As The Year Ends.....
The Monthly/Yearly Roundup
“Jaw, Jaw, beats War, War”
Churchill’s aphorism points up that the Iran story is the most significant in this issue. It seemed and was a close run thing. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia that were for different reasons looking for Iranian blood, are now suddenly resentful that America, their ally, won’t go and do their fighting for them and start a war - (The US would certainly defend both special ‘clients’- if they were to fall under attack from Iran, or anywhere else).
How fortunate the world is to have an Obama in the White House at this time, and not a George W Bush with his handholding friendship with the Saudi Royals and a warmongering Vice, who would have had him tell the world, “Bring it on.” Obama before he was ever elected, promised that he would talk to the Iranians. He has done that via the excellent US/EU negotiating team of Kerry and Ashton who together with the Iranians, have come up with a common-sense agenda for 6 months, to then be reviewed to see how actions and rewards compare with promises.
By now the Nations of the
world should have found an answer!
As much of the world looks forward to the seasonal religious feasts associated with the Winter Solstice, it should be remembered that around the globe, the refugee problem, usually associated with war but also as in the Philippines with the fury of nature, is riding at all-time highs. As we report Libya, Syria and Iraq, we see that the open war in Syria and terrorist wars in Libya and Iraq are causing previously unheard of mass departures from the hopelessness of civilian life in war zones. Economic, not just war refugees, every night are leaving ports and harbours along the Southern shores of the Mediterranean gambling with their lives in the hands of criminal opportunists, hoping for the miracle of being taken in and allowed to work, by peaceful nations with comparatively successful economies.
The same situation in the southern hemisphere finds Australia as the target country, from small boats crossing the Pacific with hopeful refugees from several parts of Asia. Many of these, as in the Mediterranean will never get ‘there’ - that being an island reception centre, prior to being for the most part flown home to the tender mercies of governments they were fleeing from.
What a long way the world has to go before it can regard itself as civilised!
A walk through ‘the Arab Autumn’
We have put together at the front of our December reports in the Overview
Iran; Syria; Turkey; Iraq; Saudi Arabia; Libya; Egypt.
These are the frontline players this issue, in the series of middle-east crises that featured heavily in 2013 reports, although the most significant action was in November at Geneva.
So what can a Peace Conference –
Geneva 2, bring about?
There are the mostly secular opposition groups, recognised by the west as the Syrian Free Army. They have been fighting since the beginning. Some are professional soldiers, army officers and men unwilling to fight their Sunni co-religionists. People like that can be negotiated with. Their demand is that Assad and the rest of the ruling family surrender power. The problem there is that the Syrian government with it’s professional soldiers, after nearly three years looks more like winning than do the rebels, which puts government in a position of negotiating strength. The second problem is that about half of the insurgents are Islamics, many of these- most perhaps, are foreigners, not Syrians at all. They want an Islamic state. Qatar and Saudi, both of whom are solidly Sunni, are sponsoring many insurgents because for them, this war is against heresy, it is religious. A showdown between Iranian sponsored Shi’ism and Saudi-sponsored Salifism. No easy compromise there, since Syria is already religiously free.
That of course is the point. Salafism does not admit of Moslem nations allowing any form or buildings of any other religion at all, which is what has made Syria an irritant to them, since its inception at the break-up of the Ottoman empire. So, as it now stacks up, the West initially so keen to dispose of the Assads, have found themselves supporting the side, who in power, would immediately abolish religious tolerance, affecting about a third of Syrian citizens, including many Christians.
The peace conference should be about an acceptable constitution which surely must include religious tolerance. At that point you lose the Salafis as this is the whole point to them. As to the ‘Assad must go’ proponents, which sadly included Mrs Clinton and William Hague ‘shooting from the hip’ (as a result, President Obama was poorly advised on this civil war); any acceptable constitution must surely include the election of a president. Assad’s people are insisting that it must be Syrians who decide these things.
If Assad would run for office in an election monitored by acceptable referees, he could win! The fact that he and his people have held tight to the mantra that the outcome is for the Syrian people alone, rather indicates that the stability the Assad’s represent, might constitute a ‘winning card’. The Sunni majority would continue to enjoy freedom of worship but would NOT be able to prohibit this freedom for others, as the Salafists seek to do.
Of course the Islamist rebels will never accept this. Their position at least has the virtue of clarity, which means either their victory and a theocracy; or, an ‘Iraqi situation’ of constant inter-religious communal murder by random bombings; or a flat-out new civil war. The secularists, plus those not religiously motivated rebels, fighting with the Government forces against the Saudi /Qatar sponsored Islamists, in order to safeguard a constitution once this satisfies their concepts of democracy.
It is that constitution that should be the subject matter of Geneva 2. It is achievable. It must include religious tolerance! There is no easy way forward.
