Tag Archives: Mideast

Mideast: a “transformation”


 

Pres Barak Obama campaigned on the promise “to transform” American policy, and implied, its institutions. Time and history will tell how far he has succeeded and what, if any benefits, he has bestowed on the country.

But looking at the tortured Mideast now, a region of the world that America cannot seem to divest its interests for all kinds of cultural and geopolitical considerations, it’s clear that Obama’s policies have made at least temporary changes. Despite his profuse public pronouncements and the continued allegiance of the liberal Jewish community of voters and technocrats, he has waged war on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It has been returned in spades by Bibi, no mean “transformer” himself.

You get startling significant signs of this constantly. Rather suddenly, what until now in what has been the alignment of bitter enemies, there is a tacit if not formal alliance between old enemies, Israel’s Arab opponents dogged the Jewish state since independence was declared in 1947. But flirtation if not love has broken out all over. It’s no secret why. Israel and the Arabs abhor Obama’s courtship of Iran – whether in pursuit of a supposed agreement to limit its march toward nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles or seemingly some “grand bargain”. They see their historic enemies, the Persians, making strides toward creating satellites in Syria, Lebanon, and even among the Brotherthood offspring, Hamas in Gaza, as a reach to dominate the region.

That’s why you have just seen Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General unprecedentedly displayed in a semi-official Saudi newspaper interview. Dore lays out the whole charge: “Iran is attempting to gain a foothold in Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip in order to threaten Israel from the south, north and east.” Iran is “trying to foment anarchy and destruction in order to present itself as a body to solve crises,” he said. And Dore warns that there are “red lines” for Israel and that it will not permit Tehran to arm the Hezbollah, its Lebanese Shia ally, now armed by Tehran as an important part of Basher al-Assad’s effort to hang on in Damascus. Dore also refers to what has become a rather tacit alliance between Jerusalem and Cairo to control Hamas, armed by the mullahs in Tehran, and the Moslem Brotherhood’s insurgency against Egypt in the neighboring Sinai.

Another equally momentous aspect of the “transformation” Obama has effected, is by virtually abandoning American and Israeli interests in Syria’s civil war, Netanyahu has had to go cap in hand to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. It’s apparently a stumbling relationship but Jerusalem needs it to literally not bump into the Russian air machine in Syria when it goes after the effort of the Tehran mullahs to transfer additional heavy weapons there to the Hezbollah. Jerusalem has to calculate that sooner or later such arms would be used against them on their northern border as Hezbollah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah repeatedly has publicly threatened.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s Pres.Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whom Obama once called one of his few intimate international friends, is turning like the proverbial whirling dervish, attacking the Jews with public anti-Semitic statements and almost immediately negotiating for their new gas and a return to their military assistance alliance. With friends like that … as the saying goes, yeah, you can get a “transformation”.

Obama, waking from the transformative dream, at least momentarily, is now engaged in an incremental attempt to end the menace he has helped create in the new Daesh [ISI, ISIL]. A group of barbaric Moslem terrorists [woops! we can’t use that name in our transformations!] has created the legendary caliphate, or effort for one grand Moslem state some Islamicists dream about. As long as it exists, it apparently will attract the young neurotic malcontents – even non-Muslim converts – and expand its effort to organize an international terrorist network from Dakar to Zamboanga.

For many, the question is how the U.S. will get through the next 13 months to a new presidency before Obama’s foreign policy “transformations” create irremediable instability and chaos in one of the most volatile regions of the world.

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Beyond Obamcare. lies the world waiting …


 

With the U.S. transfixed by the Obama Administration’s massively bungled attempt to nationalize one sixth of the economy, the health welfare system, the rest of the world watches the slow motion unfolding of another debacle: the loss of post-World War II American leadership of the worldwide alliance for peace and stability.

Pro forma protests over snooping by the U.S. National Security Administration European and Latin American leaders are for popular consumption. Spying, and unfortunately counter-espionage which the Snowden revelations appear to be, have been and will continue to be a generally unspoken part of international relations. In fact, one can imagine German Chancellor Angela Merkel berating her own intelligence organizations for superior U.S. technology’s ability to listen to her limousine cell phone. The Saudis’ “renunciation” of a UN Security Council seat is no more than a media event. With their new vulnerability brought on by the Shale Revolution in the U.S., Riyadh’s antediluvian princes in their colorful robes have no place to go.

But these are tokens, taglines to a much larger eroding international picture.

