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April 2007 Country Archive

PUBLISHERS OVERVIEW APRIL '07

CONDALEEZZA'S DASH FOR REDEMPTION
Early in 2007 we are discovering that the Bush administration after six disastrous years of foreign policy has taken a new course, one that has already shown signs of alleviating two out of four of Bush/Cheney's seemingly dead-end positions. This describes NORTH KOREA, plus the longstanding Israel & Palestine misery. To be sure, it leaves an implacably dire situation in IRAQ but maybe - just maybe, after the initial success of NORTH KOREA, we spot the beginnings of a new approach to IRAN

There can be no doubt that Condaleezza Rice with a re-invigorated State Department at her back is now in charge of foreign policy, which Colen Powell never seemed to be, whilst the old stage villain, Richard. B. Cheney's White House star was on the rise. Now that is finally waning, it can be seen that his combination of innate thuggery allied to the neocon's ideological precepts, has resulted in untold damage to the international reputation and respect in which the USA was formerly held, and yet has advanced the nation's cause not at all! 

He still maintains that the fighting in IRAQ is all about defeating al Qaeda fighters, numbered in their scores or low hundreds, which in real terms in that country has always been a sideshow, outclassed by the tens of thousands of killers across the nation, actively engaged in sectarian mass murder against fellow Iraqis of a different sect of Islam. 

Condaleezza when National Security Advisor, it should be remembered, was inevitably besmirched with the brush of the IRAQ war. She is, in political terms, a relatively young woman, certainly at one time seen as a potential candidate for a future presidential bid. Whilst George W Bush hopefully now will think in terms of the history books, she has almost two years remaining at the centre of international affairs, to rescue her reputation. No longer shackled by the Cheney-Rumsfeld partnership, she can follow the policies put forward by the talented specialists at Foggy Bottom, no longer intolerably squeezed by a doctrinaire White House Executive. 

NORTH KOREA as a front-running problem seems to have succumbed to a dose of pragmatism from Washington, as our report identifies, across several issues. The approach now is to heal and to solve problems, not as hitherto to confront and rejoice in division, as a precursor for using the military option. 

IS THIS MORE 'CREATIVE INTELLIGENCE'?
It emerges as we report, that the intelligence leading to the 'second nuclear crisis' of NORTH KOREA, occurring during Bush /Cheney, is now considered 'suspect'. The suspicion is there of politically-engendered 'creative intelligence,' on the North Korean 'bomb', emerging from White House treatment of the product of the US Intelligence community. It may have been running in parallel (2002), with that of the 'disappearing Iraqi WMD'. The Executive assertion of that time is now under renewed scrutiny. It was, as we describe this month in detail, that NORTH KOREA had a second and concealed line of approach - that of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU), in addition to the plutonium that everyone knew about. This 'discovery,' for which it now appears no evidence has ever been produced, overturned the quite satisfactory pre-emptive nuclear solution already in place that was brokered by Clinton. This change of course, as can be seen, led to a direct line of consequences resulting in NORTH KOREA in 2006 demonstrating its ownership of a 'bomb.' We lay all this out in this month's Update for that nation.

As to the Palestinian-Israel deadlock, now probably the oldest conflict in the world, Condaleezza is clearly engaged, as earlier within the administration was never the case. We reported long ago that back in 2000, Colen Powell pressed unsuccessfully for a clear mandate from Bush /Cheney to proceed with peace-making in this dispute, but could not get it. They maintained that they were first going to reconsider every foreign policy initiative pursued by Clinton and that this would take time. Many people observing the scene thought that Powell should eventually have used the resignation card - but he did not! Meanwhile over the years, with Cheney's office and that of Sharon in daily communication, it was clear then that US policy on Palestine had become whatever Sharon, backed by the US-Israeli lobby, decided it would be. 

Our report on SYRIA picks up the story this month on this core dispute, but for us it is fortunate timing that we commence reporting monthly the affairs of SAUDI ARABIA which suddenly - and not before time, has become an involved player, as was made manifest at the Arab League Summit in late March. Back in 2002, the Saudis came up with a similar wide-ranging proposition as they did a week ago about the two state formula for peace. What was then brusquely dismissed not only by Israel, but by the White House, is back on the agenda with a new lease of life, both in Jerusalem and WDC.

Not only in the Palestine mess, but also in the confrontation with IRAN, the Saudis have made their presence felt. It can be reasonably assumed that if Shia IRAN were ever to have the bomb (which we discount on the pragmatic grounds that Israel could never allow it), then the Saudis, the major Sunni power in the region would feel the need to match it - with the best that money could buy! 

