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July 2008 Country Archive

PUBLISHERS OVERVIEW JULY '08

Obama’s World? 
Since our last month’s overview, Barack Obama has been acknowledged as the champion of the Democrats to contest this November for the White House. Already we have looked at “What would a McCain presidency mean for the world” and before the November election we will follow up with the same question about Obama. We can expect both candidates to take foreign policy positions that would define their government and which would affect many of the nations which we analyse here, so we will comment as this arises. But this, our July issue will illustrate the state of play of many aspects of the world, with which the successful candidate will need to come to terms.

Credibility of Government
The US under GW Bush has been rightly criticized for its departure from basic democracy – starting with the fraudulent Florida election of the Bush first term, ‘legitimized’ by the massed ranks of Republican-appointed Supreme Court Justices dutifully voting the party ticket. Then came the deception of America and the world, in going to war in Iraq on a false prospectus, a matter that truly deserved impeachment. 

There has been a blanket (as opposed to a tissue) of lies from both the president and vice-president on basically all matters relating to Iraq. Extraordinarily enough both, several times, have publicly claimed that WMD’s had now been discovered, whilst the facts proved differently! Although 17 of the 19 suicide hi-jackers were from oil-ally SAUDI ARABIA, Cheney in particular, very effectively had Americans believe that they were Iraqis, or even Syrians, depending on who was poison-of-the-month for the White House. Polls said that for quite a while, and for long after the event, more than half of all Americans believed that it was Saddam that had sent Iraqi terrorists on 9/11 to destroy America (whilst the CIA said truthfully, that no links at all had been established between al Qaeda and Saddam). 

We have a theory that it was Karl Rove that developed the most used ‘big lie’ technique, to tell a story that Fox TV news and the US tabloids, plus the Murdoch press in the UK, will report, will never retract if challenged and so will enter the public consciousness as received truth. That would explain how in 2004 the ‘swiftboating’ technique worked to demolish the genuine Vietnam veteran John Kerry, opposing the Vietnam draft dodger, George.W.Bush!

In this scenario, much of the rest of the media will then report that Fox TV or “The Times of London” or whoever, said this or that, which gives the story a second exposure. The tabloid media never return the compliment by reporting what the serious media say, unless they get something wrong! Cheney has been the master of feeding material for this technique, whilst Karl Rove has been its true begetter.

But how refreshing that in 2008 we have seen another, a wholly admirable side of US democracy. The exhaustive and exhausting race for the nomination of the candidates, one of whom must anyway lose in the actual November election. That is the remarkable democratic process that we want to admire about America. Moscow also has a new man who had a less admirable, and also less stressful road to power. In RUSSIA this month, we speculate on how an Obama administration might relate to the new Medvedev presidency.

Good News from Serbia
What suspense there has been, but excellent news that the Socialists in SERBIA - Milosevic’s old party - have decided to support the pro-EU coalition, that without them could not form the government. Our report on SERBIA also gives details of the appointment of a new prime minister, and also speculates on whether this coalition will last.

To the disgust of the nationalists of different hues, the Socialists have had the good sense to look to the future, whilst the nationalists, firmly facing backwards, sought to convince the electors that they could turn back the clock, and have SERBIA somehow re-enter and take power in breakaway Kosovo. It must be remembered that last time they tried to force submission from the ethnic Albanian 80% of Kosovo’s population, they alienated them to the extent that more than a million refugees seeking to flee from the brutal Serbian military police, escaped into neighbouring MACEDONIA and ALBANIA. It was the massive international consequences of this, prompting western military intervention, which left Kosovo to be administered by the UN and led to the UDI by the Kosovars. 

It has to be hoped that this mature decision from the elected representatives of the Serbian electorate, can now allow this country with so much dynamism and talent, to take up its proper place in the European Union group of nations. The policies of Milosevic to effectively turn Yugoslavia into Serboslavia, of which this may come to be seen as the last act, has taken some seventeen years to unwind, and much blood and horror in so doing. But there is a point to be made that others have not. Given this decision of the Serbians to seek to become a ‘normal’ nation, and, as will eventually come, a good neighbour to its former Yugoslav associates, the chances of another war in the Balkans, this infamous tinderbox of Europe, quickly now recede. That means that just as it became quite unthinkable in the second half of the 20th century, that colleague nations of the EU could go to war with each other ever again, that equation can now include the Balkans, a miracle it would have been thought by politicians of just fifty years ago.