Of course, the current disarray is not sudden, nor only the product of the Obama Administration. But Obama’s missteps have exaggerated growing difficulties for international governance “inevitably” arising from changes in the international balance of power over a half century since the Allied victory in World War II. And as always, of course, there is the unanticipated and the unintended consequences of well intended strategies and policies.

America’s junior partners, the European democracies, after five decades of unprecedented peace and prosperity, are facing domestic breakdown increasingly limiting their contribution to the world system. Social democratic remedies at the workplace have failed everywhere. A demographic catastrophe not only threatens their economies, but growing unassimilated immigrants from alien societies threaten to overwhelm their post-Christian cultures. A pampered public will not accept belt-tightening much less painful surgical elimination of waste and corruption. Greece, ancient home of democracy, is the apotheosis of the problem, a ticking timebomb on the doorstep of the rest of Europe.

Furthermore, the attempt to create an integrated European economy – let along a new international polity which could speak with one voice on international affairs – is in jeopardy and probably failing. British participation, essential to the project, is now more remote than ever given the failures of the continental Euro and resurgent English as well as Scot and Irish nationalism.

European integration had been seen as the ultimate panacea. It is now clear that is not the case, nor, indeed, is it apparent it can even be effected. In Berlin Das Mädchen,, representing the disproportionately most powerful of the member nation states, talks out of both sides of her mouth. She advocates a new European superstate but zealously guards Germany’s narrowest national interest as demanded by her role as an elected leader still obligated to put together an unstable governing coalition.

The Obama Administration’s answer to this dilemma is not that different from the waning years of the Bush Administration. Pres. George W. Bush’s earlier steadfast resolve gave way to Condoleezza Rice’s “clerk” management. In any case, Washington’s stance toward Europe in part always has been a myth about who led whom and how during the post-World War II recovery. Alas! the charismatic and determined [if occasionally misguided] leadership of Churchill, Adenauer, DeGaulle, and de Gaspari, and their technocratic supporters, has been replaced by feckless politicians. The 80s decade-long common-sense reign of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was only brief relief from the general intellectual decline.

The American standard around which the Europeans rallied, even when they were in denial or hypercritical, has been replaced by a bogus concept of “leading from behind” That kind of Machiavellian manipulation of others’ power would under the best of circumstances have been exquisitely difficult. But in the hands of the Obama amateurs, it descends into virtual chaos. Witness the Libyan intervention as its classic example. The Obama Administration and European friends failed to provide a model for a small, fragile but oil-rich Arab state. And the U.S. paid a terrible price with the murder of an ambassador and a major psycho-political blow to American prestige which will dog U.S. foreign – and domestic — politics for decades.

The naïve “transformation” which an inexperienced but arrogant elitist presidential mafia thought they could foist at home on a traditional society but one in revolutionary technological transition has been matched with aberrant theory abroad. For whatever reason, the idea that the Obama Administration could make a pact with a nonexistent, romantic version of Islam – a political religious belief still mired alternatively in pre-modern torpor and nihilistic violence — has shredded what was left of decades of Middle East strategy.

There Washington now finds itself on the wrong side of virtually every issue. By rote it nudges Israeli-Arab “negotiations”, which long ago foundered on Palestinian corruption and incompetence. Washington mistakenly believed it were the central issue, not the region’s poverty, illiteracy, tribal warfare and demagoguery. Obama’s refusal to personally intervene for a status of forces agreement to permit a continued military presence in Iraq squandered 4,000 spent American lives. It removed all possibility Washington could have a major impact on a recreated but highly volatile Baghdad and its enormous oil resources. Obama then launched into an effort to dethrone the barbarous al Assad Syrian regime, backed away, and now finds U.S. Syrian strategy at the mercy of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, himself increasingly turning to despotism and foreign adventure to hang on to his throne.

The Obama Administration continuously has importuned Iran, oblivious to that regime’s single-minded goal of making itself the hegemonic power and arbiter of the region’s vast fossil fuel resources. In the process, the White House ignores the interests of America’s longtime allies in the Gulf including, until now, the world’s marginal oil producer, Saudi Arabia. The Obama Administration helped install and got into bed with the Moslem Brotherhood in Cairo, the fountainhead of modern Islamic terrorism, apparently believing it some sort of Islamic equivalent of European Christian democracy. When that regime collapsed from ineptitude and domestic violence, Washington refused to accommodate to a popular military takeover endorsed by its other regional allies. Pres. Obama’s “best friend”, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has turned out to be a very bad regional weathervane. Even worse, Erdoğan duplicity [confusion?] in dealings with Palestinian Islamicists, Israel, the Brotherhood, the jihadists in the Syrian opposition, aided by an intelligence chief who favors Iran’s Shia fanatics, is adding to the regional chaos. Worst of all, Erdoğan with whom Obama fellow-traveled, endangers what’s left of NATO by playing with Chinese weapons possibilities.

