Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why Petraeus is a bad choice for Afghanistan

As you will have noticed, an article in the Rolling Stone has meant the end of the career of general McChrystal as head of the US military in Afghanistan. The main reason was that he was openly critical of Obama in front of a journalist. That is a major mistake for a soldier.

However, the main message of the article is that the military has lost the hope that it can win the Afghan war and in many ways that is more interesting. Given that this happens so shortly after a major troop surge this doesn't bode well.

McChrystal is partly responsible. He was great as a Special Operations commander in Iraq who shot and captured insurgents. But in Afghanistan he needs also to "win hearts and minds" and in that part of guerrilla fighting he has proved to be a failure: immediately after he started the number of civilian casualties started to skyrocket and when protests finally forced McChrystal to intervene he did it with such a rigorous restriction-of-force instruction that the US soldiers now feel seriously handicapped. Fighting a guerrilla war requires also considerable effort from the civilian side. But McChrystal has only contempt for any civilian who isn't doing his bidding and has even taken over tasks that should go to the top US diplomat in Afghanistan.

Petraeus may well turn out similarly problematic. Just as McChrystal he made his name in Iraq and he knows little about Afghanistan. It looks like Obama has again chosen the assurance of a big name above real expertise. This protects him from immediate criticism but me be problematic in the long run.

Petraeus role in Iraq was that of the cynical turn-around manager. He was prepared to shut the whole operation down but was lucky to find that in its arrogance the US military had left some major opportunities for improvement unused. But such easy opportunities for improvement seem missing in Afghanistan. The only thing that could help is building good relations with local people so that the US military gets better intelligence and cooperation and becomes less dependent on Karzai.

The question is whether Petraeus will be capable to achieve that. It might have been a much better choice to select some lower level US commander who in his province in Afghanistan has shown that he can do that.

In times of peace the promotion of officers in the army often happens on grounds that have little to do with competence. This is because in times of peace it is difficult to determine who is performing well. So seniority and having the right contacts are often more important. In times of war however, performance is very visible and promotions go very different. Some people may see their career advance very fast. But on the other hand there is much less reluctance to push aside those who don't perform. It is time that Obama shows a bit of this war mentality.

And then there is the political/diplomatic side. Here the US has seriously handicapped itself in Afghanistan. While in Iraq the US ambassador forms a rather effective duo with the military commander, in Afghanistan the diplomatic role is dispersed. You have the US ambassadors in Afghanistan and Pakistan and "special envoy" Holbrooke. You have the ISAF commander (a Brit). And to top it of McChrystal had acquired some diplomatic role for himself too.

As I have written before, Pakistan desires a poor and backward Afghanistan so that its own Pashtu's won't feel a desire for separatism. I see no easy solution for that. But ignoring the massive support that Pakistan is giving the Taliban is ignoring reality and that leads nowhere.

In my opinion the main goal of the US should be decentralization. Karzai may not like it, but that is the way Afghanistan has been ruled for centuries.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

On names and monuments

In this post some random thought on ongoing conflicts:

In the conflict on the Macedonian name I think Greece should take some actions regarding the people who fled Greece during the civil war. It might for example offer Greek citizenship to those Macedonians who fled Greece during the civil war and people who have two parents from Greece. Just as the Hungarian citizenships these most probably would be used mainly as an entry-ticket to richer countries like Germany, but the symbolic content might do much to undercut the nationalistic fever that drives Macedonia's present politicians. And once Macedonia becomes an EU member Macedonians will have the right to settle in Greece anyway, so why not hurry up the process a few years and claim credit for it as a big gesture?

In Kosovo there is the issue of the monuments. The Serbian churches and monastries are by far the best Kosovo has to offer to tourists. The Albanian Kula's and other monuments may be interesting for historians and Albanians but the average foreign tourist will not be exited about them. But this doesn't fit right with Albanian nationalists who like to claim everything in Kosovo is Albanian. So some of them are claiming that those churches were once Roman Catholic - a religion that is considered Albanian in the Kosovo context. They may be right or wrong, but it is even less interesting than the fact that the Aya Sofia in Istanbul was once an Orthodox church. It is quite common for buildings to change religion and if we could look into the past we might well find that on the places of many churches and mosques were once devoted to pagan deities. It is the present splendor of the building that counts and those churches in Kosovo have been Orthodox for many centuries. I believe that instead the Kosovo government should embrace Kosovo's multi-ethnic past and the fact that many Albanians have at least some Serbian ancestors when they go back a couple of generations.

ACTA, the anti-everything treaty

Few people will have heard of the ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Yet it may affect the lives of everyone. At the moment the treaty is still being negotiated but it is so controversial that until recently the organisation deliberately kept its proposals secret.

Officialy the treaty is concerned with "intellectual property". But as bootlegged software and fake Nikes are already forbidden under existing treaties this treaty is bringing the idea to extremes. Now a groups of academics has protested against the treaty.

The ACTA demonstrates of the dangers of "mega-democracies" like the EU and the US where lobbyists are more important than voters. The treaty provides any right copyright owners might wish to have - at the expense of the other companies and citzens. You can be arrested, your internet can be cut of and your goods can be confiscated just because someone thought you violated his right. It will be up to you to prove them wrong and even if you succeed they won't be liable to pay you any damages.

