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November 2007 Country Archive


Al Gore’s Nobel has caused major stirrings in WDC . This is partly because of those Democrats who admire him and would love to see him on the ticket at next years Presidential elections, which he insists is not for him. Also, because he creates a knee-jerk reaction amongst die-hard Washington Republicans who loathe him. They cannot forget that he earned a lot more of the nation’s popular votes in 2000 than their man, who has proved such a flop. There is also an element of bad conscience at the ‘Florida fix,’ which looks even worse in the more measured focus of recent history. Incredible to non-Americans, that the one state where lay the balance of the decision - as to who would win the election - was that of the Florida administration (home of the hanging tad), of the Republican candidate’s own brother Jeb Bush - which amounted to GW Bush stealing the 2000 election in that state. That in turn decided the composition of the electoral college that gave the presidency to George W Bush. No wonder Putin pointing this out, has such fun at American expense when he is upbraided for the undoubted decline in democratic values in RUSSIA.

It was reported in the US that the Murdoch-owned Wall St Journal couldn’t even bring itself to mention Gore’s name on the day the Nobel results were declared, instead producing its own long list of its favoured candidates that did not become Nobel laureates. 

If Gore really does not go for the presidency and if there is a Democrat in the White House, he is going to be in an amazingly influential place for as long as he has an active career. That opens up possibilities that no elected politician can achieve, but which would be an immense blessing for the future of democracy in the US, and therefore the world. For example, to take the US away from big money ‘buying’ the election results, could as a cause be massively advanced by the simple expedient of changing US electoral law to the system favoured by all the European democracies, (where TV time cannot be bought by candidates or political lobbies). Instead the candidates would each have guaranteed access and balanced equal time on TV, monitored by impartial judges. But hold - that term ‘impartial judges, ’ defines why it isn’t going to happen in the USA. The Republicans have stacked the Supreme Court with ‘far-out’ justices, on whom they can absolutely rely to strike down any legislation preventing the rich and very rich, from spending their money on TV ads, or any other means whereby their money can go a long way to ensuring results.

Vladimir Putin is riding high. His approval ratings are stratospheric, he is master of his nation’s politics with no end in sight – well certainly the little matter of stepping down from the presidency – but not really relinquishing power. How it is to be done we will know in the fullness of time, but as we said when reviewing this matter in mid-October “2008 – A year of destiny”, where we compared the end of term for both President Bush and President Putin; there isn’t likely to be a ‘race’ in Moscow as in Washington, simply because Putin’s choice will be the next president, whereas even the smartest money doesn’t yet know for the leadership of the USA. More intriguing is the method by which Putin will retain his hold, without the title. 

Interestingly, emerging stories about the soviet-type use of ‘psychiatric commitment’- confinement to closed wards, as way of dealing with political dissidents - which would sink any western democratic government - pass almost unremarked in this new style authoritarian society. George Orwell (and his readers) would swiftly recognise all the essentials of the big-brother state, even though it is no longer called communist, nor operating on the failed economic theories of Marxism-Leninism. How long, we might ask before the gulags re-open? Although Bush / Cheney have ‘pipped’ them there with their offshore detention centres, destination of those terrorism suspects for outsourced, or other intensive agency interrogations, outside the defendant’s protection of domestic US law. 

After the Duma elections Putin’s Party will probably have sufficient majority to make constitutional amendments, even alone. The theory of him assuming the Prime-ministership rather depends on the constitutional powers of the presidency being largely curtailed and those of the PM increased , so his power travels with him. It would be hard to believe that he could allow in the presidency, anybody who then would have the power to replace him as the prime-minister, as Putin himself has replaced so many. [The ‘mafia theory ‘ would hold that a ticking bomb would be a part of the equation, if ever he were to ‘trust’ his nominee with the same powers that he currently enjoys. If it went pear-shaped, then a presidential vacancy caused by sudden death, would constitutionally be filled by? YES, the prime minister]. 

He has spoiled that particular prediction game however, as recently as late October, by saying that this isn’t going to happen, thus reminding kremlinologists that either he has not himself decided - or that he judges the time is not yet auspicious, to tell the Russian electorate and the world his plans. That will not of course, deter Putin-watchers - or the world, from more speculation. 