Russia and the FSU
Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine
The ‘big bad Russia’ model was doing well given their characteristic bullying of FSU republics, to enlist them into the Russian's Eurasian Economic Union. Then suddenly, Moscow emerged as a peacemaker over the use of chemical weapons in Syria, notching them up several points in international estimation, and in our view, leaving the USA ‘owing them one’.
It will not be forgotten so easily that it has been the Russians constantly pointing out that the Islamists role as urban guerrillas, is a growing international menace. Certainly this is the case for them with their restless federated republics like Chechnya and Dagestan and their particular interest in the Central Asian FSU states. Moscow has every reason for concern about the migration of Islamist terrorists in the wake of the coming closure of Afghanistan as an international theatre of war. Currently Syria is high on the Islamic terrorist targeted lists. Also Libya, where the outcome of civil war is not yet settled, and could swing their way. But Russia’s concerns are mainly due to their clearly seeing the dangers of this religious fervour to themselves, in the North Caucasus, and in such formerly Islamic states in the former Soviet Union, within which they still seek to deploy substantial influence for commercial and military reasons. (See also Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, in this issue).
Which featured this month because it has been top of the Russian’s economic ‘hit list’ and this came to a climax this month when the Ukrainian government announced that it was not after all, following lengthy negotiations with the EU Commission, going to continue with its application for economic ties with the EU. It really comes down to the fact that Putin sees it as his mission to recreate as far as possible, the Russian empire, historically Tsarist, then Soviet and which was dissolved with the Union of fifteen SSR’s, on the collapse of the USSR. This not a recreation of Russia as the alternative world power, not a revival of the political concept of communism, but good old imperialism involving those FSU states that due to resources, or geographical location, or likeminded top-down rulers, are targeted for special treatment by Moscow. UKRAINE may be the most important politically, with its population of 50million ethnically similar, plus the historical fact that the ‘Rus’ started there and moving east still share with Russia a history of many centuries.
Being the westernmost part of the FSU, neighbouring EU states such as Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Hungary, the western Ukrainians also have ties of blood with them and can certainly compare standards of living and political life,with their own. It looked until late November that Ukraine would opt for the western route via the EU, but Russia somewhat heavy-handedly leaned on the Kiev government to look east not west, and so it seems currently at least, to have played out.
But moving on from the FSU we bring forward North Korea still communist, the ‘other’ international nuclear maverick, but this one an actual, not a potential nuclear weapons state!
“rebarbative, recalcitrant, recidivist”
The N. Korean story rather resembles a looped videotape that endlessly replays itself until it reaches the point the viewer could almost recite the story themselves - although perhaps not reach such lyrical conclusions of the hermit nation, as in our caption.
As ever, our North Korean report is illuminating, and of
course a key element in it is how well/badly is the grandson of
the Kim il Sung dynasty doing, after a year in office. One item
does emerge from the barely scrutable pronouncements from
Pyongyang. We do see the hint of a mystery chasing down the
interesting fact that there have been some strange promotions /
demotions in the prolixity relating to the very pinnacle of the
The South Asians:
India; Bangladesh; Pakistan.
Elections coming up in INDIA. A lot rides on whether the Congress can do sufficiently well to form a coalition. With all their faults and we take a look at those, the Congress is experienced and inclusive, whilst their principal rival the BJP is unpredictable and with its allies, a heavily right wing Hindu nationalist party. Past experience indicates they are given to unpeaceable responses and worse, initiatives, liable to ratchet up a problem big scale, to the Moslems and others including the government, when in a strident mood. The situation vis a vis Sri Lanka, is discussed. The mission to Mars is celebrated!
BANGLADESH is depressing reading. Corruption is not so much under the surface as right up front in the pre-election arrangements, the disgraceful cornering of the Grameen Bank and slagging off of Mohamed Yunus; plus the scandals surrounding the collapsed garment factory and multiple deaths involved. What a way they have still to go!
PAKISTAN once the western half of the state that they and present day Bangladesh comprised, is no great shakes either. Given that it has a nuclear arsenal it is a bigger worry than its former eastern half. Many more incidents on the border with India and now there are frontier problems on the Iranian border as well; the economy being a nightmare, this country we describe as a crippled, dysfunctional disaster, seldom offers grounds for hope, not just internally but for the wider world.
The only representative of the Balkan states in this issue, Serbia has been many things, but good or bad they are always significant. They are Orthodox Christians and thus feel close to Russia. In the post-Yugoslav years their expansionism caused a lot of misery, not just to their Balkan neighbours but to themselves. Some very bad things took place.
They are visibly emerging from that unhappy post-Yugoslav interlude and some sensible politicians seem to have managed to face up to the realities projecting forward rather than seeking to reproduce past glories, if that is what they were. Living with an independent Kosovo has been hard for them but this government is facing up to realities. Moving forward, not dwelling in the past, has to be the key.
Clive Lindley - Publisher
All Country Updated reports