Sunday, April 28, 2013

The radicalisation of Syria's rebels

Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.

That is how the NY Times describes Syria's present situation. Even the Supreme Military Council, the umbrella rebel organization whose formation the West had hoped would sideline radical groups, is stocked with commanders who want to infuse Islamic law into a future Syrian government.

For Obama this seems to cause at least some hesitation to intensify his support.

However, the NYT analysis of the situation is rather weak. They describe the uprising as an uprising of the "Sunni Muslim majority". This is not only wrong - it comes straight from the rebel propaganda. The initial cores of the uprising were in conservative Sunni areas - mostly the same areas that had participated in the 1981 Muslim Brotherhood uprising and later had provided fighters for Al Qaeda in Iraq. The uprising became broader when television preachers like Arour reframed it as an uprising of "the" Sunni against Alawite suppression and discrimination. Doing so they appealed to old prejudices about Alawites being not Muslims and second rate citizens.

The idea that you can build democracy on the basis of such undemocratic sentiments is ridiculous.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Syria and chemical arms

Obama has declared that Syrian use of chemical arms is for him a red line. I have always distrusted that statement. To me it has always suggested that Obama is biding his time before he will interfere in Syria and that at that time he will use the chemical weapons claim as his WMD excuse.

As recently the US has upgraded its station in Jordan to a level that is capable of organizing military attacks I am not amazed that now suddenly Obama is claiming chemical weapons have been used in Syria. As usual with media master Obama things have been well orchestrated with first some NATO allies and Israel making the claims so that the public is prepared. Not surprisingly there is no evidence for us to see.

In the case of the UN chemical arms investigation Western diplomacy has once again shown itself from its worst side. First they agreed to an investigation of one specific case. And then they changed their mind, claimed that it might be used as propaganda by Assad and demanded an investigation of all accusations - what Syria and Russia predictably refused.

They may have had serious fears that it might turn out that the rebels were responsible for this incident. Obviously that would be embarrassing for politicians who are committed to regime change in Syria.

The claim that the investigation would be propaganda for Assad sounds hollow to me. A well accomplished investigation would build trust and open the door to other investigations.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The internationalization of the Syrian conflict

The Obama administration keeps warning about the internationalization of the Syrian conflict. But it keeps predictably mum about being specific. For good reasons - because the side it supports is the main one involved in this internationalization.

We had the patriots in Turkey because of a few shells that fell on the wrong side of the border, and now occassionally shells are falling in Lebanon. But that is about Assad's part. But consider the other side:

Lebanon was the first country destabilized. From the early stages of the uprising Lebanon was a major supplier of arms and support for the uprising in Homs, Qusair and other cities in the region - support that was funded by Saudi Arabia and organized by Lebanon's Sunni controlled secret services. This soon led to tensions in Tripoli. The tensions only increased when it became clear that Saudi Arabia intends to target Hezbollah next when it has finished with Assad.

Next there was Jordan. Already destabilized by the return of Jordanian Jihadi's fighting in Syria the problem was worsened because the Gulf States stopped the financial support they used to give Jordan. Recently it became clear why: when Jordan allowed its territory as a base for massive support for the Syrian uprising the financial support was resumed. But it may be only a matter of time before the Gulf States order their Brotherhood minions to organize an "Arab Spring" in Jordan too.

Then there is Iraq where the tensions between Sunni and Shiites are increasing. Although prime minister has followed a rather confrontational policies this doesn't explain the systematic nature of the Sunni protests. The daily protests point to a solid organization and it is generally assumed that Saudi Arabia is organizing and financing this uprising.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The motives for the Arab Spring

Foreign Policy discusses in an article (The anatomy of protest in Egypt and Tunisia) the motives for the uprising. According to the article - citing opinion polls - the overwhelming majority was concerned with economic issues. Police brutality (the death of Khalid Said was an important factor in getting the uprising in Egypt started) is hardly mentioned.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The lost art of peace

At 10 April the UN General Assembly held a thematic debate on whether international tribunals contribute to peace - a conference that was boycotted by the US. One interesting speaker was John Laughland who talked about the the lost art of peace.

Core of his argument is that in the past all peace treaties used to have clauses of reconciliation in which both sides renounce all claims on the other side for events that happened during the conflict. Even many treaties where there was a hierarchical relationship between the parties contain such a clause. The Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I ended this tradition.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Arab Sping as Stable Chaos

In his article Stable Chaos Abdullah Al-Otaibi claim that the Arab Spring fails because the Arabs have different ideas about "freedom" than the Europeans: For example, the term ‘freedom’ in the Arab mindset brings connotations of the emancipation of slaves; it does not have the same dimensions as it does in the West. We do not have Rousseau to teach us that democracy means “being subject to the laws”, nor do we have Montesquieu to tell us that “where licentiousness begins, liberty ends.” On the contrary, we have those who believe that ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ are infidelities, but nevertheless they advocate them in the political sense because they serve their interests.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The art of Revolution in Eastern Europe and the Middle East

I wrote an article for Your MiddleEast in which I compare the Western reaction to the Arab Spring with its reaction to the transformation in 1989 in Eastern Europe. While in 1989 the West favored stability and justice it now often prefers the most complete and violent transitions.

