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June 2008 Country Archive

PUBLISHERS OVERVIEW JUNE '08

WHY IRAQ? All is now explained!
As our IRAQ report this month tells, most of the worlds largest oil companies right now, are like those 19th century pioneer wagons lined up, waiting for the gunshot signal to race into the Black Hills of Dakota, on a mad scramble for virgin land riches. The latest news could not provide a bigger incentive. The Vice-president of Iraq, as reported in the Times ( of London) whose stats we quote, has announced that IRAQ's new proven oil reserves have been boosted to 350 billion barrels, well outstripping Saudi Arabia, formerly the largest with 264 billion barrels! 

Geopolitically, we note that these two neighbour's reserves added together, are just about half of the world's total. Add in other close neighbours, Kuwait and UAE for another 200 billion barrels, and you are looking at two thirds of the worlds proven reserves! 

If ever evidence was wanted that the US would not be pulling its troops out of IRAQ ever, (no matter who wins the White House), this is it !

Having morally destroyed the GW Bush presidency (and the Blair prime-ministership) with his false prospectus and insistence on war, the well- loathed Dick Cheney in his coming retirement in Wyoming will be able to comfort himself, reflecting that the stars and stripes are now firmly planted in the sands of Iraq. 

It would never have been saleable even to a Republican controlled Congress to have simply told the truth:
 

"We are going to war, because we intend to control these oilfields... and we can!" 

So, tapping into the public's gut-felt need for vengeance after 9/11, the excuses were trotted out for the gullible Congress and the complacent media - (described by former press secretary Scott McLellan as "complicit enablers"), sequential tales and horrific descriptions of WMD's, claims about "spreading democracy", "removing a tyrant", and following that and less well publicized , Kissinger's adroit objective : " the need to humiliate the Arabs as the US had been humiliated - and that Afghanistan was not enough"!

This piece of classic oil imperialism packaged as all of the above, has secured America's military presence right there, which, as we remarked back in 2003 at the time of the invasion, is what all the Arab peoples and governments believed it was about anyway. Seems they were right! The permanent base couldn't be in Saudi Arabia - 'US boots on the sands that the prophet trod' - this was bin Laden's main complaint at the time when he began his war against the west, reflected by the Wahhabi hierarchs in Saudi Arabia. It was more than the Saudi ruling family could cope with and they insisted that the US military go elsewhere. The Pentagon chose Qatar as their headquarters, and built up the invasion forces in Kuwait. But the future US military presence, a 'strategic reserve' in IRAQ, would be like that of Afghanistan's 'Mac-camps,' primarily a "little America" the size of an airport behind secure camp fortifications, rather than as now, mixing-in to IRAQ's endless and hopeless sectarian street battles. It will position them to be not only sitting right on top of this 'oil dorado,' but be well placed to deter Iran, should that country ever consider invading, which it will not, but which will provide the perfect rationale for a large garrison in a military enclave! 

In this scenario, Bin Laden loses. Al Qaeda's end-game is that all western presence be removed from all moslem lands. They welcomed the Iraq invasion on the grounds that with US forces in Afghanistan, the Arabian Peninsula, and Iraq: "The enemy is now spread out, close at hand and easy to target." But it is not probable, whatever happens elsewhere, that any amount of jihadists killing isolated victims, or destroying US real estate, will cause the surrender of the strategic military oversight of two-thirds of the world's oil, which is the prize the US now holds.

RUSSIA: THOSE BLOTS ON PUTIN'S RECORD
Our report on RUSSIA this month features the new president Medvedev, but inevitably casts many a backward, even forward look at Vladimir Putin. Amongst other descriptions, we look at his presidential record for sheer energy, and chronicle the number and frequency of his numerous meetings and visits across the world. But we also refer to the 'blots on his escutcheon' and here enlarge on that.

In our special report of last October: "2008 - a Year of Destiny" we compared how Putin has played his role as RUSSIA's president, with the performance of George W Bush over almost the identical eight years. Putin leaves his country immeasurably stronger. Although he has not quite achieved, as he declared his principal aim, to "take his people out of poverty", nevertheless the record shows that over the last five years the Russian economy has grown at an annual rate of over 7% (except 2005 when it was 6.4%). In 2007 economic growth reached 8.1%. Unemployment stood at 6.1 % as of last December, and real monetary incomes rose 10.4% in 2007, compared with 2006. 

