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February 2008 Country Archive


In mid-January when we ventured to offer a Predictions piece, little did we realize the prescience that was on display. Even back then – all of two weeks ago, although the sub-prime market was taking toll of numerous banks, the impact had not been keenly felt on the economy as a whole. We commented that the economy was an almost impossible area of prediction because “the financial market was out of control”. As if to prove the point, Societe General almost immediately ‘fessed up to (they say), a rogue trader ‘losing’4.9 billion euros, which is four times the amount lost back in 1995 by the celebrated Nick Leeson of the (then) Barings Bank. The said Leeson, now having paid his ‘debt to society’ with a hefty six year gaol sentence, made the following comment when recently interviewed on the Societe General news. He said that even now, 12 years after his ‘event’: “I think rogue trading is probably a daily occurrence among the financial markets.” Honestly now, is anybody surprised?

On the size of the world problem, perhaps one of the best qualified observers is the renowned George Soros - nothing if not authoritative. Here is his prediction back in the late nineties: “The collapse of the world marketplace would be a traumatic event with unimaginable consequences. Yet I find it easier to imagine than the continuation of the present market system.” On the matter of regulation, at Davos in January, he called for a huge increase of regulation and oversight over financial markets whose excessive freedoms, he claimed, had caused “not a normal crisis but the end of an era. ” He said that the downturn would put an end to the long status of the dollar as the world’s default currency”

Denial of state ownership has been an absolute touchstone no less, for the Anglo-American capitalist model, since the Republicans of the Reagan-era got such a comprehensive grip on all the national levers of power; and later, in the UK, Tony Blair’s Labour became ‘New Labour’. But it can be seen as sometimes a definite liability in competitive terms, particularly with states that don’t share the ideology It is not a philosophy that has commanded the same magical status in Europe generally, and their economies – Germany, France etc; have continued to prosper despite the doom-sayers (who must be sorely disappointed). China would regard the idea as quaint, although they don’t mind doing it through state-owned banks, if that looks better. RUSSIA has massively befitted by the state taking on multi-billion dollar pipeline commitments, that have secured them the outlets for their oil and gas – a national strategic priority, whereas in the west, dependent on corporate and market-raised finance, years can go by before all the financing ducks are in a row. The Baku-Tbilsi-Ceyhan pipeline, absolutely essential to Caspian Sea oil reaching the west independently of RUSSIA, took years longer to finance and build, than Moscow would have taken with such a vital geostrategic project. Another, the trans-Caspian seafloor pipeline, which was planned to enable Turkmenistan’s oil and gas to flow to the west, ‘agreed’ in principle nine years ago, hasn’t happened at all. The pragmatic ‘new capitalists’ China and Russia, the actual beneficiaries from that western inaction, in like circumstances would not have flunked, as ‘the old capitalist system’ did. 

How galling it must be for the US and UK, that have governments that dare not depart from the current ideology, (for fear of political damage from the scorn of the ‘attack-dog’ tabloids in the UK case, or the wrath of ‘the owners of the nation’ in the USA). Yet at the same time they sometimes must stand by and witness foreign governments buying into their assets -‘nationalising out,’ as it were. The Dubai venture to buy Cunard, who happened to own several of the most important US ports, was a distant early warning of the angst such a proposition can cause. In the UK recently the government bailed out a bank, Northern Rock, about to disappear down the tubes, in order to stop a run on all banks. But whilst the obvious next move, given the massive injection of public funds and no obvious buyers, would have been to take it with its tangled affairs, to sort out under public ownership, the ideology of ‘New’ rather than just ‘Labour’ stopped that. 

Now the world is witnessing the reality of the Sovereign Fund and the enormous financial clout that they deploy. Be it Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Singapore, and other sophisticated funds, they are actually genuinely supranational in a world inefficiently organised into nation states. We can expect more ‘shocks’ to follow. Professor Philip Bobbitt’s highly prophetic “The Shield Of Hercules” which we have lauded before, presages the world of ‘the market state’ - not far off, where most of the functions of government are performed by private corporations - not just the likes of the railways or airlines or electricity; but the police, the administration of the law, the armed services - and in the best capitalist tradition, they would be in competition! Max Barry’s novel, “ Jennifer Government” (Vintage), perhaps the “Brave New World” of our time, brilliantly and entertainingly illustrates the concept. 

