On April 4 the Pentagon announced that it was sending a mobile missile defense system to Guam as a “precautionary move” to protect the island from the potential threat from North Korea. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) comprises ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California, as well as naval vessels capable of shooting down missiles.
On the same day, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that North Korea posed a “real and clear danger” to the island, to U.S. allies in the region, and even to the United States. Its leaders have “ratcheted up their bellicose, dangerous rhetoric,” Hagel told the National Defense University in Washington. Areas at risk include South Korea and Japan, he added, as well as Guam, Hawaii and the West Coast of the United States. “We have to take those threats seriously,” he said.
It is the job of defense secretaries to take all threats seriously, but there is less than meets the eye to this one. While media coverage of tensions with North Korea makes it appear that its recent threats in response to the ongoing “Foal Eagle” U.S.-South Korean military exercises came unexpectedly, Pyongyang has a long history of objecting vehemently to such war games. North Korea is using bizarre rhetoric—as it has done many times before—but there is no “real and present danger,” because the country’s nuclear and missile delivery capabilities are rudimentary now and will remain so for years to come. Its three nuclear tests thus far—in 2006, 2009 and on February 12 of this year—amounted to a total yield of around 10 kilotons, or less than one-half the power of the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki in August 1945. At least two, and possibly all three, of those tests used plutonium as the fissile material. Crude and bulky, plutonium devices cannot be fitted onto a missile.
North Korea’s claims to have miniaturized its latest device are unproven and probably untrue: no tell-tale isotopes indicative of weapons-grade uranium have been detected. In addition, at the moment, its uranium-enrichment facilities are not producing requisite quantities of highly-enriched uranium (HEU). The Yongbyon site—the country’s main nuclear facility—has been limited to electricity generation for the past five years, as part of a disarmament-for-aid deal signed in September 2005. The agreement’s implementation was always wrought with difficulties, however. Last month, the regime vowed to restart all facilities at Yongbyon—presumably including uranium enrichment to weapons-grade levels (HEU). They have the technical ability to do this, but even if the enrichment program proceeds immediately North Korea will be several years away from producing a deliverable device on a reliable missile.
In the final months of Kim Jong-il’s life it appeared that the talks with the U.S. on the control of North Korea’s nuclear facilities would be restarted. After he died in December 2011, his young son and successor Kim Jong-un soon shifted emphasis from hoped-for cooperation to confrontation. In February 2012, Pyongyang unexpectedly announced that it would suspend nuclear activities and observe a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests in return for American food aid. That agreement was suspended after North Korea unsuccessfully launched a rocket carrying a satellite a year ago, which caused major embarrassment to the regime. A successful launch came last December, swiftly followed by the tightening of international sanctions in January (this time supported by China), a third nuclear test in February, and the ongoing escalation of warlike rhetoric since early March.
That rhetoric is a mix of bluster and bravado. Even if it had the theoretical wherewithal to threaten the United States—which it does not have—North Korea could not do it credibly: a single missile, or two, or five, would be fairly easy to intercept and destroy, and the ensuing retaliation would turn much of the People’s Democratic Republic into a parking lot. In the fullness of time the North may develop a device capable of fitting into a warhead, but it will have no guidance system necessary for accuracy and no re-entry technology to bring an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) back to Earth. According to the UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, North Korea has something that can hit American shores, but a “functioning nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile is still at least several years away.”
Even if it were to miniaturize a half-dozen nuclear weapons and perfect some form of functioning delivery system, North Korea would not be able to use them as a means of blackmail to alter the regional balance of power. The U.S., Russia, China, Great Britain, France, India, Pakistan, and Israel have possessed nuclear weapons for decades. None of them has ever been able to change the status quo in its favor by threatening to use the bomb. The possession of nuclear weapons by one of the parties did not impact the outcome in Korea in 1953, or Suez in 1956, or prevent the two superpowers’ defeats, in Vietnam and Afghanistan respectively. It makes no difference to China’s stalled efforts to bring Taiwan under its control. South Africa had developed its own nuclear arsenal in the 1980s—it has been dismantled since—but this did not enhance its government’s ability to resist the pressure to dismantle the Apartheid in the early 1990’s. The political effect of a country’s possession of nuclear weapons has been to force its potential adversaries to exercise caution and to freeze the existing frontiers. There is no reason to think that North Korea will be an exception to the rule.
The root causes of North Korea’s apparently reckless behavior are predominantly domestic, as usual. Kim Jong-un, the third absolute ruler in the dynasty established by his late grandfather Kim Il-sung, is young (29), untested and insecure. When his father Kim Jong-il died on December 17, 2011, the military and Party leadership accepted his third son as the designated successor, but it was not immediately clear whether Jong-un would in fact take full power right away. A cult of personality started developing right away. With no track record of achievement and no sign of outstanding talent, he was hailed as the “great successor to the revolutionary cause,” “outstanding leader of the party, army and people,” “respected comrade identical to Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il,” even as “a great person born of heaven”—an eccentric metaphor for a society nominally based on the teaching of dialectical materialism. The titles followed: within days of his father’s death, Kim Jon-un was declared Supreme Commander of the Korean Peoples Army, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and “supreme leader of the country.” In March of last year, he was appointed first secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea; three months later, he was awarded the rank of a field marshal.
The plethora of titles does not mean that Kim Jong-un automatically commands the same level of authority and unquestioning obedience enjoyed by his father and grandfather before him. According to a psychological profile put together by U.S. intelligence, Kim Jong-un may feel compelled to prove just how tough he is in order to make up for his inexperience. One of the CIA’s former top experts on North Korea, Joseph DeTrani, regards him as a young man insufficiently well prepared for the position, with limited foreign exposure, who has the urge to prove his toughness to his own military by emulating his grandfather, Kim Il-sung. But the heir is unlikely to start a general war, which he knows he cannot win, and in which China—his often reluctant backer—would likely remain aloof. “It would probably mean his defeat, and his defeat would probably mean the downfall of his regime and, very probably, the end of him as well,” according to the Telegraph’s David Blair. “Assuming that he’s not suicidal, he is very unlikely to start a general conflagration.” The danger remains, however, that North Korea, having ratcheted up the rhetoric for so long and having issued so many blood-curdling threats, feels that it has to do something.
My hunch is that in the end Kim the Third will do nothing. South Korea refrained from retaliation when one of its naval vessels was sunk under mysterious circumstances in disputed waters in March 2010, or when North Korea bombarded the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong in November of that year. This time the leaders in Seoul appear determined to respond to any hostile act. While China is urging all sides to tone it down, its warnings are primarily directed at North Korea. Beijing has conveyed a warning to Pyongyang that any incident would subject the North to swift and vigorous retaliation. It is noteworthy that there are no significant troop movements along the 38th parallel, and the feverish tone of North Korea’s state media appears to have abated in recent days. The specific warnings that preceded the Yeonpyeong attack are now absent. The regime is well aware of North Korea’s inadequacies in the nuclear and missile technologies. Economically it is a mess. According to the CIA economic assessment issued last month, North Korea’s industrial and power output have receded to pre-1990 levels, while frequent crop failures since the catastrophic 1995 famine have produced chronic food shortages and malnutrition. Its people depend for survival on international food aid deliveries, mainly from China.
Once this latest teacup storm is over, a coherent long-term American response should address the question as to why North Korea feels it needs nuclear weapons in the first place. This is not because Kim Jong-un plans to reunify the peninsula by force—that he cannot do, with or without the bomb—but because Pyongyang regards the United States as a real threat. North Korea is one of the tightest despotisms in existence, but ever since it was designated the eastern pivot of the “Axis of Evil” in President George W. Bush’s 2002 State of the Union Address its leaders have rational grounds to feel threatened. According to President Obama, the nuclear test offered only an illusion of greater security to North Korea. This is incorrect. The possession of nuclear weapons, far from providing an “illusion” of greater security, is the only reliable insurance policy to those states that Washington may deem fit for regime change. Had Serbia had the bomb in 1999 or Iraq in 2003, they would not have been subjected to illegal American attacks on patently spurious grounds.
Some imagination is needed in Washington, including a rethink of the old orthodoxy that nuclear proliferation is inherently dangerous. It is not. Since 1945, there have been many wars, but no catastrophic ones on par with 1914-1918 or 1939-1945. This long peace—lasting for close to seven decades thus far—is due almost entirely to the existence of nuclear weapons and to their possession by an expanding circle of powers. Contrary to the will of the United States—whose leaders do not want other countries to possess what America has possessed, and used, since 1945—nuclear proliferation has been a major factor in the preservation of peace. The “Balance of Terror” is a grim term which denotes a comforting reality, and its logic applies to the lesser powers, such as India and Pakistan, which went to war three times after the Partition—in 1947, 1965, and 1971—but not since then. On previous form, the violence in Kashmir in March 2008 and the Pakistani-linked terrorist attacks in Bombay in November of that year would have reignited the conflict—but they did not. The possession of nuclear weapons by both adversaries has been a major war-inhibiting factor for over four decades, and it will likely remain so for many years to come.
What is valid for the Subcontinent should apply to the North Korean peninsula. Sanctions or no sanctions, Pyongyang will not give up its bomb. For the sake of regional peace and stability, South Korea should acquire one as well—and there is no reason for Japan not to follow suit. Back in the 1970’s, the Ford Administration induced South Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program in return for not withdrawing American soldiers. Now is the time to reverse the sequence. Washington should grant a free nuclear hand to Seoul in return for the mutually agreed U.S. troop withdrawal. The latest crisis strengthens the case for the long-overdue withdrawal of the remaining 28,000 American troops from the Korean peninsula. It is high time to let the countries directly affected by Pyongyang’s actions—South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia—deal with North Korea themselves, to the best of their abilities.
One variant of a well-known law of bureaucracy says that the amount of time spent discussing a budgetary decision is inversely proportional to the magnitude of the budget in question. Judging by what I witnessed on March 20 at the European Parliament—at the Committee on Budgets’ hearing on the “Financing of the Eastern Partnership”—the Brussels machine functions entirely in accordance with this adage.
The money involved is substantial: 2.8 billion euros ($3.6 billion) over 5 years. The project’s stated purpose is to promote “shared values”—democracy, human rights and the rule of law—in six former Soviet states deemed to be of “strategic importance” to the European Union: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, andUkraine. Promoting the principles of market economy, sustainable development, civic society and “good governance” is also among the objectives.
In their opening remarks, the officials involved in running the Eastern Partnership Program were self-congratulatory about its alleged achievements. That much was to be expected: lots of sinecures, cushy jobs and expense-padded missions can be extracted from a few billion. Nevertheless, the entire construct’s numerous problems and shortcomings could not be concealed:
- Conceptually, there is no clear consensus within the EU on what exactly it is trying to promote in its eastern neighborhood under the bombastic slogans of “shared values, collective norms and joint ownership.” What does it all mean, if anything, in the real world?
- Empirically, the program has followed, and still follows, a “top-down” approach of deciding in Brussels what are the goals, then telling the eastern “partners” what they need to do, and finally rewarding them accordingly—rather than developing genuine partnerships based on those countries’ real needs and attainable objectives.
- Managerially, in order for the funds allocated to the “Partnership” to be optimally utilized, they would require elaborate apparatuses of deployment, supervision and evaluation. On the basis of the presentations last Wednesday, it is clear that the EU has neither the institutional mechanisms nor the supervisory bodies capable of insuring that this is the case.
