Regime Change & The Global Arbiter
The Monthly Roundup:
The US as Global Arbiter
The ‘Arab Fall’ and the Mid-east
Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia
India, Bangladesh, Pakistan
Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey
SigInt Eavesdropping and the US Allies
The big row over the US SigInt Directorate (SID) monitoring German Chancellor Merkel and many other friendlies, is a matter of hubris amounting to a strange American sense of entitlement, allied to a leading technology. But, it being done, it was highly unprofessional that it was ever discovered by those being spooked. It is insulting obviously, to fellow Western leaders but the monitoring of, for example, all EU officials above a certain grade, can only be described as commercial espionage, what else but discovering closely held information useful to US industry, or to US international negotiators.
China used to be accused of this and before them Japan for the same reasons. It’s hardly surprising in a democracy that whistleblowers emerge. Spying on each other’s governments, politicians, militaries, etc; is what nations do, but commercial espionage has historically been regarded as a serious crime, not least by the US authorities.
Will there be prosecutions arising from this – apart from the whistleblowers, that is?
Don’t hold your breath!
As to monitoring ordinary citizens’ international
communications, this must have been going on for much of the Cold
War and never stopped. Any widely travelled person would be bound
over the years, to pick up warnings from others about the
widespread filtering of their international communications, but
since this kind of screening has been useful for genuine
counter-espionage and counter-terrorism, it seemed on balance
No human ear is likely to ever illicitly hear ‘phone
conversations, unless a proportion of ‘trigger words/names’ have
been filtered and discovered by remote audio-surveillance, or it’s
a key targeted person. That seems to be a sensible arrangement but
it doesn’t deal with the more sinister targeted interceptions.
There is of course the crime of intercepting (hacking) e-mails.
Right now in the UK several senior journalists and executives of
the Murdoch news group, are undergoing trial for the serious crime
of involvement in precisely this matter of widespread hacking into
private e-mail correspondence, with jail time in the balance… but
government hackers apparently get a pass.
The Global Arbiter
The US’s position, not as the pre-eminent nation which it
remains, but as THE global arbiter amongst all nations, is under
serious consideration by current US government agencies, in the
sense that having very capably led the opposition to world
communism, and seeing it off, with the threat of the Cold War
clearly over, the US was never elected to this subsequent
leadership role and does it in 2013 really, really, want this
This post-cold war role coincided with the US continuing to
devote an enormous part of their national budget towards a
military capability which had already far outstripped that of
every other nation, indeed probably even the next ten combined.
But nowadays, when it comes to putting American lives at risk, and paying a price in Afghanistan and Iraq, WDC has slowly changed from the profligacy of the draft in Vietnam years, and the multiple rotation of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, to rely on fulltime professionals in much smaller numbers. Being a democracy accountable to all of it’s citizens, it is appropriate that under President Obama this different approach has emerged. He after all was elected on a promise of ending a decade of war.
WDC’s view on this can only be one relevant opinion, since it is clear that some big players, Russia for example, China, probably all of the BRICS group of nations (also some European and other allies), clearly resent the unauthorised assumption by the likes of Bush/Cheney, that the US could for example, step in, pre-emptively attack and unilaterally dispose of governments, of whom it does not approve, particularly when like the invasion of IRAQ, it was based on a false prospectus.
Going back to Vietnam, even in the context of the Cold War following France’s defeat there, the US intervention was just such an objective which expensively failed. Iraq was unmistakeably an American enterprise, albeit arising from a false prospectus. It displaced Saddam, a particular tyrant, but looking at the state of Iraq today it’s hard to say that it’s done anything other than trade the dictatorial role of one family, replaced at the price of an enormous casualty and fatality list of civilians, now living in a simmering religio-political broth, permanently threatening to spill into an open religious civil war.
Afghanistan, we discuss below, which invasion fell out as the
direct result of an attack on the US mainland, but quickly became
and continues as a war against the Taleban, (not previously an
enemy nor giving offence outside of its own country). The real
enemy, al Qaeda’s remnants, scurried off to the lawless tribal
areas in the Pakistani mountains, back to becoming the target for
Allied Special Forces who had been fighting them there in a secret
war since well before the US/NATO invasion.
