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The Sound & the Fury signifying….?

Not a lot has been resolved in the Arab awakening. Egypt’s democracy is anything but robust. Libya is a fine example of post-revolutionary anarchy; Iraq is troubled, complex, there is a strong feeling of being ‘on the edge.’ The Middle East is perhaps more unstable, thus more dangerous than ever as we review the ‘Awakening’ countries.


This has been an important year for geopolitics with Obama given a new four year term and China replacing its leadership, within a couple of weeks of that. But in both governments these are experienced men. The US president’s power is limited in the US by the fact that the Democrats only control the Senate, whilst Republicans hold power over the House.


Nevertheless, Obama in this election has impressed with his general decency. We were glad as Europeans, to see him re-elected, whilst his opponent Romney, gave every impression of being the scary prospect of "Bush43. MKII" another Foreign Affairs ‘know nothing,’ with a terrifyingly vague approach to the rest of the world. The Chinese change of government can only produce the judgement that ‘it’s too soon to say’, although undaunted, NewNations are publishing an Overview on this event in our mid-December issue, following the current mid-November NewNations special report on what Obama’s election means for the world (see ‘Special Reports’ November).

But it is Syria where we see the big evaluation mistakes being made, almost on the level of Iraq.



Another Awful Misjudgement

There have been a flurry of late but significant developments, on the whole not good, reminiscent of the previous awful Bush era misjudgement in invading Iraq. It is true that no western forces have (yet) been committed to Syria, but there we westerners are, supposed to be the good guys, standing on the sidelines and determinedly cheering on one side in a complex civil war. At root, it is none of our business, since we believe Henry Kissinger got it right when he asked in a NYT article the appropriate question: ‘Why was the US State Department involved in what was basically just the latest battle in the thousand year war between Shia and Sunni?’

This millennium long quarrel is about what to anyone else, are obscure differences - the succession to the mantle of the prophet Mohammed in the 7th century. Obviously important at the time for this religion, but that feud is still there, more than a thousand years later.

Worldwide, the Sunni are numerically greater, yet the Shia are a large minority, with Iran the largest Shia nation. In many places, like India and Indonesia, they have long lived quietly side by side, as indeed in the Arab world before Iraq, and then the ‘Arab Awakening’.


The situation of Syria, on which we lead this month, has become quite ludicrous in terms of the international media and those governments that have chosen to have become involved.

Now it is generally accepted that Syria is in the throes of a real civil war with a multi-faceted opposition, which is far more complex than its supporters care to admit. But even they would hardly disagree that already it can be characterised as a proxy war against Iran by Gulf State forces, mainly motivated by their adherence to the Sunni version of Islam. The champions of this are the same salafist Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who encouraged the Syrian uprising, and who are financing (paying the wages) and arming the rebel forces. (They probably have their own Special Forces involved in some capacity, as well. Qatar openly had theirs in the Libya fighting).


But the aim of unseating the Syrian government, an ally of Iran, which although itself not really Shia but multi-faith (the dominant Alawites being heretical in their own right, as far as the Sunni are concerned), with some 30% of the overall population being a mix of faiths with perhaps five different species of Christian, the national majority being Sunni.

But whilst the Gulf sponsors took their stance, the self- determining, uncontrollable al Qaeda, rallied and repeatedly on their web sites ordered their followers into Syria, along with other unconnected militant groups. This ‘call to duty’ came from the top, from the new AQ leader, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri. Under no other command than their own, they poured into embattled Syria, some through a border crossing point they had captured, others across lonely unpatrolled frontiers. This quite closely coincides with the first car-bombs and random bombings in heavily populated areas, killing the innocents, which is so familiar from next door Iraq as being the ‘signature’ of the al Qaeda way of fighting a war, spreading the general fear of mindless lethal violence.

The murdering of prisoners, we now discover, since many western journalists have been getting to the front lines, has been the fate of many of the military prisoners that the rebels have taken. None of this ignores the undoubted ruthlessness of the government’s forces which is well publicised in the west, but it is a truism that civil wars are usually the ugliest in terms of inhuman acts. Many of the rebel groups are not Syrians, but international jihadists. There are also undoubtedly rebel fighters hoping to get rid of the Asad government in favour of a democratic choice, but the Gulf State sponsors of the recognised Syrian rebels ‘don’t do democracy’.


This all questions what were the US, France and the UK’s motives in taking sides, other than using the opportunity to damage their current arch-enemy, Iran. Whatever else, it is clear that Saudi and Qatar, both hereditary monarchies, affronted by the heretical minority in Syria running the show, have no interest in promoting democracy, that is the last thing Saudi and the Gulf States want. It is after all, punishable and outlawed in their countries.

