Tag Archives: Syria

Refugees, migrants, infiltrators


Refugees, migrants, infiltrators
Germany’s Angela Merkel appears about to make another 180-degree turn in her policy toward Mideast population flows to Europe. Initially, despite Germany’s troubled history of ethnic relations, she rejected accepting refugees from Syria’s bloody civil war which has already taken more than a quarter of a million lives. Then she switched to a welcome mat that had her being called “Mama Merkel” among the desperate survivors of growing inhospitable refugee camps in Syria’s neighbors.
Now, once again, with more than 550,000 new arrivals in Europe this year – and a threat of a million if present levels continue — Berlin appears to be closing the door. It has been unable to convince all its European Union partners they should take in some of the flow, and worried that one of the EU’s most important achievements – a common labor market – might be threatened. The German states are complaining they have reached their capacity, and there have been outbreaks of violence among migrants.
Through the cloudy glass of unprecedented movements and propaganda surrounding them, it is hard to know exactly what is happening. Certainly large numbers among the arrivals are not even Syrian, much less those escaping violence in that increasingly desperate country. Many are from further east – Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and Eritrea. There is now an increasing flow across the Mediterranean from includes Black Africans escaping the horrors of the Boko Haram Islamic terrorists in West Africa.
But it is also clear that many of the arrivals are not, in a real sense, refugees from persecution and death but “economic migrants” looking for a better life. And what better way to begin one, giving them the benefit of the doubt, than at least temporarily taking advantage of the generous social welfare benefits of the EU states, but particularly Germany. Of course, there is the rapidly declining German birth rate and its need for immigrants for its labor pool. But as with the Turkish gastarbeiter in Germany in the 1960s – and even more France with its North African immigrant no-go ghettoes –fitting these people into the European society may not be that easy.
Many of the Moslem migrants carrying their culture in their suitcases; they do not want to accept European traditions. Then there are those photos of young men of military age and the possibility they have among their ranks followers of the plethora of Moslem terrorist groups now tearing the regions apart.
Without pushing the analogy too far – given America’s successful tradition of accepting and absorbing European for 200 years – are there lessons for the U.S. here? For some Americans there is still the guilt associated with the refusal in the 1930s to take in European refugees, particularly Jews, and indirectly contributing to that catastrophe for all Western civilization.
But over the last four decades American legal immigration has quadrupled. The U.S. is annually now admitting one million new permanent residents — half a million foreign students, 70,000 asylees and refugees, 700,000 foreign workers, and 200,000 relatives of foreign workers. Many more stay —whether originally as temporary visitors, lifetime immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, foreign students, or recipients of our “visa waiver program”.
The U.S. government cannot effectively track these legal foreign visitors, much less the illegals – those who overstay their visas or the flow over our poorly guarded borders and airports. The U.S. has already authorized 10,000 new Syrian refugees and Pres. Obama has proposed to make that 100,000. That is despite the fact that the Administration does not, as many of its critics here and in Europe, accept the allegation that American Mideast policy – especially in Iraq and with the new “deal with Iran – may have contributed to the chaos. But the question and a debate must proceed even with the risk that some arguments may drop into racism or prejudice, over whether, indeed, if is not taking on too much of an additional burden for the taxpayer and the economy.
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A world ablaze – but different fuels


 

A bane of modern military studies [let’s eschew “science”] is the concept of counter-insurgency – the idea that indigenous revolts around the world can be analyzed with “the scientific method” and a set of general principles if implemented could cure the problem. Common sense tells us that the essence of any dissidence/armed insurrection is its particularity, its basis in specific local conditions. They differ not only in geography but in the characteristics of individual societies. So, yes, the army should not steal the peasants’ chickens is a good maxim – but such bromides do not go far to tell you how to prevent civil war.

At the moment, we have one bitter internecine war in Syria, and three incipient revolts between two or more elements in Ukraine, Venezuela and Thailand. Other conflicts, even messier to define, are growing in the Central African Republic and Nigeria.

The question, of course, is whether there anything that connects all these conflicts? And, if so, what if anything can be done to lessen tension and conflict?

Ukraine

The ambivalence between Ukraine and Russia is as old as the two peoples. In fact, it was from centers in what is now Ukraine that Christianity spread to the Great Russians and where they even got their name.  More recently, Ukrainians have suffered disproportionately in the Soviet Union – a bitter irony, often at the hands of ethnic Ukrainian members of the Communist hierarchy. Stalin’s man-made famine of the 1930s followed on to the horrors of those of World War I when the engineer Herbert Hoover first emerged on the world scene. But a flame of Ukrainian identity survived, expressing itself at the height of Soviet repression in such small protests as citizens of Ukraine’s western metropolis, the old Hapsburg city of Lviv [Lvov, Lemberg] unofficially using “our time” [Central European] rather than Moscow’s time zone to express their identification with the West..

So it is no wonder that [Ras] Putin, the new Russian dictator seeking to restore Soviet glory has intrigued in a state once called in the two World Wars “a figment of the imagination of the German general staff”. Whatever the outcome of fast-moving events, Putin has the most to gain or lose – aside from the Ukrainians themselves. Ras – who has said publicly that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest catastrophe of the bloody 20th century — is gambling. By his direct intervention, he either hopes to bring Ukraine again under Moscow hegemony, or failing that, to destroy its unity as a cautionary tale for other former Soviet “republics” holding on to their fragile independence.

But for the moment, the anti-Soviet forces have gained the upper hand in Kiev and he faces a choice of backing the ultra-corrupt Russophile Viktor Yanukovych as he attempts to cling to power, apparently setting up shop in Russian-speaking and industrial eastern Ukraine. Or Ras could wait to see if Pres. Barack Obama and the European Union will do the necessary to back their friends in Kiev. Or, unlikely, Putin retreats, taking his licks and admitting a disastrous defeat. That result could escalate Moscow’s growing economic difficulties with its almost total dependence on fossil fuel exports, undercut by the growing impact of America’s shale revolution on world prices.

Syria

As ghastly as is Basher al Assad and his Iranian backers’ war on Syrian civilians – matching the ugly trial run Nazi and Fascist aircraft waged on Spanish Republicans in that prelude to World War II – geopolitically its importance lies elsewhere. Every day that al Assad’s regime survives, U.S. interests and those of its allies suffer: there is an intensification of the influence and control of radical jihadists in the opposition to Assad, and the growing influence of the Tehran mullahs not only in Damascus but in neighboring Lebanon and even among formerly rabidly Sunni Hamas jihadists in Gaza.

Continued Syrian fighting risks the stability of both Israel and Jordan, the major two outright allies along with Saudi Arabia. The growing perception of Iranian strength is posing an increasing dilemma for the Gulf Arab sheikdoms and even the military in Egypt: whether they knuckle under to Iranian Mideast hegemony or go nuclear themselves. For long ago it became apparent that despite public pronouncements, the Obama Administration is prepared to settle for a supposedly nuanced arrangement whereby Tehran has the capability of weapons of mass destruction but does not “weaponize”. That for a country which for 17 years was able to disguise its uranium enrichment from UN regulators of the non-proliferation treaty it had signed.

Venezuela

With its long history of repressive regimes since independence from Spain almost 200 years ago, Caracas again is saddled with new oppression. But this time its incompetence matches any effort to tyrannize a divided opposition. With one of the world’s largest petroleum reserves, Pres. Nicolás Maduro has taken the country further toward bankruptcy, in no small part because of the largesse he has continued from his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. Chavez’ populist policies built a constituency among the nation’s poor until his death in 2013 and among leftist regimes around the continent.