The next round of negotiations will be held from 28 June to 1 July 2010 in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Confusing signals from the West

WAZ.Euobserver has an article about the confusing signals Western leaders and diplomats are sending to Serbia. It amazes itself about the influence Western diplomats have in Serbia where they are regularly interviewed by newspapers and tv stations. In contrast in EU countries diplomats are completely invisible in public life.

The article closes with a quote from an anonymous diplomat who says that there is a high risk the Union blocks both Serbia and Kosovo's European integration:

"I am afraid leaders in Belgrade and Pristina do not understand that if they want to move ahead on the European path, it is not important how many countries support you, but whether there is consensus in the EU or not. In other words, you need all EU countries on your side. To stop you or to slow you down, just one member state is sufficient," the diplomat noted.

If only more Western leaders and diplomats were so wise....

Monday, June 21, 2010

The arrest of Albin Kurti

Readers of this blog will know that I am not a fan of Albin Kurti. But that doesn't mean that I agree with how his arrest went along. Both HRW And Amnesty have now protested and asked for investigations and I think they have reason. The arrest of Kurti reminds me of the evacuation of the court house in Northern Mitrovica begin 2008.

Both then and now the Kosovo government seems to see a police action as an opportunity to show who has the power and to humiliate its opponents. But this is not what the police is for. Police actions should be minimalistic. If someone has to be arrested, arrest him on a place and time when the trouble will be minimal. If some building has to be evacuated do it in a way that a minimum of violence will be enough.

Instead Kurti was arrested hours after he had announced a new policial party. And he was arrested at the headquarters of his movement so that many people were present who - as could be expected - protested.

I consider Kurti an ethnically intolerant person of the same type as Wilders, Le Pen and the English National Front. But I think that in his role as opponent of the international presence in Kosovo is a useful one. Internationals do have the tendency to overstay their welcome and to overlook their own faults and someone has to protest against that. In other international protectorats like East Timor you saw similar protests. Bosnia seems different but that is only because the international presence has become part of the ethnic struggle.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

On the Limaj case

The Financial Times has the most comprehensive article "Governance: EU’s justice mission pursues corruption at the highest level" I have seen yet on the Limaj case. Scroll also to the bottom of the page for four other articles on Kosovo in the same FT issue: Sovereignty chafes at outside supervision, Peja: Local efforts have been key to rebuilding, Youth culture: A vibrant night without fights or drunkenness and Retail: Keen to keep the customers satisfied in three languages.

The article points out that last year family members of Limaj were caught at the airport while trying to export millions in cash. It laments the weak procedures of procurement and the lack of priorities and raises doubt whether Kosovo will be able to finance the new highway to Albania. It also mentions that some of the new roads already show signs of decay.

According to B92, Koha Ditore has reported that Limaj asked for 10 to 13 percent of a tender from the Gnjilane construction company Inter Kosova.

Given the witness intimidation at Limaj's ICTY process I doubt whether EULEX will be able to finish this case. Skodra, the main witness in the Inter Kosova case already conveniently died in a car accident. I suspect much of the proof will have to come from the financial records. But I suspect EULEX has two goals: even when they don't manage to prove Limaj guilty they may prove enough serious mismanagement to disqualify Limaj from being a minister.

Meanwhile the international community doesn't speak with one voice and the US seems to oppose the EULEX drive against corruption with USAID playing a rather peculiar role.

Postscript (6-7-2010): Avni Zogiani of the Kosovan anti-curruption organisation COHU has written an article about how the anti-corruption drive has been undone, mainly through American pressure. He mentions three big orders for American companies (the highway, the airport and the power plant) as the main motive.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The unraveling in Kosovo continues

Bad news from Kosovo again. The Western countries and their journalists seem increasingly in "Croatian mode" - showing the same neglect to human rights that they showed in Croatia between 1992 and 1995 when it came to Serb citizens.

First there was the report of "clashes between Serbs and Albanians" in Mitrovica during the elections for the parallel institutions. I put "clashes" between brackets because these are no real clashes: this is a return to a situation before mid 2000 when Albanians regularly held demonstrations in Mitrovica that invariably ended in an attempt to storm the bridge to Northern Mitrovica. Then there was little doubt that that would end in the cleansing of Northern Mitrovica. I have little doubt there are similar political goals now. In 2000 the internationals ended these demonstrations as it was obvious that they would be forbidden in any Western country as racist and a threat to public order.

Another disturbing fact is the ongoing misinformation in the international press. We are not only misinformed about those demonstrations, but also about those elections. Most media put prominently that only 25% of the electorate went to vote. But nobody took the effort why so many people chose to stay home. It looked like they preferred to believe that this signaled that Kosovo's Serbs are turning towards the Pristina government - what very well may not be true.

The situation is looking more and more like that in Croatia between 1992 and 1995 where the Western countries were bleating about the restoration of territorial integrity while the Croat army was consistently violating an UN brokered truce and 400,000 people where driven in permanent exile.