Posted on 03-03-2014
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

This blog obviously is not a fan of Tsar Vlad and his invasion of the Crimea.  However it does feel that the cheerleaders and supporters of the Bush administrations Iraq war in the media and in office (a list that includes Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator Grumpy and Senator Lumpy) should desist from pontificating that such invasions are unacceptable.  Russia has long held that American policy has been hypocritical and here we continue to bear the brunt of the Bush administration’s frittering away American credibility abroad.

On a related note Peter Beinart has a column worth reading about the Russian sense of an ever expanding America after the United States reneged on its agreements not to expand NATO east after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Libya exposed the European components of NATO as paper tigers.  However, some level of Putin’s paranoia does stem from an alliance that was conceived as a bulwark against Russia expanding to Russia’s borders.  The United States has been hostile to similar expansions in its backyard (Cuba, Grenada, Nicaragua etc.).  Russia has also previously justified its recognition of the separatist Georgian republics based on the Western recognition of Kosovo.

America’s questionable behavior is still no justification for Russia’s invasion of the Crimea under the spurious guise of protecting its compatriots.  However, the pontificators in the United States would be wise to exercise self awareness and avoid easy charges of hypocrisy.

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Posted on 21-03-2013
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The ten year anniversary of the commencement of the Iraq quagmire passed this week. I have been reading the assorted mea culpas of various stenographers journalists with some satisfaction and some dissapointment. Americans are famously ignorant of foreign affairs, but on Iraq so many journalists who should have known better blindly accepted the Bush administration’s bullshit.

I was not blogging at the time but and arguments at the time were made primarily on the ultra-conservative Texas A&M message boards. But I do remember the gist of my points.

First the rationale for the war had an element of “lets throw as much shit as we can and some of it will stick” quality to it. Saddam was a monster (no argument there, but hardly an argument for war), he is funding terrorists and Al Queda, he is about to get WMDs, taking him out will magically make Iraq an oasis of democracy in the region and (chuckle) an ally of Israel. This is about the same time George W. Bush gave his silly “Axis of Evil” speech. An axis implies cooperation…but tossing Saddam’s Iraq with the Ayatollahs’ Iran was always a joke. Worse that speech knee capped the moderate Iranian President Khatami who had been cooperating with America over Afghanistan.

The Al Queda links were always tenous and as we are finding out this week pretty much non-existent. The arguments that a foreign invasion would magically turn the Arab Yugoslavia into a beacon of democracy (not to mention a buddy of Israel) fundamentally misread the nature of the region and the effects of a foreign occupation. Many commentators at the time noted that while Iraqis may welcome the toppling of Saddam, a proud people would never stand for an indefinite occupation let along American military bases. And it is this element of the administration’s war chatter that bothered me even more.

I harbored no fondness for Saddam. Removing him in the right circumstances would have been a highly desirable act. Yet Bush Jr. ignored why Bush Sr. hit pause in 1991. An occupation of Iraq was always going to be an extremely difficult venture. Yet people like Condoleeza Rice were touting the successful reconstruction of relative homogenous and war exhausted Germany and Japan after World War II (with far more troops on the ground) as examples of how it could be done. Even the Bosnian peace happened after the combatants had exhausted themselves in their attempts to kill each other. And much smaller Bosnia had as many troops as the administration was proposing for Iraq.

Many American allies knew this was bullshit and unlike Bush’s poodle in London refused to play along. Their reward was to be tagged as “Old Europe” and “Cheese eating surrender monkeys.”

The worst part of Iraq was that we did not finish the job in Afghanistan. Afghan reconstruction faltered under the venal and incompetent Karzai. Bin Laden escaped to his Pakistani hideout. Pakistan merrily continued its two faced strategy in the region. Afghanistan will probably never be a stable country, but a genuine opportunity to harness the war weariness of the Afghan people in true nation building was lost.

Sadly the perpetrators of this disaster have somehow not recieved the full amount of derision they desrve. Messers. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Krauthammer, Bolton, Kristol, McCain etc. still pontificate on national media as if their views have any credibility and still beat the war drums for Syria. The corporate media still plays the role of stenographer over journalist. Small, broke and weak countries like Iran are still touted as existential risks. People who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

Sadly the perpetrators of this disaster have somehow not recieved the full amount of derision they desrve. Messers. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Krauthammer, Bolton, Kristol, McCain etc. still pontificate on national media as if their views have any credibility and still beat the war drums for Syria. The corporate media still plays the role of stenographer over journalist. Small, broke and weak countries like Iran are still touted as existential risks. People who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

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Posted on 09-09-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

While Syria and Iran draw the attention of the world, the country between the two has a slow burning fuse heading towards civil war.  It is a bad sign when a country divvies up the top political positions on sectarian grounds.  The failure of Lebanese democracy in the 70s should have given people some pause.  Yet Iraq divides its presidency into three components – a president and 2 vice presidents – to give Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis equal representation.  The current President of Iraq is a Kurd.  The Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is Shiite.  The Shiite Vice President,a rival of al-Maliki, resigned last year.  That leaves Iraq with just one vice-president, the Sunni Tariq al-Hashemi.