The dumbed-down population of those EU countries that don’t keep up with political events, would know for example that last year SERBIA and this year RUSSIA won the European song contests, but many would not know that all through history every European generation until their own, had to witness, and often be personally involved in terrible wars, that routinely destroyed millions of lives and families, just like theirs. Peace for many of them is what they have always known, which often leads to petty nationalist upsurges, stimulated by a dangerously jingoistic media, as though inviting conflict rather than co-operation. In the same way that computer war games can anaesthetise ‘zapping’ a screen enemy, real conflict of even a relatively small-scale kind, is in fact bloody and horrible [check out “Forgotten Voices of the Falklands” by Hugh McManners. Ebury Press.

…..Still More Good News! 
This time from NORTH KOREA – and what a relief! After a cliff-hanger of a waiting period, NORTH KOREA has, as promised, passed over nuclear data, apparently thus fulfilling its commitments to the group of six nations, who have been negotiating de-nuclearisation. But that is the headline. Our July review of NORTH KOREA gives a profound overview of the real state of play, which is truly fragile, as we explain. 

Our report digs deeper and highlights what is needed to follow, to genuinely describe this news as a breakthrough. But this nation has moved off Bush’s Axis of Evil list to, well, to something else. 

Commentators not least ourselves, cannot come to terms with why the same US Administration which could sensibly move on to the realpolitik of negotiation (after its first term of denouncing and denying any intentions of furthering Bill Clinton’s inherited negotiations with Pyongyang), yet cannot get out of the bunker with the Tehran equivalent. 

Saudi Arabia: the Truth about Oil Prices 
Our report is short and to the point. Oil prices are escalating because of speculation. We explain what SAUDI can do about it – supply that is. Nobody can control speculation – it’s truly international and can be done anonymously, outside the capacity of the administrations of 200+ nation states to regulate because there is no supranational authority to control the market. As in so many aspects of life, the will is not there to accept any curbs or control on ‘the 21st century religion’ of the free market. 

What’s new is what’s old in Afghanistan 
In July, our 79th monthly report tells the following things: That President Karzai, must now be highly suspect for involvement in corrupt practices - it gives some detail about his family businesses. It records that the opium harvest will be reduced for the first time in years, simply because there is a glut of opiates and at the same time, the scarcity of grain has made that a far more rewarding crop. But fear not sniffers and mainliners, there are said to be warehouses full of opiates waiting for the market price to rise. What a wonderful opportunity, one might think, for the authorities to swoop on such warehouses. The farmers have presumably been paid for that last years harvest, so the objection that their families will starve (as with destroying the crop in the fields), should not apply. But could it be that the authorities in question are the same people (or their cousins), that own the warehouses and distribution nets? (We observe that the time could hardly be more propitious for the proposed solution to the Afghan Poppy problem, advanced in our geopolemics blog site).

We give some detail about ‘electioneering the Afghan way’. President Karzai has sought to enhance a macho image and erase the reputation he has as a weak leader, by signing a large number of death sentences. The executions carried out in the past, led to a temporary surge in his popularity, until it emerged that the most dangerous of the sentenced criminals had been ‘let out of the back door,’ before their executions, with the complicity of the police. Less ‘important’ criminals had no such late interventions.

This is the same president of the same country who came to the Paris conference of donor countries in June, seeking $50 billion over five years - and actually obtained $21 billion! Although donors took the opportunity to complain about corruption, they did not impose strict terms and conditions.

We frequently ask what is Nato doing in this country - in the sense of what do they hope to achieve? The US has got one of its large regional bases there, of the kind that were intended to girdle the earth (which we can safely predict is what will happen to their troop presence in Iraq), so we know why they are there. But what do the Nato partners achieve by their presence? Is it enough to ‘contain’ or push back the Taleban and resist their inroads – and isn’t it time the Afghan army ‘stood up,’ as George W Bush so frequently says, to defend their own country against these irregular tribesmen. They are we understand, without armour, heavy weapons or air support, the kind of conditions that would justify a modern army supporting an approved ally, if that is what Karzai is? 
Is $21 billion – no questions asked – the price paid for stability, or what else does it buy for the rest of the world? 

