Archive for August, 2014

A meaningless yellow light

30/08/2014

In a opinion article in the Boston Globe, John Allen writes that Pope Francis has given a “yellow light” for airstrikes in Iraq. As ever with the foreign policy of the Holy See, it makes little practical sense in the real world and should not be taken seriously.

Allen opens “Pope Francis delivered a mixed verdict on US airstrikes in Iraq on Monday, saying that while it’s morally legitimate to stop an unjust aggressor, as America says it’s doing with regard to the radical Islamic State in northern Iraq, a single nation shouldn’t decide for itself when the use of force is warranted”.

However, what both Allen and Pope Francis did not elaborate on was if the UN could not agree on what course of action to take. As ever, the obsession of the Holy See with the UN and international law as the arbiter of international morality has hampered its credibility on the world stage. At the same time, this obsession will hurt the very people the Holy See wants to protect, the Chatholics of Iraq.

Predictably Allen goes on to mention “In light of the Vatican’s recent history of vigorous opposition to virtually any American intervention in the Middle East, the pope’s language is likely to strike observers as a cautious yellow light. The pontiff revealed that he has considered travelling to Iraq in the near future to demonstrate his concern over the crisis, including its impact on the country’s Christians, and that doing so remains an option”.
As to the significance of the “yellow light” it is all but meaningless as a term and has no explanatory power. While a charming way of describing something it does not give any clarity either to Allen’s article or that of Pope Francis, which remains mired in contradictions and muddle.
Allen adds later in the piece that “Despite having been forced earlier in the summer to cancel several appointments due to illness and exhaustion, Francis played down concerns about his health. The 77-year-old pontiff conceded, however, that he may need to be “a little more prudent” in protecting his energy. The comments came during an airborne press conference on the return flight from Francis’ Aug. 13-18 trip to South Korea. The pope spoke to reporters for a full hour, taking 15 questions on a wide range of subjects. Asked whether he approved of the US bombing campaign in Iraq, Francis said that ‘I can say only it’s licit to stop an unjust aggressor.’ The pontiff clearly expressed doubts about unilateral action”.
Allen rightly points out that “While Iraq’s Christian minority has been among the primary targets of the Islamic State, Francis insisted it isn’t just Christians who are at risk. ‘There are men and women, religious minorities, not just Christians, and they’re all equal before God,’ he said. The position on the US action outlined by Francis does not mark a substantive departure from the Vatican’s usual line on military force, since Rome has long insisted that for any intervention to be legitimate it must have an international warrant. The comments were more restrained, however, than those of senior Vatican officials who recently seemed to endorse the US strikes”.
 Lastly, Allen notes that “Francis confirmed that he’s working on an encyclical, the most developed form of papal teaching, on the environment. He said a first draft has been submitted for his consideration, but he wants to cut it down in order to distinguish ‘certainties’ of the Catholic faith from scientific theories, ‘some of which may be fairly certain and others less so.’ Finally, the pontiff offered a vigorous defence of his peace initiative following a May trip to the Middle East, when he invited the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to join him for a peace prayer in the Vatican gardens on June 8. That peace prayer was followed just days later by an Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip and a new clash between Israel and Hamas, and the pope was asked if his efforts had failed. ‘It was absolutely not a failure,’ Francis insisted”.
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Building international support

30/08/2014

The United States is intensifying its push to build an international campaign against Islamic State jihadist fighters in Iraq and Syria, including recruiting partners for potential joint military action, Obama administration officials said on Wednesday. Britain and Australia are potential candidates, U.S. officials said. Germany said it was in talks with the United States and other international partners about possible military action against Islamic State but made clear it would not participate. “We are going to work politically and diplomatically with folks in the region,” President Barack Obama told reporters on Thursday. “And we’re going to cobble together the kind of coalition that we need for a long-term strategy as soon as we are able to fit together the military, political and economic components of that strategy.” It’s unclear how many nations will sign up. Some such as trusted ally Britain harbor bitter memories of joining the U.S.-led “coalition of the willing” in the 2003 invasion of Iraq that included troops from 38 nations. Others such as France refused to join the action. The claims of the existence of weapons of mass destruction which spurred the coalition to act were found to be false. The United States, the officials said, could act alone if necessary against the militants, who have seized a third each of Iraq and Syria, declared open war against the West and want to establish a hub of jihadism in the heart of the Arab world”.

“Air campaign beyond Iraq”

30/08/2014

An article in the Wall Street Journal notes that America is preparing to bomb Syria. The report begins, “The Pentagon is preparing to send surveillance aircraft, including drones, into Syrian airspace to gather intelligence on Islamist targets, laying the groundwork for a possible expansion of the limited U.S. military air campaign beyond Iraq, senior U.S. officials said. The decision amounts to an acknowledgment that U.S. intelligence-collection efforts must be expanded to provide a better picture of the threat posed by the group calling itself the Islamic State, which holds large swaths of Syrian and Iraqi territory. It is also one of the first tangible signs that the Obama administration may be preparing for military operations in Syria against the group, which is also known as ISIS”.

This follows on from the comments of General Martin Dempsey where he accepted the need to target ISIS in Syria as well as in Iraq. The report adds “The U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees American operations in the region, requested more surveillance aircraft, including drones, to gather more intelligence on potential Islamic State targets, and officials said they could start flying missions over eastern Syria shortly”.

The article goes on to mention “The Obama administration’s posture toward the group calling itself the Islamic State has toughened markedly following the grisly video released last week showing the killing of American journalist James Foley. President Barack Obama vowed last week to extract the “cancer” of Islamic extremists from the Middle East. Mr. Obama authorised the surveillance flights in Syria with drones and manned aircraft over the weekend, a senior administration official said”.

It mentions that Vice President Biden spoke to “Iraq’s new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, to stress the importance of forming a new Iraq government quickly to gain support within the country and the larger region for confronting militants. But military officials said the work of preparing for possible U.S. strikes was continuing. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem warned against any such strikes without Damascus’s consent. Mr. al-Moallem, speaking at a news conference in Damascus, said Syria is ready to cooperate against extremist forces”.

The report finishes “The drones would enter Syrian airspace without any Syrian regime approval or authorisation, said U.S. officials familiar with the matter. The administration often has said that fighting a common enemy doesn’t make the Syrian regime a U.S. ally. U.S. officials said air-defense systems in eastern Syria won’t pose a threat because sensors are either sparsely located or inoperable. The intelligence from the proposed surveillance flights would supplement information provided by satellites, the officials said. American officials have conducted at least some secret flights with drones and manned aircraft inside Syrian airspace in the past, including during a July raid to try to rescue a group of Americans held by the Islamic State”.

The article concludes “The raid, which was supported by aircraft overhead, failed because the American hostages had already been moved. The U.S. has been flying drones and other surveillance aircraft along the Iraqi-Syrian border since late last year. Those flights have been expanded dramatically in recent weeks but officials say they still provide limited intelligence about Islamic State facilities and activities deeper into Syrian territory. Central Command is ‘doing all of those things you’d expect a combatant command to do,’ a senior defense official said of the request for drones to develop targets in Syria for potential strikes”.

It ends, “In meetings last week with their White House and Pentagon counterparts, Central Command officials made the case for shifting more of the military’s drones into the Middle East from other regions because of heavy demand for real-time images and other surveillance of would-be Islamic State targets. Officials said Islamic State targets are hard to pinpoint with satellites, which don’t provide 24/7 coverage. If Mr. Obama authorizes strikes in Syria, the officials said, persistent surveillance from drones will be required to ensure the right targets are hit, reduce the risk of civilian casualties and conduct post-strike damage assessments. A defense official said the military would need to bring drones to the region from Europe or Africa because the drones already in the Middle East are fully used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, or ISR”.

Libyan PM resigns

30/08/2014

Libya’s prime minister and his cabinet have resigned to make way for a new government based on parliamentary elections held in June, a government statement said. Abdullah al-Thinni’s cabinet said on Thursday that it had resigned according to Libya’s constitutional rules to allow the new House of Representatives to form a government based on all parts of society. The House of Representatives replaced the General National Congress in June, but was forced to move to Tobruk in the far east of the country to escape a month of street fighting in the capital, Tripoli. Armed factions mainly from the northwestern city of Misrata expelled from the capital a rival group from Zintan, and have pushed to reinstate the previous parliament, the GNC. Islamists were much stronger in the GNC than in the new assembly dominated by liberal and federalist politicians”.

Another Pakistani coup?

30/08/2014

A blog post in Foreign Policy notes that Pakistan is once again on the brink of collapse. It begins, “With thousands of young Pakistanis besieging their capital to demand the ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan — a key element in the United States’ plan to withdraw from neighbouring Afghanistan by the end of 2016 — is slipping into political anarchy. Only one year after the country’s first-ever democratic transfer of power, the elected government in Pakistan is at risk of another military takeover. Yet Washington is showing little sign that it is paying the situation the urgent attention it requires. The youthful horde in Islamabad — led by former cricket player and current leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice) party Imran Khan, and a religious teacher from Canada named Tahir ul Qadri — demands electoral reforms, and Sharif’s removal from office for corruption and alleged fraud in the May 2013 election, which gave him a huge plurality in the parliament. From its headquarters in Rawalpindi, adjacent to the capital, the powerful army waits, calculating its next moves”.

The writer notes that a source in the army says the military will do nothing about the demonstrations and that the army is “neutral”. This will cannot be believed if history is any guide.  The author notes “If enough generals in the high command share these views, the portents are not good for Sharif. The new army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif (no relation), is not known for being very politically inclined. Nor does he have the intelligence background of his predecessor. But the job and the conditions on the ground may change the man who commands the 500,000-strong Pakistani army. Pakistan’s politicians would be foolish to test the general’s patience. A coup, whether it would become the Pakistani military’s fourth direct seizure of government power in the country’s history, or whether it might be clothed in civilian garb, would throw the United States into a quandary. Washington would have to decide to either allow the Leahy amendment to kick in, with its prohibition on U.S. aid to governments that take power by ousting elected leaders, or to uncomfortably override that law and allow a solution similar to the one in Egypt“.

There is a debate however as to how effective this aid really is. Pakistan has been unable or unwilling to do little to curb the violence of the Afghan Taliban. There is also other questions as to the ability of the ISI to act forcefully against the Afghan Taliban and other related groups.

The writer continues on the point, “Whether or not the Islamabad confrontation degrades into an ouster of Sharif’s government, it is obstructing the needed focus by political leadership on Pakistan’s other existential conflict: its war against the country’s Taliban movement in the ill-governed Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border. The army’s current offensive in North Waziristan was so sufficiently delayed (and telegraphed to militant leaders via the public debate about peace talks versus military action for months before the operation began) that it has failed to capture Taliban leaders or destroy their forces. As before, the government has not provided any master plan for the future economic and political integration of those tribal areas into Pakistan — and no such vision can emerge amid the conflict in Islamabad”.

Optomistically he notes “As dangerous as the Islamabad crisis is (and as frenzied as the media coverage within Pakistan is), it also is more soluble because it is restricted, so far, to the capital. Similar protests have not struck other cities, which continue to struggle with the nationwide blackouts that have become the energy-starved country’s norm, and the rising specter of inflation. Another hopeful change is that, after recent years of freer news media and a more independent Supreme Court, a direct coup by Pakistan’s army is not as easy as in decades past. While previous Pakistani courts ratified military coups with what they called the “doctrine of necessity,” that ersatz legal idea was effectively outlawed by Pakistan’s latest constitution. The military would need strong public support and at least a nod from the judiciary to effect a takeover, whether through a “soft coup” nominally led by civilians, or by an old-style seizure of the government with tanks and guns”.

He ends “While the United States has limited leverage with which to encourage a Pakistani settlement of this conflict, the best solution would be a compromise that allowed the judiciary to play a neutral role in assessing the allegations of election fraud. Sharif should then vigorously address the crises of the economy, energy, and governance. The military could then concentrate on its battle against the militants and on finding a modus vivendi with the United States and Afghanistan after America’s planned troop pullout. An ‘Egypt’ on the Indus’ is not the optimal solution”.

Russian troops captured

30/08/2014

Ten Russian paratroopers captured on Ukrainian territory made for an awkward summit Tuesday evening between the presidents of the two nations. Hopes for a breakthrough at the meeting between Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine and Vladi­mir Putin of Russia already had dimmed, but when Ukraine announced early in the day that it had seized the Russian soldiers in the Donetsk region — and had video evidence — it led to what the summit host called a “difficult” discussion. Still, the two presidents met one-on-one for two hours after a broader, six-hour session in Minsk, Belarus. Following the meeting, Poroshenko said a “roadmap” will be prepared to end the fighting between troops and pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported”.

UAE vs Qatar

30/08/2014

After the airstrikes by Egypt and the UAE an article argues that these two countries are the new power brokers in Libya. The piece begins, “Libya has moved to center stage in a regional power struggle between the patrons of political Islam and their opponents. This week, U.S. officials briefed several media outlets that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had secretly conducted airstrikes in the capital, Tripoli, against Islamist-allied militias. This may not have been the first time that the Egyptians and Emiratis teamed up to target Libyan Islamists: The New York Times also quoted U.S. officialssaying a special forces unit operating out of Egypt, but likely primarily comprised of Emiratis, had recently wiped out a militant camp in eastern Libya”.

The writer argues that the UAE and Egypt are in effect, fighting Qatar who is known to have close links with the Muslim Brotherhood, among other related organisations. Indeed, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been noted as backers of the new Egyptian president, Sisi and his counter-revolutionary impulses.

The piece goes on to mention “The country’s Islamists, meanwhile, have started seeing Egyptian or Emirati plots around every corner. In April, many were taken aback when the UAE denied entry to Awad al-Barassi, a former deputy prime minister and member of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party (JCP). Barassi had lived in Dubai for years, serving as vice president of its Electricity and Water Authority before returning to Libya during the revolution. The Islamists’ paranoia increased after renegade former Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who has connections in Cairo,declared war against all Islamists earlier this year”.

The author continues, “The airstrikes may mark a new phase of Egyptian and Emirati intervention in Libyan politics, but they failed to achieve Cairo and Abu Dhabi’s short-term goals. The warplanes targeted locations controlled by an alliance of militias that includes Islamists, fighters from the powerful port city of Misrata (who bristle over the ‘Islamist’ label), and those from other western towns. These militias launched an attack on Tripoli’s international airport during Ramadan in an attempt to seize it from Zintani fighters — who are aligned with anti-Islamist political and armed forces, including Haftar — a feat they managed to pull off on Saturday, despite the airstrikes on their positions. Key to the newly aggressive Egyptian-Emirati strategy is a network of prominent Libyans, several of whom are based in Cairo and Abu Dhabi, and who are vehemently opposed to any Islamist role in their country. One is Mahmoud Jibril, who served as the rebels’ de facto prime minister during the 2011 revolution. He was eventually cast into the political wilderness following the introduction of a controversial lustration law barring those who had worked with the former regime from office. He has never hidden his dislike for Islamists and has locked horns with several — including the Doha-based Libyan scholar Ali Sallabi, a crucial interlocutor for Qatar in Libya — during the uprising. Jibril, who now spends much of his time in the UAE, regularly argues that Libya has been taken over by what he describes as extremists”.

The article goes on to add later that “Close to Mahmoud Jibril is Aref Nayed, a Sufi-influenced scholar who is currently Libya’s ambassador to the UAE. Like Jibril, Nayed clashed with Islamists in 2011 and also harbours presidential ambitions. In conversations with foreign diplomats, Nayed has described the Muslim Brotherhood as ‘fascists.’ Earlier this year, he publicly criticised a proposed dialogue initiative for Libya that was to include Tunisian Islamist leader Rachid Ghannouchi, saying it would only benefit one ‘party’ — meaning the Brotherhood. Along with political and military figures, the Egyptians and the Emiratis also have powerful friends in the business community. Hassan Tatanaki — a well-connected Libyan-born tycoon with oil and construction interests who worked with Qaddafi’s son, Saif, before 2011 — is perhaps the most influential individual in this network, due to his substantial wealth. He owns a TV channel, Libya Awalan (Libya First),which is known for its strongly anti-Islamist slant, and describes himself as being “partners” with Haftar. He boasts about being a hated figure for Islamists, many of whom see his hand everywhere”.

Importantly he notes that “Libya’s Islamists fared poorly in June elections for a new parliament but, in Tatanaki’s view, they are still a powerful force in the country. ‘They still have their hold on Libya, they still have the money, they still have the arms, and they are all over the place in terms of technocrats and bureaucrats, so they are well established,’ he argues. ‘The only thing they don’t have is the people’s support.’ Tatanaki says he suggested transferring the newly elected Council of Deputies to the eastern city Tobruk, deep in Haftar territory. He also says he helped cover the costs of the move in early August. Islamist MPs have boycotted the Tobruk sittings, and also accuse the assembly of taking sides in an escalating crisis that Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations warned this week could tip into a full-fledged civil war”.

It concludes “As Egypt and the UAE increase their roles in Libya, figures like Tatanaki could find themselves ascendant against their rivals. First, however, they need to win the war against the Islamists. The airstrikes in Tripoli, after all, did not bring about the outcome Tatanaki wanted. His side lost — but he and his allies appear to be preparing for a long struggle. Shortly after the Zintanis withdrew from Tripoli’s airport, Tatanaki spoke with a prominent Zintani militia leader. ‘He told me we will not stop. We have not lost the war, we have just lost a battle.'”