George Bush on the other hand with typical over-reach, declared that his principal responsibility to history was nothing less than to "rid the world of evil". No need to comment on that sad statement from such an inadequate chief executive, but on the topic of evil, Putin, if ever he reaches the pearly gates, has some answering to do. There is the big question for history as to whether the Russian apartment-block explosions of 1999, killing some hundreds of fellow countrymen, women and children, that precipitated him to power, were the work of his own spooks (see the evidence in "Blowing Up Russia" Litvenenko & Felshtinsky)? 

Another new book approaches the record of his eight presidential years in a different way, as if RUSSIA were a democracy: "Putin: The Results - An Independent Expert Report." The authors are indeed experts, Boris Nemtsov, first known to the west as a progressive and highly successful governor of Nizhny- Novgorod, and later a former First Deputy Prime minister under Boris Yeltsin. The co-author, Vladimir Milov also served in government as Deputy Minister of Energy. Both are prominent Liberal Democrats. 

What they have done as political opponents of Putin's and Medvedev's party, is what is entirely commonplace in any democratic country -attacking in detail the record of the outgoing administration. But when wind of its coming got about, the original 100,000 print run had to be reduced to 5000, because the Kremlin brought pressure to bear on the sole distributor who promptly backed out, leaving only one place in all of Russia, a kiosk on Moscow's Pushkin Square, where it is on sale.

Nemtsov and Milov acknowledge the economic successes illustrated by a 70% rise in GDP during the Putin years, but also point out that oil prices averaging $16 a barrel under Yeltsin, averaged $40 in Putin's time. They charge that their country has the highest levels of corruption ever known in Russia. "Transparency International" indeed ranks Russia at a lowly 143d in the world in their corruption tables. The authors look in some detail at instances of this corruption, pointing out that corrupt officials that occupy high level government positions, are protected from public exposure by the Kremlin's control of the law enforcement agencies, and the mass media. There is much, much, more, including information about 'RosUkrEnergo' the mysterious Swiss based 'middleman' distributor of Russian and Central Asian gas, to Ukraine and Europe. But whilst billions are disappearing or being sidetracked from state coffers, and the number of private billionaires continues to rise, the authors say that there are crises all over the place not being addressed by the state agencies responsible. 

Leaving aside the military and the roads, in public health the life expectancy for men is less than fifty-nine years; "...health care of any reasonable quality is beyond the reach of most Russians." (The World Health Organisation ranks Russian health care at 130th of 190 countries - below Bolivia and Guyana). There has been a 60 % increase in traffic fatalities in these eight years since 2000; violent crime rose by 170% between 2000 and 2006. The quality, they claim of education is declining; affordable housing is scarce; and the pension system is heading for collapse." The evidence is there, but when the state owns the mass media and the courts and can sanction anyone who offends them, then the rot just burrows deeper. The state does not need to even answer these charges which will remain unheard by most of its citizens. 

It is timely, given the praise heaped on Putin, not least by himself, that this, the dark side, should also achieve currency. As we observe, if you are Russian, unless you can visit the kiosk in Pushkin Square, then this will not happen in non-democratic Russia, but then let it be known in those other parts of the world where there is a line drawn both in law and morality, to protect the citizens from such gross exploitation. 

SYRIA: THE KEY TO MIDDLE- EAST PEACE?
So much obloquy has been heaped on SYRIA, some - but by no means all deserved, that it is necessary to draw back and perhaps take a deep breath when re-evaluating their role as the new key to peace. But an appraisal of the remarkable possibilities emerges from our June report on SYRIA. The western world has become so conditioned to 'Big Brother America' initiating peace proposals - the Camp Davids, the Annapolis's - that it still needs a mental adjustment that putative belligerents can themselves get together, and maybe find solutions. When a respectable neighbour like Turkey helps to facilitate the process, the question then becomes "why not"? The other settlement against all propaganda to the contrary, is in the Lebanon, which is also covered in our SYRIA report.

