Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Using psychology against ISIS

In its article "In Battle to Defang ISIS, U.S. Targets Its Psychology" the NY Times discussed a "brain trust" set up by Maj. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, commander of American Special Operations forces in the Middle East in order to better understand ISIS. His assumption is that in order to defeat ISIS he will first need to understand its attraction and strength. According to the article they are humble: "We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea." Well, they never will. Their mistake is too fundamental. This is not about just an idea: this is about a winning idea.

50 years ago Arab socialism was in fashion and many in the Middle East believed that Islam was holding the region back. The spirit of Atatürk, who modernized Turkey while sidelining Islam, was still very much alive. So there is nothing in the Arab culture or the Muslim religion that makes the present obsession with radicalism inevitable. That radical Islam became as strong as it is is the result of deliberate decisions by both local and Western politicians:

- From the 1950s on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have played a major role in promoting radical Islamist movements and uprisings. That way they want to protect themselves both from the appeal of Arab socialism and the appeal of Western liberalism. It helps them to keep influence in the region and it keeps the restless at home busy with foreign adventures.

- Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States have not stopped promoting radical Islam. They have only switched from promoting the Brotherhood to promoting Salafism. For the average Jihadi in the West this won't make much of a difference: their Islamic organizations always looked more like individualistic Salafism than like the very organized Brotherhood.

- Afghanistan was another contributing factor. Thanks to US machinations Islamists won there in the 1970s from one of the main superpowers.

- Oil wealth also counts: for the many Arab migrant workers in the Gulf States it is seductive to believe that conservative Islam and wealth are related.

- More recently the US further helped the Islamists by overthrowing one secular leader after another: Saddam, Gaddafi, Ben Ali and Mubarak. Assad is still under attack. It is really amazing to see how easily the US could be manipulated by the Saudi's to support their agenda.

ISIS and radical Islam have now the aura of being winners. That counts more than any specific ideology. And given the many sources of this winner aura and the weakness of the alternative ideologies this isn't likely to change soon.

See also my post from a few years ago Comparing communists and the Muslim Brotherhood. It discusses similarities between how radical Islam is organized now and how communism was organized in its heydays outside the communist countries.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

How Obama is repeating one of Bush's worst mistakes

In May 2003 - a little over a month after the fall of Baghdad - the newly arrived Paul Bremer released two radical orders: he barred members of the Baath Party from all but the lowliest government posts and he disbanded the Iraqi army.

Those orders are nowadays generally seen as the spark that caused the Sunni insurrection in Iraq. Yet at the time the criticism was limited and even now Bremer and some others defend the orders.

What strikes in this defense is the use of generalizations as in "to the vast majority of Iraqis [the army] was a symbol of the old Baathist-led Sunni ascendancy" and [the army] was "mistrusted by the very Iraqi people it is supposed to protect". In the logic of Bush, Rumsfeld and Bremer there was only one "Iraqi people" and they were happy that Saddam was gone. Somehow they didn't get it that most Sunni and at least some Shiites might not be happy that Saddam was gone. Neither did they get it that many Shiites - seeing the anarchy - might have serious doubts about the new order.

That brings me to Obama. His methods may have been a bit different, but Obama has beaten Bush with the number of regime changes he has achieved. One of those was in Ukraine. Ukraine is still full of US advisors who are very influential. There too there will now be a very comprehensive "lustration". And there too the police and army are cleansed of "pro-Russians".

Other former communist countries had lustrations too. However, these were meant to get rid of a few embarrassing left-overs of communist times. Unlike those in Iraq and Ukraine they were not meant to shift the power balance and to rob a large segment of the population of influence on the future of the country.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Luxembourg Leaks

A consortium of journalists has published a list of 550 Luxemburgian tax laws: these 'Luxleaks' are now public on the site www.icij.org and told stories about how these are used by multinationals to evade taxes. See also this article in Dutch.

The destruction of banking

The site Follow The Money (FTM) has an article (in Dutch: "EEN BLIK ACHTER DE GORDIJNEN BIJ RABO’S BIJZONDER BEHEER") about the department for problematic customers of Rabo Bank, based on a number of interviews with former employees and customers of the bank.

In the past this department operated as you would expect such a department to operate: trying to get as much money from the customer as possible. Now things have changed and an important part in that has been played by the activism over the local oversight organisations.

Several former employees confirmed that they are judged on filing their reports on time and having checked all the points in the file and not on how much money they have saved for the bank. Rabobank is very afraid that its more than hundred semi-independent local branched don't have their files on order, among others because they got a fine a few years ago from the AFM (Authority for the Financial Markets) because there were problems in the mortgage files of some local branches. Oversight of the banks has also become much stricter since it was transferred to the European Central Bank. ‘Banks in Europa are under great pressure to make clear how many bad loans they have and whether they have enough provisions to cover them. That causes labor intensive administration that doesn't benefit the customer’, according to Sonja.

Nowadays the accent in the department is on "closing the files" and reporting. One employee describes spending five days to write a report on a client who went bankrupt a week later. Adapting a loan - reducing it or delaying the payment - has become a very burdensome bureaucratic process that needs several approvals.

The big question of course is to what an extent similar processes are happening at other banks. I am not optimistic.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

What game is the US playing in Iraq and Syria?

What strikes me about the role of the US air force in Iraq and Syria is that its role is so restricted. It only drops very expensive precision bombs. It never carpet bombs areas, it never strifes hostile forces from a plane with machine guns and it never drops supplies on allied forces that are surrounded. Coordination with allied forces seems to be minimal. The first days when the US air force operated in synch with the Kurds were an exception. Nowadays it seems to fulfil its own program of targets that has hardly any relationship with the needs of the allied troops on the ground.

Kobane's chances would much improve if the US supplied the Kurdish fighters there with anti-armor arms.

The Yazidi's are still fighting against the IS and complain that they hardly get any support from the US air force.

Soldiers from the fallen Iraqi base of Camp Saqlawiyah complained of lack of food and water - things that easily could have been supplied from the air.

The allies
Formally The Gulf States and Turkey are allies in our fight against ISIS. I don't believe it for a moment. They just have concluded that - as the US will attack anyway - they better be involved so that they can minimize the "harm" (as they see it) that the US is doing. Erdogan has gone as far as saying that he considers the PYD (the ruling Kurdish party in Kobane) equally harmful as ISIS.

There are lots of theories about what Turkey and the Arabs want to achieve. They keep pushing for more active US involvement against Assad. They might well believe that a massacre in Kobane would be beneficial to draw the US closer into the Syrian conflict.

Turkey wants now a buffer zone inside Syria that would give the rebels a home base. Conveniently it would also allow Turkey to crush the zones that are now controlled by the PYD. Predictably the Kurds oppose the idea.

One can only hope that one day Obama will realize that his whole Arab Spring project was madness disguised as policy. And that he finally will bring up the courage to say that regime change is not inside his job description. Unfortunately until now he is behaving like a servant to the belligerent anti-Assad rhetoric from the Gulf States and Turkey.

Many have noticed that Obama only became interested in attacking ISIS after it had killed some American journalists. This suggests that Obama is more influenced by opinion polls than by a clear vision in such an important issue - a devastating conclusion that suggests incompetence.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Israel's colonial repression

Anyone who has read about the fighting in Gaza will have noticed that Israel is defending the massive number of civilians killed by claiming that the Hamas fighters are hiding behind civilians.

That claim is right. However, hiding among civilians is standard guerrilla strategy. Yet most countries fighting a guerrilla uprising will not use the kind of methods Israel is using. A good example is how the US reacted to the guerrilla it faced in Iraq and Afghanistan: although it's behavior was far from perfect it took considerable effort to avoid civilian casualties. That was not totally altruistic: they were aware that winning "hearts and minds" is an important part of subduing a guerrilla war.

Yet Israel's strategy is not new. It was often used in colonial wars. It was also how the US dealt with insurgent Indians in the 19th century. It shows an attitude where the other side is seen as subhuman.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Israel's futile battle against Hamas

Israel cannot eradicate Hamas. In fact every Palestinian it kills now in Gaza is a justification for the existence of Hamas and will drive more Palestinians to support Hamas.

If Israel wants to be seen by the Palestinians as a reliable partner that is prepared to let them live and prosper it should behave as such. It should stop stealing Palestinian houses and land. It should stop suffocation the Palestinian economy and it should take a murdered Palestinian just as serious as a murdered Jew.

Just as the English in Northern Ireland they will still have to suffer terrorism for a while. But that will gradually decrease and in the end stop when it follows an appropriate policy.

Problem is that Israel is in the same position as the whites in the US in the 19th century when they largely exterminated the Indians. They too have a large lobby that is growing rich by stealing land. They too have politicians who know that there is a group against which they can safely indulge in hate mongering. And they too are largely left off the hook by the world public opinion.

But given Israel's geographical position among a sea of Arabs it is a dangerous strategy that well may go wrong in the long term.

Obama makes it hard not to believe conspiracy theories

Sometimes Obama makes it hard not to believe conspiracy theories.

If he really cared about the MH17 he would long ago have released his satellite data and pressured Kiev to release conversations of the plane with the control tower. Instead he hides data and evades questions about why the plane followed an alternative route and was forced to fly lower and whether there was an Ukrainian fighter jet near the plane.

If he really cared about Ukraine he would have pressed for real negotiations. Putin could live with the Orange revolution. He won't ask too much now. Instead the US is pressuring Kiev not to negotiate at all.