“Long-term ceasefire”

30/08/2014

A long-term ceasefire has been agreed between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. The truce, ending seven weeks of fighting that has left more than 2,200 people – mostly Palestinians – dead, was brokered by Egypt and began at 19:00 (16:00 GMT) on Tuesday. Hamas said the deal represented a “victory for the resistance”. Israel is to ease its blockade of Gaza to allow in aid and building materials, Israeli officials said. Indirect talks on more contentious issues, including Israel’s call for militant groups in Gaza to disarm, will begin in Cairo within a month. The US gave the full backing to the deal, with State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki saying: “We strongly support the ceasefire announcement.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the truce. But in a statement via his spokesman, Mr Ban warned that “any peace effort that does not tackle the root causes of the crisis will do little more than set the stage for the next cycle of violence”. The breakthrough came as both Israel and the Palestinians continued to trade fire”.

Airstrikes, unintented consequeces?

28/08/2014

Steve Simon writes in Foreign Affairs that there will be unintended consequences of American airstrikes in Iraq.

He begins, “President Barack Obama authorised limited air strikes on militants in Iraq to stop their advance toward Erbil, where a number of U.S. diplomats, civilians, and military personnel reside. He also promised to send aid to refugees fleeing the militants’ advance. The next morning, warplanes struck the first targets as the United States rushed assistance to a Kurdish-speaking religious minority, the Yezidis, which had recently been pushed into the mountains by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Air strikes are undoubtedly necessary for the narrow purposes stipulated by Obama. But they will have a wide range of unintended consequences — some relatively manageable, others less so”.

Simon writes that “Despite Obama’s carefully framed justification for the strikes — to protect Americans and to help minorities — the inadvertent beneficiary is the Iraqi government, which gets to retain its free-rider status. So far, Baghdad’s response to the current crisis has been the political equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on a plunging Titanic. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his allies have done nothing to salvage the Iraqi state, despite the selection of a new president and speaker of the parliament, or to fulfill the prime moral directive of any government: to protect the population from harm”.

There is little to this argument. Firstly, Maliki is gone. Secondly, while President Obama has bombing Iraq, as he should, he has stipulated that Maliki must go. Maliki has gone so the bombing has continued. What is the alternative? Leave the Iraqi government, however it is constituted, to the mercy of ISIS? The other problem with this argument is that it ignores the regional dimension. The power of Iran would only grow if Obama were to act as a result of this unintended consequence.

Simon goes on to make the other point that “Second, air strikes will unavoidably mark an already vulnerable minority with the stain of American favouritism. The salvation proffered by American arms now will compromise the group’s status later on — not just with the militant fighters currently lunging for their throats but with much of the Iraqi population”.

This point is certainly true but there is little that can be done. Iraq is a majority Shia state. The other point that should be noted is that America has also, at times, shown favouritism to the Kurds but this is unavoidable. The only thing that can be done is that this favouritism should be lessened or avoided where possible.

He continues “intervention is liable to complicate already tense relations between the United States and its allies on the Arab side of the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. For reasons that hardly need explanation, these are tremendously important relationships for both sides: the Gulf allies sit astride vital oil and gas reserves; they have virtually unlimited resources; their elites are increasingly educated in, and close to, the United States; and they are as interested as the United States is in preventing a nuclear Iran. To be sure, they are also inclined to counter Iran in ways that Washington finds counterproductive, including by supporting radical elements at the cutting edge of the war against the Shia and by attempting to roll back Iranian geopolitical gains made in the wake of the second Gulf War. Skeptics in the Gulf will perceive the U.S. intervention as a boon to Iranian interests and therefore a departure from shared interests. In turn, they will press for more hawkish measures that, from Washington’s perspective, will further inflame regional politics”.

The problem with this is that while true America’s relationships with those countries in the Middle East are already complicated be it the Iran talks and Israel and Saudi Arabia, the persistent rows with Egyptian regime and a host of problems with Iran and a host of other countries.

He ends “Finally, in military terms, strikes will rapidly hit the point of diminishing returns for the United States. ISIS consists essentially of light infantry. When the fighters mass, or move via convoy, U.S. firepower can be effective at killing and dispersing them. But there are relatively few fighters to begin with — one of the astounding things about this war — and they don’t possess installations, depots, or other assets that the United States can menace. In this fight, airpower alone can be used effectively. But winning would require a combination of both ground troops and air superiority. And it won’t be the United States that supplies the ground troops. At the moment, though, the plight of Yezidis and Christians and the imminent exposure of Americans to jihadi raiders make that tomorrow’s concern”.

A September inauguration

28/08/2014

President Hamid Karzai said his successor would take office on September 2. Karzai’s office said in a statement on August 23 that the government is “totally ready for the inauguration ceremony of the new president” on September 2, and that the date would not change. The statement comes even though the long-running vote audit process following the disputed June 14 election has not yet been completed. The two presidential rivals, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, signed a deal recently to form a national unity government. The election commission says more than 60 percent of the votes have now been audited. Karzai’s statement was issued following talks between the president and Jan Kubis, the head of the United Nations mission in Kabul”.

Creating a NATO response force?

28/08/2014

David Francis writes how NATO could confront Putin. He opens, “As talks involving Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, get underway in Belarus, evidence mounted that Russia is escalating its incursion of Ukrainian territory by sending troops and a column of tanks into eastern Ukraine. NATO was quick to condemn Russia’s actions Monday, Aug. 25, yet similar previous condemnations have done nothing to deter Putin. But the alliance does have options beyond harsh words to deter Russia’s insurgency in a key European neighbour”.

He continues, “Even if NATO allies don’t supply the Ukrainians with weapons, they may end up indirectly paying for arms that Ukraine needs down the road. Its economic situation is dire as the conflict drags on far past the mere ‘hours’ that Poroshenko predicted it would take to rout the separatists when elected in May. The Putin doctrine — the belief that Russia has the right to act to protect Russian-speakers, no matter where they are — puts NATO nations such as Estonia, Latvia, and Poland at risk. Each of these countries has citizens who speak Russian; the Kremlin has suggested it would penetrate those borders if Moscow thought those populations were threatened”.

He goes on to note “According to Kurt Volker, the U.S. ambassador to NATO from 2008 to 2009, the alliance is now in the middle of a delicate balancing act: It’s trying to show enough force to warn Russia away from NATO members that were part of the old Eastern Bloc, while not appearing openly hostile in a way that would provoke Russia’s territorial ambitions. The last thing NATO wants is a second Cold War”.

He adds “Volker thinks that the alliance could do more. NATO could reconstitute an ace mobile force, a NATO response force,’ he said. ‘The idea is that you have units that exist not just on paper — that are identified together and exercise together. They could exercise as a multinational force in Eastern Europe. It would be a strong show of multinational solidarity.’ The Ukrainian Defence Ministry said Tuesday that it detained 10 Russian paratroopers in the country’s contested Donetsk region. Russian news agencies reported that Russian officials said that the soldiers were there by accident. Late Tuesday, Ukraine released videos showing the captured Russian soldiers”.

The problem is that how would it be made up, what countries would contribute to it and what would its mission be?

He mentions how Susan Rice and others have tweeted that Russia is esclating things but the tweets of Susan Rice or others will do nothing to deter Putin’s seemingly endless aggression.

Interestingly the author goes on to make the point “All this comes just after Poroshenko dissolved Ukraine’s government on Monday in an attempt to rid it of Russian sympathizers. Russia’s outright contempt of international opinion, combined with the political instability in Kiev, inspires little confidence in Poroshenko of Putin’s ability to reach a deal ending the crisis. By late Tuesday, the only public show of goodwill between the two was a handshake. According to John Herbst, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006, there wasn’t much hope of a deal even before Russia’s latest violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty”.

This has been the case from the outset and so the only conclusion is that the world must compel Putin to behave.

He writes “Ukraine’s currency has lost 60 percent of its value since the beginning of the year, and manufacturing and spending have been hit by the uncertainty over the separatist conflict. The country is burning through a $17 billion loan from the IMF. If the conflict drags into the fall, Kiev will also have to grapple with holding aside enough reserves to buy gas from Russia for the winter — not to mention that negotiating a price for that gas will give Moscow another lever to pressure Ukraine into make concessions in the east. Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, said the key to deterring Russia from using this leverage is showing that NATO can react quickly to a threat. ‘NATO is not going to put large numbers of troops in Eastern Europe on a standing basis, barring some specific threat,’ he said. ‘The questions is, how do you put in place capacity for rapid response? There, NATO has a lot of work to do.’ For Herbst, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, military solutions do not go far enough. He said that NATO should publicly question the NATO-Russia Founding Act, a 1997 agreement that states that each side does not view the other as a threat”.

As ever much of the problems are laid at Germany’s doorstep with the expected inaction coming swiftly “The X factor in coordinated alliance action is Germany. At the outset, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was hesitant to punish Russia. But after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down, she successfully pushed for tougher sanctions. However, according to Joerg Wolf, editor in chief of the Berlin-based think tank Atlantic-community.org, Berlin would view additional penalties as unnecessary escalation”.

The piece ends “Volker, the former U.S. ambassador to NATO, said he understands this hesitancy. But maintaining the border integrity of non-NATO European countries is also a key interest of the alliance; European NATO members do not want Russia seizing territory without consequence along the alliance’s eastern border. ‘We have an interest of keeping stability in Europe by protecting its borders, not just of NATO members, but also protecting the territorial integrity of our partners,’ he said, noting that Ukraine and Georgia are officially partners of the alliance. ‘I think that a passive or soft position actually encourages Russia to keep this up,’ he added. ‘When NATO doesn’t push back, Russia can go on to the next [incursion]. You need a clear line that Russians know they can’t cross.'”

“Pulled out of the UN-supervised audit”

28/08/2014

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has pulled out of the UN-supervised audit of votes cast in the June 14 runoff, casting the disputed election deeper into disarray and clouding the chances for a swift resolution. Abdullah’s deputy campaign manager Muhammadullah Haidari told on August 27 that Abdullah’s team would return to the process if their demands were met, but would not accept any decision made in their absence. Another senior member of Abdullah’s campaign team had called the audit process a “joke,” saying on August 26 that the candidate’s demands over how fraudulent votes should be discarded had been ignored”.

CDW vacancy

28/08/2014

Today the Press Office of the Holy See has announced that Pope Fancis retired Antonio María Cardinal Rouco Varela, 78, as archbishop of Madrid and at the same time appointed Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra of Valencia. It had been thought that Antonio Cardinal Canizares Llovera would be named to the Madrid post. Instead he was appointed to replace Archbishop Osoro Sierra in Valencia. Cardinal Canizares Llovera had been serving as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments since December 2008. Pope Francis did not name a replacement at the congregation.

Rocco reports that “the Pope defied most projections in appointing Carlos Osoro Sierra (right), the 69 year-old archbishop of Valencia, to the all-important archbishopric of Madrid – both Spain’s capital and, with 3.4 million Catholics, the country’s largest diocese”.

He goes on to writes “His name only surfaced for the post in recent days, the succession to the retiring Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, 78, had been long and widely thought to be destined for the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera. Instead, the 68 year-old theologian – known as El Ratzingerino (the “Little Ratzinger”) for his close ties to Benedict XVI – has been dispatched to succeed Osoro in Valencia, Spain’s second-largest local church, which likewise happens to be his hometown”.

Francis has not named a new prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The highly important congregation has seen an array of secretaries over the last years with four secretaries in the last 11 years.

Rocco goes on to mention “Notably, the year of buzz over the cardinal’s future at CDW was able to continue as Cañizares had been the lone head of a Roman congregation who Francis did not reconfirm in office following his election. As the Pope reaches the year-and-a-half mark since his election on 13 September, it bears recalling that several other dicastery chiefs remain in a similar limbo, among them the prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the Wisconsin-born Cardinal Raymond Burke”.

He continues, “the relative surprise of today’s double move serves to further underscore Francis’ determination to be his own man where he’s sufficiently appraised on a given situation. What’s more, however, given Osoro’s lengthy background in pastoral work and adult education before going on to lead three dioceses, the Madrid pick – an ecclesial moderate said to have an “unequaled capacity for work,” and reportedly dubbed “The Pilgrim” by Francis thanks to his zest for the trenches of ecclesial life – was apparently deemed a more optimal fit for the role of this Pope’s de facto “face” of Spanish Catholicism in the wake of Rouco’s oft-combative two-decade tenure. As archbishop of Madrid, Osoro is all but certain to become a cardinal at the next consistory, all the more as no Spanish elector was elevated by Papa Bergoglio at last February’s intake. Despite having merely 350,000 fewer Catholics than Madrid, meanwhile, the five-century old Valencia seat only received its first red hat in 2007, when Osoro’s predecessor Agustín García-Gasco was given the scarlet by B16; García retired 15 months later. At the now Pope-emeritus’ first consistory in 2006, Cañizares was elevated to the College as archbishop of Toledo – as Spain’s eldest diocese, the country’s primatial see – which has a Catholic population of just 650,000. While Toledo has routinely been the seat of a Spanish cardinal alongside Madrid and Barcelona, at least to date, his successor there, 70 year-old Braulio Rodriguez, has not been called to follow suit”.

 

Working with Syria?

28/08/2014

Syria’s foreign minister said Monday that his government was ready to cooperate with international efforts to fight the extremists of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But in a nod to the possibility of expanded American airstrikes, he warned that any action inside Syria without the government’s approval would be considered “aggression.” The offer by the minister, Walid al-Moallem, appeared to be a preliminary effort to rehabilitate the international standing of his government, which has been condemned by the United States and others for its brutal tactics in the country’s civil war and against the popular uprising that preceded it. In comments to reporters in Damascus, Mr. Moallem seemed well aware of how greatly the rise of ISIS in both Syria and Iraq had changed Western views toward the region. He presented his government as the natural partner in the fight against jihadist groups”.

“Hesitation will not stop this predator”

28/08/2014

Former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvilim has written the only way to stop Putin in Ukraine is a military victory.  He opens “Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin met in Minsk, Belarus, on Aug. 26 — a date of ominous significance. It is six years to the day that Russia recognised two Georgian regions it seized and occupied as independent states, creating the precedent of changing European borders through military force for the first time since the end of World War II. Putin’s actions in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine today are so similar that I can’t help but think of the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray’s character relives the same day over and over again, until he gets it right. The pattern is easy to discern: stir separatist sentiment through a relentless propaganda campaign; form, train, and arm local separatist militias; create a permanent bleeding wound of conflict; and step up direct involvement depending on the level of success of government troops pushing back against the separatists”.

He goes on to write “Putin’s play has always been to raise the stakes, hoping that the West will blink every time tension increases. Although recent sanctions announced by the United States, the European Union, and other allies seem to indicate that this time Putin’s gamble might not be uncontested (Russia escaped economic punishment in 2008), there are still contradictory and confusing signals coming from the big Western capitals that give space for Putin’s manoeuvres”.

During her recent visit to Kiev, meant to showBerlin’s support for Poroshenko’s government, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “the Ukraine situation” should be solved without inflicting any damage on Moscow. Some high-ranking officials in her government were far more explicit, however, speaking to the press about the need for the federalization of Ukraine and declaring that Kiev shouldn’t rush to defeat the separatists as it could humiliate Moscow. At the same time, European leaders still refuse to use the word “invasion” — even though tanks and armored convoys have rolled across the border and more than half of the combat-ready troops on the ground in Ukraine, based on multiple credible accounts, are regular Russian soldiers. Not for nothing have Ukrainian officials openly started to speak about the “Ukrainian-Russian War.”

He importantly makes the point of Putin’s relentless aggression, “Putin’s preparation for the Minsk talks has been military in nature. During the last several days he has poured new forces into Ukraine, where his proxies had been on the defensive in recent months as Kiev’s soldiers advanced on the separatist strongholds of Luhansk and Donetsk. These new troops revitalized the front and managed to reverse gains made by the Ukrainian army and special operations forces. In Minsk, Putin will now be in a stronger bargaining position to demand a cease-fire, upgrade the status of his local proxies to stakeholders in the conflict, and make Russia a mediator”.

Vitally he writes that “The only way forward — even if it is complicated and costly — is to stand firm at Ukraine’s side and help pursue a decisive victory. For that, the Europeans need to stop trying to tie Poroshenko’s hands and undermining Ukrainian morale. They also need to be ready to impose additional sanctions against the Russians and provide more economic assistance to Kiev. Vladimir Putin sees his fight as part of a wider zero-sum game against the West, and any attempt to assure him of the opposite will only be interpreted as a sign of weakness and an opening for more adventurism. We know the pattern well by now. And hesitation will not stop this predator”.

This is the only real course of action to take. Europe alone can fix this problem by destroying Putin’s regime through vicious sanctions that could and would, destroy the Putin regime. Sadly it will be left to America to clean up after the mess the EU has made or is unable to agree how to fix. The fear is that this will keep occurring every few years until he is stopped, some are pointing to Moldova as the next target of Putin. Perhaps the EU will learn something then.

 

UAE and Egypt bomb Libya

28/08/2014

US officials claim the United Arab Emirates and Egypt were behind several air strikes on Islamist militias in Libya last week, in what would be an escalation of a regional power-play between Islamists and opposing governments across the Middle East. UAE pilots flying out of Egyptian airbases allegedly twice targeted Islamist fighters vying for control of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, last week, US officials claimed to the New York Times and later to the AFP news agency. Speaking to the Guardian, a US official confirmed the reports were plausible. The air strikes failed to stop Islamist militias from capturing Tripoli later in the week and announcing a new breakaway regime, forcing Libya’s elected government to flee to the eastern city of Tobruk. But successful or not, the strikes’ alleged origins are a watershed moment. They suggest that a block of Middle Eastern countries led by the UAE are seeking to step up their opposition to the Islamist movements that have sought to undermine the region’s old order since the start of the Arab spring in 2011. Last summer, Egypt’s military ousted the Muslim Brotherhood – an Islamist group – and has since been cracking down internally on its activities, a tactic pursued for years in the UAE”.

