WHY THE AMERICAN DECISION ON SYRIA IS AN ERRATUM
"Changing the balance in Syria’s civil war in favour of the rebels has been the stated position of the US and its allies for the past year as the regime of Bashar al-Assad has wreaked death and destruction on one of the Middle East’s most strategic countries. But they’ve had a curious way of going about it.
With the shadow of the Iraq war still hanging over America, the reluctance for the most limited of involvement in another Middle Eastern war has instead helped to shift the balance in favour of Mr Assad’s brutal forces.
In a further affront to western policy, in recent weeks, Iran has allowed its proxy in Lebanon, the Shia militant group Hizbollah, to fight alongside Mr Assad’s forces, helping to capture the strategic town of Qusair near the Lebanese border.
Together, they are now preparing for an onslaught on the partly rebel-held city of Aleppo. Sunni clerics across the region are up in arms. They have reacted to Hizbollah’s intervention by calling for a Sunni holy war in Syria. So now radical Sunni (the jihadi elements among the rebels) and radical Shia are fighting each other in Syria while a vicious sectarian polarisation spreads all across the region.
The US on Thursday finally said enough – and it was about time. As European and Arab allies have been complaining, American leadership on Syria has been sorely lacking, and the regime and its allies have taken full advantage of that, gradually escalating the war with the use of the air force, then Scud missiles, then experimenting with chemical weapons, and finally enlisting Hizbollah fighters. There are also Iranian advisers in Syria and, if rebel claims are to be believed, Iraqi Shia militants as well".
Roula Khalaf," The US and Syria – it’s about time: Assad regime has taken full advantage of lack of US leadership ." The Financial Times
. 14 June 2013, in www.ft.com
"From a distance, there seems to be a case for the West to move quickly to help the rebels, and create a more level playing field. The aim would not be to prolong the conflict, but to make a negotiated peace settlement more likely....
This would be an easier problem to solve if the conflict was between the Assad government forces and ‘the official opposition’. It is not. The Syrian ‘opposition’ consists of dozens of warring factions, who may well turn their newly acquired arms on each other when (and if) Assad is toppled. There are secular and Christian groups — but also al-Qa’eda, and Jabhat al-Nusra, whose leader has pledged allegiance to al-Qa’eda and has 10,000 fighters. Ahrar al-Sham, a homegrown jihadi group, want Islamist rule without al-Qa’eda, and then there are the 20,000 devout Muslims in the al-Farouk Battalions who say they don’t want an Islamist state, but it’s unclear how much they’d object to one.
None of these groups was mentioned by anyone in Monday’s Commons debate — which was conducted in worryingly simplistic terms. ‘When I see the official Syrian opposition,’ Mr Cameron said, ‘I see a group of people who have declared that they are in favour of democracy, human rights and a future for minorities, including Christians, in Syria.’ But does he ‘see’ the Islamist rebels already carrying out beheadings? The legacy of the Arab Spring offers little hope that a post-Assad Syria would develop into a tolerant democracy. The lesson of 2011 is that democratic, secular reformers are far better at capturing western attention than winning subsequent power struggles".
Leader, "The Syrian quagmire." The Spectator
(London). 8 June 2013, p. 3. Also in www.spectator.co.uk.
There can be no doubt that the decision arrived at by the American Administration is based upon flawed premises and reasoning. The type of specious rationales offered up by the biased and egregious Roula Khalaf
are par for the course. The facts of the matter as cogently put by the leader in the Spectator are that there is absolutely no way of assuring that the ouster of the Assad regime will necessarily result in the triumph of those (rather vague and shadowy) elements which are termed the 'official opposition'. Indeed, for all that we know, such elements could very well contain extremist, Sunni, Muslim forces which so worry Western Chancelleries. The case example of Libya, post facto
to the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, should indeed put paid to such notions. Already Syria's 'liberated zones', has seen enough examples of executions and bloodshed to put paid to any ideas that the overthrow of the Assad regime will result in the victory of Democratic, secular, liberal elements. Which is not to gainsay for one moment, the fact that the ouster of the Assad regime would be a hard blow to the regime in Persia and its allies in the Lebanon. The real question to my mind is: at what price
? The fact is, that only a Western policy of overt, military intervention, using troops on the ground as well as in the air, would have given greater assurance of the sort of outcome which the Western powers should wish to see in Syria. Unfortunately, due to the mis-guided American invasion of Iraq, the tolerance of Western publics for any such policy is non-existent. Therefore, in the absence of any such type of intervention, the idea that merely intervening in the fashion that was seen in Libya will result in the victory of pro-Western elements is seriously mistaken. Given the way that events so far in the rest of the Near and Middle East has run since January 2011, should indicate that any such thinking is (in the words of Neville Chamberlain) 'the very mid-summer of madness'
THE SINO-AMERICAN SUMMIT: WHAT DID IT ACHIEVE?
"By most any measure, the Sunnylands summit cast some sunshine on the U.S.-China relationship. The optics were positive with plenty of snapshots of the two presidents walking, talking, and smiling. President Obama even referred to the talks as “terrific.” There were the usual agreements to talk more and to meet more, and both presidents reaffirmed the need and desire of the two countries to work together more effectively....