Putin is fully aware that sanctions are a kind of blackmail and that ceding to them will only result in more blackmail. So if Obama wants him to change his behavior he will have to negotiate and make concessions.

So my guess would be that Obama is playing for two audiences:
- for the neocons he is going to extremes to look how far he can humiliate Russia. Obviously he doesn't care about the casualties.
- for the oil lobby he doing what he can to raise the oil price.

Once I hoped Obama would be a capable president. Nowadays I consider him a fool who very well might start World War III.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Questions remaining about the MH17 disaster in Ukraine

As the US seems to jump to the conclusion that the pro-Russian rebels were responsible for the downing of the MH-17 there are still quite a few questions that should be answered:
- the Ukrainian government initially claimed that the plane had been shot down by Russian fighter jets. Where did that come from?
- According to Russia the Ukrainian Army had recently sent some Buk units to the East. Russia claims it caught their radar signal when the plane was downed. Given that the rebels have no air force this raises the question: why? The investigation should have a look at this subject. Russia has suggested that Ukraine should provide an inventory of its Buk missiles.
- the communication between the control tower and the MH17 should be published - as was the communication between the MH370 and its control tower.
- Radar images of the last minutes/hours of the plane should be published by the Ukrainian government.
- the Ukrainian government published some fragments from telephone conversations of the rebels that should prove their guilt. These were fragments that were carefully selected by the Ukrainian secret service. It may very well be that none of those involved was aware whether their side had shot some missiles and that they were just assuming. So we should have access to the full conversations and other conversations that have been intercepted. And of course they should be checked by experts: Russian experts claim they were falsified. See also this audio analysis.
- On previous flights on the same route Malaysian Airlines used a more southern route over the Sea of Azov. This raises the question why this time it followed a more northern route that went straight over a war zone. Where they ordered by Air Control? It has also been claimed that Air Control ordered them to fly at the lowest allowed height instead of 1 km higher as they wanted. Another point for investigation. Russia has also claimed that the war zone is not completely covered by radar.
- A Buk is normally operated together with a guiding radar installation that is on a separate truck. Without such an installation it is of limited use. One commenter I saw on internet who claimed that he had operated a Buk claimed that the missile is only self directing for the last kilometer. With a good operator such a standalone missile might be useful against military planes who fly low and typically fly not faster than 500 à 600 km/hour. But hitting a civilian plane flying at 10 km height with a velocity of over 900 km/hour looks almost impossible. In addition there is the question of how they could see the plane: it was a clouded day.
- The Ukrainian government has solved the targeting problem by claiming that is was not lonely missile truck that the rebels had captured from the rebels but that it were the Russians who had sent a complete Buk installation including a radar truck. To match this with their prior declarations they claim that the radar truck was at a few km distance. They have many different versions on the why. One version claims that they were targeting an IL76 "Candid" transport plane that flew a few km away and was supplying Ukrainian troops that were encircled.
- A Buk that is fired creates a trail of smoke and vapor that lasts for considerable time. Yet no one has reported to see such a trail. Interpretermag claims that the plane may have been shot from a location between Snizhne and Pervomaisk (a village south of Snizhne). They offer a picture of a weak vapor trail.
- If it was a Buk there is considerable confusion about from where it was shot. Kiev has named different places. Rebels have claimed that some of those places were out of range from the location where the plane was hit.
- immediately after the disaster Ukraine started a military offensive in the direction of the crash site from both the north and the southwest. In this offensive they evaded the rebel troops in order to advance fast to the crash site. Note that the distance between Luhansk and Donetsk is about 150 km and that there are only 10,000 rebel fighters who are mostly stationed around the big cities. So it was not hard to find an unguarded road to enter rebel territory. Normally this would have entailed the risk of being encircled, but in this case that was not the case as two days after the crash the Security Council adopted an armistice for the region with a radius of 20 or 40 km (this was disputed) around the disaster site. The big question is why Ukraine took this risk: where they looking to find or remove evidence?
- Then there is the case of the claims of a respectless treatment of the remains by the rebels. Both the claim of stealing and the claim that the rebels made fun of the victims were later retorted by showing videos from which the incriminating pictures had been grabbed ny the Ukrainian secret service. The question is why they need this kind of low propaganda trick if they have the truth on their side.
- where The Guardian claimed that a Buk truck had been seen in Torez the Independent went to Torez and could not find a single person who had seen the Buk. The BBC claimed to have found witnesses who claimed to have seen a Buk installation with what looked to be a Russian crew.

Of course there are also some less probable theories:
- there is "Carlos", who claims to be a Spanish air operator working in Kiev who claims there was a kind panic within air control after the crash and all foreigners were asked to leave. Ukraine claims not to employ foreigners and not to know the guy.
- there is also the Alexander Khodakovsky, rebel commander of the Vostok Battalion who was claimed to have admitted that the rebels possessed a Buk and that it may have come from Russia. Later he denied to have said that to Reuters.
- This video from a weather satellite claims to show the firing of a Buk from territory controlled by Ukrainian oligarch Kolomoyski.
- This article claims that something went wrong during an Ukrainian military exercise.
- Newsweek claimed that a pro-Russian soldier had admitted to the Italian Newspaper Corriere della Sera that his unit shot down the MH17, mistaking it for a military one.
- Ukrainians claimed that the Russians shot down the wrong plane because they went to the wrong Pervomaisk village.

Other interesting sites:
- http://21stcenturywire.com/2014/07/25/mh17-verdict-real-evidence-points-to-us-kiev-cover-up-of-failed-false-flag-attack/: this is a rather slow site and its conspiracy level is high. But it is an extensive article and it contains many useful links.
- Interpretermag gave on 15 september an overview of the facts from the pro-Kiev point of view. This includes a reconstructed time table.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Who enabled ISIS to capture Mosul?

Most news reports bring the fall of Mosul to ISIS as something sudden and unexpected. My interest was triggered by a (Dutch language) report from some people with local connections. The report paints a landscape of were most people are against the government, the army is seen as an occupational army and the police isn't very popular either. The sectarian politics of Maliki, widespread unemployment and the army attack on the protest camp in Hawija have led to a broad coalition where local tribes, the (underground) Baath Party and ISIS all work together against the government.

The big question is whether this is only local. The protest camp in Hawija showed the kind of color revolution tactics that suggest foreign involvement. It is well known that the Saudi's would love to turn Iraq back into a Sunni dictatorship. It is also well known that ISIS is well funded and rumored to be supported from the Gulf States. So I suspect that the Saudi secret service has a hand in what is now happening in Mosul. And very likely at this very moment Saudi diplomats are active in Washington to prevent US support for the Iraqi government in its fight against ISIS.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Reaction to the ICG on Ukraine

The International Crisis Group has published a report ("Ukraine: Running out of Time") on the Ukraine crisis. I found it rather lacking so below you will find a refutal of some of the claims and recommendations they make. Quotes from their report are in italic.

The first thing that strikes the attention is the selective history. Victoria Nuland isn't mentioned once. Neither is the controversy on who did the Maidan shooting.

The report talks about the protests as if the Maidan protests were a single thing. In fact the forever changing subject of the protests (first the treaty with the EU, then new legislation regulating protests, then violence by the government and finally - mainly after the takeover - corruption and economic mismanagement) lends support to the claim that the desire to topple Yanukovich - probably funded by the US - was the real motive.

The separatists’ objective seems to be to provoke sufficient disruption and bloodshed so that President Vladimir Putin can assert, if he chooses, what he says is Moscow’s right to protect Russian speakers anywhere.
Most of the bloodshed came from the government. Putin doesn't seem very enthusiastic about annexation. It looks like he will only take that step if government repression from Kiev becomes so fierce that there is wide demand for it among the population.

President Putin appears to consider that a West-leaning Ukraine government born of mass protests would set a dangerous example at home and thwart his ambition of establishing dominant Russian influence over as much of the former Soviet republics as possible.
This is a standard claim from State Department propaganda. There is not a shred of evidence for this claim. It seems designed to divert the attention from the demands that Putin did make: no NATO on his doorsteps, continuation of the economic ties between East Ukraine and Russia, decent treatment of Ukraine's Russian speakers and reduction of the influence of right extremists.
In fact it is the US that has destabilized Ukraine by sponsoring two "revolutions".

A mid-April four-party – Russia, Kyiv, U.S., EU – Geneva agreement to calm the situation was ignored by the separatist forces, so is a dead letter.
In the report it is mentioned that this agreement should also cover end of occupations by Right Sektor. However, it fails to mention how the Kiev government has tried to circumvent the agreement, enlisting Right Sektor fighters in the National Guard and "legalizing" the occupation of buildings in Kiev. In the recommendations it is suggested that only the "separatist forces" were at fault. It is a common problem in ICG reports, where the summary and recommendations often look like they were censored by the State Department.

So too [high on the governments agenda] should preparing the population for the inevitable pain of deep reforms required to save an economy wrecked by two decades of endemic corruption and incompetence.
This is mixing things up. Under Yanukovich the country lived beyond its means, so it now needs urgent budget cuts. The Maidan revolution didn't help either: unrest is bad for the economy. But these are all recent problems, not 20 years old.
Other reforms are needed too but that is another story.