“1,000 to 5,000 U.S. troops”

26/08/2014

Michael O’Hanlon has written that airstrikes will not be enough to destroy ISIS. He begins the article “President Barack Obama announced his decision to airlift food and water to members of the Yezidi minority stranded in the Sinjar mountains of Iraq, and to use air-to-ground munitions against formations of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) moving against Kurdish units near Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region. So far, Obama’s strategy has been well calibrated and at least partly successful; the Yezidis’ plight appears less dire than a few days ago, and ISIS’ forays into Kurdistan have been stymied for the moment, perhaps even partly reversed in some places. Obama’s restraint in providing major assistance to the central Iraqi government in Baghdad has likewise been prudent, since, by coming to the aid of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki too soon, the United States would squander the leverage it could use to persuade the Iraqi government to find a different and better prime minister. It is, after all, Maliki who governed so badly that major Sunni political and tribal leaders acquiesced to ISIS’ advances rather than work with a man they increasingly saw as a dictator to stop the brutal group’s march. The Iraqi army will likely not be willing to do its part to restore security in Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland under Maliki, so it would be a fool’s errand for the United States to attempt too much while he still leads the country”.

He makes the point that “Although the president has been correct to use only limited airpower so far (even while warning that U.S. involvement in Iraq could last for months), he needs to avoid any sense of complacency that he can limit the United States’ role to modest actions taken several thousand feet up in the air. For now, the United States’ only realistic goal in Iraq is to prevent further ISIS advances. But ultimately, the collective aim of the United States, Iraq, and others in the region should be to fully push back the radical and brutal group, which is committed to the creation of a caliphate throughout much of the broader Middle East and even parts of Europe, and is willing to employ brutal tactics to achieve its aims. This group simply cannot be allowed to remain in power in large sections of Iraq and Syria indefinitely”.

He adds “preventing ISIS from taking further territory in the Shia and Kurdish zones will be far easier than liberating the land it already controls. The situation is particularly straightforward in Kurdistan. There, the politically unified and militarily cohesive peshmerga forces have no sympathy for ISIS and can easily identify its fighters as they cross into the autonomous region. The main problem is that ISIS is better armed and, at the moment, more aggressive than the Kurdish forces. That is why it was able to make inroads into the areas near Erbil, which has a substantial population and a U.S. consulate. But to push deeper into the territory, ISIS will have to use roads that U.S. forces and the Kurds can easily monitor and, if the United States is willing to help provide the needed firepower, can also protect. Further, when ISIS shells peshmerga’s tactical positions with artillery, it provides signatures that U.S. forces can track before returning fire. As the United States continues its air campaign, it probably does need to help arm the Kurdish forces — and must do so promptly, regardless of what is happening in Baghdad. This might be the one major area in which Obama’s current restraint is ill-advised. But otherwise, the overall dynamics in Kurdistan are promising”.

Interestingly he argues that “Preventing ISIS from making further attacks on the Yezidis may prove slightly harder. Here, it is possible that the United States may need to consider a tactical deployment of several hundred forces as a temporary blocking force to prevent a small-scale genocide in the weeks ahead. But, for now, it does not appear that any such move is required because ISIS does not seem to be moving against the destitute populations in a committed way. Even if it did become necessary, such a deployment could be limited in scale and scope”.

He goes on to mention, “One option is to deploy a significant number of special operations teams, well above the very modest number that may be in in the theatre now as part of the detachments of several hundred U.S. planners sent to Iraq over the last month. But how many? If there are 10,000 dedicated ISIS fighters that U.S. and Iraqi units must ultimately remove from the battlefield, experience in Iraq and Afghanistan suggests that the U.S. and Iraqi units will need to conduct perhaps several thousand raids informed by good intelligence. Ideally, the United States would strike hard, fast, and early in any operation so that the enemy does not have time to adjust. To do that, it would need up to several dozen in-country commando teams (or those based in neighboring countries in some cases), making for a grand total of 1,000 to 5,000 U.S. troops. In all likelihood, such a mission would last perhaps several months at peak intensity. However, the United States need not take the lead on most such operations and need not continue them indefinitely”.

He adds that “The other option involves a type of military unit, developed in recent years in Afghanistan, called a Security Force Assistance Team. This is a small team of 10­–20 U.S. soldiers who are embedded at the small-unit level within indigenous forces. Since elements of the Iraqi army have, in some cases, already dissolved, such advisory teams — which live with and deploy into the field with their counterparts — could be crucial for rebuilding good tactics, unit cohesion, confidence in the leadership, and tenacity, as well as designating targets for air strikes. Assuming that such teams might be deployed with most of Iraq’s army battalions, and assuming roughly ten battalions per division, there could be a need for up to 100 such U.S. teams. Again, these would need to stay in Iraq for a period of several months to perhaps one or two years. A recent U.S. intelligence report found that some such Iraqi units may have been infiltrated by extremists of one ilk or another, so it might not be possible to work with all Iraqi formations at first, but only those that are somewhat more dependable. Add in some support and backup and quick-response units, and the numbers will again reach into the low thousands”.

He ends “None of this will be appealing to the U.S. public, the Congress, or Obama. But the alternative may be to see a brutal al Qaeda-like ISIS that tries to build a caliphate over much of the Middle East and beyond, continues to recruit and warp the minds of thousands of potential fighters holding Western passports, and remains entrenched in much of Iraq (and Syria) for an indefinite period. In terms of U.S. security interests, that prospect is intolerable”.

 

 

Rogue Chinese PLA

26/08/2014

A Chinese PLA wing commander has repeatedly harassed U.S. military aircraft in the South China Sea, most recently directing a Chinese jet fighter to do a Top Gun-like barrel roll that came dangerously close to an American patrol jet on a routine mission, the U.S. Defense Department confirmed on Friday, Aug. 22. An armed Chinese fighter jet conducted “a dangerous intercept” of a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon submarine-hunting plane on a mission Aug. 19 in international waters near Hainan Island in the South China Sea, according to the Pentagon. In a series of risky maneuvers that mimicked the barrel rolls flown by the character Maverick, played by Tom Cruise, in the 1986 movie Top Gun, the Chinese fighter, known as a J-11, flew under the U.S. Navy jet, with one pass coming within 50 feet of the U.S. plane. On another pass a minute or so later, the Chinese pilot flew directly under and then alongside the P-8, “bringing their wingtips to within 20 feet, and then, before he stabilized his fighter, he conducted a roll over the P-8, passing within 45 feet,” the Pentagon stated, calling it one of the “most unsafe intercepts” since the downing of a Navy EP-3 in 2001 on Hainan Island. That incident sparked a diplomatic crisis in which two dozen American military personnel were held by the Chinese for more than 10 days. Pentagon officials believe the Chinese air squadron responsible for the interception that led to that incident is the same unit responsible for the series of incidents this year”.

Feaver’s five questions

26/08/2014

Peter Feaver asks five questions by which to judge President Obama’s return of US forces to Iraq. He begins “President Barack Obama took a big gamble in recommitting U.S. forces into combat in Iraq’s civil war. I think he made the right choice, and so do the American people (so far). Despite being told over and over again by pundits that they must oppose all uses of American military power because they are ‘war weary,’ ordinary Americans somehow seem to have overcome their collective fatigue to support Obama’s airstrikes, albeit with obvious limits (see here and here). Those and other polls indicate that the public holds Obama’s overall handling of foreign policy and Iraq in very low esteem, but they support the use of military power”.

Fever goes on to note “Obama clearly has the political running room he needs for this abrupt about-face in Iraq. Yet whether it is wise policy to join combat in Iraq once again depends on how you answer a few crucial questions. First, is it plausible that we could by our action or inaction meaningfully lower the desire of the Islamic State (IS) to attack us? Some members of Obama’s team clearly bought into — and may be still buy into — the view that IS had and has geographically limited ambitions: establishing a new caliphate in the Middle East. While this was an obvious threat to U.S. regional partners and allies, it did not mean IS would be interested in attacking the United States itself, provided that we stayed out. Is that a reasonable bet? Does IS view us as an enemy because we allegedly pursue a foreign policy of hegemony in the Middle East — a policy objective that restraint advocates recommend we jettison regardless of IS — or does IS view us as an enemy because of other values and global interests we hold and would continue to hold even if, say, Ron Paul were president?”.

As horrifying as a Ron Paul presidency would be, Feaver is right to ask such a question but the clear answer is that ISIS/ISIL are clearly a threat to America and its interests. Saudi Arabia is, at the same time as supporting them, also extremely worried about threat they pose to the kingdom. They obviously view it as a threat and so should America. It would be dangerous to think that America could leave ISIS take over a chunk of territory and that it would stop there. Not only would it continue to expand it would threaten America both directly and indirectly.

Feaver’s second question is that would “it [be] reasonable to expect that IS will take a very long time to develop the skill sets and orientation of, say, an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, arguably the biggest threat to the homeland this very minute? Or is it more reasonable to expect that IS will fairly quickly acquire those skills? Even if you concede that IS will eventually pose a threat to the U.S. homeland, you could still talk yourself out of confronting the group militarily if you could convince yourself that it is a ‘jayvee’ threat and it will take a long time for the group to develop “Kobe Bryant” skills. Obama candidly acknowledged that he had persuaded himself of this view until very recently. It is likely that until the last couple of weeks, he thought IS was a problem he could hand off to his successor a few years hence and would not need to deal with on his own watch”.

The answer to this question would come to late therefore it would be far more sensible to strike at ISIS now before they attempt to gain such a “skill set”. Just because ISIS does not have the skills that Feaver is referring to does not mean that the group does not want them or would not use them. Bearing in mind Feaver is a Republican, his point about Obama handing over the problem to his successor, if this is what President Obama is thinking is shameful. Few, if any problems get better with age or solve themselves. If this is Obama’s thinking it is stupid and dangerous.

The next question Feaver asks is “even if you decide IS wants to strike the U.S. homeland and is no longer a “jayvee” threat that can be disregarded, one can still opt against a military response if you believe IS can be deterred. After all, al Qaeda central decided to attack the United States, and look what happened to it: a dozen years of the Global War on Terror brought Osama bin Laden to justice and reduced core AQ to a shell of its former self. Perhaps IS will learn from this and decide not to risk attacking the United States”.

Feaver is certainly right to raise the issue but in all honestity ISIS is not a rational actor and any thoughts that they can be deterred or even negotioated with is a dangerous assumption to make.

His fourth question “even if you decide IS cannot be deterred indefinitely, does it make more sense to confront the group sooner when the answers are uncertain rather than later when the answers are obvious to all? The lesson President George W. Bush learned from 9/11 is that it is better to confront sooner rather than wait until threats gather, by which time they could pose even bigger problems. This led to Iraq. The lesson Obama learned from Iraq is that acting sooner can mean you act on uncertain or even inaccurate information. Better to wait until you have unambiguous and unimpeachable evidence, even if this means missing crucial windows of opportunity. This led to Syria. Which lesson is best suited to IS?”

He ends “Obama’s team has obviously been divided on these questions for months, if not years. But in deciding to join with the rising tide of war in Iraq, Obama clearly came down with answers that pointed to military intervention — at least for now and at least in a limited way. This raises a fifth question that will be answered in the coming weeks: Is Obama’s military action sufficient for the challenge, or will more be required?”

 

Rouhani loses a reformist

26/08/2014

Iran’s parliament has voted to dismiss the science minister, dealing a blow to reformist President Hassan Rouhani. The motion to sack Reza Faraji-Dana, whose responsibilities included the country’s universities, was backed by 145 of the 270 lawmakers present. Conservatives had been angered by his decision to let students expelled from university after the anti-government unrest in 2009 return to campus. Mr Rouhani had urged parliament to have greater confidence in the minister. Mr Faraji-Dana was also accused of nominating for senior department positions people who were involved in the mass opposition protests that followed the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, which the authorities considered a “plot”. Critics said he had tolerated student publications that questioned Islamic teachings and promoted sedition and riots”.

What China wants

26/08/2014

A long essay in the Economist discusses what China wants. It opens “Matthew Boulton, James Watt’s partner in the development of the steam engine and one of the 18th century’s greatest industrialists, was in no doubt about the importance of Britain’s first embassy to the court of the Chinese emperor. ‘I conceive’, he wrote to James Cobb, secretary of the East India Company, ‘the present occasion to be the most favourable that ever occurred for the introduction of our manufactures into the most extensive market in the world.’ In light of this great opportunity, he argued, George Macartney’s 1793 mission to Beijing should take a ‘very extensive selection of specimens of all the articles we make both for ornament and use.’ By displaying such a selection to the emperor, court and people, Macartney’s embassy would learn what the Chinese wanted. Boulton’s Birmingham factories, along with those of his friends in other industries, would then set about producing those desiderata in unheard-of bulk, to everybody’s benefit. That is not how things turned out. The emperor accepted Macartney’s gifts, and quite liked some of them—a model of the Royal Sovereign, a first-rate man o’ war, seemed particularly to catch his fancy—but understood the whole transaction as one of tribute, not trade. The court saw a visit from the representatives of King George as something similar in kind to the opportunities the emperor’s Ministry of Rituals provided for envoys from Korea and Vietnam to express their respect and devotion to the Ruler of All Under Heaven. (Dealings with the less sophisticated foreigners from inner Asia were the responsibility of the Office of Barbarian Affairs.) ‘We have never valued ingenious articles, nor do we have the slightest need of your country’s manufactures’ The emperor was thus having none of Macartney’s scandalous suggestion that the Son of Heaven and King George should be perceived as equals. He professed himself happy that Britain’s tribute, though admittedly commonplace, should have come from supplicants so far away. But he did not see it as the beginning of a new trading relationship”.

The writer goes on to mention “In retrospect, a more active interest in extramural matters might have been advisable. China was unaware that an economic, technological and cultural revolution was taking place in Europe and being felt throughout the rest of the world. The subsequent rise of colonialist capitalism would prove the greatest challenge it would ever face. The Chinese empire Macartney visited had been (a few periods of collapse and invasion notwithstanding) the planet’s most populous political entity and richest economy for most of two millennia. In the following two centuries all of that would be reversed. China would be semi-colonised, humiliated, pauperised and torn by civil war and revolution”.

He goes onto write “Now, though, the country has become what Macartney was looking for: a relatively open market that very much wants to trade. To appropriate Boulton, the past two decades have seen the most favourable conditions that have ever occurred for the introduction of China’s manufactures into the most extensive markets in the world. That has brought China remarkable prosperity. In terms of purchasing power it is poised to retake its place as the biggest economy in the world. Still home to hundreds of millions mired in poverty, it is also a 21st-century nation of Norman Foster airports and shining solar farms. It has rolled a rover across the face of the moon, and it hopes to send people to follow it. And now it is a nation that wants some things very much. In general, it knows what these things are. At home its people want continued growth, its leaders the stability that growth can buy. On the international stage people and Communist Party want a new deference and the influence that befits their nation’s stature. Thus China wants the current dispensation to stay the same—it wants the conditions that have helped it grow to endure—but at the same time it wants it turned into something else”.

While this is broadly true it is also something of a misnomer. China is not as open and free as the writer seems to think. The evidence is that China has not obeyed vast swathes of the WTO regulations. Not only that but the Chinese government still holds huge sections of the Chinese economy which allow the highest officials to become vastly wealthy. The problem with this is course is twofold, firstly these companies cannot compete globally and secondly, they cannot be reformed as it would make hundreds of thousands redundant which would gravely threaten the power of the CCP and the stability of the regime itself.

Worryingly he goes on to write that “The post-perestroika collapse of the Soviet Union taught China’s leaders not just the dangers of political reform but also a profound distrust of America: would it undermine them next? Xi Jinping, the president, has since been spooked by the chaos unleashed in the Arab spring. It seems he wants to try to cleanse the party from within so it can continue to rule while refusing any notions of political plurality or an independent judiciary. That consolidation is influencing China’s foreign policy. China is building airstrips on disputed islands in the South China Sea, moving oil rigs into disputed waters and redefining its airspace without any clear programme for turning such assertion into the acknowledged status it sees as its due. This troubles its neighbours, and it troubles America. Put together China’s desire to re-establish itself (without being fully clear about what that might entail) and America’s determination not to let that desire disrupt its interests and those of its allies (without being clear about how to respond) and you have the sort of ill-defined rivalry that can be very dangerous indeed”.

This has been commented on with many hoping that China will have greater dilaouge with the United States and the rest of Asia but as has been noted before, this is optimistic based on past performance.

He importantly writes that “The structural reasons for China’s subsequent decline and the empire’s demise have been much discussed. Some point to what Mark Elvin, a historian, calls ‘the high-level equilibrium trap’; the country ran well enough, with cheap labour and efficient administration, that supply and demand could be easily matched in a way that left no incentive to invest in technological improvement. Others note that Europe benefited from competition and trade between states, which drove its capacity for weaponry and its appetites for new markets. As Kenneth Pomeranz, an American historian, has argued, access to cheap commodities from the Americas was a factor in driving industrialisation in Britain and Europe that China did not enjoy. So was the good luck of having coal deposits close to Europe’s centres of industry; China’s coal and its factories were separated by thousands of kilometres, a problem that remains trying today. For some or all of these reasons, and probably others too, China did not industrialise in the way that the West did. Europe had learned of gunpowder from China in the Middle Ages, but by the 19th century Europeans were far better at using it to get their way”.

