Friday, April 24, 2015

John Brennan - key figure in the Obama administration

Buzzfeed has a portrait ("The Untouchable John Brennan") of John Brennan, the director of the CIA.

Brennan defended torture, played a very important role in the drone killings and managed to get away with spying on the Senate. The key: he has a very close relationship with Obama.

The article also mentions that he spent two periods of several years in Saudi Arabia. It doesn't elaborate on that, but it may very well be the explanation why the Obama administration is so eager to do what the Saudi's want: a.o. in Syria, and now in Yemen.

The Yemen play

Iran advised the Houthi's not to take Sanaa. The Houthi's took it anyway when they found that it was virtually undefended. But for a long time they prefered to stay there and didn't make much effort to conquer the rest of the country.

The main focus of the Houthi's has always been Al Qaeda. One of their motives for their uprising was their perception that Hadi was supporting Al Qaeda and its hate campaign against the Zaydi's. The Houthi's only started their offensive towards the south after the murderous bombing of two Zaydi mosques in Sanaa.

The Zaydi's are "fiver" Shiites and in many ways closer to the Sunni than the Iranian branch of Shiism. They are estimated to constitute around 40% of the Yemeni population. Zaydi kings ruled over northern Yemen for over 1000 years. The Houthi movement consists mostly of Zaydi's but contains also some Sunni's.

Unfortunately for Yemen foreign interventions - always done with money rather than soldiers - are very popular in Saudi Arabia. And after the problematic outcomes in Syria and Iraq they are longing for a success story. Yemen looked like an easy target - and so the new king sought to raise his popularity by targeting it. It doesn't matter that the storyline of Iran-fueled Shiite aggression is fake: the Saudi public opinion loves it.

All signs are that the Houthi's are open to dialogue. But it is much less clear whether the Saudi's are.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The doomed discussion on the Armenian genocide

It is a very human trait not to want to admit your mistakes - especially not when there might be consequences.

Part of the ease with which Germany excused itself for the war crimes in World War II can be explained by the fact that there wouldn't be consequences: the West needed Germany much too much as an ally in the Cold War. It didn't make up with the countries to its east until much later but nobody expected that in the heat of the Cold War.

Japan on the other hand had a more vulnerable position. In its region the Cold War was much less important. And many countries demanded excuses and indemnifications. Taking a humble approach would only result in more demands. So Japan had to adopt a rather strict approach. Sure, they might have been more forthcoming. But there is no way they could have satisfied their former victims.

That brings me to Turkey and the Armenians. Nobody knows what the legal consequences will be when Turkey finally admits that it was built on mass murder. And so one sees that even people who advocate a more open attitude become more reticent when they are in a position of power where they could make a real difference.

In my opinion it is better not to pay too much attention to this genocide question. Normal relations between Turkey and Armenia are much more important. Turkey keeps holding its border with Armenia closed - even though it has promised the EU to open it. Instead of scoring cheap points with the genocide question the EU politicians should put serious effort in pressuring Turkey to finally normalize its relations with Armenia.

Once the two sides agree to treat each other like normal human beings an important barrier has been taken. It may still take decades before they formally agree on what happened during World War I but the discussion will be less tense and more open.

Don't get me wrong: it is important that Turkey one day recognizes what happened. However, I believe that there is very little that pressure can achieve in this respect: a favorable international situation (no tensions with Armenia) and a leader who feels himself strong enough to make such a move are much more important.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Putin's nuclear remarks in the Crimea documentary

There are several fully (2 1/2 hours) subtitled versions of the documentary "Crimea: the way back home" on the internet: This seems to be the official version.

Putin made some comments about nuclear readiness at about 1:30:00 in the documentary and its context is a report about the US destroyer that set course towards Crimea, had the whole of Crimea within the firing range of its Tomahawks and reversed its course when Russia installed their Bastion anti-ship missiles on the Crimea coast as defenses. What the documentary doesn't say is that the Donald Cook only entered the Black Sea on 10 april - long after Russian control over the peninsula had been established. However, the context is still relevant as this was the point where the threat of a confrontation between the US and Russia was most acute. Further in the documentary it is also mentioned that when the Donald Cook was withdrawing from the neighborhood of Crimea some Russian fighter planes flew closely over it. This may well have been a warning that - even outside the range of the Bastion system - it shouldn't do foolish things on Crimea.