Although conditions for the election are far from ideal, it is vital it takes place as planned and nationwide. The polls are needed, above all, to produce a new leader with enough public support to steer the country through a process of national reconciliation and painful economic reform.
Turchynov has turned out to be a divisive president, so replacing him could turn out to be beneficial. However, any look at the threats and violence directed at those parliamentarians and presidential candiadtes who don't agree with the Maidan revolution should be enough to destroy any doubt that these will not really free elections.
There is also the problem that the main candidates are all oligarchs. The fact that some see Tyahnybok as the only serious politician says enough.

The government inherited security, police and defence structures that had by accident or design almost ceased to exist under the deposed president.
Again a myth enthusiastically spread by Kerry and Yatsenyuk. It ignores the demonization of the police by the Maidan protesters. It ignores the dissolution of Berkut. It ignores that the government is asking the police to use much more violence against protesters than they did under Yanukovich.
As for the army, according to the constitution it can only be employed against civilians under a state of emergency. The government has tried to circumvent this rule by painting the protesters in the East as "terrorists".
What doesn't help is that the government refuses to negotiate with the protesters in the East and instead has sent Right Sektor thugs to impose "order".

Right Sector emerged directly from the Maidan demonstrations
This claim is simply wrong. Right Sektor is primarily a confederation of existing right extremist organizations. That this was connected to the Maidan protests is only of secondary importance.

The most recent polls do not indicate widespread fear among the majority of Russian-speakers or ethnic Russians.
This selective quotation of opinion polls ignores the main problem for the government in Kiev: that most people in the South and East consider the Turchynov administration illegal.

10. Express support for a post-election government of national unity
This is one of the recommendations. Interestingly the report mentions that the West of the country is overrepresented in the government but fails to mention that as a problem. I think it is. Before the takeover a national unity government had been promised. It is also usual rather usual in situations like the present one.

4. Distance itself publicly and as rapidly as possible from the extremist and anti-democratic ideology of the Svoboda (Freedom) Party and Right Sector.
This recommendation suggests a light disconnection from reality:
- the government is increasingly relying on Right Sektor fighters
- the report completely ignores the militia of Kolomoysky that has been accused to have played a major role in the violence in Odessa and Mariupol.
- Western leaders are meeting with those guys and lending them credibility.

A successful, democratic Ukraine, substantially integrated economically in the West, but outside military alliances and a close cultural, linguistic and trading partner mindful of Russian interests would benefit all.
It is not clear what the ICG really wants. At one moment they ask for economic integration with the West while at another they talk about a bridge function between Russia and the West.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Obama's misdirected foreign policy

When leaders get a lot of criticism it is often because people have the impression that they don't know what they is doing. That is my impression of Obama's foreign policy too.

The Far East
The Far East is probably the best example. It is well known that East Asians are very sensitive to loss of face. So the classical saying of "talk softly but carry a big stick" makes here extra sense. A good starting point when reacting to Chinese transgressions might be: what would we do if Israel did this?

Instead we saw a very noisy "pivot" to the East. This amounted to a public declaration that the US is now in a low level state of cold war with China. Very few troops were actually moved to the Far East, but the damage to the relations with China was done.

All this comes from a misguided look at foreign policy that constantly looks for the next threat to US dominance. That country is then treated as an enemy. It would be much more fruitful to aim for a role for the US as world leader. The US could have transferred troops to East Asia without much noise - using natural disasters and other incidents as convenient excuses. The end result would still have been a larger US presence and that would still have led people to pay more attention to what the US was saying.

Obama's recent Asia trip that very explicitly left out China was another example. Such an open declaration of conflict with China demanded a reaction from China and that we saw in the form of the employment of a drilling vessel to Vietnamese waters. The Chinese very cleverly managed to expose Obama as a phony who makes nice promises but can't deliver.

Obama doesn't understand this kind of subtle diplomacy. Take the case when the Chinese unilaterally expanded their Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). Obama made a very noisy public declaration against it, sent a few planes through it and then basically started to respect it. His predecessors would have done that differently. The would have condemned the declaration, but only softly, so as not to cause their adversary too much loss of face when it retreated. They would know that the louder they condemned the zone, the harder they it would make for the other side to retreat. Yet they would have been very consistent in not respecting the zone.

Or take the gradual expansion of the Chinese occupation of islands claimed by the Philippines. The US has a lot of ways to react. It can expand some bases in South East Asia. It can provide some advanced weapons or training to Taiwan or other countries in the region. It can take some measures obstructing Chinese exports to the US. Etc. Such moves don't need to be published at all: the Chinese leaders will know and connect the dots. And if they occasionally don't there are diplomats to help them discretely.

If such indirect retaliation might not help there could be a next level of escalation. Again to be done discretely.

This is how soft power works. Unfortunately Obama is a former community organizer. That is: he organized people with little power against people with much more power. In such a position there is no soft power and naming and shaming is a major part of the strategy.

Unfortunately the US doesn't understand sanctions. They make a big show of them. And then they are surprised that the other side resists in order not to look weak and not to raise the impression that they are vulnerable to blackmail (sanctions are a form of blackmail).

Wars of choice
Iraq was a war of choice. But so are Libya, Syria and Ukraine now. Obama believes that he is smart for keeping U.S. soldiers out so that he can't be blamed for dead soldiers. But for the local population there is hardly a difference.

Take Syria. Obama believes that he is smart for keeping Russia, Iran and Hezbollah forever bleeding on Syria's battle fields. Very probably he got the idea from his mentor Brzezinski who did something similar with Afghanistan in 1979. But in the end the US paid for that act of cynicism with 9/11. Most people - both inside and outside the US - consider the lack of respect for human life that this strategy shows disgusting and immoral.

Obama's "red line" on Syria's chemical arms was another example of ignoring "talk softly but carry a big stick". A superpower like the US shouldn't make big statements like this. When chemical arms are used it should send in investigators and slowly escalate the issue - without committing itself to any course of action. Unfortunately it looks like Obama never cared about the issue: he just wanted a pretext for intervention.

Since the testimony of Kubic we know that the war in Libya was not necessary and that openings from Gaddafi's side to negotiate about his departure were deliberately ignored by the Obama administration.

After Gaddafi had been driven out America's main activity in Libya seems to have been its failed Benghazi mission that is more and more rumored to have been an operation buy weapons that had been given to Libyans Islamists and to give transport them to Syria. In the mean time there was little attention for turning Libya into a working state.

Ukraine first saw a US sponsored "revolution" and now we see the US doing its best to keep the conflict going by obstructing all dialogue. It looks like Obama believes it is in the American interest to create as much hostility as possible between Ukraine and Russia.

Obama is listing the withdrawal from Iraq and the partial withdrawal from Afghanistan as achievements. But withdrawal was a logical consequence when there was nothing more to get for the neocons. Given that there were to be withdrawals it is hard to claim that Obama has done them particularly well.

The negotiations with Iran are about the only spot of light. But they are constantly under fire from interest groups.

Obama's obsession with sneaky methods is becoming proverbial. Whether NSA snooping, color revolutions, CIA waterboarding or killing by drones, intervening under false pretexts: he is in favor.

He seems to miss the harmful effects of these policies. Internally they have the effect of driving out all the honest people. What remains are organizations dominated by opportunists who can't be trusted to defend America's interests. Externally they destroy the image of leadership and responsibility that the US once had and replace it with an image of a bully on steroids.

Contact with reality has been lost
The State Department is in a sorry state. It has been underfunded for decades and as a consequence it has often had to play second fiddle to the Department of Defense. Things became even worse under Bush Jr when many senior diplomats left in disgust because they disliked being forced to defend Bush's undefendable aggressive foreign policy. Obama brought in the amateurs with his unprecedented level of appointments of campaign contributors to diplomatic posts.

Without a functioning national bureaucracy that keeps track of the issues involved and best practices US foreign policy has become a free for all feast. Lobbying groups fund "research" institutes that publish quasi-scientific articles promoting the policies they want. Loudmouth politicians like McCain profile themselves as warriors by anointing whoever they want as an enemy.

The invasion in Iraq was a good example. Iraq was not an enemy of the U.S.. No American interests were involved. Instead the main motives for the Iraq invasion were outside the area of America's national interests: Bush taking "revenge" for his father, greedy oil and defense companies and a climate where people feel empty when the U.S. is not involved in some foreign military adventure.

The lack of attention to the rebuilding of Libya and Iraq fits in this pattern. Although such attention would be crucial to turn those countries US friendly - what the interventionists saw as their goal - it doesn't get any attention from the US administration as it no political points can be scored inside the US with such unsexy work.

Kerry is very much a product of this system. He doesn't see the world as a group of collaborating countries. He doesn't have a vision of how the world should work. Instead he goes around the world trying to bully every country to support what is the newest fashion in U.S. foreign policy.

From the perspective of the common American this doesn't make sense. Their prosperity would be much better served by a stable world shaped and supported by a capable U.S. diplomacy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ukraine's revengeful revolution

It is not exactly clear what the Ukrainian government wants in the East of the country. At the one hand Yatsenyuk is asking for dialogue. At the other hand he is sending troops, including locally despised Right Sektor guys, has called the protests "terrorism" and has announced draconian anti-terrorism laws, has flatly rejected calls for federalism and has announced a harsh crackdown on the Eastern protests.

It is a pattern that the Maidan revolution has shown from the beginning. The talk never really covered the action.

