Monday, October 31, 2011

Libya Rule of Law Prospects...Short Response to Stupid Assertions

Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch stated about the violent end of Gadhafi and those like him: “Finding out how they died matters. It will set the tone for whether the new Libya will be ruled by law or by summary violence.”

Actually, no - it sets the tone for nothing. Think Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Russia - In the National Interest

Peter I, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russi...Image via WikipediaRussia has problems and it knows it.  But, the end of the US centric world has given Russia the opportunity to reassert itself as a major player in the Eurasia theater, but just barely and perhaps only for a limited time.  The policies of Peter the Great are back.
Russia looks to Europe and the West, but not as it did in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union.  After Yeltsin came Putin whose vision was to reassemble the broken state, create a highly centralized governance system and stamp out overt displays of democratic aspirations through the supremacy of the FSB (formerly KGB) in the political food chain.  None of this is surprising in hindsight because Russia proper was historically indefensible and needed either buffer territory or client states to surround its core and strong central government. 
Imperial Russia carved out an empire in Central Asia, the Caucuses and East Asia which was simply transferred over to the Soviet Union, albeit with considerable bloody fighting in these regions between 1918 and 1922 when it was re-conquered for a second time.  The buffer proved invaluable for defeating Nazi Germany in a variety of ways, not the least of which was room to retreat, a place for industry out of reach of enemies and an unlimited source of cannon fodder. 
Putin served the Soviet Union as part of the KGB and his inheritance was an imperial Russia with major losses in Central Asia, the Baltic States, the Caucuses and East Asia (Mongolia), a pathetically weak military, collapsed industrial capacity (most of it was located in the now independent Ukraine), unrest in the Northern Caucuses (Chechnya in particular), unconstrained oligarchs who had divided state assets under privatization and a depressed public.  It was a mess.
Any sober Russian leader knows that Russia is surrounded by some pretty hefty neighbors with no natural barriers while the country outside the western Russian core consists of multiple ethnic groups with a dislike of Moscow. The collapse of the Soviet Union ended the internal economy that sustained it (badly).  It’s major asset is energy, but it has a poor infrastructure network in general and needs foreign assistance, particularly in technology.  This is a daunting task for any Russian leader.
Russia, historically and for good reason, does not trust its neighbors.  But since Europe is so much more advanced in almost every sector Russians – or at least their leaders – realize that aggressiveness must be tempered with accommodation.   In the A.Y.  period (After Yeltsin), Vladimir Putin aggressively went about securing absolute power and restoring Russian prestige in the world as he saw it.  Russians were ecstatic and felt that, at least as far as  the “near abroad” (all the former Soviet colonies) was concerned, Russian pre-eminence was achieved.  He was seen as pro-Western abroad and a strong leader at home.  As Russia internally became authoritarian and the nascent democracy was crushed with the help of an energy dependent Europe and a distracted US (Bush saw into Putin’s soul, felt comradeship and invaded Iraq – another story), Putin led Russia in a great charm campaign with Europe and the US. 

