists advocated the reintroduction of slavery; but ISIS has in fact imposed it. Nothing since the triumph of the Vandals in Roman North Africa has seemed so sudden, incomprehensible, and difficult to reverse as the rise of ISIS. None of our analysts, soldiers, diplomats, intelligence officers, politicians, or journalists has yet produced an explanation rich enough—even in hindsight—to have predicted the movement’s rise."
Anonymous, "The Mystery of ISIS". The New York Review of Books. 13 August 2015, in
Independently of each other (one presumes) the cousinly publications the New York and London Review of Books, have recently published, important review articles dealing with that hideous phenomenon called 'ISIS', id. est., the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. While both articles are quite revealing and important in their own ways, they share a commonality in highlighting the fact that looking at matters currently, there is no evidence that the American bombing campaign shows any signs of militarily defeating ISIS. And as some recent pieces in the Financial Times show once again, there does not appear to be signs that any indigenous military force in the region, other than the Kurds, give any signs of being able to beat ISIS on the ground 1. And of course the Kurds of Syria & Iraq must also contend with the malevolence of Turkey, as the latter's recent air strikes on Kurdish forces show 2. With the recently American efforts to train Syrian oppositional forces at this point more akin to black farce than demonstrating anything tangible militarily speaking. As Anthony Cordesman who is perhaps the leading military commentator in the United States recently noted:
"The United States has seen the Syrian rebel factions it actually supported with arms driven out of the country, the more moderate Syrian political exiles like the Syrian National Council – and the surviving elements of the Free Syrian Army -- marginalized to near impotence....The United States so far has only recruited 60 volunteers for the Syrian volunteer force that is to be trained in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which has a goal of training 5,000 a year. No meaningful explanation has ever been given of what the United States would accomplish if it did succeed in training 5,000 moderate rebels a year 3.
What then is to be done? I would argue that the following should be the gist of Western policy in dealing with both ISIS and with the larger civil war in Syria: i) send in as many 'special forces' from the USA and other Western nations to assist the Syrian Kurds, the Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi National Army in leading the assault on ISIS in both Iraq and Syria; ii) call-off the campaign by the Gulf Arabs and in particular Saudi Arabia to overthrow the Assad regime. Currently, while not backing ISIS directly, lots of Gulf Arab money and arms are going to equally extremist groupings in Syria. In terms of their overall ideology and in terms of their anti-Western views there is little to differentiate the view of ISIS with say Saudi-backed groups, like Jabhat al-Nusra. While it will still be necessary to defeat the extremists on the ground in Syria, the fact is that only by calling off the flood of Sunni Arab money, arms and recruits from Syrian Sunni extremist elements can there even be the possibility of some type of negotiated settlement of the Syrian Civil War. And while one may not be enamoured, or think highly of Bashir Assad, the fact is that compared to the current alternatives on the ground in Syria, the regime of Assad Fils, is by far the best alternative 4. In short, the overall picture is and will be a grim one unless and until Western policy towards both ISIS and the Syrian Civil War changes. With the potential for disaster always lurking in the near horizon. As Douglas Murray recently noted in the London-based Spectator:
"At some point — perhaps when Isis manage to carry out or inspire a large-scale terror attack in the US or, more likely, Europe — people will look back and say: ‘Why did we let this happen?’ The answer will be, as it is now, that we didn’t need to. The US and some of her allies have the weaponry and expertise to smash Isis. It is only will and ambition that we lack" 5.
1. Erika Solomon and Geoff Dyer, "Uncertainty over US plans frustrates Syrian rebel groups". The Financial Times. 3 August 2015, in
2. David O’Byrne, "Turkey expands air strikes against Isis to include Kurdish separatist bases". The Financial Times. 25 July 2015, in also: Anthony Cordesman, "The Uncertain U.S. “Game Changers” in the ISIS, Iraq, and Syria War". Center for Strategic & International Studies. 28 July 2015, in
3. Cordesman, op. cit.
4. Hugh Roberts, "The Hijackers". The London Review of Books. 16 July 2015, in
5. Douglas Murray, "Smash Isis now – or we’ll all pay later". The Spectator. 30 May 2015, in

Tuesday, August 04, 2015


"The migrant crisis at Calais is a story of human misery, war-torn and broken states and European denial. It speaks to a world in which advanced nations have lost the will, and some of the capacity, to prevent and resolve conflicts. Their politicians will not find an answer by drafting in more police or building higher fences. An estimated 5,000 people are camped, in dreadful conditions, around the French ferry port and its entrance to the cross-Channel tunnel. The numbers have been rising through the year. So has the desperation of the migrants to make it across the 21-mile sliver of sea that separates France from Britain.... There is nothing new about large movements of displaced people. In recent memory, Europe has managed the influx of refugees from the former Yugoslavia as well as those from seemingly never-ending conflicts in Somalia and Afghanistan. What has changed — and this was a point eloquently made by António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, when he gave the Ditchley Foundation annual lecture this month — is the spread and persistence of conflicts in failed and failing states. The pendulum in advanced nations has swung from liberal interventionism to furtive inaction.... For all the panic generated by the 5,000 camped in the so-called “jungle” at Calais, Europe has been only slightly touched. Running scared of the populist right, politicians have lost a sense of proportion. An estimated 150,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean and Aegean in the first half of this year. That is much more than in 2014, but it is to be measured against a population for the 28-nation EU of about 500m; and it remains a small fraction of the 4m who have fled the civil war in Syria. Up to 2m Syrians have fled to Turkey and, as Mr Guterres noted, fully one-third of the population of Lebanon now comprises Syrian or Palestinian refugees".
