Vice President Joe Biden’s highly publicized visit to Turkey next week is likely to prove critical, if inconclusive. Whether he is able to establish a new relationship with a North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO], the one with by far the largest military forces after the U.S., is crucial to the whole Middle East as well as the U.S. bilateral alliance and with its European NATO allies.
Biden is seen as trying to make a new bargain with Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In the past few months, Erdogan has accelerated his accumulation of power through the usual machinations of a popular leader but with authoritarian tendencies, shucking elements of Turkey’s secular constitution. The recent failed military coup – apparently by the last remnants of the secularists who through military dominance have been the guardians of an effort to maintain the non-Islamic state – has been an excuse for increased repression and rampant anti-American propaganda.
The fear is that Erdogan is now turning his back on almost a hundred years when the country tried to move to a modern state with top-down Westernization. The abandonment of the state capitalist role for liberalization of the economy over the last decade had delivered unprecedented growth and prosperity. But that boom has ended, in part another victim of the worldwide economic slowdown.
Turkey had always been a model for other Moslem governments trying fitfully to break away from traditional Islam which combines government with religion. That struggle goes on among the 1.3 billion people in the Arab-Moslem world – from Morocco to Indonesia. And while no adequate response has yet surfaced, Turkey had been perceived to have made the transition. That now appears dubious at best.
But once again, the world is in one of those periods when 1500-year-old concepts of Arab-Moslem conquest and forced conversion has been part of the religion’s creed. That many, perhaps most, Moslems would ignore this concept is not enough to block a determined, fanatical minority from jihad – propounding the duty of a Muslim to maintain and spread his religion by whatever means.
Erdogan has played a clever game. He has managed, despite the bitter rejection by many outspoken European Union officials, to continue the hope of Turkish adherence to the Bloc. His flirtation with the Islamists — with such moves as reestablishing the death penalty — has now, however, vitiated that prospect.
He blackmailed German Chancellor Angela Merkel for free movement of Turkish nationals within the EU, swapped for Ankara stemming the flow of Syrian and other Middle East refugees into Western Europe. But Merkel’s original welcome resulting in more than a million migrants entering her country last year is increasingly producing a backlash. Integrating newcomers with completely different cultural values has failed spectacularly, demonstrated in highly publicized crimes including rape.
Unlike the Europeans, Biden has the luxury of negotiating from a stronger hand, unlike the Europeans’ proximity and increasing problem of their growing largely unassimilated Moslem minorities. He can exploit Erdogan’s wildly fluctuating foreign policy which has failed in establishing a neo-Ottoman regime building on its once imperial presence in the region. A flirtation with Moscow – which supplies half its energy thereby running a huge trade deficit — is a feint aimed at Washington and its European allies. But just as they find themselves on different sides in the Syrian civil war, Erdogan cannot ignore Moscow’s threatening attempt to reinstall the Soviet role in the Black Sea and the Balkans.
Biden has to come home with something. One trophy would be at least promises for Turkey to tighten its borders, stop permitting aid to flow to the Muslim terrorists, and promising a more active Turkish collaboration in fighting Daesh [ISIS and ISIL], hoping that Erdogan recognizes that his Islamicism will not protect him from rising Moslem terrorism. But getting Turkey firmly back into the Western alliance would require stronger leadership of those partners than the Obama Administration can muster.
Category Archives: EU
Vice President Joe Biden’s highly publicized visit to Turkey next week is likely to prove critical, if inconclusive. Whether he is able to establish a new relationship with a North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO], the one with by far the largest military forces after the U.S., is crucial to the whole Middle East as well as the U.S. bilateral alliance and with its European NATO allies.
Back in 1887 the famous poet and storyteller Oscar Wilde quipped: ‘We [English] have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language’. We got another example of this malediction in the blah-blah-blah which has attended Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. What is most apparent to all but the Talking Heads is that London’s negotiating a two-year exit from the EU will result in a revival not only of the vestiges of empire – as much legend as reality – but a renewed emphasis on the Anglo-American alliance, “the Special Relationship”
Like so much of traditional diplomacy, Pres. Barrack Obama and his former secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, gave that relationship short shrift. Obama, imbued with the Left’s religion of anti-colonialism – a view of the world which is not only unrealistic but ignores the actual relationship of the Metropoles of Britain, France, Italy, and once Germany, to their 19th centuries acquisitions. True, they were exploitive relation ships but they also accelerated the arrival of at least portions of modernism to pre-industrial societies.
As Obama’s attempts to “transform” American foreign policy have either miscued or collapsed over the last seven-plus years, his attempt to derail the historic relationship between the U.S. and Britain has also gone astray. Common language, shared democratic values and concepts, special interests throughout the work, have made a working relationship between Washington and London an irreplaceable part and parcel of U.S. internationalism.
The combination of Obama’s war on this tradition, his buffoonish attempt to influence British voters on withdrawal from the EU which boomeranged, and the U.S.’ expanding interests in the post-World War II world have tended to eclipse that relationship. That illusion was enhanced when London seemed to be throwing in its lot with the movement for a united Europe, one which had been a special project of American strategy for a half century, but not always with its final destination in view.
Now, the latter project is in deep trouble. Few Europeans want to face the reality of German domination as by far the largest and economically the most powerful of the EU states. That will halt the perfectly “logical” calls by Berlin that the EU must go forward to further political integration or collapse. But the French, once Germany’s twin partner in European unity, in a miraculous and real transformation, are for the first time abandoning dirigisme, French promotion of economic planning and control by the state, under the pressure of the competitive drive of “globalization” is being abandoned – and that under a socialist government! The concept had defined the distinctive character of French politics, inherited in part from its royal and multi-republican past, and which it had passed on to the Brussels Eurocrats it had largely supplied and still dominated.
London ‘s withdrawal — although it will continue to bargain for special trading and other economic rights inside the EU, whatever it means in the short-term — means a return to Britain’s diminished but continuing role as a world economic power. The good sense and good luck that kept Britain out of the EU’s now faltering monetary union means that once again, in parallel with the dollar, sterling will resume an stronger international character.
London’s City, which was ceding its role to Frankfurt and Zurich, will be reinvigorated in the longer term by the British withdrawal. That role of London as the world’s second financial center after New York will be felt all the way through the Middle East oil countries [with their traditional ties to the Colonial Office] to Hong Kong and beyond. [What the Japanese will do with their heavy investments in British manufacturing as a base for the EU remains to be seen. But it would not be the first time that Japanese business has had to make major adjustments to its successful formula for being the only non-European power to have made it to First World status].
The revival of the Special Relationship will have new and totally different aspects – again, despite Obama’s original high-priced energy policies, the U.S. and its Shale Revolution has put a new floor under world energy prices. It is one the Mideast producers can meet, of course, but not without cutting back on their enormously spendthrift policies of the past. It could well be that Special Relations II will see the U.S. as Britain’s major supplier of energy and energy technology for development of its own shale resources, environmental freaks notwithstanding.
Prime Minister David Cameron may have to go as a sacrifice on the altar of City business interests and the universal “internationalization” panacea which has dominated both U.K. and U.S. politics under his Conservatives – as well as the Democrats in Washington. And that may introduce new uncertainties along with some disturbing personalities.
But the dye is cast: Special Relationship II has begun with the British voters’ decision that they wanted autonomy and not collaboration at too high a price in cultural values with a Continental bureaucracy and its economy That bureaucracy, too, is now fatally wounded and events will lead to new and likely unpredictable changes in Paris, Berlin,.Brussels and the other EU capitals.
The British vote in midweek looks more and more like endorsing withdrawal from the European Union.
But the process looks increasingly messy. The U.S., whose sponsorship of a united Europe has played a huge role in the past six decades, now appears powerless to limit the chaos. Pres. Barack Obama’s intervention to endorse the U.K. remaining in the European Union apparently backfired. Polls showed an immediate growth of the Brexit sentiment among U.K. voters. Obviously, British public opinion resented U.S. interference, especially from an Administration that has made no secret of its antagonism for the historic role between London and Washington and often denigrated its heroes, including Winston Churchill.
