There are, however, a number of rash conclusions being arrived at in the wake of the bad news. One does not have to read very far to find a series of assumptions being made about Iraq’s future—that Baghdad is about to fall, that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s days are numbered, that Kurdistan’s independence is imminent and that oil production is at risk. None of these are certain and some are extremely unlikely. Let’s cover them one by one.
Sovietology may be as defunct as the Soviet Union itself. But the need for a dedicated and deep understanding of Russia — especially the motives and machinations emanating from the Kremlin — is as critical as ever.
Reforms that successive governments have failed to introduce will not be made easier by the huge economic challenges the country now faces, the lingering menace of further Russian intervention in the east and the motley crew of far-right nationalists that played their part in bringing down the government and who have reaped their reward with important posts in the new administration. They will have to work hard to ensure that all Ukrainians feel they have an equal share in their country’s future.
The discovery of oil would transform the geopolitical role of Saudi Arabia. It was an American firm, later called Aramco — not a British firm — that succeeded in getting the rights for prospection in 1938. Aramco sought assistance from the U.S. government to exploit the fields.
One consequence of Aramco’s interest combined with President Franklin Roosevelt’s vision of the geopolitical future of the United States was a now famous, then little noticed, meeting of Roosevelt and the ruler of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud, on Feb. 14, 1945 aboard a U.S. destroyer in the Red Sea.
Syria’s victimized needs must understand that the civil war is their war, not Assad’s war, not al-Qaeda’s war, not Iran’s war or Saudi Arabia’s war, not Russia’s war, not America’s war. Their war.
When Idris defected from Assad’s military, he left an abused organizations — which I have read described as “coup proof” — for disorganized civilian and military energy, which latter he was then to organize. Maybe at the Pentagon and among historians, that should not have been such a big deal, but in the reality, loose bands and militia with many things on their minds do not a ready-made military form. And in waltz the “Islamists” . . . .
“Syria for Syrians” would be my slogan, but it seems we (okay: of “the west”, of sentimental and sympathetic feeling) don’t know how to help them.
Note: the Kurdish People of Syria threatened directly with annihilation by ISIS et al. have taken care of themselves and possibly taken a chunk of Syria with them. However, fighting on that overlooked front continues in the general spilling across borders that the AQ affiliates, even if revoked, lol, define in their own weird way.
Facebook for me has become an Everyman’s Conflict and Politics Roundtable (as well as provocateur and politico tipster heaven) as it has for others, and, of course, it’s not the only “board” (remember those days?) in cyberspace where a lively discussion on conflict and politics is to be had at will.
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It is simply a cutthroat struggle for power, between jihadist groups of similar ideology, distinct only in name and the identity of their backers, albeit with slightly differing methods of imposing their doctrines on the ground.
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Britain also suspended deliveries some six weeks ago and Turkey shut its side of the border as fears over the growing strength of extremist jihadis crystallized in the takeover of the warehouses and bases by the Islamic Front, a new alliance of six of the most powerful Islamic rebel groups in Syria.
It was a stark demonstration of how Idris’ influence had diminished amid the rise of al-Qaida-affiliated militants flush with cash, weapons and battleground experience.
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Scissors. Paper. Stone.
Army. Militia. Population.
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Syrians have no army.
That is why the army they don’t have managed to bomb so many millions of them out of their businesses and homes without quelling The Revolution, not to mention failing also to impede for long the regressive progress made by the al-Qaeda affiliates.
However, in Syria, the direction of impedance changes daily with the battles under way.
Syrians could have an army IF the army they don’t have can find a totem for rallying other than a) Bashar al-Assad and family or b) themselves, which more frequently is how things go with coup and junta.
The Other Army Syrians don’t have doesn’t care about them either (or it wouldn’t dream of throwing bakers into their own ovens, much less do it).
General Salim Idris persists in the field, but it appears in news and political terms — or for drama-creating news and political purposes — he’s not sexy.
Militia go where the arms are.