The fighting commenced in the first instance in March 2011, due to the heavy handed way the government over-reacted to the early buds of the Arab Spring. That was the beginning of the crisis. This was exploited by the external powers of their Sunni neighbours, and the internal presence of the (Sunni) Islamic Brotherhood, who have long waited for vengeance, for their defeat in a previous uprising severely put down by the then Asad (pere) government.

The western media saw it all as a part of the Arab Spring, that following the removal of Saddam Hussein, was to usher in a brave new world of a democratic middle-east, just as the Cheney/neocons of the Bush43 period had predicted, before their invasion of Iraq.

Henry Kissinger’s NYT article asked that shrewd question: ‘why is the US getting involved in the tail end of a thousand year quarrel between the Sunni and the Shia?’ This is a view that Newnations has continued to take, and we have long been observing the Syria story closely. Today’s December issue is our 106th monthly sequential report on Syria, in a series that commenced nine years ago in 2003.


What is at stake here is that Syria was not a democracy but formerly a better, certainly a more progressive ‘western orientated’ Arab state, because it was not burdened with a priestcraft, trying to take it back to the 7th century. It certainly was relaxed about other religions. Its Baath constitution guarantees freedom of worship (which its Gulf State enemies regard in itself as heretical). They certainly don’t allow any such freedom of worship in their nations. Indeed an ominous rebel chant in Syria is, “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to their graves”.

The one thing that is generally agreed by world powers, the UN etc; is that it should all end as soon as possible. But how?

The British Foreign Secretary has had the brilliant peacemaking idea that the Asad government must stand down and move over. Mr Hague even generously says that he will agree to President Asad going into exile. So although the government is by no means losing this civil war, they must, he says, surrender and leave the non-Sunni minorities in country, some 30% of the population, to the tender mercies of the Salafist fanatics: “…Alawites to their graves, etc..”


Israel, Gaza & the UN

For a change, in the middle- east, Israel cannot be blamed for what is happening to its northern neighbour, but having firmly dealt with the outrageous Hamas in Gaza, its PM has not been enjoying the Ramallah Palestine Authority’s quite clever ploy, in seeking and achieving UN Observer status.


They (and we) early presumed that the US would see it off by leaning on its NATO and other allies. But that was a wrong presumption. France, to its great credit, broke ranks, announcing that it would support the Palestinians on this issue. Sadly, the US opposed, whilst many, most of its friends supported the PA’s appeal. So President Obama’s first foreign policy decision of his second term was less than admirable - another knee-jerk reaction when Israel required it! Mrs Clinton too, cut no kind of an admirable figure, arguing correctly that statehood for Palestine could only come by negotiation. But the many nation states that supported the Palestinian bid, understood that perfectly well. Mrs Clinton can hardly have failed to notice that there are no negotiations and haven’t been for two years! Meanwhile Israel gives their answer. They build more and more ‘illegal’ settlements on Palestinian land.

At the UN the UK and Germany stood aside. Only three of the twenty eight Nato allies, the US, Canada and the Czechs voted against the Palestinian request for an upgrade at the UN to ‘observer status’.

It was carried by a very big majority – really because it was quite unconvincing that this in any way was a threat to Israel, and many of the bystanders thought Ramallah’s seeking a legal route towards nationhood should be recognised and rewarded. This contrasted with the disgusting Hamas policy of using dense civilian areas of Gaza, hiding amongst women and children from which to fire their rockets into Israel, knowing that eventually the IAF would have to knock them out. (So we now understand that Hamas will fight to the last Palestinian civilian to make their war –and call it victory)!


The UN resolution of 29 November 1947 created the Jewish state and at the same time anticipated an Arab state in Palestine. That was quite clear. But for 65 years to the day, no Arab state has been forthcoming, unquestionably not only, but in some significant measure, because of Israel’s opposition to this. This latest Israeli intervention gives rise to a suspicion that what they wanted is that which has lasted for 65 years, could continue indefinitely.

If Palestine actually acquired the status it seeks, as they did, then further steps would follow with the sympathy of the international community. Then, ‘hey presto’! Samaria and Judea would no longer be available for an expanding Israeli population. The other alternative to the two states, as determined all those years ago, would be one single rolled-up state which would be democratic, but by virtue of the numbers in the combined population, it would no longer be a Jewish state. That isn’t going to happen. Israel is not going to lose its own unique identity nor should it, so surely it would be better for Israelis to facilitate and nurture the emergence of the neighbouring state, in a relationship of friendship. Hard to do? Of course, but in Israel there are many who can see that, but not the Likud, nor their pugnacious leader Netanyahu, who without even taking time for reflection immediately responded to the UN vote, by newly authorising the construction of a raft of numerous, (what the international community call ‘illegal’ new settlements), on existing Palestinian land.