Here a transcript of the relevant section. This is from the Liveleak version and not the official translation so it may be wrong on some details:

Q: When you talked with Western leaders was it clear to you right away that there wouldn't be any military interference from their side?
A: Of course not. This couldn't be clear right away. That's why, at the first stage, I had to give certain directions to our armed forces - not only directions but direct orders - about the possible actions of Russia and our armed forces in any possible events.
Q: Do your words imply that our nuclear forces were also put on standby?
A: We were prepared to do that. I talked to the colleagues, and I was open with them, as I am with you now. This is our historic territory. There live Russian people. They are in danger now. We can't leave them alone. It was not us who staged the coup.It was done by the nationalist and the people with far-right views.
You supported them. But where do you live. Thousands of miles away.
But we live here - this is our land. What do want to fight for there? You don't know, do you? But we do know, and we are ready for it. This is an honest and open position. That's the way it is.
So I don't believe anyone wanted to fan some world conflict out of it. But we were not looking for a fight. There simply forced us to take these actions. And I repeat, we were ready for the worst case scenario. But I presumed that it wouldn't happen. It was unnecessary to aggravate the situation too much.

Commentator: Later, in the Ministry of Defense, we were told that at that time some military experts has suggested Vladimir Putin as Commander-in-Chief to use all available means to demonstrate that Russia was ready to protect its national interests. The president replied: although the situation is complex and dramatic, the Cold War is over, and we don't need international crises like Caribbean. Moreover, the circumstances do not require such actions and it would run contrary to our own interests.
As for our nuclear deterrence forces - added the president - they are always on standby anyway.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Neocon idea of conflict resolution

Few people still believe that the Minsk-2 agreement will hold. When the government in Kiev declared that it only would grant autonomy to the Donbass after elections had been held according to its laws it effectively killed the agreement.

In the Minsk-2 agreement Kiev had to make more concessions than in Minsk-1. But as neither the population of the Donbass nor Putin is enthusiastic about continuing the conflict it is still in a strong position. As long as it doesn't go too extreme it has a good chance to more or less imposing how the peace will look like. The main limitation is that it has to look like a compromise – without revenge against those who fought on the “Novorussian” side. So Kiev has very little to win from its confrontational stance while it has a lot to lose: new fighting will bring more death and more destruction.

The real push to undermine Minsk-2 comes from Washington that uses its influence as an ally of the government in Kiev to push it to these decisions. But what does Washington win by obstructing peace?

For the neocons peace is not an important value. They are always pushing for new wars. They see continuing conflicts at Russia's borders - both frozen and hot - as in their interests. They keep Russia busy, cost it a lot of money and help to turn Russia's neighbors against it. It is a familiar pattern that we have seen before in former Yugoslavia and South-Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transdniester. The only kind of conflict resolution that is acceptable to the neocons is victory.

In the early 1990 nationalist Georgian militias committed massive ethnic cleansings among the local minorities. It was against that background that Russia sent in peacekeepers. At that time it made sense and had widespread support within the Caucasus.

The logical next step would have been that Georgia made up with its minorities and some compromise was reached. But it never happened. The US often accuses Russia from obstructing solutions in order to make life hard for its former fellow Soviet Republics. But in fact it has been the Georgian side that has consistently taken extremist positions that made a solution impossible.

Expelled minorities, such as Ossetians who used to live south of Gori, have in theory the opportunity to go back. But in reality bureaucratic red tape makes it nearly impossible. And instead of dialog Georgia has concentrated on intimidation to win its lost territories back: with road blocks, economic sanctions and – in the case of Abkhazia – even terrorist attacks. Predictably this has only antagonized these areas. The political discourse in Georgia doesn't help either: it is very hostile towards Ossetians and Abkhazians.

The US often accuses Russia of maintaining their support for those secessionist provinces as a way to pressure and blackmail Georgia and other former Soviet states. More likely it is the other way around: it is the US that has encouraged Georgia to take an uncompromising and aggressive position. Here too the only acceptable solution for the neocons seems humiliation of Russia – as was tried to achieve in the 2008 war.

Recently Putin has taken some steps to integrate those provinces into Russia. It looks like he has given up on a solution that includes Georgia.

In former Yugoslavia we already saw a similar patterns. In the early 1990s Croatia was more or less forbidden to consider border changes that would do more justice to ethnic interests. After 1999 the same happened with Kosovo.

In Bosnia the Republika Srpska is held in a semi-pariah status. The logical step forward for Bosnia would be a kind of federation with regions in each of which one of the ethnic groups has a great majority. By giving veto power to those regions the explicit veto powers for ethnic groups could be removed from the constitution and a big step towards normalization could be set. This solution has some problems but it looks like these could be overcome. But here too the West – under guidance from the US – has decided that they prefer to let the situation fester. They want their preferred reform – centralization: what would mean defeat for the Serbs – or else nothing.