The continued U.S. entanglement in the Mideast, always predictable, has put into question Washington’s announced “pivot” of resources to the growing Chinese Communist aggressive feints toward East and South Asia neighbors and Washington’s friends. With that strange aloofness which characterizes this Administration’s treatment of allies, it has failed to respond enthusiastically to the first strong government in two decades in the U.S.’ keystone Asia ally, Japan. [Luckily reflex collaboration between the U.S. military and its Asian allies, hangover from the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, has reinforced strategy in the absence of White House leadership.]

Perhaps the most important politico-economic Asia-Pacific instrument in Washington’s hands, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an effort to create a common market to meet the competition of China’s state capitalism and subsidized trading, is hanging. The concern is that the Obama Administration’s next three lame-duck years, especially after the drubbing it seems now likely to take in next year’s elections, will not pursue it forcefully. In the balance is a revolutionary overhaul of a quarter of the world’s commerce and what may be the reemergence of a more vital Japanese economy.

Alternatively, the Obama Administration’s increasing reliance on the United Nations burdens that organization with more responsibility than its corrupt and incompetent secretariat can bear. Idealistic multilateralism is an excuse for lack of U.S. policy and inaction on a huge variety of fronts. Washington has, for example, increasingly abandoned leadership of the UN specialized agencies – whether the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, ignorant of the 17-year Tehran march toward nuclear weapons, or the growing specter of out of control biological breakthroughs which have enormous potential for solving life problems, or creating new diabolical weapons of destruction.

The shock and geopolitical lesson of 9/11 has been left behind somewhere in the bowels of the State Department and the Obama Administration’s National Security Council. Lost is recognition that the American homeland was no longer – if it had ever been in the world of intercontinental missiles – immune to the kind of destruction that our allies and enemies in Europe and Asia suffered in World War II.

With the strong prospect that the U.S. domestic scene will continue an impasse, as Obamacare has proved, America’s role abroad will be in abeyance. The world will just have to get along with the beached whale of a U.S — at least for a while.

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Down the Egyptian Fennec foxhole


Fleeting memory – and perhaps proof that if there are lessons of history, they are never learned – is that there is almost no mention of “Nasserism” or “Pan-Arabism” in the current reporting on Egyptian chaos.

Yet for two decades a young army officer out of nowhere, Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein, towered over Egypt, the Arabs – and even the broader Muslim world — allied to the Soviet Union and preaching shortcuts to modernization. Today his politics is scarcely mentioned among the 400 million Arabs much less in the rest of the world. That could only be, what with a third of Egypt’s 90-million under 15, nearly three-fifths under 30, most at best semi-literate – a population that increased at least 25% in the last two decades.

Yet as that motto over the U.S. Archives says, the past is prologue. Nasser’s 1952 revolution and two decades of military misrule contributed to the current tragedy in so many ways. Like successor politicians, even in the Western democracies  – one too close to home — Nasser preached “comprehensive” solutions to the myriad problems of what was once the breadbasket of the Roman empire with its triple-cropping and rich Nile River silt soil. The corruption and incompetence of the pseudo-liberal parliamentary monarchy which preceded him, the first effort at a stable, modern society in one of the world’s oldest civilizations, was so imperfect he said it had to be overthrown by what turned out to be sheer demagoguery.

For as the reality of the depth of Egypt’s problems sank in, Nasser turned to preaching unity among the Arabs – a groundless concept so often promised and failed. Ethnicity, geography, wealth and history – even religious concepts — divide the Arabs at every crisis as is the case just now. But with the adulation of millions, Nasser turned to implacable hatred of the most effective modernizing force in the region, Israel, with disastrous results in three wars.

Simultaneously, in his rush toward Soviet-style socialism, he purged Egypt of its centuries-old ethnic minorities, the Greeks, the Armenians, the Genovese, the Venetians. The Jews had already fled, the wealthier to France, the poorer to Israel. This “middle class” had nourished the caravan trade for centuries and were the factors of its agricultural economy and nascent industrialization.