Frankly, this is not much different from any other country in the prosecution of foreign/domestic policies.  It’s ok to be nice abroad when the perceived strength of the country is high.  Weak countries tend to be more unpredictable and prone to accidents.  Although Putin’s internal and international reputation suffered as he became more dictatorial, it didn’t matter internally because the majority felt that he had restored Russian greatness and stature.  He also leveled Grozny.
Dmitri Medvedev, the current and soon to be ex-president, was welcomed as a friend of the West.  Again, appearances were deceptive.  Medvedev is charming, most of the time, and probably understands Europe and the US better than KGB trained Putin. But when push came to shove, Russia’s national interests logically came first and securing the borders for buffer zones against any outside threat was still a priority.  Georgia, ignoring every signal not to poke the bear (who had already said – repeatedly - how much it disliked Georgia’s president) felt the consequences of that policy.  Small surrounding countries made a note.
Leaders are rarely of a single personality and both Medvedev and Putin put the national interests of Russia first which results in accommodation or aggressiveness as the case may be. The distraction of the US, first in Afghanistan and then in the illegal war in Iraq gave Moscow a ten year scope of maneuver which it used to destroy democratic tendencies, kill off journalists opposed to the regime and consolidate power within the country followed quickly by changing the  dynamics in the near abroad without a murmur of objection from the US or the West.  The result was a profound disillusionment in the West with Putin, but no action because the only country that could counter Russia’s moves was tied up in the personal wars of Bush and the abandonment of countries like Ukraine by Europe.
When Medvedev became President and Putin reverted to Prime Minister, nothing changed. Indeed, without blinking and largely due to the thundering stupidity of the Saakashvili, president of Georgia, he quickly launched the war against Georgia the result of which was a foregone conclusion despite the poor and sometimes astoundingly incompetent performance of the army and air-force.   It was the perfect war to help secure an important part of the Russian southern flank and blunt Turkish influence.  The refusal of Azerbaijan to bend to Russian pressure, however, makes this victory somewhat less than it could be in the Caucuses as does the continuing unrest and unremitting anger in Georgia. 
The overthrow of the Bakaiv government in Kyrgyzstan, which had gained control in a color revolution but which quickly degenerated into a kleptocracy, was supported by Moscow – and  by the West for different reasons, but the geo-political results were favourable to Russia. As far as Russian historical security policy toward its neighbors is concerned, the outcomes were pretty good. 
Finally, there is Ukraine. Russia can do without the Baltics, although it has threatened them frequently, especially when Medvedev said that Russia has the right to protect Russians wherever they happen to be. Ukraine, however, is a different matter. Russia was caught off guarded with the Orange Revolution and the visit by Putin just before the fraudulent election angered both Yanukovich and Yuschenko supporters as an unwarranted interference in Ukrainian politics.  However,  Russia without Ukraine is indefensible.  NATO touches its borders in the Baltics and now has NATO members Romania and Bulgaria on the Black Sea.  The expansion of NATO was beginning to look like an encirclement coupled with the Manas air base in Bishkek. A NATO aligned Ukraine would be a disaster.
In short, Russia cannot do without the food, infrastructure (pipelines to Europe), or the port of Sevastopol  for the Black Sea fleet. Geographically without Ukraine Russia is looking into a black hole of poverty and marginalization. The defeat of the Orange Revolution with the election of Yanukovich ended the threat of Western penetration into the Russian heartland. This victory in Ukraine changed the attitude of every Russian neighbor. Conciliation and cooperation with Moscow is now the flavour of the day.  The West must now learn to deal with a dictatorial puppet regime in Ukraine, which will only be removed by revolution, similar to the absurd notion in the Soviet period of allowing Ukraine a seperate seat in the UN.
Moscow knows it has a small window of opportunity to achieve its goal of internal control and secure borders.  With the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, negotiated by Bush and being implemented by Obama, and the wind-down of Afghanistan, the room to maneuver for the Kremlin has narrowed.  However, now that it is feeling strong and secure - and knowing that demographically it is losing ground it allows the government to move closer to the West to obtain the technology it desperately needs. Historically, Russia has always followed this pattern.  This time, however, may be different because investors’ memories are longer.
Nevertheless, so far the Russian balancing act of building strength internally through the Potemkin village of managed democracy and threatening aggressiveness in the near abroad is working.  Moscow has extended its control through strategic relationships in Europe, particularly with Berlin whose need for Russian energy is Moscow’s trump card.  This secures the Western front, at least for the near future both politically and economically.
Finally, the customs and trade union conceived in Moscow, is not – as it alleges – to re-create the EU trade system, but to tie Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Belarus close to the Kremlin.  The economic union is only a step in the search by Russia for security through control. 
Nevertheless, as the window closes, Russia still has resistance from Azerbaijan and Georgia and faces continuing unrest in the north Caucuses.  The Baltics are not exactly friendly.  Poland, despite its moves to normalize political relations with Moscow, mistrusts Russia and Germany and has helped to form the Visegrad Group with the Baltic states whose primary goal is to forge a military alternative to NATO.  As previously mentioned, Russia's demographics is not enviable.  Russia's balance between cooperation and confrontation will continue for some time and will always reflect national interests.
One last observation.  On September 24 Putin announced he would be running for President to replace Medvedev.  These are not, of course, elections.  Nevertheless, two days afterwards, Medvedev’s public and nasty firing of the deputy prime minister and Minister of Finance Alexei Kudrin revealed more of the internal politics of the Kremlin than would normally be the case. 
Medvedev was not happy at being treated like a seat warmer for Putin.  During the meeting he referred to decisions  he had made and the fact that he was in charge.  Unfortunately, with the musical chair now back to Putin, it is clear that his decisions and positions were irrelevant.  Not only that.  Russia does not seem to be going anywhere economically (aside from energy and without Western help) and certainly not democratically.   The idea that Putin will be running the show until 2024 is not appetizing; but from the view of the Kremlin, it is the only choice.
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In this corner - al Shaabab