Syria in the News Again
As we reported previously, the Turkish brokered ‘peace talks’ between SYRIA and Israel continue, with massive implications if they can be brought to a successful conclusion. We report on progress. Also the latest developments on the so-called ‘nuclear reactor’, bombed by Israel in the Syrian desert last September. The quite unreliable US White House interpretation of this will shortly be tested by the rather more trustworthy (based on past performance), IAEA who are now investigating the site. 

Israel & Iran: The Ticking Clock
As the clock ticks off the remaining period in office of the GW Bush administration, the most important current question for the world remains a paradox. It is whether during this time, Israel as a proxy, or the US directly, will bomb the targets in Iran that they identify with an ambition (routinely denied), for Iran to become a nuclear armed power. 

We have always understood that if Israel even with its 150 or more nuclear warheads, really felt itself to be subject to an imminent threat in terms of its survival, then it would do an (Iraq-style) pre-emptive strike, with, or worst case without, Washington’s nod. 
But although Israel’s Mossad has a big reputation and their analysts, we are told, do not agree with the estimate of the fifteen US intelligence agencies who concurred last winter that Iran dropped its military nuclear program four years back; also that it was many years off acquiring the capability of developing a bomb, in the event the military program were recommenced. But it does seem certain that those US Intelligence agencies must have first taken all their sources, including all friendly agencies, particularly Mossad’s view, into their estimate, but nevertheless arrived at their own different conclusion, which became public. 

So there is no imminent threat. The world is not going to believe Israel, nor the White House if they sought to explain, post hoc, any military intervention based on fear of the ‘WMD’ consequences of not doing so. 

Also, the well-publicized Israeli large-scale aerial manoeuvres in June, have once and for all dismissed any faint possibility of any element of surprise, if they were to make a raid. That almost certainly means some shot-down aircraft and captive aircrews, and we have seen the sensitivity of Israeli public opinion to their boys becoming prisoners. That in itself has been a causus bellum, both with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. 

Against the criteria of taking such losses and giving such hostages in the face of no imminent threat, domestic Israeli political opposition would have much to say about that. An armed intervention this year would also mean presenting the incoming US administration with an immediate and massive problem as a fait accompli, which would not endear the Israeli politicians who took the decision, to the new US administration, even if it had been signed off by Cheney. 

There seems remarkably little public comment that surely, any other US administration than this one, would have seized the opportunity gained by the US Intelligence consensus that Iran had discontinued its military program, and used that to reverse the thirty-plus years policy of outright hostility and non-communication. This could have morphed into a new policy of first acknowledging the implications of that conclusion, and then engaging Iran with the primary objective of deterring them from ever again resuming that program, with suitable safeguards. That doesn’t sound so difficult does it? There must be a massive inducement to such an approach following what seems to be the self-evident success of a not dissimilar type of deal negotiated with NORTH KOREA, (which we report above) and which might still qualify as George. W. Bush’s one foreign policy success. 

It would mean carrots rather than sticks, but surely if IRAN benefited sufficiently from the development exclusively of civil nuclear power, agreeing acceptable transparency in the process, then the R-o-W’s objectives would have been achieved? The west could pile in with investment in Iran’s oil and gas industries and share in all forms of commercial activity now being exclusively monopolised by Russia and China. These two are benefiting greatly in not agreeing with the US and EU, about the ways to discourage IRAN from becoming a nuclear power, and benefit commercially as a result. 

India & Iranian gas 
It now looks strongly as though INDIA and IRAN are about to conclude a deal, together with PAKISTAN, to build a $7.4 bn gas pipeline through the latter country, to supply the southern giant’s pressing energy needs. One blanches at the still unresolved issues :– the transit fee demanded by PAKISTAN; the price revision clause; the key issue of IRAN retaining ‘custody’ of gas in the pipeline through to the Indian border, rather than at its own frontier with PAKISTAN, so the gas supply does not become a ‘political football’ in Indo-Pakistan relations. But the fact is that it is a deal where everybody comes out ahead (ahem, ‘though not the US, who want IRAN fully isolated), and probably everyone at the top level in the three relevant countries wants to see the deal done. Our report on INDIA gives more detail. 