- Substantially, the elephant in the room was the issue of EU enlargement—or, rather, the extreme unlikelihood of further enlargement after Croatia’s accession next July. Without the realistic prospect of an eventual path to full membership, the EU lacks meaningful leverage over the political elites in the six eastern countries to make them change their ways.
Far from being addressed, these problems are bypassed by the tendency of the EU bureaucracy to close its eyes to the reality on the ground in the countries concerned—or, worse, still, to misrepresent that reality for reasons of institutional self-preservations. The result, to put it succinctly, is that billions of European taxpayers’ cash are poured into a bottomless pit of post-Soviet corruption, graft, and pork-barrel politics. “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us,” went the old Soviet joke. Its modern-day “Eastern” equivalent should be “We pretend to reform, and they pretend that we are doing a good job.” Instead of being properly perceived as part of the problem, terminally corrupt political “elites” are treated as partners in finding solutions.
Moldova is the prime example. On per-capita basis, this backwater squeezed between Romania and Ukraine—the poorest country in Europe—has received far more money than the other five “partners,” and the EU pretends that its objectives are being met. While I was at the European Parliament, the European Commission presented its own regional report on the implementation of the Eastern Partnership. It asserted that “significant progress was made in the implementation of the Eastern Partnership” and singled out Moldova for “showing significant progress,” “stepping up efforts to implement judicial and law enforcement reform,” and “continuing to implement reforms in the areas of social assistance, health and education, energy, competition, state aid and regulatory approximation to the EU acquis.” Moldova’s government was asked to “continue to vigorously advance reforms in the justice and law enforcement systems” as well as intensify the fight against corruption.
This is surreal, on par with the Soviet Communist Party congresses exalting the great and glorious achievements of socialism in the years of terminal decline under Brezhnev. In reality, Moldova is one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, according to independent analysts, who also claim that the majority of EU assistance is being misused by local officials. The Warsaw-based EaP Institute warns that the EU is devoting considerable sums to Moldova for very little return in terms of progress in the country’s reform process: “It begs the question: Why is the EU throwing money like this at a black hole of corruption, when there is so much to do in the EU’s own member states?”
It does, indeed. Moldova has already received some €482m from the EU Eastern Partnership, which is about 110 euros ($145) for every man, woman and child in the dirt-poor country—the equivalent of an average two-weekly wage. Nobody knows for certain where it went, but we have a fair idea. Recent opinion polls say that the majority of citizens of Moldova consider their current coalition government as “totally corrupt.” According to the Transparency International 2012 report, Moldova is among the most corrupt places in Europe, with Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia topping the list. But the EU says it is doing well, because an unhealthy symbiotic relationship has been developed between the unelected and mostly unaccountable bureaucrats managing enormous funds earmarked for nebulous purposes and their foreign “clients” who gloat at the mouth-watering prospect of placing a major portion of those funds into their own pockets.
After last Wednesday’s introductory presentations, several experts and members of European Parliament (MEPs) expressed misgivings about the Eastern Partnership policy. Olaf Osica, director of the centre for eastern studies in Warsaw, declared that “in four years the policy had failed to produce any tangible political or social results.” A prominent Polish MEP and former senior government minister, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, said the entire edifice should be “completely revised”:
There are a whole multitude of projects which, as we have heard at the hearing, no one seems able to follow or understand… What we are doing is creating the illusion that the EU is helping to transform these eastern European countries when, in fact, the naked truth is that the EU is losing its eastern neighbors. What is actually needed is for the EU—and that means both the Commission and Parliament—to totally revise and revisit its Eastern Partnership policy.
All this was in stark contrast to the earlier assurances by senior officials that the current picture was “confused,” but the EU was nevertheless “doing quite well” in addressing concerns about the transparency and accountability of its funding for the six countries (Marcus Cornaro); or that the EU was determined to push ahead with closer cooperation with those countries that have “demonstrated a commitment to the reform process” (Richard Tibbels).
The lenient attitude of EU officials regarding the patchy record of their “Eastern partners” on corruption, democratisation, and the rule of law is in stark contrast with the ever-moving goal posts for a half-dozen aspiring EU members in the Western Balkans. None of them will join the EU for a decade at least, of course, and a realistic reassessment of their political and economic policies is long overdue. The EU is in a state of chronic institutional and financial crisis, and trying to get on board at this point is equal to betting on Romney last November 5. Alternatives do exist, but they call for the cold-blooded diversification of long-term strategies. Belgrade and Kiev in particular should take note.
Who said the filthy rich are good for nothing? Their antics are very entertaining! The Nouveau Riche have always been notorious headline-providers, and the newest crop of Russian oligarchs make the robber barons of previous generations look timid and colorless. As money ages, it becomes anaemic; divided and subdivided by careful lawyers into a maze of corporate entities. New money is still good fun; they pull their stunts right in public, and they don’t pull their punches. These hometown heroes fill the vacuum left by the maharajas and sheiks in a way that our drab bureaucrats never could; they parade their Humvee Jeeps through the Moscow crouds, as sure and proud as the Indian kings who once rode their battle elephants in the jungle.
They are more powerful and less restrained in their choice of action than ever were Scorsese’s Mafia dons. Brutal, unscrupulous, overriding, often overreaching, these are characters made for a Shakespearean drama. They are lawless; they freely trample upon other people until somebody finally tramples upon them. They are full-bloodied villains or generous benefactors, or both. Their habit of using London as their litigation headquarters has given their other habits an international audience.
Recently two mighty tycoons, Berezovsky and Abramovich, jousted in a London court for the prize of billions — and incidentally disclosed how they stripped the Russian public of its most valuable assets during Yeltsin’s privatization regime. These courtroom warriors do not flinch at revealing their base crimes to achieve victory; in this case another Neoliberal myth has been destroyed, and another dark chapter in Russian history has been illuminated.
The looting of a country is heavy fare; the public hungered for some light farce. The Polonsky vs. Lebedev case came to the fore, publicized internationally via the London court system. This is the hilarious story of a media mogul and a real estate baron who go full smackdown on live TV. Only the mighty pen of Nikolai Gogol, the mid-19th century Russian author of The Squabble (You can read the plot here) could have done it justice; he might have called it Why Alexander Lebedevich Punched Sergei Polonovich, but you’ll have to bear with my humble efforts.
BelleNews gives us a blow by blow description of the live smackdown action:
- In front of an astonished studio audience, Alexander Lebedev (the Russian mogul) rains a series of blows onto the head of SergeiPolonsky (the real-estate baron), knocking him off his chair. This is during a TV debate on the global economic crisis.
- Images of the dramatic scene, which have been posted on YouTube, show Lebedev losing control and standing over Polonsky in a threatening manner.
- Polonsky appears to attempt to calm him down and Lebedev takes his seat once more.
- After few seconds, without warning, as Polonsky gently pats him on the arm, Lebedev again decides it’s time to let his fists do the talking.
- Lebedev suddenly hits Polonsky several times on the side of the head, sending him sprawling to the floor.
- Polonsky stands back up, seemingly unharmed, and the two men stare hard at each other as studio flunkies defuse the situation.
Note: Alexander Lebedev is one of the richest men in the world, with a fortune that’s estimated to be in the region of $3.1 billion.
In fact, Polonsky and Lebedev are two mid-sized Russian tycoons; neither of them could buy Minnesota cash on the nail. They could have become great pals, toasting each other’s successes in turn; for both are given to real estate development, both love swimming, both wear casual more often than formal, both are rather vain, and both are facing a sharp decline in their fortunes. But instead they have come to blows, for they are doomed to be opposing characters. Which is the protagonist and which the antagonist? None.
Sergei Polonsky is forty, a young man as tycoons go, the first post-Soviet generation of Russian businessmen. He is still big and broad like the Blue Beret commando he once was, but years of soft living have robbed him of his waist; now he looks more like a jolly, well-fed dolphin. His lady friend is a prominent businesswoman by her own right, and a swimming champion.
Alexander Lebedev is 12 years older; his was the generation that privatised the USSR. He is a shape-shifter; he has modernized his appearance over the years from a hard-muscled, disciplined, business-suit-wearing ex-KGB-man into a metrosexual guitar player with an alluring haircut, light shirts and blue jeans. He traded in his old Soviet-era wife for a newer, more camera-friendly model.
Lebedev lives in downtown Moscow, in a former Scout Youth Club built in glorious Stalinesque imperial style with columns and portico, and transformed – after its privatisation – into a minor manor, with an Olympic-size swimming pool where he spends much of his time. He escapes the Moscow autumnal gloom at his Cote d’Azure villa and in his London mansion.
Polonsky lives in a futuristic penthouse, perched like a ship’s bridge atop a skyscraper with a 360° view, high above Moscow. He designed and built the skyscraper and his own apartment himself, being an architect by education and profession. He spends his weekends floating in a converted barge, moored just beyond the city limits, in the company of a tame racoon, doingchi kung – Chinese meditation practice - and voraciously reading arbitrarily-chosen books. In winter he drives a slim, high-tech sled pulled by snow-white blue-eyed huskies; in summer he glides through the deeps on a sea-bob, or hang-glides over blissful hills.
Lebedev built a resort in Crimea; he lavished his generosity on the city, restoring the historic Chekhov theatre, but he prefers to spend his time in London, hobnobbing with Harry Potter’s creator, Ms Rowling, Sir Elton John and other worthies. He plays guitar, and supports DDT, a Russian rock group. He also owns a quality British newspaper, The Independent, as well as a tabloid, the Evening Standard, and the Russian Novaya Gazeta.
Polonsky, in contrast, has built himself a fortress of solitude, a stone and glass castle rising from the waves of a lonely island off the shores of Sihanoukville, not far from Alain Delon’s home in remote Cambodia. He meets with Sufi teachers, receives instructions from Zen monks and chi gung adepts. He is into esoteric knowledge and mystic experiences.
The two men are from very different cities and backgrounds. Lebedev grew up a child of privilege; his father was a professor of the prestigious Foreign Service School. As a young man he joined the KGB and the Communist Party. He graduated from his father’s school, proceeded into the KGB college, and then entered the diplomatic service. He was stationed at the Soviet Embassy in Kensington, London; his assignment: stop the money fleeing Russia. In eight years he learned the ropes, and with the fall of the USSR the gamekeeper turned poacher.
Lt.-Col. (KGB) Lebedev left the service in 1992 and used his professional insider knowledge of Soviet debts to make a fortune and direct fleeing money to safe havens. Not many Russians knew the banking system like he did. There was a lot of money that could be made by a person with the right connections: he bought cut-rate loans cheap and cashed them in at full value with a friendly Treasury official. He made a deal with Gazprom that made the Russian state two hundred millions poorer and himself and his collaborators that much richer. He befriended Victor Chernomyrdin, then Prime Minister, and Chernomyrdin channelled state funds into Lebedev’s recently-opened bank. Lebedev used his connections to capture positions in state-sponsored companies like Ilyushin and Aeroflot: the profits went to Lebedev, while the expenses went to the state.