This time around, the Chinese were nothing if not gracious. They produced a deliverable on one of the United States’ hot button issues—North Korea—even before the summit began. After Xi Jinping met with a North Korean envoy in late May, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un offered to conduct high-level talks with South Korea. While causality cannot be proved, the sequence of events is certainly suggestive. In addition, in a rare return to the type of human rights diplomacy of earlier summits, Beijing granted passports to two relatives of blind-lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who sought asylum in the United States just a year ago and currently resides in New York City, and released Chinese-born U.S. scientist Hu Zhicheng, who had been held in China for five years on charges of stealing secrets.
Niceties aside, the Xi-Obama summit represents only the first step toward getting the U.S.-China bilateral relationship on more solid footing. For real progress in the relationship, there will have to be real progress across the wide range of issues that continue to bedevil the two countries. The two sides made some small progress on climate change, signing an agreement to cooperate on eliminating HFCs. The tougher issues remain, however. Cyber hacking has been relegated to the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, where issues generally experience a slow and painful death without actually ever dying. President Obama offered some optimistic remarks to the effect that the United States and China will increasingly have common cause on issues of cyber espionage as China’s intellectual property (IP) develops. After two decades of countless American officials and analysts arguing that as soon as China develops its own IP, Beijing will better protect that of others, I would guess that President Obama should probably not hold his breath on that one.
Conflicts in the East and South China Sea—among the most challenging issues the two countries face at the moment—were not addressed explicitly in the presidents’ summit remarks. And it is difficult to know whether to expect any real progress on the endless range of trade and investment issues to which both presidents and their representatives referred.
At the heart of the summit, however, was President Xi’s desire to be treated with respect and to have China and the United States forge a “new relationship among major powers.” President Xi got half of his wish. Certainly President Obama treated President Xi with respect; however he resisted Chinese efforts to elevate the U.S.-China relationship beyond that of the United States’ relations with its allies. While President Obama acknowledged that the two countries needed to have a “new model of cooperation,” he carefully avoided the Chinese phraseology of a “new model of major country relationships.”
While perhaps not the best outcome for President Xi, President Obama has it right. A special partnership of the sort that China seeks can only arise after the two countries have achieved a series of policy successes premised on common values and approaches. Until then, the leaders and people of both countries should be pleased that the summit was good enough: it brought a new more positive energy to the bilateral relationship, stressed cooperation as opposed to conflict, and offered a few of the win-wins that have been so scarce in recent years".
Elizabeth C. Economy, "Xi-Obama: The Good-Enough Summit." Council on Foreign Relations
. 10 June 2013, in www.cfr.org
The usually emollient on all things Chinese, Elizabeth Economy, hit the nail right on the head with her post dealing with the Sino-American leaders meeting of earlier this week. If we overlook the atmospherics and the little side agreements, the fact of the matter is that the Peoples Republic, did not obtain at the summit what they wanted to obtain: recognition by the Americans that
there was now and for the future a sort of Sino-American Duumvirate
in world politics. That the USA would to some extent be oblige to acknowledge that the PRC exercised a 'leading role', in the Far East, just like say the Americans exercise a similar role in say the Western Hemisphere or in Europe. For reasons which are cogently outlined by Mrs. Economy as well as myself in a posting earlier this week in this journal, in the absence of significant changes in the nature of the PRC and its policies both foreign and domestic, it is nearly impossible to conceive that the Americans would willingly agree to a 'new type of great power relationship', which implies that the world was governed by a sort of G-2. Given the internal, primat de Innenpolitik
stresses that impact negatively on PRC foreign policy, this is I do believe for the very best. It is also important to realize that the only reason that the Peking has actively endeavored to forge this new type of Sino-American relationship, is simply that the Peoples Republic's domestic politics driven policies have progressively alienated almost all of its immediate neighbors in the last four years. The concept of trying to forge a Duumvirate
with the USA, is merely another way to obtain the same goals that Chinese bullying and belligerence has singularly failed to do so. For good or for ill. To my mind, infinitely for good.
TOWARDS A SINO-AMERIACAN DUUMVIRATE? A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
"Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledged on Wednesday that China and the United States have shared a good start on bilateral ties.
Xi also called on the two sides to handle their relations at a strategic level.
"I'm pleased to see the China-US relations have seen a good start since the new leaderships of the two nations came to power," Xi said in his meeting with former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Xi suggested the two sides further intensify high-level exchange and dialogue, sort out common interests and boost cooperation in various fields such as mutual respect, equality and handling their differences well.
"The establishment of a new type of inter-power relationship between China and the United States needs an accumulation of dribs and drabs," Xi told Kissinger, proposing the two to step up their pragmatic cooperation and maintain communication and coordination on regional and international issues in an aim to promote bilateral relations to a higher level."
Xinhua, "China, US share good start on relations: President Xi." Global Times (English
). 25 April 2013, in www.globaltimes.cn
"Even as Chinese trade, companies and investments spread throughout the world and its growing military flexed its muscles, Mr Hu and his administration continued to insist that China was still a poor developing nation with limited capacity to engage on international issues.