Little French girls with jihadi boyfriends-cum-husbands are not lighting out to the Syrian territories to fight for an American-educated and religiously moderate Syrian military leader (oh, dad, get real!).
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Obama appears to want to tend to worries around his home, conceptually.
And Putin appears to be getting ready for a glorious Winter Olympics.
As mentioned in the top I-like-the-sound-of-my-own-voice section of this post, surrounding states and the UN haven’t more in their kits than humanitarian campground aid (and peacekeepers, when it’s safe to deploy them in defensive or tripwire positions).
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Syrians have no army.
In the middle east, armies, as has been pointed out by the recently departed conservative scholar Barry Rubin, may account for the failure and success of revolutions in the region: if the army’s with the revolutionaries, the revolution wins; if it stays with the regime, the regime wins.
Like a seesaw, the balance shifts back and forth for a while, but the stronger in arms prevails.
Mubarak’s pedestal was shaken by the people, but he was pushed off it by the army and the establishment. The revolution in Egypt succeeded because the army did not want Mubarak any more. The turning point was not that the army would not shoot its own people–it has done so before–but that it would not do so in order to save Mubarak.
REFLECTIONS ON THE REVOLUTION IN EGYPT – 10/27/2011.
Barry Rubin’s article inadvertently also provides a snapshot of Egypt and other of the Arab Spring-involves states just about two-and-one-half years ago. The Egypt he wrote about then was to succumb only momentarily (even if it seemed a lifetime) to the prodigious talents of the Muslim Brotherhood for economic and social regress.
Barry Rubin: Assessing Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood – YouTube – 29:38 – posted 8/29/2013, event recorded 7/12/2013. “The elite would not protect the regime . . . they had lost confidence in Mubarak.” Rubin also goes on to say at 15:22, “People in the middle east know they are on their own! I mean whether I like them or not.”
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BBC News – Ukraine justice minister in state of emergency warning – 1/27/2014; In Pictures: Ukraine unrest continues – In Pictures – Al Jazeera English – 1/27/2014; EU steeled for bruising encounter with Putin over Ukraine – FT.com – 1/27/2014:
“This is not a ‘business as usual’ summit,” said one EU ambassador. “It is time to take stock of where we are in relations with Russia. We will not be discussing any of the nuts-and-bolts issues.”
Kiev may represent the edge of Putin’s reinvigorating of the Russian state as an entity made larger than itself with a ring of buffering client states.
At 5:19 in the above clip, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt notes, “We have European values, we have European principles, we have European rights, that we must uphold in each and every European country.”
President Putin’s sumo wrestling on behalf of the future of resurgent Russian empire runs into numerous modern issues, starting with the neglect of the Russians themselves outside of the circles of immediate cooperation, influence, and power, which, of course, is part of what makes an autocracy what it is. In earlier days — the good old days! — tanks may have handily quelled the rioting in Kiev; today, those tanks may turn against the imposition of a new Ukrainian-Russian cooperative in the absence of a genuinely transformed Moscow.
However, as one friend has reminded me several times this winter, Russia (Putin) owns the cash and gas supplies and has used them for political leverage. Kiev’s own heavy-handed laws (who taught them how to be so tough and stupid?) have mightily encouraged the hard line in the state’s opposition:
“Everyone here’s looking at a 10-year jail sentence — the laws are in place,” said Vladimir, a 53-year-old entrepreneur from Kiev who’s been at the camp from the start and declined to give his last name for fear of reprisal. “We’ll be here until we win, otherwise our fate is sealed. There’s no third option.”
The conversion of Ukraine’s discomfort into stark black-and-white terms devolves directly to the government, which by imposing draconian measures eliminated the Ukrainian people’s post-Soviet customary sense of freedom of speech.
The new law, which bans all forms of protests, was published in the official Golos Ukrainy, or Voice of Ukraine, newspaper, raising fears that the government would use excessive force to quell dissent.