Polonsky hailed from St Petersburg, of humble origin. He grew up as the USSR collapsed around him; he studied architecture, went into construction and building, hired Ukrainian builders while they were still inexpensive, and built himself into a real estate developer. He is proud of being a self-made man; he obtained nothing from the state, and never sought anything, he says. He did not privatise government factories, but instead established good connections with City Hall and catered to newly-prosperous Muscovites. He looks honest enough to buy a used car from, though such trustworthy guys do not become billionaires. People in the know say that he had to cut backroom deals with Mme Baturina, wife of the Moscow Mayor and one of the richest women in the world: no building was erected in Moscow without a nod from her.
Polonsky has tried to avoid politics; he professes a lack of knowledge and interest in things political. He is a builder, he says, no more. He puts his soul into huge projects spreading from Moscow to Switzerland and from London to Croatia. He is democratic in the Russian style: he mixes easily with all kinds of ordinary folks, but they’d better follow his orders or else.He is a petty tyrant, his (dismissed) employees say: he forbids texting during board meetings! Violators have their precious iPhones smashed against the wall (a feat I myself have only dreamed of). His ambitions lie in the spiritual sphere, and business often takes a back seat to his search for God.
Lebedev has a penchant for politics. He has tried on for size several political factions, varying from the ultra-nationalist Rodina (“Motherland”) to the socialist SR and to the ruling ER, being torn between political ambitions and the desire to make a fast buck. Sometimes the two go together.
In 1996, in the run-up to the fateful elections, Lebedev supported Boris Yeltsin, the then-president of Russia, a dissipated alcoholic who embezzled Russian national wealth and enriched the oligarchs. Lebedev’s bank was used by Yeltsin’s Treasury in order to channel state funds into piles of greenbacks all wrapped up for bribes. It was some of Lebedev’s cash that was seized by security in the infamous Case of the Xerox Paper Box, when an activist tried to carry out millions of dollars for Yeltsin’s bribe fund in a cardboard box. Lebedev did not shy away from this deed; he was rather proud of it, and even paid the dirt-digging magazine Kompromat(“Compromising Matters”) to produce a special issue containing a sanitised version of this, and other exploits.
Lebedev’s daring misdeeds inevitably attracted the attention of law enforcement, and a case against him was eventually drawn up by the State Attorney General. Lebedev, by his own boast, set the Attorney General up with two easy-going girls in a sauna, and filmed the frolics. The film has been broadcasted on a fellow oligarch’s private NTV channel and the Attorney General abruptly resigned.
Some people say that Lebedev was not responsible for the setup. If true, this speaks volumes. Might Mr. Lebedev think that bad publicity is much better than no publicity at all? The facts support the theory. Lebedev produced a book ominously entitled 666 or The Beast Is Born, full of prosaic smackdowns targeting nearly every public personality in Russia. He humbly refers to himself as the “ideal capitalist” and claims credit for these and other dashing criminal exploits.
Lebedev is always quick with an explanation as to why each crime was a good deed: it was either to save Russia from the clutches of the commies (he conveniently misplaces his own Party credentials), or to save the world from the KGB (again he is silent about his own history in the very same service). He openly despises Putin’s working class roots and rise to power. It galls him that they once had the same rank in the KGB. But the real reason behind Lebedev’s opposition is that Putin fearlessly prosecutes the oligarchs. Or is it “persecutes”?
Oligarchs have a persecution complex: any and all interference is unjust. They think of themselves as omnipotent, though they are only powerful, and they bristle against even the most minor efforts to curtail their power. Their money buys them power over life and death, but this power saps their mental health. They start to believe the hype offered by sycophants. They begin to reject trusted advisors. They end up alone and unhinged, pursued by the law. Too much power corrupts, and the Russian oligarchs have more power than any of Stalin’s satraps ever had.
Mr Putin does not approve of oligarchs meddling in politics. He does not punish them arbitrarily, nor does he rewrite the laws to target them. Putin’s Russia allows these tycoons to get away with many things, but it does draw the line at crime – sometimes. This is Putin’s great sacrilege; he holds the oligarchs accountable to the letter of the law. This level of independence comes as a great shock to them. They are getting whiplash trying to readjust after the total freedom of lapdog Yeltsin’s day. The oligarchs wistfully recall the days when they employed their powers over life and death with impunity, like viceroys of India in Clive’s time.
Alas, Mr Lebedev’s political ambitions have remained unfulfilled. He reduced his lofty goals to something more achievable, and decided to become the Mayor of Moscow. He failed. Worried now, he set his sights upon becoming the Mayor of Sochi (the Miami of Russia). Again, he failed. The sharks, sensing blood, began to circle. His dashing exploits belatedly began to attract the attention of the law, especially his alleged appropriation of $300 million in state bailout funds meant to shore up his bank. He accepted the money, but it soon became apparent that his bank’s coffers were empty, or rather stuffed with fictitious promissory notes. His dealings in the aircraft industry also have come under scrutiny and it appears that the state, the main shareholder, might have been swindled in a major way.
In response, the canny Mr Lebedev activated his long term insurance policy. If he were a Russian Jew, he would have claimed he was being attacked by authoritarian Russian anti-Semites; but Mr Lebedev is not a Russian Jew. Instead, Mr Lebedev claims he is being attacked by authoritarian KGB thugslike Mr Putin. This insurance was effective but expensive: for many years he had been forced to heavily subsidise the anti-Putin newspaper Novaya Gazeta, widely read in the central borough of Moscow and unheard of elsewhere. To influence the international set, he purchased two British newspapers and strenuously promoted his new image as a sort of Khodorkovsky: just another wealthy man victimized by Putin’s KGB thugs. He claimed that he was poisoned like Litvinenko, but he miraculously survived. The British were only too happy to cooperate with Lebedev’s propaganda campaigns; the establishment was (and is) willing to support any and all anti-Putin elements, including the Chechen separatists.
It was during his campaign for Moscow Mayor, that Mr Lebedev became aware of Mr Polonsky, who happened to be on good terms with the incumbent Mayor. At that time, Polonsky was busy erecting the tallest twin skyscrapers in Europe, the Federation Towers – the gem of Moscow City. Polonsky immediately became the next target for Lebedev’s hate: another low-caste self-made man, definitely not a pukka sahib. It was also an opportune moment for a quick and easy kill, because Polonsky’s star was falling fast.
Polonsky had gotten himself into trouble, as do all the oligarchs at one point or another. He was not thorough and he was not prudent. He rejected his trusted advisors and surrounded himself with yes-men. He believed his hunch instead of counting odds. He jumped into multimillion deals with a bow and a handshake, and his partners walked away with chunks of his empire. His dreams of samurai honour were shattered by modern Russian business pragmatism.
He relied upon his assistants, and they robbed him blind. The more he empowered them, the faster they would vamoose with his money. His vast capital (assessed at over three billion dollars at the peak) began to shrink precipitously; cash flow became a problem for him, he was over-extended and had difficulty completing his most ambitious projects. Ordinary people who invested in his projects had become justifiably angry.
It was at this moment that the cunning Lebedev unveiled his ingenuous device to break Polonsky. The media mogul spread a malicious (and apparently false) rumour that the foundations of Federation Towers had cracked. Polonsky was already on the defensive, now his back was against the wall. He invited Moscow journalists to come and look for themselves: they were allowed to roam freely some forty yards below the surface, trying to locate the crack, refusing to admit its absence. He offered a million roubles to anyone who could find it. Nobody found anything, but the rumour persisted, supported by Mr Lebedev and his newspapers.
Alone and unhinged, Polonsky began to claim that he himself invented the crack story in order to promote public awareness of the project. There were no buyers for this weird story. His projects continued to suffer setbacks, raiders continued to seize his developments, his companions continued to rob him blind. The crack story cracked his empire.
This is the backstory to the Oligarch Smackdown on live TV. It was ostensibly going to be about global economics. They had exchanged only a few words when Mr Polonsky brought up the painful subject of the crack. The whole world awaited Lebedev’s reply. He looked into the eyes of his victim. What did Mr Lebedev feel at that moment? Pride? Hatred? In any case, alone and unhinged, he rose and landed a few well-aimed jabs upon Polonsky’s jaw. The sitting ex-commando was knocked down, decisively proving the superiority of KGB training over that of Airborne Troopers. The programme was a global success; after delighting the viewers, who had been prepared for a dry recitation of global doom, it went on to become an all-time favourite on YouTube.
But the story did not end there. In face of millions who had watched the assault live, Lebedev denied he hit Polonsky. Standing just outside of the studio, Lebedev insisted stubbornly to the journalists: “I did not touch him; Polonsky assaulted me, because I am in opposition to Putin.” Yes, Lebedev is amazing: he is one man who is prepared to deny anything. Years ago, he had fought to ban gambling in St Petersburg, an ostensibly noble purpose. When it came out that his bank had heavily invested in the lotteries (the main competitor to gaming machines), Lebedev denied all motives of self-interest. Even after his own bank manager proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the strategy was Lebedev’s own idea, he continued to deny all knowledge with a straight face. I wonder if even James Bond could equal this feat.
During the race for the Moscow City Hall, Lebedev bought a newspaper (theMoscow Correspondent) and turned it into a fighting machine. They soon printed a scurrilous rumour that Mr Putin was involved in an extra-marital affair. Lebedev could not imagine that Putin would react as he did. Usually quite complacent to rumours, accusations and attacks, the President became furious. Fearing Putin’s fury, Lebedev immediately shut down the newspaper, fired the editor and said on air that the baseless article was created by the current Mayor of Moscow and inserted by the editor in return for a bribe. This brazen lie cost the editor his career; Lebedev never recanted.
Since his televised assault, Lebedev has been asked many times why he did it. Some of his explanations are so off the wall that one has difficulty believing he actually offered them as true statements. The palm probably should go to “I thought that I would become a popular hero because I struck out against that hateful oligarch”. This is rich coming from him. Polonsky seems genuinely at a loss to explain Lebedev’s behaviour. Not only has Lebedev refused to apologise, he is continuing to deny he even did it. Is he claiming the insanity defence? More likely he is claiming his rights of oligarchic power: the impunity defence.
Polonsky has not benefited from his public humiliation; in fact, the story only further injured his already suffering business reputation, and a project he had planned to do in London collapsed soon afterwards. It was for this reason that he brought civil charges against Lebedev in a London court, and retired to his Cambodian island, posting his daily catch of barracudas on the Facebook.
Almost a year had passed before the exceedingly slow-grinding mills of Russian criminal justice charged Mr Lebedev, but eventually the media baron was charged with “hooliganism” and “assault”. His lawyers claim that Lebedev had felt threatened and was forced to defend himself; Lebedev (with a straight face) claims that he is being persecuted by the bloody Putin regime for his “love of freedom”. A bald-faced liar is always more entertaining than a talented ingénue, so we will not be too surprised if Mr Lebedev walks away with a slap on the wrist. Anyway, the bloody Putin regime is soft on the oligarchs. However, this Oligarch Smackdown is far from over. We await Mr Lebedev’s elevation to the voice of Russia’s conscience by his own British hacks!
Across Syria these days, one is able to examine massive evidence that this ancient civilization, the historic bastion of nationalist Arabism and since the 1948 Nabka, an essential pillar of the growing culture of Resistance to the Zionist occupation of Palestine, is becoming awash with foreign arms being funneled to “rebels” by countries advocating regime change.
This observer has been researching foreign arms transfers into certain Middle East countries since last summer in Libya, where to a lesser degree the identical foreign actors were involved in facilitating the transfer of arms and fighters to topple the then, “Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.”