Since taking over as commander of the military and Communist party general secretary in November, and as president of China in March, the message from Xi Jinping and his comrades has been very different.
They seem to be saying that China has now arrived on the world stage and that a more coherent and assertive foreign policy will be part of “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” – Mr Xi’s defining political concept at home.
“China is growing into a bigger and more far-reaching power,” crowed the Global Times, a nationalistic Chinese tabloid, as Mr Xi embarked on the tour of Latin American and Caribbean countries that will take him to California by the end of the week. “The surge of foreign visits shows the confidence and activeness of the new diplomatic initiative,” it said in an editorial.
US diplomats say they have had far better access to senior Chinese officials than under the last administration, but that their Chinese counterparts seem obsessed with getting the Americans to acknowledge that the “new type of great power relationship” is one between equals.
At the heart of this slogan, just as with the G2 concept it comes from, is the hope that China’s rise will not be accompanied by the friction and war that has marred almost every other moment in history when a rising nation has rubbed up against the incumbent superpower.".
Jamil Anderlini, "Global Insight: China’s ‘great power’ call to the US could stir friction." The Financial Times
. 4 June 2013, in www.ft.com
"Throughout these talks...we were treated as partners, unequal no doubt in power but still equal in counsel."
Clement Attlee [Washington, DC] to Bevin [London], 10 December 1950, in PREM 8/1200 [copy in my possession].
"The United Kingdom was in a totally different category as far as the United States was concerned, to any other power in the world."
John Foster Dulles, quoted by John Colville, in 'Minute
', 7 January 1953, in FO371/103519/AU1053/1 [copy in my possession].
The Sino-American 'summit' between the countries two leaders has come and gone. With results which are par for the course for such
pre-arranged meetings between leaders: a few meaningless words of agreement are hashed out, and the real crux in the relationships difficulties are either ignored or smoothed over 1. With that being said, I would like to look at and examine from a historical perspective what are the chances of fulfillment and success for the Peoples Republic's recent call for a Great Power relationship of equals. Id est., in short a Duumvirate.
The first thing to notice from a historical perspective is that history fails to offer up few if any examples of a Great Power Duumvirate. While history offers of plenty of examples of a Concert of relatively equal Great Powers, especially in 18th and 19th century European history, it does not offer up much in the way of two equal or near equal Great Powers having a friendly or near friendly relationship and or alliance. More often than not, the mere fact that two powers were near equal in power, resulted more often in tensions leading directly to war, rather than friendship. The Anglo-French relationship for most of the 18th century springs immediately to mind, as does the case of Austria and Prussia from 1745 to 1866. However, history does offer up one example of a reasonably tranquil Great Power relationship between equals. Which one? That between Tsarist Russia and the British Empire in the post-bellum Europe from 1815 to 1853. As per the leading historian of 18th and 19th century European diplomacy, Paul Schroeder, this period saw a "shared British and Russian hegemony." A hegemony which could be 'shared' by virtue of the fact that both powers were able to expand in the extra-European world, without immediately conflicting with each other 2. Similarly, history also offers up two examples successful relationships between an 'established' and a 'rising' Great Power. The first was the relationship between the Dutch Republic and Great Britain in the latter part of the 17th century and early 18th century (1688-1714). In which an earlier rivalry was brushed aside in a quest to hold-off the threatened hegemony (real or imagined) of France's Louis XIV. It should be said though that this relationship of equals was for a very limited duration and was only in fact consummated due to the fact that both countries were under the rule of the same monarch (William III) for most of this time period. A shared Protestantism and a fear of French Counter-Reformation Catholicism, also assisted. The other example that history offers up, is that between the United States and United Kingdom in the period roughly from 1941 to 1956. In the words of historian John Darwin:
"The Anglo-American alliance was a remarkable example of a cooperation between a decline Imperial Power (which expected to recover) and its most obvious successor. For a crucial period, both parties accepted the myth of equality and practiced a form of condominium 4".
Once again the circumstances in which this 'remarkable example' took place are somewhat unique: successful allies in two wars, a shared language, religion and culture as well as facing for a third time, a shared (diplomatic) adversary (Sovietskaya Vlast
). Making for example the importance of such figures as Churchill and Roosevelt less important than certain structural aspects of the interaction between the two powers:
"It is debatable to what extent Roosevelt and Churchill ever really liked or fully understood each other. But it is obvious that they established an unusual degree of personal communication and a reasonable degree of mutual trust. At lower levels, military and official, habits of easy intercourse also took root and many permanent friendships were formed 5".
