22 December 2010

Better Late Than...


Two months and a half after the elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina an entity level government for the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the entity which the Anglophone press calls the "Muslim-Croat Federation") is on the verge of being formed. It is to consist of the two main Bosnian Muslim parties (SDP and SDA) and two miniscule Croat parties. It is to bypass the two main Croat parties (HDZ BiH and an offshoot HDZ 1990) which together captured ninety percent of the Croat vote. This means that Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina are going to be practically without a say in the entity government - the two small Croat parties are nowhere strong enough to serve as anything but satellites to the Muslim coalition.

A Federation government that does not include a party that could represent a large portion of the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina would be unusual and alarming. There is a practical issue at hand, Croats and Muslims are both forced to provide the budget for the state, but it is going to be Muslim parties alone that spend it. There is also an important symbolic issue here. The Croats are in the legalistic terms of the region a "constituent people" of Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of the three state-bearing peoples, a sovereign nationality in its own country. Regardless of this status on paper they are now unable to effect even a small amount influence on the government, at its most influential, entity, level.

The Muslim parties demonstrating they are able and willing to cut the Croats out of power is another in a series of reasons the Croats feel that in the current setup of Bosnia and Herzegovina the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina functions as a Muslim entity instead of an entity for both Muslims and Croats. Naturally demands for an entity of their own have arisen from the Croats. The logic is simple, if the Muslims are going to continue to refuse to take into account the Croat view of things, but instead disregard them and seek to drown them out, then they must separate and secure for themselves a third, Croatian entity within the confines of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the course of the 1990s war in Bosnia and Herzegovina the Croats, had defied the Sarajevo government by setting up a de facto independent republic. When they under Zagreb's prodding (itself pressured by Washington) acquiesced to join the Bosnian Muslims in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina they brought into it over 40% of its territory. Albeit one could have been excused to think differently even a short while ago, it is now clear they are not going to stand idly to be reduced to a disenfranchised minority in their ancestral homes.

13 December 2010

The Elephant in the Room

Deterrence, blowfish-style

Keeping up with the habit of commenting on events no longer current, I suppose the time has come to offer commentary on the semi-recent standoff in Korea.

In the 1950s People's Republic of Korea fought against a US-organised UN intervention that had more than a dozen active participants from Turkey to New Zealand to Luxembourg. Hostilities were brought to an end, not with the signing of a peace treaty, but of a mere cease fire. In the course of the war the United States mercilessly bombed North Korea and essentially erased all of its cities and towns, and killed up to two million Koreans. Since the war ended the US has maintained a comprehensive sanctions regime against North Korea obstructing its trade with the outside world. To this day the US keeps nearly 30,000 of its soldiers in South Korea, with which it has an agreement that in the case of the war restarting its military automatically passes under American control. Also permanently in the theatre is the US Navy's Seventh Fleet with 50 warships and 350 aircraft. In 2002 US named North Korea a part of the "Axis of Evil" along with Iraq and Iran and then proceeded to invade Iraq and to sponsor terrorism in Iran.

Despite all of this when the North Koreans on 23rd November bombarded South Korean military exercise taking place on a disputed island in South Korean hands, killing two soldiers and two civilians and wounding more, the news report all over the world adopted a tone bemused at another irrational belligerence of the nutty Northerners that simply can not lay off from trying to start a war. 'Fortunately' days later the Americans appeared on the scene — a US general visited the island to "inspect the damage" and the US Navy held joint military drills with the South Koreans in disputed waters  — and reminded the world of the larger context.

09 December 2010

Fuck Amazon


Unlike what the folk over at LewRockwell.com have been saying (Murphy, Rockwell, Kinsella, Rozeff) Amazon is not, in regard to the WikiLeaks affair, merely a victim of the state. Indeed it is true that if it had continued to host the WikiLeaks website it could bring upon itself the ire of the state. And that at the end of the day it has no obligation to host anyone, particularly when it could find itself under attack by brutes for doing so. However Amazon did more than just cease doing business with WikiLeaks.

Many other companies that bowed to state pressure and stopped their cooperation with WikiLeaks fall into the category of victims. That is because they did so quietly, making it obvious they were doing so for fear of reprisals or controversy. Amazon on the other hand accompanied their cessation of cooperation with WikiLeaks with a slanderous hatchet job worthy of a Fox News talk show host.

Perhaps senator Joe Lieberman demanded of them to cut lose WikiLeaks or else, however the hackery that was their press release for the occassion they published of their own accord. They did not need to beat the drums of the half-witted, anti-WikiLeaks hysteria, they added to it voluntarily when they took the opportunity to feign outrage and try to capture the moral high ground over men far better than themselves.

Part of their press release read:
"It’s clear that WikiLeaks doesn’t own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content. Further, it is not credible that the extraordinary volume of 250,000 classified documents that WikiLeaks is publishing could have been carefully redacted in such a way as to ensure that they weren’t putting innocent people in jeopardy. Human rights organizations have in fact written to WikiLeaks asking them to exercise caution and not release the names or identities of human rights defenders who might be persecuted by their governments.”

...

“But, when companies or people go about securing and storing large quantities of data that isn’t rightfully theirs, and publishing this data without ensuring it won’t injure others, it’s a violation of our terms of service, and folks need to go operate elsewhere.”

In the eternal struggle between power and freedom Amazon picked a side. They were not afraid of controversy, but came out with their tongues lashing - spreading nonsense and lies. They can retract their statement, or they are not worthy of being defended by libertarians or any other freedom minded folk.

01 December 2010

On This Day



Today is the anniversary of the founding of Yugoslavia. 92 years to this day the Kingdom of Serbia and the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs joined to find the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. This was the crowning achievement of the Yugoslavist movement, begun in mid-19th century among the South Slavs in the Austrian Empire.

Yugoslavism at its core is an ideology of anti-colonialism. The basic premise is simple. Subject peoples that find themselves in colonial relationship to a power centre, would work together to achieve their liberation. Once free they would continue to cling together in order to enhance their strength and thus be better able to maintain their newfound independence. In this way Yugoslavism is analogue to, for example, Pan-Arabism or Pan-Africanism.

The foremost promise of Yugoslavia was that it would enable the South Slav peoples that would join it to live an existence free of domination from the outside. On this Yugoslavia delivered.

Both of Yugoslavia's two incarnations, wildly different in everything else, existed for almost the whole of their life spans as fully independent entities. The First Yugoslavia was briefly in 1940-41 subordinate to Germany, which was then a European hegemon. The Second was from its inception until the 1948 Tito-Stalin split (which was really initiated by Stalin rather than by Tito) ruled by what amounted to the local branch of the Comintern. Other than during these two brief episodes Yugoslavia was a country fully in control of both its domestic and foreign policy. This at a time when the same was not true of far larger and more powerful states.

29 November 2010

One Hadji, Much Like the Other



Last week it was reported that NATO had been conducting 'negotiations' with a man it believed to be a Taleban leader, but who turns out to have been an impostor. The impostor managed to keep up his act for months, talking directly to general Petraeus and in the end vanished with sacks of money - the courtesy of his 'negotiating partners'.

In the light of this information aren't you reassured these same idiots are sending out death squads to conduct "targeted killings"?