During a recent stay in Syria, I was able to observe first hand, substantial demonstrative evidence supporting the thesis that American, Zionist and Gulf intelligence agencies as well as private arms dealers from these countries top the list of more than two dozen countries benefiting from the crisis in Syria by injecting arms. These countries gain politically and financially, via governmental and black market arms transfers.
Which countries are sending the most weapons into Syria to arm militia?
A list of the top 24 countries, among the more than three dozen that are currently involved in sending weapons to Syria to achieve regime change include: USA, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, UK, France, Canada, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Brazil, Portugal, Poland, Yugoslavia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, and Argentina.
Above: one of the periodic lists complied of foreign weapons confiscated from foreign fighters in Syria. Aug.-late September, 2012
Nearly two-thirds of the above listed arms suppliers are members of NATO and constitute almost half of NATO’s 28 country membership.
Russia is not included in the above list because it is the main supplier of arms to the Syrian government. Yet, one finds older USSR era weapons and even some more recent vintage Russian arms in rebel hands, the latter from the decade (12/79-2/89) of Soviet, occupation of Afghanistan. Also offering Russian weapons are a growing number of black market arms dealers of whom there is no shortage along the Turkey-Syrian border and elsewhere. This recent visitor to Syria was offered near the Old City, AK 47’s (Russian Kalashnikovs) or Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) for $ 1,800 (in Lebanon today and before the Syrian crisis the price was around $800. After some bargaining and starting to walk away a couple of times, the “special one-time only price for an American friend” dropped to $ 750 each. Russian made Dragunov sniper rifles are being offered at $ 6,500 but can be bought for around $ 5000.Buying arms these days in Syria is a caveat emptor proposition. Fake weapons and military rejects/defects are also being offered by hustlers from nearby countries including Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.
The involvement of numerous countries in the Syrian crisis as arms suppliers and political operatives was tangentially referenced by the recent UN Security Council Statement of 12/25/12 which admits the existence of foreign actors and implies their arms supplying activities by urging “all regional and international actors to use their influence on the parties concerned to facilitate the implementation of the (Eid al Adha) ceasefire and cessation of violence.”
Syria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Bashar al-Jaafari observed last week: “This part of the [Security Council] press statement, mentioned for the first time, proves Syria’s view repeated since the beginning of the crisis on the existence of Arab, regional and international parties influencing the armed groups negatively or positively. Therefore, those parties need to be addressed.”
One of the key challenges for the UN and Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi whose aides told this observer at the Dama Rose hotel on 10/22/12 where we were staying, is: “We need to persuade key countries in the Middle East, but also internationally, not to support the rebels with arms.
The failed initiative of envoy El Brahimi, was the third ceasefire attempt to date following the December 2011Arab League proposal and the April 2012 Kofi Annan initiative, both of which were endorsed by the Syrian government and most of the world community. Some rebel militia, but not nearly enough, did endorse the Brahimi four day Eid al Adha ceasefire only to have it collapse this past weekend. To his credit, Brahimi continues his work.
The same Brahimi sources suggested that the United States may also be supplying man-portable air-defense systems (Manpods) to rebels in Syria. According to Russian Foregin Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich, speaking on 12/15/12: “At the same time, it is also well-known that Washington is aware of supplies of various types of arms to illegal armed groups operating in Syria. Moreover, the United States, judging by admissions by American officials that have also been published in American media, is conducting coordination and providing logistical support for such supplies.” NBC News, based in New York reported in July that Syrian insurgents had obtained two dozen US MANPADS, delivered from Turkey.
A month after the October 2011 death of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in Tripoli that the U.S. was committing $40 million to help Libya “secure and recover its weapons stockpiles.” Congressional sources report that the Obama administration is fully aware that quantities of these arms are current in Syria and more in transit.
With respect to arms moving from Libya to Syria, on the night of Sept. 11 Libya time, in what was his last public meeting, US Ambassador Christopher Stevens met with the Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin, and accompanied him to the consulate front gate just before the assault began. Although what was discussed has not yet been made public, Washington sources including the pro-Zionist Fox News speculate that Stevens may have been in Benghazi negotiating a weapons transfer, from Libya to Syria.
Earlier this year, Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro expressed concerns that the increasing flow of Libya arms was far from under control. Speaking to the Stimson Center in Washington D.C. on 2/10/12 Shapiro said: “This raises the question — how many weapons and missiles are still missing? The frank answer is we don’t know and probably never will.”
According to a 10/14/12 report by the Times of London, a vessel flying the Libyan flag named Al Entisar (Victory), loaded with more than 400 tons of cargo, docked in southern Turkey 35 miles from the Syrian northern border. While some of the undeclared cargo was likely humanitarian, staff accompanying UN envoy Brahimi during his recent Syrian trip report the Al Entisar also carried the largest consignment of foreign weapons to date, including surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles, RPG’s and MANPADS destined for Syria.
Partly because of the jihadists and arms entering Syria from its northern border, southern Turkey is increasingly referred to here in Damascus as “New Afghanistan”, given its matrix of jihadists, salafists, wahabists, and battle-hardened panoply of arriving foreign would-be mujahedeen and al Qaeda affiliates.
One teenage al Qaeda wannebe explained to the author that his specialty was making and using homemade specialized knives as shown in this photo. He also delivered a mini-lecture he said was based on a Koranic Hadith explaining why severing heads of animals and adversaries is actually the most humane method. He gave earnest assurances that if allowed to perform a one-time demonstration, this observer would feel no pain and he would post the photo on Facebook!
Remarkably, as was witnessed in 2007, during the conflict at the Nahr al Bared Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon, some of the arriving eager jihadists in “New Afghanistan” actually believe that they are fighting against Zionist forces near occupied Palestine and not killing fellow Arabs in Syria.
Some, but not all of the many types of small arms flowing into Syria in large numbers, and viewed by this observer include:
7.62mm Tabuk (Yugoslavia) rifles, Mass rifles (UK), 7.62 mm rifles (Poland), 12 mm rifles (Italy), 7.62 mm Kalashnikovs (several countries versions), 9 mm ‘fast gun’, (Austria), 7.62 mm Val (Belgium), G3 7.62 mm G3 rifles (Germany), 7.5mm model 36 rifles (France), M16 and a variety of sniper and other rifles (USA), 7.62 rifles (Bulgaria, 10.5 Uzi and other automatic machine guns, three types of hand grenades (Israel), 9 mm guns (Canada), 7 mm guns (Czech Republic), 7 mm guns (Brazil).
Photo: 10.23.12 Syria
Israeli weapons are among the most frequently found in Syria as was the case in Libya. Israeli arms dealers are claimed to have recently intensified links with Blackwater International and also are currently smuggling through the Golan Heights, the tri-border area of south Lebanon, occupied Palestine and Syria.
The observer also examined and was briefed on M72 LAW and AT-3 anti-tank missiles developed by the United States. But the extent of their use is difficult to verify. Most of the arms shown in accompanying photos are from the main urban centers and near the Turkish, Iraqi, Lebanese and Jordanian borders.
In tightly built up urban areas such as Homs, Idlib and Aleppo, door to door fighting includes a battle among snipers. According to one Syrian military intelligence source in whose Damascus office this observer discussed the subject, the most frequently confiscated sniper rifles currently being found in the hands of “rebels” include:
· the U.S. Army & USMC M1903-A4 (also: USMC M1903-A1/Unertl), the U.S. Army & USMC M1C & M1D and U.S. Army M21;
Photo: Damascus 10/23/12: American weapons from Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey and NATO stores are entering Syria with the aid of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and black market arms dealers.
· the Israeli M89SR Technical Equipment International 7.62x51mm NATO Semi-automatic, Galil Sniper Rifle and the T.C.I. M89-SR,
· the British .243 Winchester, 7.62x51mm NATO/.308 Winchester,.300 Winchester Magnum, and the 338 Lapua Magnum Bolt action sniper rifles.
Photo: Syria 10/13/12: The most frequently confiscated sniper rifles currently being found in the hands of “rebels” in Syria include the above shown U.S. Army & USMC M1903-A4. Other US sniper rifles include the USMC M1903-A1/Unertl), the U.S. Army & USMC M1C & M1D and U.S. Army M21
A few Afghanistan era Russian Dragonov SVD and SV-98 sniper rifles have also been confiscated among an assortment of others.
Foreign jihadists have some access to Soviet-era DShK heavy machine guns or ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft cannons which are used for anti-aircraft and fire support. Both use fairly scarce high-explosive rounds and armor-piercing rounds, which are capable of penetrating the armor of the Syrian military’s BMP infantry fighting vehicles. The ZU-23-2 “Sergey”, also known as ZU-23, is a Soviet towed 23 mm anti-aircraft cannon. Vehicle mounted Zu-23-2’s are relatively easy to spot by government aircraft and artillery units are used to attack a target and quickly flee to avoid counter strikes.
On 10/25/12 Russia reiterated its claims that the US assists and coordinates arms deliveries to foreign-sponsored insurgents battling the Syrian government forces. Russia’s chief military officer said that Syrian armed groups have acquired US-made weapons, including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. This observer saw many weapons from more than a dozen types of IED’s (improvised explosive device) to medium sized artillery pieces but no missiles.
Photo: 10/24/12 Damascus, Syria
Improvised Explosive Devices are a key rebel weapon with many arriving from Iraq and camps near Hataya, Turkey. Many DIY (do it yourself) improvisations have been uncovered across Syria in both urban and rural areas. This observer examined and was briefed on several types, including those shown above.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry issued statement of 10/25/12, “Washington is aware of the deliveries of various weapons to illegal armed groups active in Syria. Moreover, judging by the declarations of US officials published in US media, the US coordinates and provides logistical assistance in such deliveries.”
Some analysts in Damascus claim that Syria’s potential military strength has not been as effective as it could be in the current urban fights against rebels. The government appears very strong militarily if one studies the statistics regarding Syria’s large and disciplined army which continues its support and also given its sophisticated long range missiles, air defense systems that have deterred an airborne attack from Israel. One reason progress has at times appeared slow against the “rebels” according to some local analysts was a certain initial unpreparedness to confront highly motivated guerrilla militia in downtown densely populated areas. These kinds of battles, it is claimed, require a mobile infantry, armored flexibility and very effective use of light arms. The Assad government’s “adapt, catch up and go on the offensive” paradigm is developing rapidly according to US Senate Armed Service Committee sources who assert that the Syria army has actually become battle hardened, tougher, stronger and more disciplined over the past several months. But it has taken time and has incurred a significant cost.
Weapons examined by this observer in Syria during 10/12 include some of the more than 1,750 new American sniper rifles channeled from Iraq and NATO supply stores to rebel militia.
How foreign weapons are entering Syria
As widely speculated particularly in the regional media, foreign supplied weapons to “rebels” arrive by air, sea and mainly by land from Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and occupied Palestine.
Israel is reported, by some researchers in Damascus who have been covering the crisis for nearly 20 months, to be sending arms to Syria from Kurdistan, having had much experience in Africa, South America and Eastern Europe via Mossad and Israeli black market arms dealing. What Israel did in Libya in terms of a wide spread arms business it is also trying to do in Syria. Israeli arms, according to Syrian and Lebanese sources are being transported into Syria from along the tri-border area of South Lebanon, near Shebaa Farms, close to Jabla al-Saddaneh, and Gadja. In addition, Israeli smugglers have increasingly, over the past five months, been seen by locals moving arms inside Syria via the Golan Heights. These violations of Syrian and Lebanese sovereignty raise serious questions about the vigilance of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force Zone (UNDO) based in the Golan Heights as well as the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the Lebanese Army as well as National Lebanese Resistance units near the ‘blue line’ to stop the illicit Israeli arms transfers.