LIBYA: Untamed and unmanageable, is a standing reproach for any who thought all the issues here were black and white. ‘Just remove the dictator – and all will be well’! Libya doesn’t have 10% of the complexity of the civil war in neighbouring Syria, but as we report, it is an absolute mess despite there being some obviously decent people, trying to overcome the anarchic situation there. One such, the Colonel in charge of the government’s new intelligence department who was trying to pin down and arrest the thugs who murdered the US ambassador, has himself been murdered.

We tell it how it is - unfortunately!




Saudi Arabia is facing a succession problem. With the 89 year old King unwell after major surgery, and the Crown Prince also well aged – and himself unwell, it threatens a vacuum, which the ‘heredity mechanism’ of having a Crown Prince, was intended to resolve. We describe the situation in some detail and who the contenders may be if the Crown Prince were to predecease King Abdallah.




Turkey, quite apart from its border with Syria, has a host of problems and because Turkey under PM Erdogan has become a very important player, not only regionally but internationally, it is important for geo- politicians to keep a careful eye on what is happening with this powerful nation. Turkey under different governments has been enduring a civil war with the Kurds, mainly contained to the far south west part of the nation. But this has been going on for around 25 years! Mr Erdogan continues to be an important leader deserving of some admiration and. we would have thought that by now, he would have found a resolution short of crushing them, since ethnic Kurds are such a significant proportion of the Turkish population.




Egypt: There is no shortage of dramatic events in Egypt as this new democracy struggles to become just that, a democracy. There are numerous trials and tribulations as we describe. Observers swing from optimism to pessimism- and back. President Morsi, who hadn’t even been the head of the Moslem Brothers and was widely unknown even in Egypt, has now become the pivotal player in events in this, the World’s largest Arab nation. Events, that come tumbling in on an almost daily basis.




Iraq is having trouble with their large minority, the Kurds, who control what is effectively a ‘sub-state’ in the north of the country. They overlap into Turkey (see above); Syria, where they appear to be fighting alongside President Asad; and Iran, from which little is heard. Iraqi politics are now highly complex. Like Syria they favour Iran internationally and have a Shi’ite government, to the distress of their own large Sunni minority and to neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the very home of Sunni religious conservatism.




Iran is hurting in the face of international sanctions. Their money is the aspect of that which immediately affects everybody and the rial is in trouble. Another year has passed and Iran is still clinging to their nuclear research programme, whilst an uneasy world keeps hoping for a resolution, short of Mr Netanyahu’s apparent preference to bomb the living daylights out of them. That assumes that it would make the Ayatollah cave in, rather than seek to hit back at any targets that offer themselves. Some credit should go to the Mitt Romney camp as they did not fall for Netanyahu’s pre-election efforts, seeking to split the US Parties on the issue of ‘bomb now’!


In all the war talk that surrounds this issue, whilst we can understand Israel’s fears of being the target, there is the fact that Israel already has a nuclear arsenal of far greater strength than any early rudimentary Iranian bomb. It used to be called MAD, ‘mutually assured destruction’, in the cold war days and it worked!


There is no evidence nor likelihood, that Iran is prepared to be wiped out in retaliation because it dislikes Israel.


Afghanistan: Uncertainty rules and all involved parties are waiting to see what Obama’s plan is for withdrawal from that country. So the monumental corruption is working at a souped-up pace, whilst assets are being transferred to the Arabian Gulf Banks and in the North, the warlords, the first allies of the western expeditionary force, are oiling their guns, in anticipation of yet another chapter of violence in the Afghani’s long history.


Pakistan: Plagued by dire economic problems, just like the US and a host of other nations, Pakistan is short on revenue whilst carrying a burdensome commitment on expenditure. But amongst the, by now familiar tales of woe, there appear to be signs of reconciliation with India, its giant neighhbour to the south, which can only be good news.


Bangladesh: We look at the plight of the Grameen Bank following on from the appalling behaviour of Prime Minister Sheik Hasina who has made a government grab for this Nobel winning model community bank, and is locked into an unedifying squabble with its founder the Nobelist: Muhammad Yunus.


Myanmar: Sunshine continues to smile on this SE Asian country once known as Burma. Now following Obama’s visit, the World Bank after a gap of twenty years has returned. Aung San Suu Kyi has been visting India, having frank talks with the government there.