The Maidan uprising

The uprising started as a protest against the refusal of Yanukovich to sign the DCFTA Treaty with the EU. Yet opinion polls showed that only 43% of the population supported signing that treaty. There were good reasons to oppose the treaty: it would open the Ukrainian market for EU products but did not offer any financial help or visa liberalization. That meant that Ukraine would face a wave of factory closings at the same time it faced an IMF "cure". The treaty would also open the EU market for Ukrainian products, but to make use of that opportunity many industries will first need to make major investments so that they can produce according to EU standards. Hard to do in a time when there is little money available. And it unlikely that there will be much foreign investment given Ukraine's reputation for corruption. So it was not surprising that after some time the protests subsided.

The next wave of protests came after Yanukovich announced some legislation that regulated protests. Although minor parts were rather restrictive and probably inspired from the Russian example, most of it was just common sense and common in Western countries. In no Western capital, for example, it would be accepted that protesters kept the main square occupied for months.

A third wave arose after during a shooting on the Maidan dozens of people had been killed. The protesters accused Yanukovich, who has always denied. His denials got some support due to the leaked Ashton-Paet telephone conversation where Estonian minister of foreign affairs Paet tells that during a stay in Kiev he was told by a doctor that victims from both sides had the same type of gun wounds - what raised the suspicion that one shooter had targeted both sides. Paet called for an investigation. There is an investigation but it seems very partial and refuses even to keep the family of those who were shot informed. Instead the new government in Kiev has destroyed evidence by cutting bullets-ridden trees in central Kiev.

In the end the focus of the protests came on the corruption of Yanukovich and the lack of economic growth under his reign. This resonated well with the population, who is disgusted by the corruption. However, as the Maidan protesters are dominated by oligarchs too, it is a rather weak argument. Yatsenyuk tried to make it a major issue by claiming that his government would commit "political suicide" by taking a lot of unpopular but necessary measures. Close to two months after he rose to power we have yet to see anything beyond announced IMF measures. Instead of efforts to make the state more efficient so that the budget cuts can be less severe we see the opposite: a boycott of Transdniester that costs Ukraine money, extra expenses for the army and a confrontational policy with the East that keeps tension high and investment low.

The one thing that remained constant during the protests was that it was against Yanukovich. They protested against someone, not for something. This and their methods showed great similarity with the color revolutions. And indeed it has been reported that many of the people involved in the Maidan Revolution were also involved in the 2005 Orange Revolution. And just as in 2005 now too there have been claims that the uprising was coordinated from the US embassy.

Another aspect of the revolution was treacherousness. First the insurgents used an armistice to occupy government buildings in other cities. And when an agreement was made for early elections they used the agreed withdrawal of security forces as an opportunity to grab power immediately. This didn't show much respect for the other side. More importantly perhaps, it created a climate of contempt and distrust that clouds the present situation.

Revolutionary revenge

When the revolution had acquired power it didn't start an extensive reform program. Neither did it make any effort to make up with those it had vanquished so that the situation stabilized and the country could refocus again on its economy. Instead we saw a revengeful revolution. Many people have been fired from their jobs for being pro-Yanukovich. And despite the fact that Yanukovich's relations with Russia were mediocre he was painted as a Russian pawn and the revolutionaries indulged in a number of anti-Russian measures. They initiated a boycott against Transdniester, adopted a law to degrade the status of the Russian language (stopped by the president) and fielded proposals to throw the Russians out of their Crimean bases on some flimsy pretext.

We are told that in May there will be presidential elections so that from then on there can be no doubt about the legality of the president. However, this legality will be doubtful when the elections take place in a climate of violence and intimidation. Do we really believe that the people from Right Sektor would accept it if of a candidate from the Party of the Regions wins?

Trouble in the East

In March came the annexation of Crimea by Russia. We still don't know what motivated this. Had the Russians intelligence that Kiev's new rulers were serious about throwing them out of their bases? Were they really worried about maltreatment of Russians?

Another interpretation is that Russia expects that the new rulers will make Ukraine a kind of de facto NATO member and want to limit the damage. There are some indications that this might be indeed the case. The cleansing of the Ukrainian security sector is advertised as removing Russian spies but the effect is also to create the framework for a de facto West-Ukrainian dictatorship and that might be the real goal. The DCFTA agreement contains a clause that states a desire for "convergence of positions on bilateral,regional and international issues of mutual interest, taking into account the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) of the European Union, including the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)". This interpretation might explain the present events in East Ukraine. Full NATO membership is unlikely as that requires that a country has full control over its territory.

Another scenario is that Russia's primary goal is pressure to force Kiev to adopt a friendlier attitude. In that case Kiev's aggressive reaction in the East is counterproductive as it forces the pro-Russians to expand the building occupations in order to prevent them from being crushed. It antagonizes the population and might even force Russia to do further annexations.

The US plays an unclear role too. It could easily have encouraged Kiev to make a few small concessions to prevent the annexation of Crimea but it didn't. Except for some vague threats with sanctions it stayed calm. One explanation is that it may have wanted the annexation in order to drive a wedge between Russia and Ukraine. Given that the America's Russia policy is in the hands of known Russia haters that option cannot be excluded.

The government in Kiev shows some strange behavior too. It is under the influence of Russia hating extremists from West Ukraine so one can expect some anti-Russian policies. What is less easy to explain is why it never made any serious effort to make up with Russia. It gives me the impression that they are influenced by US advisers.

The armed operations of the Ukrainian government seems to me foolish. Even if they win they will leave the country so divided that it is de facto destroyed.


Kiev has shown very little desire for negotiations. Yatsenyuk has visited the East once and he has talked a bit about decentralization. But he hasn't produced any concrete proposals so he may well be just buying time. The fact that he simultaneously sent troops and even Right Sektor militia to East Ukraine seems to point to the latter. Neither does his talk about the protesters in the East as terrorists and the introduction of draconian anti-terror laws point to a desire for compromise. His flat rejection of federalization - that might help to limit the ethnic strife that helps the oligarchs to maintain control - doesn't show any openness to dialogue either.

The US claims that it wants negotiations too. But it says the same about Syria and we know how the US negotiates on that subject. Fact is that the US hasn't made a single move to push the Ukrainian government towards moderation. Its calls that Moscow should negotiate directly with Kiev sounded insincere as everyone knew that that implied recognition. It could easily have mediated initial contacts so that some common ground could be found on which such recognition could be based, but it didn't.

And so we have three parties - Russia, the Kiev government and the US - whose motives are not clear. That makes very difficult for the other parties to understand what they want to do. This opens the risk of misunderstandings and escalation.

If the Ukrainian government really wants to change the dynamics of the situation it should change its behavior:
- stop sending Right Sektor militia to the East and withdraw those that are there
- end the boycott of Transdniester
- involve the Party of the Regions in the government so that it becomes a national unity government
- stop firing people for being "pro-Yanukovich" or "pro-Russian"
- make a proposal for decentralization and introduce it now. Don't hide behind a referendum.
- stop introducing draconian anti-terror laws directed at those in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Ukraine veterans causing problems

We read a lot in the Western press about Western Muslim extremists going to volunteer in support of the uprising in Syria and the fear that when they come back they might use their newly acquired fighting skills to make trouble in their homelands.

Now it appears that we have a similar problem with Ukraine. Western volunteers - mainly neo-fascists - have gone there to help the uprising and now the first report of them making trouble back home has appeared.

Fascist knife attack in Malmö, Sweden on the night of International Women's Day

Late last night [8 March] several people were attacked in central Malmö by members of the fascist Svenskarnas Parti (Swedes Party). They were on their way home after having taken part in celebrations for International Women's Day.
According to witnesses at the scene, a high ranking member of the Swedes Party - Andreas Carlsson, was involved in the attempted murder. He was seen attacking feminists with a knife. Andreas Carlsson is one of the members of the Swedes Party who travelled down to Kiev as "Ukrainafrivilliga" (Ukraine Volunteers) to support the Svoboda party's efforts in taking power. On Realisten he has reported on the Swedish Nationalist delegation's operation.Some of the delegations participants have stayed, according to their own reports, "to enlist in the Ukrainian army", while Carlsson's group returned to Sweden only a few days before the 8th of March.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Peace between Israel and Palestinians not possible now

I don't believe that a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is possible at the moment. It would mean that the Palestinians would have to publicly resign to the theft of their lands. The wounds are simply too fresh for that. It will take decades before that changes. On the other hand it is understandable that the Israeli's won't sign an agreement when the Palestinians see that only as a step to bring them closer to victory. They have been burned twice this way already: first after the Oslo Agreements and then after their withdrawal from Gaza.

Instead I believe the focus should be on how the Israeli's treat the Palestinians. The continuing theft of Palestinian land on the West Bank and the economic blockade of Gaza and to a lesser extent also the West Bank are both unfair and a violation of international law.

Unfortunately the Palestinians have little leverage to change their situation outside violence and seeking international recognition. But neither will be really helpful. Violence will only backfire - like it has done in the past - and worsen their position. More international recognition is nice but the US will do anything to prevent that it really hurts. Outside pressure by the US could do the job for the Palestinians to at least improve their lives but unfortunately Obama is wasting his leverage on vainglorious peace talks instead of aiming for concrete goals.

Israel should gradually reduce its presence on the West Bank. However, to prevent any triumphalism on the Palestinian side, this should happen gradually.

In the mean time the whole negotiations look more and more like a shadow play where both sides try to avoid to be blamed in the press for obstructing the negotiations.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Turkey considers starting war with Syria with false flag operation

Many Western media have reported that Turkey is forbidding Youtube. Unfortunately few have discussed the two videos that is the reason for that prohibition. As the Today's Zaman website has already disappeared I think it is important to spread the text as wide as possible.