The recent arrival in southern Turkey and along the northern Syrian border of Blackwater mercenaries is expected to increase the foreign arms flow. Currently using the name Academi (previously known as Xena- Xe Services LLC, Blackwater USA and Blackwater Worldwide) Academi is currently, according to Jane’s Defense Weekly, the largest of the US governments “private security” contractors. Details of its relationship with the US Defense Department and the CIA are classified.
Is there a coherent US policy toward the Syrian crisis?
Secretary of State Clinton has been announcing recently that the U.S. is increasing its “non-lethal support” (i.e. direct shipments as opposed to boots on the ground or ballistic weapons) according to her Congressional liaison office. She also confirmed that Washington is working with its friends and allies to promote more cohesion among the disparate Syrian opposition groups with the aim of producing a new leadership council following meetings scheduled for Doha in the coming weeks.
Photo: Syria: 10/24/12
Examples of US, UK and NATO “non-lethal aid” equipment taken from militia in south and north Syria between 5/2011 and 10/2012.
However, to the consternation of the State Department, General David Petraeus the former US commander of NATO forces in Iraq, now director of the CIA acknowledged, during his senate confirmation hearings. “Non-lethal aid to combatants, including communication equipment, is sometimes more lethal and important than explosive devices due to the logistical advantages they provides on the battlefield.”
In tandem with the US, the UK and several European governments are supplying “non-lethal” aid to the Syrian opposition, including satellite communications equipment according to Syria security sources.
There is also plenty of anecdotal and demonstrative and probative evidence in Syria of human weapons patterned on the “Zarqawi model” which refers to the bloody al Qaeda in Mesopotamia campaign named for its leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi after U.S. troops occupied Iraq.
In a speech this week in Zagreb, Croatia, this week, Secretary of State Clinton insisted that any group seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad must reject attempts by extremists to “hijack” a legitimate revolution. She added, “There are disturbing reports of heavily armed foreign extremists going into Syria and attempting to take over.” Clinton used her strongest words to date concerning risks that the uprising in Syria could be overtaken by militants who do not seek a democratic replacement or the reforms that the current government claims it is trying to implement. She told her conferees: “We made it clear that the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition. They can be part of a larger opposition, but that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice. We also need an opposition that will be on record strongly resisting the efforts by extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution. There are disturbing reports of heavily armed extremists going into Syria and attempting to take over.” Clinton advised her colleagues that the US has become convinced that the SNC does not represent the interests of all ethnic and religious groups in Syria and that it has little legitimacy among on-the-ground activists and fighters, and has done little to stem the infiltration of Islamist extremists into the opposition forces.
Clinton’s language is being interpreted by some as evidence that a post-election Obama Whitehouse, she he win on November, may move toward the Russian, Chinese, and Iranian position and away from, what one Congressional source derisively labeled, “ the view from the Gulf gas stations” i.e. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and some other despotic monarchies.
The intervention in Syria by more than three dozen countries supplying weapons must be stopped. Both sides of the Syrian crisis need to manifest by actions, not just words, a serious commitment to meaningful dialogue. The above noted arms supplying countries, and others off stage, have a solemn obligation to their citizens and to the world community to immediately halt the shipment of arms.
They should, and their people should demand that they do without further delay, honor the words of Isaiah 2:3-5….”and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
Granted, perhaps a cliché and certainly far easier said than done.
Yet, as Oregon’s late great US Senator Wayne Morse used tell audiences around America during the Vietnam War, quoting General George Marshall, “The only way we human beings can win a war is to prevent it.”
It’s time for the international community to end the Syrian crisis diplomatically, stop funneling arms and cash fueling hoped for regime change elements. Instead, they must demand that all the involved parties immediately engage in serious dialogue and settle their differences.
Almost a year has passed since we last took note of Turkey’s increasing clout in three key areas of neo-Ottoman expansion: the Balkans, the Arab world, and the predominantly Muslim regions of the former Soviet Union. Each has played a significant part in reshaping the geopolitics of the Greater Middle East over the past decade. This complex project, which remains under-reported in the Western media and denied or ignored by policy-makers in Washington, is going well for Prime Minister Rejep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP (Justice and Development Party).
On the external front, Ankara’s decision to support the uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria has changed the equation in the region. Until last spring, Erdoğan’s team was advising Bashar to follow the path of political and economic reform in order to avoid descent into violent anarchy. Within months, however, Turkey has become a key player in Washington’s regime-change strategy by not only providing operational bases and supply channels to the rebels, but by simultaneously confronting Iran over Syria. The war of words between them is escalating. Earlier this week, Iranian Chief of Staff General Hassan Firousabadi accused Turkey of assisting the “war-waging goals of America. The AKP government has reinforced Turkey’s old position as a key U.S. regional partner. It is skillfully pursuing its distinct regional objectives, which in the long run are bound to collide with those of the U.S., while appearing to act at the behest of Washington and revamping its Cold War role as a reliable NATO-“Western” outpost in the region.
This newly gained credit has enabled Erdoğan to make a series of problematic moves with impunity, the most notable being Turkey’s growing support for Hamas in the Palestinian Authority and its treatment of Iraq as a state with de facto limited sovereignty. In a highly publicized symbolic gesture, on July 24 Erdoğan met Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal at his official residence to break the daily fast during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. Ties between Turkey and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, have blossomed since Turkey’s alliance with Israel collapsed following a raid by Israeli troops on a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza in 2010. At the same time, Ankara’s links with the more moderate Fatah movement, which rules the West Bank, are at a standstill; Turkey wants Hamas to prevail in the Palestinian power struggle.
In northern Iraq, Turkey has developed close relations with the Kurdish leadership in Kirkuk. It has made significant investments in the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region as a means of exerting political influence and thus preempting demands for full independence, which could have serious implications for the Kurdish minority in eastern Turkey. In an audacious display of assertiveness, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited the Kurdish-ruled northern Iraq earlier this month without notifying the government in Baghdad, let alone seeking its approval. Turning the putative Kurdish statelet in Iraq into its client is a major coup for the government in Ankara. The partnership is based on the common interest of denying the Marxist PKK guerrillas a foothold on either side of the border. In a joint statement, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan warned the PKK that they would act jointly to counter any attempt to exploit the power vacuum in Syria. Another far-reaching albeit unstated common goal is to provide Iraq’s Kurds with a potential northwestern route for their oil and gas exports, which Al Maliki’s central government would not be able to control. The net effect is likely to be further weakening of an already unstable Iraq in the aftermath of U.S. withdrawal; yet Washington appears unperturbed by Turkey’s gambit. It is apparently unaware of the fact that, in Ankara’s worldview, “nothing can stand in the way of its dream of becoming the ultimate energy bridge between East and West.”
The Obama Administration has been equally indifferent to Prime Minister Erdoğan’s trouble-making in the Balkans. Most recently, his provocative statement last month that Bosnia and Herzegovina is in the “care” of his country has caused no reaction in Washington. “Bosnia and Herzegovina is entrusted to us,” stated Erdoğan during a meeting of Justice and Development Party (AK Party) provincial heads held in Ankara on July 11,recalling the alleged statement of the late Bosnian Muslim leader, Alija Izetbegović, whom Erdoğan visited on his deathbed in Sarajevo. “He whispered in my ear these phrases: ‘Bosnia is entrusted to you [Turkey]. These places are what remain of the Ottoman Empire’,” said Erdoğan. He went on to describe Izetbegović as “a legendary hero and captain,” and to declare that Turkey would “put this trust in God with high precision.”
The notion of Bosnia and Herzegovina being given as a ‘trust’ to Turkey in the name of its Ottoman legacy reflects an earlier statement by the outgoing leader of the Islamic community in Bosnia, Efendi Mustafa Cerić, who told Erdoğan that “Turkey is our Mother. That’s how it was always, and it will remain like that.” Erdoğan’s latest outburst was immediately welcomed by the leader of the biggest Muslim party in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sulejman Tihić.
The notion that Bosnia has been bequeathed by its fundamentalist Muslim leader to the Turkish state is unsurprisingly anathema to the non-Muslim majority of Bosnia’s citizens. “Bosnia and Herzegovina is not a land to be inherited,” said Igor Radojičić, the Bosnian Serb Parliament speaker. Bosnian Croat leader Dragan Čović expressed puzzlement that Izetbegović could imagine Bosnia was his to give away as a trust. Analysts outside Bosnia also expressed outrage. Serbian historian Čedomir Antić, called the statement “an unprecedented provocation” that should be “officially renounced by Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia”. Professor Darko Tanasković, Serbia’s former ambassador to Turkey, was not surprised, however. The statement represents a political reality, he said, that Turkey sees the Balkans as a priority in its ambitious foreign policy.
Three months earlier the leader of the Islamic Community in Montenegro (Islamska zajednica Crne Gore, IZCG),Reis Rifat Fejzić, signed an agreement with the authorities in Podgorica on the status of the Muslim minority there. The Agreement stipulates that any disputes within the Islamic Community will be referred for arbitration to the Directorate of Religious Affairs of the Turkish Republic (Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı). This is a remarkable development: the Republic of Montegnegro—a sovereign, non-Muslim Balkan state—has formally granted decision-making powers in matters affecting some of its citizens to an institution of another sovereign and nominally still secular state. Imam Fejzić’s explanation added an interesting twist to the story. Some disputes among Roman Catholics are referred to the Vatican, he said, so it is normal for Muslim disputes to be referred to Ankara. In other words, the Turkish state is to assume the role of an Islamic Vatican for the Muslim millets of the former Ottoman Empire. The Montenegrin precedent is the model Ankara will seek to apply elsewhere. Turkish politicians have already taken an active role in mediating between the rival factions of the Muslim religious and political establishment in Serbia’s Sanjak region.
The U.S. is sympathetic to Turkey’s Balkan ambitions not only because they seem to fit in with a Western strategy of long standing, but also because Turkey is seen as a counterweight to Iran’s influence in the region. As John Schindler, the author of the seminal book Unholy Terror pointed out recently, the close relationship between leading circles in Sarajevo and Tehran harks back to before the Bosnian war. During the war the Clinton Administration aided and abetted Iranian deliveries of arms to the Bosnian Muslim side, and the SDA has always had a soft spot for Tehran. Now, however, with a potential war with Iran looming, Schindler says,the U.S. and its European allies, who have done so much to help the Bosnian Muslims for a generation, have had enough. As reported by the Sarajevo daily Dnevni avaz, last week Patrick Moon and Nigel Casey, the American and British ambassadors to BiH, jointly read the riot act to Sadik Ahmetović, the country’s powerful security minister, telling him that the SDA and Sarajevo must sever their secret ties—espionage, political, financial—with Tehran:
Sarajevo officially has been given a warning to reset its course in a European and Western direction as war with Iran looms. Hard decisions will have to be made by the SDA. They have been repeatedly deferred for nearly two decades but can be avoided no longer. If the Bosnian Muslims opt to stick with Iran as tensions rise, the ramifications for them and all Europe may be dire indeed.