The art of Revolution

What went wrong with Cyprus?

The Cyprus bailout will cost a lot more than initially planned. That will sound familiar to anyone who followed the bailouts of Greece.

The principles for financial crisis are extremely simple: don't kick the can down the road and analyse potential trouble spots as soon as possible.

- So if a bank gets in trouble its shareholders and those who lent money to it should bear all or most of the burden. Instead we have seen repeatedly that the EU forced countries to take responsibility for those debts. The consequence was that those countries themselves got in trouble and had to pay more for their loans while having less economic growth. This greatly increased the damage to society as a whole. Unfortunately the EU states were only concerned with the fact that their own citizens might loose money.
- The Laiki Bank on Cyprus is a typical case of not anticipating trouble. Immediate detection that the Greek haircut would put it in trouble would have led to an intervention before there was a big crisis and a lot of capital flight. The big account holders might only have faced a cut of 10 to 20% instead of 60 to 80.

The level of insincerity and lies from the EU is also high:
- the Russians are not hit with losses because they are tax evaders or criminals. They are simply hit because they are no EU citizens and no EU country defends their interests. It is a classical case of unfairness.
- the attack of the EU on the status of Cyprus as a tax haven is a classical case of kicking a man when he is down. From the economic point of view it is downright stupid to force a country to a costly economic transformation when it is already facing a crisis.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Racism modern style in the US and Syria

Many anti-racist activists would still have to swallow for a moment when their daughter came home with a black guy. Our gut reactions are not always congruent with our rational beliefs. There is a famous psychological test that measures these implicit associations.

Racists are well aware of these phenomena. Those "birthers" who keep questioning whether Obama was really born in the US and those people who keep complaining about Obama's friends among black radicals have one main goal: raising your awareness that Obama is black and by that calling on the prejudices that many of us have about black people.

In Syria we see the same. The blacks of Syria are the Alawites who for centuries were heavily discriminated because some claimed that they were no true Muslims. Syria's rebels have their best to raise everyone's awareness that Assad is an Alawite and that there quite a few Alawites in his close circle. All those flimsy complaints about discrimination by the Assad government of non-Alawites have this goal. This explains also the success of preachers like Arour who found their own way to highlight that Assad is an Alawite.

It always amazes me how easily the Western press copies such propaganda without being aware of its ultimate goal. It reminds me of all those articles that we saw about the gap between Roman and Byzantine culture that we saw at the eve of the Yugoslav wars. It came straight from Croat propaganda but few journalists seemed aware what they were doing when they copied it.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

The North Korean game

Lately there has been a lot of noise about North Korea. Here some thoughts of my own:
- the military exercises of the US with South Korea are still going on. It is expected that North Korea will stop its threats once the exercises are over.
- the exercises are close to the North Korean border and simulate an invasion into North Korea.
- North Korea knows it is no match for the US. So it has long ago adopted the strategy of the unpredictable madman. This is less strange than it may seem when one considers that NATO always held the option open to react with nuclear bombs if the Warsaw Pact would attack with conventional weapons.
- The US has this exercise brought in some extraordinary weapons - including B2's, some big ships and a new missile shield. So North Korea had a lot to become exited about.
- The US wants to provoke North Korea.
- The leaders of both North Korea and China are new. It may be that Obama is trying them out.
- It looks like the North Korean leader hasn't found the right tune yet. Obama is happy to provoke him even more as it fits his schedule to make North Korea look bad.
- The US is putting heavy pressure in China to get it put more pressure on North Korea and China is definitely not happy with all this American military noise in its neighborhood. It looks like China's new leader is more open to America's concerns as his predecessor. However, there is a risk that too much pressure may backfire.
- There is a risk that Kim Jong-un may overplay his hand and cause a conflict. However, what frightens me most is the possibility that Obama may deliberately be leading us to yet another war. He has already started two regime change wars (Libya and Syria).
- It is no coincidence that Kerry's Asia tour coincides with the military exercise. It must have been a deliberate plan to provoke Kim and then to use his reactions to pressure the Asians to fall in line with the Americans.

Pepe Escobar wrote a nice article about the subject.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Syrian death toll

An overview of the death toll figures in Syria

I know this overview is somewhat disputed. Yet I still haven't seen any serious criticism that offers an alternative.