Crucially he argues “Much of what has taken place since—republican revolution in 1911, the rise and victory of Maoism in 1949 and now ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’—has been a reaction to the loss of wealth, power and status, and a desire to regain the respect China’s leaders and people feel to be their country’s due. The reformers and revolutionaries of the late 19th century came to believe that traditional Chinese culture was part of the problem. In an attempt not to be carved up by the colonial powers, they began to ditch much of China’s cultural heritage; to save themselves as a nation, many believed they had to destroy themselves as a culture. In 1905 the Confucian examination system that had been the focus of governmental training for two millennia was abandoned. The last emperor and the entire imperial system were overthrown in 1911. With no modern institutions to support it, the new republic soon collapsed into chaos. After Mao reunited China in 1949, the Communists stepped up the assault on Chinese culture yet further. China’s institutions, and the mindsets they created and embodied, were replaced wholesale by ideas from elsewhere. This was the equivalent of Europeans throwing out any vestiges of Roman law, Greek philosophy or Christian belief. Under Mao, Confucius became the enemy. And yet the sense of China as a great civilisation persisted, and persists to this day—leaving the country with a deep identity crisis that it is still struggling to resolve”.

He argues that “China is not bent on global domination. It has little interest in polities beyond Asia, except in as much as they provide it with raw material and markets. Talk of China’s ‘neo-colonialism’ in Africa, for instance, is much exaggerated. The country’s stock of direct investment there still lags far behind Britain’s and France’s and amounts to only a third of America’s. Though China’s influence is undoubtedly growing, its engagement is not imperial but transactional, says Deborah Brautigam, of Johns Hopkins University. When a Japanese company bought the Rockefeller Centre in the 1980s, ‘Americans thought they were buying all of Manhattan,’ says Ms Brautigam. ‘The same is true of China in Africa. It’s all about perception.’ In a forthcoming book, she investigates 20 media reports of land acquisitions by Chinese firms in Africa, claimed to total 5.5m hectares. She found the real figure to be just 63,400 hectares. Chinese foremen have abused African workers, Chinese companies have run illegal mines and annoyingly undercut local traders with cheap Chinese goods. But these are the problems of bad business, not of grand strategy”.

The author should know however that the two are closely interlinked and it would be naive to think that China’s plans for Africa will remain static but will in all probability grow significanctly as time goes on.

He does make the point that “China is ‘neither a missionary culture nor a values superpower,’ says Kerry Brown of the University of Sydney. ‘It is not trying to make other people into China.’ The rhetoric of American foreign policy—and frequently its content, too—is shaped by claims to be the champion of democracy and liberty. The Communist Party is less committed to universal values. Alliances often grow out of shared values; if you don’t have them, friends are harder to find. Awe can be a respectable alternative to friendship, and China has begun to awe the world—but also to worry it”.

Yet with Chinese belief in American “decline” rife they could and indeed are acting out at least regionally in ways that are unsettleing and should be stopped. China may not be a missionary power but it is only interested in itself, as every state is, but it will go to extreme lengths and upset the trend for greater democracy and and greater free trade both of which China is either against or has lukewarm support for.

Interestingly he does note “there is a tension in Chinese foreign policy. The country wants to have as little involvement abroad as it can get away with, except for engagements that enhance its image as a great power. It will act abroad when its own interests are at stake, but not for the greater or general good. Its navy has started to take part in anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa and in UN peacekeeping in Africa. In 2011 it sent a ship to co-ordinate the evacuation of 36,000 Chinese workers from Libya. More such actions may follow as its companies get more deeply involved in the world, but only if they are seen as either low-cost or absolutely necessary. Acute awareness of its domestic weaknesses acts as a restraint, as does the damage China sees done by the militarisation of America’s foreign policy in recent years. In a wide range of fields, what China is against is a lot clearer than what it is for. It vetoed the interventions Western powers sought in Syria and Darfur and has taken no position on the Russian annexation of Crimea (despite having a dim view of any sort of centrifugalism at home). At the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen China made sure no deal emerged that would even suggest it might have to slow its industrial growth. There and elsewhere it showed itself ready to block but not ready to build. As a former senior official in the Bush administration says of Chinese engagement at the G20, ‘They love to show up, but we’re still waiting for their first idea.’ The former official argues that the world needs more Chinese engagement and initiative, not less. Chinese leaders dislike the existing system of alliances, he says, but offer no alternative system of collective security”.

He adds “A lack of engagement is not unusual in a rising power. It took a world war to draw America irrevocably onto the world stage. And the absence of an articulated agenda does not stop China wanting more standing. Despite being one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—a position it achieved as one of the victorious powers in the second world war—it is frustrated by what it sees as its lack of influence in international organisations and is leading the other large developing nations in pushing for a better deal”.

He adds later “China’s armed forces are, if not technologically first-rate, certainly large and impressive, not least because they include a nuclear-missile force. But some of Mr Yang’s small countries have a big friend. With troops and bases in Japan and South Korea, America has been the dominant power of the western Pacific for 70 years. Its regional presence has not declined much since it won the cold war a quarter of a century ago. On a trip to Asia in 2011 Barack Obama announced a “pivot” of his country’s policy away from the Middle East and towards Asia. China’s leaders are convinced that America is determined to prevent their country from increasing its strategic and military influence in Asia—that it is trying to contain China as it once sought to contain and eventually crush the Soviet Union. The irony is that China is the only country that really believes the pivot is happening. South-East Asian nations express a fair amount of scepticism at the idea that America’s attention has been newly fixed on their region, and his opponents in America claim Mr Obama has done far too little to follow through on what he said in 2011. That said, the recent Shangri-La Dialogue did nothing to dispel China’s fears. Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, offered to assist China’s neighbours with military hardware, and has been pushing, within the constraints of Japan’s pacifist post-war constitution, for a more robust defence policy in the region”.

He goes on to mention When Mr Xi said, at his 2013 California summit with Mr Obama, that ‘the vast Pacific has enough space for two large countries like the United States and China,’ it was an expression not so much of the possibility of peaceful coexistence that must surely come from being separated by 10,000km of water, as of the idea that the western Pacific was a legitimate Chinese sphere of influence. And if Mr Xi’s words, repeated to America’s secretary of state, John Kerry, in Beijing in July, seemed to imply a symmetry between the countries, China knows that, in fact, it enjoys various asymmetric advantages. For one, it is a unitary actor. It can drive wedges between America and its allies in the region. Hugh White, an Australian academic, argued in a recent article that, by threatening other Asian countries with force, ‘China confronts America with the choice between deserting its friends and fighting China.’ China’s armed forces are much less proficient than America’s. But China enjoys the advantage of playing at home. America can dominate these seas only through naval and air operations. If Chinese anti-ship missiles present a serious threat to such operations they can greatly reduce America’s ability to project power, without putting China to the expense of developing a navy of its own remotely so capable”.

Worryingly he makes the point “China also thinks there is an asymmetry of will. It sees a war-weary America as unlikely to spend blood and treasure defending uninhabited rocks of no direct strategic importance. America may speak loudly, but its big stick will remain unwielded. China’s people, on the other hand, their views shaped not just by propaganda but also by a nationalism that needs scant encouragement, look on the projection of power in the China seas very favourably. And its military-industrial complex yearns to be paid to build bigger, better sticks of its own. Even if party leaders wanted to succeed in their stated desire for a peaceful rise and to remain within international law, the way they have shaped the spirit of their country would not necessarily let them”.

He ends “China is no longer the “crazy, first-rate man o’ war” described by Macartney in 1793. In spite of its many problems, it is a sleeker, more modern ship. Over 200 years, through much pain and suffering, it has transformed the very core of its identity, changing itself from an inward- and backward-looking power to an outward- and forward-looking one. Since 1978, it has shown both flexibility and unwielding resolve in its continued pursuit of wealth and power. Now those goals are within reach and China stands on the verge of greatness. The next few decades may prove to be the most difficult of all”.

Over 190,000

26/08/2014

More than 191,000 people were killed in the first three years of Syria’s civil war, a U.N. report said on Friday, and the world body’s human rights envoy rebuked leading powers for failing to halt what she branded a “wholly avoidable human catastrophe”. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said war crimes were still being committed with total impunity on all sides in the conflict, which began with initially peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule in March 2011″.

“Approaching an inflection point”

26/08/2014

James Steinberg and Michael O’Hanlon write in Foreign Affairs about how to prevent Sino-US relations “from blowing up”. They open “At their summit in California last June, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping committed themselves to building trust between their countries. Since then, new official forums for communication have been launched (such as the military-to-military dialogues recently announced by the two countries’ defense ministers), complementing existing forums such as the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (which features the countries’ top diplomats and economic officials). But despite these efforts, trust in both capitals — and in the countries at large — remains scarce, and the possibility of an accidental or even intentional conflict between the United States and China seems to be growing. Given the vast potential costs such a conflict would carry for both sides, figuring out how to keep it at bay is among the most important international challenges of the coming years and decades”.

Here China bears most of the blame. It has done everything in its power to provoke and bully the rest of Asia. Certainly America must accept a greater role in Asia but China cannot simply expect the sole superpower to do nothing when China’s actions are nothing but aggressive.

They go on to write, “The factors undermining trust are easy to state. East Asia’s security and economic landscape is undergoing massive, tectonic change, driven primarily by China’s remarkable economic rise in recent decades. That economic miracle, in turn, has made it possible for China to increase its military capacity and ramp up its political role in the region and beyond. China’s leaders and prominent strategists have been at pains to insist that China’s rise will be peaceful and poses no threat to its neighbors or the existing international political and economic order. But many members of the world community remain concerned and even skeptical, noting that history and international relations theory are replete with examples of conflict arising from clashes between a dominant and a rising power”.

They rightly point out, “Such skepticism has been fueled, moreover, by China’s own recent actions, from its assertive maritime operations in the East China and South China seas to its unilateral proclamation of an “air defense identification zone” around the Diaoyu Islands (known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands), in the East China Sea. And U.S. military planners have become increasingly concerned about the trajectory of China’s military modernization and about its “anti-access/area-denial” (A2/AD) doctrine, which they see as an ill-disguised effort by China to weaken the United States’ ability to defend its interests and support its alliance commitments in the western Pacific”.

They adds “the Obama team has been actively promoting its own strategic reorientation, the “pivot,” or “rebalance,” to Asia. The administration insists that its motivation is to enhance regional stability for the benefit of all, rather than to contain or threaten China. But few Chinese, particularly in the military and national security communities, are convinced. They, too, read their history and international relations theory and conclude that the United States, like most dominant powers before it, is determined to maintain its hegemonic dominance, thwarting China’s rise and keeping it vulnerable”.

Interestingly they argue “One way to head off unnecessary conflicts is to reduce the malign role played by misperceptions. These can emerge from two quite opposite directions: from one side either perceiving a threat where none is intended or failing to believe in the credibility of the other side’s intent to defend its interests. This means that the practical challenge for both Washington and Beijing is to dispel false fears while sustaining deterrence by making credible threats where they are seriously intended. The good news is that history and theory suggest four tools can be helpful in this regard: restraint, reciprocity, transparency, and resilience. Restraint is the willingness to forgo actions that might enhance one’s own security but that will appear threatening to somebody else. Reciprocity is a response in kind by one side to the other’s actions — in this case, a signal that restraint is being understood as forbearance (rather than weakness) and is being met with emulation rather than exploitation. Transparency helps allay fears that the other side’s visible positive gestures mask hidden, more hostile intentions”.

These suggestions are worth implementing but the danger is that China is driven more by emotion than rationality in its dealings with America. This would totally change the way America deals with China and how to approach China in the future.

They write that “From Washington’s perspective, the greatest uncertainty about China’s future intentions stems from the rapid and sustained growth of Chinese military spending and the accompanying investment in sophisticated conventional armaments that challenge U.S. capabilities. It is true that even the most generous assessments of China’s current military spending — that it approaches $200 billion annually, or about two percent of GDP — still put it at less than a third of U.S. spending (currently $600 billion a year, or about 3.5 percent of GDP). At current rates of growth, Beijing’s annual military budget would not equal Washington’s until around 2030. And even then, the United States could rely on large accumulated stocks of modern weaponry, years of combat experience”.

Chinese military spending is high and growing and is a major concern but the state of the PLA and its associated branches is not a major fear. The PLA is weak and has a array of problems. Not only this but some have argued that the Chinese military could not even defeat the supposedly weaker Japanese Self Defence Forces.

They add “if China wants to calm international fears and signal that its goals are legitimate self-defence rather than the ability to project power abroad and threaten others, there are several constructive steps it could take. Given that U.S. spending covers capabilities not just in Asia but around the globe, a convincing case can be made that China can achieve adequate self-defense by spending about half of what the United States does. By reducing the current rate of growth of its military budget in coming years, therefore, China could telegraph that its objective is self-defense rather than complete parity”.

The authors go on to mention, “The most likely prospect for a direct military encounter between the United States and China in the near term comes from the growing tensions in the East China and South China seas. U.S. security commitments to Japan and the Philippines, both of which have territorial disputes with China, and U.S. willingness to assert basic navigational rights in the region (which set the stage for a close encounter between the USS Cowpens and Chinese ships last December) could entangle Washington in a conflict even though the United States itself has no territorial claims in the area. These tensions are not likely to be resolved anytime soon. The actual interests at stake are small, and many of the conflicts involved could be managed were there sufficient mutual will to do so. But all involved seem to fear that any show of restraint or accommodation will be taken as a sign of weakness, leading to even more assertive behaviour in the future. This makes it all the more important to find ways of preventing crises from emerging or keeping them contained once they do so. China could provide reassurance about its intentions by agreeing to and implementing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ proposed code of conduct for the South China Sea. Restraining its military deployments and agreeing to operational procedures that would reduce the danger of accidents or miscalculations would make Beijing’s assertions of peaceful intent more credible”.

However, China has shown little intent in dealing with the rest of Asia in forums like ASEAN and is much more content in dealing with these countries on a one to one basis as it can bully and intimidate a country singular basis rather than collectively.

They go on to make the point that “The two sides, and perhaps other regional actors, could also agree to an incidents-at-sea accord comparable to that between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War, including not only navies but also coast guards and perhaps even merchant vessels as well. Both sides will inevitably and legitimately continue their surveillance, but they could do so with far less risk. The accord would be designed to ensure that ships do not approach one another too closely, that carrier air operations are not interfered with, and that submarines do not surface or behave in other potentially risky ways”.

Again the fear is that China has little or no interest in taking this path, than America will have to come up with another way to bring China to heel and halt its behaviour.

The authors add “The key to stable U.S.-Chinese relations over the long term is for each side to be clear about its true redlines and the price, at least in general terms, it is willing to pay to defend them. As with reassurance, accurately communicating resolve requires more than just words; it involves demonstrating both the will and the capacity to make good on threats. That means Washington needs to make Beijing understand that it will defend not just its own territory and people but also those of its formal allies and sometimes even its nonallied friends. This is partly what the Obama administration’s rebalance was supposed to do, but to achieve that effect, it needs to be followed up on and be executed seriously rather than be allowed to languish. Of course, demonstrating resolve does not have to mean meeting every provocation with a direct military response. Sometimes, nonmilitary responses, such as sanctions and new basing arrangements, may make the most sense, as may using negotiations to offer appropriate “off-ramps” and other avenues for de-escalation of a crisis. The best way to signal resolve prudently in a particular case will depend on various factors, including the degree of coordination Washington can manage to achieve with its allies and partners. But it is crucial to signal to Beijing early and clearly that there are some lines it will not be permitted to cross with impunity”.

They conclude, “U.S.-Chinese relations may be approaching an inflection point. A long-standing bipartisan U.S. consensus on seeking constructive relations with China has frayed, and the Chinese are increasingly pessimistic about the future of bilateral dealings as well. Yet U.S. fatalism about China’s rise could lead to resigned acceptance of a new reality or muscular resistance designed to protect old prerogatives — both unpromising and ultimately self-defeating strategies. Building a relationship around the principles of strategic reassurance and resolve offers the prospect of a more promising future without jeopardizing legitimate interests on either side. In effect, rather than simply hoping or planning for trust, it substitutes a “trust but verify” approach. This is much sounder than classic hedging, since it seeks to reduce the possibility of unintended provocation and escalation. And with luck, it can be enough to help keep full-scale conflict at bay, an outcome that prudent people on both sides should be seeking”.

“Launched attacks to recapture two towns”

26/08/2014

Iraqi government forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters have launched attacks to recapture two towns in the north from Islamic State (Isis) militants, as Western governments consider how to mount an effective response to the threat posed by the extremist group that has redrawn the border of Iraq and Syria. The Kurdish forces, backed by US air power, took one district near the eastern entrance to Jalawla, 70 miles (115km) north-east of Baghdad. Jalawla was taken by Isis more than a week ago. Iraqi troops supported by Iraqi fighter planes were advancing towards the nearby town of Saadiya. Both towns are near the Iranian border and the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

Dempsey connects the dots

24/08/2014

In what is very significant news, the New York Times reports that chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey, has noted that the problem of ISIS cannot be defeated unless Syria is dealt with as well. Such comments come after President Obama has refused to link Syria and Iraq and now that the most senior general in the United States has linked the two problems publicly a shift in the position of the Obama administration is clear to see.

The article begins “The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria cannot be defeated unless the United States or its partners take on the Sunni militants in Syria, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Thursday. “This is an organization that has an apocalyptic end-of-days strategic vision that will eventually have to be defeated,” said the chairman, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, in his most expansive public remarks on the crisis since American airstrikes began in Iraq. “Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no.” But General Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who both spoke at a Pentagon news conference, gave no indication that President Obama was about to approve airstrikes in Syria”.

It goes on to mention “General Dempsey also was circumspect in describing the sort of broad effort that would be required to roll back ISIS in Syria and Iraq. “It requires a variety of instruments, only one small part of which is airstrikes,” he said. “I’m not predicting those will occur in Syria, at least not by the United States of America. But it requires the application of all of the tools of national power — diplomatic, economic, information, military.” Even so, General Dempsey’s comments were notable because he is the president’s top military adviser and had been among the most outspoken in describing the risks of ordering airstrikes in Syria when the civil war there began”.