Whenever we need to retail more depressing news like another downward turn on the ratchet of Russia’s democracy, it is sometimes balanced by the Putin reaction. The world has recently been told that Russia is formally proposing measures to neuter the OSCE’s vote-monitoring division. This is the only genuinely expert world body that can be relied upon to give a free and fair assessment, based on the reports of their expert observers, at any nation’s elections. This new intervention is held to be the result of deliberations by Putin’s task force, tasked with understanding and then preventing, any re-runs of how the ‘colour revolutions’ could have happened, in top-down run FSU’s. This was when the electors in GEORGIA, UKRAINE and KYRGYZSTAN, refused to accept fraudulent election results and would not give up their protests until new and cleaner elections were conducted, which naturally threw out the cheats – (not co-incidentally) Putin’s candidates. Imagine that happening in year 2000 in Florida? No, neither can we.

It has obviously been gall to the Kremlin that any outsiders, in the name of fairness and democracy can interfere with and obstruct the smooth running of their grip on what are either still to some extent satellites, or at the least, base their domestic interpretations of ‘democracy’ upon those of Moscow. RUSSIA’s supporters in this anti- democratic move are ARMENIA, BELARUS, KAZAKHSTAN and UZBEKISTAN, which configuration should surprise nobody.

NGO’s, recognised as not only an informed outside influence on in-country politics, but in some cases a beachhead for the US to widen democracy, have largely and swiftly been removed or ‘rendered harmless’ in CIS nations. Next, the election monitors - not banned you understand - but reduced in number below any limits of effectiveness, are in Moscow’s diplomatic submission, to be the next to go. Also understanding the ‘yesterday’s story’ syndrome within the western media, he seeks a ban following any election, on the shrunken OSCE delegation from releasing their reports as to the fairness of the election. Not when the results are known, but until after some time has elapsed. 

The reaction, now these cards lay on the table - since it seems inconceivable that the OSCE members should agree, might be for RUSSIA and friends to implement these restrictions unilaterally. The appropriate action to any such action to reduce observers below an effective number, as held by OSCE’s experts (not it’s diplomats), should be to send none, and thus finger them by refusing the seal of authenticity on suspect results.

But in a parallel event at the end of October, when Putin met with the EU leaders in Portugal, he and his people made some sort of counter-attack in the area of human rights and free speech, for which as usual, he was being criticised. He challenged them with this proposal:- That a new joint EU–Russia human rights institute be set up, capable of discussing not only complaints about RUSSIA, but also issues in Europe, including neo-Nazism, ethnic tensions, minority rights and immigration. His aide, clarifying on behalf of his boss asked, “Why is it that European politicians can discuss human rights, yet we cannot talk about these issues in the EU”? 

How wonderful if the EU were to fully call this bluff. No nation should be afraid of honest monitoring. Well worth a little administrative inconvenience if RUSSIA and friends would genuinely open up to the same scrutiny. Why not indeed by the same logic, should not OSCE monitor the elections in ALL countries, including the USA? We asked, perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek, back at the time of the US elections in 2004, that the OSCE be invited to monitor the election in Florida, given their demonstrably poor showing in 2000. There is no evidence that having the world’s most successful economy and largest armed forces equates with having the world’s best democracy. Our own now ten years old, currently places the USA at a respectable 15th position out of 38 fully democratic nations – but that is not top! 

How refreshing to be able to report that BANGLADESH, until recently a disaster by almost any criteria: social, democratic, economic, is making serious progress. This poor South Asian country has been governed time out of mind, by two monolithic family / clan based parties, who effectively took it in turns to gorge themselves at the public trough. With an election due, the government’s outrageous manipulations of electoral records brought about an unexpected reaction, a seeming miracle. The President intervened, and supported by the army, appointed a ‘government of technicians’, who have taken the country further in just a few months than it has been in many years. The leaders of the two main parties, both women, one the widow of a former PM, the other the daughter of another, have both been prime-minister and both are now in jail, on charges of big-time corruption - and worse. The latest news as we report, is that on November 1st the nation’s judiciary is at last to be taken away from executive control to achieve the classic ‘seperation of powers’ For fifteen years both parties promised this obvious measure but always failed to implement it. Now it is a done deal. 

Whenever the pressure eases up a little, the proponents of the war immediately declare that victory is imminent, before any careful analysis of the ‘why,’ is conducted. In this month’s review of IRAQ, we suggest that possibly there has been a lull in IRAN’s promotion of anti-US activities, perhaps trying to show that they have the capacity to deliver peace as well as war. IRAN’s undoubted influence and involvement in IRAQ is sometimes described by administration officials as ‘interference’ in their neighbour IRAQ’s affairs. But this is truly rich in irony, from the US, a nation who flew hundreds of thousands of their troops some 8,000 miles to interfere big time, with a distant oil-producing nation that had caused them no injury. This intervention has been responsible so far, for between one and six hundred thousand civilian deaths, depending on whose statistical methods one chooses. 