In the case of contemporary Sino-American relations, both of the above referenced examples look to be extremely difficult to replicate or re-produce. First and most importantly, the USA and the PRC have not been allies in any military alliance and or conflict in the past, nor seem likely to become ones in the near future. Similarly, the culture and politics of the two countries, so-called globalization notwithstanding appear to be quite at variance with each other still. Something which in the absence of a political revolution in the PRC which enthrones democracy, or something akin to it, is not likely to change very much. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the re-positioning of the USA diplomatically and militarily to the Pacific / Far East, makes the likelihood of equitable interaction between the two powers so much the harder. As we have seen, one of the key variables for the joint Russo-British hegemony in Europe after 1815, was the fact that both powers were able to expand for much of the period without expanding into each other's sphere as it were. With the so-called 'pivot' by the American Administration, that type of scenario becomes infinitely harder to accomplish. Harder of course, but not impossible. If for example the Americans were to in say the next five to ten years, withdraw its military and diplomatic presence from the Far East proper, id est., Korea, Philippines, Australia, and most importantly Japan, then it would be possible to imagine that indeed an equitable Sino-American relationship might indeed come about. And au fond
it is quite likely that, the 'new type of great power relationship' for the PRC means in fact that this type of American withdrawal should take place 6. And, perhaps the change of front by Peking on this issue from its frosty reception of the idea originally back in 2009, when it was the Americans who tentatively floated the idea, is due to the diplomatic sets-backs that the PRC has suffered in the East Asia region in the past three years 7. However, unless there is a sea change in American diplomatic and military thinking, it is difficult to believe that the USA will willingly grant the PRC regional hegemony in what will be in the near future, if not already, the most important economic zone on the planet 8. In the absence of such a change of front by the Americans, I for one cannot well imagine that anything approaching a Duumvirate will ever occur. At least not in our lifetimes.
1. Teddy Ng, "Xi and Obama remain divided despite 'successful' summit." South China Morning Post
. 10 June 2013, in "http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article
2. See: Paul W. Schroeder, "AHR Forum: Did the Vienna Settlement rest on a Balance of Power?" The American Historical Review
. (June 1992), pp: 683-706; "AHR Forum: A mild rejoinder." The American Historical Review
. (June 1992), pp. 733-735. And, The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848
. (1994), pp. 577-590, 762-763 and passim.
3. Jonathan I. Israel. The Dutch Republic: Its rise, greatness and fall, 1477-1806
. (1995), pp. 841-862 and passim.
4. John Darwin. After Tamerlane
. (2008). p. 470.
5. Peter Lowe, "The significance of the Korean War in Anglo-American Relationship, 1950-1953." British Foreign Policy, 1945-1956
. Eds. Michael Dockrill & John W. Young. (1989), p. 145.
6. See: Leader, "America and China: the summit." The Economist
. 8 June 2013, in www.economist.com
7. For a ex ante
perspective prior to the set-backs of the last three years that Peking has suffered from its neighbors, see: Shaun Breslin, "Understanding China's regional rise." International Affairs
(July 2009), pp. 827-835. Amusingly, this article posits that: "the way, therefore that others in the region conceive of and respond to China's rise might become a source of Chinese power and influence in itself
8. This point is made graphically by the scholar and writer, Aaron L. Friedberg, in his somewhat tendentious, but still quite illuminating book, A contest for Supremacy
. Published in 2011, it in effect advocated ex ante facto
, the policies which have been subsequently named as 'the pivot', by the current American Administration. In the book (pp. 6-7), Friedberg notes that:
"Since the early part of the twentieth century an axiomatic goal of U.S. foreign policy under both Republican and Democratic administrations has been to prevent the domination of either end of the Eurasian landmass by one or more potentially hostile powers. The reasons for this have always involved a combination of economic, strategic, and ideological considerations. If Western Europe or East Asia were to fall under the sway of by (sic) unfriendly forces, the United States could find itself denied access to markets, technology, and vital resources. A hostile power or coalition might be able to draw on the wealth and military capabilities of the region under its control, using it as a secure base from which to challenge American interests and perhaps even to attack the United States itself".
THE RICE & POWER APPOINTMENTS: DOES IT MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
"With the appointment of Susan Rice as national security adviser, President Barack Obama has completed the reshuffle of his foreign policy team. Ms Rice, who is currently the US ambassador to the UN, takes her place alongside John Kerry at the state department and Chuck Hagel at defence. The common feature of all three appointments is that they are Obama people.
This was not the case with their predecessors. Hillary Clinton was not close to Mr Obama, nor was Leon Panetta at defence. Tom Donilon, the outgoing national security adviser, became so but was not initially an intimate. Now Mr Obama has a team he can be comfortable with for his second term.
All US administrations depend on how well the various players work together. The role of the national security adviser is first and foremost to oversee this process, co-ordinating agencies and channelling advice to the president as it comes from different parts of government. This was a skill that Mr Donilon possessed in spades and should not be underestimated.
The other job is to advise the president. Traditionally, national security advisers have been good at one or the other. This is hardly surprising. Being both an honest broker and a forceful adviser is a bit like trying to umpire a match while simultaneously playing for one of the competing teams.
Ms Rice’s challenge is to preserve the efficiency of the machinery but also to think strategically, especially about the relationship with China. Her appointment offers grounds for hope and caution. The hope is that she will help to tilt foreign policy in more of an activist direction at a time when the US faces pressing challenges in the Middle East and Asia. Alongside Samantha Power, her successor at the UN, Ms Rice is instinctively more of an interventionist than her predecessor, notably on humanitarian issues. The question is where a habitually cautious president stands.
If there is a worry it is Ms Rice’s reputation for being abrasive and uncollegiate. This sits ill with the requirement for a smooth conductor ensuring the administration functions like an orchestra. While Mr Donilon had his critics, he was able to do this. With Ms Rice, the answer is less clear".