Some of the same observations apply as to Syria-Israel above, but Lebanon's whole government and constitution is a compromise because of the realities on the ground- and it has always been that way. Yet another twist to the grand compromise, given the shift in those realities, should be welcomed for the pragmatism of the players themselves. They feel that they can live with it, even if it doesn't precisely fit into the US model of how that problem should be resolved, which clearly was going nowhere. 

As to the possibilities of the Syria-Israel parties reaching agreement, that now looks to be falling behind a more pressing matter, being the looming withdrawal of Israeli PM Olmert from political life, at least temporarily, which if it happens, leaves Israel without a prime minister. Any temporary incumbent is unlikely to commit to leaving the Golan, without a lot of preparation within the Israeli body politic. 

SAUDI ARABIA 
With another visit by President Bush, the general belief is that this was a further attempt to get the SAUDI's to open their oil taps that much more. Our report this month takes the timely opportunity of reviewing the supply and demand situation over a wider sphere, to see what effect a further expansion of Saudi production might have. 

SERBIA ON HOLD
Our June report tells what has happened in the SERBIAN elections but although the pro- European party was the leader it did not achieve a majority and is now trying to put a coalition together - as indeed are their opponents who reject the European Union and seek the comfort of the Russian embrace. 

SOUTH AFRICA - DISASTER STORY
The caption - 'Disaster Story' of course covers the frightful story of ethnic murder of "foreigners" of which SOUTH AFRICA has some five million (in its fifty million population) and it is a disaster story indeed, as we report in detail. Eighty thousand people fled, including thirty three thousand to neighbouring countries! It is also clearly a 'knock-on' from the chaos in Zimbabwe from where most of these migrants come; but sadly there is more disaster currently in South Africa, even than this horror. 

We report in this issue that new statistics just released show that two million more people than hitherto believed, have contracted HIV / AIDS, now seven and half million in what appear to be more reliable stats than those last issued from government sources. (see our blog 'South Africa')

There is more: There must be a new presidential election next year. The ANC front-runner Jacob Zuma is seriously, perhaps fatally damaged by very grave corruption allegations (see past monthly reports in our archives). As we now report, his trial has been delayed due to administrative causes, (either deliberate or incredibly inept), which means that this trial will still be in progress at a time when the country must chose its next leader. As to alternative presidential candidates, no-one is sticking their heads up, but there is one observation we feel constrained to make. The ANC, overwhelmingly the largest political grouping with its leftist allies, is full of politicians, but there does appear to be a serious deficit of statesmen. 

But hey! What about the good news? The US House of Representatives (Senate next stop), has legislated to remove the ANC from the list of world terrorist organizations, where it was placed in the 1980's, back in the days of Ronald Reagan. This means that when the S.African Foreign minister next goes to meet Condaleezza Rice in Washington, she will no longer have arrange a waiver for him (or for Nelson Mandela if he happens to be going along), as has been the case until now, in order to get past immigration at the airport. 

WHY AFGHANISTAN? 
Not for the first time - most recently we asked before the last NATO summit in Romania, why are NATO in Afghanistan? It is a question more and more Europeans are asking themselves and their governments. We know of course what we went in for. It was in support of the US-led Afghan Northern Alliance which the NATO governments rightly felt to be the best way of defeating the Taleban government - protectors of al Qaeda who had committed the frightful wholesale murders of 9/11.

But as we now know, al Qaeda's top brass got away into the wild tribal lands of Pakistan as did Mullah Omar of the Taleban, where the alliance chose not to pursue them. Instead, the US moved the bulk of its forces to mount a fierce attack on a middle-eastern nation, unconnected with 9/11, but in the context of strategic oil, looming large in the sights of the US and British (see our story: "Iraq: All is Explained" above). 

It is not that we now think that NATO should NOT be in Afghanistan. We would dearly like to be able to evaluate that question, but it is just that we don't know - nobody seems to be able to say - why we are there now, and what are our military and political objectives. (When do we know when we have achieved them)? 

Of course reading our 78th report (this issue) since the west became involved, there seems to be an endless repetition of corrupt political leaders getting rich. President Barzai's family in particular, are having a great run right now, both in winning government contracts, and in making the successful winning bids for privatized state assets. 