Now Maduro, with his constant malapropisms, almost a caricature of Chavez, relies increasingly on Raul Castro’s Cuba and its secret police tactics, including Cuban “advisors”, against rising opposition. The cost in oil for the Castro dictatorship some observers reckon as much as $13 billion a year. Other discounts go to the leftist, and above all anti-American regimes, notably the Sandinista retreads in Nicaragua.

Thailand

The old contest between Bangkok’s Sino-Thai elite and the more ethnic Thai rurals, especially those in the poorer northeast, has come unhinged in the rapid economic and international integration of the once isolated nation that never became a European colony.. Ironically, the rural areas – which once got some taste of social and economic upward mobility through the frequent encroachment of the military on the political process – have now been seduced with long-awaited social services. Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist handing out new entitlements while he used his connections for building an enormous personal fortune, is a fugitive from corruption charges. Nevertheless, from Dubai or wherever he has been running the country through his political machine with his sister as prime minister to the consternation of the old elite. [It is another irony that Shinawatra is, himself, only first generation Sino-Thai which he has never tried to hide.]

The elite, increasingly supported by students and Bangkok’s middle class, are now turning to the possibility of some sort of indirect rule rather than Shinawatra’s popular mandate. The crisis is deepening, beginning to affect Thailand’s tourism — $26.7 billion in 1013, up 20% over the year before. Street rioting has already canceled out an estimated 900,000 visitors in the next six months and their $1.6 billion. Violence would eventually cut into the steady low of foreign investment – Thailand’s auto industry dominates Southeast Asia, ninth largest in the world.

Solutions for half a century to periodic blowups have come from the intervention of the military, now more reluctant than ever before to jeopardize its $5.3 billion budget by bloodying its hands. Thailand’s sainted 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyade, despite his close associations with the elite, has spent much of the last year in hospital. The final arbiter in past political crises, he is coming to the end of a 68-year reign with the succession somewhat clouded by a scandal-prone crown prince.

Needless to say, the U.S. did not create any of these crises. But whatever the failings of the Obama Administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s endless peregrinations and John Kerry’s pledges of endurance, there is a growing worldwide perception that American power is retreating in the face of a poorly functioning domestic economy, a curtailment of military expenditures, and an Obama policy that attempts to “lead from behind”.Syria” has become the arch symbol of Obama’s indecisiveness. That carries over to a growing belief in a general withdrawal from the U.S.’ preeminent post-World War II leadership of free societies. With Obama’s threats and “red lines” increasingly ignored, an ominous vacuum in virtually all regions of the world invites chaos if not worse.

sws-02-12-14

 

The end of a geopolitical model


Whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan survives the current crisis, the legend of “The Turkish model” is dead. The implications of the loss of Turkey’s image abroad, particularly in the Islamic world, may be far more important than the explosion of corruption scandals which always cynical Turkish voters may take in their stride.

But the possibility that Turkey could be the template for a predominantly Muslim, democratic, prosperous, stable society has failed after more than a half century when it was a highly vaunted prototype. The longer-term implications of that failure reach far beyond what happens to 70 million Turks and the 10 Turkish million immigrants to Europe. It goes to the heart of what Samuel P. Huntington called the clash of civilizations, and the long sought modernization of Afro-Asian societies where 1.3 billion Muslims live.

Erdogan, without daring to acknowledge it publicly, turned his back on the top-down secularization of Mustafa Kemal, the general-politician-philosopher who founded the modern Turkish state after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Over the past decade, Erdogan nibbled at Atatűrkism’s basic building blocs – political authoritarianism, state capitalism and anticlerical tenets. He even edged into recognizing the multiculturalism of the Anatolian peninsular instead of Atatűrk’s Ne mutlu Turküm diyene! [How happy is he/she who calls himself/herself a Turk!]. That included not only the ancient, cosmopolitan megametropolis Istanbul [Constantinople] [14 million] at the crossroads of Europe and Asia where Erdogan’ S political career began as mayor. He also hesitantly recognized the identity of Turkey’s 15 million Kurds who have waged guerrilla war and terrorism for autonomy or independence for more than three decades. But simultaneously he moved toward more and more conservative Muslim concepts, appealing to rural Anatolia which had given him his big parliamentary majorities. That process is seen as a threat by the Alevi sect, another disproportionately wealthier 20 percent of the population, whose Sufism is considered apostate by many in the orthodox Sunni majority.

Erdogan’ policies – particularly his continued economic liberalization –ushered in a period of growing prosperity and optimism about the country’s future with continued if diminishing hope of entering the European Union. Most critically, he adroitly broke the hold of Atatűrk’s secularist heirs in the military. He probably ended the possibility of another of the half dozen coups by the military whose intervention had prevented political chaos and kept more outspoken Islamic forces at bay.

But in the process – and not least because of his egotism – his tactical skills were less than a strategy, bereft as it has been of consistency and integration. His foreign policy aiming at neo-Ottoman regional leadership has collapsed. Overall progress has been at the expense of growing destabilization Perhaps much of that was inevitable in a rapidly growing and changing society. But now the exploding corruption scandals and more importantly, the in-fighting inside his Justice and Development Party [AKP], a coalition of Muslim-oriented political groups, could bring down the regime as well as his administration.

But the culmination of these Turkish events has much larger implications:

  • ·        The increasing instability and possible collapse/transformation of Erdogan’s administration again puts the question of whether there can be a modern state in Muslim-majority lands without a formal break with traditional Islam.
  • ·        Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s reliance on Erdogan – in 2011 more telephone conversations with him than any other foreign leader except British Prime Minister David Cameron – is another sign of the failure of the American administration’s Mideast policies.
  • ·        The growing economic crisis in Turkey, a result of reaching a development plateau and the growing political instability, puts into question for other Muslim states economic liberalization which permitted growth but [as in Iran] fed a new reactionary Muslim-oriented middle class..
  • ·        Turkey’s growing instability is writing finis to its effective participation in NATO, and may, indeed, point to the growing inability to turn the spectacularly successful anti-Soviet alliance into a broader security and peacekeeping coalition.
  • ·        Turkish instability is going to further imperil assimilation of the 10 million Turkish émigrés in Western Europe, recruited, especially in Germany as gastarbeiter, but who now constitute a growing European social and political problem in a period of extended high unemployment and growing Muslim fanaticism.

Islam has never had its Reformation or its Counter-Reformation paralleling Christianity in the West. Its religious thinkers for at least a half millennium have largely been ignored Greek logic and philosophy and its Roman progeny, the foundations of Western – and increasing universal – law. Orthodox Islam calls for no separation of church and state. In fact, orthodox Muslims demand the reestablishment of a worldwide ruling religious leader such as the Ottoman Empire’s sultan who also as caliph was the commanding religious figure. In majority Muslim countries, both Sunni and Shia ecclesiastics refuse the hard fought fundamental of Western democracies, equality of all religions before the law – including minority Islamic sects. Turkey’s role as the most successful example of a predominantly Muslim country advocating that concept – and rejecting much of sharia, traditional Islamic law — is now crumbling. Advocacy by Asian and African leaders of emulating Ankara’s road to modernization is not likely to be heard in the future.