These recent examples of the US exercising its exceptionalism, in being economically and militarily the biggest boy in the school, has finally come under scrutiny worldwide, not only with Cold War adversaries turned trading partners. Those being on the Security Council have been completely opposed to the US moving on from ‘then’ - successfully leading the west during the Cold War and ‘now’ - exceeding its authority as a nation state, by taking on a role for which the United Nations had already been invented, yet not enabled or structured by its senior members, to deal with the need for military interventions.
This kind of implicit control is much less to do with this President, than his immediate predecessors Bush/Cheney, because it is obvious that the Obama presidency is not seeking foreign wars. After the human and other costs of Iraq and Afghanistan, surely that is right. They are not, nor apparently now want to be the world’s policeman, nor yet use their armed forces as proxies on behalf of the likes of Saudi Arabia or Israel, except of course in defence of them as allies against armed foreign aggression.
The 'Arab Fall' & the Mid-East
Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia
On Syria, WDC thankfully did not repeat the earlier Iraqi misjudgement by putting US ‘boots on the ground’, but listened (too long perhaps), to the monarchical absolute powers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, about the need for regime change, ignoring the fact that the Syrian civil war, as it was correctly described two years ago by Henry Kissinger, was and is the latest episode of the 13 centuries long religious war, between Sunni and Shia Islam.
Hence the Wahhabi-salafist Saudi Arabia, the very core of the
predominant Sunni sect, together with the Gulf States, especially
Qatar, are opposed to the heretics (to them) of the Shi’ites, be
they sub-set Alawites, who look to Shi’ite IRAN; or Druses, or
Ismailis, or Sufi versions of Islam, whom to the Sunni are all
heretical, as of course are any kind of Christian - and Syria has
at least six Christian denominations. The Syrian Constitution
guarantees religious freedom, which is unacceptable to the hard
liners of Sunni – at their sharp end the jihadist fighting units -
whose objectives are that Syria should join Iraq, (also with a
Shi’ite government yet to be overthrown), in becoming a new
Caliphate, governed by Sharia law. Apart from Syria and Iraq they
aim to spread their movement to Lebanon also, which had taken a
brutal 15 year long civil war before its religio-political
components, one of which is Hezbollah, worked out a modus operandi
as a nation.
So the upcoming campaign in Syria between the ‘ religious champions’ of both sides;- the Saudi backed Salafist squads are now preparing for this, and Hezbollah, the Shi’ite allies of Syria from neighbouring Lebanon - is anticipated for Al Qalamoun, a mountainous area about 50 miles by 25, running from Damascus to the Lebanese border. The issue of the Shia-Sunni dispute, let us remember, being who in the 7th century CE, should on his death, properly have succeeded the Prophet Mahomet as Caliph of the Islamic faith? His son-in law, or his uncle? It’s very much like a re-run of the Roman Catholic –v- Protestant wars in Europe five centuries ago over such issues as ‘who created the Holy Ghost’ and other impossible questions?
It becomes almost a proxy fight between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with no direct American or European interest obvious. Syria however, unlike Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Gulf States is a refuge for religious minorities, freedom of worship being normal and widely accepted by many Syrians.
Middle East hands used to joke that the Saudis employed Baluchi labourers , Filippina maids and nannies, Palestinian doctors, Egyptian school teachers, British and Canadians to manage their oil industry … and Americans to do their fighting! Now Saudi is deeply concerned that the US is falling short of what is required of them. Not attacking Syria, which they had badly wanted, where Saudi are funding and supplying Islamist rebels, compounded the US’s perceived failure, as they see it, to crush the majority Shi’ite population of Bahrain, after the Saudis unusually used their own troops to save the Sunni ruling family in the 2011 uprising of these majority Shi’ites.