Theoretically, Article 50 of the Union agreement permits a member to withdraw over a two-year period with a minimum of controversy. But the backers of withdrawal in London have indicated they want to have their cake and eat it too. Some of the more prominent spokesmen for the British exit have argued that London must be given time to work out new details of commercial, trade and legal relations with the remaining 23 members. That, obviously would take more time than an immediate vote and quit which the referendum originally seemed to indicate.
Furthermore, it’s pointed out that a formal act of Parliament for withdrawal will take time in what many expect to be the chaotic political situation which would follow a withdrawal. Prime Minister David Cameron has advocated remaining in “Europe” – if with new special arrangements for Britain extending beyond its continued present absence from the monetary union. One of Britain’s highest priorities, for example, would be to again gain complete control over its immigration policies. At a time when the Schengen Agreement which endorsed complete freedom of movement [including of the labor force] among the EU’s members, that would only add additional controversy to already irascible problems at a time of high unemployment. There is a growing consensus in London that Cameron would have to go if Britain does vote to withdraw, even though his successors in the Conservative Party – not to mention Labor’s newly elected leftwing leadership – would not have his oersonal popularity and to some extent, commanding presence.
Paris, Berlin and Brussels have all expressed their opposition to such a step-by-step withdrawal by the British. They want Article 50 to be the only mechanism for the U.K..exit and to be followed swiftly. This sentiment is not only resentment of the British action in general and the coyness of some of its sponsors. But with so many internal basic issues now being debated among those who would remain in the EU, any kind of arguments over a British exit – if it comes – would be a new disaster affecting the whole proposed renegotiation n of the Union.
Germany and up to a point, France, the two most important remaining members of the EU, believe that further political integration is necessary if the EU is to prosper. They are led, of course, by the unelected Brussels bureaucracy which sees new power in such developments. But there is opposition to strengthening a federal government, even in The Netherlands and Denmark, and certainly among the Central European members who have always been at the periphery of the movement for integration.
As Obama’s gaff proved, American leadership in the next European developments will be missing for the first time in almost six decades. About all Washington can do, is stand by wringing it hands as the Europeans try to sort out their own differences.
No matter the outcome of the British referendum June 23 on leaving the European Union, the argument over the U.K.’s role in Europe and the world is up for grabs. It promises a troubled British political scene for some time to come.
The argument over whether to leave the European Community, or stay in and try to bring it closer to what London would like it to be, has split the Conservative Party. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it probably means the end of the tenure of Prime Minister David Cameron who has opted for staying in against the Party’s possible majority of “Euroskeptics” At a time when the opposition Labor Party leadership has been grabbed by ultra-leftists who want to go back to the old socialist tenants of the movement, that is likely to produce a fractious political scene, trimming Britain’s traditional worldwide commanding role.
In turn, it is going to limit the supporting – and often leading – relationship that Washington has relied upon with Britain’s traditional worn but still abundant worldwide imperial heritage. Pres. Barack Obama not only chose not to use it, but made a fetish of his anti-English prejudices. A new president, however, even Hillary Clinton who quietly is rejecting much of her support of Obama as his secretary of state, is likely to again look to the traditional “special relationship: between the U.S. and the U.K.
Britain, of course, always had its reservations about joining the EU. London’s City role as one of the principal world financial centers, in part based on the universality of the British pound sterling, always negated joining the EU’s monetary union. But now with the Euro under attack, Germany’s Angela Merkel and her allies in the rest of Europe, not only want to reinforce the Euro but to move toward further political integration. In effect, there is a general consensus on the Continent among the advocates of the EU that if it doesn’t move further toward integration, it will fall apart. But the growing criticism of the EU’s inroads on what many British see as their independence and every day life is anathema in London.
Pro-Brexit Tories have been infuriated by Cameron’s campaign to keep Britain in the bloc and his dire warnings about the consequences of leaving. There is more and more questioning of his political achievements and the debate has turned very nasty. The usually mild manner former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major, an advocate of staying in, has called his Tory opponents “dishonest”, “deceitful” and “squalid” for favoring withdrawing from the EU.
Cameron initially promised a referendum on Britain’s EU membership to quell a rebellion by Conservative Eurosceptics but it has turned out to be the opposite, producing a bitter fight which cuts across all party lines. That’s only a year since the Conservatives won a resounding national election but promises now to end Cameron’s reign long before its promised four more years.
The Conservatives have been divided for more than a quarter of a century over the issue. The argument has turned on whether the U.K.’s membership affords it additional trade and economic rewards or if interference by the unelected Brussels Eurocrats in sometimes minor British laws and customs is worth the price.
Cameron had already promised to quit the Party leadership before the 2020 election, and the referendum has given a platform to the contenders to succeed him. That could be Boris Johnson, the former Conservative mayor of London, a much more controversial figure. The offspring of upper class English parents living in New York, he has been called an elitist, lazy and dishonest and accused of using racist and homophobic language. Whether accurate or not, these accusations contrast with what had been a much more generally acceptance of Cameron, and promises political fireworks in the months ahead.
Donald Trump’s much ballyhooed foreign policy speech was a minor disaster.
Not only did Trump fail to set out a succinct foreign policy philosophy and agenda, but the speech itself [even with a teleprompter] was a failure in his effort to move to a more “presidential” persona. One can only suppose that the address was the product of several of his relatively undistinguished foreign policy advisers which were never quite molded into a whole. [Signicantly, none have so far taken credit] The speech meanders from the overview to specific foreign policy conundrums and then back again, repetitiously.
Far be it for us to be recommending what Mr. Trump should be espousing as his approach to the myriad problems of American policy overseas. But the outline of what those problems are — if not their solution – can be presented relatively concisely.
Paramount, of course, is the problem of an Islam which has gone berserk – again as so many times since Mohammed’s lifetime 1500 years ago – threatening the entire world, not the least the 1.3 billion Moslems, with terrorism. Its origin and nucleus lies in the Mideast and there is where it must be attacked and destroyed rather than an attempt to contain its tentacles around the world.
Secondly, nuclear proliferation with the ensuing threat from unstable regimes continues to be a high priority. That, of course, includes Pres. Barack Obama’s supposed pact with Tehran, as well as a relatively unstable nuclear-armed Pakistan. There is the possibility of new nuclear powers arising in the Persian Gulf now feeling abandoned by their U.S. ally to the threat of Iran’s growing regional hegemony.
The renewed threat of Moscow aggression, even though it now comes from a power much inferior to the old Soviet Union, is pressing. How to reinvigorate NATO in the face of renewed Russian aggression in Georgia, Ukraine, and threats in the Baltic, is part of this bundle. It obviously calls for the reinstitution of the anti-missile defense system, with its bases in Poland and Czechia, which was abandoned as one of the first steps in Obama’s withdrawal of the U.S. from world leadership.
While it may be more apparent than real, Washington must confront the growing military power and what appears to be the growing chauvinistic elements in the Beijing regime. The Chinese economy, miraculous as the last two decades have been, is fragile, and perhaps now poised for a major default. But an ambitious Chinese military is building a blue water navy that challenges the U.S. Navy in the Western Pacific where it has maintained the peace – with the major exceptions of the Korean and Vietnam Wars – for more than half a century. The challenged will have to be met and subtly.
There are a whole host of critical foreign economic issues that could be bundled as the fourth main preoccupation for any foreign policy agenda. Trump’s popularity is in part an expression of the resentment of the loss of American manufacturing and its jobs for the skilled and semi-skilled. Readjusting trade relations, particularly with China, which has aggressively taken advantage of American initiatives to include “a rising China” in the world economic system, has to be addressed. The growing failure of the effort to unite continental Europe politically – as well as Britain’s growing ambiguous relationship with the European Union — is impacting on the economic collaboration which was its origin and America’s huge trans-Atlantic commercial and economic interests.