20 November 2010

Protest Opinion



In Croatia according to a recently opinion published poll 25% of the electorate holds Croatian membership in the EU would be a good thing, while 32% holds it would be a bad thing. In an eventual referendum on the entry into the Union 38% would would vote in favour of the membership and 43% would would vote against it.

Regardless of this climate no significant political party in Croatia is anything but staunchly in favour of joining the EU. While the general public is generally lukewarm, divided, unsure, resigned or opposed the politicos are determined, enthusiastic and of a single mind. Sure of their ability to manufacture consent when needed, they shrugged off the results of the poll, with the government answering that in their estimate, when the time comes, seventy percent of the people would turn out in favour of membership. Not that they have made any commitment to, or stated any plans to actually subject it to a referendum.

One might assume that such circumstances - coupled with the fact that only 20% of Croats support the work of their government and only 30% say that there exists a politician or a political party that represents their views - would present the perfect opportunity for a new breed of ambitious politicians to try to catapult themselves into power by finding a new anti-EU political party, to try to put themselves at the helm of the one half of the electorate opposed to the European Union membership - subsequently also hampering or stopping Croatia's entry into the EU.

However with the deeply cynical Croats that is almost certainly not the case. What makes the Croats suspicious about the EU membership is precisely that all the politicians are in favour of it. The very reason they are doubtful that their quality of life will increase once in the crutches of Brussels are the promises of the politicians that it will. Politicians are not exactly known for fulfilling their promises and Croatian politicians are worse than most. With a hypothetical split among the political class with a part of it becoming critical of the European Union, the support for it would probably rise.

07 November 2010

The 'Multicultural' Bridge



Many people who know only one thing about the Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina know they blew up the Old Bridge in Mostar. It is a consequence of wartime propaganda effort of their wartime enemy, the Muslim Sarajevo government, and of its Western backers.

In the propaganda narrative, as their most irrational and hateful act the Croats offended by this multiculturalist symbol relentlessly pounded and finally destroyed the centuries old bridge of no strategic relevance, only of great symbolic importance. To in this way crown their previous heinous acts: turning on their former Muslim allies in a surprise attack, ethnically cleansing western Mostar and mercilessly shelling eastern Mostar. All in their nationalistic hatred of the multi-ethnic vision of Bosnia and Herzegovina that is unfortunately only held by the tolerant Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

To this narrative — conceived locally, but really given life in the enunciations of the Bosnian Muslims' Western advocates — the destruction of the bridge is central. It is a trump card to definitely establish the moral high ground of the Muslim side in the war in relation to the Croats. One that seemingly voids the need for any further discussion, or the need for evidence of other much more serious allegations.

For if the Croats were indeed so hate driven as to destroy an architecturally remarkable 400 year old bridge for no other reason than that it was a symbol of multi-ethnic tolerance, whereas the Muslims did their utmost to protect such a symbol, then it makes all further discussion pointless indeed. It comes natural that Croats imagined in such a way would do all the other things accused of, while the Muslims would be their victims only.

03 November 2010

Consensus


Perhaps you have recently stumbled upon "Mapping Stereotypes" on the internet. A humorous project by a Bulgarian artist reached internet renown, as it received millions of visits and was reported on by the paper press. A play on the old 'World according to the US' jokes it pairs geographical areas with stereotypes for the area according to various mayor nations.

One interesting thing that it shows is the level of uniformity of stereotypes across Europe, in Germany, France, Italy, and Britain, relating to the Balkans. In all of the aforementioned cases the (western) Balkans are simply paired with the sign "uncharted". This indeed is the fundamental characteristic of the Balkans in the Western imagination. The image of underdeveloped, warlike semi-savages takes only second place to the image of the Balkans as unknowable by its nature, a convoluted mess impregnable to outside understanding. An idea that certainly does not encourage anyone to study the area, but on the contrary provides a good reason why not to study it. It is pointless to do so!

Not only does the West recognize that is ignorant of the Balkans, but consoling itself with the idea that the Balkans are simply beyond comprehension, it is also determined not to learn anything about it. This would all be fine and well, but for the fact that the Balkans remain an area of Western intervention. To interfere with a region that you insist is outside your ability to comprehend - surely it is not a good idea.

30 October 2010

The Russians See It


The Russian ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina on his talks with the head of the largest Croatian party in Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the position of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the upcoming Peace Implementation Council meeting as reported by Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje:
"The Russian Federation appreciates the demands of Croats to have their equality secured. Harchenko spoke these past days with the president of HDZ BIH Dragan Čović about the question of a third entity. Russia, said the ambassador, does not not want to interfere and holds that the accomplishment of equality of the Croatian people is a matter of internal agreement."

"Since the elections we see that this situation requires urgent solutions, said Harchenko, adding that Russia, at the session of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) in November, will push to have the greatest attention be given the position of the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina."
Official Russia has taken note of the seriousness of the situation the Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina find themselves in. The West and even Zagreb remain quiet.

13 October 2010

A People Without a Vote



According to the peace settlement that ended the war Bosnia and Herzegovina has a three man presidency. The members are a Muslim, a Serb and a Croat to represent each of the three nationalities within its borders. In essence then instead of one election, three elections are held in parallel for each of the members of the presidency. A reasonable compact in a land where a mayor reason for the destructive civil war of the 1990s were the fears of Serbs and Croats that under a unitary state they would find themselves pushed around by the more numerous Muslims.

A curious thing happened on election day ten days ago. One of the candidates for the Croat member of the presidency secured by far the most votes at the election, and more voters took part in the election for the Croat representative than in the election for the Muslim representative although the Muslims outnumber the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina by a factor of three or four.

You see, the text of the law dealing with the presidency is ineptly written. Instead of declaring that the presidency is made up of one representative each of the Bosnian Muslim, Croat and Serb peoples (regardless of the nationality of the representative) and then defining the procedures that would ensure this comes true, the law instead declares the members of the presidency need to be a Bosnian Muslim, a Croat and a Serb and leaves it at that. This way there is nothing stopping the Bosnian Muslims, as the most numerous nationality in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to determine not just its own representative but also that of the least numerous nationality, the Croats.

This is exactly what happened. If the results are compared with the results of the parallel party elections it can be seen that about 435 thousand Bosnian Muslim voters decided to take part in the election for the Muslim member of the presidency, but around 305 thousand Muslim voters instead took part in the election for the Croat member of the presidency. There were actually more Muslims than Croats, who only managed a turnout of some 205 thousand, taking part in the election for the representative of Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the country's presidency.

300,000 thousand Muslim voters were more than enough to impose on the Croats a representative not of their choice. The Croat member of the presidency, nominated by a Muslim party, received 315 thousand votes of which some 10 thousand or 3% came from Croats. It was such a flooding and an overkill that he ended up receiving more votes than all the Croat candidates combined and twice as many votes as the winning Muslim candidate.

03 October 2010

Irony, Baltic style


Strange times. Latvian party described as "an ethnic Russian party" wants to evacuate Latvian soldiers from Afghanistan. Parties not labeled "ethnic Russian" on the other hand want to continue the present course. And prior to yesterday's parliamentary election the president of Latvia proclaimed that on the account of their Afghanistan stance he will not be passing the mandate to form the new government to the "Russian" party even in the case that it would win the largest number of votes. (It did not.)