This scenario is not a long distance one, when realising that easily the second largest military force in IRAQ after the US army, are the more than 50,000 ‘security force’ armed personnel [some call them mercenaries], on the State Department/ IRAQ government/ Corporate payrolls who are not subject to either US or Iraqi law (killing civilians is not a crime, but a statistic). 

It was generally recognised at the turn of the century when the Bush administration came to power, that US foreign policy would above all be driven by the politics of international oil, the resource that the whole world needed, and which was experiencing a widening gap between demand and supply. Added to this, Bush himself in his Texan persona had experience and links to the industry, and vice-president Cheney had been CEO of the world’s biggest oil fields contractor. They had the experience it might be said, certainly the friends to please, even maybe to get and give favours, at the upper levels of the world industry – the Saudi Royals for example and Cheney’s ‘Seven Sisters’ ex-clients. 

This was indeed before the events of 9/11 and the proclamation of a war on terror, that might have dislodged the politics of oil from primary position. But no, the reaction to the Islamic terror unleashed by Osama bin Laden, was swiftly channeled into an invasion of Iraq – not in any way a party to the outrage of 9/11, but potentially an oil province target, with the next largest oil reserves on the planet after neighbouring Saudi Arabia. That is how middle-eastern states and many others, saw the invasion, and there has been little other perceived motivation (certainly not the illusory WMD’s now understood amongst cynics as a ‘blind’), to change their minds.

We now better than in 2003, understand that Iraq was to have been the first in a series of neo-con targeted, middle-eastern states (Syria, then Iran, then Saudi Arabia were on the neo-con wish list), that were to be if necessary, militarily forced into democracy, and no longer to be ‘a stone in the shoe’ of Uncle Sam, or that of his virtual 51st state, Israel. 

Where did this leave the oil-based foreign policy? Iraq we were told pre-invasion, had sufficient oil resources that the invasion would not only be paid for, but turn a profit – but that was neo-con smoke and mirrors. The actual plan was to get rid of Saddam and then with the new democratic government, invite in the world’s, or at least the west’s biggest oil corporations, to explore for more, and further exploit and market what was already there. That was Cheney realism. As can be seen by visiting our archives on IRAQ, even our current issue, our monthly reports since the invasion continue to chronicle disappointments and some disasters, in terms of production, pipeline sabotage, theft – amazing how hundreds of thousands of barrels can be made to ‘disappear’, if the spirit is willing and the controls are weak. Added to this, having proclaimed that IRAQ is an independent republic, their independent government had still in January ’08, failed to finalise the new oil law – the cue for Big Oil to start their bidding, really the Cheney motivation for the whole miserable invasion. We report on what there is to report, but unsurprisingly in such a polity where central government is ‘insubstantial’, the hold-up has been in the division of spoils - a smoke-filled back room area, if ever there was one. The nation still doesn’t have a national budget for the same reasons. There are a lot of pockets to be provided for, the central government, departmental ministers, regional government, and tiers of local government. Then there are the tribes and the clans and the families (of the more powerful), the religion and ethnicities, Sunni, Shia and Kurd – it goes on, all endowed with great appetites. Nothing so simple as the Saudis next door, where it all belongs to the Royal family and they dish out to their cronies and relatives, what they consider about right. 

The reality is that even now, near to five years after the invasion, the major pipelines are still sabotaged within hours of repair from the previous attack. Pipelines laid across desert and mountains are of course an easy target for disaffected locals, let alone rebels or saboteurs, The Russians discovered this in Chechnya where the pipes became completely unusable due to their resemblance to colanders, after long being the subject of regular and widespread Kalashnikov target practice. 