There is another consideration. The west has at government levels demonstrably never fully understood the Arab / Islamic world. Europe got it wrong in the days of empire. The US with its olio-imperial policies seemingly is now taking its turn to screw-up. The military governments of Algeria and Egypt, pressured by them to become exemplars of democracy, both predictably made a hash of the elections designed to achieve this, which in fact massively boosted the cause of political islam. What more needs to be said in terms of political misjudgement, than to point to the inept decisions and unrealistic assumptions that led to the invasion of IRAQ

Those imperial times of the first half of the 20th C, the balmy days of Sykes-Picot carving up the Ottoman empire, are long gone, but one feels that it is Washington that now seeks to move the pieces around the board without recognizing that it has neither the right, nor the competence to do that. 

REDRAWING A BROKEN IRAQ 
Our IRAQ report continues the wretched story of the failed intervention with no credible political hope on the horizon. We have long concluded that the remaining years / months of an allied military presence should be used in shepherding stranded civilian communities into ethnically and religiously safe zones. All the time not spent doing that is being wasted! This in preparation for the three federated portions into which this country should return, as in the days before a misguided British Colonial Office tried to make a unified kingdom out of three Ottoman provinces. It was indeed a creation of the experienced imperial British in 1921, to make a client Hashemite kingdom out of the Ottoman Velayets of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul. This combination soon skewed off-course as the kingdom imploded into a series of totalitarian governments, within an all-pervading atmosphere of continuing violence, from that time on. Those are the origins of the 'sacred' borders of IRAQ, not yet a century old, over which Saddam went to war with IRAN. Let realism prevail! Baghdad's Green Zone could be the federal capital and the rest pragmatically enclaved, whilst the three federated provinces take shape. This at least, together with a federal constitution which it should be assumed, would be subject to revisions later, would make a worthwhile purpose to the allied military presence as long as that is to last. 

ENTER SADDAM MARK II
If the present scene of sectarian murder has to taper off (of which it shows no signs), before the Allies can declare victory and leave, it will follow a newly confident Iraqi military being able to control 'the streets', or slug it out with enormous well armed militias like Moktada al-Sadr's Mahdi army. If that were to happen, how long before the regular or militia generals take over and remove the quarreling politicians? This is how the Baath and Saddam achieved power. Then many thousands of lives later, a stable dictatorship would have been restored and all the high-flown idealistic calls to duty would dissipate, as the political realities turned full circle. 

Time spent in pursuing other 'victory' targets seems wasted. It seems so obvious. What Iraqi can anymore feel that he is first a citizen of IRAQ rather than a Sunni, a Shiite, or a Kurd? The responsible way forward now, before the western troops eventually leave, is to avoid a Pakistan-India type of post-independence bloodbath, when citizens scrambled too late to rejoin their ethnic kin; or a Serbian-style armed bid by whoever controls the army, for bloody supremacy over the other less well-armed resident minorities in their shared territory. 

One certain outcome of the IRAQ shambles is that whatever the chancelleries of the west propose regarding middle-eastern frontiers and political settlements, it is the middle- eastern nations themselves that finally will dispose. Westerners think in the tidy terms of nation states as political entities. The Saudi King Abdullah at the Arab League, got to the heart of the difference when he referred to himself and the others there at the summit, as the leaders of the Arab Nation. That simple distinction speaks volumes about the mismatch of perceptions between west and middle-east. 

SAUDI ARABIA 
We are pleased to announce that we will from our next issue (May) onwards, be carrying Updates, to the lengthy initial Background & History that appears in this issue. The timing of our coverage of SAUDI ARABIA was influenced by the fact that 'The Kingdom' is rapidly becoming a player, no longer just a bystander, in the affairs of its region and of the Arab world. These include a just solution to the Palestinian problem; a balancing to be done where the so-called Shia triangle is concerned; a potential nuclear IRAN which would almost certainly be matched by a nuclear-armed SAUDI ARABIA; the obvious threat to them of a lawless IRAQ on their long joint frontier. All of these are the spur to proactive involvement, but there is something else. Leadership in the Arab world, which at one time would be looked for from Egypt a pensioner of the US, has subtly passed to Saudi Arabia, nobody's pensioner. Moreover in an oil-obsessed world, this is a substantial power in its own right, capable unilaterally by its swing position as the leading world supplier, of changing the world economy. That is muscle! Not for nothing does George W Bush hold hands in a very un-Texan way, with those Saudi Princes that come to call.