Dempsey’s wording is very interesting when it comes to Syria. He seems to have ruled out strikes against ISIS by America, this does however leave the door open for others, notably the Syrian air force to use US intelligence to hit ISIS positions.

The article adds, “In the current battle with ISIS inside Iraq, Mr. Obama’s military strategy has been aimed at containing the militant organization rather than defeating it, according to Defense Department officials and military experts. Pressed on whether the United States would conduct airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria, Mr. Hagel said that “we’re looking at all options.” Any use of air power involves risk, including the possibility that innocent civilians may be hurt or killed, or that a piloted aircraft might be shot down. Airstrikes in Syria would also draw the White House more deeply into a conflict from which it has sought to maintain some distance. But there is also risk in not acting, because it is very difficult to defeat a militant group that is allowed to maintain a sanctuary”.

Importantly the piece mentions “In planning its campaign against ISIS, American military officers have been contending with a highly mobile force that can move across the Iraq-Syria border with impunity. To the consternation of American officials, ISIS has been using captured American equipment, including Humvees and at least one heavily armored troop transport vehicle. American intelligence officials have reported that the group has seized 20 Russian T-55 tanks in Syria, armour that ISIS could try to employ in western Iraq. According to one American intelligence estimate, ISIS could not be easily defeated by killing its top leadership. Given its decentralized command and control, experienced militants could easily replenish its upper ranks. “If there is anything ISIL has learned from its previous iterations as Al Qaeda in Iraq, it is that they need succession plans because losing leaders to counterterrorism operations is to be expected,” said one intelligence official, using an alternative name for the group. “Their command and control is quite flexible as a result.” American officials caution that intelligence experts are still assessing ISIS’s current strength and that pinning down the precise number of its fighters is difficult, in part because it is not easy to identify who is a core member of the group and who might be sympathizers fighting alongside them”.

Interestingly the article notes that “Estimates of the number of fighters that might be affiliated with ISIS vary from more than 10,000 to as many as 17,000. That includes an initial vanguard of about 3,000 who swept into Mosul from Syria in early June and ISIS reinforcements from Syria since that time, as well as thousands of new foreign recruits and thousands of Iraqi Sunnis, like Baathists, who at least for now are allied with ISIS. So far, the military strategy that the Obama administration has employed to confront ISIS has been limited in scope. Since Aug. 8, the United States has carried out 90 airstrikes to halt the militant group’s advance to Erbil, to help Kurdish and Iraqi government forces retake the Mosul Dam and to protect Yazidi civilians trying to escape from Mount Sinjar. While American air power appears to have been relatively successful in those limited missions, some military officials say that the only way to deal a major setback to such a mobile adversary is to attack ISIS fighters throughout the battlefield”.

It concludes, “During his news conference, Mr. Hagel insisted that the United States was pursuing a long-term strategy against ISIS because it clearly posed “a long-term threat,” and at one point invoked the Sept. 11 attacks. But both Pentagon leaders reflected the prevailing view within the Obama administration — that the United States should not move aggressively to counter ISIS without participation from allies in the region”.

“The rhetoric in Washington is heating up”

24/08/2014

U.S. military operations in Iraq may be limited for now, but the rhetoric in Washington is heating up. On Thursday, it boiled over at the Pentagon, where Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel painted a new and more dangerous picture of the threat that the Islamic State poses to Americans and U.S. interests. The group “is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They’re beyond just a terrorist group,” Hagel said in response to a question about whether the Islamic State posed a similar threat to the United States as al Qaeda did before Sept. 11, 2001. “They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They’re tremendously well-funded. This is beyond anything that we’ve seen,” Hagel said, adding that “the sophistication of terrorism and ideology married with resources now poses a whole new dynamic and a new paradigm of threats to this country.” Hagel’s comments added to the mismatch between the Obama administration’s increasingly aggressive rhetoric and its current game plan for how to take on the group in Iraq and Syria, which so far involves limited airstrikes and some military assistance to the Kurdish and Iraqi forces fighting the militants. It has also requested from Congress $500 million to arm moderate rebel factions in Syria. But for now, the United States is not interested in an Iraqi offer to let U.S. fighter jets operate out of Iraqi air bases”.

Iran, Gaza and the talks

24/08/2014

An article in Foreign Affairs argues that the longer the current crisis in Gaza carries on, the harder a deal with Iran will become.

She opens “Back in November, when the P5+1 negotiators (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) reached an interim deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacked it as a ‘historic mistake’ that would make the world ‘a much more dangerous place.’ Last week, the negotiators failed to reach a final accord and instead extended the negotiations by four months. This time, however, there was hardly a peep from Netanyahu”.

She goes on to note that “Netanyahu’s muted response may seem surprising given his previous vocal and public rebuke of the talks. Some might say that the escalating conflict in Gaza has distracted the Israeli leadership; one Israeli headline even suggested that ‘Netanyahu wanted to attack Iran, but got stuck in Gaza instead.’ For his part, Netanyahu made it clear that Israel prefers no deal to a bad deal, which also might help explain his relatively subdued response to the extension of the talks.  Yet Hamas has not replaced Iran as Israel’s top security challenge in Netanyahu’s mind. If anything, the Gaza conflict is likely to exacerbate his concerns about Iran and may make the ongoing nuclear negotiations, already tenuous, even more difficult to conclude”.

As ever Netanyahu lives in a world different to the rest of humanity. Of course this is understandable given the geopolitics of Israel’s position in the Middle East but he has more often than not been proven wrong and the fact that a potential deal with Iran is at least conceivable then in should be attempted.

She rightly goes on to make the point that “U.S. negotiators have tried to compartmentalise regional issues involving Iran during the talks, for example, by avoiding topics such as Iranian missile development, its links to terrorist groups, its human rights abuses. The Iranian negotiators have also made it clear that they do not have a mandate to discuss broader regional issues such as Syria and Iraq with the Americans, and are interested in keeping the nuclear talks separate from everything else. The logic is that doing so will enhance the prospects of reaching a deal, particularly when the nuclear discussions are already complex enough on their own. However, such segregation is nearly impossible in practice; crises like the one in Gaza affect the calculations of all the parties in the nuclear negotiations as well as the stance of states that, like Israel, are not party to the talks but have a significant stake in their outcome”.

The writer mentions that “Indeed, for most Arab states as well as for Israel, concerns about Iran have always extended well beyond the country’s nuclear program. For some governments, Iran’s regional ambitions, its relationships with Shia groups in neighbouring states, and its links to terrorist entities across the region are more alarming than its quest for nuclear capabilities. Even for Israel, the main concern is not that Iran would necessarily use nuclear weapons against it, but that Tehran’s capacity to do so would embolden it in these other arenas”.

Interestingly she argues “Israel has little doubt that Iran’s fingerprints are all over the conflict in Gaza. Although Iran suspended its support for Hamas after the organisation backed the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Israeli officials and other analysts believe that the support it previously gave the group allowed it to wage these attacks. For example, although most of Hamas’ rockets are now locally produced (thanks to the suspension of Iranian assistance and the Egyptian crackdown on Hamas smuggling routes), some of the rocket parts and the technical know-how for production and training are widely believed to have come from Iran. Once the dust settles, this Iranian link to a war on Israel’s borders is likely to attract increased attention. For his part, Netanyahu has already made the connection: ‘Hamas and Islamic Jihad are being financed, armed and trained by Iran…This Iran cannot be allowed the ability to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. If this happens, the things we are seeing around us and the things that are happening in the Middle East will be far worse.’ A senior U.S. official involved in the nuclear talks echoed that sentiment, telling reporters in Vienna that ‘Iran has a responsibility to cease and desist from continuing to supply weapons of war that are fueling this conflict.'”

Yet this view overlooks the fact that Qatar and Turkey are the primary sources of funding for Hamas, not the Shia dominated Iranian regime.  Israel has been quiet on this front and not criticised these two nations which would lead one to believe it is more about politics than what is actually true. There is also the case that Israel is more duplicitous than usual with recent reports claiming that Israel was selling weapons to Iran.

She concludes the piece, “public pressure within Iran may only lead to Tehran’s increased support for Palestinian militant groups, given the broad consensus condemning Israeli aggression and the leadership’s recognition that these conflicts can help rehabilitate Iran’s regional image as a leader in the resistance against Israel. Iranian leaders may find particular value in bolstering support for Hamas, despite the previous rift over Syria, to dampen sectarian tensions that challenge Iran’s broader regional ambitions. As if to prove the point, on July 14, Supreme Leader Khamenei tweeted: ‘The massacre in #Gaza by Zionists should #awaken Muslim govts & nations 2stop discords & get #united.’ Increased support for Gaza militants, in turn, would fuel international resistance to a nuclear deal that results in sanctions relief for Iran.  To be sure, both the United States and Iran have compelling reasons for reaching a successful nuclear deal, which will push them to continue working toward one despite the ongoing developments in Gaza. For the Obama administration, settling the Iran nuclear question through diplomacy would be a major foreign policy achievement and would remove one problem in a region already roiled with conflict. For Iran, Khamenei still backs negotiations toward a deal that would bring desperately needed sanctions relief. Whether a formula can be reached that meets Iranian demands for a civilian nuclear program, but is limited enough to satisfy the United States and its partners remains to be seen. But the longer the Gaza conflict continues, the harder it will be to insulate the negotiations from broader regional trends — and that does not bode well for a successful outcome.

 

“Haftar’s air force”

24/08/2014

Renegade General Khalifa Haftar’s air force was responsible for strikes on Islamist-leaning militia in Tripoli on Monday, one of his commanders said, after weeks of fighting for the capital in Libya’s worst violence since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011. Fighters from Misrata – east of Tripoli – have been battling militia from the western Zintan region for weeks and have thrown the North African state into anarchy. Zintanis and Misratis worked together to topple Gaddafi but have fallen out since. The fighting hitherto has been limited to ground action with artillery and rockets. None of the militias had been thought to own warplanes, while the central government has only an outdated air force, badly in need of repair. Libyan television news channels speculated that the country’s neighbours might be behind the overnight air strikes, which Tripoli official Mohammed al-Kriwi said had killed about five people and wounded as many as 30″.

Francis decides Madrid?

24/08/2014

Today marks the 78th birthday of Antonio María Cardinal Rouco Varela who has been archbishop of Madrid since 1994. As per the norms of Canon Law, Cardinal Rouco Varela submitted his resignation at age 75. It was long thought thought that Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments since December 2008.

Appointing Cardinal Cañizares Llovera would serve several purposes. Firstly it would please Cardinal Cañizares Llovera  is it is long thought wishes to return to Spain. The see of Madrid would be a fitting return to his homeland. It would also give Pope Francis a chance to appoint someone of his own liturgical tastes. The name most cited has been Archbishop Piero Marini, 72, who served as Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations under John Paul II.

Now there are reports that “the Archbishop of Valencia, Carlos Osoro Sierra, 69, has been chosen by Pope Francis as new Archbishop of the Spanish capital — this was supposedly informed by the Holy See to the Spanish government yesterday. Why is this important for the universal Church? First, of course, because Madrid is the key bishopric in a key nation in the Catholic world. But, much more importantly in the present, this choice is related to a Spanish vacancy that is available to the current Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW), Cardinal Cañizares”.

The same report notes that Cardinal Cañizares Llovera will be appointed as archbishop of Valencia. The key question is who will take CDW? Marini has been the most prominent name but also the one that has attracted the most attention but as ever there are several candidates.
One course of action, as was mentioned before would be to dissolve CDW and join it with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints which would recreate the old Congregation for Rites. Equally however, Francis may want to wait until accepting the resignation of Cardinal Amato, 76 before making such a move.
The other course of action is that he could appoint his Jesuit confere, Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer. This would allow Francis to reshape the CDF of Muller by putting in a new secretary. It was previously speculated that Ladaria Ferrer would go to Catholic Education given his own background in that area. However, Francis could also place the nuncio to Paris, Archbishop Luigi Ventura , 69, at CDW. Or of course he could recall the infamous Carlo Maria Vigano for the role.
It may be more suited for Vigano to take over the role of archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore where Cardinal Abril y Castelló is 78. Then again Francis may feel not ready to return Vigano and could leave Abril y Castello in his non job for another year before bringing Vigano back. This would give Francis time to come up with a replacement for Vigano in the US. It should be remembered that Archbishop Chullikatt was removed from his job at the UN and has not been given another job, yet. Francis may seek to return him to Rome and ensure the tradition of a red hat for holders of the UN mission chief continues but this tradition has also not been continued for others who had been expecting it.
There are other possibilities however. both the Substitute for General Affairs, Archbishop Becciu, 66, and the secretary for Relations with States, Mamberti, 62, are both holdovers from Benedict XVI. Mamberti could well be left in office but Becciu could be moved to either CDW or as nuncio to Washington, as Vigano comes back to Rome, in order for Francis to have one less curialist blocking him. The latter move to Washington is an outside possibility however.
The possibility of Cardinal Burke, who has not been confirmed in his job as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, getting CDW is unlikely. Burke is too divergent from Francis to get the job but Francis may just as well decide that Burke can do less damage in Rome at the Signatura than either back in the US or in a more high profile job at CDW.

Syria bombs ISIS

24/08/2014

Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad hammered the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa with more than two dozen air strikes on Sunday, targeting areas controlled by the Islamic State militant group, a monitoring group said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has tracked violence on all sides of the conflict that began in March 2011, said at least 31 fighters from the Islamic State were killed and dozens wounded in the air strikes that hit Raqqa city and the surrounding areas. It said 26 strikes on Sunday hit Islamic State buildings, including the military court and bases in the city. The conflict in Syria started when Assad cracked down on a pro-democracy uprising, which then armed itself. Until this summer, Assad’s forces held off from targeting the al Qaeda offshoot, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). This has allowed the group to thrive and also weaken less hardline opposition groups that are backed by the West. Assad has long painted the uprising in Syria as a foreign-backed Islamist conspiracy and his enemies say he has allowed the Islamic State to grow to promote that idea”.

No Middle East strategy?

24/08/2014

David Rothkopf writes that America has no strategy when it comes to the Middle East. He opens, “What would it look like if America actually had a Middle East strategy? To begin with, of course, it would hardly look like what we are seeing today. At the moment, we are confronted with an unprecedented region wide series of crises that are each seemingly being treated by U.S. policymakers as though they were unrelated. American responses to each have been reactive, typically veering between the passive and the inadequate. While there has been lots of rumination about what could go wrong if we embraced risky or bad policies, there has been less focus on how to actually achieve our goals and seemingly precious little thought given to the consequences of our inaction. In short, at a particularly fraught moment in a dangerous and vital part of the world we seem to be without a clear vision or a plan for achieving it. As a consequence, America’s vital national interests are suffering. A region of substantial economic importance to the United States and to the world is spiraling into ever deeper instability. Allies are at risk. Bad actors who pose a material security threat to the United States and those allies are growing and multiplying and gaining strength. Unchecked or inadequately, haphazardly challenged, recent disturbing trends could grow much, much worse”.

Rothkopf rightly points out that “Still, our goals in the Middle East are straightforward: We have economic interests there such as the provision of energy resources, trade flows, and investments we wish to protect and cultivate. We wish to maintain strong relationships with countries that can help us advance our geopolitical interests — enhancing our influence, counterbalancing the power of potential rivals. It’s clear that what we seek in the region is not only the kind of development that promotes and protects those who are well-disposed toward the United States, but stability. But not just any stability — and this is an important point. We want a stable, prospering Middle East that is friendly to us but is also an inhospitable environment for our enemies. As the Mubarak regime showed, the stability of the oppressive autocrat resistant to change is an illusion. The region is a graveyard for strongmen who ignored the street”.

He goes on to note “While many forces are in play in the greater Middle East (and even in neighboring regions into which Middle East-like or related conflicts are flowing, such as North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, and even Uighur China) there are important crosscutting trends that should be taken into account in our strategy. Indeed, it is the awakening to the crosscutting and indeed interlocking nature of these trends that is the secret to the formulation of such a strategy. That is because the principal source of threat to our interests, the stability of the region, and to our allies is one and the same — the threat of extremist or political Islam. Further, while the extremist actors and groups go by many names and are independent of one another in important ways, they also share important links. Some of these are ideological. Some have to do with the tactics they employ. Some have to do with the pools from which they draw their recruits. And, notably in terms of combatting them, some have to do with the sources of their financing and arms”.

He continues, “While the conditions and specific upheavals in each state in the Middle East are, as noted earlier, different, it is this battle that is responsible for the greatest amount of today’s unrest and violence. Whether it is Ansar al-Sharia in Libya or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Gaza or al-Nusrah Front in Syria, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or the Islamic State struggling to establish its caliphate, it is clear today that extremist Islam is emerging as a threat so broad that it must be seen in its totality to be contended with. Further, the ties of these groups to others operating in the periphery of this region — from the Taliban to the Haqqani network, from Boko Haram to Uighur or Chechen separatists — both underscore the global scope of the problem and the potential for significant alliances to help combat it. Certainly, our traditional allies in the Middle East have come to see the problem as one. Consider the degree to which Israel and Egypt have cooperated to deal with Hamas. Consider that unifying animus toward the Muslim Brotherhood that has linked together not only those two former warring states but also Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. While in some of these states there are individuals who support such extremist groups, the governments themselves are united in concern about the unchecked spread of the Islamic State. It is a concern so great that it has even caused some to set aside for the moment unease with the support of Iran or Bashar al-Assad in the battle against that rising threat. It is so great that it has led to the formation of a new, closer Russian-Israeli relationship”.