Leader, "Obama’s reshuffle: Susan Rice’s new appointment raises hopes and concerns." The Financial Times.
6 June 2013, in www.ft.com
"President Barack Obama's appointment of Susan Rice as his national security adviser, and of Samantha Power as her replacement as ambassador to the United Nations, is being heralded by the media as a bold move. But it's not likely to change Obama's foreign policy very much.
First of all, by this point in an administration nearly all policy is set, and that is particularly true when so much of the management and decision-making has been made by the president himself. Indeed, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was deputy national security adviser in the first term and will continue to be a de facto national security adviser of last resort for Obama.
Second, to the extent that second-term appointments may affect the course of the administration, the ones that seem to matter most are John Kerry as secretary of state and Chuck Hagel to run the Department of Defense. The reason is simple: There is no group that senators trust and respect more than other senators. That has set up a remarkable power center in this administration, as the top four decision-makers for the first time in modern history are all former senators and all know each other from their service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Kerry and Hagel will be responsible for hashing out the hard decisions to come, the biggest one being whether to use military power in Syria and Iran. I doubt that the presence of Rice and Power instead of Rice and the man she's replacing, Tom Donilon, will change things much when it comes to deciding whether or not to launch a new war in the Middle East to destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Similarly, the political fallout from an Israeli decision to attack Iran will be at the forefront of America’s posture if the Israelis end up making such a fateful choice. Here again, Obama, a former senator himself, is likely to continue to rely on his fellow politicians—Biden, then Hagel and then Kerry—in this area.
The third reason not to expect much change in the Obama foreign policy is that most of the hard choices have already been made. For better or worse, Washington chose to leave Iraq without a residual force in place, to speed up the withdrawal of tens of thousands of troops from Afghanistan right after launching a troop surge, and to avoid, seemingly at all costs, the involvement of the U.S. in the Syrian civil war that has become the biggest Middle East crisis in a generation. Those decisions on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria are the ones that will define the Obama term....
All in all, while personnel matters a lot in Washington, in the rest of the world this personnel shift is likely to be seen as interesting but not particularly consequential. Far more important are the threshold questions of: What will it take to cause the U.S. to intervene in Syria, now that the war is spreading into Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan and could spark a frightening regional conflict between Sunnis and Shiites? And will the U.S. roll the historic dice and attack Iran as its nuclear weapons capability emerges? And finally, will the U.S. have the wherewithal to implement the rebalancing of forces and attention from Europe and the Middle East to Asia in such a way that ten to twenty years from now Washington remains Asia’s most important power rather than ceding that role and responsibility to China?"
James P. Rubin, "Susan Rice Won't Make Much Difference: Her new role as national security adviser will have little impact on Obama's foreign policy." The New Republic
. 5 June 2013, in www.newrepublic.com
If I had to choose who is more likely to predict accurately the importance of the new appointments to the American Administration, then I would of course choose Mr. Rubin over the leader writer at the Financial Times
. Au fond
he is correct: in a very very collegial, administration, neither the egregious Miss Rice, nor the even more egregious Miss Powers, will count for very much. Especially the latter. Safely holed up in New York, her jejune form of Liberal-bourgeois interventionist rhetoric can do little if any harm to the decision-making process. As for Miss Rice, the key question is accurately enough raised in the Financial Times: if she has either the ability or the willingness to play the role of guardian and gatekeeper of the foreign policy decision-making process? Or will she see herself as another Henry Kissinger come to life? The truth of the matter is that the only National Security Advisor who has had any positive impact and earned a place in the history books in the last thirty odd years, has been those who learned to sublimate their wishes to dominate the decision-making process in favor of being a gatekeeper of the same. The man who fulfilled this role to perfection was of course General Brent Scowcroft under Presidents Ford and Bush the Elder. The sad fact of the matter is that no
National Security Advisor since Zbigniew Brzezinski has come close to seconding Kissinger's place in the history books in terms of dominating the decision-making apparatus. Those after Brzezinski, with the exception of General Scowcroft, have been a mixture of outright failures
: Richard Allen, Anthony Lake, Admiral Poindexter, Condoleezza Rice; and those who while essentially little better than mediocrities were also a safe pair of hands
: Frank Carlucci, General Powell, Mr Donilon, Samuel Berger, Mr. Hadley, General Jones, Colonel MacFarlane. And perhaps that is just as well, as history does not throw up the likes of Dr. Kissinger very often. With that being said, the underlying truth of Mr. Rubin's comments hold: the essentials of American foreign policy for the reminder of the current President's term has been decided upon. For good or for ill. As it seems to relate to intervening in Syria and the negotiations with Persia, I would (to my surprise) say for good, so far. As Madam Mere
allegedly put it: 'let us hope it lasts'
THE EVENTS IN TURKEY: A COMMENT
"The immediate explanation for the rising protests in Turkey can be found in the fierce reaction of the country’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Behind the turbulence lies a much bigger question posed in recent years by the prime minister’s Justice and Development party, or AKP. Where, in Mr Erdogan’s mind, does Turkey sit in the world? Not so long ago Ankara looked west. Now it has turned east.