There is the hardly acknowledged problem of the growing power and influence of the United Nations and its secretary-general, a role which was never defined in the early days of the organization and remains ambiguous today. That is true even though the secretary-general has become, willy-nilly, an important arbiter of world politics and the unanticipated crises that arise from it. While Washington has the official capacity to play a major role in defining UN policy at every level, it too often is left to bureaucratic maneuver rather considered as major policy.
And this, of course, leads into the whole growing need for a redefinition of how foreign policy is made in the U.S. government, Congressional critics of the amorphous but constantly growing National Security Council and its usurpation of the roles of not only the State Department but the Pentagon and its direction of American military forces is a constitutional issue at the heart of the Republic that must be solved.
It may be, as Mr Obama and his supporters have argued that it is a time for a complete overhaul of the American foreign strategy that has, for the most part, insured peace and stability for more than half a century. But to do so requires a more analytical survey of the world’s problems and the U.S. role that Obama and his advisers have given us.
Nor was not what Mr. Trump gave us in this speech.
Angela Merkel, Germany’s long-lifed chancellor, is noted for her Teutonic precision in public statements. So one cannot ignore her remarks after meeting Pres. Barack Obama on his present loop around the Europe. Over and over, she repeated the importance of the U.S. participation in Alliance strategies. The meaning might have been charged off to the ordinary polemics, except that the tone had a new quality. Merkel seemed to be ending each such assertion with an unspoken “that’s right, isn’t it?”
The German chancellor perhaps was hoping against hope that Obama assertion of American withdrawal from old leadership commitments to postwar Europe wasn’t true. If so, she was not only disappointed. For in an unusual public display of disagreement over policy, the two outlined their basic disagreement over Syria with its inundation of migrants and refugees for Europe.
Merkel, increasingly exposed to bitter opposition after continuing difficulties getting the rest of Europe to bear its share of the burden, is facing a crisis over the inflow. More than a million migrants invaded Germany last year, not only Syrians but other Mideasterners and Africans anxious to taste the fruits of the European welfare state.
Merkel has been trying to close the door she so righteously opened to all and sundry – a policy seen as a reflection in part of the guilt for the Nazis’ race policies. The business community at first welcomed the new labor recruits with a general German consensus. But as the numbers have increased, with the prospect of a continued flow, and the difficulties and cost of settling the newcomers, more and more Germans are questioning the policy.
But Merkel’s implied question was for a much larger question. In effect, she was asking how far Obama’s withdrawal of American leadership will go, and inferentially, whether another president in 2017 will continue that strategy. That Obama contradicted his own policy was probably irrelevant. He had, for example, taken a heavy hand in Britain arguing against Brexit, the U.K. pulling out of the European Union. But he offered nothing to amend his own erosion of Britain’s historic “special relationship” with the Americans. [British politicians, too, were quietly shaking their heads over the former university lecturer’s confusing the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization with that of the European Union.]
Through smiles and reaffirmation of agreement, the division of Germany and the U.S. over Syria was laid out unusually forthrightly. Merkel has repeatedly called, and she did so again in this meeting, for the establishment of “safe zones” in Syria. The theory is that Syrian “moderates” would herd refugees into areas protected through military intervention, if necessary, by the Western powers. Obama has continually and emphatically rejected this strategy, even when it was proposed by American critics of his Mideast policy. That’s despite he was simultaneously announcing another increment in the renewed U.S. military presence in Iraq.
Instead, Obama put the emphasis on Sec. of State John Kerry’s conference for a negotiated political settlement. That, of course, runs up against the hard reality that the civil war in Syria centers on the continuance in office of Basher al-Assad and his bloody regime. One of Obama’s “red lines” once called for Assad’s immediate departure, but like his other “red lines, it has now been eroded into a compromise for Assad to remain through a transition period. Most observers give Kerry’s conference little hope of success. And Merkel and her supporters argue that until the moderates can claim a bit of territory, they have no real voice. And, of course, there is the problem of the continuing flow to an overwhelmed Germany and Europe. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is blackmailing Berlin with the threat that he will renege on his pact to curb illegal migration to Europe if Brussels blocks his request for visa-free EU entry for his 78 million Turks.
All of this to say that Obama’s planned retreat from what he saw as overextended American commitments to leadership abroad is leaving no end of doubts and chaos in its wake.
The French, as always, have a word for it: the more things change, the more they are the same.
Looking around the world just now, one has to take that into account. After the cataclysmic destruction and rehabilitation of World War II, we would have thought that patterns of political life were so changed forever that nothing of the old would remain. That’s true, of course, to a certain degree.
But looking around the world just now, you will excuse old men from seeing much, in some instances far too much, which is the same.
With all the blood spilled in Europe and in Asia– over 60 million people killed, about 3% of the 1940 world population (estimated at 2.3 billion) – it would have seemed that old patterns were completely destroyed. Yet a look around the world some 60 years later suggests the opposite.
We might begin with European anti-Semistism, that unreasonable but merciless hatred of the Jews. True, there has been a change: except for the 400,000 or so Jews who live in France – and who are now rapidly emigrating for just this reason – The Holocaust destroyed the bulk of European Jewry, the six million lost souls. But the themes continue and we now have anti-Semitism without Jews, proving once and for all how nonsensical is this hoary Western sin.
Then there is European nationalism, which brought on the centuries of dynastic, religious and nationalist wars in one of the most sophisticated regions of the world. European economic and then political union was to finally end all this. And while we may not be facing warfare among the European nationalities, we are again seeing an effort to form a union falling apart from many of the same old ailments. Moscow’s Ukrainian aggression suggests even war may not be that far away.
Of course, the problem at the center of the European political conflict for generations was the overwhelming and always growing strength of a Germany, late to united but always hovering over the European scene. That, we were led to believe, would no longer be the case with a federal Germany dedicated to democracy and having given up its goal of unification with an Austria whose existence and neutrality would be subsumed in a united Europe guaranteed by the major powers. But one problem stalking the Europeans today is again the overwhelming strength, this time with an emphasis on the economic factors, of a strong Germany. Having exported part of its wealth to its neighbors on credit, it is now being forced into billcollecing – not an enviable role. And it is one that again puts Germany’s strength and power, seemingly threatening, against the center of European speculation as the united construct at Brussels shakes loose.
Pearl Harbor, it seemed, had decided once and for all the argument over America’s participation in world politics, a disputed role going back to The Founders. The success of U.S. arms in World War II not only preserved the world from Nazi barbarism and Japanese colonialism, but it placed Washington at the center of world’s disputes as arbiter and conciliator. But with the access to power – rather inexplicably – of a young and inexperienced historian-manqué as a “transformative” president, the old argument is back. The call of Donald Trumpet may not be called “isolationism” but it bears all the hallmarks of the all the old arguments updated with 21st century figures against what used to be called :”interventionists”, those who see an undeniable dominant role for the U.S. in world affairs.
One could go on with this analysis, of course. But the point is all too obvious. The question is, of course, what does it mean? Karl Marx, quoting the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel that “xxx all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.xxx” True enough, when we observe some of those playing out these old roles now, we see them as buffoonery. But the sad part of any commentary must be that we will have to try to work our way to some sort of solution of all of the issues, as we have done in the past.
Everyone but the President of the United States seems to understand that the civilized world is in an all-out struggle with evil as represented by the Islamic terrorists. Nor is it less clear that Daesh [ISIS or ISIL] is gaining ground and consolidating the various Islamic terrorist groups around the world into an increasingly formidable foe.
Pres. Obama’s speech on Tuesday March 22nd was directed, he said, to the Cuban people as well as their Communist leadership and the American public. Well and good; it was a call for a new era of communication and hoped for collaboration with the Castro regime which remains in power. Most of us who know the history of U.S.-Cuban relations object to his innuendo that before 1969 the U.S. tried “to control Cuba”, something he charged in a throwaway line in his continued apology for world leadership. In fact, the U.S. after the Spanish-American war was critical with the venerated revolution leader Jose Marti in setting up Cuban independence, even at a time when some Cubans wanted amalgamation into the U.S.