The Kenyan incursion across its border into the  region known as Somalia (the national government in Mogadishu has no control over the majority of the territory – sort of a prerequisite to country status), has bogged down because of heavy rains.  Nairobi clearly intends to continue the operation up to and including seizure of the coastal city of Kismaayo – the financial and logistics hub of the al-Shaabab terrorist group.  The loss of Kismaayo will be a blow to the financial and logistical prospects of al-Shaabab which reaps the benefits of piracy, and now kidnapping of tourists, using the funds to purchase arms and materials for its activities. 

The issue is what happens when the Kenyan’s leave?  Some deal will need to be made with the tribal groups allied, more or less, with the government in Mogadishu.  Foreign troops cannot stay – that much should be obvious.  However, it is very clear that the problem of piracy and the predations of al-Shaabab, including the famine it’s control of areas is exacerbating, are not going to be solved off-shore. 
Al-Shaabab must be made to suffer heavy losses and that can only be done ultimately with boots on the ground.  Cutting them off from their source of income and headquarters in Kismaayo is a good first step, but must be quickly followed by a Mogadishu presence through one of its allies since it is incapable by itself to do so. 
The fact that the Mogadishu government has voiced official protests at the breach of its “sovereignty” is legal window dressing.  There are 8,000 foreign troops in Mogadishu (the reason al-Shaabab departed so quickly).  The US is sending in drones from neighboring Ethiopia. Failed states have no sovereign rights. The famine in the region is made worse by al-Shaabab. The attacks on civilians, kidnappings in Kenya and the mutual aid society between al-Shaabab and pirates, is a perfect scenario of R2P actions.  Support to the Kenyan government’s efforts need to be ramped up now.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saleh - a way out for Yemen

Ali Abdullah SalehImage via Wikipedia
The Gulf Arab states, who took the lead in pushing for the overthrow of Qaddafi, have pushed through a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to violence in Yemen and immediate transfer of power from Ali Abdullah Saleh to his deputy.  The resolution was unanimous - not an insignificant point.    This is a good development.
What this will do is set the stage for immunity from prosecution for Saleh.  This, too is not insignificant. Regardless of the sometimes naive views of human rights' activists, offering a way out for the ultimate loser would likely prevent further bloodshed.  Would it had worked for Qaddafi - doubtful since one must expect a degree of rational thought on the part of the target. Qaddafi lived in his own world and his views were, if not insane, certainly completely warped.  Immunity probably would not have made a difference and, in any event given his proclivity toward strange and dangerous behavior, would likely have resulted in a prolonged and debilitating insurgency led from Niger or Algeria.
Saleh is not quite Qaddafi (but comes close) and although even the Saudis gave up on him in frustration, they have been instrumental in finding a way to end the slaughter  in Yemen.  Ending the killing is more important than the future of Saleh - which is limited in any case.
Boxing a dictator into a corner is not a wise way to go and the rose coloured glasses through which some human rights activists view "just" solutions and doing what is "right" can, and has, led to the loss of many more innocent civilian lives than necessary.  It develops a growing sense of revenge on the part of those at the wrong end of the broken bottle.  The likely execution of Qaddafi at the hands of the rebels should not have come as a surprise and, frankly, draws a line under the bloody civil war in a way the ICC could never have accomplished. That, and the fact that Libyans don't give a rats ass how he was killed, should inform the UN to keep its nose out of the inquest and simply help Libya recover.  Just think - Benito Mussolini and his wife were captured, killed and hanged upside down by furious Italians.  The UN would have ordered an investigation.  What a joke that would have been. The same is true of the execution of Ceausescu and his wife.
Revolutions and war are not clean, pleasant or sanitary. The media should stop being shocked at civilian deaths and revenge killings.  It is sad and unfortunate and inevitable.
The ICC is useful to some extent - but it is not useful for ending civil wars by forcing dictators to dig in more.  Some activists for "justice" may find that unpalatable - but next time they corner a dictator, let them ask widows or the parents of slaughtered children what their choice would be. 
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MIttens Romney - Dope or Just a Liar