Unfortunately, since December 2011 Mr. Al-Hashemi is on the run.  The Prime Minister has accused him of running Sunni death squads.  So far none of Iraq’s Sunni neighbors have given this accusation much credibility.  Mr. Al-Maliki returned to power in early 2010 after a very controversial election and has shown the usual authoritarian instincts.  The arrest warrant on Mr. Al-Hashemi was conveniently delivered the day after American troops left Iraq.  Iraq’s Kurdish president refused to surrender the fugitive Vice President when he was in the Kurdish autonomous zone.  Since then Mr. Al Hashemi has traveled to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia before settling down to exile in Turkey.

Yet the Iraqi prime minister is undeterred.  This weekend Mr. Al-Hashemi was sentenced to death in absentia, an escalation hardly likely to endear Mr. Al-Maliki to his Sunni countrymen or neighbors.  Whether or not the charges are true, nobody seems to believe them.  As Iraq suffers through another bout of suicide bombings, it shows disquieting signs of a slow slide into civil war.

Like Afghanistan, Iraq needs a statesman in charge.  While Al-Maliki does not appear to be as corrupt and incompetent as the Mayor of Kabul, he has shown tendencies to sectarian one-upmanship and no signs of being the unifying figure the country needs.  The Kurds for all practical purposes have seceded into their ethnic enclave subject to resolution for their claims to the oil rich province of Kirkuk.  Sharing oil revenues is still a sore subject.

With its current leadership, it seems only a matter of time that this erupts into civil war.  If/When that happens it will be a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and its allies and Iran.  Turkey could be sorely tempted to intervene and stomp the Kurds.  Hopefully sane leadership arises to pull this country from the brink, but my pessimism reigns.

Iraq should be another cautionary tale on blindly stepping into the Syrian morass.

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Posted on 03-10-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Months after Iraq’s election Nuri Kamal al-Maliki finally wheedled together a coalition to retain power.  But the long term prognosis for Iraq is not good.  The election unveiled the deep fissures in Iraqi society.  Al-Maliki’s support is largely confined to his Shiite community. His opponent (and former Prime Minister) Ayad Allawi drew his support from the embittered Sunni minority.  Once again the Kurds hold the balance of power.  The trouble will erupt when they demand and receive their pound of flesh – the provinces of Kirkuk, Nineveh and Diyala which are also claimed by the Sunnis.

The Sunni community is deeply unhappy with al-Maliki’s conduct of the war against terror and his attempt to disenfrachise them after their block came so close to victory.  Al-Maliki will also have to contend with Moqtada al-Sadr with whom he clashed in the past, but whose support this week secured his re-election attempt.

Then there is al-Maliki’s desire to strengthen his divided country by concentrating more power in Baghdad.  That would reek of a Shiite attempt to dominate the other two communities could light a slow fuse towards civil war.

Joe Biden is often a late night punch line and for a man focussed on foreign policy has made more than his share of wrong decisions.  But in my opinion he has been prescient on two major issues in the last decade.  One, was the surge in Afghanistan last year.  The other was his plan to create a truly decentralized Iraq that drew bipartisan support in the Senate in 2007.  George Bush’s surge aided by a more competent local ally than our Kabul headache succeeded in military terms.   But it did not pave the way to the hoped for political reconciliation.  The nature of al-Maliki’s return to power makes that even less likely.

The examples of India and Pakistan show the perils of having an over-centralized government in an ethnically diverse country.  Unless Iraq’s factions discover so far unseen capacity for compromise and cooperation a Bosnian style conflict with foreign funding for their proxies may be the ultimate end result.

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Posted on 02-10-2010
Filed Under (History, Uncategorized) by Rashtrakut

Tomorrow, Sunday October 3, 2010 marks a milestone.  Ninety One years after the Treaty of Versailles, 65 years after the end of World War II and 20 years after its second reunification,  Germany will make the final reparation payment imposed by the victorious and vengeful Allied powers for its alleged guilt in causing the First World War.  The reparations were controversial as soon as they imposed.  John Maynard Keynes resigned his post in the British treasury to protest the scale of the demands.  They were repeatedly reduced in the 1920s and finally Germany under Hitler repudiated them.  The payment tomorrow is actually for the debt the Weimar Republic incurred to pay the original reparations.  However, they bring another of the poisonous legacies of the treaties that concluded the Great War to a close. The problems caused by the creation of another Yugoslavia in the Land of the Two Rivers by imposing a foreign ruler against the wishes of the local population will bother us for many years to come.