The Looming Shadow
PAKISTAN’s Nawaz Sharif is not as nice as he looks! He was once prime minister, moreover elected. Chambers Historical Dictionary describes him as turning his position into that of an “elected dictator.” In 1999 this provoked a military intervention. He bit off more than he could chew when he took on Musharraf, who as C-in C of the armed services deposed him. Sharif, a traditional Pakistani land-owner politician, is a very dangerous man, a faux democrat, a Wahhabi Moslem who attempted by Mussolini-type methods to force the parliament to accept shariah law, to replace that of Pakistan’s constitution. He is also a skilled politician and the fact that he has resigned from sharing power with the PPP, now run by Benazir Bhutto’s widower, indicates he has a game plan to replace the PPP as Pakistan’s leading party. 

We report the current state of Pakistan’s politics, their economy, and endless struggles. Amongst these are the overt confrontation with the Pakistani Taleban in the frontier city and province of Peshawar, where signals are coming fast and furious that the Taleban are perhaps in a position to actually overwhelm the administration there. The Pakistan military appear to have moved in to take over some aspects of security from the civil power, which cannot cope.

This scenario explains better than any argument from us that the new polity has failed to solve the nation’s dire leadership problems, since the time that much of the western media, in a spectacular ‘own goal’ supported the then exiled party politicians, without it seems quite understanding whom they were so enthusiastically promoting here. 

The project had been to sideline President Musharraf, who had certainly not provoked the present big question as to who is in charge in that troubled country? Right now nobody knows the answer and it is a good illustration of the adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” It wasn’t, but it’s looking like it is now! The solution which looks more and more obvious, is to grant the President more (rather than take away) powers, to deal as effectively as he has done previously, with such crises as that of the worsening Islamic challenges to the frail democracy of this nation.

AFGHANISTAN is publicly blaming PAKISTAN’s ISI – (Interservices Intelligence…and more), for the failed attempt on President Karzai’s life at a military parade in Kabul, on April 27th. The evidence they offer is tenuous – “confessions of suspects” and the like, except for the harder evidence of claiming that mobile phones taken from suspects, proved that they were in touch with the ISI in Pakistan. Apart from this question of who is actually in charge in Islamabad, it is important to note that Musharraf’s successor, the new head of PAKISTAN’s armed forces to whom ISI reports, was before his elevation to top soldier, himself the head of ISI! 

Danegeld in Iraq
An interesting variant on Danegeld has emerged in IRAQ. This was the practice where a thousand years ago, the northern raiders charged and received a fee to not raid a particular stretch of coast (in this case it is highway robbery). The ‘highway’ referred to here is the oil pipeline in northern Iraq. As our July report tells, sabotage attacks on the pipeline are down from an average of thirty a month last year, to just four in the month of May, so from one a day, to one a week, doing marvels for the delivery of oil for export. New security employees appear to be identical to the old saboteurs, the local tribesmen, rather than ideologically motivated Islamic jihadists. With the profits on oil as at present, it looks as though every one will come out ahead. 

Here is food for thought for the proposed TAPI pipeline, which to the trepidation of potential investors is scheduled to run, if it ever happens, from TURKMENISTAN through tribal AFGHANISTAN (as the July report on that country explains), and on through the wild lands of Baluchistan, eventually to INDIA

We give a full current rundown of the oil situation in Iraq, that being absolutely the key to this nation’s future prospects. Having announced (see our June issue) that they have the largest oil reserves in the world, more even than Saudi Arabia, it is no wonder that all the world’s BIG OIL is lining up to get a piece of it. In the absence of a basic oil law (on which the Iraqi parliament cannot agree), the oil ministry are finding some ingenious ways of engaging major oil companies, short of ceding oil rights. 
We also observe and develop the idea that Prime Minister al Maliki, routinely written off as ‘finished’by the American press, is making quite a good fist out of an ‘impossible’ job. 