Bosnia’s Muslims, ever mindful of the need for foreign support in their disputes with the country’s Serbs and Croats, will likely opt for even closer links with Ankara to compensate for an eventual weakening of the Iranian connection —and they will do so with Washington’s approval. Yet again Turkey will strengthen its position in the Balkans while relying on the Western powers to do its field work.
At home, the parallel process of re-Islamization of the Turkish state and society is well-nigh-irreversible. The Army has been decisively neutralized as a political factor. Last February, Erdogan declared that it is not the goal of the AKP government to raise atheist generations, and he certainly has been true to his word. Earlier this month, Turkey’s Board of Higher Education appointed Islamic scholar Suleyman Necati Akcesme as its secretary-general. His duties will include appointing professors and rectors, as well as overseeing universities. Akcesme will occupy a position of direct influence over Turkey’s higher education —unimaginable for an imam in the old Kemalist setup. The influence of the shadowy Gülen Movement, a fundamentalist sect calling for a New Islamic Age based on the “Turkish-Islamic Synthesis,” is becoming all-pervasive, with rich businessmen and senior civil servants donating an average of 10 percent of their income to the cemaat. According to the August 8 issue of Der Spiegel,
Gülen’s influence in Turkey was enhanced when … the AKP won the Turkish parliamentary election in 2002. Observers believe that the two camps entered into a strategic partnership at first, with Gülen providing the AKP with votes while Erdogan protected the cemaat. According to information obtained by US diplomats, almost a fifth of the AKP’s members of parliament were members of the Gülen movement in 2004, including the justice and culture ministers. Many civil servants act at the behest of the “Gülen brothers,” says a former senior member… In 2006, former police chief Adil Serdar Sacan estimated that the Fethullahcis held more than 80 percent of senior positions in the Turkish police force . . .
Sharia-inspired legislation is affecting the society at large. Turkey’s recent laws and taxes on alcohol sales are more rigorous than those in Egypt or Tunisia before last year’s revolutions. Employers are now authorized to fire any employer who comes to work having had a drink, as opposed to being drunk. Having a single glass of raki, wine or beer with lunch—perfectly common in the business community until a few months ago—may now abruptly end a career. More troublingly, Turkey now leads the world in “honor killings” of girls, with a murder rate five times that of Pakistan. As Turkish affairs expert Barry Rubin has noted, many Turks are astounded by Obama’s policy of favoring the current regime in Ankara: “the regime has thrown hundreds of people in prison without trial or evidence… and it is turning Turkey into a repressive police state,” yet the Department of State and the White House remain indifferent. Turkey’s secularists feel abandoned and betrayed.
Turkey’s shift from Kemalism via post-Kemalism to anti-Kemalism is a process of historic significance for the Greater Middle East. In 2005 senior State Department official Daniel Fried declared, absurdly, that Erdoğan’s AKP was simply the Islamic equivalent of a West European Christian Democratic party and that Turkey remains a staunch ally of the United States. The diagnosis was evidently mistaken seven years ago. Today it amounts to an unforgivable act of willful self-deception.
In the meantime Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prepares for discussions in Istanbul on August 11 that will focus on forming a “common operational picture” with the Turks “to guide a democratic transition in post-Assad Syria.”
Over the past two decades the decisionmakers in Washington have acquired and internalized a bias in Balkan affairs that falls outside the parameters of rational debate. As Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute has noted, such policy is not as inconsistent as it seems: “Time after time the U.S. policy makers would ask what is it that the Serbs want, they would think about it for about five seconds, and reply that it is totally unacceptable.”
Such consistency has had grim results. Their mendacity, as displayed at Rambouillet in February 1999, was on par with the farce of Munich in 1938. In Kosovo their bombs led to a violent secession by an ethnic minority which, in the fullness of time, may render many European borders tentative. In Bosnia-Herzegovina they helped ignite the war in the spring of 1992, notably with U.S. Ambassador Warren Zimmermann’s now notorious mission to Sarajevo. They kept it going in 1993 by torpedoing the European-led peace initiatives. They engineered an outcome in 1995 that could have been obtained in 1992 without a single shot. In Croatia, in August 1995, they aided and abetted the biggest act of ethnic cleansing in post-1945 Europe.
The puzzling question remains: why did America get involved in Balkan affairs, which bear no relationship to U.S. security, involving herself in long-standing and perhaps incurable national conflicts, and consistently acting in bad faith at that?
THE BURDEN OF HISTORY—The U.S. policy in the Balkans made its debut near the end of the First World War. President Wilson, while advocating the creation of Yugoslavia in 1918, did not realize that the unification of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was at least half-century overdue: the process of separate cultural development and the emergence of mutually incompatible national identities among the South Slavs had been completed. But being a liberal, Wilson did not allow Balkan realities to get in the way of his vision. He blended the Puritan self-righteous zeal with the Progressive Era’s belief in the power of politics to change the world for the better. His concepts of “self-determination,” “enlarging democracy” and “collective security” signaled the birth of a view of America’s role in world affairs which has created—and is still creating—endless problems for America and for the world.
After 1948 Tito came to be perceived as an asset by the U.S. Money, weapons, and warm welcome were soon to follow and continued until the end of the dictator’s life in 1980. Fixated on “Tito’s Yugoslavia” as a factor of Cold War stability, key American leaders disregarded—a decade later—the fact that Tito’s internal boundaries between the federal republics were the root cause of the looming conflict. Arbitrarily designed by the communist winners in the civil war in 1945, they left a third of all Serbs outside Serbia-proper, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro. For good measure two “autonomous provinces” were carved out of Serbia, one of which—Kosovo—is an almost Serbenfrei quasi-state today.
For as long as Yugoslavia existed the Serbs could nevertheless derive some comfort from the existence of a common Federal framework: it appeared to promise them a measure of security from the repetition of the nightmare of 1941-45. When Yugoslavia started unraveling, however, in 1991-92, they were determined to resist any attempt by the breakaway republics to force millions of Serbs to become insecure and disliked minorities in their own land.
POLITICAL ESSENCE OF THE WARS—In Croatia in 1991 and in Bosnia in 1992 the Serbs reacted in the same manner as the Americans of Texas, Arizona or New Mexico may react—10 or 20 years from now—if they are outvoted by a Latino majority demanding that those states be reabsorbed into Mexico, or into a contrived “Republic of the North.” For those who discount such outcomes, let us remember history. For example, the Protestant Ulstermen fought, demanded, and were given the right to stay in the United Kingdom when the Irish nationalists opted for secession in 1921. A second poignant illustration is the creation of the State of West Virginia in 1863 when—during the Civil War—the Union annexed the counties of the Commonwealth of Virginia that rejected secession. When comparing the paradigms, the Loyalists of Ulster and the Unionists of West Virginia were just as guilty of a “Joint Criminal Enterprise” to break up Ireland, or the Old Dominion, as were the Serbs of Bosnia-Herzegovina who did not want to be dragged into secession by the Muslim plurality.
Yugoslavia was a flawed polity, and in principle there should have been no objection to the striving of Croats or Bosnian Muslims to create their own nation-states. But equally there could have been no justification for forcing over two million Serbs west of the Drina River to be incorporated into those states against their will. Yugoslavia came together in 1918 as a union of South Slav peoples, and not as a federation of states or territorial units. Its divorce, once it became inevitable, should have proceeded on the same basis. This has been the key foundation of the Yugoslav conflict ever since the first shots were fired in May 1991.
The political essence of the wars of Yugoslav disintegration has been systematically hidden or distorted in the Western mainstream media, academia, and political forums, behind the portrayal of the Serbs as primitive ultranationalists who seek to conquer other peoples’ lands by violent means. The demonization of the Serbs was an exercise in social constructivism, depressingly effective in its crude simplicity. As early as 1992 the media pack equated the brutalities of the Balkans with the Holocaust. Once the paradigm matured with the myth of the “Srebrenica Genocide,” and once any doubters were equated with holocaust deniers, the possibilities for mendacity were limitless. Its fruits will be with us for decades to come.
UNDERSTANDING THE ABSURD—At the level of institutionalized corruption which passes for the political process in Washington D.C. the Yugoslav policy was the end-result of the interaction of pressure groups within the power structure: finding a new role for NATO, earning points in the Muslim world, caving in to ethnic lobbying, pandering to the military-industrial complex, isolating Russia, controlling strategic routes between Europe and the Middle East, and above all cementing American global hegemony. The influence of organized political lobbies in Washington was not decisive, but it should not be underestimated. Anti-Serb lobbies, notably Albanian-Americans, have been well-funded and well-placed for decades, while today (as in the past) the “Serbian lobby” does not exist. As James Jatras has noted, well before the outbreak of hostilities in 1991, the Serbs had already been branded the bad guys. Combined with media reinforcement, much false information was and still is accepted as unquestionable fact.
The Bosnian war transformed NATO into a tool of U.S. hegemony and it opened the door to the renewal of American dominance in European affairs to an extent not seen since Kennedy. As the late Richard Holbrooke put it, Dayton demonstrated that Europeans were not capable of resolving their own problems and that America was still the “indispensable nation.” He boasted, a year later, “We are re-engaged in the world, and Bosnia was the test.”
It is undeniable that geopolitical-strategic factors have played a role in defining the Balkan policy in Washington. Such “rational” reasons are not sufficient, however, to explain the zeal of successive administrations in pursuing a premeditatedly duplicitous anti-Serb policy. The clue is not in the realm of tangible strategic benefits and geopolitical assets, of transit corridors, oil and gas pipelines, lignite and zinc reserves, or military bases such as Camp Bondsteel. The key is in the desire of the Western elite class to use the Balkans as a testing ground for their emerging postmodernist, postnational project. They know that Kosovo is more than a piece of real estate, that it is to the Serbs what Alamo is to Texans or Jerusalem to Jews, that taking it away and letting its churches and monasteries be demolished is an unprecedented exercise in ethnocide. They condoned the Albanian barbarity because they saw the demolition of a small nation steeped in tradition of heroism and martyrdom—the Kosovo saga embodies it perfectly—as a step in the direction of a U.S.-dominated post-national world based on propositional abstractions.
This is the cue to the treatment of the Serbs by the U.S. political and media decision-makers over the past two decades. On the ruins of real nations, the rhetoric of “universal human rights” is imposed as the new basis for law and morality. The Serbs were merely a litmus test. The slogan of choice is multicultural democracy, irrespective of the wishes of the citizens of the particular territory involved—unless it is Serbs who wish to maintain a multi-ethnic state, in which case secession is the West’s preferred policy.
PANDERING TO ISLAMIC MILITANTS—In 1980 the U.S. supported hard-core Islamists in the insurgency against the Soviets in Afghanistan. That decision was a strategic mistake of the highest order: it prompted the release of the Jihadist genie from a bottle that had remained sealed for almost three centuries after the siege of Vienna. Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “brilliant idea”—as he called the Afghan covert action almost two decades after the event—meant that hundreds of millions, and eventually billions of dollars were poured into the coffers and arsenals of people who openly stated their intention to rebuild an early-medieval theocracy in Afghanistan.