Mr Erdogan has responded to the disturbance with a public rage that more than matches the anger of those who have occupied Istanbul’s Taksim square and staged protests in other big cities. The demonstrators have been branded extremists and looters, Turks who drink alcohol have been labelled alcoholics and Twitter has been called a curse on society.
The opposition Republican People’s party, the heir to the secularist tradition of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, stands accused by the prime minister of stirring up unrest because of its successive defeats at the ballot box.
Alongside the heavy-handed response of teargas-firing police, the prime minister could scarcely have given a more telling display of the authoritarianism against which the protesters have set their face. Mr Erdogan has won three elections and, caught in the hubris that comes with a decade in office, has acted as if this puts him beyond the constraints of Turkish democracy.
The unease has been gathering for some time. Crackdowns on the press, arrests of political opponents, the increasingly Islamist hue of domestic policies and the suspicion that Mr Erdogan sees no end to his own hold on power have all conspired to stir disquiet.
It has long been an open secret that the prime minister wants to swap his present post for that of a supercharged presidency. He wants to change the constitution to give effect to the transition.
The ambition creates unease reaching well beyond his political opponents, including, some say, in the office of the current president Abdullah Gul.
The irony in Mr Erdogan’s denunciation of protest is inescapable. After a hesitant initial reaction to the Arab uprisings, the Turkish government has cast itself as the champion of freedom in the Middle East. The social networks Mr Erdogan now denounces played a noteworthy role in mobilising opposition to authoritarian rule elsewhere".
Phillip Stephens, "Recep Tayyip Erdogan is only proving the protesters right." The Financial Times
. 3 June 2013, in www.ft.com
"The Turks wasted no time. A day after Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron made their first triumphant visit to Tripoli after the end of Muammer Gaddafi’s reign over the Libyan capital, Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan swept into town to cement political and economic ties with a region whose importance to Ankara has grown dramatically. Preparations had been intense. A special Turkish Airlines flight full of cleaners, cooks and repairmen arrived in advance to spruce up the Turkish-operated Rixos Hotel, a five-star complex that hosted foreign journalists during the preceding six-month war. Mr Erdogan brought along not only his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, and other ministers, but dozens of Turkish businessmen.
“There is great interest in Turkey, in us,” he explained to Turkish reporters during the September 2011 trip, as heavy fighting between rebel forces and Gaddafi’s loyalists continued to the east and south of the capital. “This in turn lays important responsibilities on our shoulders. If we ... are able to comprehend our position and influence, believe me, we will be in a very different place in the world.'"
Borzou Daragahi," Middle East: Regional push resumes following Arab spring." The Financial Times
. 9 May 2013, in www.ft.com
One does not have to be necessarily anti-Turkish (as I admittedly am for historical [The Armenian Genocide among other] reasons), to have a good and delicious sense of schadenfreude
over the events in that country in the past five to six days. However, let us be perfectly clear: whatever has happened and may happen in Turkey in the coming days, it is not a replica of what occurred in the Arab World in Anno Domini
2011. The circumstances are quite different indeed. The first and most important is that notwithstanding certain caveats that a neutral observer may have, the AK regime in Ankara, whatever its many, many faults is au fond
, genuinely popular and enjoys legitimacy among the majority of the Turkish population. If not, repeat not among the urban, educated, predominately, secular Turkish bourgeoisie
. Especially of course in Constantinople and Ankara itself. Something which one could not truthfully say about most of the regimes in the Near and Middle East back in 2011 or perhaps even to-day. If one wished to paint a historical model or example of what is occurring in Turkey at the moment, perhaps the evenements
of May 1968 in Paris comes closest to mind. Which of course highlights the fact that whatever may occur in Turkey in the next days and weeks, it will not result in the overthrow of the parliamentary regime, ruled by the AK. What may occur in Turkey in the near future, and this is something which has been predicted and posited in this journal for quite sometime, is that Premier Erdogan will, inevitably be forced to pull in his horns as it relates to Turkish foreign policy. And, that any illusions that anyone has had in the recent past about Turkey's so-called 'Great Power' aspirations in the Near and Middle East, have been punctured. Id. est., people like the egregiously ultra bien-pensant
Phillip Stephens. Who not so long ago was quite happy to tout and proclaim to one and all, that Turkey under the AK was the
coming regional power. And that the EU & the USA were stupidly at fault for not opening its arms to the tender embraces for Premier Erdogan, and taking the 'new Turkey' at its own worth, viz:
"The irony, of course, is that the new, assertive, Turkey has more to offer the west than its pliant precedessor. With a mind of its own, it has greater strategic credibility in the Middle East and the Muslim world. This is the Turkey the west really must not lose 1."