Actually the "Russian" party in question, the Harmony Center, is not such. It is not a national party. It is a civic party organized by Russians. It would not make sense for an explicitly Russian party to take part in Latvian elections, considering the way Russians had been treated by Latvian authorities since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The people that could be moved to support such a party would either not be able to cast a vote on the account of Latvia's nationality policy, or would not be inclined to cast one refusing to help legitimize their treatment.

A civic party like the Harmony Center on the other hand can attract votes by appealing to the Russians' and other non-Latvians' more pragmatic side. Also by shedding any national insignia it is less likely to have its activities obstructed.

In truth the Latvian president cared less about the Afghanistan issue and more about making sure he would be passing down the president of government position to political allies rather than to political opponents. Jet the irony is inescapable, seeing how this time around the Russians want Latvian lads out of harm's way, and the Latvians want to make sure they keep on fighting for foreign interests.

05 September 2010

Shame



Speaking of governments of East European states that are anxious lapdogs of the Empire one can not but be reminded of the worst of them - the government of Montenegro. Since this spring it has a platoon worth of soldiers serving as auxiliaries to the imperial legions in the occupation of Afghanistan. A symbolic sized contribution to be sure, but from a state whose military is similarly symbolic. And besides it is the principle that matters.

These auxiliaries are in Afghanistan in support of a mission as part of which innocents are casually blown up from the air over and over again. Jet just barely ten years ago these same killers would have been flying over Montenegro doing the same.

In 1999 NATO countries bombed FR Yugoslavia of which Montenegro along with Serbia was a constituent republic of. In a bid to try to sow division among the two, the aggressors bombed Serbia much more heavily than Montenegro. However they reigned tragedy in Montenegro as well.

In the most infamous and gruesome attack NATO planes killed six and wounded that number of civilians in a village of Murino of around 500 inhabitants in the south and east part of Montenegro toward Albania. Among the killed were three children aged between 10 and 13. They were "collateral damage" to a strike on a stone bridge in a mountain village in the middle of nowhere. In the eyes of the bombers their lives were worth less than to accomplish the mission - to demolish a small bridge of not even the slightest strategic relevance.

Yet 10 years later, the sycophant government of Montenegro is not just asking for admission into the unrepentant NATO circle, but doing what it can to help it as it reigns such death upon Afghans and Pakistanis. It is utopian to expect of governments to conduct themselves with any amount of honour. But the conduct of Podgorica is shameful even far beyond what is the norm for politicians.

01 September 2010

Second Time Around


Among the 15 foreign troops killed in the last two days in Afghanistan was also a 20-year-old Estonian sergeant. A reminder that in Afghanistan find themselves also those who should really know better. Many Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Georgians, Azeris and Armenians conscripted to the Soviet Army took part in the Soviet War in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Now their governments send their troops to fight in the American War in Afghanistan. Troops which sometimes have personal experience of the Soviet War. Estonia specifically suffered eight dead so far in this war, while 17 Estonians were killed in the Soviet one. The others have combined suffered only one fatality owing to the fact that they are stationed in the north of the country that does not see much fighting.

One has to be critical of the participation of the Baltic countries in the occupation in particular. They maintain that their nearly fifty-year experience in the Soviet Union was intensely negative. And they refer to this episode of their history as the period of "Soviet occupation" to be better able to convey just how negative they feel it was. Jet their governments were anxious to take part in occupations of Afghanistan, of Kosovo, of Bosnia and Herzegovina and of Iraq. Is there something that makes them think they have more right to send their troops into these lands than the Soviet Union had to send its into theirs?

Additionally, was not local boys dying in distant Afghanistan for no good reason one part of the intensely negative Soviet experience? What has changed?

29 August 2010

West European Interference in the Balkans in the Era of Balkan Decolonialization: The Outcome


(See The Timeline for part I.)
(See The Context for part II.)

West European intervention in the Balkans up until the 1880s worked well toward its desired outcome. The extent of Ottoman retreat was less than would have been without the involvement of the Western powers. Russia in this period demonstrated both the willingness to fight the Ottoman Empire and the ability to defeat it. Had the West Europeans stood aside Russia would have almost certainly be able to free the region from the Turks and pave the way for the establishment of independent Balkan national states. As it was the completion of liberation of the Balkan's Christians had to wait for several decades more and had to be achieved by the Balkan peoples themselves.

The decisive West European intervention in 1878 in Berlin meant the Balkan peoples were to derive only minimal benefit from the Russian victory in the 1877-78 Russian-Turkish war which Russia had fought more for their benefit than its own. Before that European stance in international diplomacy and the consequences and the memory of its invasion of Russia in the Crimean War kept St. Petersburg from perhaps launching a general attempt at freeing the Balkan peoples not in 1877, but perhaps earlier in the 1860s or the 1850s.

Western meddling thus made much of the sacrifice of the Russian soldier in 1877 in vain and prolonged Ottoman oppression and human tragedy in the Balkans for a further generation – until the region was freed of its imperial overlords with the First Balkan War in 1912. As H. N. Brailsford noted a century ago:

"We did not think that the affairs of Turkey were no concern of ours in 1878, when we tore up the Treaty of San Stefano and were ready to use "the ships, the men," and "the money too" in order to prevent the liberation of Macedonia by its inclusion in a free Bulgaria. The actual situation is of our making, and the Macedonians have endured a generation of oppression because we conceived that their emancipation was inconsistent with our own Imperial interests."

The Balkan Christian nations in this period demonstrated their desire to be freed of Turkish rule and their willingness to take up arms and fight to this end. However they were not jet strong enough to eject the Turks on their own. Thus while Western intervention in this time greatly limited the extent of liberation won for the Balkans by Russia it can not be said to had thwarted its liberation by its native peoples.

21 August 2010

West European Interference in the Balkans in the Era of Balkan Decolonialization: The Context


(See The Timeline for part I.)

In the timeframe of the the struggle for Balkan decolonialization (1804-1912) the West European powers intervened in the region on many occasions. Keeping in line with their interest in preserving the Ottoman Empire they did so on the side of the Ottomans and against the cause of freedom in the Balkans.

The involvement can be divided into two periods. The first one when it was in their view directed against Russia. And the second period after the Russian throne had lost its previous interest in challenging the status quo in the region and West European Powers were to intervene jointly with Russia.

Ottoman Empire in the 19th century was an empire in obvious decline. Territorially it was still enormous covering a vast expanse of land from the Persian Gulf to the Balkans and from the Caucasus to Algeria however it was increasingly unable to hold onto its lands in the face of encroaching rival empires and native revolt.

France and Britain, albeit not loathe to take advantage of the Ottoman decline to win influence and lands in North Africa and the Middle East, did not see that they could profit from the Ottoman retreat in the Balkans and the Transcaucusus and so sought to prevent Russia from profiting there herself. This put them on course of backing the Turks against Russia and internal insurrections.

The Habsburg Empire, which had once seen Turkey as its sworn enemy and its historical mission to lead the fight against the Turk, came in the period to see itself as internally weak and unable to absorb any more Slav land in the Balkans, and as a result loathed above all to see the Ottoman Empire retreat from its borders and see it replaced by national Balkan states – which would in one fell swoop both, eliminate the rationale for its existence, as well as showcase the alternative to it.