As ever, we have stories about opiates going for export, although the market is now we are told, so oversupplied that prices are no longer attractive for farmers to produce, or smugglers to purchase, so market forces are playing their part. Apparently nature too is taking a hand, where Kabul government and numerous agencies have been unsuccessful, with drought cutting into this year's harvest. Added to which world prices in grain now make growing that a better option. So for the first time (in 78 reports), we are able to make an optimistic forecast, that there will be a drop in this years poppy harvest.
The proposals in our blog "Prescriptions" on how to deal with Afghan Drugs now look rather good. 

PAKISTAN: MUSHARRAF'S PROSPECTS 'ON THE UP'
We recently forecast that the coalition between Zardari's PPP and Nawaz Sharif's PML-N should not be expected to last for very long, and indeed it has already shaken apart. Nawaz Sharif's top priority had been the destruction of his personal hate figure, President Musharraf and his relationship with Zardari has foundered on that, to whom it is not a major requirement. He would have 'gone along with it,' rather than initiated it. Unsurprisingly, it is not easy to constitutionally overthrow the elected president, particularly when he is as experienced, astute, and well-connected as Musharraf. 

Since we believe Musharraf has always been Pakistan's best hope, there is still a chance for his project, which we believe to be nothing less than the secularisation of Pakistan, to create a constitution similar to that of Turkey, where he was influenced as a youth. Since we also believe that this ambitious target is exactly what Pakistan and the world needs, we see that only his presence allows for that possibility. The greatest obstacle is his mortal enemy Nawaz Sharif, himself a Wahhabi Islamist, who in a previous run of power as prime minister tried by very dubious means of 'Mussolini-style' mob-pressure, to introduce Sharia law, replacing that of the present constitution. Fortunately that was courageously blocked by the elderly gentlemen in the parliament's upper house.

However, our current June report considers the political objectives Nawaz Sharif hopes to achieve by leaving the governing coalition - and he should not be underestimated!

Meanwhile, the uncrowned king of South Waziristan, Baitullah Mehsud has held a press conference. The man who the CIA say was the brains behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, whom Newsweek has labeled as "more dangerous than Osama bin Laden, "certainly is the boss of these tribal lands, where the nation state within whose boundaries they appear on maps, has no control and is in a state of war with them (except you can't 'declare war' on your own province). What was useful about this public flaunting of power by Commander Mehsud, is that it illustrates the sheer impossibility of imposing a military solution on these mountain men. That could be useful, because editors 'back home' in comfortable offices, who accuse Musharraf, or the newly elected politicians, or the Pakistan military of slacking, and not trying hard enough, may receive a lesson in growing up to the realities of 3000 years of history, when incomers (in this latest case the Pakistani army), are always seen off the premises.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN NORTH KOREA 
Our June report welcomes the long awaited nuclear declaration running to some 19,000 pages of records dating back to 1986, now in the hands of the State Department, from the reactor and reprocessing plant in Yongbyon. This is held to be an essential step in the de-nuclearisation of NORTH KOREA. Within days of the handover, the US announced emergency aid of 500,000 tonnes of food aid, undoubtedly provoked by the signs that at last, Kim Jong-il is prepared to play ball. Quid pro quo's aside, North Korea is in dire straits, as our report explains. It also details the steps still to follow on the de-nuclearisation front, and more ominously, what can go wrong. We also raise the question that even if these priority arrangements on the nuclear question take place, what then happens about materials for chemical and biological warfare? And then there are the missiles! There is very little to suggest that all of these critical issues will be wrapped up satisfactorily, within the remaining months of the presidency of George W Bush. 

"CHINA FRIENDLY" TAIWAN PRESIDENT INSTALLED
We report on the prospects for TAIWAN under their new KMT President Ma, now in office, and particularly what he hopes and expects (and what is expected of him) in redefining relations with mainland China. The Tibet situation can hardly have escaped the Taiwanese millions. Indeed it is surprising that Beijing seems impervious to this when a cornerstone of national policy is to reunite with the island, a key factor in which is how the Taiwanese man and woman in-the-street perceives of life, as part of the PRC? 