We also look at the serious divisions between and within the Shi-ite majority and the several events that are causing this. Multiple splits, as a result, are riddling central government which has a side effect that the Kurds, armed with their own law, have taken full advantage of, to unilaterally sign oil agreements for their province, despite the opposition of the central government, too enfeebled to do much more than unavailingly protest.
The Kurdish provincial government however, has massive problems with a Turkish strike force looming on their frontiers, provoked by the activities within TURKEY of the armed Turkish - Kurdish secessionists, who often escape back across the IRAQ border between raids. Baghdad claims it’s forces are too stretched fighting their insurgency, to defend the northern border with TURKEY, or to expel the unwanted secessionists.

Almost as serious for the US as its ally TURKEY, being provoked from a country nominally under US military control, is the decision the Iraqi government has taken to put the Oil Law on hold ‘until a broader consensus can be reached,’ which translated into realpolitik means that the Iraqi factional leaders cannot agree on the ‘division of the spoils’. Until this is settled (and don’t hold your breath’), there will be no Oil Law which anti-Cheneyites will tell you was the whole point of the invasion, with favoured BIG OIL waiting in the wings for four years past, for their pay-day. 

This important nation has been at the cross roads for far too long to be comfortable. For every plus there seems to be a minus. Benazhir Bhutto returned but her triumphal procession broke up with mass slaughter of her supporters from terror bombers. Her past rival and nemesis, Nawar Sharif, also made it back to PAKISTAN to a joyous reception from his clan and other supporters. But his feet barely touched the ground before he was once again deported to Saudi Arabia, one of whose princes promptly appeared on Pakistan TV holding an agreement signed by Nawar Sharif to accept exile in Saudi, way back when Musharraf came to power, as an alternative to a trial and the imprisonment that would have almost certainly have lead to. 

Clearly Musharraf and Bhutto have agreed to a modus operandi, which may be expected to unfold over the weeks and months ahead. It is a fast moving scenario with the Supreme Court still a player, reviewing petitions seeking to unseat Musharraf from his recent presidential election – and the legitimacy of Bhutto’s amnesty on the charges of corruption, that kept her out of the country for so long.
But subject to Musharraf’s confirmation as president, he will put aside the uniform and has already appointed Lt.General Kiani as his successor as Chief of Staff. The President of course, is still Commander in-Chief.

Massive fighting ratcheted up in October between the army and tribal fighters in PAKISTAN’s untamed western provinces, with heavy civilian and military casualties.
It is true that fighting against any central government has been almost a normal phenomenon for this people. In the days of the British empire it was standard as a theatre of nearly continuous localised war. It has been little different even with the Islamic government of Pakistan being their nominal overlords for half a century. 

AFGHANISTAN: "The best laid plans….”
The European Union took on the mission of training and rebuilding the Afghan Police force, which was to have been a key element in the reform of the Ministry of the Interior, that has failed to get any grip on the spread of corruption. Corruption of course affects every ministry and contributes towards the discrediting of the government.
The police problem and its solution was the centrepiece of the EU’s contribution and has been seriously set back by the departure, after only three months in country, of the top German police officer, Friedrich Eichele, who had been the commander. The problem it seems has been with his European colleagues – whom it is said that he alienated because of his habit of imposing his views on them, despite being a very recent arrival in country. 

Various hopefuls are already emerging for the 2009 presidential elections. Apart obviously from the incumbent Karzai, these include Mustafa Zahir, grandson of the deceased king and three other cabinet ministers we name in our AFGHANISTAN report.

Even though oil experts agree that any attack on IRAN will create pandemonium in the oil markets and play havoc with the already sky-high world oil prices - and world supply, (apart from innumerable other bad consequences), there is a growing war atmosphere around Washington as Bush / Cheney with just over a year left in power, look and sound increasingly belligerent. The “World War III” scenario suggested without a logical connection to current events, by GWB, was a marker, comparable to the ‘non sequitur’ pre-invasion talk about IRAQ. 