Thus the Western powers had their own reasons valid to them to favour the course of action undertaken. Their rationales were not borne of malevolence but of high politics. To the Balkanites however the fight against the Turks was categorically not a matter of grand politics. They knew of no issue such as the "Eastern Question", only the matter of their freedom. And so in their national and class struggle against their imperial overlords the Powers of West Europe were to repeatedly come out on the side of their oppressors and to throw obstacles on their path to liberation.

06 August 2010

West European Interference in the Balkans in the Era of Balkan Decolonialization: The Timeline



It is not popularly known, but the history of West European interference in the Balkan region is prolonged and goes back to the 19th century. The level of meddling in those times ranged from mild diplomatic involvement in issues like Romanian unification to the nearly megalomaniacal with the drawing and redrawing of borders of the Balkans from afar at the 1878 Congress of Berlin. The first instance of Western interference in the Balkans dates to distant 1827. Before that tremors of the actions undertaken by West European Powers could be felt on the peninsula – in 1813 Revolutionary Serbia, in constant warfare with the Ottomans and with fluid borders, but independent and holding its own, collapsed shortly after the French invasion of Russia deprived it of Russian aid - but there was no deliberate interference.

In 1821 a Greek revolt flared up in the Ottoman Empire, bringing to the forefront the so called Eastern Question, or how the matter of the obviously declining Turkish Empire was to be resolved. In this instance the West European Powers recognised that the weight of the moral argument was with the subjugated Greeks, but at the same time felt that contraction of Turkish strength was not in their interest and so found themselves in a bind.

In the end Britain and France intervened on the Greek side militarily but only by mistake. Britain's initial approach had been to take action to delay a pro-Greek intervention by Russia - in order to give the Turks the time needed to suppress the revolt. This strategy became unpractical given that meanwhile a new, more adventuristic tsar willing to wage war against the Ottomans on his own if need be was crowned in Russia. So in an attempt to prevent Russia going to war with Turkey – which would surely leave the Ottoman Empire weakened and possibly vulnerable to further territorial losses - it won it over for a joint show of force at sea designed to force the Porte to appease the Greeks by granting them autonomy. The naval demonstration however turned into a battle when, faced with the bellicose British commander, the Turks ended up firing on the combined British-French-Russian fleet which then proceeded to devastate its Turkish-Egyptian counterpart. Russia used this as the pretext to launch its war. After it won it the other Powers did what they could to limit its gains and to preserve as much Ottoman strength as they could.

Before this official intervention there had already been a private intervention. Significant funds were raised via private donations in West Europe for the Greek cause and a few thousand Philhellenes travelled from West Europe to Greece to battle alongside the Greeks – where not uncommonly they were disappointed to find the earthy Greeks to be the farthest thing from the cultured Hellenes of their imagination. And so right from its onset Western interference in the region was fuelled less by understanding of the realities of the region and more by Western preconceptions of it.

The Greek Revolt of the 1820s would mark the first and the only time West Europe was to, even if in a very limited manner, intervene against the Ottoman Empire and in favour of the subjugated Christians. From therefore on it would become a reliable and generous backer of the semi-medieval, oriental empire.

01 August 2010

Cushioning Defeat

Did you know that while the Empire's Afghanistan surge has admittedly been a failure in most respects, one aspect of it has worked really well? Its death squads have proven very successful. This straight from the NYT. (Naturally the NYT is much too cultured to call a death squad a death squad. Instead it talks of a "Special Operations team" and "targeted killings".) 

You have to wonder about the moral state of a place whose newspaper of note writes an upbeat piece about the policy of its government operating a death squad 6,000 miles and two oceans away from its frontiers. American death squads claiming to have hunted down over 130 alleged Afghan resistance commanders, none of which had anything to do with the 2001 terrorist attacks on WTC, why how wonderfully marvellous. 

Of course no actual proof is given for the claim that they "turned out to work well" either, except for a claim by an unnamed "senior American military officer" who told the reporters of Taliban fighters who are fearful of moving into higher-level command positions and another equally unnamed "senior White House official" who tells us “If I were the Taliban, I’d be worried.” Yeah. And if I were a news reader I'd want a comment on the scheme from an actual Taliban, not from a figment of some paid-for hack's imagination. 

In reality any such programme has an Achilles' heel the size of Oregon. To not be counter-productive it has to be paired with good intelligence. Something the Americans do not have in Afghanistan for certain. We can know this easily by the simple fact that approaches to Kabul are not adorned with pikes hoisting the severed heads of Mullah Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

But hey, with Marja a "bleeding ulcer" and the announcement of a Kandahar offensive being met with the insistence of the locals that they would sooner not be liberated, the occupation needs a bright spot, even if it consists of a shadowy special forces outfit working their way down a death list based on questionable intelligence. And since the article's pitch is how the US efforts are going to force the Taliban to negotiate it has the added benefit of not having to be proven - because unlike the outcomes of large sweep operations its results, or the lack of thereof, are not visible to distant observers.

Reality is such that the US, to the frustration of its junior partners in crime and its marionette in Kabul alike, had so far been the party uninterested in meaningful negotiations. The US likely though it would instead better its negotiating position with the escalation and talk only then, or even not at all. But since all its attempts at actually gaining a better position for the talks have only served to demonstrate its impotence it is now, as far as it can be seen, simply making up victories to fool its domestic audience, so when and if it does enter talks it will seem a victory of the escalation rather than its defeat.

25 July 2010

Devouring Their Own

So the dumb, right-wing Toronto Sun fired the "Eisenhower Republican" Eric Margolis who had been with the rag for over a quarter of a century. No doubt he was let go for his heretical view of the absurd "Global War on Terror". However rather than heap praise on him for it as some have done it would probably be more prudent for principled opponents of aggressive war to ask how come he had not managed to get himself kicked out from the brain-dead tabloid a long time ago. 

Then it might be remembered, or discovered, that until 2001 when the focus in foreign affairs shifted to the Muslim world Margolis had been anything but a heretic. In fact the Empire could have scarcely asked for a more hateful, better motivated and uglier hack to satanize its chosen targets in the Balkans. Owing to his relative obscurity he could hardly have been said to have led the effort, however he certainly went to the extremes that few others matched. His time was spent hysterically nazifying the Serbs (eg, eg, eg, eg), doing his part to help make NATO's war in the Balkans possible.

As implied in the Antiwar Blog report his losing his place at the paper may have come about due to strings attached to a recent government grant to the tabloid. However had the paper received a similar grant in the 1990s it is certain that it would have arrived under the condition that Margolis not be let go under any circumstance. 

23 July 2010

Words Craftsman

There aren't many more enjoyable writers than the columnist Fred Reed. He would be worth reading even if he was writing total nonsense just for the enjoyment of his lively writting style. Not content with that however he also not infrequently talks good sense (when he is not sticking up for the police).
Today in a piece sparked by the words of another shit-for-brains (there is no other adjective for it) US general we can read:
"Does General Dworkin-Mattis speak of manhood? Odd, since his military is being badly outfought by the unmanly Afghans that are fun to kill. By the Pentagon’s figures the US military outnumbers the resistance several to one. The US has complete control of the air, enjoying F16s, helicopter gun-ships, transport choppers, and Predator drones, as well as armor, body armor, night-vision gear, heavy weaponry, medevac, hospitals, good food, and PXs. The Afghans have only AKs, RPGs, C4, and balls. Yet they are winning, or at least holding their own. How glorious.