SYRIA : WINDS OF CHANGE
If there were such a creature as a 21stC Bismark, one feels that he /she would long ago have homed in on detaching SYRIA from the embrace of IRAN. Interestingly, whilst the US State Department under Condaleezza Rice may or may not be more inclined to look down that road, we hear stories of ever so discreet negotiations going on between SYRIA directly with Israel. Just as we are confident that IRAN will never have a nuclear weapon because given the Goebbels-like outpourings of Ahmedebad, Israel would not and could not allow it to happen, (notwithstanding in the final analysis, the tutelage of the USA). So, it could be that if Israel considers that an all-round peace package which includes returning the Golan Heights to SYRIA is worthwhile, then that initiative might trump all others

TURKEY: THE TUG OF THE OLD AND THE LURE OF EUROPE
Now getting into serious presidential and parliamentary election mode, we observe and explain the tugging and pushing whilst TURKEY's elite try to resolve whether they are about modernising, en route to the European Union, or maintaining the balance of power, as exemplified by the penetration of religion into the politics of this secular state. Against all our own expectations we find that the moderate islamic party of the prime minister has been doing many of the right things and has not 'sold the pass' of secularism. But we also understand that were it not for the guardians of the Kemalist inheritance, that might not be so. A European Union that is firmly secular, to the extent of denying the papal lobbyists who sought to include a reference to a Christian past at the recent 50th birthday celebrations, is not going to be impressed by any islamist regime in Ankara that can be seen to be interpreting their policies through a religious prism. But there are influential voices in Turkey that see a need to develop an alternative strategy to EU membership to which some feel will they will never be admitted, no matter what hoops they jump through. We have previously reported about the beginnings of a pan-Turkic Commonwealth involving oil states TURKMENISTAN, AZERBAIJAN and KAZAKSTAN.

There are undoubtedly tensions within the various strata of power, but it does seem that islamist parties came into government primarily, because many of the parties and politicians that went before were deeply corrupt and not even very effective. Turks of course are mostly moslem in a society where the meaning of this varies greatly between urban and rural/suburban. Just as the French are catholic and the British protestant, the city-dweller Turk is similar to the west, in that the ancestral religion is closer to a cultural inheritance than a theological one. In rural society and those who have left there for the city shanty towns, religion does take on a more politically significant social role, with results that are not yet fully evaluated. However, the nation as a whole on polling evidence, overwhelmingly by common consent ordains that the political system is to remain secular. 

BANGLADESH IN REFORM MODE
Extraordinary that this country so long at the bottom of the pile by so many international criteria, is undergoing a profound 'risorgimento' in their state and democratic institutions. This has happened because of an election, but one that has not yet taken place!
The equally corrupt government and opposition parties, once again about to carve -up power, had to stand down for an interregnum to enable this election to take place. Then the caretaker government under the president intervened and postponed the elections, as outrageous cheating had become manifest. Suddenly, not only is there to be a more even electoral playing field, there is also a whole reform program in course and BANGLADESH has seldom looked so promising. 

IRAN: OIL, GAS, AND POLITICS 
The US understandably looking for effective sanctions against a recalcitrant IRAN seeking nuclear status in defiance of UN resolutions, naturally homes in on oil and gas, easily the main element of the Iranian economy. But the US buys neither oil nor gas from Iran and has not done so for 30 years and more. So sanctions are urged on other states that just like the US, put energy security at the top of their foreign policy objectives. Japan is Iran's biggest export market for oil and is likely to remain so although China is likely to pick up on any slack, in the highly unlikely event that Japan might cut them some, but anyway China is fast becoming a giant investor as well as export customer. 

RUSSIA's position is ambivalent because although they have let it be known that they have lectured the Iranians and have halted co-operation with them over the reactor at Bushehr, we perhaps cynically suspect that this has more to do with RUSSIA seeking to collect a large overdue payment, than responsible world citizenship - time will tell. But INDIA and PAKISTAN, both of whom badly need to secure their future gas supplies, have just been celebrating the successful closure of long lasting negotiations on price with the Iranians. What next?

In the context of their disputed nuclear program, IRAN can hardly have missed the implications of the March meeting of Arab leaders. General Musharraf was an honoured guest of King Abdullah at the Summit of the Arab League in late March and indeed addressed them. He talked as a non-Arab of course, but nevertheless as a fellow member of the islamic world. His presence there might have served to remind others, including his fellow non-Arab neighbour IRAN, that PAKISTAN is already a nuclear-armed power with many friends in the region, not least Saudi Arabia. If ever IRAN announced like NORTH KOREA that it was now a nuclear state, the Saudis would not need to start their own development - they could probably purchase a part of PAKISTAN'S stockpile. 