Now in fact, this entire (to my mind always fanciful) notion has become unstuck. Just as France in the aftermath of Mai Soixante-huit
became a more introvert and less of a Great Power of Charles de Gaulle's vision, so Turkey will become a more introverted and less rhetorically bombastic regional power. As the American intelligence forecasting firm, Stratfor noted yesterday:
"Though dissent is rising, Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party still have a substantial support base, and the opposition continues to lack a credible political alternative (local elections scheduled for October likely will indicate how much support for the party has waned). At the same time, Turkey is pursuing a highly ambitious agenda abroad, from negotiating peace with Kurdish militants and developing oil pipelines in Iraqi Kurdistan to trying to fend off Syrian-backed militant attacks. Turkey was already highly constrained in pursuing these foreign policy goals, but they will take second place to Turkey's growing political distractions at home as Erdogan prioritizes the growing domestic challenges and as foreign adversaries such as Syria try to take advantage of preoccupied Turkish security forces to try to sponsor more attacks inside Turkey 2."
For those who had dubious idea that Erdogan's Turkey would resurrect the hollow 'greatness' of the Ottoman Empire, this turn of events looks unfortunate. For those of us who remembers Gladstone's essential truism about Ottoman Empire, the recent events are all to the good 3.
1. Phillip Stephens, "West must offer Turkey a proper seat." The Financial Times
. June 17, 2010, in www.ft.com
2. Stratfor, "Analysis: Turkey's Violent Protests in Context." Stratfor: Strategic Forecasting
. 3 June 2013, in http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/turkeys-violent-protests-context.com
3."Let the Turks now carry away their abuses, in the only possible manner, namely, by carrying off themselves. Their Zaptiehs and their Mudirs, their Bimbashis and Yuzbachis, their Kaimakans and their Pashas, one and all, bag and baggage, shall, I hope, clear out from the province that they have desolated and profaned. This thorough riddance, this most blessed deliverance, is the only reparation we can make to those heaps and heaps of dead, the violated purity alike of matron and of maiden and of child; to the civilization which has been affronted and shamed; to the laws of God, or, if you like, of Allah; to the moral sense of mankind at large. There is not a criminal in a European jail, there is not a criminal in the South Sea Islands, whose indignation would not rise and over-boil at the recital of that which has been done, which has too late been examined, but which remains unavenged, which has left behind all the foul and all the fierce passions which produced it and which may again spring up in another murderous harvest from the soil soaked and reeking with blood and in the air tainted with every imaginable deed of crime and shame. That such things should be done once is a damning disgrace to the portion of our race which did them; that the door should be left open to their ever so barely possible repetition would spread that shame over the world."
William Ewart Gladstone. The Bulgarian Horrors and the Questions of the East
CHINA AS A 'RESPONSIBLE STAKEHOLDER'?
"Nine dashes, five judges, two contestants. It sounds like a reality television show. In fact, it is the rather obscure – but very important – beginning of a process to delineate fiercely disputed Asian maritime borders according to the rule of law, rather than the law of the jungle.
The nine dashes belong to China. They mark what Beijing says is its historical claim to most of the South China Sea, a vast waterway that borders several other Asian countries. The five judges have been chosen to sit on a tribunal that will determine the validity of that claim under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The two contestants are the Philippines, which brought the case, and China, whose nine-dash line is being challenged. Strictly speaking, there is only one contestant, since Beijing, though a signatory of Unclos, has not deigned to recognise the process.
Asian countries, particularly the not inconsiderable number that have maritime disputes of their own with China, are watching the case with intense interest. Few, though, have dared say much in public for fear of offending Beijing. Whether you judge it plucky or rash, the Philippines has gone out on a limb.
Manila’s hope is to put its bilateral dispute with Beijing over the ownership of waters and islands close to the Philippine coast to international arbitration. There is an air of desperation about its gambit, which suggests it sees no possible progress through dialogue. Professor Jerome Cohen, an authority on Chinese and international law at New York University School of Law, says the Philippine “bombshell” has shocked Beijing with its audacity.
The case, launched in January, will take perhaps four years to chug through the Unclos system. It has potentially huge implications for a region riddled with explosive territorial disputes, including that between Japan and China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.
The Philippines has asked Unclos to adjudicate on the validity of the nine-dash line, produced by China in 1947 to illustrate what it said was its longstanding jurisdiction over almost all the South China Sea. That claim overlaps with the Philippines’ 200 mile economic exclusion zone extending from its coastline".
David Pilling, "Plucky or rash, the Philippines is right to challenge China." The Financial Times
. 29 May 2013, www.ft.com
"Some 27 years ago, Chinese leaders took a hard look at their country and didn’t like what they saw. China was just emerging from the Cultural Revolution. It was desperately poor, deliberately isolated from the world economy, and opposed to nearly every international institution. Under Deng Xiaoping, as Mr. Zheng explains, China’s leaders reversed course and decided "to embrace globalization rather than detach themselves from it." Seven U.S. presidents of both parties recognized this strategic shift and worked to integrate China as a full member of the international system. Since 1978, the United States has also encouraged China’s economic development through market reforms. Our policy has succeeded remarkably well: the dragon emerged and joined the world. Today, from the United Nations to the World Trade Organization, from agreements on ozone depletion to pacts on nuclear weapons, China is a player at the table. And China has experienced exceptional economic growth. Whether in commodities, clothing, computers, or capital markets, China’s presence is felt every day. China is big, it is growing, and it will influence the world in the years ahead. For the United States and the world, the essential question is – how will China use its influence? To answer that question, it is time to take our policy beyond opening doors to China’s membership into the international system: We need to urge China to become a responsible stakeholder in that system. China has a responsibility to strengthen the international system that has enabled its success. In doing so, China could achieve the objective identified by Mr. Zheng: "to transcend the traditional ways for great powers to emerge."
Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, "Whither China: From Membership to Responsibility?" Remarks to National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, 21 September 2005 in http://2001-2009.state.gov/s/d/former/zoellick/rem/53682.htm
The endeavor of the Philippines to hold the Peoples Republic to the norms of International concourse is an important one. If the PRC does indeed abide by an adverse ruling concerning its claims to islands in the South China Seas, that would indeed be an important marker that Peking could indeed be 'a responsible stakeholder'. In the past half dozen years or so, Peking has been giving the strongest impression possible that it does not in the least care for the opinion of the International Community and in particular its neighbors in the Orient. Almost all of whom it has fraught and difficult relations as it relates to borders and Islands claims.
Per contra to the one-eyed Amitai Etzioni, China has conspicuously chosen not: "work out these differences with one nation at a time." 1 Unless of course the type of belligerent military and naval actions that Peking has engaged in recent years qualify as trying to 'work out' its disputes with its neighbors. On a normative basis the answer is an objective 'no'. The very same answer to the query set-out by then Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick in 2005 concerning China as 'responsible stakeholder'.
1. Amitai Etzioni, "Is China a responsible stakeholder?" International Affairs
. (May 2011), pp. 552-553.
THE EUROPEAN UNION AND SYRIA: A COMMENT
"The UK and France have won the freedom to supply weapons to Syrian rebel groups after they succeeded in dismantling an EU arms embargo in spite of determined opposition from fellow member states.
The two nations prevailed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers that dragged on for more than 13 hours and laid bare deep divisions within the bloc about the merits of intervening more forcefully in a civil war that has claimed more than 80,000 lives.
William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said the decision sent “a very strong message” to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad about the need to seek a political solution to the conflict.
“While we have no immediate plans to send arms to Syria it gives us the flexibility to respond in the future if the situation continues to deteriorate,” Mr Hague said".
Joshua Chaffin, "UK and France win battle to lift EU’s Syria arms embargo." The Financial Times
. 28 May 2013, in www.ft.com
"Reuters) - Russia will deliver an advanced air defense system to the Syrian government despite Western opposition because it will help deter "hotheads" who back foreign intervention, a senior Russian official said on Tuesday. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also accused the European Union of "throwing fuel on the fire" by letting its arms embargo on Syrian expire, saying it would complicate efforts to arrange an international peace conference. His remarks toughened Russia's defiance of the United States, France and Israel over the planned sale of precision S-300 missile systems to President Bashar al-Assad's government, which is battling a Western and Gulf Arab-backed insurgency.
"We think this delivery is a stabilizing factor and that such steps in many ways restrain some hotheads ... from exploring scenarios in which this conflict could be given an international character with participation of outside forces, to whom this idea is not foreign," he told a news conference. Western experts say the air defense system could significantly boost Syria's ability to stave off outside intervention in the more than two-year civil war that has killed more than 80,000 people. The S-300s can intercept manned aircraft and guided missiles and their delivery would improve Assad's government's chances of holding out in Damascus. Western nations say the Russian arms deliveries could increase tension and encourage Assad. Moscow is standing firm on the sale, despite a trip to Russia by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this month in which he pleaded with President Vladimir Putin to halt the delivery, and a veiled warning of a military response by Israel".
Alissa de Carbonnel, "Russia to send Syria air defense system to deter 'hotheads'." Reuters
. 28 May 2013, in www.reuters.com
The almost simultaneous news coming out of Brussels and Moskva demonstrates anew something which this journal has been harping on since the bandwagon urging Western military assistance and or intervention in the Syrian imbroglio came to the fore. Namely that any such Western intervention will invite, in the absence of such intervention being truly massive
in scale and scope, countervailing Russian, Persian and Hezbollah intervention in support of the regime of Assad Fils
. The above news coming out to-day as well as the news last week that Hezbollah has overtly intervened in the conflict puts paid to the charming idea that any Western or Western-lead intervention in Syria would be a repeat of what occurred in Libya circa 2011. As we can now clearly see that is indeed far, far from the case. Indeed, reading between the lines of the recent Russian statements, it would not be entirely unlikely that an increase in Western military support for the opposition will result in Russian delivery of offensive weapons to the regime in Damascus. Given the fact that it is the regime which is making all the running at the moment on the ground, it seems questionable in the extreme to expect that: i
) the proposed Peace Conference next month will result in anything positive; ii
) the opposition will indeed be able to overthrow the Baathist regime, while it continues to receive support from its allies. Unless such support ends, or conversely unless and until the scale of Western military intervention (not mind you, mere 'support' but full-scale, Western military intervention) changes dramatically, then a stalemate on the ground in Syria, if not worse will be the result staring us in the face. We can all proclaim how unfortunate or even how horrid this state of affairs is, but the long and short of it, is that there is where the facts lead us to. Only time will tell if a new set of facts on the ground changes the current calculations which seem to favor the regime.