Furthermore, one can only anticipate instability with the approaching departure of Raul Castro  and the crumbling economic and political regime with its old Soviet sponsor long since gone. Obama’s policy has helped rescue what will be an unstable continuing dictatorship. Throwing new political prisoners into jail and beating up the wives of current imprisoned dissidents on his arrival was hardly a good omen, nor were petty childish gestures by Raul Castro himself.
But whatever the long-term result of the President’s Cuba visit, one is struck by his insistence on delivering a formal prepared speech at a moment when a new horrendous episode of terrorism had erupted in Europe. There is hardly a terrorist expert who does not believe that the U.S. is inevitably doomed to more violence imitating that in Europe. For security reason the FBI and other intelligence units of our government are secretive about the number of plots that have been discovered and thwarted. But the Boston marathon bombing, the incestuous murders at Fort Hood, the shootings at military installations in Chattanooga, and the savagery of the attack at San Bernardino in California are only a foretaste of what will inevitably be our Paris and now our Brussels massacres unless the root cause of the problem is eliminated.
Obama’s 51-second acknowledgement of the Belgian atrocities was certainly not commensurate with the importance of the attack. Counter-terrorist officials in Belgium, the capital of Europe which made the attack all the more significant, in France, in Germany and in Britain all admit unofficially that they are overwhelmed with their problem. The sophistication of the weaponry and the coordination of a multi-targeted attack in Brussels prove that Daesh and its followers are gaining on the largely defensive effort of the U.S. and the Europeans.
In Iraq and Syria, Daesh’s headquarters operates an increasinly highly nuanced campaign using all the tools of the new digital world. The American response has been a limping incremental effort to bring the terrorists to heel, but with no long-term strategy and effort to end their existence as soon as possible. That kind of all-out goal is the only one which can turn around what is an essentially defense effort of the West to defend itself.
Hopefully, the President – as he enjoys a much more sympathetic atmosphere in Argentina where the leadership has turned in the U.S. direction – will begin the preparation for what must be a massive and immediate effort to destroy Daesh. Whether it is indeed World War III as Pope France called it months ago, it demands the full intellectual resources at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the mobilization of a new military effort in the Middle East, as weary as the American public is of armed encounters there. Leadership is, after all, not only the acknowledgement of problems but a determined effort to solve them.
Jeffrey Goldberg has made a valiant effort in a lengthy [and often repetitious] article in The Atlantic [striving desperately to become high-brown] to present a comprehensive explanation of Pres. Obama’s foreign policy. Goldberg is both exhaustive and sympathetic, giving us extended references to intimacies with the President over many years – dating, as he tells us, to Obama’s days as an unknown Illinois state senator.
Goldberg fails, however, for one simple reason: he trifles with the facts as well as the interpretations.
Many of my readers will abandon us here, for what we will have to do is to burrow into the article. Nor can we do more than skim the surface of our differences with Goldberg’s misstatements and interpretations.
• “xxx Obama believes that the Manichaeanism, and eloquently rendered bellicosity, commonly associated with Churchill were justified by Hitler’s rise, and were at times defensible in the struggle against the Soviet Union.xxx” The New Oxford tells us “bellicosity:” means “Demonstrating aggression and willingness to fight”. Does that really describe a Churchill as leader of a lonely Britain holding out against the most criminal tyranny the world had ever seen? Or later against Communism which had taken tens of millions of lives of innocent citizens in Both the Soviet Union and China?
• “xxx Bush and Scowcroft removed Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait in 1991, and they deftly managed the disintegration of the Soviet Union xxx” That’s a very interesting if wholly bogus interpretation of the implosion of the Soviet Union in the face of a relatively passive foreign policy of Bush I and an even more passive policy advocated by Scowcroft.
• “xxx Obama would say privately that the first task of an American president in the post-Bush international arena was ‘Don’t do stupid shit.’ xxx” Goldberg repeatedly quotes this Obama axiom as a guideline to making foreign policy. Enough said.
• “xxx Four years earlier, the president believed, the Pentagon had ‘jammed’ him on a troop surge for Afghanistan. Now, on Syria, he was beginning to feel jammed again.xxx” Goldberg neglects to remind readers that at the same time Obama injected new troops into Afghanistan, he announced a deadline for withdrawal – hardly a great strategic concept.
• “xxx Within weeks, Kerry, working with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, would engineer the removal of most of Syria’s chemical-weapons arsenal—a program whose existence Assad until then had refused to even acknowledge.xxx” The operative word is “most”; Assad has continued to use chemical weapons against his own people; only days ago there was another instance in Aleppo.
• “xxx A widely held sentiment inside the White House is that many of the most prominent foreign-policy think tanks in Washington are doing the bidding of their Arab and pro-Israel funders. I’ve heard one administration official refer to Massachusetts Avenue, the home of many of these think tanks, as “Arab-occupied territory xxx” One of Goldberg [or Obama’s] more curious statements given the fact that the more often heard accusation [obviously false given their vast differences] is that Washington think tanks are enthralled by Jews/Zionists/Israelis.
• “xxx Over the course of our conversations, I came to see Obama as a president who has grown steadily more fatalistic about the constraints on America’s ability to direct global events, even as he has, late in his presidency, accumulated a set of potentially historic foreign-policy achievements—controversial, provisional achievements, to be sure, but achievements nonetheless: the opening to Cuba, the Paris climate-change accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and, of course, the Iran nuclear deal. xxx” “xxx But achievements nevertheless xxx” Oh? The Cuban dictatorship remains in place having made no concessions, arresting new political dissidents even as the Obama-Castro agreement was announced. The Paris climate-change accord binds no one to anything, is based on scientific assumptions under fire, and does nothing to clear up the controversial claims of the Obama supporters that human activity is the critical issue. The Trans-Pacific Parntership trade pact is yet to be accepted in any of the constituent partners and is now under attack from both right [Trumpites] and left [Obama’s trade union supporters]. The Administration itself admits that the Iran nuclear “deal” is yet to be proved, that Tehran continues to pour billions [now augmented by the dropping of sanctions] into a worldwide state terrorist network, and is demonstrably proceeding with the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
We won’t bore our readers with additional examples. But the Goldberg presentation of what he ceremoniously calls The Obama Doctrine is a tissue of false information and prejudiced interpretation. There is no Obama Doctrine except a general withdrawal of American power in critical areas of the world with the traditionally anticipated results.
There is a wild Russian folkdance, like so many Russian cultural artifacts linked to the Tartar Occupation, called the kasatka [ka-zatch-ka]. In one of its many forms, it tests the dancer’s calisthenics by having him crouch but fling out each leg and foot alternately, testing his balance and the nerves of those aroumd him.
Vladimir Putin, old secret service operator that he is with some inherited talents of the Soviet regime but steeped in Russian folkways, has been dancing a katsatka around Pres. Barack Obama. And the effect is as usual unnerving to the encircled and annihilates whatever more formal and customary dance routine the imprisoned spectator might have pursued.
When Obama first suggested an aggressive American role in Syria, but then quickly reneged, Putin saw his chance. After his aggression in George, Crimea and Ukraine, and continuing threats elsewhere, he had unnerved the European Union and the U.S. It was to the point that they, however reluctantly, threatened formal resistance. And they did go as far as sanctions against the Russian leading lights around Putin.
But Putin has enough sense of history to know that bluff can often be successful, especially if like lies – as Hitler’s propagandist Josef Goebbels said – they are ambitious enough. So Putin plunged into Syria, set up the beginning of bases on the coast, and backed his would-be host, the collapsing regime of Basher Al Assad. The effort had great psychological and propaganda value, for Syria had once been the Soviet Union’s Mediterranean anchor, and a return there hinted at a return of Moscow to world leadership.