The numerous administration back-up voices of hate-jocks, some tabloid journo’s, fundamentalist preachers, past and present staffers, etc; are tuning onto the same kind of unproven assertions which became a tidal wave before the IRAQ invasion, proven wrong only after the event. They really DO have the gall to again hype up the threat, relying, as they can, on the support of a large body of the media, and of course this is not unconnected to the run-up to next years elections, and the lowly position of the Republicans in the opinion polls. The major difference now with then, is that neither the House nor the Senate is any longer a rubber stamp for the White House. Whether that is enough to rein back Bush /Cheney is debatable, with Bush earlier claiming that as Commander in Chief, he has the untrammelled authority to order any attack, (which in this case would be a cruise-missile and bombing strike, not boots on the ground). 

Putin, visiting IRAN in October, said he has seen no evidence that IRAN was building a nuclear weapon and that until he did, he saw no reason to disbelieve that the nuclear fuel being created was for their power station program, which he obviously knows about because his nation is involved. Whatever we think about Putin, after the debacle of the IRAQ invasion, with no evidence of WMDs and consequently no discoveries, wouldn’t it be just the simplest prudence to avoid a re-run, until there IS evidence? 

With the recent IRAQ experience, ‘evidence’ as such, is only sought for justification on what has already been decided. The UN, including many of America’s friends, strongly disapproved of the US’s unilateral action then and if they do it again, it will strain the bonds of friendship too far. But the ‘kicker’ is that Cheney and Co. really don’t care! In their scheme of things allies are for cosmetic purposes. Rumsfeld’s casual dismissal of the British, in his time, and of other allies, has not been forgotten. In any case an aerial bombardment does not require allies, other than Israel, nor a ground-force follow up. 

It seems to be generally common ground that even if IRAN does plan to create a nuclear weapon that they are years off that possibility – so surely the next administration can be left to deal with it? But just possibly, the outgoing Republican administration might see advantage in ‘poisoning the well’ in international relations for their Democratic successors. 

The fact that the NORTH KOREAN denuclearisation negotiations are going well, as we report, has brought a vicious right wing reaction from the war party in the Vice- president’s office, articulated on all possible occasions by his man, John Bolton. 
Blessed the peacemakers may be, but to Bolton a peace which is not impregnated with the smell of recently detonated high explosive, is a peace for weaklings. 

This month’s report and analysis of NORTH KOREA is more hopeful than for a long time. It could still break - we explain how, but Condaleezza Rice is in charge of this, not Dick Cheney. The State Department who were effectively shut out of the lead-up to the IRAQ invasion, despite their expert arabists who warned of the consequences yet were brushed aside in the neo-con rush to war, can this time sense a diplomatic success in the offing.

The recent election has seen off one of the twin Kaczinsky rulers of this nation. Prime -minister Kaczinsky was defeated, leaving the largely honorific role of President Kaczinsky, now somewhat stranded with a very different sort of government led by Donald Tusk of Civic Platform, as we describe in this issue. One major effect will be in Poland’s former foot- dragging attitude towards the European Union. Tusk and his party are business orientated and fully supportive of the advantages of the EU. Curiously this now leaves and rather exposes the UK as the sole nationalistic ‘hold-out’ amongst the large membership, in what may be described as a semi-detached position, “in it, but not of it”. This curious position is not so much the intellectual product of policy making for any of the three main UK political parties, to whom it is something of an embarrassment, but is the outcome of a sustained press campaign for thirty and more years, of non-specific hostility towards the EU, from the largely North American-owned media corporations. 

We discuss the continuing predicament for the CZECH government over the unpopular Bushie mission to implant a US weapons system between this country and POLAND, ostensibly against NORTH KOREA and IRAN in case, we are told, they ever got an offensive nuclear missile system together and wanted jointly or separately to destroy Europe. Far fetched? Many might think so, including President Putin, who seems to believe that it is in some way connected with RUSSIA’s nuclear missiles force. How paranoid can you get? In fact Putin pointed out when meeting the EU leaders in Lisbon in late October, that this US proposal is almost a mirror reflection of his Soviet predecessors planting missiles in Cuba in the sixties, which brought the cold war abruptly to the boil. Not a bad analogy indeed, although he was anxious to add that it couldn’t happen now since we are all such great friends. 