INDIA 
We refer readers to this section of our April Update: "INDIA-EU TRADE AGREEMENT SUFFERS ROADBLOCKS". This illustrates very well the complications of trying to do 'the right thing'. The EU is bound by a member states 1995 decision that any trade or political agreement outside of the EU, must contain a commitment to human rights and democracy, with a clause relating to opposing weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This creates a problem, because INDIA is already a nuclear weapons state and declined ever to join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Let pragmatism rule, some might say, but the EU fears that if it fails to apply the same WMD clause that it systematically applies to other nations, "that this would establish a terrible double standard." More about the implications in our report, but one can see that the wisdom of Solomon needed here, is likely to remain a rare commodity. 

RUSSIA: PUTIN'S TIME IS CLOSING IN 
President Putin must constitutionally stand down next year after serving eight consecutive years in office, and shows every sign that he will respect the constitution.
We take a quick look at the RUSSIA that Putin has not so much created, as consolidated. It's a very different polity from that which he inherited, and it is ironic that of the oligarchs that made his election inevitable, one is now in exile and the other in a Siberian jail. Whatever else, no objective observer of the scene could fail to be impressed with the mastery of the man over this infamously treacherous, political environment. 

BULGARIA ON THE ENERGY SCENE
Rookie EU member BULGARIA as we report, now sees itself as an energy hub, as a result of a pipeline agreement with Russia and Greece to convey oil across their territory entering their nation at Burgas, across to the Greek city of Alexandroupolis. It will be fascinating for fellow EU members concerned about the Bulgarian record of public corruption, to see (if that is possible), whether the substantial transit fees wind up in the public purse and what about the 'signature fees,' on the new projects - that standard off-the-books device for enriching politicians and public servants? 

THE PERNICIOUS AFGHAN WEED
In the context of AFGHANISTAN's massive opiates yield, we report in TAKJISTAN that the Tajik President expressed his frustration at the ineffective nature of Tajik efforts to stem the flow of opiates across his borders. 2006's Afghan poppy harvest estimated at 6000 tons, resulted in more being exported across the Tajik border on its way to Russia and Europe. It is not a mystery of course. If President Rahmanov doesn't know, it is about bribery and corruption on both sides of that border at every level of officialdom involved in policing inter-state traffic, not least amongst Russian servicemen lucky enough to serve a 'get rich' tour helping out Tajikistan on border patrol duties. Year on year, this Afghan drugs problem grows, despite growing international expenditure to deal with the problem of this supplier of 95% of the world's opiates, a nation which is only able to function with massive outside involvement. 
We invite comments on our brief proposal on how to deal with the drugs problem, whilst ensuring the farmers now depending on it do not starve, [go to our GEOPOLEMICS

PAKISTAN'S PROBLEM PRESIDENT
We have consistently supported the position of President Pervez Musharraf, accepting as we do the circumstances, as he relates them, as to how he wound up holding the job - or more realistically the two jobs -as the professional head of the army which he already was, and the president of the republic, which by force majeure, he became. He seemed to be just what PAKISTAN, so badly served by a succession of corrupt self-serving civilian politicians, needed. His common-sense reduction of tensions with INDIA which had served no higher purpose for either country, followed on from his clamp-down on the relatively numerous and lethal Islamic terrorists in Kashmir and elsewhere. The difference has been appreciated by the giant to his south. His balancing act with the various Islamic political and tribal forces in his country and its loosely ruled, almost ungovernable territory of Waziristan has put him in trouble with Washington much of the time, but it is the realistic 'fear of something worse,' that normally holds them back from too public or too extreme criticism. There is much in his approach in trying to drag his country into modern times, that has revived memories of Kemal Ataturk, who served his country TURKEY, in just that way. He has had support from liberals at home and internationally (on the way it was hoped, towards a resumption of democratically elected government), even though he has used autocratic means to achieve liberal reforming objectives. 

And yet, and yet….. he has made an appalling error in dismissing the independent Chief Justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, who had made a series of decisions embarrassing and inconvenient to the government, in relation to a familiar complaint. That is the matter of missing persons, presumed to have been spirited away during anti-terrorism crackdowns, yet remaining unaccounted for. This is PAKISTAN's parallel to Guantanamo Bay. There is obviously a deep-seated fear from their families that the missing men, or some of them, may have been murdered in custody, a fear which Musharraf's actions have done nothing to relieve. The base of any democracy includes the separation of powers and PAKISTAN had achieved that, as well as another - a relatively free media, the latter because of its treatment of this crisis, is now also under threat. It may be that his main reason for suspending the Chief Justice was the fear that he would rule that Musharraf cannot both be head of the army and President of the nation - we explain these complications. We can only hope that the President-General can find the will and the means to row-back, even if the 'music has to be faced,' in answering the legitimate concerns of families of the missing detainees. 