Meanwhile, worldwide oil prices have continued to escalate and so what has been happening on the oil front that the US was supposed, by now, to be dominating? It can be seen by reading our report on IRAN, that China is becoming the big winner in terms of contracting future oil and gas supplies from IRAN, which owns the worlds second largest gas reserves. Similarly China is taking a big chunk of TURKMENISTAN’s new discoveries and TURKEY has signed to take yet more and to invest in the fields. 

RUSSIA of course is no slouch. In contrast to the Anglo-Saxon attitude to state ownership, Gazprom, its oil and gas corporation (maybe now the worlds biggest), is synonymous with RUSSIA, the state – generally described these days as an Energy Super-power. Very handy if you need to build an expensive strategic pipeline and trump western opposition who have to make the case, security and all, to the international finance world. They have made many smart moves and will make more as pace-setters in the energy field, probably with more surprises to come. 

Ironic to think that the antipathy and planned US attacks on IRAN (including US threats deterring western oil companies from entering /investing in IRAN), has been based on what are now revealed as spurious accusations that IRAN was developing nuclear weapons, which we can see now are as insubstantial as Saddam’s non-existent WMD. Consequently all these once-and-for-all opportunities in IRAN have been dissipated by the west, and swiftly picked up by the less alarmist east. 

It is hard to identify over the two terms - nearly eight years of this Texan president, - where exactly US oil policy has been successful in gaining new sources of supply? Even Venezuela, the US’s major supplier after Canada, is treated to abuse on every occasion, and its president treated like a pariah. True he doesn’t much like the US either, but where did that all start, and in whose interest is it that it continues? 
Let’s hope that the US can remain good neighbours with Canada, to which end it would help a lot if the US senior military didn’t make ill-informed negative comments about the Canadian troops in AFGHANISTAN. They continue to sustain too many fatal casualties in the Nato forces there, perhaps because they go out on patrol, and are not hunkered down in well-serviced, secure MacBase camps. 

Interesting that just released data published by the Center for Public Integrity tell us that the White House over a two year period following the 9/11 attacks, issued 935 false statements, softening up America for the war and invasion of IRAQ. On at least 532 occasions Bush and his people* stated unequivocally that IRAQ had, or was seeking weapons of mass destruction. Bush also stated 28 times that IRAQ had links to al Qaeda, which was equally false.

·        lest we forget,’ the superstars of this    technique, named in the report were President GW Bush; V-President Richard Cheney; Condaleeza Rice; Colin Powell; Donald Rumsfeld; Paul Wolfowitz; and Press Secretaries: Are Fleischer and Scott McClellan. 

These are the facts that underpin the public loss of confidence in the Bush Cheney administration, which is inevitably now saddled with a chasm of a credibility gap. Who (except for Fox TV and certain sections of the US media), can believe any statement issued by the White House in respect of IRAN certainly; but more immediately with regard to the economy and the financial crisis? The latter isn’t helped by the apparent contradiction with what many experts have said was the root cause of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. That is that US citizens are not saving and yet are encouraged to spend more than they earn, getting into hopeless debt as a result, (sometimes known as the ‘American disease’).

Now we are told that the White House response is to make tax cuts of $150 billions. That’s got to be good! It offers new hope and new funds, given the problem of families in debt, many beyond hope without this, of meeting their debt obligations. Will this help? The tax cuts will impact many millions of families who we are told, will then be encouraged to go out and spend, spend, spend! (Hey family, let’s buy a house)! 

This was the most critical event since we last reported and the result of the run-off ballot was only finally known today, our publishing date 4th February. Our report on SERBIA sets out the issues, but the results will not stop with the declaration of the results of the presidential election. 

SERBIA is perhaps THE most nationalistic state in Europe. Its position about Kosovo is roughly analogous to that of Britain when faced nearly a century ago with the imminent independence of what is now the Republic of Ireland. All the same kind of talk of ’indissoluble bonds,’ of ‘ sacred rights’ has recurred, and this from a people who ran it badly as a colony, treated its inhabitants as second-class - certainly less than full citizens. Then when the bill for all this has to be paid and the ‘natives are restless,’ the response was by state violence against theoretically, its own citizens. If Kosovo through some extraordinary ‘about–turn’, had agreed to stay a part of Serbia, such is the hatred and distrust between the peoples, based on both long term and recent history, it would anyway be ungovernable. 