Philip Stephens, "The Calais migrants are Europe’s shame". The Financial Times. 30 July 2015, in
"Pledges of more money and plans to blow boats out of the water may sound like tough policy making. Yet the agreement cobbled together by EU leaders last week in a scramble to respond to the escalating refugee crisis in the Mediterranean falls well short of the mark and will do little to address the underlying issue. The lesson to be drawn from the meeting is that Europe is still not prepared to address the tragedy of the deaths in the Mediterranean in the most effective and humane way possible. This is because Europe has still not made up its mind about the single key strategic issue: border control. Until it does that it will not solve the problem. To see how this can be done, Europe could look to Australia. Between 2008 and 2013, under the previous Labor administration, effective control of our borders broke down. In that period some 800 boats arrived illegally in Australia carrying 50,000 illegal entrants. Up to 1,400 people died at sea. That state of affairs was reversed last year when the government reimposed sovereign control of our borders. The result is that boats rarely try to come to Australia illegally now, and no one trying to enter illegally has died at sea. Australia’s comprehensive policy includes offshore processing, turning back boats, regional resettlement, the removal of internal policies such as full social service payments, and the political resolve to deliver effective and humane successes in border control.... Lord West, former head of the Royal Navy, belled the cat in the most understated British way when he described destroying Libyan boats as “tricky”. If the EU is prepared to use force to destroy boats, then force could be used in a much more strategic and effective way, but not until the EU has decided to control its borders.... Deaths at sea in the Mediterranean is the result of years of border control failure, just as it was in Australia. The deaths were not caused by boats being in Libyan harbours. Europe will experience tragedy until it has sovereign borders".
Jim Molan, "Europe could learn from Australia’s tough border controls". The Financial Times. 26 April 2015, in
The refugee 'crisis' is an issue which has emerged with sudden quickness in this anno domini. And in some ways could be said to have become as being besides the problems of Greece and Ukraine the leading conundrum for Europe and its beleaguered politicians and its political class. First things first though, make no mistake: whatever one may say of them once they reach the borders of Europe, much less Calais, no one could in good conscience argue against the fact that the lot of these poor wretched people is truly a miserable one. Often forced or prompted by the carnage and brutality of war in their own countries to leave their homes and homelands, few can disagree with wishing them an oh so different set of circumstances! However, with that being said and understood, it is nonsensical to accept the argument of the usual bien-pensant sort `a la Philip Stephens of the Financial Times, that merely by opening its arms, and accepting a few hundred thousand migrants and refugees here, and a few hundred thousand people there, Europe will rid itself of the cauchmar of the refugee crisis. Per contra: it is in fact that case, that merely by accepting a 'few hundred thousand' here and there, especially in such a short time period, the inevitable result is that the forces (what immigration historians refer to as the 'push-pull' factor) causing and propelling the current crisis would redouble if not triple in scope and force. Nor should we forget that it only takes a small number of people at any one time in history to upset and confound the civil order. As Bury's great opus on the Barbarian Invasions of the late Roman Empire shows clearly 1. In short order rather than a crisis caused by a 'few hundred thousand', the issue would in rapid sequence become one of a 'few million'. And while people of the Phillip Stephens sort can claim (truthfully or not) that a mere hundred thousand is small potatoes in a continent of over Five-hundred million, that could hardily be the case if one is talking about say 'a few million'. What then is the solution? Simply put, Europe can and must enforce the law and sovereignty of its borders in the same way and fashion that Australia has done recently. And did very successfully indeed as the piece by Mr. Molan so clearly demonstrates. Pur et simple, the fact is that sans a rigid control of Europe's borders from the teeming masses of poor wretches from the Third World, Europe as we currently know it, will disappear under a brown and black mass of migrants and refugees. This may perhaps be an ugly fact, but a fact it is none the less. If Europe is to stop this from occurring then it needs to act forcibly and immediately to regain control of its border tout de suite.
1. J. B. Bury. The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians. (1927). Wherein Bury notes that it was the influx of a mass of refugees into the Empire in the years 375-377, which ultimately caused the catastrophic defeat of the battle of Adrianople in anno domini 378:
"In recent times Europe has had some experience of the enormous difficulities of dealing with crowds of refugees, and of the elaborate organisation which is necessary. Take, for instance, the case of the thousands of Asiatic Greeks who fled from the Turks and sought refuge in European Greece. Here it was simply a case of affording food and shelter to people of the same race, but it taxed the whole resources of the Greek Government to solve it. The problem that met Valens was vastly different and more difficult. Quite suddenly, without any time for thinking out the problem or for any preparation, he was called on to admit into his dominions a foreign nation, of barbarous habits, armed and warlike, conscious of their national unity: to provide them with food, and to find them habitations. The Roman state was highly organised, but naturally there was no organisation to deal with an abnormal demand of this kind, which could not have been anticipated. As might have been expected, when the barbarians crossed the river and encamped in Lower Moesia (Bulgaria) all kinds of difficulties and deplorable incidents occured. The military and civil officials were quite unequal to coping with the situation, and no wonder. War was the result, a war lasting nearly two years and culminating in A.D. 378 in the great battle of Hadrianople, which is one of the landmarks of history".