That has implications for American policy. Obama had accepted that old hypothesis and said that Erdogan was one of his closest friends. It was to him in part that the Arabists surrounding the U.S. president sought counsel. But Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman dreams of becoming the go-to for the area’s regimes, has gone a glimmering. Instead, Turkey is at odds with virtually all its neighbors, especially Egypt and Israel, and, of course, Syria. There the al Assad regime now under siege after Erdogan effusively courted it only a few years earlier is driving tens of thousands of refugees into Turkey as well as the surrounding countries. Furthermore, the corruption accusations link some perpetrators to the mullahs of Iran – the Turks’ historic competitor for influence through the Mideast and Central Asia. As the internal conflict among Turkish Islamicist groups likely intensifies, Now Washington will find itself hard put – if it already has not done so – to pick sides.

Abetting the crisis is the rather sudden turn in Turkey’s economic outlook, after its gross domestic product more than tripled during Erdogan’s office. Now the trade deficit is widening dramatically, the lira is devaluating at a rapid pace, unemployment is increasing, and the political turmoil has taken a toll of the stock market, discouraging foreign investment as well as fueling a capital flight.

What may be even more significant longer term is that the liberalization of the economy which began in the 80s before Erdogan’s arrival at the helm has produced a new and growing class of entrepreneurs. They, like their Persian counterparts as a result of reforms by Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, seeking a new orientation from their peasant backgrounds, tend toward religious obscurantism.

The growing Islamicist sentiment of the Erdogan administration itself – including accusations that growing opposition to his government among Turkish groups is plotted by kafir [unbelieving foreigners] including the Americans – is distancing Turkey from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It will add to NATO’s renewed conundrum of its future role with the messy U.S.-led alliance’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Erdogan’s threat to go to the Chinese for new weapons, which would create security lapses in integration with NATO, has further put into question the allegiance of one of the alliance’s most loyal members in time past. With Western Europe’s dramatically falling birthrates, Turkey’s army was seen in Washington and European capitals as an important element in any NATO peacekeeping effort. Given the growing decline in most of the European military budgets, Brussels had looked to Turkey’s young population [more than a quarter under 14] as a stalwart partner. That hope vanishes as the political crisis matures.

Although a first generation of immigrants to Western Europe seemed to be assimilating, their offspring have in more than anticipated numbers turned to radical Islam. There is a growing number of second and third generation Turks [and European-resident and native Arabs] who have joined the jihadist-led opposition to the ostensible secular regime in Syria’s civil war. Mosques in Europe, many supported by the militant Wahabbi sect of Saudi Arabia, have become hot houses for the spread of radical Islamicism and recruitment for jihadist terrorism. If the once secular regime of Turkey continues to move away from its Atatűrk traditions, as seems likely whatever the result of the current political crisis, it will have an adverse influence on assimilation of these immigrants.

Overall, this Turkish crisis inevitably becomes an integral part of the instability sweeping the Muslim umma [world] from Casablanca to Zamboanga, an accelerator in the age-old struggle for modernization in that impoverished and retrograde cultural environment. At the moment, the forces of reaction [and terrorism] are winning in the face of the incapacity of Muslim modernists [or “moderates”] and the Obama Administration to offer an effective counter to a romantic call for a return to simplistic, medieval orthodoxy [Islam=”submission”]. That, unfortunately, as 9/11 tragically proved, produces a growing threat not only to the future of Muslims themselves but to peace and stability throughout the world.

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The War on Terrorism goes on


If the Boston Massacre and the growing Syrian Civil War jihadist outrages had not made it self-evident, the bloody attack on innocents at the Nairobi, Kenya, mall provide new evidence that the international terrorist conspiracy continues virtually unabated. The perpetrators were Islamic jihadists, apparently members of the al Shahid thugs in neighboring Somalia who call themselves adherents of al Qaeda. So, despite all the obfuscation of the Obama Administration and its adherents, The War On Terrorism goes on and Washington will be forced to fight it under whatever name and probably with growing resources.

Just as in the more than four decades of The Cold War, the outcome is not assured, no more than its length. The fanatics who wage a campaign to gain world dominance in the name of Islam are if anything even more single-minded of purpose and willing to sacrifice themselves than the utopians turned state terrorists of the earlier 20th century totalitarianism. That they tend to fall into internecine feuds and mutual self-destruction will not spare the world of their violence even if, luckily, it is likely to rule out  any new and coordinated central command such as Osama Bin Ladin once attempted.

But the continued upsurge of this violence means that despite the other myriad overwhelming problems which bedevil policymakers in Washington and the other capitals of the civilized world, carrying on a complex and difficult program to meet the terrorists’ challenge will not go away. The significance of the Nairobi episode, which is still not resolved and analyzed at this writing, is that it does show that the terrorist infection is not only alive but that it is continuing to spread. Like the Muslim extremist  threat in Mali and Nigeria, the terrorists have now shown their tentacles reach beyond the Middle East and Central and South Asia into Black Africa. And almost simultaneously with the Nairobi explosion, there was an attempted jihadist takeover of Zamboanga in the southern Philippines and a bloody attack on a Pakistani Christian church, both virtually blacked out in the mainstream media. These episodes show that the network of Islamic extremists stretches from one end of the umma [the worldwide Moslem community] to the other, and even when not directly linked, draw their intellectual vigor and sometimes material resources from one another.

The Syrian crisis has complicated the already confused strategies to effectively combat the jihadists. Unfortunately, a relatively spontaneous uprising against decades of unrestrained brutality of the al Assad family dictatorship has fallen under the shadow of international jihadist volunteers who are flooding in from all directions to fight it – not excluding second and third generation Muslims from all over the democratic West including the U.S and Australia. Their growing presence among the opponents of the regime and the Obama Administration’s fumbling of the issue of the use of chemical weapons of mass destruction by Basher Assad has further muddied the waters.

But whatever the outcome of the Syrian struggle, these new volunteer jihadists will provide a new reservoir of terrorists, as did a similar liberation war against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, a new cadre of bloodied fanatics to return to their own countries or to the next terrorist front for new violence. Willy-nilly, al Assad’s support by Iran’s state terrorists in their effort to dominate the region and Pres.Vladimir Putin’s desperate ploy to reassert Soviet grandeur by supporting Damscus is further aggravating the terrorist picture. Both Moscow and Tehran believe they have a stake in exploiting the centuries-old bitter feud between the two principal wings of Islam, Sunni and Shia. In addition to attacks on non-Muslims and Islamic innocents, the result is likely to be a welter of explosive intra-Muslim conflicts, vitiating the possibility of one central command, but contributing to the general bloodshed of noncombatants.

There will not be any easy answers to the problem of combating this growing international menace to peace and stability, which could reach across continents as it did on 9/11 to the American homeland. But an effective campaign relies on three general categories of government activity:

Somehow the open societies of the West, inherently vulnerable to terrorism, will have to learn to take more protective measures, short of limiting the freedom which is their essence. The bumbling bureaucracy of air travel security, for example, needs a surgical overhaul. Too much effort and money is being expended on unnecessary gateway inspection procedures. New technologies will provide more inspection efficiency. But the introduction of common sense at the highest administrative levels appears a necessity. The airlines, themselves, should assume an increasing role in filtering out possible saboteurs. Without such programs, the terrorists are going to continue to be a jump ahead of security measures.