The opposition and the West have condemned the bill, demanding that it be reversed, but the Interior Ministry said at least 32 protesters had been arrested in the most recent round of demonstrations.
An older Moscow would have rolled in the tanks and troops, but that was then. This is now, and President Viktor Yanukovych, which I would gamble the opposition sees as a Putin puppet and protege, has instead of repealing a brutal set of protest laws offered his opposition a token place at his table. (Reference:Ukraine president says he’ll name rival as prime minister, but opposition demands more – The Washington Post – 1/25/2014; Ukraine President Offers Prime Minister Post to Opposition Leader – WSJ.com – 1/25/2014).
As he has with Syria, Putin has handily kept himself out of the spotlight. Of course, RT’s in no position to pursue this line of analysis, and then too . . . what’s he done but helped Ukraine with money and kept the gas supply moving?
From the Brookings Institution:
Putin’s Russia Goes Rogue – YouTube – 1/23/2014
In an open letter to President Obama, the two featured in the video, Fiona Hill and Steven Pifer, stated the following:
Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine look to the United States, not just the European Union, for support. A joint U.S.-EU stance has the greatest prospect of countering Russian actions. We recommend that you instruct the State Department to coordinate policy steps with the European Union and key members, including France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom, to bolster the “targeted” states and assist them as Russia increases its economic and political pressures.
Putin’s Russia Goes Rogue | Brookings Institution – 1/23/2014.
What you need to know about the protests in Kiev, Ukraine | News.com.au – 1/23/2014. At the end of the clip up top, a protester says to the camera: “What is wrong in Ukraine? We want a revolution. What is wrong in Ukraine? This is what is wrong. The government is against people.”
Batkivshchyna – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “The party wants to prosecute “Law enforcement involved in political repression” and to impeach current Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his “anti-people regime” to “return Ukraine to the path of European integration”.
There’s a mighty page ahead of the statement quoted.
My impression is that the Soviet Era really is just ending and it has brought Ukraine — as it has Syria — to a crossroads. Ukraine’s position is much easier than Syria’s, of course, but The Bear isn’t going away either although by way of Putin the leadership has taken a detour (the big one step backwards) into the 19th Century, God bless him, and that leaves Russia’s future — the two steps forward! — quite open as regards its becoming a responsible state genuinely devoted to internal pan-Slavic interests.
According to party leader Oleh Tyahnybok, Svoboda is not an ‘extremist’ party; he said that “depicting nationalism as extremism is a cliché rooted in Soviet and modern globalist propaganda”. He also stated that “countries like” Japan and Israel are fully nationalistic states, “but nobody accuses the Japanese of being extremists”. According to Tyahnybok, the party’s view of nationalism “shouldn’t be mixed with chauvinism or fascism, which means superiority of one nation over another”, and that its platform is called “Our Own Authorities, Our Own Property, Our Own Dignity, on Our Own God-Given Land”.
When I sat down post on BackChannels this morning, I thought I would wrap up global turmoil in a page, starting with Ukraine but moving swiftly to Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and so on, and one might do that from journalism’s “second row seat to history”, which is the World Wide Web, but in depth and expanse, even the smallest conflict in the world turns out incredibly rich, and what the reader-writer is going to get is a snapshot, a glimpse along the surface of political reality.
In schematic, to say Putin –> Ukraine : Ukraine <–> Europe might prove out and be all one needs, but oh the devils in the details! Nonetheless, I believe it has fallen to Vladimir Putin to return Russia to Russian glory in a Russian manner — and we’re going to see that extraordinary effort and expense in some Bond movie glamour at Winter Olympics in Sochi very soon (not “hot off the press” these days, but one-hour cool on the web: Welcome to Sochi, the security Games – CNN.com – 1/27/2014) — and to question the democratic socialist values of the west with an assertion about feudal power and aristocracy.
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Across the Islamic Small Wars, one may wonder about the validity of the state concept in “states” barely holding it together across inchoate and uncooperative political campuses.