Bangladesh and Democracy
A curious but understandable deal has been brought about in BANGLADESH. Democracy has been suspended for well over a year whilst the army-backed Presidential-led technocrat government, has been seeking to clean up the formerly hopelessly corrupt public domain, specifically seeking to ensure that the next election will, for the first time, perhaps be a ‘clean’ one. The leaders of both major political parties, both women relatives of former party leaders and both prime ministers: Sheik Hasina Wajed (Awami League) and Khaleda Zia (BNP), were arrested some time ago on numerous corruption charges, in each case. It may be assumed, for this reason that they will not be able to play any part in forthcoming elections or otherwise in public life. But if their parties do not play a role, then the reality is that the elections themselves may be doomed before they begin. Sheik Hasina therefore is being released from jail to go to the USA for ‘medical treatment’ (a similar deal is likely to be extended to Khaleda Zia). In return for this concession she had has agreed to have her party participate in the electoral process, which hitherto they have declined to do. Few doubt that this medical treatment will become a permanent exile, given the alternative of returning home to a trial and possible long term of imprisonment. The chances of Bangladesh moving forward and away from the dysfunctional governments of the past, would be greatly improved by the permanent absence of these two former prime-ministers. 

Why Does the Philippines do so badly?
We ask why this SE Asian island group does so badly – and try to answer that question. The fact is that just about every other single country in South East Asia is doing better at attracting investment than the PHILIPPINES– and it doesn’t have to be like that! 

Taiwan – China off to new Start 
Our TAIWAN report tells that the new Kuomintang Taiwanese government has got off to quite a good start, in re-establishing a relationship with Beijing, as their manifesto pledged them to do, albeit concentrating on areas where there was a clear win-win deal to be had. 

Islam and the Agonies of Change
The current state of play in TURKEY is described in a curious situation where the Islamists here could be considered ‘the good guys’ and the secularists are behaving dangerously - and many would say unreasonably, although as we show, it is not that simple. We describe the current circumstances and suggest that what is happening in Turkey, is indicative of a wider struggle throughout the Moslem world. 

TURKEY regards itself as a European state, notwithstanding an observing Moslem population and a ‘soft islamist’ government party, working within the law, well supported by a population who are simultaneously proud of their secular state. They have in other words, ‘moved on,’ just as happened in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, when the Christian Democrats and their ilk, became serious political parties - conservative and traditionalist to be sure, but no longer the instruments of the Vatican. 
The debate actually taking place in Turkey is how the secular and the traditionalist / religious may meld in the modern democratic state, and it has hitherto been regarded as perhaps the leader, in confronting this question. 

The specific issue in TURKEY was about reversing the ban on Islamic headscarves being worn by female students at Turkey’s universities. To European countries, there are overtones of apparently similar strictures under the previous presidency in France, a new law disallowing school children from wearing religious emblems and clothing whilst on school precincts. The new law forbade this on state property, as schools are. It said nothing about them coming to and from their homes to school, in the street or at their homes. In that sense it is contiguous to universities in TURKEY, but the rules in that country were laid-down by Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, the architect of modern TURKEY – at the same time that he forbade men from wearing the fez. It was all in order to drag his country out of the nineteenth century and have them adjust to Europeanism. 

Western liberals in particular, sympathise with the idea that the state should have nothing to say about girls at university who chose to wear a head-scarf, but this is reasonably defined by many secular Turkish women, as really the thin end of the wedge. They cite what happened incrementally in IRAN with the incoming of the Ayatollahs, following after the relaxed situation of the Shah’s rule. Will girls wearing the headscarf, also follow pressure next to wear long skirts that hide their legs and ankles? Will supervised ‘modesty’ in dress not follow as day follows night? How long before that turns into religious pressure, as it did in IRAN for the full scale burqa, with slits for eyes? 