So the kasatka began. Putin’s oncoming disaster at home with the West’s sanctions and the collapsing oil price for Russia’s only export certainly left Putin in a precarious crouching position. But he flung his military, however much its technological stars and nuclear armory, still the decrepit carcass of the once grand Soviet war machine, far overcommitted into the Syrian row. His aircraft indiscriminately committing atrocities against a highly vulnerable civilian population, and his highly trained special forces encadred al Assad’s old professional French-styled Syrian army, were able to turn the tide against the multi-head opposition. That was especially true since neither Washington nor its allies could pull together demoralized Syrian democrats, and all were trying to keep their distance from al Assad’s main jidhadist opposition.
But then with a new kasatka thrust, Putin grabbed Obama’s gallivanting Secretary of State’s effort to set up an armistice and peace conference. The armistice gave Putin some respite from his overtaxed kasatka thrusts. His dance had so wearied Kerry & Co. that the conferees agreed to gather in Vienna, even though they clearly had totally opposite positions: Washington was demanding that al Assad go, the Kremlin had staked its successful dance on his remaining in office. With the long and ugly history of such conferences throughout the post-World War II history, between the West and the Communists, it was clear Putin’s kasatka meant he would whittle down the American/EU position. With successful negotiations always Washington’s primary target, negotiating with an opponent who does not give ground, ultimately always means the U.S. makes the concessions.
So Putin’s kasatka continues. The latest fling of the limbs is to “order” the Russian military out of Syria. Crouched as he is, he dearly needs to end his commitment before it collapses. But his kasatka presents this as great concession of a noble and enlightened opponent, and, of course, he has made no firm commitment on date nor which and what he will withdraw. In fact, as so often happened with Soviet promises of cooperation, the withdrawal might not take place at all, were he not in an overextended position that he needs to withdraw.
The kasatka never quite ends with any final tour de force. Usually the dancer is so exhausted he just leaves off. That may well be the case with Putin’s dance around the bemused Obama, trying desperately to make something of historical moment of the few months of his last tenure in the presidency. After all, the kasatka has achieved its purpose – it’s rescued Putin from economic collapse, at least for the moment, and has bolstered his flagging domestic support by a feint at the old Soviet international glory.
The Obama Administration is facing the ultimate exposure of the failure of its lauded strategy of “leading from behind”.
The phrase came into use when Washington stood back in 2011 while its European allies toppled the Mohammed Qadaffi regime in Libya. Qadaffi had abandoned his earlier pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism — including the bombing with the Syrians of Pan Am 103 over Scotland in 1988. But he was collapsing under the siege from Islamist terrorists. By 2014, the country was being torn apart between an Islamist-led administration in Tripoli and an internationally recognized government based in the eastern city of Tobruk.
Now Daesh [ISIS or ISIL] is threatening a Libyan takeover in the near chaos that has followed. Not only would the would-be caliphate acquire a critical North African staging area for migration to Europe, but it is already installed in Libya’s principal oil producing area. With the largest oil reserves and production in Africa – larger than both Nigeria and Algeria – growing control in Libya would enhance the self-proclaimed international revenues and leadership of the Islamic terrorists based in Syria and Iraq.
Local affiliates of the Islamic State last year grabbed the coastal city of Sirte, Mohammed Gadhafi’s hometown. And they have moved on to four other strong points, some closer to the critical oil fields. With warmer weather approaching, European governments – already overwhelmed with hundreds of thousands of Mideast migrants – fear Libya could become an even greater trampoline for an enlarged invasion of refugees and economic migrants from Black Africa.
There is virtual chaos among the country’s six million people with two power centers vying for control. Turkey and Qatar, with their strong ties to the Moslem Brotherhood, are supporting the Islamists in Tripoli on its Western border with troubled Tunisia. Egypt, which feels threatened directly by Libyan events on its western border, and the United Arab Emirates are backing the more secular regime in Tobruk in the east.
Daesh is operating from four different points in the country which would demand a sizeable allied operation.Sec. of State John Kerry has been trying with the help of Washington’s allies to put together an interim government which could call for international assistance. The U.S. already has a Special Operations team operating in the country and the British and Americans are operating drones overhead. British sources have already proposed a plan for a 10,000-man joint expeditionary force. Another drawn up by the Italians calls for a 6,000 invasion source to reestablish order. Both anticipate American leadership as well as transport which the allies do not have.
The diplomats’ plan for a united Libyan government to call for foreign intervention to boot out the Islamic state is moving slowly. The United Nations has failed for more than a year to get the two rival administrations and their allied militias into a unity. And there is growing concern that Daesh may consolidate its hold. Britain, Italy and France are urging the U.S. to intervene immediately even before a government is formed. The White House is reportedly concerned Islamist terrorist control of Libya would be catastrophic.
Libya, always a contested approach to southern Europe – as it was during the World War II between Gen. Erwin Rommel’s Nazi army and the Britain’s Desert Rats– is critical to any kind of regional stabilization.
Handling the crisis this time around is going to take direct American intervention at the head of the line, however much nostalgia there is now at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for Obama’s formula of the U.S. as a backseat driver.
The chaotic Middle East is taking on convolutions which bring it ever closer to a clash among the major powers.
- Despite his rapidly deteriorating economy, Russia’s Vladimir Putin is taking an increasingly aggressive role in supporting the Basher Al Assad Syrian regime and its Iranian partners. His efforts to strengthen the Damascus regime have kept it alive but show no signs of a significant victory against its opponents, some of whom represent jihadist goals with liaison to international Islamic terrorism.
- Israel’s security on its northern border is deteriorating as its traditional Lebanese enemy, Hezbollah – with a long record of terrorism against the U.S. – becomes increasingly embroiled as an Iranian ally in Syria. Hezbollah’s operations beyond the Middle East, especially in Latin America in league with local guerrillas and drug traffickers, are a growing challenge to American influence and stability there.
- A seemingly leaderless explosion of individual terrorist acts against Israeli civilian and military targets has assumed new significance with an attack by a U.S.-trained Palestinian Liberation Organization security official on Israeli military. The knifing attacks are generally by teenagers schooled by UN-supported Palestinian educational institutions where anti-Semitism is standard curriculum. They are an expression of the collapse of secular Palestinian leadership which is hanging on Israeli security support. The growing strength of the Muslim terrorists Hamas, again being rearmed by Iran, are now infiltrating the West Bank from Gaza.
- Saudi Arabians are persuaded of their abandonment by the Obama Administration in its pursuit of agreements with Tehran. In the face of an Iranian attempt at Mideast hegemony, Jeddah is lashing out militarily with the support of its traditional Arab allies in the Persian Gulf. But explosions of Sunni-Shia violence, including in the Saudi’s southeastern oilfields, and its see-saw battle in Yemen against Iranian-back rebels is inconclusive at best.
- Daesh [ISIS or ISIL] continues to recruit young Muslims, even in the West and the U. S. Those who remain in their homelands present the prospect of “lone wolf” terrorist massacres resembling the almost daily occurrences in the Mideast. Despite effective continued FBI surveillance and discovery of terrorist plots, it seems only a question of time until new episodes such as San Bernardino and Ft. Hood will erupt in the Homeland.
The Obama Administration’s strategic response to this growing catastrophe is an incremental injection of small special forces teams in the Mideast conflicts. Sec. of State John Kerry has carried on frenzied whirlwind diplomatic activity. [Are secretaries of state now being judged by how many flight miles they put in?] And he has persuaded all parties to attend a Syria peace conference. But no one believes in its success with parties – including the U.S. and the Russians — pursuing directly contradictory goals.