This brings me back to Ukraine. Just like the Georgian, Moldovan, Croat and Bosnian leaders the Ukrainian leaders have been steady encouraged by the US to take extremist positions. And just like those other leaders they have believed the propaganda and acted accordingly - to the detriment of themselves and their countries.

The pattern of rejecting dialogue and trying to impose solutions with violence that we see now in Ukraine is very familiar to what happened in Georgia.

Recently there are some signals that the EU politicians are becoming somewhat aware of the game that is being played. However, there is still a long way to go before this becomes the dominant story in the Western press.

Monday, April 13, 2015

What US politicians really think about the Ukraine crisis

The article below is a translation of the article Was US-Politiker WIRKLICH ├╝ber die Deutschen in der Ukraine-Krise denken. This article was also quoted in the Spiegel article Victoria Nuland: Amerikas Krawall-Diplomatin.

What US politicians really think about the Ukraine crisis

Munich - 2 februari 2015 - While a bloody war rages, at a security conference in Munich the next dangerous conflict is started. A diplomatic nerve war on the question whether the West should arm the government in Kiev. The adversaries are actually allies: the US against Europe, specially Germany.

Behind the sound proof doors of the conference rooms in Hotel „Bayerischer Hof“ the Americans speak straightly unfavorable about the Germans.

Friday evening, shortly after 19:00 hour. According to BILD-information at the sixth floor in the luxury hotel American four-star-generals, diplomats and high ranking US politicians meet for a confidential conversation in the „Briefing Room“ and vent their mood on the Germans.

• „Defeatist“ a US-Senator calls Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen (56, CDU), because she doesn't believe any more in a victory of the Ukrainians. The word „German defeatist“ can - according to BILD information - be heard several times in this round.

• Obamas top-diplomat for Europa, Victoria Nuland, characterizes the journey of the Chancellor to Putin as „Merkels Moscow-thing“, another US foreign politician speaks about the „Moscow-bullshit“ of the European.

• ANd US-Senator John McCain talks himself into a rage: „History shows us, that dictators will keep taking more if you let them. They will not be dissuaded from their brutal behavior, when you fly to them in Moscow - just as one flew once into this town.“ [a reference to the 1939 Munich conference that is nowadays seen as ineffective appeasement of Hitler - translator].

Merkels diplomatisc initiative in the Ukraine-crisis stands at the center of the American anger. The reason"the Americans don't believe that Putin can be moved to an agreement without massive pressure. But the Europeans don't want to further increase the pressure.

„They fear damage for their economy and counter-sanctions from the Russians“, says Nuland. „It is painful to see that our NATO-partner are getting cold feet“, says another US-politiciancaccording to BILD-information.

It is Obamas close confident Victoria Nuland, who at this kick-off evening whips up her American colleagues: „We can fight against the European, fight them rhetorically ...“

Several US-politicians seem to hesitate about arming Kiev. One asks whether this is "just a tactic", a "false promise" to get the Europeans to put more pressure on Putin. „No, it is not a tactic to prod the Eurpeans“, Nuland answers dryly. „We will also not send four divisions in Ukraine, as the Europeans fear. This is about a rather moderate supply of anti-tank arms.“

„But what will we tell the Europeans, when we really decide in favor of arms deliveries?“, asks a US member of Congress. „What is then our story?“

► Nato-Commandant General Philip Breedlove is also present at the meeting. He answers: „We would not be able to deliver so many weapons that Ukraine can defeat Russia. This is not our goal. But we must try to raise the price for Putin at the battle field and delay this whole problem so that sanctions and other measures can do their work.“

Again chips in Nuland, who is fuent in Russian and served Dick Cheney as security advisor: „I must fervently ask you to use the expression defensive arms, that we will supply against Putin's offensive arms.“

► General Breedlove explains the US-Politicians, how such arms deliveries could look in reality: „Russian artillery kills by far the most Ukrainian soldiers. So they need systems with which they can locate this artillery and quickly return fire. The communication of the Ukrainians become either disrupted or completely intercepted. So they need interception-proof communication devices. Then I am not going to talk about some anti-tank missiles, but we see massive supply movements from Russia to Ukraine. The Ukrainians need the ability to stop these transports. And then I would add a few small, tactical drones. "

Brisant: The planned weapons and systems are technically so demanding that US troops would probably need to train the Ukrainian army. Thus, the United States would intervene with their own troops in the conflict.

The last time there was so much disagreement between Europeans and Americans at the Munich security conference was in 2003 - shortly before the Iraq War. Tomorrow Chancellor Angela Merkel travels to US-president Barack Obama in Washington. They have much to discuss ...