We think the French got it right. After a short media-inspired furore, it has settled down and been accepted as a rational decision by government. The place to challenge the ruling in TURKEY is in the courts on the issue. Not by making the government party illegal as a state prosecutor seeks to do, which would be mendacious overkill, but by specifically requiring a constitutional ruling on dress codes at school or universities and indeed government ministries – in other words whilst on state properties, as distinct from people’s homes, or in their private lives. We most earnestly hope that Turkey will avoid a major crisis over this issue, and that will now mostly depend on the maturity of the courts. 

Other Moslem states, particularly those in the middle-east, are in different phases of the paradox of how to combine the urgent pressures of modernity, including the possibilities of democracy, with the traditional teachings of less complex times. 

Egypt for example modernizes in material terms and puts its trust in military government and a measure of repression, also Algeria, which flirts not very successfully with modernity in politics. Outside the middle-east, this also describes Indonesia.

SYRIA in this sense more resembles Egypt, but there a coalition of minorities: Alawi, Druse, Ismaili and Christian combine. They are backed by a monopoly of the armed services, to ‘keep down’ the Sunni majority, who disenfranchised, look to the illegal Moslem Brotherhood, as their champions. 

IRAQ has to combine separate ethnicities at state level as well as religious sects, so energies there are focused on trying to make that work, rather than conflicts between modernists and traditionalists within the Shia or Sunni sects.

Jordan, Morocco and SAUDI ARABIA have authoritarian monarchies but because religion is a major element in Saudi politics, due to the centuries-old alliance of the Wahhabi sect and the House of Saud, modernization is carefully channelled and controlled. Jordan however is far less repressive in almost every way and it confronts the dangers of potentially dangerous extremism - be that in politics or in religion - by the alliance of the monarchy with the army. Morocco is not wholly dissimilar.

There is a distinct cut-off from the striving from those at the top and middle of economic society, from those at the other extreme, on the question of how to move on with modernization. There has been a widespread politicisation of youth throughout the Moslem world, particularly but not exclusively where unemployment is rife, but this takes the form of islamisation. Their extreme position is at a 180 degree turn, whereby Islamists are opposed to their rulers, not because they are failing to modernise and provide opportunities, but because due to their corruption, as it is alleged, they have allowed modernization to take place at all. Their duties as rulers, the islamists maintain, would be to reduce living to its simplest forms:- prayer five times a day, reading holy scripture, and strict observance of the teachings of the Koranic scholars, in all matters pertaining to daily life. Nothing else is needed, they say! 

So Moslem society varies from the strict, religious-police enforced observance in SAUDI ARABIA, or of all of civil life institutionalized to meet religious requirements, as in IRAN, to the other extreme. That is a casual acceptance of religion like much of the west, for little more than the purposes of marriages, naming babies and burying the dead, (which civil rites are seldom able to do very satisfactorily), in such countries as Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Albania, or Bosnia, for example. 

IRAN is a curious exception in several ways. In IRAN the only existing Islamic theocracy, albeit Shi-ite, the second largest Islamic sect, requires religious observance, as in attending public Friday prayers, or even privately praying five times a day. The practice is quite ubiquitous. But there is also wide-spread discontent in the cities, at being ‘priest- ridden,’ and a hankering for the western style of democracy, where candidates can stand in their public elections, without being struck off by a committee of clerics, for being doctrinally suspect – the classic ‘not one of us’ syndrome. 

TURKEY, many would consider as being in the vanguard of a grand compromise where religion is a matter of personal choice, yet the nation is a quite separate entity independent of religious interference, with a citizen’s constitutional rights reflecting that. This only happened in Turkey because of a strong and revered leader who wanted to take his nation into the modern world. In IRAQ it happened because a strong and feared leader willed it so, but without any mandate or consensus, so once he was gone, religion reverted to being a community badge, a tribal label, having a mainly political significance. Christianity was no less troubled by just such anachronisms, but has had nearly two millennia and widespread popular education, including science subjects, to achieve the present balance between a predominant religion, its different sects and the state. This is six centuries of maturity more than the Moslem faith – and it shows! 

How these other nations will find their way through this minefield will and should exercise all of the world. Without that, no permanent solution will be found to the present day crisis of bottom-up jihadists, as a raging against a power in which they do not share, but to which there are no geographical limits!
 

Clive Lindley
Publisher


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