There is to be a meeting next month in China with the Tibetan government-in-exile's representatives but the fear is that China is going to use that to merely get a trouble-free month nearer to the Olympics, rather than to commit to any of the Dalai lama's wish list or make any substantive concessions. We will see and report after the meeting has taken place. 

Another hurdle for prospective 'rejoiners' to the mainland, concerns the Chinese communist party. Marxism has failed. It has been tried over many years and a large part of the world - and it has failed. Yet in China there are still seventy million, maybe more, members of the CCP. An elite from which all vacancies for prominent and desirable jobs are filled. Chinese citizens, as consumers, now have very much more choice in their lives. A large middle class has evolved - all very encouraging, except they have no choice in how they are governed. 

LIBYA: BIG OIL IS HERE AGAIN
We report on plans which can only mean that Colonel Qadaffi's return to the 'respectable world' was timely in the extreme, since they announce that the currently aimed for two million bpd of production will become three million bpd by 2012. His gas - now of great interest to Putin's putative gas cartel, will double its production from an annual three and a half bn.cubic metres, to seven bcm by 2013. 
Industrial nations: Russia, Ukraine, Italy are beating a path to his door with some VERY interesting proposals which we describe. And then just as he begins to resemble a normal leader, he comes out with stunning allegations that European nations are deliberately sinking illegal immigrant boats to kill African hopeful immigrants, rather than stop them and send them back. He made this speech to an audience of African Trades Unionists. describing it as a part of "Europe's war against Africans." If he has evidence, it is as much a criminal act for him to withhold it, as to have participated in such an outrage. 

BULGARIA & ROMANIA: THE TERRIBLE TWINS
Our reports on each of these EU latecomers arrives at the unpalatable conclusion that the gamble that admitting them to membership would induce each of them 'to clean up their act,' has been a failure. 'Carrot without stick ' has meant that the carrots have been consumed although there is now a stiffening of resolve in Brussels to cut off the access to various funds available to less well off member states. It may be a fundamental, even a cultural problem, but that is what endemic ailments amount to. Corruption is endemic is these countries. It didn't start with, even though it flourished under communism, it goes back through the Ottoman centuries to Roman times. Power-holders could and customarily did fleece their constituencies, and today's power-holders in these countries have been driven by that same concept of getting rich whilst it were 'their turn,' and still possible. 

Democracy has shortened the time that ministers and their officials can rely on remaining in power. Also, as it worked in the west of Europe it has enabled incoming political appointees to 'blow the whistle' on discovering corruption, on arriving at their new departments. Something of that is happening, but it does seem that other new appointees are more concerned with their own opportunities for instant wealth, rather than cleaning house in their ministries.

It is all very bad news for the candidates waiting their turn for admission, notably Croatia, and further back Albania, Serbia, Macedonia, none of which are free from corruption, indeed in some cases like Albania it seems bred in the bone. Bulgaria and Romania were slipped into EU membership as a calculated risk, but the downside of that is that the EC and the European Parliament may well insist on 'raising the bar' in respect of all future candidates. Or, even begin to examine the question of expulsion from the EU, of those nations who refuse or are unable to redress the unacceptable conduct of their politicians and officials at every level. Only if their citizens realise that these are 'the stakes,' are they likely to 'clean house' all the way to the top of their national tree. 

TURKEY: WHAT NEXT FOR THE KURDS?
There is a debate about who are, what is the origin of the Kurds, who are so numerous and who spread across the political boundaries of IRAQ, IRAN, SYRIA and TURKEY. In Turkey, they make up one fifth (some say a quarter) of the population of more than seventy millions. Before they occupied their present lands in SE Turkey these were partly occupied by Armenians (present day Armenia is only one sixteenth of it's former landmass), but Kurds would say that they were there before the Armenians and again, after them! Kurdistan is one of those places on the globe where the same people, more or less, have been in occupation 'for ever,' (the Kurds go back to be at least contemporary with the Sumerians), whilst political boundaries have been drawn and redrawn over the centuries through the territory of their 'Kurdistan,' which stretches to about 190,000 sq kms, containing 40 million Kurds. The Kurds are one of those people who without a great power to champion them, did not do well in the post WWI peace settlements, when the Ottoman empire was being carved up. The Seljuk Turks conquered those lands in present day Turkey nearly a thousand years ago in the decline of the Byzantine empire, to whom the Armenians/ Kurds were for long a buffer, and it is probable that there must be an admixture of blood lines, as is usually the way after a conquest. Nevertheless the Kurds have a distinctive persona and an indo-european language. They are mostly Moslem - the great Saladin was a Kurdish prince. But in this month's report on TURKEY we look at the present day Kurds in that country.