Rothkopf adds that “Focusing on forging a new alliance to defeat this threat has many elements. In the Middle East, it will involve real work to restore trust with the diverse set of actors that can help us from Cairo to Tel Aviv, from Amman to Abu Dhabi, from Kuwait City to Riyadh. It will require a much more intensive effort to get the EU on board — one that should be driven by the fact that unrest in this region is likely to spill over to Europe, perhaps led by the thousands of jihadis currently fighting in Syria and Iraq who hail from European cities. But it also should take advantage of the fact that collaboration among major global powers other than the EU will be key to success and can mobilize support — Russia, China, and India being notable in this regard. The strategy will also require a toughness we have yet to show to countries like Qatar and Turkey that have been too cozy with bad actors. The evidence about Qatari financing of terrorists is overwhelming. Rather than letting these ties provide the Doha regime with more influence as we did during the recent Gaza talks, we should work with governments worldwide to ensure this will deny them ever-increasing influence and access until they reverse course. This should include considering opposing the World Cup in Qatar, moving our troops out of that country, and prosecuting those who are known to be financing extremists. And we need to do this actively elsewhere as well. Shutting down resource flows to all these groups must be a top priority of this effort”.

He ends “Difficult problems will exist, of course. Eliminating Iranian nuclear weapons must be a U.S. goal. And Iran can be an ally against the Islamic State. It also can play an important role in ultimately producing change in governments in Syria and Iraq. But we must recognize that drawing too close to them will be seen as a threat to other allies in the region and that even as the Sunni-Sunni tensions take precedence, the Sunni-Shiite battle remains a risk. Thus the delicate work of a three-way balance is required, much as it will be with Russia — which we must challenge on Ukraine even as we cooperate on fighting terror. But that is the kind of complexity that major strategies of this kind entail. Divisions and alliances don’t come neatly. There are no risk-free initiatives. Indeed, if this recent period of flying without a flight plan reveals anything, it is that the search for risk-free options may be among the most dangerous paths to choose of all. Because, as we have seen, given America’s unique role in the world, our consigning ourselves to the sidelines or sporadic, very limited interventions that exist outside a broader strategy only creates a bigger opening for our enemies, for the spread of fundamental threats, and for the possibility that this will someday be seen as a period of profound strategic failure for the United States in the region and the world”.

 

The Clintons head to Iowa

24/08/2014

Bill and Hillary Clinton are headed to the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa in September to headline retiring Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D) annual steak fry. Hillary Clinton’s attendance at the event, sources confirmed to The Hill, marks the beginning of her fall campaign activities as she contemplates a run for the White House in 2016. Clinton is one of Democrats’ most in-demand campaign surrogates this cycle, with an unpopular President Obama persona non grata on the trail. With many in the party excited at the prospect of her potential presidential bid, her visits to the stump could pack a real punch. The steak fry appearance also marks her first return to a state that was not kind during her last run for the presidency. Clinton posted a damaging third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses in 2008, a defeat she never recovered from as Obama began his march to the nomination. Other potential 2016 Democratic hopefuls have already made appearances in Iowa, including Vice President Biden, who headlined the steak fry last year, and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who keynoted an Iowa Democratic dinner last month”.

 

Syria’s disarmament mirage

22/08/2014

An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal argues that Syria’s chemical disarmament is nothing but a mirage.

It opens, “It wasn’t long ago that President Obama boasted of getting Syria to surrender its chemical weapons without firing a shot. “It turned out that we are actually getting all the chemical weapons,” Mr. Obama told the New Yorker last November. “And nobody reports that anymore.” But it turned out there was a good reason to hold the applause. On Monday the White House released a statement in the President’s name celebrating the destruction of Bashar Assad’s declared stocks of chemical weapons aboard the MV Cape Ray, a U.S. ship fitted with specialized hydrolysis systems that neutralize sarin and other deadly agents”.

The writer adds “Then came the caveat. “We will watch closely to see that Syria fulfills its commitment to destroy its remaining declared chemical weapons production facilities,” the statement read. “In addition, serious questions remain with respect to the omissions and discrepancies in Syria’s declaration to the OPCW and about continued allegations of use.” The OPCW is the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Hague -based outfit that has overseen the removal of 1,300 tons of chemical agents from Syria. The organization complained for months that Damascus was slow-rolling the disarmament process as it continued to starve and bomb its enemies into submission. In April the Assad regime began dropping chlorine bombs against civilian targets. Chlorine violates the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined last year as part of the deal that Mr. Obama used to celebrate”.

The author adds “Then there are those “omissions and discrepancies” cited by the President. We are not privy to the intelligence, but every source we talk to says the Syrians have surely not declared everything in their possession. It’s also hard to believe the Administration would underline the defects in its own purported achievement if there weren’t serious doubts among U.S. spooks about the completeness of the Syrian declaration”.

He goes on to make the argument that “Syria maintains close ties to North Korea, which is believed to have a robust chemical weapons program capable of producing several thousand tons of deadly agents a year. In July 2007 reports surfaced of a chemical-weapons accident near Aleppo involving Syrian and North Korean technicians. That squares with Pyongyang’s known cooperation at the time in building a nuclear reactor for Assad that was destroyed that September by Israeli jets. If North Korea was prepared to supply Assad with deadly weapons then, why not again tomorrow? Then there is China. In April videos surfaced of partially unexploded chlorine canisters marked with the name of Chinese arms-maker Norinco. The Assad regime also likely retains the network of scientists and engineers needed to reconstitute a weapons program once it feels secure enough to do so”.

He concludes the piece “That day may not be far off, thanks in part to the chemical deal that spared Assad from U.S. bombing as he unleashed a new offensive against moderate rebel forces. Assad’s troops have now encircled the city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest, and leaders of the Free Syrian Army trapped in the city are stockpiling food in preparation of a regime effort to starve them into submission. The moderate rebels are also losing ground to the Sunni radicals of ISIS. “We’re about to lose Aleppo and no one cares,” an FSA spokesman told the Journal last week. “We won’t be able to recover the revolution if this happens. And we’ll lose the moderates of Syria.””

He ends noting “In other words, no matter what happens to Syria’s chemical weapons, the country’s real weapons of mass destruction—the Assad regime and ISIS—have gained in their destructive power. Such has been the result of Mr. Obama’s abdication of global leadership, now cloaked as a triumph for disarmament”.

 

“The Ukrainian military pressed its advance”

22/08/2014

With street fights and artillery barrages, the Ukrainian military pressed its advance on Wednesday on the two eastern provincial capitals held by pro-Russian separatists in a day of violence that killed 52 civilians and Ukrainian soldiers and an unknown number of rebels. In one of the heaviest artillery attacks yet on the center of Donetsk, the larger of the capitals, shells struck street kiosks and residential apartment buildings near the stadium of the Shatyorsk soccer club, in the city’s heart. Fighting on the outskirts, particularly around the strategic town of Ilovaysk, a transportation hub, has also flared in recent days. The fighting has intensified as the Ukrainian and Russian leaders prepare for a meeting in Minsk, Belarus, on Tuesday to explore a diplomatic solution to the conflict, suggesting the sides are maneuvering to achieve the strongest possible military position before then. In Luhansk, the other remaining separatist stronghold, government forces have now gained control of “significant parts” of the city after days of street fighting, Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security Council, told reporters in Kiev”.

Extradited to America?

22/08/2014

In light of the recent events in London with Julian Assange saying he would leave the Ecuadorean embassy “soon” a blog post discusses if Sweden would extradite Assange to America, “Two years into his stay at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he is hiding from Swedish authorities looking to question him in connection with rape allegations, Julian Assange will leave his diplomatic redoubt “soon,” he revealed on Monday. Cryptic as ever, the Australian freedom-of-information activist did not explain why, nor exactly when he would depart the embassy. Assange’s comments, made alongside Ecuador’s foreign minister, mean that he might finally be questioned by Swedish prosecutors about allegations that he raped one woman and molested another in 2010. No charges have been filed against Assange, 43; but there is a warrant to bring him in for questioning. Assange says the allegations are false and part of a plot to extradite him to the United States, where a secret grand jury has reportedly been impaneled to consider unspecified charges against him”.

He goes on to write “Is Assange’s conspiracy theory correct? And would Sweden extradite him? Highly doubtful. Sweden’s extradition agreement with the United States, signed in 1961 and updated in 1983, prohibits extradition on the basis of “a political offense” or “an offense connected with a political offense.” The agreement does not specify what constitutes a “political offense.” Whether the Swedish supreme court would rule to extradite Assange largely depends on what charges the secret U.S. grand jury brings against him”.

It adds that “If Assange is accused of espionage, Sweden most certainly would not comply, as its courts have consistently determined that espionage constitutes a political offense. For example, in 1992 Sweden refused to extradite Edward Lee Howard, the only CIA agent to defect to the Soviet Union, to the United States. Charged with espionage, Swedish courts ruled that those accusations amounted to the kind of “political offense” specified in the extradition agreement. But that legal gray area also threatens Assange’s legal prospects. The U.S. Justice Department is surely aware of these restrictions and precedents and may instead slap Assange with a more creative set of charges — cyber crime or theft, perhaps”.

The article continues “He would still have some recourse under the Swedish legal system, however. When Assange first went into hiding, Foreign Policy discussed his case with UIf Wallentheim, the director of the division for criminal cases and international judicial cooperation at the Swedish Ministry of Justice. He said that Swedish courts tend to see through such ploys to circumvent Swedish extradition agreements’ exceptions. Swedish judges often examine a case’s underlying factors when making their determinations, he said. But Assange could be more afraid of a snatch-and-grab CIA operation. In 2002, Sweden collaborated with the United States in the extraordinary rendition of two Egyptians seeking asylum. That example is often seen as indicative of what even left-wing Scandinavian governments will do when pressured by the United States in such cases”.

The writer goes on to make the point that “a covert operation is all but unthinkable given Sweden’s political environment. Next month, Swedes head to the polls for parliamentary elections in which they are expected to vote the center-right government out of office. Trailing in the polls to a left-wing coalition, the government would be throwing a bone to its rivals by rolling out the red carpet for the CIA. The Social Democrats, who are likely to lead the next government, are equally unlikely to OK a U.S. operation to whisk Assange into an American courtroom. According to the British media, Assange is not in good health. He’s also supposedly seeking a resolution with U.K. authorities to leave his self-imposed jail. Citing a WikiLeaks source, the tabloid Mail on Sunday reported that Assange is “suffering from the potentially life-threatening heart condition arrhythmia and has a chronic lung complaint and dangerously high blood pressure.” Nonetheless, British authorities are supposedly adamant about enforcing the warrant against him”.

“To end their dispute over election results”

22/08/2014

Afghanistan’s outgoing President Hamid Karzai has called upon the country’s rival presidential candidates to end their dispute over election results and work together to save the country from violence and economic decline. In a speech in Kabul on August 19 marking Afghanistan’s Independence Day, Karzai said the entire country hopes the election results will be announced soon. He said Afghans also want the candidates to agree on an “inclusive government in which nobody is left out.” The first round of the presidential election failed to produce a clear winner and the second round in June triggered allegations of massive fraud”.

End of Christian Democracy?

22/08/2014

An article in Foreign Affairs by Jan Werner Mueller discusses the death of Christian Democracy in Europe. This follows on from the article some time ago discussing the end of European socialists.

He opens “Europe of today is a creation of Christian Democrats. They were the architects of European integration and of postwar Atlanticism. And they were crucial in shaping the form of constitutional democracy that prevailed in the Western half of the continent after 1945 and has steadily been extended east since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Europe’s most powerful politician, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is a Christian Democrat, as are the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and his designated successor, Jean-Claude Juncker. In last May’s European Parliamentary elections, the continental association of Christian Democratic parties — the European People’s Party (EPP) — won the most seats. Yet both as a set of ideas and as a political movement, Christian democracy has become less influential and less coherent in recent years. This decline is due not only to the continent’s secular turn. At least as important are the facts that nationalism — one of Christian Democrats’ prime ideological enemies — is on the rise and that the movement’s core electoral constituency, a coalition of middle-class and rural voters, is shrinking. As the larger project of European integration faces new risks, then, its most important backer may soon prove incapable of defending it”.

While Merkel, Barroso and Juncker all technically belong to the Christian Democrat grouping, as the author said the label has become meaningless, “less influential and less coherent”.

He gives a brief history noting that “‘Christian Democrat’ is a designation that sounds peculiar to anyone accustomed to a strict separation of church and state. The term first appeared in the wake of the French Revolution and in the midst of fierce battles about the fate of the Catholic Church in a democracy. For most of the nineteenth century, the Vatican viewed modern political ideas — including liberal democracy — as a direct threat to its core doctrines. But there were also Catholic thinkers who agreed with the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville’s insight that, like it or not, democracy’s triumph in the modern world was inevitable. So-called Catholic liberals sought to make democracy safe for religion by properly Christianising the masses: after all, the reasoning went, a democracy of God-fearing citizens would have a much better chance of succeeding than one whose subjects were secular. Other Catholic intellectuals hoped to keep the people in line through Christian institutions, especially the papacy, which the French thinker Joseph de Maistre envisaged as part of a Europe-wide system of checks and balances. Most important, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Vatican itself eventually came to see the benefits of playing the democratic game and fostering parties that would defend the concerns of the church. Initially, they did so in bad faith — Christian democratic parties essentially functioned as interest groups within a system whose legitimacy the church continued to reject”.

He goes on to write “As the political scientist Stathis Kalyvas has shown, Christian Democratic party leaders eventually developed their own interests. Playing the democratic game brought rewards and resources — and Christian Democrats eventually accepted political participation as legitimate. After World War I, when democracy swept Europe, the Vatican also relented somewhat: having completely rejected an Italian nation-state and prohibiting Catholics from playing any part in it (even banning voting), the pope threw his support behind a new party called Popolari. By uniting peasants and the lower middle classes, the Popolari became the country’s second-largest after the socialists. During the interwar years, relations between Christian Democrats and the Holy See cooled across Europe. The Vatican saw parties that it could control as useful, but it sidelined those that were unwilling to follow instructions from Rome and instead dealt with states directly”.

He adds later that “It wasn’t until after World War II that Christian Democratic parties fully freed themselves from the Vatican and took a leading role in constructing the postwar European order. The circumstances could hardly have been more propitious. Fascism and the war had discredited competing movements on the right. And Christian Democrats were seen as the quintessentially Atlanticist and anticommunist parties in countries such as Italy, West Germany, and other frontline states of the Cold War. Moreover, they now endorsed democracy, though with a caveat: to avoid drifting into totalitarianism, they argued, democratic governments needed to have spiritual underpinnings — something best supplied by the church. In this sense, the Christian Democrats rejected both communism and liberalism as forms of materialism. This stance did not prevent them from eventually making peace with capitalism — while insisting that religion was also needed to hold the evils of the market in check”.

Yet it is exactly these “spiritual underpinnings” that is needed so much nowadays, not just in Europe but across the world. Given the spectacular collapse of unfettered capitalism and the end of communism Christian Democracy with its principles of the common good and care for those less well off coupled with collective responsibility means that it has much to offer modern societies. However the death knell of ideology may have now finally been reversed with the collapse of the old economic order and people realising free market capitalism destroys itself and needs to be severely checked.

The author goes on to make the point “After decades as Europe’s dominant political force, the Christian Democrats are now facing the prospect of decline. Some observers have blamed secularization for weakening popular support. It is true that, since the early 1960s, churches have been emptying across the continent. But the parties themselves had already started to insist that one simply had to subscribe to humanist ideals in order to be a good Christian Democrat. The real problem arose with the triumph of the very political model that they had been promoting since the 1950s. Most central and eastern European countries adopted this model after 1989, but virtually none of them developed Christian Democratic parties in the mold of Germany’s Christlich Demokratische Union or Italy’s Democrazia Cristiana. In some countries, such as Catholic Poland, Christian Democratic groups seemed unnecessary; in others, they turned out to be radically different from their Western European counterparts in two respects: they were vehemently nationalist, and thus unwilling to concede much of the national sovereignty wrested back from the Soviet Union; and they were much more populist, seeing no reason to distrust the simple folk who had managed to survive state socialist dictatorships with their morals seemingly intact”.

He speaks about the death of communism and the subsequent end of “their greatest enemy” and he goes on to write “with it much of the ideological glue that had held often fractious political coalitions together. In Italy, the Christian Democrats had participated in every single government since World War II — the rationale being that the Communist Party, Western Europe’s largest, had to be kept out. In the early 1990s, the hugely corrupt Democrazia Cristiana collapsed. Then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi — not a man known for strict adherence to Catholic morals — in effect inherited the party’s votes”.

Yet there are amazingly still those who cling, rigidly to “economic orthodoxy” and still believe in the myth of the market and the “magic” of capitalism. What better way to revive Christian Democracy now and have it balance those who believe in the unchecked market who mistakenly believe that this means greater freedom for everyone, when it fact it only means greater power and influence for the richest in society.

He goes on to make the excellent point “Part of the problem, some observers say, is that the EPP — encompassing no fewer than 73 member parties from 39 countries — is simply overstretched. In the early 1990s, as Helmut Kohl, then German chancellor, and Wilfried Martens, former Belgian prime minister and then president of the EPP, recruited politicians throughout Europe, they maintained relatively low standards, with little regard to the new adherents’ real commitment to party ideals. Kohl was adamant that Christian Democrats had not built Europe just to surrender it to socialists, and that the EPP needed to retain continent’s largest political grouping no matter what”.

He make the argument that “The deeper issue, however, concerns the movement’s ideological distinctiveness. Leaders such as Kohl were willing to take risks for Europe. Today, one is hard-pressed to find any true believers who would put their career on the line for European integration, least of all the current German chancellor. On questions of markets and morality, the Christian Democrats had a prime opportunity to reinvent themselves after the financial crisis: they might have brought back their old ideals of an economy, for example, in which the morally relevant unit is a societal group with legitimate interests, not a profit-maximizing individual”.