The fact that the US is at last talking with IRAN, the Saudis characterise as ‘growing closer to Tehran’. Curiously the Saudis are more and more talking the same talk as does Israel (embarrassing for both), yet looked at objectively, they are aligned in policies relating to Iran and Syria, and other regional states.
The difference is of course that the State of Israel is a democratic 21st century oasis unique in the mid-east notwithstanding it’s regrettable colonial treatment of Palestine, and is a sturdy, self-reliant independent power. Saudi Arabia is a absolutist medieval monarchy, ‘frozen in time’ except for the jets and limos, with more than 2000 princes, each of whom is entitled to some income from the state. Qatar is a massively wealthy miniature version with ambitions to punch above its weight.
Our report this month gives a briefing on where Libya is now at! The Libyan situation is ever more reminiscent of Somalia and certainly of the former Yugoslavia.
Nobody can be pleased to know that the ‘Brother Leader’ Muammar al Qadafi’s forecasts, roughly: “Apres moi, le deluge,” have become altogether too accurate.
In practical terms the successor government lodged in the
Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli, is now looking at quasi- independent
fellow Libyans, in the three main pre-Qadafi provinces of their
nation; Tripoli itself where on October 7th dozens of unarmed
official soldiers had occupied the Prime Minister’s office in the
said hotel to protest that they hadn’t been paid. PM Ali Zeidan
was travelling to Morocco and so not there. He had less luck on
October 10th. He was at his desk when armed men from one of the
revolutionary brigades arrived, arrested him and took him away. He
was later released, it seems after having been rescued by yet
another armed group and returned to being Prime minister. And so
it goes! Tripoli‘s own and the central government’s situation can
be judged by this and more in the report.
But the other two main regions of the country; the city of Benghazi/ province of Cyrenaica, vitally important in Libya’s oil industry, in June declared independence from the Tripoli government; and just now the Fezzan region in the southwest has also unilaterally declared its independence - and they control a large part of the nation’s oil industry.
In eastern Cyrenaica an enigmatic leader Ibrahim al-Jathran, at the head of 17,000 men (all well paid and up to date), has blocked the two main oil terminals, demanding independence for his part of the country. Jathran is seemingly very ambitious, as our report details. He might see himself as a new ‘Brother Leader’ in place of the late Colonel; but more worrying he is also accused (not yet verified) of having close links with the jihadis. Many call him what he seems to be, a classic warlord.
If so, this could be following the prescribed Osama bin Laden playbook: after having overthrown existing governments, to take control in the name of the salafist version of the religion, and rule according to Sharia.
Thus, weighing our reports on Syria and Libya, it might yet become a race between them as to which might become the first mid-east jihadi state.
The Syrian situation currently is that a Peace Conference just might be held in late November in Geneva, although Iran has offered to host this for all Syria’s neighbouring states –could this include Israel? But the Syrian show goes on, with UN experts decommissioning poison gas depots, whilst the great powers argue about which territory should host destruction of existing stocks.
The Peace Conference is what the US and Russia want to happen
(as does the world) but the known realities militate against a
meaningful event. The Assad government say they are prepared to
attend; but there are two distinct sets of rebels, the Salafists
sponsored by Saudi and Qatar seeking a religious state ruled by
the precepts of Sharia law; and the not specifically religious
like the Free Syrian Army, a better bet, but they say they won’t
attend unless Al Assad and his close colleagues first stand down.
Since Assad is winning the war, that flies in the face of
reason. Why then should the side holding the important cards,
bother to attend? They weren’t asking for a peace conference but
are prepared to take part, whilst the less extreme rebels make it
a condition that they effectively surrender in advance - (Assad
and close colleagues standing down).
The salafist jihadists seeking a Caliphate, many, perhaps most of whom are not Syrian, have little in common with the FSA (Sunni to be sure, but Syrians), who say that what they want out of this civil war is the Al Assads gone and a new elected government.
These two sets of rebels have already been fighting over controlling territory. It would be reasonable to observe that the salafists need to win, to achieve their ambitious agenda and they won’t stop fighting, as in IRAQ whatever Peace conferences may agree.