In some places, the answer to “Why can’t y’all just get along?” is “We all just don’t want to get along.”
Let’s take this imagined internal dialogue two steps further:
“We believe that something has been taken away from us, and we can steal it back with vengeance.”
“We believe we can achieve something greater and can force it into existence.”
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Part of what binds the contemporary functioning democracies of “the west” may be the experience of the corruption and tyranny of the feudal systems that preceded them. The collective memory contains the inspired eruption of deeply repressed contempt and hatred for “ruling classes” and with it the smell and taste of blood spilled in ways and in volumes that would today cast al-Nusra in Syria as the pale ghost of a minor devil.
In essence, all those pretty open democracies so peacefully gathered around the Mediterranean have been no strangers to sectarian warfare, mass beheading, industrialized death by every nefarious means available, and settlement, at times, through only the complete destruction of an armed foe.
Those Europeans “all get along” amid battle scarred landscapes and in the presence of cemeteries ranked with men too young for death because well they know how sickening nasty the war business can get, and they no longer want any part of it — and if they must be part of it, it’s going to be as short and violent and decisive an engagement as it may be made.
We may be entering an area, or may be already within one, in which great private interests, no less than in feudal days albeit with greater subtlety, arrange their political environments out of sight of constituted and official governments.
Mafia defined by greed becomes the true underlying or hidden governing model, and the units of analysis: families and clans of note with business interests attending.
The politicians have handlers, payoff masters, as it were.
In the letting of contracts and jobs, it may appear that nepotism trumps merit, and it may be so.
How to tell?
Who are the auditors and where are they?
Where are the journalists who report with integrity?
What is to temper power?
Where is the state leader brave and canny enough to promote an open conversation while carefully reigning in the only the elements intending to destroy core democratic political process?
The New York Times reports that the United States is quietly rushing dozens of Hellfire missiles and low-tech surveillance drones to Iraq “to help government forces combat an explosion of violence by a Qaeda-backed insurgency that is gaining territory in both western Iraq and neighboring Syria.”
This happens in the context of the deaths of more than 8,000 Iraqis in 2013, the highest level of violence since 2008.
The President Who Lost Iraq « Commentary Magazine – 12/26/2013.
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Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq told CNN that he was “shocked” to hear U.S. President Barack Obama greet al-Maliki at the White House on Monday as “the elected leader of a sovereign, self-reliant and democratic Iraq.”
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While Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been catching flak as another Washington-sponsored dictator in the making, one cannot assign to him the year-long uptick in sectarian tit-for-tat violence and terror even if assertions launched against him should prove true. Example:
Leaders of the popular uprisings in 6 Sunni provinces told me that the wave of terror which has claimed the lives of 7,000 people so far this year in Iraq is his responsibility, because he controls the military, the police, the intelligence services and all aspects of security in the country. Iraq is rapidly spiralling down towards a renewed insurgency and Maliki’s only response is to marginalise the Kurds, label the Sunnis as terrorists and turn a blind-eye to the systematic discrimination and violence against other ethnic minority groups.
Is the hearsay true?
Prove it — or call it slander.
What would the most balanced leader do if (setting out with a fair neutral force at his disposal) he were confronted with crimes against his constituents — all of them in representation — accompanied by accusation of sectarian preference in the operations of his government promoting attacks that in turn promote revenge?
Would he investigate the crimes as crimes only wrapped in political or religious cover and go on with the business of producing an institutionally open, responsive, and responsible government?
Or would he revert to the loyalty of his own and reconstruct a government built on deep wells of suspicion expressed in the application of tyrannical force against all suspected challengers not of his own affiliation?
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“Regretfully, the Arab revolutions were able to shake the dictatorships but were not able to fill the void in the right way,” Mr. Maliki said. “So a vacuum was created, and al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations were able to exploit it and to gain ground.”