The video is an allegedly leaked phone conversation between intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, FM Ahmet Davutoğlu, FM undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and General Yaşar Güler. They discuss the possibility of false flag attack on the Suleiman Shah Tomb that should serve as an excuse to invade Syria.

Suleiman Shah Tomb is a Turkish enclave in Syria's Raqqa province some 35 kilometer from the Turkish border. It is the assumed grave of the grandfather of the first Turkish sultan. When Syria was separated from Turkey Turkey was allowed to keep this grave. It is guarded by some 25 Turkish soldiers and officially Turkish territory.

Raqqa province is mostly ISIS territory and ISIS has made some threats against the grave. Yet the gentlemen in the phone conversation see that only as an opportunity.

Translated transcript:


Ahmet Davutoğlu:
“Prime Minister said that in current conjuncture, this attack (on Suleiman Shah Tomb) must be seen
as an opportunity for us.”
Hakan Fidan:
“I’ll send 4 men from Syria, if that’s what it takes. I’ll make up a cause of war by ordering a missile
attack on Turkey; we can also prepare an attack on Suleiman Shah Tomb if necessary.”
Feridun Sinirlioğlu:
“Our national security has become a common, cheap domestic policy outfit.”
Yaşar Güler:
“It’s a direct cause of war. I mean, what’re going to do is a direct cause of war.”

Ahmet Davutoğlu: I couldn’t entirely understand the other thing; what exactly does our foreign
ministry supposed to do? No, I’m not talking about the thing. There are other things we’re supposed
to do. If we decide on this, we are to notify the United Nations, the Istanbul Consulate of the Syrian
regime, right?
Feridun Sinirlioğlu: But if we decide on an operation in there, it should create a shocking effect. I
mean, if we are going to do so. I don’t know what we’re going to do, but regardless of what we
decide, I don’t think it’d be appropriate to notify anyone beforehand.
Ahmet Davutoğlu: OK, but we’re gonna have to prepare somehow. To avoid any shorts on regarding
international law. I just realized when I was talking to the president (Abdullah Gül), if the Turkish
tanks go in there, it means we’re in there in any case, right?
Yaşar Güler: It means we’re in, yes.
Ahmet Davutoğlu: Yeah, but there’s a difference between going in with aircraft and going in with


Yaşar Güler: Maybe we can tell the Syrian consulate general that, ISIL is currently working alongside
the regime, and that place is Turkish land. We should definitely…
Ahmet Davutoğlu: But we have already said that, sent them several diplomatic notes.
Yaşar Güler: To Syria… Feridun Sinirlioğlu: That’s right.
Ahmet Davutoğlu: Yes, we’ve sent them countless times. Therefore, I’d like to know what our Chief
of Staff’s expectations from our ministry.
Yaşar Güler: Maybe his intent was to say that, I don’t really know, he met with Mr. Fidan.
Hakan Fidan: Well, he did mention that part but we didn’t go into any further details.
Yaşar Güler: Maybe that was what he meant… A diplomatic note to Syria?
Hakan Fidan: Maybe the Foreign Ministry is assigned with coordination…


Ahmet Davutoğlu: I mean, I could coordinate the diplomacy but civil war, the military…
Feridun Sinirlioğlu: That’s what I told back there. For one thing, the situation is different. An
operation on ISIL has solid ground on international law. We’re going to portray this is Al-Qaeda,
there’s no distress there if it’s a matter regarding Al-Qaeda. And if it comes to defending Suleiman
Shah Tomb, that’s a matter of protecting our land.
Yaşar Güler: We don’t have any problems with that.
Hakan Fidan: Second after it happens, it’ll cause a great internal commotion (several bombing events
is bound to happen within). The border is not under control…
Feridun Sinirlioğlu: I mean, yes, the bombings are of course going to happen. But I remember our
talk from 3 years ago…
Yaşar Güler: Mr. Fidan should urgently receive back-up and we need to help him supply guns and
ammo to rebels. We need to speak with the minister. Our Interior Minister, our Defense Minister.
We need to talk about this and reach a resolution sir.
Ahmet Davutoğlu: How did we get specials forces into action when there was a threat in Northern
Iraq? We should have done so in there, too. We should have trained those men. We should have sent
men. Anyway, we can’t do that, we can only do what diplomacy…
Feridun Sinirlioğlu: I told you back then, for God’s sake, general, you know how we managed to get
those tanks in, you were there.
Yaşar Güler: What, you mean our stuff?
Feridun Sinirlioğlu: Yes, how do you think we’ve managed to rally our tanks into Iraq? How? How did
manage to get special forces, the battalions in? I was involved in that. Let me be clear, there was no
government decision on that, we have managed that just with a single order.


Yaşar Güler: Well, I agree with you. For one thing, we’re not even discussing that. But there are
different things that Syria can do right now. Ahmet Davutoğlu: General, the reason we’re saying no this operation is because we know about the
capacity of those men.
Yaşar Güler: Look, sir, isn’t MKE (Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation) at minister’s
bidding? Sir, I mean, Qatar is looking for ammo to buy in cash. Ready cash. So, why don’t they just
get it done? It’s at Mr. Minister’s command.
Ahmet Davutoğlu: But there’s the spot we can’t act integratedly, we can’t coordinate.
Yaşar Güler: Then, our Prime Minister can summon both Mr. Defence Minister and Mr. Minister at
the same time. Then he can directly talk to them.
Ahmet Davutoğlu: We, Mr. Siniroğlu and I, have literally begged Mr. Prime Minster for a private
meeting, we said that things were not looking so bright.


Yaşar Güler: Also, it doesn’t have to be crowded meeting. Yourself, Mr. Defence Minister, Mr.
Interior Minister and our Chief of Staff, the four of you are enough. There’s no need for a crowd.
Because, sir, the main need there is guns and ammo. Not even guns, mainly ammo. We’ve just talked
about this, sir. Let’s say we’re building an army down there, 1000 strong. If we get them into that war
without previously storing a minimum of 6-months’ worth of ammo, these men will return to us after
two months.
Ahmet Davutoğlu: They’re back already.
Yaşar Güler: They’ll return to us, sir.
Ahmet Davutoğlu: They’ve came back from… What was it? Çobanbey.
Yaşar Güler: Yes, indeed, sir. This matter can’t be just a burden on Mr. Fidan’s shoulders as it is now.

It’s unacceptable. I mean, we can’t understand this. Why?


Ahmet Davutoğlu: That evening we’d reached a resolution. And I thought that things were taking a
turn for the good. Our…
Feridun Sinirlioğlu: We issued the MGK (National Security Council) resolution the day after. Then we
talked with the general…
Ahmet Davutoğlu: And the other forces really do a good follow up on this weakness of ours. You say
that you’re going to capture this place, and that men being there constitutes a risk factor. You pull
them back. You capture the place. You reinforce it and send in your troops again.
Yaşar Güler: Exactly, sir. You’re absolutely right.
Ahmet Davutoğlu: Right? That’s how I interpret it. But after the evacuation, this is not a military
necessity. It’s a whole other thing.


Feridun Siniroğlu: There are some serious shifts in global and regional geopolitics. It now can spread
to other places. You said it yourself today, and others agreed… We’re headed to a different game
now. We should be able to see those. That ISIL and all that jazz, all those organizations are extremely
open to manipulation. Having a region made up of organizations of similar nature will constitute a
vital security risk for us. And when we first went into Northern Iraq, there was always the risk of PKK
blowing up the place. If we thoroughly consider the risks and substantiate… As the general just said…
Yaşar Güler: Sir, when you were inside a moment ago, we were discussing just that. Openly. I mean,
armed forces are a “tool” necessary for you in every turn.
Ahmet Davutoğlu: Of course. I always tell the Prime Minister, in your absence, the same thing in
academic jargon, you can’t stay in those lands without hard power. Without hard power, there can
be no soft power.


Yaşar Güler: Sir.
Feridun Sinirlioğlu: The national security has been politicized. I don’t remember anything like this in
Turkish political history. It has become a matter of domestic policy. All talks we’ve done on defending
our lands, our border security, our sovereign lands in there, they’ve all become a common, cheap
domestic policy outfit.
Yaşar Güler: Exactly.
Feridun Siniroğlu: That has never happened before. Unfortunately but…
Yaşar Güler: I mean, do even one of the opposition parties support you in such a high point of
national security? Sir, is this a justifiable sense of national security?
Feridun Sinirlioğlu: I don’t even remember such a period.


Yaşar Güler: In what matter can we be unified, if not a matter of national security of such
importance? None.
Ahmet Davutoğlu: The year 2012, we didn’t do it 2011. If only we’d took serious action back then,
even in the summer of 2012.
Feridun Sinirlioğlu: They were at their lowest back in 2012.
Ahmet Davutoğlu: Internally, they were just like Libya. Who comes in and goes from power is not of
any importance to us. But some things…
Yaşar Güler: Sir, to avoid any confusion, our need in 2011 was guns and ammo. In 2012, 2013 and
today also. We’re in the exact same point. We absolutely need to find this and secure that place. Ahmet Davutoğlu: Guns and ammo are not a big need for that place. Because we couldn’t get the
human factor in order…



Yaşar Güler: I mean on which subject will we be able to act together? If we can’t act together for national security, on which subject will we act together? None.

Ahmet Davutoğlu: We did not do it on 2012, 2011. If we could make bold decisions on 2012..

Feridun Sinirlioğlu: They were at their weakest on 2012.