The fruits went beyond the jihadists’ wildest dreams. Brzezinski will go down in history as the man who did for Bin Laden what the Kaiser did for Lenin by providing him with that sealed train in 1917. Two “liberal” interventions on the side of the Balkan Muslims, in Bosnia and Kosovo, ensued in the 1990s. The most tangible result of promoting “common ideals and interests in this globalized world” by NATO bombs is the existence of a vibrant, hard-core jihadist base in the heart of Europe that has had a connection with every major terrorist attack in the past decade. Even 9/11 itself had a Bosnian Connection: Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, who planned the 9/11 attacks, was a seasoned veteran of the Bosnian jihad, as were two of the hijackers.
In spite of all other unresolved domestic and foreign issues, at a time when the U.S. power and authority are challenged around the world, key players in President Obama’s team still look upon the Balkans as the last geopolitically significant area where they can assert their “credibility” by postulating a maximalist set of objectives as the only outcome acceptable to the United States, and duly insisting on their fulfillment. We have already seen this pattern with Kosovo, and we’ve seen an attempt to stage its replay in Bosnia under the ongoing demand for unitarization.
The U.S. policy in the Balkans—just like its policy in Libya last year and in Syria today –facilitates the jihadist agenda. American goals paradoxically coincide with the regional objectives of those same Islamists who confront America in other parts of the world. Far from enhancing peace and regional stability, such policies continue to encourage pan-Islamic agitation for the completion of an uninterrupted Green Corridor in the Balkans by linking its as yet unconnected segments. It destabilizes Bosnia by encouraging constant Muslim demands for the abolition of the Republika Srpska, and it destabilizes Serbia in the Raska region (“Sanjak”). It encourages greater-Albanian aspirations against Macedonia, Montenegro, Greece, and Serbia. It encourages escalation of Turkey’s neo-Ottoman ambitions in the region. It is destructive and harmful.
In all cases the immediate bill will be paid by the people of the Balkans, as it is already being paid by Kosovo’s disappearing Serbs; but long-term costs of the U.S. policy in the Balkans will haunt the West. By encouraging its Albanian clients to proclaim independence, the U.S. administration has made a massive leap into the unknown, potentially on par with Austria’s July 1914 ultimatum to Serbia. The fruits will be equally bitter. In the fullness of time both America and Europe will come to regret the criminal folly of their current leaders. Remarkably, the continuing automatic-pilot policy directed against the Serbs is taking place without any serious debate in Washington on the ends and uses of American power, in the Balkans or anywhere else. Obama’s and Bush’s rhetoric differ, but they are one regime, identical in substance and consequence. Its leading lights will go on disputing the validity of the emerging balance-of-power system because they reject the legitimacy of any power in the world other than that of the United States, controlled and exercised by themselves. Theirs is, indeed, the global equivalent of the Brezhnev Doctrine.
The quest for hegemony leads to a counter-coalition which defeats it. The proponents of American exceptionalism nevertheless scoff at history’s warnings provided by Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, the Kaiser’s in 1918, or Hitler’s in 1945, as inapplicable in the post-history that they seek to construct. They confront the argument that no vital American interest worthy of risking a major war is involved in Georgia, or Syria, or the Balkans, with the claim that the whole world is America’s near-abroad. It is therefore essential for the emerging powers to refuse in principle to accept the validity of Washington’s ideological assumptions and the legitimacy of its associated geopolitical claims. At the same time, the key “liberal hawks” in the Obama Administration remain anchored in Madeleine Albright’s hubris: “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall.”
The premises of an imperial presidency—which in world affairs translates into the quest for dominance and justification for interventionism—remain unchallenged, as we are witnessing in Syria today and as we shall witness in Iran tomorrow. (We are witnessing it in America, too, with Obama’s unrestrained use of the Presidential executive order—an extreme emergency measure—as a tool for overriding the will of the Legislative branch.) American meddling in the Balkans has been paradigmatic of the problem. It remains unaffected by the ongoing financial crisis manifest in a 16-trillion public debt, just as Moscow’s late-Cold War adventurism—so tragically manifested in Afghanistan—was enhanced, rather than curtailed, by the evident shortcomings of the Soviet political and economic system.
[Excerpts from Dr. Trifkovic’s paper presented in Belgrade at The Gorchakov Foundation conference European Security: The Balkan Angle on June 27, 2012.]
The string of attacks on civilian and military targets in southern Israel by gunmen suspected to have crossed from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula was a complex, carefully coordinated operation. Israeli sources say that its intelligence services, army and police were taken by surprise by the scale and slick organization of the multiple assaults staged near Eilat.
More serious than the military effect of the operation is its potential to destabilize relations between Israel and Egypt. Israel has retaliated with the air strikes against Gaza but on past form this will not be the end of the affair. Six months after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the delicate internal balance between the Egyptian Army and the Muslim Brotherhood will be tested depending on the severity of Israel’s response. Hamas is better armed than a year ago, not least due to the greater porosity of the border between Gaza and Egypt, and it has benefited politically and militarily from political instability in Egypt.
If the IDF re-enters Gaza and launches raids against Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt—its parent group—will put pressure on the military authorities in Cairo to end their business-as-usual approach to relations with Israel. It is unlikely that the Israelis will retaliate against militants in Egypt itself, however, although the deteriorating security situation in Sinai has been causing concern for months. They will expect a determined response by the Egyptian security forces, including improved security for the natural gas pipeline to Israel which has been attacked five times over the past six months. Many Egyptians are opposed to the sale of natural gas to Israel, especially in the light of recent disclosures that Mubarak’s government was getting less than the full market price for the gas.
Israel’s northern border on the Golan Heights has been quiet for decades but that, too, may change soon. The most significant foreign news of the past few days concerns the decision by NATO and its eastern outpost, Turkey, to start arming anti-government rebels in Syria. It now transpires that “pro-democracy protesters” demonstrating against Bashar Al-Assad’s government have morphed into armed insurgents whose arsenal, currently limited to automatic weapons, is to be augmented with some serious hardware:
Instead of repeating the Libyan model of air strikes, NATO strategists are thinking more in terms of pouring large quantities of anti-tank and anti-air rockets, mortars and heavy machine guns into the protest centers for beating back the government armored forces. Since the Syrian air force would certainly shoot down air transports making the drops, the tendency is to get the weapons to their destination overland, namely through Turkey and under Turkish army protection … The refugees from the battle zone would be given sanctuary there instead of crossing into Turkey and the protected enclaves would also serve as weapons distribution depots… Also discussed in Brussels and Ankara, our sources report, is a campaign to enlist thousands of Muslim volunteers in Middle East countries and the Muslim world to fight alongside the Syrian rebels. The Turkish army would house these volunteers, train them and secure their passage into Syria.
Now that President Obama has called upon Syrian president Bashar al-Assad “to step aside,” the next likely step would be a warrant for Assad’s arrest by the International Criminal Court. The beneficiary will be the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which is anything but a “democratic” force. Its goal is a Sunni theocratic state ruled by Sharia. A triumph of the MB in Syria—and regionally, most dangerously in Egypt—would be a disaster for American interests, a catastrophe for secular Muslims (whether Shia or Sunni) and for religions minorities (Alawites, Druzes, Christians, Yezidis, etc). Syria’s current political order may be imperfect but in many respects is more tolerant and representative of its diverse population than what would succeed it.
The magnitude of Western self-deception and ignorance about the future of Egypt was exemplified by a feature article in The Washington Post last week (Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood could be unraveling, July 7). The influence and organizational abilities of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) have raised fears in the West and among Egypt’s secular and liberal groups that democracy may end with an Islamic state, the Post says, but the movement, “long considered the only viable opposition to Hosni Mubarak, has struggled to adapt to the new political landscape that has emerged since his ouster in February”:
[T]he Muslim Brotherhood is facing dissension within its ranks, as reformers push for a more open system of choosing leaders and political candidates. The movement’s leadership appeared to be dragged into the mass protests that forced Mubarak from office, and young Brotherhood members who joined the uprising say the organization is still too slow to react to the sentiments of the masses. Amid the strains, some within the movement who have been calling for change are slowly splitting off from the Brotherhood’s new Freedom and Justice Party … [T]he cracks in the organization’s usually monolithic structure suggest that the movement may be unraveling.
In the same vein The Los Angeles Times (“Muslim Brotherhood showing cracks in its solidarity,” July 5) interpreted the expulsion of five leaders of the Brotherhood’s youth wing as a sign that “Egypt’s most potent political force is unwilling to tolerate dissent within its ranks” and that “the Brotherhood’s ideological and organizational rigidity, which buttressed it against decades of persecution by former President Hosni Mubarak, may be cracking as its young members yearn for wider political and religious freedoms in a new Egypt.”
All this is nonsense. There is no split between the Brotherhood’s freedom-loving young democrats and the cautious and ageing old guard. There is rock-solid consensus among the MB elders, however, not to allow a bunch of overzealous hotheads on the margins of the movement to rock the boat which is steadily sailing in the Islamist direction. The MB leadership knows what it is doing and it is good at it. It has already succeeded in maginalizing the avant-garde of the January revolution, the liberal, pro-Western, tweeting secularists. Its next step is to cement a power-sharing arrangement with the military. Writing in Al-Arabiya’s English edition, Dar al Hayat’s columnist Husam Itani accurately summed up the Ikwani (Brothers’) strategy on July 10. Five months after Mubarak’s fall there is a stalemate designed to erode the revolution’s gains, he says. The absence of a clear vision for the future of the country, the confused performance of the judiciary and public administration, the uncertain security position and the continuation of the old practices characterize Egypt during this transitory phase:
Today, the two most organized parties in Egypt are the army and the Muslim Brotherhood and [neither] wants the end of this stage, after they came to savor the taste of wide prerogatives which are still—truth be said—far away from any legislative or legal control… [B]oth sides have been in the same trench since the referendum over the constitutional amendments in March.
The unannounced alliance between the army and the MB secures to the former the right to exercise discreet control over Egypt’s political and economic life after the transitional phase, in exchange for concessions to the Muslim Brotherhood in the area of social, cultural and educational policies. Thos changes will have the potential to change the character of the nation more profoundly than any package of liberalizing economic measures or trials of former officials for corruption and embezzlement. The formula is not new, Itani concludes: “Arab modern history is filled with models of alliances in which power was divided between groups that wanted to maintain their own interests” at the expense of the majority of the citizens.
This is an eminently Leninist formula and it makes sense. If you are the only powerful party, like the Bolsheviks in Petrograd in November 1917 or Muhammad in Medina two years after the Hijra, you grab all power at once and terrorize everyone into submission. If you are not, like Recep Tayyip Erdogan after winning the Turkish general election for the first time back in early 2002, you make incremental gains, you consolidate them before cutting another slice, you conceal your ultimate objectives, and you gradually weaken your chief rival—in his case the Turkish army—until the growing imbalance enables you to deliver the coup de grace. This is the model the MB in Egypt intends to emulate.
Apprehensive of the army’s response to an outright MB victory, the group’s leadership does not want to wield too much formal power after the September election. It is able to capture an outright majority but does not want to do so, because the army—groomed in the Nasserist tradition of secular nationalism—is still too powerful. This alone explains the apparent paradox that the Brotherhood is fielding candidates in only one-half of all electoral districts and has refrained from naming a presidential candidate of its own. Its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP)—founded in the immediate aftermath of Mubarak’s fall in February, formally launched on the last day of April and officiallylegalized in early June—is clearly modeled on Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).