Mittens (remember, the one who had tied his dog to the roof of his car), is either a complete dope a liar or , like every Republican, say anything to gain power - or all three.  In response to Obama's announcement of the final troop wthdrawal from Iraq by the end of the year, he said this:

“President Obama’s astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women. The unavoidable question is whether this decision is the result of a naked political calculation or simply sheer ineptitude in negotiations with the Iraqi government. The American people deserve to hear the recommendations that were made by our military commanders in Iraq.” 

Let's parse this remarkably and deliberately misleading statement. 

First - this is the Bush plan that is being implemented under an agreement with the sovereign government of Iraq.  It is orderly and certainly does not leave Iraq helpless by any stretch of the imagination.  Bush gave a large junk of Iraq to Iran to control anyway.

Second - the government of Iraq wants the US to get out. Period.  It is their country - what Mitt the Stupid is advocating is an occupation and more US deaths in what amounted to an illegal war in the first place.

Third, US standing in the Middle East can't get much lower because of its self-inflicted slavery to Israeli foreign polich.  Egypt and Turkey already can't stand the US and are going their own way. Staying in Iraq, however, would accomplish the goal of dropping the US in popularity into a black hole.

Finally, the American people understand - at least those not part of the lunatic right - that the President of the US is the commander in chief of the military of the US. Period.  It is not the role of military commanders to dictate foreign policy. What Republicans want is a military-industrial control of the US and its foreign policy.

Mittens is a cynical idiot at best.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kenya Says "Enough"

Kenya has sent its troops and airforce into the area commonly known as Somalia in order to secure its borders from further incursions by the terrorist group al-Shabaab.  Amusingly, the “Government of Somalia” which controls a few square kilometers of Mogadishu, has complained of a violation of its sovereignty.  This is a charade, of course, since militias in the southern Somalia and which support the government have coordinated with the Kenyans.  

Kenya clearly has had enough of the terrorist incursions and is hardly a stranger to Somalia as it has been training their army anyway.  Although it has briefly entered Somalia in the past, this time the attack is serious.  They now join the Ugandan and Burundian troops already supporting the government. The Somali protest keeps up appearances.  

Al-Shabab has vowed to repel the Kenyans.  The last time they tried to repel a foreign regular army they didn’t do too well as the Ethiopian military quickly ripped through them.

Now may be time time to rethink the Somali problem – both regarding the pirates (whose funds sometimes end up with al-Shabab) and the terrorist group itself.  Ground operations have clearly become necessary as the Russians suggested a year ago.  They should now go forward with a plan to stop the pirates before they leave the shore.
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Monday, October 17, 2011

Tymoshenko Redux

Yulia Tymoshenko in AachenImage via WikipediaThe political trial of Yulia Tymoshenko is over but an appeal could change everything.  By bringing her to trial for negotiating a generous (from Moscow’s point of view) gas deal while Eastern Europe was freezing in and of itself revealed the motive behind the persecution.  Seven other members of her party are already in jail.  It stincks of a political murder. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck – well….