There are economic measures the American government needs to take to enhance any effort at defeating the terrorists. The sanctions against Iran, much too long coming in their current growing intensity, point to the enormous impact U.S. Treasury controls can have directly and indirectly on an adversary. The shale revolution with the enormous increases in domestic gas and oil production have now made it possible for the U.S. to do more than try to persuade those in the Persian Gulf states, including individual Saudis as well as officials in Riyadh, and the outrageous troublemakers in Qatar, to end their direct and indirectly financial support to the terrorist networks. What is require simultaneously, of course, but hardly likely, is an about face in the Obama Administration’s war on  fossil fuels, which nevertheless has ironically not haled new record production and possible exports.

Any attempt at taking security measures, of course, must ultimately rely on enhanced intelligence. Repeated efforts to reform the American intelligence community have only added additional layers of bureaucracy without, it seems, increasing actual benefits. If “stove-piping” – excluding necessary interchange among the various  intelligence bodies – has been somewhat eliminated, the Snowden treason episode and the Washington Navyyard Massacre are evidence that the whole system of “need to know” security precautions which once dominated government operations has fallen afoul of the digital revolution  Furthermore, it is clear that many of those who are entrusted with the war on Islamic intelligence have an inadequate knowledge of the history of the religion and its adherents. Unlike the British who in their imperial heyday could depend heavily on their academy for such resources, the U.S. faces a generally unrealistic, antagonistic and disloyal professorate with its hangers on from the parlor Marxist politics of the 1960s.

This leads to the a general failure reaching to the highest echelons of the Obama Administration which in its effort to reduce international tension has taken an idealistic and unrealistic attitude toward the problem of Islam and its radical appendages. Islam is not and never has been “a religion of peace”, from its earliest conquests in the Arabian desert to the subjugation of former Christian, Zoroastrian, Hindu and pagan societies of the Middle East, North Africa and India. There are hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims, of course. But the idealization of an officially tolerant Islam, for example, in Berber-ruled kingdoms in Spain in the 14th and 15th centuries, is pure fiction. Islamic regimes have always condemned non-believing citizens, at best, to an inferior status with onerous tax burdens. Islam has never had its Reformation or Counter-reformation, nor its haskalah, having largely rejected Greek learning in monumental debates almost a thousand years ago. Unless and until the majority of Muslim intellectuals and spokesmen for Islam parse the indivisibility of their religion with the implanting of a sharia state, the seeds of jihadism and accompanying terrorism are planted wherever the religion prevails.

Therefore, an important element – perhaps the most important — in an effective and continuing defense against Islamic terrorism is a more realistic understanding of this relationship of the Muslim faithful and the jihadists. It is incumbent on American Muslims, for example, to halt their wailing about a nonexistent victimization. Since 9/11 – contrary to what might have been expected in another society less tolerant than the U.S. – they have seen little “Islamphobia”. Rather, such highly placed individuals as Ms. Huma Abedin, principal assistant to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have an obligation publicly to explain and renounce their family relationships with the Muslim Brotherhood, an original source of inspiration for much of the current jihadist leadership.

It is in the nature of the American system of government, unfortunately, that none of this is to be accomplished rapidly, even given the growing urgency for an effective reform of the efforts for dealing with terrorism. The wake-up call of 9/11 has been hushed, ironically, in the enormous vitalilty of U.S. society and pursuit of happiness which is the ultimate American goal. But unfortunately the problem of terrorism, even in the homeland, is not going to go away.

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Obama discovers American exceptionalism


Obama discovers American exceptionalism

            Among the welter of ironies concerning Pres. Vladimir Putin’s op-ed for The New York Times on the zig-zaggingSyria crisis is that Ras’ ghostwriter has however haphazardly touched on the fundamental issue. Given the arguments and syntax, I suspect the ghost’s first language was American, not Russian, something I will leave to future political exegesis. But one of the things this propagandist does by indirection is to identify Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s utter intellectual confusion.

There is certainly no reason why the mediocrity who now has through the vagaries of history slipped into the throne of the tsars would know. But the question of “American exceptionalism” played a role in the arguments leading up to Josef Stalin’s becoming the Soviet Union’s bloody dictator and arbiter of the powerful international Communist movement.

Before the Moscow Trials of the mid-30s when Stalin settled all political scores by reducing his enemies by a head as he once joked, when there were still convoluted arguments over international Marxism inside the Communist world, American exceptionalism was an issue. In 1929 Jay Lovestone took off for Moscow to plead his sudden dismissal as U.S. Party chairman. At a meeting of the Comintern, the supposedly independent directorate of world Communism,. Lovestone argued that Communism would not come in the U.S. through revolution. Given his independent character and living standard, Lovestone argued, the American worker was not of the European, Asian and African “proletariat” whom Karl Marx’ had promised would be “the gravediggerers of capitalism and forerunner of The Revolution”.

But Stalin was having none of it. In fact, as Lovestone told me, he barely escaped Vladimir Lenin’s self-appointed heir. Only through the assistance of the American Communist capitalist Julius Hammer, father of his more famous son Armand Hammer who with Soviet assistance became an international oil figure after World War II, Lovestone sneaked out of Russia. He came back to the U.S. to found, briefly, the American Revolutionary Communist Party. How he escaped assassination as was the fate of so many of Stalin’s enemies, even those abroad, is a bit mysterious. But decades later Lovestone went on to become collaborator with George Meany, the old plumber who headed the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations. Together with the infant Central Intelligence Agency, they broke the hold of Moscow’s International Federation of Trade Unions on Western European labor trade unions at the outset of The Cold War, crucial in bringing the European Social Democratic parties, particularly the West German SPD, into the anti-Communist alliance.

It is very unlikely that Putin, a quintessential Russian secret police thug, knows much of this history. He was an unknown foreign agent until Russian Pres. Boris Yeltsin plucked him from obscurity to protect Yeltsin’s corrupt “Family” of hangerons when that old drunkard exited power. [Markus Wolf, lifelong legendary head of Stassi, the enormous network of informers and enforcers who kept the East German state alive in The Cold War, quipped: “If he [Putin] spent 15 years [as liaison between the Soviet NKVD/KGB and Stassi at their joint training school] in Dresden, and I didn’t know him, he couldn’t have been much”.]

In America, Lovestone’s sectarian argument was never settled over how to gain influence for the miniscule American Communist Party camouflaging their more important espionage for Moscow. The argument, like the American Communists themselves, was victim of the gyrations of the “Party line”, subservient to Moscow’s international strategy including Stalin’s brief alliance with Hitler that brought on World War II. For a short period when Stalin was “Good Old Uncle Joe” in FDR’s Washington, the essential ally against the Nazis, the American Party under Earl Browder preached gradualism. [These stories never end: Browder’s grandson now wages a bitter argument with Putin over seizure of his extensive investments in Yeltsin’s Russia and the murder of his Moscow lawyer and collaborator.]

But American exceptionalism is framed in more elegant terms as a part of the intellectual life of The Republic over its two centuries. For, singularly. unlike other nation states organized under the aegis of the Westphalian System [Treaty of 1648], the U.S. has no claim to a long history, a common race or ethnicity or even language characterizing the state. [Benjamin Franklin, horrified at the cacophony of German Anabaptist voices on the streets of Philadelphia during the hot summer of 1781 when the U.S. constitution was being framed in secret, toyed with the idea of writing in English as the official language of the new Republic.]

The U.S. was, from its outset, an ideological construct, an original — if heavily borrowing on what The Founders as children of the European Enlightenment saw as the heritage of the democracies of Greece and Republican Rome. It did not celebrate a unified cultural ethos as did France, even the “United” kingdom, and later Italy and Germany. Instead, the American Republic was and is a political concept to insure the rights and privileges of a truly multicultural people to whom, unlike the European nation states, it ultimately owed its genius and power.