SERBIA apart from its nationalism, has in common with its historic protector RUSSIA, a combination of violence, crime, and corruption, interwoven with its business and body politic, to a degree unrivalled even in the other Balkan countries. Even in the ‘nineties’ during the height of its frightful civil wars, there were some 400 Yugoslav ‘ export’ companies registered in Cyprus, when there was no foreign trade at all and these were fronts for money laundering, smuggling, gun-running, etc. Its people like all peoples, include some who are admirable and others who are despicable. During the Bosnian war there were ‘weekend soldiers’ who met up at Belgrade’s Intercontinental Hotel. Then, like in other countries men may go duck- hunting at weekends, they would drive over to Bosnia in the rear areas, well behind the fighting soldiers in the army lines. There, as a semi-official militia, they would visit and burn isolated villages and cold-bloodedly butcher the unarmed Bosnian or Croat civilians remaining. On Sundays they would go home to their families and Mondays, they would return to their offices and regular jobs. There has been little soul searching about this in Serbia, then or now. Serbs tend to respond with a litany of what was done to their people in other countries. 

They have kept and continue to keep the two most infamous Bosnian Serb war criminals, secure from arrest and at liberty, rather as though 12 years after the end of WWII, Hitler and his top general might still have been at liberty, in rural Germany. Serbs like this regard Kosovans, like the Bosnians, as untermenschen - and then they wonder why they are not loved. 

Ultra-nationalist Tomislav Nikolic’s victory would have had some inevitable consequences. Kosovo would almost immediately declare UDI (as it probably will anyway). Then RUSSIA will correctly say that this is contrary to international law, and in the Security Council will veto any UN move to legitimize this. The USA and some EU countries (Cyprus and Romania definitely not, Greece, Spain, Slovakia, probably not), will nevertheless recognize the new state. But without UN legitimacy, half the world will not. Nikolic’s nationalists and allies will make pugnacious noises. There would have been violence. SERBIA would not have been considered for EU membership any time soon. They will anyway scorn the idea of applying to join the EU and seek only to confirm their fraternal bonds with RUSSIA. More young people would have emigrated. 
RUSSIA would have a new colony in the heart of the Balkans and their policy of buying large tracts of Montenegro - Serbia’s traditional outlet to the Adriatic Sea, as well as being Serbia’s largest foreign investor, would have been seen to have made sense. 

Centrist Boris Tadic, the incumbent president, notwithstanding his opposition to the severance of Kosovo (no politician standing for high office could do otherwise), will when push comes to shove, probably’ accept’ de facto, the current situation, will oppose any UDI but to get to de jure on that, might take some more bargaining, for which the time may already have run out. 

But with Tadic elected, SERBIA will be held not to have turned its back on the EU and efforts will continue to find a formula to mollify the mainstream Serbian voter – nothing will convince the hard-line nationalists. 

Prime-minister Kostunica now becomes the key player, and although he is equally dead set against SERBIA losing Kosovo, he too is held to wish to move his country towards EU membership. If a solution can be found, SERBIA will be rewarded with an advance up the list of EU candidates. If SERBIA withdraws its forceful objections at the UN, then RUSSIA will likely withdraw its threat to veto. In such circumstances, the independence of Kosovo would be formalised on the terms worked out by the UN. 

A way to go before that situation is reached, but if it could be done, big sighs of relief all around. In fairness, the Russian stance throughout, has been to support the elected government of SERBIA and to oppose ‘on principle,’ a declaration of UDI . That is not a dishonourable position, indeed it is the correct posture in international law, and this outcome does not represent a defeat for them. They have got a massive residue of goodwill amongst the nationalist politicians and probably the ordinary people of SERBIA. Their growing economic interests in this Balkan country are unlikely to be in any way disadvantaged. 