Man for man, weapon for weapon, the Taliban are clearly superior. They take far heavier casualties, but keep on fighting. Their politics are not mine, but they are formidable on the ground. If I were General Dworkin, I’d change my name and go into hiding. Maybe he could wear a veil."
Cracking stuff that should be read whole.

20 July 2010

Weird Tales: Islamabad-Washington



Apparently
it has been a long standing policy of the Obama administration to raise taxes in Pakistan.
"In early February, US Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin demanded that Pakistan impose a Value Added Tax and raise Capital Gains Taxes. Pakistan promptly complied, even though this meant the resignation of their Finance Minister, who had disagreed with the policy."

"Days after the announcement Secretary Clinton was demanding that Pakistan again raise taxes precipitously and use it to “increase spending on health care and education.” This will likely again be a topic of Clinton’s visit, in between demands to launch ever more aggressive military offensives against the tribal areas to their north."
How surreal is this? This is not being done under the auspices of the IMF and for the purpose of extorting repayment of loans mind you. It is being done out of belief it will improve Pakistani society.

Never mind the logic of benefiting someone by ratcheting up his tax burden (I am sure Pakistanis were leaping with joy at the thought of paying VAT, and at the behest of a foreign government no less), when did running Pakistan enter the job description of US presidents? And what is the purpose of elections in Pakistan if their tax rates are going to be set from Washington?

Let me get this straight. The US pressured Pervez Musharaff to in 2008 permit general election and then forced him out of power, reintroducing democracy to Pakistan which was to help usher in an era of ice cream and candy (as elections do, right?). Except that this new democratic government the Pakistanis got to elect is not even the government that sets the tax rate for Pakistan. How much of an improvement is this?

I do not know that Neal Wolin and Hillary Clinton won any more Pakistani votes at any democratic (US approved) elections than Musharaff had. The only difference is that they are foreigners and have therefore even less business running the country.

13 June 2010

State Terrorism: NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia


Terrorism is a tactic that strives to accomplish political goals by attacking civilian targets. It is a tactic that is to resorted by entities that feel they lack other means of bringing about their goals. Terrorist groups feel themselves too weak to battle armies and so battle civilians instead. States, however, may likewise find themselves unable to defeat an opposing military force and to respond with a shift to targeting civilians. One such example, of states battling civilians rather than the military, was NATO's bombing of FR Yugoslavia in the course of the Kosovo War.

For its own political reasons NATO was unwilling to risk its forces incurring any losses in the war. Subsequently it conducted all of its bombing from attitudes above 5,000 metres, which was beyond the effective range of most anti-aircraft weapons in the possession of Army of Yugoslavia (VJ). Unwilling to descend below 5,000 metres, however, NATO likewise found itself unable to degrade the military of its enemy. Of some 580 VJ fatalities sustained in the course of the bombing less than one half were inflicted by NATO aircraft. The rest of the fatalities were sustained in battles with the KLA.

These battles were relatively bloody, but did not affect the overall Serbian strategic position. When the bombing campaign commenced majority of KLA fighters withdrew from Kosovo. The remainder was broken up into small bands which were without ability to coordinate among themselves. Offensives launched from Albanian territory into direction of Kosovo-Metohija by KLA fighters supported by Albanian artillery and NATO aviation were stopped in their tracks by relatively small forces that were not highly vulnerable to air attack.

Neither NATO attacks from the air nor the KLA attacks on the ground proved capable of endangering VJ control of the province, or of diminishing its strength. It was probably within NATO's capability to damage the Serbian military from the air, but this would have entailed risking significant casualties of its own. Unwilling to do what it would take to battle the military of the defending country NATO turned to battling its civilians.

06 June 2010

Riggenbach on Heinlein

A welcome piece at lewrockwell.com this weekend explains that while the well known science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein while very popular among libertarian readers was not actually a libertarian himself. This is something I have known for a long while, since I read his USSR themed essays from Expanded Universe which are mostly about how he travelled around the Soviet Union doing his best to act like a jerk. Not a libertarian, Heinlein was a vaguely free marketeering Cold War sabre rattler.

05 June 2010

State Terrorism

The classical terrorist in the movies is a hostage taker. This is fitting enough since all terrorism is creating a hostage situation. Including state terrorism which makes up for majority of acts of terrorism in the world.

An early form of state terrorism was practiced by US cavalry regiments which would stage so called "punitive expeditions" during the Indian Wars. In them they would fall upon an Indian village killing whoever they could get their hands on. This was usually done after Indians had risen in revolt as part of which they would often massacre settlers, which provided the apparent rationale for the punitive expedition, to compel the revolting Indians to desist from rebellion.

The method was recreated by the British in an industrialised manner in the course of the Second Boer War. Here the British systematically destroyed crops, livestock and homes of the Boers then rounded up Boer women and children and drove them into overcrowded concentration camps where malnutrition and disease were rampant. There they were held hostage until the Boer men gave up and discontinued their guerrilla campaign against the British.

Germany during the Second World War embraced state terrorism on a massive scale. Possibly the most unambiguous example of it is to be found in its conduct of occupation of Serbia. Here in October 1941 in just one three day massacre in the town of Kragujevac and the surrounding villages approximately 5,000 civilians were rounded up, then killed in mass executions as a way of compelling the guerrillas attacking the German troops to cease.

It should be apparent about all of the three examples above that they are hostage situations. This is what terrorism is. Punitive measures applied collectively against civilians and the threat of there of, not as a goal in itself, but as an instrument of compulsion. Non-state terrorists usually employ terrorism as a way to compel a state to desist from occupation. States on the other hand most often employ terrorism to compel guerillas to desist from resistance to occupation.

01 June 2010

On Being Target

These days in the news a glimpse into the life of Marines enforcing the occupation in Helmand's newly occupied district of Marja:
"We've been here for a month, and we’ve been in more firefights here than we have during the rest of our time in Afghanistan,” said Cpl. Anthony DePrimo, squad leader of India Company’s 3rd Platoon, 3rd Squad, which was involved in the May 19 firefight. 'You never know what’s going to happen here.'"
"Outside the wire, action has been more predictable. Patrols are regularly ambushed within a few hundred meters of the schoolhouse, with anywhere from three to 10 Taliban gunmen opening fire on Marines at a moment’s notice."
In a utterly predictable outcome the taking of the district in the "Operation Moshtarak" seems not to have represented a turning of a corner of any proportion, but has rather opened up another ultimately unwinnable front, and provided more and closer targets for the guerillas who are not giving up.

There was no reason to come in, but now there is some reason not to leave. The taking of Marja was done primarily for the benefit of the public opinion in the US, to show it that progress could be made in Afghanistan. Jet before that nobody in the US had the slightest interest in Marja, in fact nobody knew it existed. It could have stayed Taleban controlled for the next three thousand years and nobody would have lost sleep over it. It became important only once Pentagon built it up into something important. But now that is where it is at and to ever have it retaken would represent a significant blow to the occupation on the moral level.

Jet the pro-active occupation devoid of other ideas had announced months ago Marja had only been a dry run for a much larger effort directed at Kandahar in the summer where the same recipe is to be used. Which is bound to bring about the same sort of situation but on a far larger scale.