That complicated concept has been from the earliest days of The Republic the essence of “American exceptionalism”, the idea that because of the formation and nature of the country, it was different from other nation states in a fundamental way. This distinction has given a sense of mission to the American Republic – not the “gloire” of France, for example, but The Republic’s obligation by its very nature to espouse a new kind of national and international morality.

From the days of its earliest religious minorities seeking tolerance in The New World, Americans have always thought themselves “special”as Puritan lawyer John Winthrop proclaimed in 1640 aboard the Arabella enroute to Massachusetts:

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.

Or whether it was the Deist Thomas Jefferson, writing in the Declaration of Independence:

[A]nd accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Or Abraham Lincoln presiding over the greatest American crisis, in his famous Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Or Ronald Reagan, the 20th century statesman bidding goodbye to public life:

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life…. And how stands the city on this winter night? … After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true to the granite ridge, and her glow has held no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

In a sense, it does not matter whether, indeed, the U.S. were “the New Jerusalem”. More important perhaps is that American leaders throughout their history have accepted the concept that The Republic was “different” from other countries, and therefore had a mission that went beyond the simple pursuit of its existence as a nation.

It was perhaps inevitable, if there is such a thing as inevitability, that when the U.S. emerged from the near suicide of the West in two bloody world wars as the overwhelmingly most powerful country with its vast economy and population, the concept of exceptionalism would be applied to international relations. Indeed, however unsuccessfully, three generations earlier Pres. Woodrow Wilson had proclaimed U.S. entry into World War I as “the war to end all wars” and his formulation of the concept of the League of Nations to settle international disputes was part of that American “mission”.

Again, ironically, despite the fact they drew much of their inspiration from Wilson’s “progressivism”, part and parcel of Obama and his supporters’ credo in pursuit of their ambition “to transform” the nation was rejection of  “exceptionalsim”. In one of his too many casual public statements, Obama dismissed it out of hand. At the NATO Summit in Strasbourg, France, in 2009, he said sarcastically:

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.

But on Sept. 10, only four years later, in his address to the nation on the Syrian crisis, Obama reversed that view as he floated in and out of issues:

My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security.  This has meant doing more than forging international agreements — it has meant enforcing them.  The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world is a better place because we have borne them.

In all the rapid permutations of the Syrian Crisis, it has taken [Ras] Putin’s numskull ghost writer to recognize that Obama, too, has come around to recognizing “American exceptionalism” — for better or for worse.

sws-9-15-3

Hold your horses!


The old cliché has it that history is written by the victors. But the victors’ historians, too, are human. In an effort to write a narrative which the rest of us can follow, they pick up what we diginicks call a “thread”. Until someone identifies a major theme and writes [and rewrites] that narrative, much of the important peripheral events get lost in the shuffle. Or they may get exaggerated beyond their eventual importance. All of this to say that in our world just now of instantaneous communication, everyone and his brother is grasping at straws in an unfolding crisis and drawing conclusions that will not stand the test of the coming historical narrative.

If that sounds wordy and pretentious, dear reader, you are right. What I want to say is, simply, the old-fashioned, “Hold your horses!” Wait out developments because we do not know what is happening or what will happen next before making final or even partial judgments.

I am appalled that radio and TV talking heads – as well as friends – grab a piece of this infinitely complicated geopolitical and humanitarian puzzle and run with it.

At the risk of seeming glib myself, may I just throw out a few of what I hope are helpful if not saving interpolations:

No, I am not an “Arabist” nor have I done more than stick my foot across the Israeli-Syrian Golan Heights truce line toward Damascus only 40 [all downhill] miles away. But I have watched the Mideast for half a century out of the corner of my eye and if for no other reason, do think I have some semblance of historical perspective.

Yes, there is a general consensus that the U.S. should not intervene further in what began as a civil war in Syria unless “American national interest” is threatened. But like so many other political concepts, “national interest” is defined in many different ways: the fact that Basher al Assad is increasingly kept in power by the mullahs in Iran while developing their own weapons of mass destruction and a Russian UN Security Council veto camouflages Putin’s arms sales to Assad has changed the nature of the conflict.

No, Pres. Obama does not need a vote in the Congress in order for him to take military action in Syria in pursuit of American national interest and without a declaration of war. Almost every recent U.S. president has done just that. It irony that many of today’s opponents trace their opposition to foreign intervention as “progressives” to Pres. Woodrow Wilson who “unilaterally” used American military power repeatedly including intervention in the Mexican Revolution and, indeed, its civil war..

Yes, there isn’t much chance the U.S. or any one else can stabilize Syria, an artificial state created in the last gasp of British and French colonialism in the 1920s. Before the murdering al Assads arrived on the scene in the mid-1960s with their domination of its airforce by their Alawaite minority, there were some two dozen Syrian [mostly failed] coup d’etats. The Assads established whatever stability the country has had by brute force – including a 1982 month-long artillery shelling of a civilian population in Hamma that killed tens of thousands.

No, there is nothing new about the reluctance of America’s ostensible allies to join in what they generally say is a worthwhile military effort. After years of lobbying the British and the French whose citizens like those of the infant American Republic’s were being held for ransom, Pres. Thomas Jefferson [who had originally opposed any kind of permanent military] in 1802 went to the Congress for permission but no declaration of war to go for a military “strike” against the Barbary pirates.

Yes, there is no telling where Pres. Obama’s request to the Congress would lead were his “strike” against Syria with or without Congressional endorsement to be carried out.  [Please note all the essential subjunctives!]  I recall the old generals’ adage that all war plans and strategies go aglimmering with the firing of the first shot in any military engagement Assad, for example, has chosen not to respond to Israel’s three raids wiping out Russian munitions intended for Hezbollah, Assad’s ally in Beirut and southern Lebanon, who threaten the destruction of Israel, and he might try to ignore any American attack however effective.

No, Washington cannot back away from the Mideast whatever the decision Obama/Congress makes on this current issue. The U.S. has too many interests there including the region’s essential role in the world economy producing about two-thirds of the oil necessary to keep European and East Asian economies afloat even though the U,.S. is now approaching fossil fuel self-sufficiency [no thanks to Obama Administration policy but] because of the new shale technological revolution.

Yes, there is an overriding issue in Basher al Assad’s use of chemical warfare because for a hundred years the world has largely abided by an international agreement not to use this merciless of all weapons in combat, even with occasional violations by such monsters as Saddam Hussein and the Assads. That prohibition has been observe red in no small part because “poison gas” – used by both sides — turned out to be a dubious weapon in World War I for both its user and its victims. That evaluation could be hanging by a thread because of new delivery systems [i.e., medium and long-range missiles].

No, the power vacuum created by Obama’s four year effort “to lead from behind” and his Administration’s flirtation with the terrorist Moslem Brotherhood cannot be used as an excuse now to quit and run. As the saying goes, we are where we are, and unfortunately for an American public tried of war, the U.S.’ overwhelming economic and  military power is as potent when it is not directed and applied as when it is engaged.