As 2008 is now with us, we take a further look at the master of Russia and how he might proceed after the presidential elections where his chum Medvedev is to succeed the boss. With what Putin has got going for him, we think he will still be significant on the world scene long after the current generation of world leaders will have gone - that being the nature of democratic societies. Just as RUSSIA has bounced back to super-powerdom through the medium of energy (of course it doesn’t hurt superpower status to have the largest landmass on earth and the second biggest stock of nuclear weapons); so we opine that Putin-the-man, will now move forward on a personal level, as our current RUSSIA report explains. We have referred to the Bobbitt prophetic tome on ‘the market state’ above (“Times they are a-changing”), and here is the relevance of that to V. Putin. 

We predict that he will still be a major player on a global scale, perhaps even more powerful than he has been in politics, in the years to come, when most contemporary leading politicians will have departed the scene. Controlling Gazprom as he does, ruthless as he is, knowing what he does, having the state machine at his disposal, seeking to consolidate worldwide Gas supplies in a consortium, he is the very model of a future post-political, one man super-power. 

He may be rivaled in the future post-politics by French President Sarkozy, who is fast becoming the world’s super- salesman for the civilian nuclear industry, in which for practical purposes France has only RUSSIA to compete with. Our INDIA report this month describes his foray into the giant south Asian nation, and remember LIBYA, where recently he rescued the Bulgarian nurses with one hand and sold Ghadaffi a nuclear power station with the other, all in one or two journeys. It now makes sense for editors to check his mind-bending global itinerary, to see if the nation being visited is one that could maybe use a nuclear power station or two

Meanwhile, although we knew the result of the Russian election, even before we knew the candidates, an ingenious if heavy-handed totalitarian approach to control the future democratic process, has emerged. There was one heavyweight contender, Mikhail Kasyanov, who announced his planned candidacy and whose people set out to obtain from across Russia the great numbers of nominations required under the constitution. What made him interesting was that he had earlier been one of Putin’s prime ministers, a real Kremlin insider to get that far. [Under RUSSIA’s constitution, the PM is the immediate successor to any president who dies in office – the literal ‘heart-beat away from power’]. His candidacy has been disallowed – no great surprises there, although he least of all had expected to win. But a presidential candidate is going to get television time and will say his piece – for the period of the election he would be uncontrollable, and this is not what Putin’s system can live with. What is really insidious is that the police checks on the validity of his signatories has involved personal visits, house searches etc, by the police all across RUSSIA and the organizers in each district, in some cases have been arrested. In all cases those citizens that signed the nomination form have been left in no doubt that they are now ‘known as opposed to the rulers of the nation’ and that they are now on a ‘list’. Just imagine how that will play at future elections when people are asked to sign nomination papers for non-official candidates! 

Based on the past experience of Putin and his readiness to totally obliterate any who do not accord him untrammeled power, we predict that after the election Putin will move against Kasyanov, accusing him of ‘procuring’ these alleged forged signatures, some of which probably came from agents provocateurs who will become witnesses, and then lock him up, as he did Kordakovsky. [Egypt did exactly that to the one candidate that had the nerve to take on President Mubarak and who is now in the slammer with a long sentence]. 

Still election risk management in RUSSIA continues to probe new frontiers. OSCE which is broadly trusted in the world to monitor elections, had 400 observers present at the last election in 2004. This time they have been notified that no more than 70 can attend and not until three days before the election. It should be remembered that the RUSSIAN Federation, the largest nation on earth, spreads across 11 time zones and is organised into 89 separate republics or territories. 70 observers into 89 means that the citizens of some 19 republics will not have the benefit of even one inspector to reassure them that this was a free and fair election. In reality, the inspectors work in teams of a minimum of two, so that could mean 35 republics get one inspection team whilst 54 get nothing. Getting there 3 days before the vote? Well remember the 11 time zones, the many thousands of polling booths and the artic weather of this season. They normally also monitor for even- handedness candidate time on TV, and exposure in newspapers - but not this time! 