Ahmet Davutoğlu: It was like Libya inside. People were rising and falling and changing but it wasn’t our concern.

Yaşar Güler: Sir don’t get me wrong, in 2011 our primary needs were guns and ammo. It’s was the same in 2012 and 2013. We are still at the same point. We need to find them and save this place.

Ahmet Davutoğlu: Guns and ammo are not needed that much there. We couldn’t organize the people, that’s why…


Hakan Fidan: We sent about 2000 trucks full of supply there.

Yaşar Güler: I think guns are not needed there. My personal view is that ammo is needed. Yes sir. Mr. Hakan is here, we said that we could send one general. Mr. Hakan wanted this too. We designated a general and sent him.

Feridun Sinirlioğlu: To be practical, I think our defense minister should sign the documents needed for our people as soon as possible.

Ahmet Davutoğlu: Actually tonight…

Yaşar Güler: Tonight sir, we have no problem.

Feridun Sinirlioğlu: Operation is ordered for tonight.

Yaşar Güler: We sent an operation order message, Mr. Hakan may have knowledge.


Ahmet Davutoğlu: Hakan, if send tanks what are the possible complications?

Hakan Fidan: Without coordination, if we don’t take the power balance into account…

Yaşar Güler: That’s why we want MIT’s cooperation sir.

Hakan Fidan: It’s not possible without armed personnel and capacity.

Yaşar Güler: That’s why we stipulate MIT coordination. There is nothing you should be worried about tonight or for the future. But there is something we must solve in the long run.

Ahmet Davutoğlu: I think about that thing as an option but we couldn’t convince those people. We are planning to enter with tanks. We need to consider ourselves at war after that, but between entering war and that we are operating.


Yaşar Güler: It’s an act of war. What we are going to do is directly an act of war.

Hakan Fidan: Not with Syria.

Yaşar Güler: No the man…

Hakan Fidan: But my point is; we know that two plus two is four. Now if we, I mean that thing there has no strategic importance to us but it’s about our image. I mean if we are going to enter war, let’s plan it and do it. Now my…

Yaşar Güler: We are saying the same thing since day one.


Hakan Fidan: What I can’t accept is, now if we consider using weapons for a tomb like Suleyman Shah, I mean as just 10 acres of Turkish land we risk using weapons, for 22-28 soldiers there, there are thousands of kilometers of Turkish soil, millions of poeple near the border, that why we don’t take that risk.

Feridun Sinirlioğlu: There is an excuse for that…

Hakan Fidan: Using that as an excuse is different.

Yaşar Güler: Foreign Ministry can not find an excuse for the other thing but we can for this…

Hakan Fidan: Look, I’ll tell you something…

Ahmet Davutoğlu: Between us, on the phone prime minister said this (an attack on Suleyman Shah Tomb) must be utilized as an opportunity in this conjuncture.

Hakan Fidan: General look, if we need an excuse I can send four men to the other side, send eight rockets to an empty ground. It’s no problem. We can produce reason. We just need such will. We are displaying a will for war, then we make the same mistake we always do, we think too much.

Feridun Sinirlioğlu: Now it’s ten acres of land. 10 acres of Turkish soil is a great excuse in international law, as for legitimacy if we attack ISIL all the world will back this operation. There is no hesitation.

Yaşar Güler: We have no hesitation.


Feridun Sinirlioğlu: No, I’m saying this to all of us, I mean on that matter…

Yaşar Güler: Our forces there have been ready and waiting for a year sir. It’s not a measure we took yesterday, they have been there for one year.

Hakan Fidan: Why are we waiting for Suleyman Shah, I don’t get it?

Ahmet Davutoğlu: We made every possible diplomatic move.

Feridun Sinirlioğlu: We need an excuse, a solid excuse.

Hakan Fidan: I can produce that, no problem.

Feridun Sinirlioğlu: Producing is another thing, there is already a solid excuse.

Hakan Fidan: We can attack there (Tomb of Suleyman Shah) if needed, we can make them attack there. What I’m trying to understand is…


Feridun Sinirlioğlu: Of course these can be done, we can do everything.

Hakan Fidan: If we are ready to use these, let’s designate time and place and do it.

Ahmet Davutoğlu: Hakan, if you mean there is a lack of strategy and that’s why we need to produce reason, you are right. Against these men…

Official: Sir before that thing happens…

Ahmet Davutoğlu: Ok we’ll move there, I’ll be coming. We cannot tell US foreign ministry again that we need to take harsh measures.

Hakan Fidan: Now sir, what I mean is…

Ahmet Davutoğlu: They will tell us that we couldn’t defend our own lend. We had friendly conversations before, Kerry asked me if we had decided to use force several times before.


Yaşar Güler: Sir we gave, we gave a hundred times. With America…

Feridun Sinirlioğlu: Three days ago general staff held an emergency meeting. I’m seeing that for the first time. The Americans…

Yaşar Güler: No, we do that all the time!

Feridun Sinirlioğlu: No no, Americans distributed No Fly Zone plans in this meeting. Did you know that?

Hakan Fidan: Sir if we are ready to make such an important decision now about the Tomb of Suleyman Shah…

Feridun Sinirlioğlu: No, not just Suleyman Shah.


Hakan Fidan: What I’m saying is, if we are ready to do that, we should have made the decision by now. Because of the threats and profits. I mean weakness as a state and strategic decisions…

Ahmet Davutoğlu: Yes if we did make taht decision on a smaller scale before, we wouldn’t have been forced to make this one today.

Yaşar Güler: No wait, we did make that decision.

Hakan Fidan: It wasn’t carried out.

Yaşar Güler: We can’t carry it out, we are paralyzed for several reasons sir, that’s our problem. State instruments are not working right now.

Ahmet Davutoğlu: Let me be clear; I’ll be looking at my own side, the state manners I was trained for dictates that. Would you accept that if someone told the Foreign Ministry that things are not working because of political debates…


Ahmet Davutoğlu: Such a thing wouldn’t be legitimate! Everyone will carry out what they must with resolution. What would you do if an ambassador told you “They are taking everyone in sir, they might take me in too!”? Won’t we tell him to retire and bring someone else who can do the job? It’s how we should look at this situation. That’s how democracy works.

Yaşar Güler: You are right sir.

Ahmet Davutoğlu: Now the state is driven by a few people and agencies who can make proper decisions. This is…

Yaşar Güler: Definitely sir, definitely.

Ahmet Davutoğlu: Are we going to give up on this?

Yaşar Güler: No sir, we won’t give up.

Ahmet Davutoğlu: Ok, whatever. Let’s move to the other place.

Another transcipt - with both Turkish and English text - can be found here.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Creating facts on the ground

The Western policy towards Ukraine is reminding me more and more of what went went wrong in Yugoslavia. Then as now we see Western countries addicted to creating facts on the ground. And while that sometimes may be a quick way to achieve desired changes there is always a risk that the other side doesn't give in and starts applying the same tactic. And then you are on the brink of war.

In Yugoslavia it started with the secession of Croatia and Slovenia. These republics seceded without following the procedures specified in the Yugoslav constitution that specified mutual agreement. They got support from the Western countries in the form of the "advice" of the Badinter Commission that declared Yugoslavia in "dissolution". Problems arose when the Serbs started to apply similar unilateral tactics.

I don't want to put all the blame on the unilateral secession of Croatia and Slovenia. Before that there were other unilateral acts like Milosevic's takeovers in Montenegro, Kosovo and Vojvodina and his grab into the national bank account. My point is rather that this is an unacceptable type of behavior in modern society and that the Western countries should have gotten the local parties together to find new common rules.

We now see similar processes in Ukraine. First we had the secession of Crimea that very likely was triggered by attempts to throw the Russian navy out of their bases. It may be years - if ever - before we hear the true story. But the first Ukrainian parliamentarians had already asked for a closure of the bases and found all kinds of easy excuses. What happened behind the screens is unknown to us but will have been known to Russian intelligence. But it is clear that the Americans have a huge influence on the present Ukrainian government and are playing dangerous games.

A similar dirty scenario is also playing out regarding Transnistria. Ukraine has closed its border with this area. That puts Transnistria under pressure to make up with Moldova as that is the only other neighbor it has. In the mean time we hear the Americans uttering all kinds of threats and warnings towards the Russians not to interfere.

It looks like we have a madman in the White House who likes to see how close he can get to World War III without falling into it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Strobe Talbott's take on Kosovo

The Washington Post has an OpEd by Strobe Talbott, who was deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration (To understand Putin, look to the past). He offers an interesting view of what happened behind the screens when the Russians occupied the Pristina Airport shortly after the end of the war.

To end the crisis, Russian President Boris Yeltsin sent an envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, to Belgrade to pressure Milosevic into withdrawing his troops from Kosovo and accepting an international peacekeeping force that would include Russian units under U.S. command so as not to be formally part of NATO.

In June 1999, I led a team from the State Department, White House and Pentagon to coordinate final plans for the operation. Soon after landing, we sensed trouble. Chernomyrdin was politically isolated. His military minder, Gen. Leonid Ivashov, was in virtual mutiny against the deal on joint Russian-NATO deployment.

Yeltsin, we were told, was “indisposed,” a word accompanied by knowing looks that translated as drunk. The civilian officials we met with were visibly unnerved at the possibility of a military coup.

The one exception was Putin, whom I met for the first time. As head of the Kremlin security council, he was on the first rung of the ladder he would climb quickly to the presidency.