Not even the other Republican candidates for president appear prepared to adopt Jeb Bush’s formula for a massive all-out military effort to destroy Daesh as a threat to U.S. national security. Meanwhile,Yeltsin pretends to have a common enemy with Washington in the Daesh terrorists, but Russian initiatives in Syria have been largely limited to direct support of the al Assad regime. Israeli, and American interventions in pursuit of their own direct security – for example, transfer of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah in Syria by Iran – run the risk of confrontation despite intense communications to control the traffic. The continued violation of Turkish sovereignty by Russian fighter-bombers and Ankara’s past winking at jihadist communications through its territory pose a growing problem for NATO and Washington.
Despite its continued professions of loyalty to the U.S.-Israeli alliance, the Obama Administration moves closer to the growing antagonism and pro-Palestinian policies of the Europeans. Paris, for example, now threatens to recognize a non-existing Palestinian state if bilateral negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians do not go forward, an exceedingly unlikely phenomenon given the lack of a viable Palestinian negotiating partner.
The latest sign that the Obama Administration is moving away from Israel is its adopting the Europeans’ designation [and implied boycott] of Israeli manufactures from the Jewish Settlements on the West Bank which employ tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs. Indeed, the “Palestine” cause has united old European anti-Semites with the traditional left for the creation of a Palestinian state which would be a direct threat to Israeli security.
Whether this turmoil will await a new approach, at least one generally anticipated, by a new U.S. president in another year before some unintended action ignites a larger explosion, remains problematical.
Rather suddenly, the northern European Scandinavian democracies and Finland have reversed their policies toward the limitless wave of migrants from the Mideast and North Africa besieging Europe.
It’s not uncommon for the Scandinavians — particularly the Swedes – to claim great humanitarian credentials while they betrayed their neighbors. Some of us at the wrong end of Sweden’s excellent 90mm Bofor artillery remember all too well Stockholm’s role in WWII. It claimed neutrality but was a critical supplier of high quality munitions to the Nazis, permitted them to cross Swedish territory when they invaded Norway, and often rejected the flood of refugees all around them.
Norway, in turn, which fell into the role of “a white sheikh” with the discovery and exploitation of North Sea oil, has been all too anxious to deliver political nostrums to others. Its “mediation” in Sri Lanka’s civil war, until it was finally shaken off after a decade, muddled those issues and led finally to a bloodbath. But this record hasn’t stopped the Scandinavians from presenting themselves as the moral arbitrators of the Western world with a high vaunted social democractic model that has created vast if unacknowledged social problems.
Rather suddenly, Sweden announces it will reject up to 80,000 asylum seekers who have arrived since last year, half of whom officials admit will be forced to leave against their will. Furthermore, Stockholm calls on police and migration authorities to prepare for a sharp increase in deportations, and to arrange charter flights to their country of origin. That may turn out to be difficult since some countries of origin, most prominently Pakistan, are refusing to take backtheir former residents. Sweden is also organizing other EU countries, including Germany, to discuss cooperation to make sure flights are filled to capacity. Sweden took in more than 160,000 asylum applications last year, by far the biggest influx in the EU as a proportion of the population.
Sweden’s move follows Denmark – which had seen its longtime open border with Sweden suddenly snapped closed for identification of each entrant – announced it not only was slowing accomodation of migrants but was confiscating their assets to help finance their accomodation. Norway has begun deporting arriving migrants through its Arctic border with Russia. The interior minister of Finland, a much more realistic player given its long history of fighting off Russian aggression, said Helsinki also intends to expel about two-thirds of the 32,000 asylum seekers it originally accepted in 2015..
Until now, the Nordics had trumpeted their open door to all migrants, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, now under attack within her own conservative coalition for her earlier welcome mat. But the arrival of more than a million migrants in Germany alone – a very large majority of them young single men and not the highly advertised families with women and small children – and predictions of an increased flow in 20916 have brought on an immigration crisis.
Germany’s elaborate social welfare program, a goal of many of the migrants, is breaking down under the impact of so many sudden arrivals with their growing demands – often reinforced with local rioting. The dramatic not atypical Mideastern male attack on New Year’s Eve female celebrants in Cologne and other large German cities, originally ignored by the mainline media, is reinforcing the new mood of resistance to the migrants. That’s despite their welcomed arrival by European Union businessmen facing a growing labor shortage due to a demographic slowdown in all the industrials societies.
Having accelerated the migrant flow with announced liberal policies of accommodating them, the Europeans now face a crisis: how to bloc a tsunami of migrants, the majority of whom are seeking economic opportunity rather than escape from refugee status, without violence and bloodshed.
The Shale Revolution continues to wreak havoc as revolutions are wont to do.
The abundance of U.S. natural gas, in many ways a more satisfactory fossil fuel than either coal or oil because of its lesser emissions, has dynamited the whole worldwide energy market. Whether or not the Obama Administration wants it, the export of oil and gas is going to be a function of the new energy picture with the growing economic pressure to sell off our low priced gas to a world market which hasn’t yet taken advantage of the new mining technologies.
Along with the flagging economies of Europe, and now China, and subsequent lower demand, energy prices are under attack everywhere. The stock markets, long dependent on high energy costs and their very profitable producers, are lurching under the torpedoing of the old price structures. Fuel economies, sometimes at the insistence of government fiat as in the American automobile industry, are also finally having their effect and slowing growing energy demand.
In the long run, there is every reason to hope and believe that lower energy prices will be an enormous fillip for the U.S. and the world economies. But, as Maynard Milord Keyes once quipped, in the long run, we will all be dead. Projections of energy demand and supply have in the past been notoriously wrong. And they may be again. But for the moment, what looks likely for several years if a continuing low price for energy. The U.S. which has always prospered on low energy costs, as compared with Europe, is likely to benefit from this new situation.
Geopolitical developments overseas, for the moment at least, seem to be bolstering this new abundance of energy. Iraq’s fabulous oil and gas reserves are coming back onstream after so many years of war and destruction. Pres. Obama’s “deal” with Iran is likely to see sanctions against its sales of oil lifted with new entries to the market.
Most important has been the effort of our friends the Saudis to regain their role as the marginal producer and dictator of the international market pricing. They have opened all the valves and are producing and marketing at record levels. The intent, without doubt, was to hammer the American shale gas and oil producers with their higher costs than those on the Persian Gulf. But while there have been some difficulties and cutbacks for the U.S. producers, the shale oil entrepreneurs have been adept at coming up with new technological fixes which have in the main maintained their role in this new struggle for prices and markets.
Meanwhile, much propaganda and pure and simple idiocy dominates much of the talk about energy and its application. Electric cars, for example, may eventually become a reality because of new battery developments. But recharging the electric car off their baseboard plug – if that becomes the reality – is going to demand that more electricity be produced somewhere and by someone with some fuel. Coal which has until recently dominated the electrical generating plants, about 60% of the total energy consumption, is fading as more and more quick fix gas generators go into service and environmental constraints demand cutbacks in coal emissions. The pain in the old and often poverty-stricken coal mining areas is something the rest of the country is going to have to be attended [and be paid for].
But, returning to our original point, progress is rarely achieved without considerable pain – for some part or other of our society. And it is clear that is going to be case as the Shale Revolution with almost daily announcements of increased reserves is no exception. Government subsidies for wind and solar will continue to feed the trendy enviromentalists’ pressure on more innocent lawmakers. That, too, is a burden which the taxpayer appears inevitably going to bear.
When we read Camp of the Saints in English translation sometime in the 1980s, we didn’t enjoy it much. It had been foisted on us by a friend, an old veteran of the political wars on The Hill. She saw it as a prediction of the future. But novels, after all, whether in the contemporary world, past golden eras, or in the future, have to have some verisimilitude. And this one didn’t seem to be in any way credible in its general thesis however well written and logical once you accepted one or two of its major assumptions.
Were we ever wrong!
If you have read the novel, you can’t be but comparing the current international geopolitical situation with its hypothesis. Said simply, it posits a takeover of Western civilization by hordes of migrants from what was then called “the underdeveloped world” as a result of a general misapprehension of guilt and innocence in relationships between Europe and the world of poverty in Afro-Asia [again a term that has disappeared].