Moreover, Nasser’s pan-Arabism excluded and threatened Egypt’s indigenous Coptic Christians, quintessentially Egyptian and close to 15% of the population. From Upper Egypt fellahin peasants to Alexandrian and Cairene landlords and entrepreneurs they were disproportionably wealthy, said to control 50% of the country’s riches. Age-old animosities were revived with continuing persecution persisting to this moment. But unlike other indigenous Mideast Christians, perhaps as many as 15 million Egyptian Copts are not just going to pack up, and fade away. Obviously they have played a significant role in turning back the first wave of the Islamic radicals under ousted Pres. Mohamed Morsi and his dissembling Moslem Brotherhood fanatics.

But Nasser’s tortured economy iheritance persists.

It would be hard to exaggerate its current failings, exacerbated, of course, by the instability of Egypt’s version of the Arab Spring. Having long ago descended into the abyss, Cairo has to import 40% of its food. It runs a trade deficit equivalent to an astonishing fifth of its gross national product [GDP]. The government’s credit rating has collapsed. Price controls and subsidies had seduced the population into uneconomic waste of domestic oil and gas moving toward a tenth of the GDP. The official 10% unemployment [25% among the young] is notional. Crony capitalism – including the military – distorts virtually every market. Recourse to the International Monetary Fund’s cash has been held up by its unsavory reputation – whether deserved or not – with the Egyptian polity. But in any case, the IMF still needs a road map for some sort of return of stability.

Through modern times Egypt has been a top destinations for international tourists –  in 2010, 5.5 million came spreading $14 billlion. With growing international travel, that had doubled from a decade earlier. And it was despite an ugly 1997 massacre of 62 foreign tourists at Luxor — the center for expeditions to the Valley of the Kings ruins, a Pharonic history dating as far back as 5,000 years.

One of the tipoffs of the total incompetence — if not its true nature — of the ousted Morsi regime was appointment of a former Islamic terrorist as governor in the region until public outcry immediately drove him out. He was a member of the outlawed Al Gama’a al-Islamiyyaorganizationalleged tohave perpetrated the outrage. Their bloodthirsty assasinations of public officials – including implication in that of Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat – have suggested a tacit alliance with Osama Bin Laden’s al Qaeda. Although officially renouncing violence, Al Gama was heavily represented in the parliament elected last year. Its one time leader, the blind sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman who directed the first attack on the New York City Trade Center in 993, is now in a U.S. prison. But he refuses to renounce violence and probably still plays a role in convoluted Egyptian Islamicist politics.

The continued political crisis has wreaked havoc on tourism, of course, And with one in every 12 in the labor force working with visitors, the bonds between reestablishing order and its reputation abroad is essential for any resurrection, even temporarily, of the economy.

Nasser’s death in 1970 and the subsequent break with the Soviet Union by his successor, another military leader Sadat, ushered in reform. Chaperoned by Pres. Jimmy Carter, Sadat made his famous peace visit to Israel. He turned to the U.S. and the West and the Persian Gulf oil ministates for what has been billions of dollars in economic and military aid. – $19 billion alone from Washington, still on the hook for $1.3 billion annually.

The 90s finally brought a serious effort for economic reform, to dismantle Nasser’s legacy. But much of Egyptian industry is still in uneconomic and corrupt government companies in a bloated public sector. Even before the recent political explosion, inflation and unemployment with huge military outlays pushed a growing public debt. Only the three million Egyptians working in other Arab countries and their remittances, the lifeline of the Nile’s irrigation waters, an off and on export of gas to Israel and Jordan, and the relative trickle of tourism – and massive aid, of course — has kept the country afloat. [A nasty additional cloud on the horizon is the threat of riparian countries on the upper reaches of the Nile to void British colonial imposed divisions which benefited Egypt and the Sudan downriver disproportionately.]

It would be a fool’s errand to predict what comes next. The long descent of Indonesia’s once highly efficient plantation-colonial economy under the demagogic Soekarno and the collapse of Burma’s pre-war colonial agricultural exports under the rule of the mad Ne Win and his successors proved there is no bottom in pre-industrial societies. Southeast Asia is not Egypt, of course, although the once common relatively easy life of the tropics suggests comparisons.

Egypt’s long history of synthesizing totally different intellectual currents and absorbing economic abuse like a sponge give some faint hope. But, for the moment, the future could not seem bleaker.