In our meeting, he managed to seem both relaxed and on guard. He subtly but unmistakably put distance between himself and Chernomyrdin. His personal touches were pointed. For no reason other than to show he had read my KGB dossier, he dropped the names of two Russian poets I had studied in college.

During the meeting, my State Department colleague Victoria Nuland (now assistant secretary of state for Europe) passed me a note saying that Gen. Ivashov had just issued a threat to our Pentagon companions — who were in a meeting at the defense ministry — that the Russian army might break from NATO and deploy into Kosovo on its own, thereby turning what was supposed to be a collaborative operation into a confrontation.

When I read Nuland’s note aloud, Putin smugly waved it off and feigned puzzlement about who Ivashov was, which was patently implausible. His overall message was twofold: He knew details from my distant past but wasn’t going to let me know anything about what was happening in the here and now — or what would happen next.

Within hours, several small Russian units that had been monitoring the cease-fire in Bosnia dashed across southern Serbia into Kosovo, cheered as saviors by Serbs along the way.

The Russian foreign ministry issued a denial and then a lame statement about how the rogue operation was an accident. The Russian contingent hunkered down at an airfield outside the capital of Kosovo, while a multinational NATO force rolled in from Macedonia. What looked at first to be a mouse-that-roared farce turned dangerous when it appeared that the Russian military might airlift reinforcements and trigger a shooting war.

Yeltsin reemerged, none too steadily, in time to defuse the crisis and put the original deal back on track. Not until nine years later did Kosovo declare its independence. And, of course, it has not been annexed by Albania.

Putin’s role in that narrowly avoided military collision 15 years ago remains a mystery, but his attitude was clear then and relevant today. During a dangerous power vacuum in Moscow — when partnership between Russia and the West was at the breaking point; when Russian armed forces, fed up with having to make nice with NATO, took matters into their own hands and tried to rush to the aid of fellow Slavs — Yeltsin’s soon-to-be handpicked successor seemed to be relishing the moment.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The downside of sanctions against Russia

Sanctions are blackmail. And - as is well known - giving in to blackmail often leads to more blackmail.

This is the dilemma that we see now developing in crisis around Russia and Ukraine. Putin cannot afford to give in to threats with sanctions as that will only lead to more calls for sanctions on other subjects. So it looks like instead he is raising the stakes in the hope that that may force the Americans to finally get real about negotiations.

Unfortunately it looks like both Kerry and Merkel are completely wrapped up in their own logic that the coup in Ukraine was a genuine and legal revolution and that they simply don't understand that Putin sees that differently.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014


I recently read Michael Moore's autobiography "Here comes trouble". In it he tells what happened after he movie "Fahrenheit 9/11" came out. Republican spin doctors studied its effect and found that it had considerable influence on how people thought about Bush and how they planned to vote in the next presidential elections. So they decided that the only thing that would work was to blacken the image or Moore and his movie so much that no well-thinking Republican would even think about going to see it. They did this with quite some success.

Of course this is not the first time such a strategy is used. One can still find some old Republicans who can get red hot about Roosevelt's New Deal. And more recently the same strategy has been employed against Obamacare.

How the Palestinians are selfdestructing

It is well known that Israel keeps stealing Palestinian land in the West Bank and keeps obstructing the Palestinian economy. As a result the BDS movement that wants to stop investment and economic relations with Israeli firms and institutions that are active on the West Bank is increasing strength in Europe and to a lesser extent also in the US.

Yet this has had little effect among the Jewish population in Israel. There few believe in peace with the Palestinians and most want it only under strong conditions.

The Palestinians can only thank themselves for this. After the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and after the Oslo Agreement that brought a partial withdrawal from the West Bank they saw an increase in Palestinian violence. So they have become skeptical.

The Palestinians claim that they have recognized Israel. They have: on paper. But they like to keep believing that one day that Jewish state will be gone. For them withdrawal is only a sign of weakness that invites to bring on more pressure. This attitude can also be seen in Palestinian school books that keep a very negative view of Israel.

Truly recognizing Israel will mean accepting that most Palestinians will never return to Israel. It will mean recognizing that they will never get back the houses and lands that were stolen from them in 1948 or 1967. It means recognizing that Israel is and will stay a Jewish majority state. Yes, it is unfair. But sometimes life is unfair. Thinking that a better deal is available is fooling yourself.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Ukraine is a different kind of test for Obama than most think

Many articles mention that Ukraine is a test for Obama. Usually they mean that the test is whether he is tough enough. In fact the test is the opposite: whether he can resist the pressure of the Republican extremists to escalate the situation.

There is always pressure on presidents who are generally perceived as weak - specially the liberals - to show that they are strong. Often they succumb. Kennedy had his Pigs Bay invasion. Johnson had his escalation in Vietnam. And by making trouble in Libya, Syria and Ukraine Obama is already near the top of the list of most aggressive presidents ever.

It is easy to have liberal ideals. But liberals often lack a clear vision of what the national interests are and that makes them an easy victim for extremists who claim the aren't doing enough to protect those interests.

In Ukraine the Russians have two interests: the position of the Russian population and the Russian bases. As neither is seriously disputed in the West there shouldn't be a problem.

Unfortunately US foreign policy is in the hands of neocons like Victoria Nuland. Like all bullies their aim is to harm Russia no matter how and they are boasting against each other about their achievements. Obama has given them a free hand and they have achieved their regime change and they are now pushing their new puppets to take some anti-Russian measures.

Now they have crossed Russia's red lines and Russia has taken some steps to make sure everyone understands that it means business. Obama reacts like a deer in headlights. He seems incapable of taking the initiative back and formulate some sensible policies and instead allows himself to be caught in a senseless discussion about sanctions.

Revolutions are like heroin

Revolutions are like heroin. They give you a short artificial feeling of happiness and after that you end up addicted and longing for more. In the mean time you neglect the hard work that could bring you real happiness and you sink from one low to another.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Three extremist Poles keep the Cold War going

Anti-Russian sentiments have always been strong in Poland but they have never been as influential as they are now.

In the US America's Russia policy is dominated by Zbignew Brzezinski on the democrat side and Richard Pipes on the Republican side. Both are now very old (85 resp. 90 years) but through they are still influential. And through their academic career they have formed a generation of US academics and diplomats who see Russia as the cradle of evil instead of just another country. Both men are Poles. They arrived in the US in resp 1938 and 1940.

Many of Obama's foreign policy appointments are Brzezinski pupils. And his policy of trouble making at Russia's doorstep that we now see in Ukraine is a carbon copy of Brzezinski's trouble making in Afghanistan in order to provoke Russia.

In the EU the situation isn't much better. In the Ukrainian crisis EU policy is dominated by the Polish foreign minister Sikorski, who is a well known Russia hater.

It is a common problem that in big empires policies can get dominated by a very small group of extremists. The Floridan anti-Cuba lobby in the US is a famous example. In the case of Russia however, the stakes are much bigger. It is time our politicians take their responsibility and sideline the extremists.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ukraine gets the Yugoslav treatment

Remember Yugoslavia? First you had the West encouraging Slovene and Croat protest while Milosevic was painted as a dictator. Now the same is happening In Ukraine.

Remember how the Habsburg past of Croatia and Slovenia was glorified as a sign that they had completely different values as the Byzantine Serbs? Now something similar is happening in Ukraine.

Remember how the Croats and Slovenes were encouraged first to ignore the central government and then also to take up arms against it? The same is now happening in Ukraine. In both cases the "pro-European" violence is condoned - and its fascist elements ignored - while any government repression is severely criticized and sanctioned.

I am sorry to see how the US and the EU are driving yet another country towards civil war.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Some thoughts on reforming Bosnia

I won't address here the complaints of the rioters in Bosnia. Addressing corruption is mainly hard work: both keeping up the pressure in individual cases and pushing for structural reforms. Instead I will focus on Bosnia's state structure and its potential for reform.

As I have written before the main problem with Dayton is not that it provides safeguards for minority rights - that is just a decent thing to do in view of the hatred remaining after the war - but the fact that it is done in a different way for the Serbs and the Croats. That creates a situation where you have three parties with three different interests.

In my opinion the best way to reform Bosnia is to partition it in six provinces: one Croat majority, two Serb majority (focused on Pale and Banja Luka) and three Bosniak majority: (one centered on Sarajevo, one centered on Tuzla and one composed of Bihac and the Bosnian Krajna). Having more than one Serb and Bosniak province will create a situation where those provinces have different interests. So a conflict between provinces will not automatically be translated into an ethnic dispute.

Those provinces should have considerable autonomy: one should look at the Swiss cantons for ideas. Such decentralization can also reduce corruption as it puts the decisions closer to the citizens.

One shouldn't be too strict about the borders of those provinces. This is not a preparation for a partition. So one shouldn't gerrymander the borders too much as that harms government efficiency. Instead one should try to balance the number of people of a nationality within "their" provinces and those outside so that - if there ever might be a partitioning - you can have an equal exchange of territory.

The three headed presidency should be abolished. The ethnic veto should instead be entrusted to the provinces. When two thirds of the parliamentarians of the provinces of one ethnic group declare themselves against a proposal of the central government it should be considered vetoed. For this purpose those parliamentarians should considered in function as long as their successors haven't been elected. So dissolving a provincial parliament would make no difference. The governors of the provinces would have the authority to hold up any decision of the central government for a week so that the provincial parliamentarians have time to organize themselves. To diminish the reliance on politicians there should also be the option to have a referendum. Again a two third majority of the people living in the province(s) controlled by one ethnic group would be needed to torpedo a proposal.