We also exhibit our alarm that perhaps Turkey may be about to plunge itself into one of those periodic constitutional morasses, where the very existence of the moderate Islamic government party, the AKP, is challenged as being inappropriate in a secular state - and that its leaders should be banned from politics. The AKP has shown that its moderate Moslem usages are quite compatible with western precepts of government. The head scarf, little more than a token of feminine modesty that their conservative women seem to feel important, is a very long way from the full length, black Burqabs and face masks that their sisters in the Arabian Gulf countries, might wear. The AKP leaders: Premier Erdogan and President Gul, have shown themselves committed to western democracy and most impartial observers, certainly us, regard them as clever men doing a good job for their nation. 

TURKMENISTAN COMING OF AGE
When the USSR imploded in early 1991, this distant place was really treated with disdain by the other four central Asian former soviet republics. Immediately after Yeltsin told the general secretary of each 'All Union Republic' (as the 15 SSRs were known), that the USSR was no more - and by the way, the communist party of the soviet union was all over, these central Asians in a panic about what it all meant, immediately convened a meeting. But the leaders failed to even invite Saparmurat Niyazov, who was regarded as so much their junior and in charge of nothing more than a 'joke' republic, mostly desert, and entirely dependent on Moscow to survive. As it turned out, Turkmenistan with its oil and gas reserves was in fact remarkably under-exploited, due largely to the abysmal state of soviet technology. But with independence came the oil-men from the west, with capital and technology. This truly remote under-populated nation - basically made up of tribes - having boundaries with AFGHANISTAN, IRAN, KAZAKSTAN and UZBEKISTAN with a stretch of coast on the Caspian, assumed a new strategic importance to not-so-close neighbours such as China and INDIA. Our June report brings the story up-to-date 

IRAN - A CONSTANT WORRY 
There is still a nagging, distant beat of war drums emanating from the White House, with only six months to go before a new president is elected, yet not installed until January. The 'war party' of Vice-president Cheney was badly set back by the US intelligence agencies all agreeing that IRAN had no military nuclear program, saving which an air strike on its nuclear (by definition peaceful so far) installations, almost certainly would have happened by now. Even so, the IAEA whom people do trust, unlike the current White House, has issued a strong critique of the Iranian's 'lack of candour' - shall we say. As we note in our June report on IRAN, it is becoming obvious that sanctions are not doing anything, except denying competition for the Chinese who are happily in IRAN, cleaning up all the commercial opportunities. Tehran is probably now sure that the military option won't be used (it is significant that Saddam in his time only REALLY co-operated when he realised that the military option WOULD be used). The plan (before the US Intelligence people 'spoiled it'), would have been to use the IAF as proxies, thus one stage removed from the US Congress, but a re-run of that founders with the current state of Israeli politics. With maybe no prime minister any day now, would a new man or woman want to start their relationship with the USA by pleasing the outgoing administration, at the price of probably infuriating the new one? 

What to do? Isn't that for the incoming administration? George W Bush, the New England college-boy however would like to be seen as a two-gun Texican, who took no crap from any Eyranian. Will he accede to the hopes and dreams of his belligerent Vice-president? Our guess is that something will happen, partly because the Iranians (no slouches at belligerency) will provoke it. Probably it will be a short naval affair in the Gulf, where some buzzy Revolutionary Guard gunboats will push some US skipper too far, or a US warship will be authorised to lay about them, say if detecting an Iranian mine-layer at work. It would not be too difficult for either side to create a provocation, any fool could do that - the difficulty might come in being able to stop it. 

Clive Lindley
Publisher


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