The question, like everything in Ukraine, is the underlying reason for this mock trial run by a neophyte, 31 year old judge whose sentence was written for him by the Presidential Administration.  It has resurrected Tymoshenko politically, rather than the opposite.  It has put Yanukovich in the worst possible light as his government is condemned by the EU and the US.  Russia, which appeared equally surprised, may be play-acting as putting political opponents in jail is the norm for the Kremlin (journalists are merely murdered). And this may be key – Russia’s interest in the case as crocodile tears’ come to mind.
Does Yanukovich really care about deeper integration with Europe?  Personally, I doubt it.  Will he agree to join the economic union Russia has slapped together with Belarus and Kazakhstan?  Perhaps – but that is no substitute for the loss of a trade agreement with the EU, despite the Kremlin’s glee should it come to pass.
I prefer not to think that Yanukovich is both stupid and a thug.  The latter maybe, but not the former – at least until now.  On the other hand, collapse of trade negotiations with the EU gives him the excuse to run to Russia without being the instigator of the break with the EU.   But with Putin set to return to power, criticism from the big brother to the north is not a welcome sign for Yanukovich. 
As always, nothing is clear in Ukraine and conspiracy theories are a daily menu item.   But this prosecution and conviction appear to be a gross misjudgment if the purpose was to remove Yulia from the political arena.  It has made her a martyr and, since she has been through this before, even more dangerous for Yanukovich and his Party of the Regions. 
The stage is set for what could be a remarkable comeback.  First there is a sentence pronounced by a non-entity child judge under pressure by her political opponent Yanukovich for the “crime” of negotiating a bad deal with the Russians.  Putin remarked that the sentence is odd at best and the agreements were, in any event legal.  Then she is jailed during the appeal process because of, essentially, being rude to the court (not hard considering the court). This is followed by the loss of a major trade agreement with the EU and condemnation from every European leader and principal EU legal experts.   Yanukovich has given her what she needs. She lost to him by less than 3% of the vote in 2010.  He clearly did not want her, or her party, another grab at the ring.  But, tired old apparatchik bully from the East that he is, he could not let her just fade away.
Call it a gut feeling, but I believe the appeal is likely to go her way. If that happens (and even Yanukovich appears to think it may) she will come out of this unscathed and emboldened.  She is a ferocious, dangerous competitor and Yanukovich may soon regret his actions.
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Push Comes to Shove - Tehrir on Wall Street

Yes…I know I have not posted in a long while.  Two things have blocked my way – the first of which is arriving at a new post in Central Asia (otherwise known as the 12th Century) and the second – there is simply too much going on.  And, yes – I intend to continue with the view and post that we are now part of a multi-polar, pre-1945 world.

Then there is the Occupy Wall Street movement which took a cue from Europe and has gone viral world-wide.  It is a good sign, but I would suggest that the inspiration is drawn from the frustration and anger that resulted in the Arab Spring which began in Tunis and quickly spread to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Libya.  In other words, almost every country in the Arab world with a long history of the elite taking and everyone else giving.
The results have been dramatic, if not the least from a foreign policy point of view.  The street demonstrations have altered the political dynamics in the Middle East with a ripple effect stretching from Moscow to Washington.  Ankara is aggressively pursuing what it rightly sees as a huge opening to extend its influence and project its soft (and perhaps hard) power.  Washington is learning that the regional governments are not so quick to follow its lead and Moscow and Beijing simply don’t want this sort of thing spreading – hence their veto of sanctions against Syria.  But now, many of the same dynamics that sparked the revolts against the establishment in the Middle East have ended up on Wall Street.  Good.

Unlike the tea party clique which is funded and supported by industrialists, banksters and the right wing noise machine in the US, the OWS movement is founded on middle class frustration and anger at those who game the system, refuse to pay their fair share of taxes, expect taxpayer funding to save them from their own gross mistakes and in general suck the country dry creating an ever widening gap between the wealthy and everyone else.   The movement reflects the frustration of ordinary citizens in Europe who despise the IMF and its policy of beggaring the general population with the only solution to the Eurozone crisis it has in its bag of tricks – cuts in spending (a sublimely idiotic way of addressing a low growth problem).  The bureaucracy in Brussels has not come up with a single plan that does not hurt the ordinary person on the street.
The status quo of government run by the banks, Wall Street traders, and industrialists like the Koch brothers is no longer functioning. It is debilitating Europe and America, leaving the playing field to others, China in particular, to do as they please both economically and politically.

Back in my law school days, the son of my professor in real estate law wrote (perhaps self-published) a book titled “When Push comes to Shove”.  It was largely devoted to the then disaster known as Vietnam but targeted those elites who got the US mired into that particular civil war and concluded that those elites weren’t listening.  Some severe shoving was in order.  That has and is happening in the Middle East.  In the US it may only be beginning, but one can only hope that the movement becomes strong enough to topple the old order – one way or another.  Push comes to Shove.