It is important to note that the fundamentals of Christian Democracy are not, and should not be tied to the EU. They can and should be separated and indeed had CD not had the baggage of the EU from the outset it would have lasted much longer. Now however the EU is effectively a finished project and but this means those advocates of CD can focus on the true core of it and not be blinded by and unwavering attachment to the EU.

He makes the argument that Europe’s Christian Democrats could also take a page out of the playbook of American conservatives, refocusing on social issues and waging a Kulturkampf of their own against secularism. Some have already tried: during the last decade, the Spanish Popular Party mobilized the Catholic vote against socialist Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero, who had introduced same-sex marriage. Contrary to the cliché of religious America and irreligious Europe, there remains considerable potential for such campaigns in some southern and eastern European countries. It is telling, however, that Spanish voters ultimately parted with Zapatero for his handling of the eurocrisis”.

He ends noting “Christian Democrats face a difficult dilemma. Their policy goals are only marginally different from those of Social Democratic parties on economic questions.Kulturkampf is risky, but becoming too mainstream on social matters creates political space for groups that present themselves as genuinely conservative. Political parties such as Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland, which is mostly focused on opposing the EU but increasingly defends traditional morality, and France’s Front National are the beneficiaries. Most important, Christian Democrats are under intense pressure from right-wing nationalists and populists. And since they no longer dare to defend ambitious plans for European integration, the erstwhile architects of continental unity are more or less defenseless. Their politics of accommodation does not work as a response to the populists, who thrive on polarization and identity politics”.

It is untrue to say that parties, any parties, in Europe defended “ambitious plan for European integration”, if any party in either Germany or France or Spain or Italy, to say nothing of the UK had proclaimed their vision for a united federal EU then they would had recieved no votes. The point is that no parties were honest enough to say were they wanted to take the people in the EU as they knew it would not be popular. Instead they and the EU thrived on technocratic and undemocratic reforms, which ironically is exactly what they created the EU to get away from.

He ends “The European Union will not collapse as a result. The real problem is the half-finished eurozone. As Europeans have learned at great cost in recent years, the eurozone as it exists today is incomplete and incoherent: it is a monetary union that does not allow for the proper coordination of fiscal policies or a real convergence of the participating economies. A flood of cheap money from the European Central Bank — the current solution to the euro crisis — has failed to address the underlying structural problems of individual states and of the eurozone as a whole. Making the euro work in the long run will require a willingness to take political risks and material sacrifices. And the days when Christian Democratic idealism was capable of generating both are over”.

More than the Marshall Plan

22/08/2014

the Marshall Plan, put Europe back on the path to prosperity and has been hailed as a monumental, if wildly expensive, achievement of U.S. foreign policy. All told, the United States funneled an inflation-adjusted $103.4 billion to the plan’s recipients over the course of four years. But the Marshall Plan has now been knocked off its pedestal as America’s most expensive nation-building project. Afghanistan now reigns supreme, having gobbled up $104 billion in American aid. And, unlike in Europe, that money hasn’t bought the kind of world-class infrastructure that became the cornerstones of numerous flourishing economies. Instead, the funds have mainly bought empty buildings, malfunctioning power plants, and a corrupt government that will be wholly dependent on Western — read: American — aid well into the future. On Wednesday, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, released his quarterly report to Congress. The document reads like an early epitaph for the American nation-building effort in Afghanistan. With $104 billion already spent, another $5.8 billion has been requested for 2015. Of the money appropriated, $15.95 billion remains to be spent. A significant portion of that money has been directed toward projects that are comically ill conceived or badly carried out”.

German hypocrisy

20/08/2014

A report from Reuters notes that Germany has been syping of Turkey. This comes after German whining to America

The article opens, “The German government faced an angry reaction from Turkey and accusations of hypocrisy from its own opposition on Monday after media reports that its intelligence agency spied on its NATO ally. The reports also said the agency had listened to the phone calls of two U.S. secretaries of state – the kind of activity for which Chancellor Angela Merkel has criticized Washington. Turkey summoned the German ambassador and called for a full explanation following a Spiegel magazine report that the BND foreign intelligence agency had been spying on Turkey for years and identified Ankara as a top surveillance target in an internal government document from 2009. Turkey’s foreign ministry described the weekend report as “absolutely unacceptable” if true. “It is expected that the German authorities present an official and satisfactory explanation on the claims reported by German media and end these activities immediately if the claims are true,” it said in a statement”.

The piece adds “Berlin declined to comment about surveillance on Turkey or reports in Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and two broadcasters that the BND had “accidentally” overheard phone calls by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor Hillary Clinton”.

The report continues “The chancellor, asked about the spying reports during a visit to Latvia on Monday, said she could not comment on the activities of the intelligence services and made clear that her comment about spying on friends had been made with the special context of the German-American relationship in mind. Revelations by former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden of surveillance by the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) have increased mistrust of Washington in Germany”.

A blog post adds to the story calling out the Germans on their double speak, “The revelation that Germany spies on Turkey, a NATO member, should dispel any notion that spying on allies violates the unwritten rules of international espionage, despite Berlin’s numerous suggestions otherwise. For nearly a year, the extent of NSA surveillance on German leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, has drawn stern rebuke from the German political and media establishment. Merkel and other German politicians never miss an opportunity to criticise the United States. Merkel went so far as to publicly oust the CIA station chief in Berlin. ‘Spying among friends is not at all acceptable,’ Merkel said in October, a claim she has repeated numerous times, most recently last month. However, Germany’s sanctimony toward “friendly” espionage is now a huge embarrassment for Merkel. Over the weekend,Der Spiegel reported that the BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence collection agency, was spying on Turkey. It also reported, based on anonymous sources, that calls made by Secretary of State John Kerry and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were accidentally recorded. According to Der Spiegel, the calls targeting American leaders were immediately destroyed”.

The blog post goes on to make the valid point that “Tensions between Germany and Turkey are nothing new. Berlin has long opposed Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. A recent poll found that 69 percent of Germans oppose allowing Turkey into the EU, up from 52 percent in 2005. In 2012, Germany also dragged its feet in supplying Turkey with missiles to secure its border with Syria, despite Turkey’s formal request through NATO. The German government has yet to address the allegations. But Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said that if the allegations are true, they are ‘totally unacceptable.’ Turkey also summoned German Ambassador Eberhard Pohl on Monday, demanding an explanation”.

The report adds rightly “Daniel Kurtzer, who formerly served as the U.S. ambassador to Israel and to Egypt, said that Berlin isn’t likely to buy into the argument that spying on Turkey justifies the NSA targeting Merkel. ‘It’s still a problem that needs to be solved between the two,’ Kurtzer said. But Moran, the former CIA officer, said that American diplomats finally have ammunition to respond, especially after the CIA station chief was booted out of Germany. ‘It was kind of unprecedented and done to embarrass us,’ Moran said of the ouster. ‘The Germans will take an evasive stance [on their espionage activities] but now they’re in no position to criticise.'”

Finally a report in the Guardian adds to the story about Turkey summoning the German ambassador, “Turkey has summoned the German ambassador to demand a “formal and satisfactory explanation” following reports that the country was spied on by Germany‘s intelligence agency (BND). German media reported at the weekend that the BND had not only“accidentally” listened in on phone calls made by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and his predecessor Hillary Clinton in 2012 and 2013, but that it also – less accidentally – monitored the activities of Turkish politicians. According to news magazine Der Spiegel, the Nato member has been listed as a target for BND surveillance since 2009. The revelations come less than a year since Germany summoned the US ambassador following spying allegations and Angela Merkel admonished Barack Obama that “spying on friends is not acceptable“. Now, it appears, the tables have turned. Kerry is understood to have already raised the issue with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier”.

The report goes on to mention “A call in 2012 between Clinton and the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, however, was transcribed by BND agents and found its way into the hands of Markus R, the agency staffer who was arrested in July for supplying secret information to the US. Wolfgang Bosbach of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) described the spying reports as ‘a present from the heavens for the Americans’. The revelations could prove much more damaging for relations with Turkey, a country for which Germany has often worked as a channel to the EU. German politicians over the last two days have tried to justify spying on Turkey in spite of its Nato membership, pointing to the terrorist risk posed by the tensions on the country’s borders with Syria and Iraq, as well as the activities of the Kurdish Workers party (PKK), which is classified as a terrorist organisation by the EU and US”.

Stupidity of Vatican foreign policy

20/08/2014

On the plane returning from Korea, Francis was asked about the US bombing of the terrorists in Iraq, “In these cases where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say this: it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underline the verb: stop. I do not say bomb, make war, I say stop by some means. With what means can they be stopped? These have to be evaluated. To stop the unjust aggressor is licit. But we must also have memory. How many times under this excuse of stopping an unjust aggressor the powers [that intervened] have taken control of peoples, and have made a true war of conquest. One nation alone cannot judge how to stop an unjust aggressor. After the Second World War there was the idea of the United Nations. It is there that this should be discussed. Is there an unjust aggressor? It would seem there is. How do we stop him? Only that, nothing more”. So much for a credible foreign policy.

Wage war on ISIS

20/08/2014

An excellent article argues that Obama needs to go to war with the “Islamic State” or ISIS and if he does not, it will wage war on America, he opens, “Make no mistake, this is no pinprick. President Barack Obama’s decision on Aug. 7 to authorise force in Iraq is a watershed moment for this administration. Or, rather, it should be. That’s not to say it’s a moment or a mission the president particularly enjoys. Indeed, his reluctance to engage was palpable from the first minutes of his speech, when he made his position clear: ‘As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into another war in Iraq.'”

He writes “The president has already slowed the Islamic State’s (IS) momentum with his strikes near Erbil, but it is not clear if this is a one-time response or the beginning of a campaign to first contain, then destroy the jihadist force. The sooner we begin such a campaign, the less complicated our involvement will be, the greater our chances of success, and the more likely IS’s forces can be defeated before they tear apart the region completely– and directly threaten America. The stakes in the struggle with IS are clear. As the president himself said in June, if the Islamic State is allowed a permanent foothold in the center of the Middle East, core American interests are at risk: protecting the region and ultimately America and the West from another wave of 9/11-like terror; keeping oil shipments flowing from the Persian Gulf; and protecting our allies and friends increasingly threatened by the jihadist advance — the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), Turkey, Jordan, Gulf allies, and Israel”.

He goes on to write “President Obama’s strategy has three core elements: 1) counterterrorism, and specifically augmenting our campaign against al Qaeda to focus more on the Islamic State; 2) U.S. military actions to strike IS when its military crosses U.S. “red lines” — which so far have been limited, officially, to specific humanitarian catastrophes or endangered American personnel, or possibly key infrastructure; and 3) the broader campaign to provide limited military and intelligence support both to a more inclusive Iraqi government that can undermine IS’s appeal to Sunni Arabs and to the moderate Syrian resistance. What President Obama has gotten right so far is the third element. The political transition now underway in Iraq is the anchor for any broader campaign to eradicate IS. The radical jihadists’ rapid advance would not have been possible without support from a disaffected and often abused Iraqi Sunni Arab population”.

The author then goes on to make the valid point that “there are two problems with this strategy. Given Obama’s ambivalent views on the efficacy of military force, and America’s tortured history in Iraq, he downplays his strategy’s second element: direct U.S. military actions. Despite the president’s oft-stated belief that there is never any military solution to, well, almost anything, IS’s advances into Kurdish and Shiite Arab areas of Iraq are not a political or social phenomenon but a military achievement. And one cannot confront a classic military strategy with diplomatic niceties”.

He writes correctly that “With each military success, IS becomes stronger, gains more territory and strategic resources (weapons stocks, dams, electrical generation capacity, oil fields, refineries, and transportation nodes are particularly targeted), and wins more adherents. Meanwhile, its opponents– the “local boots on the ground” that President Obama has made clear are responsible for fighting and winning this war alone — grow weaker and more demoralised. Thus the importance of airstrikes to stop IS advances and facilitate U.S. and allied countries’ arming of the Peshmerga. Air power has real limitations when applied in a counterinsurgency. But it can dramatically change the odds in favour of besieged allies on the ground when applied against an enemy like the Islamic State, which is advancing in motorised columns in open areas”.

He is correct it adding that “using this tool would require the president to broaden the rationale for bombing missions beyond simply protecting Americans or saving the beleaguered Yazidis in Sinjar. Indeed, to move the needle from a pinprick to something of lasting strategic value, the president must overcome his aversion to using force and realise that, to paraphrase his West Point speech this spring, some problems actually are nails that America’s military can and should hammer”.

However, given the nature of the threat faced, Obama should not think twice about the need for these bombing missions. He does however make the point that “The second problem with his strategy concerns the longer-term third element. Given that U.S. policy is to deny IS a foothold in the region, the Iraqi political morass must be improved enough to enable an effective counterinsurgency strategy”.

He adds later that “it is not clear from either his announcements or actions whether President Obama is ready to expand his strategy to include much more robust military action against the Islamic State, or to truly partner with those willing to do the fighting on the ground against it. Apart from his own innate reluctance to use military force, his supporters cite an increasingly isolationist U.S. public opinion. The American people indeed are leery of new commitments, but their reluctance has largely been generated by bloody, inconclusive major land combat with murky goals in Iraq and Afghanistan. The current intervention against the Islamic State is not what is being contemplated here, but rather air operations similar to those taken in the campaigns cited above, such as Kosovo and Bosnia, along with much stronger diplomatic, political, logistical, and advisory efforts”.

He ends the piece with the valid point “What the president thus must do is to convince first himself and then the American people that our key interests — oil supply, protecting the homeland and allies from terrorism– are at stake so long as the Islamic State is rampant. Americans need to understand that if the United States does not stop them, no one will. The Obama administration just in the past few months has routinely conducted military operations against al Qaeda affiliates in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya — without incurring the anger of the American public. Why should it not be equally aggressive against the most dangerous of these al Qaeda-inspired groups? If the president’s answer is still that Job No. 1 is to avoid more Iraq debacles, then we will have much to answer for, not only today to the innocent people terrorized by the Islamic State, but tomorrow to Americans who will surely be terrorised by these jihadists if we do not stop them now”.

Makili decides to go

20/08/2014

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki said Thursday night that he had agreed to relinquish power, a move that came after days of crisis in which his deployment of extra security forces around the capital had raised worries of a military coup. Mr. Maliki’s decision held out the prospect of a peaceful transition of power, based on democratic elections and without the guiding hand of American military forces, which would be a first in modern Iraq’s troubled history of kings, coups and dictatorships. His decision to step aside came after heavy pressure from the United States, which has deployed warplanes in Iraq to target Sunni Islamist militants and suggested that more military support would be forthcoming if Mr. Maliki was removed from power. Iran also played a decisive role in convincing Mr. Maliki that he could not stay in power”.

Syrian moderates gaining ground?

20/08/2014

Former ambassador Robert Ford argues that the rebels are gaining ground in Syria.

He opens “Don’t believe everything you read in the media: The moderate rebels of Syria are not finished. They have gained ground in different parts of the country and have broken publicly with both the al Qaeda affiliate operating there and the jihadists of the Islamic State. Meanwhile, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is showing new signs of weakness. The death of moderate armed opposition elements has been greatly exaggerated. These groups — whom I define as fighters who are not seeking to impose an Islamic state, but rather leaving that to a popular decision after the war ends — have recently gained ground in Idlib province in northwestern Syria, and have nearly surrounded the provincial capital. If the rebels are ever to demonstrate military capacity, it should be in Idlib, where the supply lines from Turkey are easily accessible”.

Interestingly he argues “For the regime, the last three weeks have been particularly painful. The most frequently cited source for casualty figures, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, put regime dead at more than 1,000; the figures provided by the armed opposition were more than double that number. Casualties at this rate are not sustainable for the minority-backed regime, and indeed there were reports of new Alawite grumbling about the growing toll. Most notably, Assad’s cousin, Falak al-Assad, bitterly criticized the Syrian military and the Syrian state media on social media after images of the massacred Assad forces appeared online. Many of the regime’s new woes, of course, come from a new quarter — and a group that represents a dangerous threat for the moderates, too. The Islamic State, which has seized large swaths of territory in Iraq, has also ended its de facto truce with the regime: Building on its successes against moderate groups in eastern Syria, the Islamic State seized an army division headquarters in the province of Raqqa, in north-central Syria, as well as a regimental headquarters. More recently, the Islamic State overran the army’s Brigade 93, and it is now laying siege to the last remaining Assad-controlled airport in Raqqa province. As the Syrian military keeps large stocks of supplies at such bases, these victories provided the Islamic State with new weapons to continue its military advance. The jihadist group followed up with an unprecedented offensive against the regime in the hard-fought area east of Aleppo, even as it continued to struggle against moderate rebels in the Damascus area”.

He rightly admits “Despite the moderates’ recent gains, their weaknesses remain apparent. They have significant supply shortages, as they still have limited access to ammunition and other military resources. Despite last month’s U.N. Security Council resolution to allow aid to rebel-controlled areas, humanitarian supplies have been slow to arrive in desperate areas that are under siege. Coordination among them is still feeble. In early July, moderate rebel groups announced the creation of a combined emergency reaction force in Aleppo, but there is no sign on the battlefield of such forces actually deploying together. They have also still failed to figure out how to reach out to greater portions of the regime base, especially the Alawite community, which forms the core of the regime’s support. Islamic State gains in eastern and northern Syria have likely increased the Alawites’ fears of extermination — thereby reinforcing their support for Assad”.