OSCE has protested, but unless these ridiculous conditions are lifted, surely the best course would be to decline to send any inspectors at all to take part, when by so doing, it merely legitimises a farce? 

The US Intelligence NIE, which clobbered the Cheney war lobby with its 16 intelligence agencies agreeing that IRAN stopped its military program in 2003 and hasn’t recommenced it, is the new building block in terms of making the peace. Another is the response to the UN agency IAEA which is reporting positively so far, on work in progress with the Iranian experts and diplomats responsible for alleviating UN concerns. Even the Bushies have agreed that Condi can meet with the Ayatollahs, so long as they halt their enrichment program. 

That precondition is calculated to bring a refusal from Teheran and maybe it will, but remember NORTH KOREA, which to everyone’s surprise did agree to preconditions. Let us hope that IRAN can do the same. It could be said that it is unreasonable and obviously counterproductive to make preconditions, indeed we have said just that, but it is worth remembering that the whole Security Council, not just the USA has resolved to stop them producing weapons grade uranium. Just as we know, thanks to the NIE, that there is no imminent threat, then by the same token, if halting their program to try talking instead, can produce results, then it would not be a great sacrifice for IRAN to make. 

If this was to produce a regional peace settlement, ‘W’ might reasonably claim that the fact that IRAN stopped its military program in 2003 was as a result of seeing IRAQ all smashed up. The historians are likely to make that connection, and who knows, he might after all the angst and horrors of IRAQ, be remembered as the man who blundered into being a peacemaker! Add to that the prospect of a peace deal between Israel and Palestine, [SAUDIs have been making encouraging noises, SYRIA which we discuss in this issue, et al], then George W Bush might go down in history as a new ‘Saint’ George W, destined after all to do the Lord’s work, via of course the prescribed ‘mysterious ways’. 

Of some interest to the west was the now-you- see-it-now-you-don’t furore, involving the UN nominee as “Special Representative”, Paddy Ashdown, former leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrat party, and earlier a Royal Marine SBS commando officer. He did a forceful, highly commendable job in BOSNIA HERZEGOVINA as “High Representative”, a powerful executive role, quite distinct from the post proposed for Kabul. Sections of the UK media behaved irresponsibly in the way they represented the post, giving it an imperial flavour, which was picked up by Afghan media and opposition legislators. They then pressured President Karzai, who had already agreed the appointment, to revoke it with the UN Secretary General. But before this, Lord Ashdown withdrew on the sensible grounds that in any circumstances, the job would be difficult enough. Without broad support by Afghan politicians and media, it would be impossible. 

A UN representative who could co-ordinate and take the civilian effort forward is seen as the key to future progress. We may not be alone in suspecting here the hand of American -Afghan diplomat and former ambassador to Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, of whom it is said that he might use the Afghan half of his provenance to seek their presidency in the next election. Ashdown has a reputation as a plain speaker, not given to ‘turning a blind eye’ to such fundamental parts of Afghan life as the far-reaching criminal narcotics industry, that could not be so, without widespread complicity at, or near the top. We think it altogether likely that Khalilzad, if he does intend to have a career in Afghan politics, as well as many politicians there, would prefer the UN’s man on the spot to be a more pliant, diplomatic type. 

Make no mistake, NATO is not winning the war in Afghanistan “ This is the judgement of US think-tank, The Atlantic Council. “Afghanistan is at a cross roads –it is time to revitalise and re-double our efforts towards stabilising Afghanistan, and re-think our economic and military strategies”: Thus the influential Afghanistan Study Group. Oxfam International has sent an open letter to the leaders of supporting nations, calling for “a major change in direction in order to reduce suffering and avert humanitarian disaster.” Our AFGHANISTAN report tells how things were in January. 

President Musharraf has been travelling in the west, meeting the mighty at such places as Davos. PAKISTAN is now in the run up to the Febuary 16th elections for a parliament from which will emerge a prime minister. We have in previous issues (PREDICTIONS 2008) discussed who, for good reasons we would say, he would not accept as PM. The PPP having lost their charismatic leader Benazir Bhutto, have a difficult decision as to who would lead them in the parliament. The next month should throw some more light on leadership, but it must be apparent to any follower of the Pakistan story that the political parties have hardly been models of democracy, and there is a shortage of leaders with the necessary stature, that are not irremediably stained by their past behaviour. 