In this way the Marja situation is also a microcosm of the Afghan escalation. Before it Afghanistan had been a side show, the Western forces could have withdrew at any time and as long as Karzai would have stayed the mayor of Kabul the world would have hardly noticed. But now, after such investment anything short of unambiguously clear victory, which had always been unattainable, is going to attract attention and be recognized in the world for a defeat.

28 May 2010

Treason by Incomprehensible Stupidity

There is a debate in the United States about what is to be done with the people captured over the world in the course of the so called "War on Terror". Particularly those picked up in Afghanistan in 2001 and since imprisoned without charges in the Guantanamo bay camp. A part of this debate is a question of whether the persons locked up there should be given a civilian, criminal trial or a military trial under the Bush era "Military Commissions Act".

The bizarre thing about this debate is that it is the hard-liners, the hawks, the anti-Islamofascists who are speaking up against the criminal trials and for the military trials and vehemently so. It is another example of their stupidity being so enormous it could well be called treason.

According to the norms of today's world some non-defensive, non-retaliatory violence can be permissible. For example certain actions of the state, like waging war in many instance. Also according to many, such violence is permissible when carried out by an organisation, which albeit not a state is like the state, pursuing political goals and is combating a state. This naturally almost always hinges on whether the person agrees with the goals of such a rebel organisation. And of course all of this is contrary to libertarian theory as well as to the most rudimentary common sense ethics. However it is our reality. While non-defensive, non-retaliatory violence which is non-political is always, without exception seen as unjustified. Same such violence when in the function of bringing about a certain political goal, will unfortunately be seen by many as justifiable.

So in a situation when you have a state and a non-state locked in a struggle in which they both engage in the sort of violence which would be deemed criminal if carried out for private aims what they both strive to do is present their violence as justifiable violence in service of a political aim, and the violence of the other side as indefensible banditry, thuggery and bestiality. As that violence which all people agree falls into the category of unjustifiable, impermissible violence or crime.

23 May 2010

George N. Crocker's Road to Conjecture


Roosevelt's Road to Russia
is a revisionist work of history first published in 1959 by a lawyer and military officer George N Crocker which, I suppose by the way of Old Right, is still read and appreciated by a fair number of libertarians. In it Crocker makes the claims that at every turn Roosevelt's diplomacy and conduct of the war favoured Stalin and the Soviet Union.

The work has its share of peculiarities that reveal Crocker was very much marked by certain biases of his time and place. As in the title so throughout the book the Soviet Union is referred to instead as "Russia" which is then called a "semi-Asiatic" or a "semi-Oriental dictatorship". In this the anti-Communist Crocker is in perfect sync with Marx and with Stalin who had written about Russia as "semi-Asiatic" before him. Stalin is mostly referred to as "the Russian dictator", sometimes as simply "the Russian". He finds time to tells the reader about something called vynoslivost or "lasting a thing out" which he informs us is said to be "congenial" with "Tartar-Slavs".

To Crocker Indochina is a place where "American planes and guns were eventually needed to hold at bay an enemy far more sinister than the Japanese". In his view Bolshevization of Western Europe had only been thwarted by the retention of American troops and airfields in Europe, the pouring in each year of billions of dollars in aid and "the feverish preparation for a war of survival".

He inaccurately reports the 1930 Yen Bai mutiny in French Indochina had been Communist inspired. In reality it was led by the Vietnamese version of the KMT. We are told that during the war the Chinese Communists "were taking their orders from Moscow". In reality the Chinese Communists disregarded instructions of Moscow to join forces with the Nationalists.

Now for the books's main point about Roosevelt:
"By intention and deed he not only built up the power of the Soviet Union and made it a high-priority project but also fanatically devoted himself to bringing about a state of affairs in Europe and Asia in which there would be no neighbouring powers capable of offering any check to Soviet ambitions. His "unconditional surrender" ultimatum and his insistence upon keeping American and British troops out of the Balkans and eastern German areas were but parts of this general design; and he overrode with inflexible stubbornness the efforts of Winston Churchill to look to the future and guard against the threat of a colossal Communistic hegemony casting its dark shadow over all of Europe and Asia."
In Crocker's mind aside from the German war and the Japanese war the Second World War also consisted of a Russian war, in which the Communist Soviet Union was the aggressor "on the march", bent on world domination. He claims that on every step in this war of theirs they were consciously and intentionally aided by Roosevelt for just this purpose. Roosevelt, his mind "possessed" of "Russophilism", aided the Soviet Union not only to defeat Nazi Germany but went far beyond that to greatly enhance its post war status and power. He helped make it the dominating power in Europe and handed over Manchuria to it which later led to the Soviet Empire expanding to include all of China.

18 May 2010

De-Imperialising German History

Today's LRC offers a reprint of historian Ralp Raico's talk Nazifying the Germans. I have no bones to pick with the piece regarding its main point. I do not know nor much care for what purpose American left-wingers, Zionists or internationalists invoke the Nazi period and whether it constitutes an obsession of sorts. But I will concern myself with aspects of Raico's response. He states:
"The German role over centuries in transmitting advanced culture to the peoples to the east and south was critical at certain stages of their development. The Hungarian liberal, Gaspar M. Tamas, speaking for his own people, the Czechs, and others, wrote of the Germans who had lived among them and were driven out in 1945, that their 'ancestors built our cathedrals, monasteries, universities, and railway stations.'”
It is difficult to see how Mr. Tamas, as a Hungarian could speak for people other than his own. Particularly seeing the history of Hungarian-German interactions is much different than the history of German-Polish, German-Czech, German-Slovene interactions and so on.
 
Another German role over centuries critical for the shape of development of the peoples to the east and south of the Germans was the aggressiveness and expansionism of German-speaking political entities towards them. It is arguable if the German push eastwards had the effect of spreading culture or arresting it. 

Most likely the effect of German settlers moving east was a very positive one, but the havoc wrought in the attempts of German realms to extend their political borders eastward was not and the retardation of local, Slavonic cultures followed where these attempts succeeded.

14 May 2010

Enduring Callousness


It has been reported that the honchos running the occupation of Afghanistan are discussing introducing a medal for "courageous restraint". It would be handed to soldiers who do not take action that they are permitted under the (notoriously unrestrictive) "rules of engagement" in case that doing so could endanger civilians. For example, not opening fire on cars that approach a checkpoint or a military convoy with a speed greater than that which they deem acceptable. This in a nutshell is all one needs to see that imperial propaganda about Afghanistan is a farce. It reveals in of itself the imperials are the farthest thing from liberators there.

If the war was taking place in the US would the American troops need to be seduced into not "lighting up" civilians on checkpoints in Kansas or Idaho with medals? Of course not, among their people courageous restraint would be the default. Not to kill the people you are tasked to defend would not be seen as being meritorious, it would be the norm. If someone were to panic and shoot up an American civilian it would be understood he deserves a court-martial for cowardice and the harm inflicted, not just loose out on a bogus medal.

It shows the hypocrisy of the people running the occupation. On one hand they hand down instructions to their triggermen that allow them free reign and on the other they plan to entice them to refrain from shooting at everything that could conceivably be a threat with pieces of tin. The truth is that the occupation is not actually highly motivated to cut down on such incidents. If if were it would hand down new instructions to its rank and file, ordering them to refrain from opening fire in the circumstances when doing so could result in them harming the very civilians on whose behalf they claim to be in the country for.