Ford goes on to write optimistically “There was one positive political sign among the armed opposition, however. For weeks, there have been visible tensions between al-Nusra Front, the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and the moderate armed groups. In months past, these diverse groups had coordinated on the ground in the desperate fight against the regime, and then also coordinated to push back the Islamic State. Earlier in July, however, al-Nusra Front quit the arbitration committees overseeing relations among the armed opposition groups in Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs, saying that it did so because the moderate groups “have a different political project.” This announcement followed a May 17 communiqué by more moderate Islamists, in which they identified their goal as a state ruled by law (they did not say Islamic law), stated that they would not retaliate against communities that had supported the regime, and promised to respect minorities’ rights. Nusra Front fighters have since clashed with moderate armed elements, but — unlike the Islamic State — have not yet declared war on them. There are indications that the al Qaeda affiliate may launch a broader offensive against more secular armed groups like the Syrian Revolutionaries Front in Idlib, a move that would give hard-pressed regime forces in Idlib a breather”.

He concludes “In the months ahead, the moderate armed opposition will remain in the fight and probably even seize more small chunks of territory from the regime. They are also slowly, sometimes painfully, separating themselves from fellow fighters who follow al Qaeda or the Islamic State. These breaks offer them a new opportunity to win over segments of the Alawite community to their cause. As the war drags on, the regime will be in serious trouble if the moderates can convince segments of Assad’s supporters that it would be safe to jettison the dictator for a mutually acceptable alternative who could rally both the regime’s remaining forces and the moderate armed opposition”.

“Threatened mass protests”

20/08/2014

A powerful Afghan governor and former militia leader, who had threatened mass protests in the wake of the disputed presidential runoff in June, warned Wednesday of a “civil uprising” if the ongoing ballot recount proves biased and his candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, is not named the winner. Attah Mohammed Noor, 50, had not been seen in public since the election controversy and was rumored to have fled Afghanistan. He came to the capital Wednesday and said he had been away undergoing surgery for shrapnel wounds suffered during the Afghan-Soviet conflict. Noor immediately issued a blunt challenge to the costly, high-stakes process that has been undertaken by Afghan and international officials to salvage the country’s first democratic transfer of power since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001″.

Russian “incursion”

18/08/2014

Michael Weiss writes that Putin is invading Ukraine but no one is saying anything. This follows on from the aid convoy Putin has arranged even though Ukraine doesn’t want it. He begins, “On the night of Aug. 14, the Telegraphs Roland Oliphant and the Guardians Shaun Walker both witnessed, as the latter put it, ‘a column of [armoured personnel carriers] and vehicles with official Russian military plates cross border into Ukraine.’ It’s not that this was anything out of the ordinary: Russia has been moving all manner of materiel into Ukraine for weeks, as The Interpreter has documented, all under the watchful gaze of U.S. and NATO satellites — thereby establishing a new normalcy for what does and does not constitute foreign aggression in a neighbouring country. It was, however, the first time any Western reporters had seen Russia sending armaments next door, and how the hardware was transferred was also noteworthy. A convoy of at least 23 vehicles waited ‘until sunset near a refugee camp just outside Donetsk,’ Oliphant reported, ‘before moving towards the crossing without turning off headlights or making any other attempt to conceal itself.’ Vladimir Putin now seems to be relying on the Eddie Murphy ‘wasn’t me‘ excuse, no doubt with the understanding that having a bald-faced lie exposed by independent witnesses matters not when the rest of the world seems unwilling to do anything about it. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called the event a ‘Russian incursion‘ — but not an outright ‘invasion’ — into Ukraine, proving once again that diplomatic euphemism is a handmaid to authoritarian propaganda”.

As has been argued here previously the EU is too weak and divided to do anything substantive about Ukraine or Putin. Ideally it should have imposed the most ruthlessly harsh sanctions possible on Russia that would have brought Russia’s banking and other economic activities to its knees which would have put pressure on Putin from the oligrachs who run Russia to end his little adventure in Ukraine. Instead the West, but principally the EU dithered and only put on sanctions that were cosmetic.

Weiss goes on to write “According to Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, a ‘significant‘ portion of the Russian armoured column that rolled in last night was shot up by Ukrainian artillery, apparently prompting Britain to summon the Russian ambassador in London. I don’t care what Rasmussen will choose to call this: the word for it is war”

He goes on to mention that “the much-discussed convoy of around 280 white-painted Kamaz military trucks which, after changing routes and destination points, finally alighted in Kamensk-Shakhtinsky in the Rostov region of Russia, from which they intend to enter Ukraine via the Izvarino border-crossing. This is not where Ukraine expected to receive the convoy (it had troops waiting in Kharkiv), nor is it under Ukrainian control any longer. Izvarino was used by Russia to transport the Buk anti-aircraft missile system with which separatists are said to have shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 last month. Moscow insists that this is a purely “humanitarian” convoy, coordinated with both Kiev and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The truck crews evidently offered to display their wares to curious journalists; photos of flatbeds full with grain, water, and the like have circulated online– although a lot of the trucks appeared to be almost empty. Meanwhile, the ICRC, which successfully handled the delivery of Ukrainian humanitarian aid to Lugansk today, tweeted that Kiev and Moscow must ‘agree on inspection and clearance procedures and confirm strictly humanitarian nature of cargo.’ Yet news reports have suggested that the relief organisation may have worked out a deal whereby the trucks will first be inspected by Ukrainian border guards and customs officials, and then driven in by a single Russian per vehicle who will be accompanied by an ICRC employee”.

Weiss makes the excellent point “By now, Putin isn’t even trying to make his motives difficult to discern. Without telling anyone, he sent a convoy said to be loaded with baby food, sleeping bags, and grain to the Ukrainian border. Then he dispatched dozens of military vehicles across that border to heighten tensions or lay the groundwork for some kind of confrontation”.

Weiss goes on to give context, “So why all this now? Well, the separatists have been getting battered in the last few weeks, losing much of the ground they had carved out for their prospective ‘Novorossiya,’ a restored empire on the basis of ingathered Russian lands. (And where they have been winning, it’s been directly correlated to evidence of renewed Russian resupplies of weaponry.) There has also been much plotting and politicking within the separatist leadership of late, which could just be business as usual for an inscrutable and self-cannibalising movement, or signs that a Soviet-style purge is underway at the behest of Moscow Centre. Yesterday, for instance, Col. Igor Strelkov, the Russian military intelligence official-cum-‘Defence Minister’ of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk (DPR), who had earlier in the week been reported seriously wounded in battle by Russian state media — then denied by separatist channels — resigned from his position. Or rather, Alexander Boroday, the now ex-prime minister of the DPR, informed LifeNews, a TV station linked to Russian intelligence, that Strelkov was ‘fine’ but also being replaced with a new defense minister who happens to be nicknamed ‘Tsar.’ It later emerged that Tsar’s real name is Vladimir Kononov, an ethnic Russian from Lugansk”.

He adds “What’s noteworthy about these portfolio swaps in the separatist government is that the two biggest demotions have affected those with ties to the ultra-religious Orthodox Russian billionaire Konstantin Malofeev, who was recently sanctioned by the European Union and Canada (but not the United States) for his role in financing the insurgency”.

He ends “There’s a Russian chess term that explains what’s happening: mnogohodovka.It means making multiple moves at once. As ever, Putin is counting on his enemies not realizing this, and being multiple moves behind him”.

 

“Broken the Islamic militants’s siege”

18/08/2014

Defence Department officials said late Wednesday that United States airstrikes and Kurdish fighters had broken the Islamic militants’ siege of Mount Sinjar, allowing thousands of the Yazidis trapped there to escape. An initial report from about a dozen Marines and Special Operations forces who arrived on Tuesday and spent 24 hours on the northern Iraqi mountain said that “the situation is much more manageable,” a senior Defense official said in an interview. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking to reporters Wednesday night at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., said it was “far less likely now” that the United States would undertake a rescue mission because the assessment team reported far fewer Yazidis on the mountain than expected, and that those still there were in relatively good condition. Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, credited American airstrikes and humanitarian airdrops as well as efforts of the Kurdish pesh merga fighters in allowing “thousands of Yazidis to evacuate from the mountain each night over the last several days” and to escape the militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”.

Hillary on Bill and Barack

18/08/2014

In an interesting article Dr Stephen Walt argues that Hillary Clinton has criticised both Obama and her husband’s foreign policy, “the surprising thing about Hillary Clinton’s lengthy interview with the Atlantic was not her subtle dissing of the president whom she served for four years. If you’ve been watching her for the past 20 years, her willingness to shape-shift when needed is not news. Nor was it surprising that she took decidedly hawkish positions on some big issues, as that mindset has been her calling card ever since she started running for office herself”.

Walt’s position on the current recent events however mean that anyone who advocates for anything less than isolationism is a “hawk“.

He does make the interesting point that “the surprising — even ironic — aspect of the interview was that Hillary was also implicitly dissing the basic approach to foreign policy that her own husband had followed in his eight years as president. While Clinton was careful to praise Obama’s thoughtfulness and raw smarts, her overall message was that he has been too cautious in using American power to address various problems. As she notes at one point, subtly positioning herself between Obama and George W. Bush: ‘when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward.’ Yet if we compare Barack Obama’s basic approach to foreign policy with Bill Clinton’s, the similarities are in fact striking. Both Obama and Clinton were committed to maintaining U.S. ‘global leadership.’ Both favoured spreading democracy where possible, but turned a blind eye toward various dictatorships when circumstances seemed to require it. Both sought to engage a rising China, while hedging against a future rivalry. (Obama did more of the latter, of course, because there is now more to hedge against). Both tried to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but both failed miserably because they refused to take on Israel’s supporters at home. Both presidents made on-again, off-again efforts to improve U.S. relations with Iran”.

Walt goes on with the comparison but he writes “most importantly, both Clinton and Obama were highly risk-averse regarding the use of American military power. Clinton pulled U.S. forces out of Somalia after the infamous ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident, and did not try to halt the 1994 Rwandan genocide. He sent U.S. peacekeepers into the Balkans with great reluctance, and declined to use ground troopsduring the 1999 war in Kosovo. Instead, Clinton preferred to use air power and/or economic sanctions, whether he was sending cruise missiles into Sudan or Afghanistan or having the Air Force patrol ‘no-fly zones’ and conducting occasional punitive raids in Iraq. Both Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were fond of describing the United States as the ‘indispensable nation,’ but they ran U.S. foreign policy in as cheap and risk-free a manner as possible”.

Walt adds “Ditto Barack Obama. Like Clinton, a defining feature of Obama’s foreign policy has been a reluctance to commit ground troops or take on ambitious new social engineering projects, especially in the Arab and Islamic world. The sole exception was the 2009 Afghan surge, but even that dubious move was heavily circumscribed and its notable lack of success may have taught the neophyte president a lesson. Since then, he’s used drones, Special Forces, and airpower in a surprising number of places, but has mostly kept U.S. boots off the ground”.

Yet the problem is that it is Obama’s belated realisation that action in Syria should that he announced should have been taken. Now Iraq and the rest of the Middle East is feeling the consequences of his lack of action and “foreign policy on the cheap”.

Walt makes the remark that “Viewed in this light, the real aberration is not Obama but rather George W. Bush, especially during his first term. Thrown for a loop by 9/11 and under the spell of Dick Cheney and the neocons, Bush rashly decided on a bold and risky campaign to transform the Middle East at the point of a gun. It was a fool’s errand, as we now know, and a dramatic departure from the caution that characterized the Clinton and Obama presidencies”.

This reading is only correct if one ignores the 11th September attacks and their gravity both for  US security and the general significance for the world in general. At the same time Walt is only correct if he ignores the long line of continuity between the actions of all the post Cold War presidents, as Walt himself admits “as the Obama administration gets ready for its final lap, what is most striking is the continuity in America’s basic approach to the world over the past twenty years (to repeat: it is the period 2001-2004 that is the real outlier). Somehow, ‘change you can believe in’ has become ‘change you can barely detect.’ No matter how hard he tries, Obama can’t seem to get out of the Middle East maelstrom”.

He concludes, “To return to former Secretary of State Clinton’s recent interview: it’s clear many readers were alarmed by the hawkish views she expressed on certain issues and some now fear that her election in 2016 would bring neoconservatism back in from the cold. Although the endorsement she received from the Weekly Standard should worry her (seriously, how many disastrous policies has one magazine managed to endorse over the years?) I’m not actually that concerned. For if one reads the interview carefully (and not just interviewer Jeffrey Goldberg’s hawkish gloss), it’s clear Clinton understands George W. Bush blew it big-time, and that repeating his mistakes will doom the next president as well. What’s less clear is why she didn’t openly embrace the more prudent policies that both her husband and her former boss championed. My guess: she was just reacting to the president’s favorability ratings and pandering to the usual suspects, which is what anyone running for office is likely to do these days. I don’t know if she will run, if she’ll win the Democratic nomination, or if she’ll triumph in the general election. But if she is elected, the safe bet is that she’ll just be business-as-usual in foreign policy. She won’t promise change — as Barack Obama did — and for the reasons noted above, she not going to deliver it either”.

“Deadline to finish a vote recount is slipping”

18/08/2014

Ashraf Ghani, one of two candidates competing to become Afghanistan’s president, said Tuesday that the deadline to finish a vote recount is slipping and that a U.S.-brokered agreement for the rivals to form a joint government afterward does not mean the winner will fully share power with the loser. Speaking to foreign journalists at his fortified compound in the capital, Ghani appeared to be trying to tamp down a surge of discontent among his supporters and allies, many of whom are reportedly upset that he agreed under U.S. pressure to a full recount of ballots from the troubled presidential runoff in June and the formation of a “unity” government with his rival. On Friday, Ghani restated those pledges during a visit by Secretary of State John F. Kerry. But on Tuesday, he sought to clarify that he has not agreed to a power-sharing agreement with former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. Ghani said the winner will appoint the loser “by decree” as a chief executive to serve “at the discretion of the president.” Abdullah has demanded more authority if he loses”.

Iran and America, pushing Maliki out

18/08/2014

A blog post notes how Maliki has lost the support of both Iran and the United States. He opens “Washington and Tehran don’t see eye to eye on many things, but they paved the way for Nouri al-Maliki to become Iraq’s prime minister eight years ago and have helped him keep the job ever since. With Iran now joining the United States in calling for Maliki’s departure, the embattled Iraqi leader faces a historic choice: peacefully hand the reins to a successor or buck his closest allies and use force to stay in power”.

It continues “Maliki was an accidental prime minister from the start, with both Washington and Tehran seeing him, in essence, as the best out of an uninspiring field of Shiite candidates for Iraq’s top job. Once in office, Maliki skillfully satisfied both of his patrons, impressing many in the United States by using his military to crush one of Iraq’s most powerful anti-government militias while simultaneously building goodwill in Iran by consolidating power in Shiite hands at the expense of the country’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities. Maliki’s support from his patrons has been weakening for months, and on Tuesday, Aug. 12, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s powerful Supreme National Security Council, formally endorsed Iraq’s new prime minister-designate, Haider al-Abadi, while making clear that Tehran believes Maliki’s time in office is over. ‘We congratulate Haider al-Abadi on his nomination as prime minister, for him personally and for religious dignitaries, the Iraqi population, and its political groups,’ Shamkhani said“.

It goes on to mention the important point that “The comments were striking for both their unambiguous message and their source. Shamkhani has close personal ties to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and spent much of his career in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the hard-line paramilitary force tasked with ensuring the continued rule of Iran’s clerical leadership. That means that Shamkhani was likely speaking for all components of Iran’s power structure, from the supreme leader on down. Tehran dropped Maliki just one day after U.S. President Barack Obama called Abadi to congratulate him on his appointment and to urge him to quickly form a new unity government. In brief public remarks, the president pointedly did not mention Maliki even once — a snub clearly signaling the White House’s strong desire for the hard-line leader to exit the stage”.

The writer adds “Michael Eisenstadt, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Maliki had lost support inside and outside Iraq, with 38 of the 96 lawmakers in his State of Law bloc backingAbadi just as Washington and Tehran effectively told him to throw in the towel. ‘In practical terms, Maliki’s fate as a legitimate politician is sealed,’ Eisenstadt said. It’s far from clear that Maliki will exit gracefully. On Sunday night, he accused Iraq’s new president of violating the Iraqi Constitution by giving Abadi first dibs on cobbling together a ruling coalition; a short time later, Maliki followed up those tough words by deploying tanks and soldiers under his direct command to positions around Baghdad’s Green Zone”.

He concludes, “Even if he steps down, Itani cautioned that Maliki could make life difficult for Iraq’s next rulers. Maliki, Itani said, has spent years appointing loyalists to key positions throughout Iraq’s government and security organizations. He could emerge as a ‘pretty powerful de facto militia leader, capable of causing all sorts of headaches for the U.S., Iran, and his Shiite rivals,’ Itani said. Eisenstadt, meanwhile, said Maliki could decide that violence is the answer”.

“A powerful and possibly lasting presence”

18/08/2014

“Ridiculed at first, the new power which has seized a third of Iraq and triggered the first American air strikes since the U.S. troop withdrawal in 2011 – has carved itself a powerful and possibly lasting presence in the Middle East.  The bombing of fighters of the Sunni Islamic State is unlikely to turn around Iraq and its fragmented condition has given the self-proclaimed caliphate the opportunity to establish a hub of jihadism in the heart of the Arab world. To confront the Islamic State storming through the villages of eastern Syria and western Iraq, an international coalition sanctioned by the United Nations would need to be set up, analysts in and outside the Gulf region said. The jihadist army, whose ambition for a cross-border caliphate between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers was not initially taken seriously by their opponents, is now brimming with confidence, emboldened by blood and treasure. The warriors of the new caliphate are exploiting sectarian and tribal faultlines in Arab society, petrifying communities into submission and exploiting the reluctance of Washington and the West to intervene more robustly in the civil war in Syria”.