If it persists the whole six party talks may unravel. The delay is that NORTH KOREA did not meet either of the twin commitments it had earlier made. For their part they say that they have told the US everything - and reverse the charge, by accusing ‘other parties’ of not delivering on their side, the energy shipments etc. We give a full report on the state of play, and its implications – it’s the usual complex story - at end January. Meanwhile a lash of the neo-con tail in Washington, has twitched the 6PT curtains with a barrage of familiar Cheneyite accusations. South Korea now has a new president, Lee Myung Bak, leader of a conservative party elected in a landslide [there is another extreme rightist party that was unsuccessful]. The new PM is pro-engagement but wants more reciprocity from Pyongyang. 

Although this Arabic state has long been on or close to WDC’s hate list, reportedly it just escaped being nominated on George W Bush’s original Axis of Evil because IRAN and IRAQ were already named and political correctness meant no more Islamic states (although neither IRAQ nor SYRIA were that - Saddam’s IRAQ was firmly secular, as is Assad’s SYRIA, and only nominally Moslem). 

Similarly Condi Rice, at her Congressional confirmation hearings, gave us a new concept: ‘Outposts of Tyranny.’ As befits a ‘continentally correct’ Secretary of State, she named one South Asian (Myanmar); one East Asian (N Korea); one African (Zimbabawe);one European (Belarus); and one American (Cuba). Since middle-eastern (Iran) was a clear favourite to be nominated, that kept SYRIA out of contention on that list as well.

SYRIA’s rulers main internal enemy, is the Moslem Brotherhood, whose attempted Islamic revolt at Homs in 1982 they slapped down bloodily and mercilessly. A fully democratic election held now in that country [the neo-cons and President Bush’s vision for the middle east], would almost certainly put the Moslem Brotherhood into government with a big majority. As in Algeria 1991, or Egypt 2005, after endless years of militarily imposed government, and lack of choice given the absence of disallowed secular opposition parties, the only alternative at an election becomes the religious party, which at least represents a separate power-base to the loathed military.

We advance the notion in this month’s issue that SYRIA is now the most secular state in the Arab world, and that this works well for minority religions – there are some 20 synagogues in Damascus alone, even though relations with Israel are forbidden We also review the Palestine peace process through Syrian eyes, and take an overview of the situation in Lebanon. 

SYRIA is, or has been until recently, a pariah mostly because it is an enemy of Israel, although that could change. Damascus has publicly asked for peace talks to recover their occupied territory the Golan Heights, lost in war to Israel. Also Israel-connected, the Hizbollah party and militia in Lebanon are supported by Damascus partly because of another cause, SYRIA’s relations with IRAN (my enemy’s enemy is my friend). 
What appears absolutely obvious, in the wake of the discovery that IRAN is not any time soon going to be an atomic power, is that negotiations - those between Israel and Palestine, or separate bi-lateral ones with SYRIA, could change all that. Diplomacy, if given a chance, is capable of finding a resolution. 

Any advance for democracy we would maintain, is an advance for all of us. Some years ago the king of Bhutan made news in the west with his reported original comment on international statistics. That was whilst there was a GNP & GDP for every nation, nobody measured GNH: Gross National Happiness. Now we are glad to report that this remote Himalayan kingdom, which some would say was the most beautiful place on earth (just take a look or bookmark, this, the authentic lost Shangri-La rediscovered , squeezed between India and China - has opted for an elected parliament. 

The national assembly election begins on 24th March, the campaign commences 10th February. Voting has just finished for the Upper House of 25 members, one for each of 20 provinces and five appointed by the king. These historic events could be tempting for anyone suffering from Billary McCain over-exposure to make the effort to be there – or indeed at any time. The danger is that you might not want to leave! 

Clive Lindley 

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