This however, would require a systemic change. Currently the US military trains its troops to be as aggressive as possible, to shoot rather than be in doubt, to never hesitate and to feel no remorse. It is a culture the American military in particular works hard and very successfully to engrain in its troops in what it imagines is a way of increasing their efficiency and shortening casualty lists. But once this has been accomplished its troops expect to work in such an institutional environment where they are given a wide amount of leevay and are not "second guessed" when they go about their soldiering the way they have been trained, that is as aggressive and callous killers. As a consequence to demand of the soldiers that they show a great amount of restraint in a war zone would create a great amount of discontention among them.

It is true that in the long term the occupational troops with their indifference for the lives of occupied civilians work to make their own existence there more perilous as they turn the population against themselves. But this is only true in the long term. Because in a war such as this it is not always possible to right away know who is a threat and who is not, the guarantee that they will not be prosecuted or have their actions re-examined in the short term, however, grants them an added sense of security. A sense of security that they need in order to go along with the wars of the empire. A soldier is unlikely to concern himself with the outcome of an enterprise such as an occupation. For the most part he is merely looking to finish his "tour" in one piece. His outlook is extremely short term. Even if he is aware that his actions today may lead to increased anger of the populace and more attacks on the troops these are just as likely to fall on neighbouring units or those that will follow after his own.

The enlistees let themselves be shipped around the world, put in dangerous situations, on bizarre rationales and in return they receive considerable pay and a carte blanche to do whatever they think is necessary to protect themselves should they feel they are in danger regardless of whether the danger was actually present. Deprive them of their carte blanche and instead demand they put the lives of the local civilians before their own and they would be far less willing let themselves be shipped around, enforcing occupations. And how then would the empire prolong itself?

The likes of checkpoint slayings hurt the occupation, but this type of grumbling disaffection and the subsequent decrease of the lure of soldiering profession would hurt it more. In a trap of the military's own making any attempt to now expect that the rank and file demonstrate a certain amount of restraint and show some regard for life of the locals even at their own expense would be seen by them as the brass taking away their means of protection. For this reason we will never see the only thing that could truly improve the welfare of the affected civilians – the rules of engagement that are not already criminal in themselves and a change in culture to accompany them. But it makes one wonder. When the Taleban set up a checkpoint of their own, do their rank and file, so as not to callously kill their own civilians, also need to be enticed with medals?

01 May 2010

It Takes Two For a Great Game


The most notable thing about the overthrow of the government in Kirgizia last month - at least from the point of view of non-Kirgizians - has to be the contrast between the speedy and clear reaction of Moscow and the sluggish and vague initial reaction of Washington. Whereas Kremlin quickly got behind the new government the White House fell back onto meaningless government filler talk for such occasions, about the need to show respect for the law, about its "deep concern" and standard calls for dialogue, restoration of order and an end to violence. It was clear that unlike Russia, the US had been caught unaware by the development in Kirgizia and that consequently it was unsure how to react.

This echoes its behaviour during the 2005 unrest in Uzbekistan. Following the still murky events in which government forces by its own count gunned down 187 protestors and Uzbek government for a time appeared to be standing on shaky ground, the US - after initial silence and refusal to do anything that might alienate official Tashkent - later on came out with a response that was neither here nor there. It explicitly backed neither the Karimov government nor the protestors, while calling for restraint on the part of both parties and offering a subdued criticism of the government. The press release did not win it any moral capital, since it was far too timid in its condemnation of the actions of the Karimov government and since it had come only after days of hesitation. Jet it unexpectedly lost her a willing (if disagreeable) partner that is commandeering the most populous country in Central Asia. Karimov, appalled by the actions of a power which had been vying for his loyalties reacted by promptly evicting Americans from their Uzbekistan base and restoring Uzbekistan's alignment with Moscow, which unlike the US, had unambiguously come out on his side during the crisis.

Another 2005 event, Kirgizia's "Tulip Revolution" could be contrasted with the previous mentioned episodes as an example where, on the contrary, the US was not indecisive or passive but instead cleverly and boldly pulled strings to advance its agenda. However the Tulip Revolution was quite different from the other colour revolutions. Rather than firmly placing media attention on the coming election and building up interest beforehand like it was the case in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, in Kirgizia it was only after the fact that we were told that the violent change of regime had been a western inspired, democratic colour revolution. This retroactive branding casts heavy doubt on it ever being significantly the result of western money and training.

However it made sense for both of the parties, Washington and the new powers in Bishkek to claim otherwise, that it had been inspired by and belongs into the same category as the then lauded colour government overthrows. This way the revolutionaries were much more likely to be the beneficiaries of US largess, would be given more favourable media coverage in the West and perhaps add to their legitimacy. Washington on the other hand could add to its propaganda narrative about inspiring a spread of pro-western democracies and help justify their involvement from Belgrade to Baghdad to Tbilisi. Contrary to the instances of actual colour revolution the relations with the government consequently established did not come at the expense of and did not threaten relations with Russia. Kirgizia continued its membership in CSTO and SCO, continued to host a Russian military base, and in 2009 came close to evicting Americans from theirs. Bakiyevs profited nicely from working with the Americans, but the deposed Kirgiz government was never in the Western pocket in the style of other colour regimes - it did not have to be, it did not owe their rise to power to them.

Taking all of this into consideration a pattern emerges that establishes the US at a loss to understand the region. For all the talk of the New Great Game the US has in a decade failed to produce a particularly excellent move on the Central Asian chessboard. Russia on the other hand succeeded in luring Karimov - and with him Uzbekistan - into its sphere of influence with a mere well timed and clearly phrased press release. Then felt confident enough about its ability to predict the final outcome of the mess in Kirgizia this month so as to recognise the new government in Bishkek virtually before the bodies of the dead had been cleared from the streets.

Its speedy response has led to questions being raised of its involvement in the overthrow, but there is no real evidence of this. Much more likely the overthrow has solely to do with another round of fighting between political clans patronage networks in Kirgizia - and naturally with the very real wrath of the people over corrupt governance. The difference here is that Russia actually has some capacity to understand internal dynamics of Kirgizia and the ability to predict who will come out on top - and to therefore win their favour by coming out on their side, early and unambiguously. And to recognise which of the options coming out on top is more advantageous for it. Where Central Asia is an alien, exotic region for America it is far less so for Russia. The number of Kirgizians working in Russia is put at 800,000. Of Kirgizia's populace of 5.5 million nearly 500 thousand are Russians. A great deal of public life takes place in the Russian language which has an official status alongside Kirgiz. Russian language newspapers actually outnumber and have a higher circulation than those in the Kirgiz language. This goes to demonstrate that there are exist certain ties that enable Russians to follow events in this part of the globe with relative ease.

Besides this ability to understand the region, there is also the question of pull. The US is interested in the region's oil and natural gas resources, but other than cooperation in this one field it has nothing else to offer. While Russia is the first or the second most important trade partner for every one of these countries, the trade between Central Asian countries and the United States is all but non-existing. The populace of these countries understand this perfectly. Polls reveal that barely anyone in the region thinks sacrificing relations with Russia for relations with the United States would be wise.