Yes, a victory in the civil war would embolden Assad’s principal backer, the mullahs in Tehran moving to dominate the area, and Russia’s Pres. Putin, trying desperately to reassert the Soviet Union’s gone-with-the-wind superpower status. Failure of American resolve to handle this crisis will likely lead to a new and more dangerous breakdown in world stability if and when the Iranians get their nuclear weapon for which “Syria” is their diversionary sideshow or Putin with his oil and gas revenues collapsing tries some new stunt to hang on to power.

No, the U.S. did not start it all when with the British the CIA toppled the government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. It was, indeed, about the nationalization of Anglo-Persian Oil Co. [ancestor of BP]. But it was also about the opening salvos of the Cold War with Mossadegh’s off-and-on-support from Moscow and its Iranian Tudeh-Communist Party. [Read my Christian Science Monitor pieces in mid-summer 1951 from Tehran when, by the way, I was subbing for their Moscow staff correspondent who later turned out to be a Soviet agent!]

Yes, Syrian Christians are caught in the crossfire as almost unnoticed by the U.S. mainstream media and the American mainstream churches 15 million Egyptian Coptic Christians were about to be slaughtered by the former Egyptian Brotherhood regime. But leftwing Christians [e.g., one of the co-founders of the so-called Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party which installed Assad’s equally monstrous father] have been Assad’s collaborators. So much for a propaganda video of a female Syrian Christian spokesman haranguing cornered, hawkish Sen. John McCain at a town meeting.

No, Assad will not be able to write off the effects of any American “strike” although, obviously, it has lost its surprise element and permitted him to move possible targets. Many if not most of the “hard” targets cannot be moved, and while he might fly his aircraft to Iran as Sadaam Hussein did when America attacked, moving his third world command and control operations centered on a family dictatorship won’t be that easy. The mere threat of a “strike” – or its further escalation under pressure from Congressional hawks such as Sen. McCain and Congressman Pete King– is already shaking the regime to its secret police torturing roots.

Yes, it would be a lot better if Obama had an overall strategy in the Mideast before setting out on a rather idealistic rectification of world morality which in a more perfect world should be left tothe UN. But that is not where we are, and the issue is whether the U.S. is to try to reinforce some international standards of decency. It is a question this country cannot escape with impunity any more than it has in the past. It is a choice that the American Republic has had to make, often to its chagrin, many times in the past.

No, historical analogies are odious as some dead white European has said, but it does seem that we are moving from the Spanish Civil War aspects of this conflict to the Munich era. Two oceans and six and a half minutes for an Iranian or North Korean ICBM to reach us no more protect us today than they did in 1939 – nor in 9/11 when a ragtag terrorist band planned and executed the death of some 3,000 innocents at long distance from their hideouts in isolated, backward, primitive Afghanistan.

Yes, we are under fire from propaganda [and conspiracy theorists] from various interests with their own agendas. But rest assured that the confusion is so rampant that just as the issue has cut across nominal Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative lines, it is rearranging normally Mideast and international European and Asian players. Russia wants to protect its old Soviet satellite Syrian Mideast legacy but its nominal UN Security Council partner vetoing American action, China, is more interested in keeping Mideast peace so its growing oil and gas import bill doesn’t go through the roof [as its economy slows].which, in turn, would profit their pal {Ras} Putin.. Ditto various U.S. domestic conflicts.

No, there are no easy explanations nor answers. This is a messy affair.

sws-09-08-13

Hello? Something in the water?


Follow the money No. 87

 Could more conspiratorial environmentalistas’ interpretations of our times be correct, that is, someone has been putting something in the water and we are all being lobotomized, even without major brain surgery?

You could make the case this week. Much of the world’s leadership, even though presumably suckling their bottled water, exhibits all the manifestations of imbibing something adversely affecting the normal cognitive processes:

  • Pres. Barack Obama gets on television to boost his proposal for creating jobs by massive government expenditures and tax increases at a time when mostAmericans think the main problem – after disappeared jobs — is a runaway federal deficit. Never mind he sent a $447 billion spend and tax bill up to the Congress without a co-sponsor in either of the houses, that his own Party’s Senate leadership initially refused to look at it, then introduced something radically different as a Millionaires’ Tax. All that even though the President has repeatedly endorsed his Republican opposition’s claim any tax increase during a recession is job-killer. Of course, neither bill has a – woops! we can’t say that any more – chance of getting through the Republican-dominated House or the splintered Democratic Senate. Hello?
  • Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [soon scheduled to slip back into the presidency in Moscow’s musical chairs] has dreamed up a restoration of Stalin’s old USSR as a “Eurasian Union”, a regional agglomerative dictatorship. Putin’s vision is a world of such regional blocs, graciously allocating the U.S. the Western Hemisphere. Unable to accomplish fundamental post-Soviet reforms, he has put together helter-skelter economic collaboration with neighbors [including pumping their gas and oil] with Belorussia, Kazakhstan and a loose customs union [Common Economic Space]. He now aims bringing in the current pro-Moscow Ukraine leadership. But his present arrangements already cost Moscow $1.7 billion in tariff sharing revenues last year. Meanwhile, prospective investors in this harebrain scenario are trading every ruble to dollar they can get their hands on and tossing them out of the country – more than a record $49 billion so far this year. Hello?
  • Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, chairing the Eurogroup finance ministers, says “[E]verything will be done”. He means in an effort to avoid Greek default and without Athens opting out of the 17-member single currency. But the rating agencies just whacked Italy’s credit rating, Spain’s soaring borrowing rate fell only because the already strapped European Central Bank bought its increasingly high risk bonds, and debt-ridden Portugal is failing to meet targets. The decision whether Greece will get the next tranche of its bailout was delayed until mid-November so the European Union, the European Central Bank and the IMF can pull themselves together to decide whether Athens has met conditions for receiving help. Latest official figures say not: the Greek budget deficit will hit 8.5 percent of GDP in 2011 instead of the 7.6 percent it promised creditors. Greek officials now pledge the 2012 deficit will be slashed 6.8 percent of GDP instead of the promised 6.5 percent if a €6.6 billion [$8.83 billion] worth of supplementary austerity and reform measures package is forthcoming by 2013 Without the “current” €8 billion [$10.71 billion] tranche, Athens would bankrupt by this November with major repercussions for Europe and the world. Hello?
  • Syrian Dictator Bashar al-Assad allegedly told visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu Damascus would strike Israel with missiles if NATO helps his country’s rebels during his rapidly escalating civil war. “If a crazy measure is taken against Damascus, I will need not more than six hours to transfer hundreds of rockets and missiles to the Golan Heights to fire them at Tel Aviv,” Assad warned after Turkish foreign minister conveyed a United States’ polite request to clear out. Assad continued: “All these events will happen in three hours, but in the second three hours, Iran will attack the US warships in the Persian Gulf and the US and European interests will be targeted simultaneously” True, Assad is rumored to have chemical and bacterial warfare stocks. But the Israelis sit on the Golan Heights less than 75 miles, downhill to Damascus. After Assad’s father tangled with the Israelis in 1982 — the largest air-to-air combat of the jet age and one of the shortest – Syria lost 85 Soviet MiGs. Hello?

Yep, must be something in the water, the wine, the arak or wherever.