Europe’s generous welcoming of what have been termed refugees from the destruction of the Syrian civil war was notable and praiseworthy. It is no secret that German Chancellor Angela Merkel laid out the welcome mat in another effort to wipe out the memory of the Nazi holocaust leading to World War II. But as the numbers kept escalating and other European countries were more reluctant to take large numbers of the migrants, the problem is turning into a serious strategic miscalculation –and could even threaten Merkel’s tight hold on the German prime ministry.
Not only have the numbers continued to grow – but their character has changed from genuine “refugees” seeking asylum for families driven from their homes to an increasingly overwhelming cadre of young men, many from further east of Syria. The UN Refugee Agency, a forceful advocate for the migrants, counts one million arrivals in Europe in 2015. Furthermore, three nationalities are represented: Syrian [49%], Afghani [21%] and Iraqi [8%]. The most ominous admission by the agency, however, is that most were adult men [58%]. However sympathetic Europeans and Americans are to the strife of genuine refugees, dramatized by at least 3,800 lost at sea in their desperate attempt to reach Western Europe, a different crisis is developing.
The Erupeans have splintered over how to meet the growing crisis. The sudden and huge influx has led to temporary border controls to limit the flow. Turkey is demanding more after receiving a $3.3 billion Euro bribe to stem the flow. But for both Turkey and the Europeans, the problem is further complicated by some countries of origin, Pakistan, for example, which refuses to take back their migrants when they are halted in their flight to Europe..
Organized sexual attacks by bands of these migrant men on New Year’s Eve on women in Cologne and other German cities, and in Scandinavia have been suppressed by the mainstream media and government in an effort to prevent a backlash to refugees. But these events only dramatize the fact that integration of these young men will not come about easily. In fact, there is evidence of an organized effort to infiltrate the West by Moslem terrorist organizations – a terrible harking back to repeated attempts by mubarizun, the traditional Mohammedan warrior whose conquest of the Middle East and North Africa resulted in the spread of Islam and was beaten back in earlier times at crises moments by Christian Europe.
Charges of “Islamaphobia” notwithstanding, there are predictions that the flow will grow in the months ahead from the chaotic Middle East, North Africa, and burgeoning populations in Iran and Pakistan. Charging racism to those who publicly call for a change in strategy to meet the growing threat are not a proper response. And ultimately, as with every European crisis in recent history, American policymakers are going to be called on to lend a hand.
There’s not much good news from Europe these days.
It’s clear that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has bitten off more than she can chew with her big, big welcome mat for any and all migrants. The Hungarians and the Poles have different ideas, don’t want to take their “share” as Berlin sees it. That could be the death of “Shengen”, movement within the EU as free as it was in the golden years before World War I when a flicking a passport got you anywhere from the Irish Sea to Carpathians.
Merkel & Co. have bared their teeth and not for the first time, talked of solving an EU problem by creating a “mini-Shengen”, in effect two levels of EU membership to maintain free-passage. Then there is the whole mess of the Euro, that common currency which was supposed to eliminate balance of payments. Instead it has been an artifice for pushing German exports down the throats of willing consumers – like Greece – who really didn’t have the wherewithal for all those Mercedes.
European, not to say Obama Administration resolve, to meet Ras’ continued aggression in Crimea, Ukraine, and threats in Belarus and the Baltic States, as well as his blind man’s bluff in Syria, has faded.
But the biggest cloud on the horizon was the possibility that the Brits would pick up their marbles and go home. That old hundred miles of often treacherous water which has given the not-so-longer United Kingdom its distance from Continental troubles is getting wider and stormier again. The growing encampment t of migrants [including legitimate refugees] on the Calais side epitomizes the issue. Britain, earlier than her neighbors was getting indigestion from absorbing unlimited numbers from her former empire to share the bounties of the original welfare state. And there is universal sentiment now in Britain that a Continental surge would tip the boat.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who unexpectedly won a majority in May’s elections, as part of his electioneering, promised what used to be called before Hitler discredited it, a plebiscite, on British EU membership. That is, Brits would go to the polls to decide whether they wanted to continue what has been their limited membership – no participation in the Euro, for example – in the Community. Armed with that, and the possibility that without concessions, the British might really exit, he has gone back to dicker with the autocrats at Brussels.
Now comes word that despite earlier statements on how the Brits would not pass, the EUrocrats are willing to make concessions. European Council president Donald Tusk December 17 opined: “Leaders voiced their concerns but also demonstrated willingness to look for compromise,” Tusk told a press conference, he was “much more optimistic” than before the talks began.
In all the welter of political shoving back and forth at the moment, this negotiation could in the long run be the most important. It goes without saying, Pres. Obama’s problems ousting Winston Churhill’s bust from the Oval Office as an opening gambit in his Administration notwithstanding, that the Special Relationship between Washington and London remains a cornerstone of our foreign policy.
Many, here and there, have seen Britain’s participation in the EU as an obstacle. We never have. That Britain has taken up the cudgels, in fact more forcefully than the Obama Administration, in the fight against Daesh, the Mideast terrorists, as an American ally is just one more example of the relationship’s importance despite Britain’s economic and therefore military travails. Blood, Roberts’ Rules of Order, and Shakespeare do count, you know!
But perhaps even more important, Britain’s presence inside the EU, with whatever limitations, is the best assurance that the tyranny of the clerks in Brussels will be held in check. More than its Continental neighbors, perhaps for the younger folk out there, British representative democracy is so solid and so well grounded that it cannot but have an effect in Brussels. That is of the utmost importance, not only for the Brits and their EU partners, but also the whole of the democratic West including the U.S.
So please, let’s do have an old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon compromise and keep Britain in the EU with no Brexit on the horizon!
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done it again: he has repeated what any historian of the Middle East knows, that the so-called Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, was a buddy of Adolph Hitler’s. Netanyahu has a terrible way of reminding the world of awful truths at a time – has it ever been otherwise? – when most people including major politicians would like to look away.
One is reminded of an old very Jewish joke: Britain’s then general, Harold Alexander [the hero of the ordinary Tommy, not “the movie star” Gen.Bernard Montgomery] was making a protocol visit to a synagogue in Jerusalem. He was back in British Mandated Palestine to check out logistics for Britain’s see-sawing grim war in the Western Desert against legendary Nazi Gen. Erwin Rommel. The president of the Congregation made a little speech: “General, I want to you to know that everyday we pray 24 hours a day for an Allied victory in The Desert”. One of the little old congregants, in tallis and phylacteries, totters up, tugs the president’s sleeve, and whispers in Yiddish, “Don’t say that! If they lose, they will take it out on us”.
There was never any question of what would happen to the Mandate’s then small Jewish community if the Germans did break through. It was well known at the time that Hussein, the leader of the Arabs’ war against the Jews, had escaped British capture and was in Germany. [“Palestinian” did not designate the Arabs of the Mandate until the 1960s but contradictorily did the two Jewish brigades recruited in Tel Aviv fighting with the British in Italy].
Netanyahu, not for the first time of course, has been misinterepted, in that he did not suggest Hussein gave Hitler the idea of wiping out the Jews but simply that they had mutual ideas on the subject. [The Wannsee Conference of January 20, 1942, which gathered high Nazi officials to lay out the techniques of the Holocaust would only take place a year after the publication of the official photograph of Hitler with Hussein.] It’s likely Hitler had already considered the ways in which he would try to extinguish the Jews long before Husseini recommended burning them, if he indeed he did.
Does any of this have relevance today?
Does the fact that the Palestinians only became Palestinians recently mean that their cause is any less just?
One is reminded that Ferhat Abbas, the leading Algerian intellectual, only a few years before the beginning of the bitter war by Algerian Muslims for independence from France, had questioned whether there was such a thing as an Algerian identity. He, like so many other Algerians, unlike Arab Muslims as well as those to be called Pieds Noir [Black Feet], European refugees, who later flooded into metropolitan France, came to believe in their “nationhood” as he came to be its first president on independence.