LIBYA
Mystic would be too grand a name for it but with the recent demise, of TURKMENISTAN'S colourful dictator, who shared with his countrymen and the world his literary and theological pretensions, it is easy to forget that in the field of political theory, Libya's Colonel Qhadhafi was at it thirty years before, writing his Green Book and the "Third Universal Theory." Not as it might seem, about the eco-state of the planet or advanced physics, these works are the underpinning of the Jamahiriya, the system by which LIBYA, long a kingdom and briefly a republic, became a 'massocracy,' as that word translates. Guided, we may be sure by the 'brother leader,' but governed we are told by a nation-wide series of 3000-strong committees that meet twice a year to discuss, well, 'issues'. We take a look to see how after three decades this system delivers to LIBYA's citizens, compared with the next door neighbours, the Kingdom of Morocco; and the Republic of Tunisia. 

The tragic saga of the Bulgarian contract nurses held for years under sentence of death, has entered a further downwards spiral. The nurses complained that they had been cruelly tortured, to force them to falsely confess to the bizarre crime of deliberately infecting children with the AIDS virus. The policemen accused were swiftly exonerated on the 'original' grounds that since torture is illegal in LIBYA, then being policemen, they couldn't have done it. 

Now there is talk of allowing the nurses to go free, if $10million per child blood money is paid (nobody is sure by whom). The policemen who did the torturing, (or asked the nurses nicely to sign confessions to murdering the infants), have caught the sniff of money and are suing the nurses for compensation of $5 million each for 'slander.' 
Unfortunately, it gets even worse. We report the sorry story at LIBYA! 

DEATH IN ARMENIA
The grim reaper has been at work in ARMENIA as well. Prime Minister Andranik Margarayan aged 56 died of a heart attack on March 25th. Politically, it comes at a particularly unfortunate time for the country's boss, President Robert Kocharyan. Everything in Armenia has been winding up to the elections in May. Kocharyan needs to appoint a new and heavyweight figure at this late hour. We report on the ramifications.

CROATIA: NOT AS NICE AS IT LOOKS
Rather to our surprise, we find ourselves reporting negatively on this country of whom we have had much good to say over the past years. It was the next in line for EU membership when the Commission blew out on new admissions until - well its not sure until when. The implications were that CROATIA was well on the way to meeting the entry criteria. But looking at a conjunction of recent data from the Index of Economic Freedom, the World Bank, and a recent analysis from the EU, they do not paint an attractive picture. We give the detail but in summary, conclude that if CROATIA truly intends to scrap its twin legacies of socialist and authoritarian rule, then there is much work to do. 

POLAND: EUROPE'S HOME TO SOCIAL REACTION
President Lech Kaczynski is a seer. He sees and has claimed that the future of the human race is dependent on discrediting homosexuality in the classroom. So its not about global warming after all, nor WMD terrorism. The gravest threat come from "the promotion of homosexual propaganda", whatever that might conceivably be. The 'gay rights' folk in Poland, have observed that, "Poland is like an island drifting away from the rest of Europe". The European Commission has seen it appropriate to criticise the Polish government (whose motto is "moral renewal"- don't they have an economy to run?) for its homophobic views. 

TWO BALTIC TIGERS TEARING AT THEMSELVES
Curiously two out of the three Baltic tigers are simultaneously suffering high level corruption problems amongst lawmakers, deeply embarrassing to their distinguished presidents - Vaira Vike-Freiberga of LATVIA, and Valdas Adamkus of LITHUANIA, who in both cases are seeking to swiftly resolve the scandals. It's not so easy with the security services in each country being variously involved. Unsurprisingly, BIG OIL is the common ground and equally unsurprisingly given that fact, RUSSIA's oil interests are involved. 

PHILIPPINES- ELECTIONS
Big elections going on for the legislature with a lot to play for. The forces of Light traditionally don't do too well here. Sadly the worst aspect of this 'apprentice democracy' is, depending on whose figures you believe, between 300 and 900 political murders - since the current president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power - that is summary executions, of journalists and labour organisers (This is now regarded as the second most dangerous place in the world for journalists after IRAQ). Our report gives a fuller explanation and analysis, plus unfortunately, more bad news. A recent survey of 13 economies in Asia has tagged the Philippines as the most corrupt. In a grading system with 0 the best score and 10 the worst, this nation scored 9.4. 

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