To their Egyptian brethren Turkey’s ruling Islamists, now finally triumphant, offer a ready-made and eminently successful strategic model for the years ahead. The timetable and mechanics may differ but the objectives do not. On current form it is an even bet that the Islamic Republic of Egypt, in substance if not in name, will come into being within three to five years.
Only one spectacle in recent weeks proved more nauseating than the Commander-in-Chief fine-tuning the Afghan drawdown to suit his re-election timetable. It was Barack Obama’s attempt to justify continued American participation in the illegal and unnecessary war in Libya by claiming that—far from being a war—it does not even merit the designation of hostilities.
Back in 1998 Bill Clinton offered an existentialist explanation to the Grand Juryof why he was not lying when he told his aides that “there’s nothing going on” between him and Monica Lewinsky: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” For sheer presidential sophistry this gem stood unassailable until June 15, when in reply to House Speaker John Boehner’s letter the White House made a number of remarkable assertions about the Libyan intervention:
The President is of the view that the current U.S. military operations in Libya are consistent with the War Powers Resolution and do not under that law require further congressional authorization, because U.S. military operations are distinct from the kind of “hostilities” contemplated by the Resolution’s 60 day termination provision. U.S. forces are playing a constrained and supporting role in a multinational coalition, whose operations are both legitimated by and limited to the terms of a United Nations Security Council Resolution that authorizes the use of force.
“U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces,” Obama’s legal team added, “nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors.” In other words, according to the White House, if the Libyan government forces were able to shoot back as they are bombed, we would have the kind of “hostilities” to which the 60-day limit would apply; but since they have no means of fighting back—since all the fire goes one way, with no “exchanges with hostile forces”—the War Powers Resolution does not apply. Oddly enough, it did apply in the early days of the Libyan intervention, when the Administration cited the War Powers Act as the legal basis of its ability to conduct operations for 60 days without first seeking a declaration of war from Congress.
Denying that the United States is engaged in “hostilities” in Libya is patently absurd; Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) was right to declare that “it doesn’t pass a straight-face test.” The claim that there is no “significant chance of escalation” is refuted by the evidence of missile strikes against residential neighborhoods, as the list of viable military targets is exhausted. And, as CNN legal analyst Mary Ellen O’Connell pointed out, “the U.S. had better be involved in hostilities or else our forces are engaged in unlawful killing.” They have deployed manned and unmanned aircraft to fire missiles and drop bombs. They are the type of weapons only permissible for use in armed conflict hostilities. If using such weapons does not constitute hostilities, in the course of which killing without warning is considered justified, then the result of their use is murder.
A hundred days into the war, the justification for the Libyan intervention remains unclear. The UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorized military action “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack.” A week into the operation the White House strongly denied that regime change is part of its mission in Libya. Six days later, on March 28, Obama declared that the intervention was necessary so that “democratic impulses” are not “eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship.” So it was about spreading democracy, after all—but in the same address the President denied this by saying that “broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.”
Within days, however, American cruise missiles were launched against Gaddafy’s compounds with the obvious intention of killing him and thus deciding the issue in favor of the rebels. The objective of removing him from power, once openly acknowledged, soon became non-negotiable. “Would this be an example of a President misleading the nation into an (illegal) war? Or did the goal of the war radically change oh-so-unexpectedly a mere few weeks after it began?” wondered Glenn Greenwald in Salon.com on June 25. “Everyone can make up their own mind about which is more likely.”
Many members of Congress did just that on June 24 by rejecting the poisoned chalice in the form of a misnamed “de-funding” bill. In fact that bill would have stopped spending for some war purposes, but explicitly authorized it for others. That is why dozens of anti-Libya-war members in both parties voted against the “de-funding” bill. Had it passed, the White House legal alchemists would have used it to claim that the Congressional approval of somefunds for the Libyan operation was tantamount to its effective authorization of the war itself. As Greenwald points out, the outcome was no victory for Obama:
After all, the Clinton administration—after the House failed in 1999 to authorize bombing for the Kosovo war—continued the bombing anyway by claiming the House had ‘implicitly’ authorized that war by appropriating some funds for it, and Obama White House lawyers would have almost certainly made the same exploitative claim here. As Ron Paul—echoing the spokesperson for House progressives—said in explaining his NO vote on ‘de-funding’, the bill “masquerades as a limitation of funds for the president’s war on Libya but is in fact an authorization for that very war… instead of ending the war against Libya, this bill would legalize nearly everything the President is currently doing there.”
A particularly galling reason for what the President is doing there was cited by the outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates: intervention in Libya “was considered a vital interest by some of our closest allies… that have come to our support and assistance in Afghanistan.” In other words, America was obliged to attack Libya not because that country threatened U.S. security but because the politicians in Paris and London decided that it would be a good idea—and America owed them one for helping out in Kandahar. By the same token, the U.S. Air Force should be on standby whenever one or another American ally from the Coalition_of_the_Willing is in need of some aerial firepower.
On balance, the most harmful consequence of our “engagement” with Libya, from the standpoint of the American interest, is the brazen manner Obama and his legal team have deployed in evading the strictures of the War Powers Resolution of 1973. The White House claims not only that U.S. action in Libya is made legitimate by the United Nations, but that such UN authorization per se makes Congressional approval unnecessary. This is some light years from candidate Obama declaring, in 2008, that “the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”
The claim that a war involving the United States can be “legitimated” by a multinational agency—the UN, or NATO, or the Arab League—is legally absurd. It is also immoral and potentially treasonous. It opens the way to any number of future “engagements” which bear no relevance to American interests, security, or welfare.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Zagreb and other Croatian cities over the past week to protest the conviction of two Croatian generals by the UN war-crimes tribunal in The Hague. The ICTY sentenced Ante Gotovina to 24 years in jail and Mladen Markač to 18 years for their role in the August 1995 Operation Storm, which resulted in the exodus of up to a quarter of a million Krajina Serbs. The tribunal found that the generals were part of an elaborate conspiracy headed by Croatia’s then president, Franjo Tudjman.
It would have been preferable for the Croatian domestic courts to deal with the legacy of the Storm. The reaction to the verdict indicates that a trial of men so widely considered national heroes was literally unimaginable, however, which is unfortunate. (The Croatian Army chief chaplain, Bishop Juraj Jezerinac,compared the predicament of Gotovina and Markač to the suffering of Jesus Christ.) The Tribunal’s proponents will use the reaction in Croatia as evidence that the ICTY remains relevant and necessary. Additionally problematic is the Tribunal’s use of the concept of Joint Criminal Enterprise—thus far used only against the Serbs—which is a blunt legal tool with Kafkaesque implications.
The political objectives of the Croatian state leadership in launching the attack are evident from a transcript of Tudjman’s meeting with his top military commanders and civilian aides at the Adriatic island of Brioni on July 31, 1995, five days before the attack. “We have to inflict such blows,” Tudjman announced, “that the Serbs will to all practical purposes disappear.” “It is important that those [Serbian] civilians set out, and then the army will follow them, and when the columns set out they will have a psychological impact on each other,” Tudjman went on. “This means giving them a way out, while pretending to guarantee their civil rights etcetera.”
The verdict at The Hague is a potential embarrassment for Bill Clinton’s national security team, including a number of “Balkan experts” who remain influential in his wife’s State Department. According to a prominent Croatian investigative journalist, the late Ivo Pukanic, the United States was actively involved in the preparation, monitoring and initiation of Operation Storm: the green light from President Clinton was passed on by the US military attaché in Zagreb and the operations were transmitted in real time to the Pentagon:
The US was thrilled with the how fast and clean the operation was conducted, and with its outcome, which permitted the lightning fast entry of HV [the Croatian Army] into Bosnia-Herzegovina and … Belgrade’s consent to sign the Dayton Accords. [This] was later confirmed in the statements that the operation was carried out properly, and tthe US-Croatian cooperation in intelligence and military matters intensified. General Patrick Hughes, Clapper’s successor as director of DIA, visited Croatia, intensified cooperation in the sector of electronic monitoring of Serbia and Montenegro, other intelligence was swapped, MPRI began its intensive training of the Croatian military…
As Croatian troops launched their assault on August 4, U.S. aircraft operating under NATO command destroyed Serbian radar and anti-aircraft defenses. Croatian planes then carried out attacks on Serbian towns and positions and strafed refugee columns. Thousands of Serbs lost their lives during the exodus; hundreds of those too old or infirm to move were killed by the Croatian forces. It was the biggest act of ethnic cleansing in post-1945 Europe.
Most of the refugees ended up in Serbia and the Serbian part of Bosnia (Republika Srpska). Massacres continued for several weeks after the fall of Krajina. UN patrols discovered numerous fresh unmarked graves and bodies of murdered civilians well after the ‘Storm’ was over. A suppressed EU report stated, “The corpses, some fresh, some decomposed, are mainly of old men. Many have been shot in the back of the head or had throats slit, others have been mutilated… Serb lands continue to be torched and looted.” Following a visit to the region the Zagreb Helsinki Committee reported that virtually all Serb villages had been destroyed: “In a village near Knin, eleven bodies were found, some of them were massacred in such a way that it was not easy to see whether the body was male or female.”
As the reaction to Gotovina’s and Markač’s sentences indicate, the war in remains controversial, many years after its end in 1995. To the Croats, it was a war of Serbian aggression and Croatian Defence of the Motherland, plain and simple. To the Serbs the war was a reaction to what they perceived as intolerable provocation, an existential response to the revamping of Ustašism in rhetoric, symbols, and substance. They were reacting to Tudjman’s escalating political ploys in Zagreb and his minions’ terrorist acts on the ground. The establishment of autonomous regions, and the subsequent proclamation of the Republic of the Serbian Krajina, was seen as an act of rebellion by most Croats and as necessary response by most Serbs.
Tudjman’s strategic objective behind Operation Storm was a Serb-free Croatia. That much is no longer in doubt. While circumstantial evidence had always been there, the Brioni transcript of July 31, 1995, provides the smoking gun. A week later, at a rally in Knin, Tudjman announced, “There can be no return to the past, to the times when [Serbs] were spreading cancer in the heart of Croatia, a cancer that was destroying the Croatian national being.” He then went on to speak of the “disappearance” of the Krajina Serbs, “so it is as if they have never lived here!”
Former U.S. Ambassador in Zagreb Peter Galbraith, testifying at The Hague, dismissed claims that Croatia had engaged in ethnic cleansing, “because most of the population had already fled when the Croatian army and police arrived.” But Galbraith was being disingenuous: Tudjman’s objectives had included ethnic cleansing all along. His objectives were stated with perfect clarity at a meeting with his closest aides on 23 August 1995, in the aftermath of Operation Storm:
[M]ilitary force can be a most effective means for solving the internal needs of the state. Considering the situation we face with the liberation of occupied territories, the demographic situation, it is necessary for military command precisely to become one of the most efficient components of our state policies in solving the demographic situation of Croatia. […] We have the fortunate situation that the liberation demands a distribution of military units that would simultaneously solve the demographical [problem].”
Croatia still celebrates August 5 as Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day. Almost sixteen years later, as Gotovina and Markač prepare their appeals, it seems likely that they will spend many years in jail, but they were the operation’s executors rather than masterminds. The key political leaders—starting with Franjo Tudjman, who died in bed in 1999—are immune or out of reach. The Hague verdict notwithstanding, the crimes of 1995—not unlike the Ustaša horrors that had preceded them in 1941-45—remain unacknowledged and unatoned for.