By having the veto power assigned to the provinces one won't need any reference to ethnicity in the constitution.

In the area of education there should be more freedom and more efforts to have things in common. Pupils should learn at least some of the things that the "others" learn and they should also read some literature from the "others". Efforts to maximize the differences should be ridiculed - as they deserve.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Deja vu in Ukraine

What is happening now in Ukraine reminds me of what happened in Yugoslavia around 1990. Then too the West demonized the leader of that country (Milosevic - Yanukovich). Then too it supported parts of the opposition that were deemed "reasonable" while in fact their wishes were deeply destabilizing. Just as the push for independence of Croatia and Slovenia blew up Yugoslavia so the attempt of the protesters in Ukraine to overthrow their democratically elected government destabilizes Ukraine.

Similar is also Western propaganda that highlights the mistakes of those leaders. Never mind that most people would make mistakes in such unusual circumstances. Then it was Milosevic's handling of minority questions. Now it Yanukovich's handling of the protests. Yet both were more reasonable than it seems. In the communist era minorities had in theory self rule while below the surface the communist party held the country together. So Milosevic was right that something had to be done when the communist party fell away. Similarly the communist party maintained order with a few very general laws about state security. With the end of communism these fell away but those countries didn't introduce the detailed Western laws that regulate protest. In no Western country would it be possible that protesters held the central square and the city hall of the capital occupied for months. So Yanukovich was right to introduce new laws. He overdid it a bit but no one is perfect.

Of course there is nothing wrong with democratic protests against such measures. And it is only good when that leads to improvements. But democratic protest assumes that the monopoly on violence of the government is respected. What happens in Ukraine looks more like a kind of coup than democratic protest.

The problem for the Ukrainian government is that its police does not have the skills to deal with the kind of highly sophisticated opposition that it is facing now. The situation requires a kind of controlled violence. But the badly trained and disciplined police is bound to use more violence than is strictly necessary. And even then it faces a significant chance that it will loose the battle. And to augment the problem the Western countries are bound to magnify any real or imaginary mistake that they will make.

Yanukovich is corrupt. But so was Berlusconi. Yet no one ever suggested to attack him with the kind of protests that are now happening in Ukraine. Neither is it likely that a victory of the protests in Ukraine will lead to a decrease of corruption. If anything, it will likely lead to an increase, as any oligarch will add organizing protests to his arsenal of tactics to force the government to do his liking.

The intercepted telephone call between US diplomats shows once more what makes US diplomacy so harmful: the "winner" mentality that refuses to understand that democracy is about dialogue and compromise.

The most important thing now in Ukraine is that order is restored. Even if that takes drastic police action. There are things that are more important than democracy.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Garbage dumping in the Balkans and Eastern Europe

An article about the heritage of illegal garbage dumping of often very poisonous garbage by the mafia in Southern Italy ("A Mafia Legacy Taints the Earth in Southern Italy") contains one interesting twist:

General Costa, the environmental police commander, said the Camorra had stopped burying waste a few years ago and was now illegally shipping it to Eastern Europe or the Balkans.

I have yet to see the first report from those areas. Makes me curious how long it will take.

If anyone has concrete information on this subject please tell it me in a reaction to this article!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why minorities are successful

The NY Times has an opinion article (What Drives Success?) that discusses why some minorities succeed and others not. It is a preview of a forthcoming book by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld (“The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.”).

Indian-Americans earn almost double the national figure (roughly $90,000 per year in median household income versus $50,000). Iranian-, Lebanese- and Chinese-Americans are also top-earners. In the last 30 years, Mormons have become leaders of corporate America, holding top positions in many of America’s most recognizable companies. [] Jewish success is the most historically fraught and the most broad-based. Although Jews make up only about 2 percent of the United States’ adult population, they account for a third of the current Supreme Court; over two-thirds of Tony Award-winning lyricists and composers; and about a third of American Nobel laureates.


There are some black and Hispanic groups in America that far outperform some white and Asian groups. Immigrants from many West Indian and African countries, such as Jamaica, Ghana, and Haiti, are climbing America’s higher education ladder, but perhaps the most prominent are Nigerians. Nigerians make up less than 1 percent of the black population in the United States, yet in 2013 nearly one-quarter of the black students at Harvard Business School were of Nigerian ancestry; over a fourth of Nigerian-Americans have a graduate or professional degree, as compared with only about 11 percent of whites.
Cuban-Americans in Miami rose in one generation from widespread penury to relative affluence. By 1990, United States-born Cuban children — whose parents had arrived as exiles, many with practically nothing — were twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to earn over $50,000 a year. All three Hispanic United States senators are Cuban-Americans.
Meanwhile, some Asian-American groups — Cambodian- and Hmong-Americans, for example — are among the poorest in the country, as are some predominantly white communities in central Appalachia.

According to the authors these advantages are not constant:

The fortunes of WASP elites have been declining for decades. In 1960, second-generation Greek-Americans reportedly had the second-highest income of any census-tracked group. Group success in America often tends to dissipate after two generations. Thus while Asian-American kids overall had SAT scores 143 points above average in 2012 — including a 63-point edge over whites — a 2005 study of over 20,000 adolescents found that third-generation Asian-American students performed no better academically than white students

The authors mention three factors that drive success:
- a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality
- insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough
- impulse control

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Peace in Syria: give the Geneva II negotiations a chance

In a few days the Syria peace conference in Montreux will start. The expectations are low. Some of those invited won’t even bother to come. Yet – when conducted properly – the conference could become a first step towards peace.

The local truces
As experienced mediators know, it helps to start with some small and easy issue. Solving such an issue builds trust between the parties and increases the confidence that more intricate problems can be solved too. In the Syrian case the best issue to start with is probably the local truces.

At the moment there are many problems with local truces. The opposition complains that the government arrests and sometimes even executes people – in spite of prior agreements. They also complain that the government sometimes keeps blocking food supplies. The government complains about a divided opposition where people who oppose the armistice continue the violence.

Some of those transgressions may result from acting in bad faith but many are the result of miscommunication and lack of coordination. Much could be gained by changing from an ad hoc approach to a more structural approach in concluding and maintaining such truces. On the government side one could imagine one coordinator for each local truce. Those local coordinators would be overseen by a high level general in Damascus who is able to get things done across different army units. The UN would provide one or more special representatives for the truces who keep track of the developments and mediate when there are problems. The best way to deal with the divisions on the rebel side is to get things running well in those areas where they are not divided. That will make truces a more credible option and will put pressure on those rebels who oppose them. The UN representative should be an Arab general whose rank would enable him to solve problems with his Syrian counterpart. This should put him in a position to deal with spoilers on the government side.

As both the Syrian government and large segments of the opposition see the benefits of the truces it should be possible to solve the problems that arise.

It would be a pity if the mediators would aim an armistice for the whole of Syria. Such armistices didn't work before and they won't work now: there are too many people who oppose them. Aiming for such a national armistice would actually be harmful as the inevitable setback would damage the whole peace process. The only thing that can work is getting local armistices to work and to hope that their success will spread and encourage others to demand for a truce too.

There has been some discussion among the opposition about the merits of local armistices and also humanitarian aid. Opponents claim that local armistices allow Assad to send his soldiers elsewhere and that it diverts the attention from what they see as the core goal of the uprising: to get rid of Assad. Unfortunately they have forgotten the original goal of the uprising: to improve the life of the Syrian people. Correctly implemented those local armistices can serve as laboratory experiments on how Syrians can live together after the conflict.

The future of Syria
Focusing the negotiations on the departure of Assad in an early stage will nearly certain drive both parties into the trenches. People on both sides fear what would happen to them if the other side might win.
Neither elections nor a transitional government can solve this conflict. Just like in Northern Africa they will just create a new arena where the conflict is fought – while the demonstrations and armed attacks will continue. The conflict can only be solved with long and tough negotiations. The more the parties find common ground the less there is to fear.

On the other hand – once such negotiations decrease the tension – the question whether Assad should go will become less relevant. Many who hate him will see that improvements are possible while he is still there and many who see him as a guarantee for security will become less afraid of what will happen once he leaves.

Transitional governments have proved problematic in Northern Africa. As they are attacked by both sides they tend to be so weak that under their supervision the economic and security problems of the country steadily deteriorate. Neither are they capable of introducing the reforms that are necessary to really end the dictatorship. Transitional governments work best in situations with warlords who are respected by nobody. But in situations like Syria a large part of the population supports one of the sides. Instead of looking for the rare and often isolated figures who are acceptable to both sides it may be better to gradually introduce opposition people in the Assad government - while simultaneously removing its most controversial members.

So the talks about how the future of Syria should look need to happen in Montreux and Geneva. It is there that the parties should compose a new constitution and should find a way to end the war. These issues cannot be handed off to some transitional government.

The first step towards a common future will to restore believe that it is possible. This will involve both small successful steps and discussions about the big picture. The next step will be the discussion of concrete policies that should be changed: from security reforms to economic reforms. Only when in that area concrete results have been booked will it make sense to discuss political reforms and democratization beyond what is needed for the first two goals.

Given the workload it is unlikely that the negotiations will bring a solution within a few days. However, if the mediating countries can resist the temptation of quick fixes like a transitional government or a national truce, chances are good that the conference can bring hope that in the end a solution will be found. Let’s go for that.