But whatever the present day claims of “The Palestinians” to “an independent state, living side-by-side in peace” with a Jewish Israel, the long history of Arab aggression and institutionalized hatred of and warfare against the Jews in that tiny piece of land must be taken into account. At a time when the Mainstream Media, again, distorts the fundamental aggression of Arab terrorists, in personal attacks, often on civilian targets, it is well to be reminded of the long history of violence and who perpetrated it.
Yes, it will be argued that the Jewish state is a colonial manifestation, the imposition of a Western culture in an aggression on a “native people”. That appeals as such leftwing rhetoric has so often to some American “political pilgrims” [see Paul Hollander’s Political Pilgrims: Western intellectuals in search of the good society]. They have in the last half century jumped from one miserable cause to another in search of perfection – Communist China, Castro Cuba, Sandinista Nicaragua, and now, “Palestine”, only to be disillusioned by oppression and corruption. Fulsome examination of a blind loyalty to “the Palestinian cause” will eventually return the same results.
Netanyahu, as brutally frank as he sometimes is, was right to remind us of this little tidbit of history.
While Vladimir Putin is busy challenging America’s role as leader of the free peoples, the Russian dictator is also refiguring his domestic scene in the Soviet image. In fact, one could make the argument that in many ways he has already accomplished that and to a degree even the old Soviets hands would have been envious. What Putin and his small band of supporters have done at home may in the long run be more important than his aggression against Ukraine, his support f the crumbling the al Bashar regime in Syria, and his feints at the Baltic states.
There are, of course, important historical differences to Soviet times. There is no Communist Party with its monopoly of power and its tentacles throughout the world. But Putin has eliminated, in all but name, any organized political opposition to his one-man coterie of hangers-on, some his old colleagues in the secret police and others profiteers from Russia’s new state capitalism. That too, is a difference: Russia no longer pretends to an oligarchic Soviet economy.
In fact, with 40% of its economy now dependent on oil and gas exports to Europe, Putin’s No. 1 problem is Western sanctions and the dynamite that American shale gas and oil technology has thrown under world energy prices. Supplying one third of the European Union’s energy imports, Putin despite the fall in world energy prices and the sanctions slapped on some of his buddies as a riposte to his efforts to take over Ukraine and Byelorussia, is desperatelyl trying to hang on to those ties.Gasprom, the world’s largest gas distribution network, is trying to expand its Nordstrom line down through the Baltic Sea. A state-controlled company, having squeezed out competitors and grabbed stakes of foreign oil companies in new fields in Sakhalin in the Far East, it is trying to dominate European distribution networks as well..
But Putin’s reversion to and dependence on a government elite which leeches off the economy as did the so-called nomenclatura, the Soviet leadership and bureaucracy, is all too familiar. In fact, Gennady Gudkov claims “there are now five to six times more bureaucrats in a Russia with 140 million population than there were in the entire USSR with its 286 million residents.” Gudkov, himself, one of the vanishing band of Putin’s critics. is a businessman and former member of the Duma [parliament] who has seen his business wither as he has become a victim of Putin’s persecution
Furthermore, the bureaucracy led by the chief bureaucrat, Putin himself, is acquiring more and more power. Even claptrap trimmings of the Soviet system have been abandoned – such as the largely fraudulent elections for regional governors. Even the billionaires who profit from their relationship within this highly personalized rule are vulnerable and can be – as several have in the recent past – fallen into disfavor and purgatory if not exile or jail.
Putin’s rule resembles, more than anything else, the style of a banana republic, with little or no hint of ideology. He does try – and gets cooperation – from the Russian Orthodox Church just as the tsarist regime did for centuries. But he continues to cultivate old Communist talisman, including the reenshrinement of Feliz Dzerzhinsky, the archleader of Soviet internal repression. It was Putin, after all, who said that the fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century.
What characterizes Putin’s strategy, however, is the old role of a bully on the international stage. It was inevitable that U.S. policy, which under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, tried to find a “reset” button for American-Russian relations would fail. Reinstituting Moscow’s former glory is Putin’s only strategy to retain what is, alas!, his vast popularity at home and that requires an American enemy. Washington has no options in this situation: it must maintain a quiet, non-bellicose opposition to the Russian leader. Just as with the Soviet Union, the economic soft underbelly of the Putin regime is extremely vulnerable. Nothing would make more sense now than to reverse the Obama Administration’s policy and permit market forces to export American gas, and perhaps even oil, now in overabundance, to continue the disintegration of Russian markets and Europe’s dependence on that supply.
Turkey is rapidly catching the Syrian disease – that is, a Mideastern country not only torn apart by internal factions but a playground for contending international forces.
But as an important member of the NATO alliance, Turkey plays a much more critical role in relations between the European Union, the U.S. and Vladimir Putin’s increasingly aggressive Russia.
The analogies with Syria grow stronger even as the outcome is still as murky as the outcome appears there.
In Turkey, too, the “original sin” appears that from his once overwhelmingly popularity, Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan developed egomania.
As the very successful mayor of Istanbul, Erdogan once allegedly said “Democracy is like a streetcar. When you come to your stop, you get off.” His stop seems to be creating an authoritarian state. But his streetcar’s trolley has jumped the wire with the loss of his parliamentary majority in June 2015 elections. And polls indicate he won’t get new majority in elections he has now called for November. With increasing domestic violence, it has become problematical whether they can even be held.
Like Syria’s Basher al Assad, Erdogan has refused to meet his considerable opposition with compromises. The economic boom is staggering. He has virtually abandoned an attempt to join the European Union after his potential Western partners dragged their heels earlier with doubts about whether Turkey met the requirements of free governments.
Meanwhile, Erdogan’s foreign policy which was to have only friends in all directions has turned into the exact reverse: he has growing disputes with all his neighbors and the major powers, including the U.S. That’s despite the fact that Pres. Barack Obama once called Erdogan one of a handful of leaders with whom he was on intimate terms.
Proof of the U.S. rift came with the announcement Washington [along with Germany] is withdrawing its Patriot missiles which Erdogan requested when his once highly advertised relations with Syria’s al Assad fell apart. The Pentagon’s official explanation is they need modification. But given Obama’s policies, there is a suggestion it is because Obama didn’t want to be dragged into Turkey’s increasing difficulties on its Syrian border, despite NATO assurances of support.
Washington’s relations with Ankara are also trapped in the Kurdish problem. Erdogan abandoned his efforts to bring the decades-old bloody Kurdish PKK insurgency to an end, in part because of the success of a Kurdish-led party. [The Kurds are at least 20%, maybe a third of Turkey’s 75 million]. But the Kurds inside Syria, whom Erdogan says are linked to his own internal enemies, are Washington’s only effective internal force against Daesh [the purported ISIS or ISIL caliphate]..
When Russian aircraft penetrated Turkey’s space in support of Assad [whose own airforce earlier had wandered in too], Erdogan threatened to cancel a growing economic exchange with Moscow including a giant nuclear power plant and cooperation to transmit Russian gas to Europe through a new pipeline across the Black Sea [which would eliminate Ukraine].
Erdogan abandoned his very profitable military alliance with Israel in a flurry of insults to Israel leaders and sponsorship of Hamas in Gaza whom the rest of the world calls terrorists. His strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood put him at odds with Egypt whose President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is trying to root out after overthrowing a Brotherhood regime.
Heavily dependent on Iran for gas, Erdogan has tiptoed around his growing differences with Tehran. But while he has lined up against the mullahs’ ally in Damascus, there are accusations – that certainly have alarmed Washington and the EU – of less than maximum efforts to cut off aid and recruits flow to Daesh,.
The question now is whether Erdogan will make a radical turn toward reconciliation. If not, there’s growing concern among Turkey’s friends that the country is moving toward growing chaos. A murderous bomb explosion this past week in the capital Ankara could signal that new level internal violence.