It is notable that Prime Minister al Maliki of Shi’ite IRAQ is currently in the US, asking for help in military equipment (two years after the US’s departure), because of the constant ongoing war with al Qaeda in Iraq, which mercilessly attacks civilians, usually in Shi’ite areas with ‘human bombs’ on a regular basis, killing dozens and maiming hundreds every week.
Russia was always going to try to maintain the former Soviet
hegemony over Central Asian Kazakhstan, probably the wealthiest
apart from Russia itself, of all the successor states to the USSR.
But they also were always going to be running up against China,
the other giant neighbour, in exploiting Kazakhstan’s enormous
cache of minerals of every description. As we report, China has
been winning out over both Russia and India, principally most
recently over the enormous Kashagan Oil Field, where they were in
The former First Secretary of the Kazakh SSR, Nursultan Nazerbayev morphed smoothly into a Presidency for Life, as since 1991 he has been independent of Moscow. But he is ageing and unwell. Although the rule is dynastic, as in many of these former communist states there is, as yet, no clear cut successor, so there will be frantic manoeuvring for one of the greatest personal wealth-producing jobs in the world, once he looks to be on the way out.
Russia has had a mixed month in terms of western perceptions.
On the minus side there has been bad publicity about the perceived
over-the-top criminal treatment of Greenpeace activists,
demonstrating up in the Artic, against oil drilling. The west is
used to this kind of protest and is reasonably tolerant. Most
western nations allow democratic protest as a citizen’s right, but
Russia? Tell that to Pussy Riot! Russia shows no lightness of
touch and not much, if any sense of humour. They become
characterised as dour and mean-minded as a state, which individual
Russians certainly are not!
They are also leaning on former SSR’s and satellites re a strange desire to choose the EU as a trading partner, rather than Mother Russia. However this month Russia has had a great diplomatic success, in heading off a reluctant but expected Syrian intervention by the US, by getting Washington ‘off the hook’ with another solution. This the US were quick to choose, rather than getting sucked in to another mid-east war which is what Israel and Saudi wanted of them, to dish not just al Assad, but his Iranian supporters. WDC in our judgement owes Moscow a favour!
India, Bangladesh, Pakistan
India announced that it will definitely send a mission to Mars. It is the mark of a BRICS - if not Super-state, at least a very successful and important one. The PM Manmohan Singh, went to Moscow and signed some deals there and there is now talk of a gas pipeline from Russia to India, a successful route for which could make a fascinating geopolitical board game! Sadly Pakistan and India’s ‘Line of Actual Control’ has been witnessing low level military operations between them, with more needless loss of life.
Bangladesh has all kinds of troubles, soluble but not easily so, given the political cast of mind. Neither of the two parties of government - the present incumbent, Awami League; or the opposition BNP is in any way admirable, but the government is usually in a position to do bad things and recently they took over the Grameen Bank, the world’s celebrated microfinance institution. It’s founder and former Managing Director Mohammed Yunus, the Nobel Laureate, protested that he had been ‘bounced out’ (he was forcibly retired). Surely the most distinguished Bangladeshi alive, he is now deeply angry because the government have announced their intention to put Grameen under the supervision of the Bangladesh Bank, a necessary step no doubt to milking it. A small profitable bank, in a country renowned for its corruption, is like a sacrificial lamb before the wolves of the connected insiders. Grameen is globally celebrated for its structure, mostly women clients as well as management, but now we fear for its future. On the scandal of underpaid workers in the garments industry, following the collapse of a jerry-built factory killing many hundreds, there is now a deal worked out, approaching completion. It remains to be seen if those western high-end and other retail chains will now go, as they said they would, with a higher (but still ultra-cheap) price, to allow an improvement in wages to the shamefully underpaid workers.