In the Arab world, deflections of responsibility inevitably produce harm. They are part of lying (by omission: regulars here know the refrain: “to hide something; to get something”) as well as avoiding engagement with the values that in fact weaken the state in such a way as to make it a prize for factional contests through the usual means — intimidation, murder, terror — rather than a central forum for factional arguments in accord with Roberts Rules.
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And the violence shows no sign of letting up. Suspected Sunni Islamist militants on Christmas day set off three bombs in the heavily Christian Dora district of the capital, killing at least 38, including 24 who died at the conclusion of a church service. Western regions of the country were on edge on Sunday after the Shia-dominated government’s security forces arrested a popular Sunni lawmaker and killed his brother and five guards in a raid.
The bungling, if it was that, doesn’t help in Iraq’s difficult environment — and is it possible to balance that “Shia-dominated . . . security force” with greater Sunni and Christian complements?
Beyond that, so one might urge: get over the sickness in the head that divides others in the world into those worthy of one’s respect and those deserving of contempt, and that to the extent that they may be slaughtered at will: God did not authorize the humans judging to make such judgments.
(Reuters) – Fighting erupted when Iraqi police broke up a Sunni Muslim protest camp in the western Anbar province on Monday, leaving at least 13 people dead, police and medical sources said.
The camp has been an irritant to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite Muslim-led government since Sunni protesters set it up a year ago to demonstrate against what they see as marginalization of their sect.
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Iraq’s security forces have almost entirely abandoned the successful formula of population-focused counter-insurgency developed by the US-led coalition, instead falling back on counter-productive traditional tactics such as mass arrests and collective punishment.
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The Iraqi government is now making many of the same mistakes the United States made back then: It is alienating the Sunnis and occupying their communities with a heavy-handed, military-led approach that doesn’t differentiate between diehard militants and the mass of peaceable civilians.
Yes, Iraq Is Unraveling – Foreign Policy – Michael Knights – 5/15/2013.
The phrase “weak government” may itself be weak.
If the potential strength of a coalition of the moderate (well representative of population overall and intent on peace) does not display in firm martial ability, it invites fracturing along the more parochial lines associated with private financial, psychological, and religious agenda.
In essence, the state as a political whole may prove too weak to restrain the restive energies inhabiting its body — it literally cannot contain itself — and it then fails as a reliable political element.
Autocratic attempts to contain latent fracturing through repression may work as presently suggested by the Egyptian narrative that has developed between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s still nascent, still potential democracy.
However, the same in Iraq, as the screws tighten, may isolate state authority and invite a civil contest so incoherent with mixed factional motivations that the fighting cannot be resolved through compromise and accommodation — nor may it be won as the point of it becomes a continuous and ill-defined struggle beneath the delusion that there is something greater yet to be won when plainly there is not.
Peace is to be won first and foremost.
Without it, nothing else can be done.
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This inexplicable savage violence is typically attributed to psychological warfare, military tactics or individual acts of brutality but for Jihadists they are justifiable sacred acts against the enemies of Islam. They are ritual murders that are consistent with a growing global Jihadist method of operation [MO]. Similar acts of torture, rape, beheading and mutilation regularly occur in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Syria and other countries.
In the larger view, engagement and indulgence in violence are not the province of one criminal or religious motivation but a part of the complex cultural psychology of our species and the cultures and subcultures it generates. Brought into empirical view, the behavior of interest — outrageous and unbridled gang violence — becomes less significant in history and much, much less romantic by way of related desires and dreams.
We may not have a religious issue per se with Islam or Islamists bur rather the challenge of addressing an anthropological phenomenon analog across diverse gangs and tribes.
So who is looking through the microscope and who has been laid out for dissection on a slide?
Dawn Perlmutter’s piece today in FrontPage provides for reflection on the motivation and psychology exhibited in Islamist attacks.
Perlmutter – Mujahideen Desecration – Fall/Winter 2006/2007.
Perlmutter – Semiotics of Honor Killing – Fall 2011.
John P. Sullivan – www.scivortex.org/6FromDrugWarsCriminalInsurgency.pdf – 2012.
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