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Americans abroad — in the Mideast


Behind the Desert Storm

Pavel Stroilov

Price World Publishing, LLC

ISBN: 978-1932549676

$19.95, Publication date Aug.1, 2011

One cannot read this book without recalling that wonderful aphorism of Otto von Bismarck: “There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America.” Almost on every page is an illustration of the blundering American policymakers blabbing their way through conversations in the jungle of Mideast problems with their native interlocutors, seemingly oblivious to realities demonstrated for all to see all around them. In the short term, of course, Washington did luck out with the immediate collapse of the Sadam Hussein tyranny in The First Gulf War.

For those of us – not Orientalists but the ordinary variety of human beings – who try to follow events in the region, there are not that many totally surprising moments here. Who did not know the perfidy of Washington’s Arab allies? We knew that not only Saudi Arabia but the so-called Bathist Arab Socialist regime in Damascus joined the most extensive alliance in history for their own narrow interests – not for the love of liberty for the relatively tiny sheikhdowndom [cq] of Kuwait which had been attacked and bested quickly by Sadam. Contrary to Washington’s perennial wishful thinking – aided and abetted by the usual Sovietologist suspects in the academy who have never called a shot right yet — most of us sensed, too, that Mikhail Gorbachev was not a “reformer” but another Communist apparatchik trying to save what was left of the system on the eve of the Soviet implosion. [In all transparency, this writer whipped out a book on that hypothesis, Living Off the West: Gorbachev’s Secret Agenda and Why It Will Fail {Nov 1990}, never anticipating Gorbie would blow it so quickly!] Nor did many of us underestimate the scheming, venal, anti-Americanism of Francois Mitterand – perhaps the only politician in European history to reverse the peregrination of that old French adage, “Heartless if not a socialist at 20, headless if a socialist at 40”.

But what a young Russian “nerd”, a student/programmer who has stolen one of the most fascinating archives in recent diplomatic history, has given us is documentation for all those old assumptions – and much more. This observer, for example, never had any doubts about Jimmy Baker’s fierce anti-Israel monomania verging on anti-semitism. But I had always assumed we were dealing with a hard-nosed, clever by half as the British would say, cynical manipulator who knew from where the world’s oil supply was coming. Instead, what is revealed in these pages, is a total amateur, buying into every trap Moscow, Paris, Baghdad and London, can lay for him, sometimes to be saved, by of all people, Brent Scowcroft, a fellow traveler in most of his prejudices.

Washington finally lucks out, Bismarckian fashion, apparently, mostly because having – as Joe Alsop used to say – marched up the hill with flags flying, drums rolling and trumpets flaring, pulling together the most sophisticated fighting machine the world has ever seen [as noted repeatedly by the Chinese Communists], there was nothing to do but use it to break Sadam.

Stroilov lays all this out with several footnotes and documents text on every page. We are told that as a student he worked on papers Gorbachev was withdrawing from state, KGB and other Soviet files. Gorbachev, who comes through these pages, too, as a pigmy who never got through Machiavelli 101, apparently intended to use them to prove that he was a martyred political genius, defeated by the likes of that ruffiian and drunk Boris Yeltsin and the evil intent of the U.S. But, Stroilov says, Gorbie decided after a few leaks that there should be no further releases – perhaps sensing they would prove the opposite.

Meanwhile, Stroilov says, under the sponsorship of the noted dissident, Vladimir Bukovsky, and the former KGB operator, Alexander Litvinenko whom Russian émigré circles believe Vladimir Putin had murdered in London with radioisotopes, he smuggled the whole lot out of Russia. If –and some intelligence mavim in Washington are prepared to to believe his story, his bonafides, and the integrity of his 50,000 documents — he is going to tell what really happened in the waning days of the Soviet empire, there should be much, much more to come as we saw in a recent Der Spiegel lifting germane German material

Regrettably, the book, itself, is less than its parts, mainly because Stroilov – and one feels for him – cannot contain his anger, his contempt and his sarcasm for most of the leading characters, not least the Soviet players. The narrative leaves out too much for those of us who are not Sovietologists, but pounds too many obvious points too many times too heavily. The epilogue – a cri de coeur for Western democrats not to repeat the follies of Iraq, Act I and II, but to support the intent of “the Arab Spring” – is no less naïve than the players he describes. He, like the rest of us, has no hard solutions for the intractable problems of Arab/Muslim society, not least a rambunctious youth bulge seeking jobs as much as new free societies, perhaps too ready to accept the totalitarian temptation of Islamic fundamentalism.

— Sol W Sanders

A version of this book review appeared in The Washington Times, Friday, Sept. 9, 2011