 

Sol Sanders, a veteran international correspondent, writes weekly on the intersection of politics, business and economics, can be reached at solsanders@cox.net and blogs at http://www.yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com

Dealing with Islam


A decade after 9/11 the U.S. still puzzles over how to deal with an Islam of 1.3 billion people, most of whom either cannot or refuse to move into the modern era. This American [read broader Western] inability to find an ideological approach will enhance a threat to U.S. security long after troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The problem is profound, involving the history of Christendom’s relations with Islam for one and a half millennium. Recently new complications arise from declining Western populations seeking immigrant labor, welcoming large numbers of Muslims, again, often either unable or unwilling to integrate into a heterogeneous West. This aggravates external security, not least because many sophisticated Islamic leaders condone deception [taqiyya] about their aims. In a traditionally open, sometimes to the point of naiveté, American society, this adds additional burdens on law enforcement and the justice system.

Washington’s armed attempt to root out state-sponsored terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan not only has taken an enormous toll in lives and treasure, but produced war’s inevitable “collateral damage” used by the terrorists to misrepresent U.S. aims. In a world where simply the charge of “colonialism” precludes serious discussion between advanced and backward societies, Washington, even were it capable, cannot impose its values as it did after World War II on Nazi Germany and militaristic Japan.

Nor is there an economic determinist solution. Even where development has taken place – in Lebanon or Algeria or the Gulf sheikhdoms – cultural advancement is stymied, even retrogressing under tutelage of subsidized reactionary preachers. And although private capital [globalization] has brought industrialization quickly to many new corners of the world, cultural factors block what the economists used to call “take off” in the vast Arab belt and Persia despite incredible raw material resources [oil and gas].

A new test of Islamic renewal is underway in recently “liberated” eastern North Africa and, probably soon in Syria. Rebellion driven by the youthful demographic bulge has blown away the old despots. But the best organized to fill the leadership vacuum are political incarnations of Islamic totalitarianism led by Egypt’s Moslem Brotherhood. That will further imperil Egypt’s 85 million, a third of the Arab world with a traditional claim to lead Muslims culturally, relying on foreign handouts after Pres. Hosni Mubarak’s three decades of protected crony capitalism.

Nowhere is Washington’s conundrum more apparent than in current deteriorating relations with Turkey, now falling away from its post-World War II alliance with Western Europe and America in search of a new role as Mideast regional leader. Although it never quite reached application elsewhere, the 20th century post-Ottoman Caliphate top-down, Leninist secular revolution, had been seen as a model for intellectuals as far removed as Iran and Pakistan. But Ankara’s contemporary Islamic politicians, building on an empowerment from a hinterland far from old cosmopolitan centers, have recast the Turkish model.

Their still unresolved relationship between Islam and modern government puts the whole question of where the Turkish experiment is going into question. The ruling AKP Justice and Development Party reached its current dominant position not least because of a thriving if always fragile fast-growing economy, benefiting long stagnant regions. But its political ambitions have conflicted with its economic model. Its militant advocacy of the Palestinian cause [including the radical terrorist Hamas in Gaza] has produced a nasty blowup with Israel. A UN inquiry, as always, has only aggravated the falling out from what had been an opportunistic if mutually advantageous strategic and commercial relationship with new markets for Israel and technological transfers for the Turks. Washington has been unable to defuse the escalating blowup between its two most important allies in the region.

Ankara’s strategies zigzag: for example, okaying NATOs’ antimissile deployment but denying Washington’s aim to protect Europe and the US from Iranian weapons of mass destruction, its vacillating role as conveyor of gas to Europe, its failure to win entry to the European Community, its refusal initially to join NATO’s war against Qadaffi. Ankara could even jeopardize NATO’s southeastern anchor with its flirtations with Beijing and Moscow, casting a new pall on the alliance’s always ambiguous future. Thus Turkey, once the poster child for Islamic accommodation, could become the most serious part of the West’s failed efforts to meet the longterm challenge which stretches out far beyond the immediate effects of 9/11.

 sws-09-09-11

 

 

Nowhere is Washington’s conundrum more apparent than in current deteriorating relations with Turkey, now falling away from its post-World War II alliance with Western Europe and America in search of a new role as Mideast regional leader. Although it never quite reached application elsewhere, the 20th century post-Ottoman Caliphate top-down, Leninist secular revolution, had been seen as a model for intellectuals as far removed as Iran and Pakistan. But Ankara’s contemporary Islamic politicians, building on an empowerment from a hinterland far from old cosmopolitan centers, have recast the Turkish model.

Their still unresolved relationship between Islam and modern government puts the whole question of where the Turkish experiment is going into question. The ruling AKP Justice and Development Party reached its current dominant position not least because of a thriving if always fragile fast-growing economy, benefiting long stagnant regions. But its political ambitions have conflicted with its economic model. Its militant advocacy of the Palestinian cause [including the radical terrorist Hamas in Gaza] has produced a nasty blowup with Israel. A UN inquiry, as always, has only aggravated the falling out from what had been an opportunistic if mutually advantageous strategic and commercial relationship with new markets for Israel and technological transfers for the Turks. Washington has been unable to defuse the escalating blowup between its two most important allies in the region.

Ankara’s strategies zigzag: for example, okaying NATOs’ antimissile deployment but denying Washington’s aim to protect Europe and the US from Iranian weapons of mass destruction, its vacillating role as conveyor of gas to Europe, its failure to win entry to the European Community, its refusal initially to join NATO’s war against Qadaffi. Ankara could even jeopardize NATO’s southeastern anchor with its flirtations with Beijing and Moscow, casting a new pall on the alliance’s always ambiguous future. Thus Turkey, once the poster child for Islamic accommodation, could become the most serious part of the West’s failed efforts to meet the longterm challenge which stretches out far beyond the immediate effects of 9/11.

sws-09-09-11

The grim Arab summer


Among nations, as in private lives, there are self-evident long-term trends, often cataclysmic, but with unforeseen tripwires for timing the unpredictable denouement. At the moment notable among these is continued failure of modernization among the 1.3 billion Arab/Moslem world.

What a few months ago seemed an irresistible wave of rising expectations forcing a renaissance in Tunisia, Egypt, and other “moderate” Muslim societies, has stymied

But it has had economic and political consequences. Others, unforeseen, are bound to come along, but for the moment:

  • The bloodiest of all retrograde Arab dictatorships in Syria is doomed, its mostly reluctant advocates notwithstanding. Saudi Arabia, chief expositor of a see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil foreign policy, appease [and fund] it. Washington and Paris cower, fearing Basher al-Assad’s demise might lead to something even worse than his purported secular tyranny. Damascus’ strategic partners — Iranian, Lebanese and Palestinian Islamicists – using it as a trampoline to Mediterranean power, can only wring their hands. Turkey dreaming of an alliance ushering in Neo-Ottoman glory is befuddled with an onslaught of refugees.
  • Egypt, long Islam’s cultural center, flops back into a new lap of corrupt if camouflaged military government. Collapse of tourism and crippled local industry threaten minimal growth achieved during the Mubarak era with a yawning, unemployed youthful demographic bulge. Army leadership, shrewd enough to continue a half-peace with a formidable enemy, Israel, nevertheless, flirts with populist anti-Semitism while enriching itself through protectionist, crony state capitalism rather than opening up to investment, technology transfer and rapid growth.
  • Pakistan, largest self-proclaimed Muslim state of 200 millions ironically conceived as an Islamic modernizing force in dying British Imperial India despite its confessional moniker, implodes. Its military, only Pakistani “national” entity, has suffered a lethal blow from the unilateral surgical American strike killing Osama Ben Ladin. The related perception of impotence and/or incompetence complements rising opposition to the generals’ corrupt incestuous relationship with greedy Punjabi feudal elite. Washington influence seeking to foster make-believe democratic parallel civilian government feeds anti-Americanism. Beijing siphons off massive U.S. aid to one of the world’ poorest populations through an anti-India alliance even as Chinese “aid” projects come under terrorist attack.
  • The Obama Administration, buying into Muslim victimization mythology reinforced by the President’s own pesudo-Marxian historical view, has no strategy for dealing with the energy fulcrum Persian Gulf powers wield however haphazardly on world economy. The Administration’s muddled “alternative energy” policies – not excluding the crassly politically motivated band-aid release of strategic reserve oil – is ever more irrelevant in the face of vast new fossil fuel discoveries [shale gas and deepwater drilling] and potential [e.g., Arctic oil].
  • Libya encapsulates Mr. Obama’s failing attempt to wind down Pres. George W. Bush’s “war on terrorism”. Refusing the full weight of American arms to NATO’s effort, initiated by the Europeans, risks temporary resumption of Muammar Qadaffi’s long history of terrorism against Americans. In the bargain, “Libya” dramatizes long ignored NATO inadequacies with its increasing dependence on American muscle.
  • Pres. Obama’s Afghanistan withdrawal announcement touched all domestic 2012 electoral bases, but it offered no solution to the fundamental question: having taken on Islamic radicals, Washington has not struck the lethal blow. There is no Hitler bunker suicide, no Japanese militarists’ surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri, the Osama drama notwithstanding. Probably unconsciously, Pres. Obama has taken a leaf from old Sen. George Aiken’s rejected Vietnam playbook http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Aiken: “declare victory and come home”. Later modified by Pres. Richard M. Nixon and Dr. Henry A. Kissinger to “a decent interval”, it failed, demoralizing the U.S. military and undermining domestic self-esteem for a generation while sacrificing hundreds of thousands of American and Vietnamese lives without accomplishing its geopolitical goals of mollifying the Soviets or welding an effective Chinese alliance.

Leaked efforts to contain spreading Islamicist virus in Yemen with Special Forces drops armed with unmanned aerial vehicles, ipso facto, insures the fight will continue long after the highly publicized if incoherent Inside-the-Beltway “debate” over counterinsurgency vs. counterterrorism is, again, out of fashion. Gen. David H. Petraeus, USA [Rtd.], a principal if scientistic participant, after all, soon will be charged with clandestine warfare. Whatever Mr. Petraeus’ success at Langley, Mr. Obama or his successor at 1600 Pennsylvania, can not long avoid the basic problem, election or no election: protecting the U.S. from continuing Islamic terrorism.

sws-06-24-11

Revolution and common sense



A revolution is not a tea party”. -Mao Tse-tung

Every revolutionary ends up by becoming either an oppressor or a heretic. –Albert Camus

All revolutions devour their own children.-Ernst Röhm

Revolutions have never lightened the burden of tyranny: they have only shifted it to another shoulder. –George Bernard Shaw

In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end. –Alexis de Tocqueville

Historians will have to evaluate how much Obama Administration’s denigration of American power and prestige contributed to Egypt’s chaotic crisis. But led by an often untutored media seeking sensation at whatever cost, and Al Jazeera beating the jihadist drums, U.S. Mideast policy waffles and meddles beyond its competence.

The American tendency is not only ahistorical, but antihistorical. After all, our forebears came to escape their European, Latin American and Asian – even African – histories. Nothing could be further from the American experience than Egypt’s multimillennial suffocating cultural “overburden”. To further alienate Americans from context, the world has moved to instantaneous electronic transmissions. Images and tweets replace studies and serious journalism – and contemplation.

That’s why it might be well to lean back and view unpredictable events with more dispassion — and, yes, common sense. [I like the Oxford English Dictionary’s No. 2 definition: “xxx the plain wisdom which is everyone’s inheritance xxx”.]

America’s role and national interest.

Egypt’s burgeoning 80 million people has been for centuries the center of Sunni Islam; Cairo, heart of the larger Arab world with its vast petroleum resources [only gas in Egypt]. With feeble economic, cultural and physical infrastructure, the Arab and Persian petrosheikhs now levy a “tax” on the world economy [as former Sec. of Treasury William Simon rationalized.] Therefore, Egypt’s stability inherently demands Washington’s highest priority.

As Biggest Boy on the Block, the U.S. is both envied and courted, not least by Egypt. Washington struck a bargain with its annual $2 billion aid package – a bribe to keep Egypt’s military on the straight and narrow. Cairo was to modernize, bolster regional moderates, help secure the world oil supply and prevent attacks on Israel. Not least, it guarded Suez Canal passage for 80% of world commercial traffic.

Those dollars and weapons have undoubtedly helped; Pres. Hosni Mubarak, whatever else, has cooperated to stem worldwide Islamic terrorism. But no person, no nation, likes dole, certainly not Egypt with its fabled history. So “anti-Americanism” is endemic.

But current idiocies include polling – which, of course, has been so accurate in the U.S.! Does that little lady with a clipboard asking questions in an authoritarian society with a secret police wear a burka? Are “Westernized” elites or illiterate subsistence farmers measured?

Poverty, insecurity and lifestyle.

Most Egyptians have no safety net beyond extended family, living with greater insecurity than Americans have known since the Civil War. With population doubling during Mubarak’s 30-year rule, a third now under 14, unemployment is staggering. [That’s why early demonstrators were mostly adolescents.] Egypt would have to generate 450,000 new jobs annually just to keep its current unemployment level.

Agriculture – less than 3% of land along the Nile is arable — desperately needs modernization. Even with the world’ best cotton, progress toward agroindustry as elsewhere in “the third world” has been slow. But farming employs one-third the workforce, including subsistence on three million holdings under five acres. Egypt, in Caesar’s time Rome’s granary, by 1980 was importing about three-fourths of its staple, wheat.

Mubarak has unwound nationalized industry slowly – often rewarding his fellow military. It was “collectivized” in the 1950s by army dictator Abdul Gamal Nasser, seduced by Moscow planners. Perhaps even more damaging, Nasser expelled ethnic communities – Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Italians – who for centuries had managed Egypt’s economy. [Still, today, Copts, Egypt’s indigenous Christian minority – perhaps as much as 15% – are disproportionately “wealthier”, an always threatening political timebomb.]

The politics of desperation

Government to government and UN aid has been irrelevant. Faced with staggering problems, the remnants of Egypt’s traditional elite and its new military recruits have ruled despotically. Still, Egypt’s purchasing power ranks around 25th in the world. And the Mubarak regime has managed growth of about 5% annually. Violence has already torpedoed that; for example, frightening off 13 million annual tourists bringing in $12 billion, supporting 10 million workers.

The totalitarian temptation

Egypt has been the fount of modern Islamic fundamentalist violence. Its Moslem Brotherhood, coalescing in the 1920s, advocates returning to medieval church-state organization based on a primitive Islam. Plotters from a Brotherhood offspring assassinated Pres. Anwar Sadat in 1981, an officer of peasant origin who broke off Nasser’s Soviet alliance, allied himself with Washington and made peace with Israel. Mubarak has walked in his footsteps, however hesitantly. No one is certain – because of off and on suppression – of Brotherhood strength. But it is the only significant political organization beyond Mubarak’s government hangerson – and the military. And although splintered – and without charismatic leadership of revolutionary Iran — its “magic formula”, “submission” to the Koran, to solve all social and economic problems, is as attractive as Communism and Fascism were to so many in the 1930s.

sws-02-04-11