All this means that in the end the New Great Game is a very uneven contest. The US simply does not have the cards to play. As is only natural. The United States may be a global power, but its global power is based on its control of the oceans. Central Asia however is a land-locked region, thousands of miles away from the nearest sea, and one that borders Russia and China at that. Any attempt of Washington to establish its dominance even here has as much chance of succeeding as a power other than the United States establishing itself in Central America. In reality Russian influence in the region is probably slowly receding, but it is not ceding ground to US influence, but to the pull of rising economic strength of China.

28 April 2010

Sevastopol Lease - a Blunder


Ukraine and Russia recently reached a deal by which Ukraine agrees to extend the lease on the Sevastopol naval base for another 25 plus 5, while Russia agrees to deliver natural gas to Ukraine at a 30% discount. This discount will amount to a subsidy of 3 billion dollars per annum. This rather than a deal that will benefit both sides is a deal that will have a detrimental effect on both.

Sevastopol, which is a predominantly Russian city, has a remarkable history intertwined with the history of the Black Sea Fleet. Its very founding was as a base for the newly founded fleet to operate from after the annexation of Crimea in the 18th century. It was besieged by the French and the British in the Crimean War and by the Germans and the Romanians in the Second World War. In both instances it ultimately fell, but not before the defenders exacted a heavy price on the besiegers. In both instances the sailors and the marines of the navy played an important role in the ferocious defence of the city. It is natural that the Russian Navy would desire to be based from here.

The problem is that Russia is not in the position to be handing out billion dollar subsidies. Russia's own navy is the military arm that has seen the steepest decline since the Soviet years. In the last ten years it has received only four new ships. Many of its remaining vesels are approching the end of their life spans. Instead of worrying about the basing for the Black Sea Fleet beyond 2017 the Russian government would do better to worry about still having a respectable fleet to base in the Black Sea past that time. The 3 billion dollars per annum could instead go toward towards procurement of new vessels and the expansion of its naval base in Novorossiysk.

Or even better it could go toward an investment into the living standard of Russians. Why not a tax rebate to the tune of 3 billion? 3 billion spread over 150 million Russian citizens may not sound like much, but then this is 80 dollars per family per annum. Given the option would Russian families really choose to spend 80 dollars every year on a lease on a naval base in Crimea? I think they would not be hard pressed to come up with more immediate needs.

As for Ukraine, the problem is that Ukraine as it is now could not actually afford to continue to pay the market price for its natural gas. But that is just it. Ukraine is a state which is permanently in crisis of this sort or the other. Its government needs to learn to live within its means instead of relying on Kremlin's largesse to make up for the shortfall. Since the subsidy lessens the pressure on Kiev to get its house in order it is - however intended - not going to prove to be a favour for the Ukrainians.

18 April 2010

A Recap

Last month saw the anniversary of the American 2003 invasion of Iraq slip by almost unnoticed. A part of the reason why this can happen is that at the time the attack was expected for a whole preceding year. So sustained and long-lived had been the propaganda of the aggressor and so brazen its intentions.

Let us recount. In the opening stage of the 2001 Afghanistan War the American expectations were of a relatively long-winded conflict. The war was being fought by Americans from the air and a coalition of militias which had lost the Afghan Civil War and had been bottled up in the north of the country ever since on the ground. Retired US generals spent their time in TV studios explaining that the immediate goal for the US was to take one mayor city before the winter sets in in order to shore up the confidence of the outnumbered Northern Alliance. The main push to evict the Taleban government would follow later on in the spring. However, as this first goal had been accomplished with the fall of Mazar-e-Shariff in November the Taleban broke and vacated the battlefield leaving the enemy with an unexpectedly easy and speedy victory.

Come spring instead of an offensive in Afghanistan there was talk of another war. The post-9/11 America had not yet satisfied its bloodlust. Its war in Afghanistan, while apparently successful, finished in a markedly anti-climatic manner. Besides, with only a few elite American units on the ground, and the planes in the air largely running out of targets to bomb in a matter of days, it had been, from the perspective of a TV viewer, an uneventful, low intensity war. This would not do. More was needed.

Attentions of Americans were quickly transferred to Iraq in a process that kicked off with George Bush's infamous "Axis of Evil" speech that took place in January 2002. By that spring it had to be clear to anyone who was paying attention that the US was searching for a pretext to attack. And by fall, when the war propaganda returned after a lull for the vacation season, it had to be clear to anyone that the war was going to take place whether the US succeeded in manufacturing a marketable pretext or not. The only real unknown was for how long the theatre about the worry over non-existing chemical and biological weapons would be kept up before the invasion would be launched. Soon thereafter this was narrowed down as we learned about the "weather window" in which Iraq can be invaded before the combination of heat and dust storms makes the job of would-be conquerors of that part of the world harder.

In the end the war was launched on 20th March, after more than one year of propaganda for war. The operation was to open up with an ambitious, and birdbrained, "Shock and Awe" approach that called for such impressive-looking displays of power that they would supposedly stun the enemy into surrendering. The US invasion employed 300,000 military personal and was reported on by over 700 embedded reporters. Unlike in Afghanistan this time nothing about the conduct of the war could have been said to be half-baked or done reluctantly. This was clearly a war the Empire enjoyed waging. Even so, and despite Iraqi regulars hardly fighting leaving most of it to the Fedayeen paramilitary it did not go without setbacks. The second of the three weeks of the invasion was actually spent in an "operational pause" without attempting to advance from the positions already taken. The war was seemingly over after three weeks but not in fact. Somewhere around the time Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay were killed in July it was already apparent that guerrilla resistance was taking shape, and by the month of November, with its then record coalition casualties, it was clear guerrilla was in full swing. America had stepped into a quagmire.

The obvious thirst for war with Iraq that emanated from Washington since January 2002 was in considerable contrast to its much more conservative approach in Afghanistan. In the days and months after the terrorist attack on WTC the US behaved out of character. Albeit it had been served with the best pretext for war in several decades but, albeit normally so eager to wage war, was actually displaying reluctance to commit to the Afghanistan campaign in a mayor way. This enigma was solved later when we learned that the Bush administration had wanted a war with Iraq since the first day of taking power and that this had always been their priority.

This helps shed light on US actions in the fall of 2001. There was no rush to send in significant ground forces, no rush to take Kabul, no prime time footage of US paratroopers parading through Afghan markets. There was to be nothing climactic or overly triumphalist about the war in Afghanistan. Clearly the US government did not want the war in Afghanistan to be an eventful enough war to satisfy the craving for vengeance of the post 9/11, nor did it want for too many of its troops to get physically bogged down in the country so as to have enough soldiers on hand for the adventure that would follow.

At the same it could not resolve the standoff with the Taleban peacefully. Doing so would have sapped much of the rationale for any subsequent wars. If good faith negotiations could be entered into even with the Taleban, then why not with every other adversary? Since this path was never pursued it is not clear if negotiations could have indeed bore fruit and if the Taleban were sincere, but it is undoubtable that following the attacks they were signaling their willingness to hand over Osama bin Laden under certain conditions.

Given the careful way in which the Afghanistan adventure was managed the general public in the US  remained convinced the terrorist attacks in WTC entitled them to launch further wars, beyond Afghanistan. In the midst of all this were millions of Iraqis who, like the rest of us, knew the US invasion of their country was coming for an entire year before it was eventually launched. How is it to live for an entire year in a situation where you know that war is coming to your land? That it is going to find itself under attack by invaders bringing with them destruction, chaos and death and there is no stopping them?