North Korea: Always fascinating, we review the year in which the country’s third member of the Kim family came to power.


Taiwan: President Chen Shui-bian, elderly and sick is still in a Kuomintang jail. This month takes a quick look across the Formosa straits at what the change of leadership in Beijing might mean for Taiwan.


Philippines: Despite being effectively ‘kicked out’ in 1991, US Forces are returning to the archipelago, this time to a warm welcome. This is not unconnected to the apparent challenge that China has made to the various nations with coast lines on the China Sea. ASEAN accepted the Philippines motion that member nations affected should themselves reconcile their differences and only then deal with these issues collectively with China. But that is not what China wants, as by the principle of ‘divide and rule,’ they would reckon to get what they want further, faster, by one-on-one negotiations with the individual sovereigns.

Russia and the FSU

Russia's mighty oil company Rosneft, is making stellar gains confirming the wisdom of the Putin government of consistently playing to their strengths in the oil and gas markets. But as Rosneft goes from strength to strength, there are question marks arising where Gazprom, their giant natural gas company, which now has a massive grip on European outlets, may be having to trim back their expectations about supplying North America. The situation is that US energy companies, by concentrating on Shale gas and oil, are rushing ahead towards self-sufficiency. This is an early take on the situation, but one in which energy investors world-wide will be taking heed, to see to what extent world energy markets will be changed by this.


Kazakhstan: Having been more or less forced by the self-evident absurdity of it, to abandon attempts to place a democratic gloss over this central Asian dictatorship, the regime instead is reverting to type, forgetting that brief doomed foray into the absurd, having learned that no amount of advertising expenditure can make ‘a sow’s ear into a silk purse’. Instead they are pursuing their path towards wealth, from the riches currently locked up in mineral deposits, where they will do much better and perhaps some year there will be some trickle-down for the citizens.


Uzbekistan: A post-soviet quarrel par excellence, has taken place between this central Asian dictatorship and ‘Mother Russia’. The Uzbek government has been pushing Russia’s largest mobile phone company unmercifully, clearly to do with money in some shape or form. The Moscow Police in retaliation seized the luxury Moscow apartment of the Uzbek President’s daughter (and heir apparent). There is talk of fraud and embezzlement of Uzbek funds, after a series of investigations in Sweden and Switzerland.




Tajikistan, neighbouring Afghanistan, has witnessed a government confrontation with an Islamic party, who had been receiving increased electoral support. This led to a massacre with about seventy dead. The government here is increasingly reactionary, also having shut down an international Aid group, on some feeble pretext of their not having registered properly. Prospects for democracy are grim.




Moldova: this small FSU European republic tried to ‘make a go’ of real independence from Russia, who has been ‘disciplining’ them ever since. As if this weren’t enough, there has from the end of the USSR been a Russian controlled sliver of territory, Transdnistria, with mainly Russians and Ukranians living there, which keeps its ‘independence ‘with the help of Russian troops. What is unusual however, is that tiny Transdnistria is known throughout the world as an big-time illegal arms supplier, particularly in Africa, because at the time of the collapse of the USSR, it was the site of one of the biggest arms warehouses in the world (which it remains), intended in time of war, to have supported Soviet, now presumably Russian, actions in Southern Europe.


Not too difficult to join up the loose ends, is it?




Ukraine: Former Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko, remains a prisoner. The government of Viktor Yanukovych has taken Ukraine down to the level of Belarus, which was Europe’s last dictatorship, which award may need to be amended if Ukraine continues as at present. There were high hopes for Ukraine and its Orange revolution, but such hopes are now dashed. It’s hard to see what can now save them from a complete collapse of democracy and a falling back into Russian domination.




Georgia: This is one of the very few former Soviet republics that have gained a genuine independence, although it has only barely been recognisable as a democracy, given the powerful personality of its former President Michael Saakashvili. However Sakaashvili was defeated in the recent election, judged fair by neutral observers and the former president, after eight years at the helm, stepped down, democratically accepting his defeat like a gentleman. He will be back, he made clear. His successor is we are told, a Billionaire, Bidzina Ivanishvili who promises a democratic continuation. He has reassured the western institutions: NATO , the EU etc; of his goodwill and hopes for the future, but whilst Saakashvili couldn’t possibly do this, Ivanishvili says that he will seek to restore a currently non-existent relationship with Russia.


                                                                                                                                         Clive Lindley - Publisher





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Also published on our blog page Bulletin, 3rd December 2012|New Nations - a not for profit company
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