After many diplomatic quadrilles over the past years, China’s support for INDIA’s bid for a security council seat, is not after all forthcoming. We describe the verbal gymnastics the Chinese foreign minister resorted to, when recently interviewed on this topic. It is worth remembering that there are only five permanent Security Council seats, all occupied by those on the winning side in WWII. It has to be said that none of the others - US, UK, France, or Russia, is likely to have a very different attitude to China’s. The compelling logic is not about relative economic strengths, or population size or geopolitical location, but rather who was ‘in,’ 63 years ago. 

INDIA would be well advised to concentrate on such allies as Brazil and SOUTH AFRICA, who between the three of them, dominate the southern hemisphere. Any one of these are too big to be ignored and collectively have more ‘punch’ than they do separately. Additionally, it would be a good time for ALL UN member states to consider whether in the world of the 21st century, any nation at all should be given a veto over world affairs.

This South- east Asian nation has always been a nation of ‘haves’ and have-nots, (of course the overwhelming majority). The minority are sorely troubled by the fact that they wish to be a democracy and to be respected for that, at the same time that they want to carry-on getting privately rich at public expense. They want to be seen to be operating under the rule of law, but at the same time they want to own the law - making it, changing it and delivering judgements on it. A ‘class action’ has quite another meaning in that nation.

A shopping mall in downtown Makati was bombed on October 19th leaving 11 dead and more than a hundred maimed and injured. Contradictory reports and the inability of police investigators to make a clear statement as to the cause, finished up with an official ‘explanation’ by the Philippines National Police that it was an industrial accident caused by a build up of methane gas in the basement. The Mall’s owners rejected that out of hand and the various experts involved, universally treated it with contempt. Despite the residue of military-type explosives and the apprehension of an army unit at the blast site, apparently it is reported, caught trying to plant evidence, an industrial accident is what the authorities are clinging onto. Why? 

Just as LIBYA was once synonymous for international mischief-making and sponsoring terrorism, as our report illustrates, the shiny new ‘post-Bulgarian nurses regime’, is now to be found in the company of the peacemakers. It is also making up for those long years of disgrace, in becoming outwards-thrusting in its more conventional relations, with some current emphasis on France, which we describe. Looks like EADS should soon be picking up some useful contracts for Libya’s defence requirements.

It is often overlooked that SYRIA also has a Kurdish minority population, and at 1.7
million it is not negligible. This issue deals in more detail with this group in SYRIA and their relevance to the current PKK crisis with the Turkish authorities, and the ‘knock-on’ within IRAQ. 

We are also of the view expressed here, that the aerial pix of a small concrete building in a quiet corner of SYRIA possibly destroyed by Israeli intervention, cannot amount to ‘evidence’ of a nuclear reactor. The problem here is that after the experience of inept, wishful, sometimes downright dishonest, certainly often mistaken, presentation of so-called evidence from IRAQ (remember the ice-cream vans presented as mobile biological weapons laboratories), the pre-IRAQ assumptions of superior analysis emanating from US government agencies no longer convince. To talk about a ‘signature’ profile (it was square like many concrete buildings), or point out a small pumping unit for water (necessary in the desert), looks too much like straining on the leash of possibility. Until better evidence if ever, emerges, this just won’t do [comments on this are welcome at our geopolemics Blog on SYRIA]. 

It is often forgotten in the considerations of the PKK Kurdish minority actions in TURKEY and their effect on neighbouring IRAQ, that this insurrection has been going on a for a very long time. We observe a degree of confusion between the world’s perception of the Kurds and about the murder of so many Armenians in WWI within the Ottoman empire that preceded the Republic of TURKEY. 

There are more than 30 million Kurds living in four neighbouring countries: IRAQ, IRAN and SYRIA, as well as TURKEY where over half are to be found. They want their own state and an excess of 30 million people is a convincing number in such an argument, but no nation is likely to auto-amputate large chunks of territory to accommodate that reasonable enough desire. Conflict has largely been regionalised to the eastern end of this large country, but is no less bitter and cruel for that. What western TURKEY sees of it, apart from occasional bombings, are the continual casualties amongst their young men and of course the funerals. Turkish soldiers are mostly civilians doing mandatory military service, and so the casualties come from across Turkish society.

On visiting days, large crowds of family visitors are to be seen at the military hospital at Scutari, across the Bosphorous from Istanbul, where once Florence Nightingale held sway. This has been the deplorable situation for at least thirty years and is a tragedy not only for the Kurds fighting an impossible battle, but for the many thousands of Turkish families also bleeding from the loss of their young men. 

Our BLOG contains reduced versions of all of the current reports, available for reader comment.

Clive Lindley 

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