Pakistan: Relations under the Sharif government with the US, have improved since the nation has been helpful to the US in dealing with the Afghan Taleban, in the context of the upcoming US departure. Nothing to shout about in the area of finance –Pakistan is, as usual, quite close to becoming a ‘failed state’. General Pervez Musharraf, the most successful leader in modern times who returned to Pakistan from abroad to enter the presidential election, was arrested and banned from standing. He has just been bailed and is free to travel. Our interest in him is that during his time of running the nation, he was tough on corruption (this in Pakistan!) and quite unbending towards terrorism – several attempts were made on him. In other words he was a threat to the political class and other corrupt institutions of the state. Why is he under arrest? He, formerly the top general and president, is charged absurdly with unspecified involvement in the assassination of the politician Mrs Bhutto, who was shot when leaving a political rally. Her death being proudly claimed immediately by one of the Islamic extremist Mountain clans, who live beyond the reach of justice, yet still exercise surprising power in this near anarchic state.
Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey
The latest on Afghanistan portrays a state that has lost its
way. The US is substantially out, with a smaller military presence
on the ground and with little further interest in this
ungovernable nation. There is a leadership vacuum since the
current president Karzai is constitutionally required to stand
down and nobody knows who might succeed him. This is another
corrupt and virtually ungovernable state. Most politicians are in
it for personal/ clan/tribal gain in the grand oriental manner.
The Taleban are waiting to make their play. Gloom is appropriate!
Iran is constantly in the news with what
appears to be a serious new approach to the world. Obama quite
rightly, is seeing where this change of mood might take him, in a
possible rapprochement with the previous number one enemy amongst
nation states. The object of course is to exclude Iran from
becoming a nuclear state. Israel and Saudi are hopping mad, since
Iran remains their top menace and had been hoping that the US
would engage militarily with the Iranians and smash them, but it
was not to be.
Before Obama was elected for his first term, he had promised to
seek to talk to Iran, obviously to see if they could be defanged,
and that pledge has been outstanding now for 6 years or so. The
situation has changed with a replacement of president in Iran,
which has in turn, led to a honeymoon period with Iranian
diplomacy, and some grounds for optimism. But it must never be
forgotten that the ultimate power in Iran remains the Supreme
Turkey: There are revived hopes for Turkey,
already of course a member of NATO becoming a member of the
European Union – accession talks are to be resumed. Apparently
saving a billion dollars, Turkey has opted for a Chinese
nation-wide missile defence system, rather than the much higher
priced US one. Obviously that has gone down like a lead balloon in
WDC, one publicised problem being that it might be incompatible
with other Nato states’ missile systems. There will be more to
come on this.
The world has largely lost interest in Bosnia which is one reason we feature it now and from time to time. This still troubled corner of the Balkans and the FYR, is not succeeding as a state. The EU has been trying to cajole it into good ways, as our report tells, but with little to show. The small complex country is bedevilled by three ethnicities: Bosniak, Croatian and Serbian. What everyone claims to want is a peaceful path to progress. But how to get there?
Philippines & Taiwan
These two ASEAN members are undergoing different, countervailing experiences. Taiwan was one of the earliest and most successful Asian nations to shake the world with its mercantile success. Always having CHINA looming over it, used to create a siege mentality, but that is long gone. One of the two main parties is the Kuomintang (KMT), the government party of the Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek, which came with his army from defeat in mainland China, and dominated the island in every way. Over the many years since then, the Taiwanese have asserted themselves and once democracy was established, their party has alternated with the KMT in government. Right now the KMT president, Ma Ying jeou has overly concentrated on sucking up to Beijing (the cross-straits issue). He is the leading exponent of rejoining the mainland; but to do that he would have to win a referendum and it is doubtful right now, that the votes are there. He is personally very unpopular, his popularity rating now is in single digits. His predecessor as Taiwanese president was disgracefully tried for corruption (the trial was farcical) and is now a sick old man, still wrongfully held in prison.
The Philippines on the other hand was far behind Taiwan by many criteria, except corruption. But they finally elected an honest president, not only that, but President Aquino is quite dynamic as well. As a result the Philippines is starting to look good. Three credit agencies have lifted the nation out of the ’junk’ category and the much needed ‘Risorgimento’ is underway. It suddenly looks attractive as an investment destination.
Clive Lindley - Publisher
All Country Updated reports