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Posted on 27-03-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

After the conclusion of the second elections since Saddam Hussein’s removal from power, Iraq has reached the crossroads.  Still unclear is whether Iraq will manage its first peaceful transfer of power without the backing of American guns.  The elections marked the resurrection of former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi who holds on to a narrow lead over incumbent Nouri Kamal al-Maliki.  See link.  Swept from power in the last elections after being branded an American puppet, Allawi made a remarkable return by crafting a coalition of Sunnis, Shiites tired of religious parties and people opposed to Iran.

But all is not well.  Al-Maliki has yet to accept the results and worse is considering post election moves supposedly based on the constitution to modify the outcome.  See link.  Al-Maliki enjoyed the benefits of incumbency and spent many of the last few months trying to weed out potential Sunni rivals by using (or abusing) the de-Baathification process.   It is one thing to weed out avid supporters of Saddam.  But a blanket ban on anybody with any affiliation with the Baath Party, which as in the Communist world was the only game in town, reeks of an attempt to pick on the already disaffected Sunni minority.  It also insults the popular vote plurality that Allawi’s coalition assembled.

Even if al-Maliki was not sulking, an Allawi government would take some time to assemble.  While he edged out al-Maliki’s coalition for a plurality, he is well short of the 163 seats needed to get a majority.  He will have to cut a deal with the Kurds who are uncomfortable with some of his Sunni allies and the coalition partly led by the thuggish and volatile Moqtada al-Sadr (who has a bone to pick with al-Maliki for sending the Iraqi army against his militia a couple of years ago).

In the norms of most parliamentary democracies Allawi as the leader of the largest pre-election alliance would get the first shot at forming a government.  But if he fails to do so al-Maliki could yet return to power.  The result will be a period of uncertainty as the political horse trading begins and al-Maliki’s attempts to pull an Ahmadinejad or a Karzai on the election results is singularly unhelpful.  By picking on the Sunni majority he weakens the strongest rationale for a parliamentary system in a multi-ethnic country – the ability to get all sections of society a voice at the table.  This is something that is sorely absent in the winner take all Presidential system that exists in Afghanistan where the whims of the President and the executive have far fewer checks.

Of course the coming months will also highlight the primary flaw in a parliamentary system- the lack of stability when elections produce such a fractured and muddled mandate.  Coalition politics are not easy for mature democracies.  Iraq’s leaders need to pick up this skill fast and act in a good faith to avoid their nation, which was an artificial construct cobbled together after World War I to begin with, falling apart.

From the American perspective the elections likely ensure the withdrawal of American troops on schedule.  With the anti-American al-Sadr playing king-maker neither an Allawi or al-Maliki government (which normally would both be relatively pro-American) is likely to have the political support to keep American troops around even if they wanted to.  Ready or not Iraq will soon be taking its first steps on its own in its nasty neighborhood.  It is yet another example of how clueless and steeped in fantasy the Chenyites and neo-cons were when they assumed that toppling Saddam would enable the establishment of permanent American bases in Iraq.

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Posted on 07-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Sports) by Rashtrakut
  • Just how bad are the Chicago Bulls?  Opposing player with the ball ties his shoes in live play and no Bulls player even tries to take the ball.  See link (includes video).
  • Not a shocker.  Vladimir Putin hints that he may run for President and take back his previous office in 2012.  Meanwhile legal institutions and the rule of law in his country atrophy.
  • Nicolas Sarkozy shoots off his mouth, ticks off the United Kingdom.
  • Former Pakistani dictator’s graft amnesty challenged in court.  It could affect the ability of President Zardari formerly known as Mr. Ten Percent to stay in power.
  • Iraq may have finally got a deal to hold its elections.  Previous blogs here and here.  The electoral deal staves off a potential civil war over sharing power and oil revenues.  Here’s hoping it holds.  Maybe we can finally start satisfying some of the other benchmarks George Bush talked about.

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    Posted on 17-11-2009
    Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

    First Honduras and now Iraq, expressing optimism about people coming to their senses can be a perilous exercise.  After an previous optimistic post from me, the deal is now starting to unravel.  Unhappy with their seat allocation the Kurds are threatening a boycott and the Sunnis are expressing their displeasure as well.  It seems that the Kurds have not learned from the Sunni boycott of the previous elections that such a step is ultimately self defeating.  The elections will happen, the Kurds will be locked out of the corridors of power and ticked off groups will resort to the gun.  The mess in Iraq also shows just how hard it is to conduct a multi-ethnic state when there is no trust among the various ethnic groups.

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    Posted on 09-11-2009
    Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

    Some good news from the middle east.  Iraq’s parliament finally approved an electoral law that will allow it to administer a national election in January without the boycotts that plagued the last election.  There is an element of kicking the can down the road, particularly with respect to Kirkuk, but it is heartening to see a compromise decided peacefully and not with guns.  Here’s hoping that the other ethnic mish-mash America is involved in continues on this path.

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    Posted on 23-10-2009
    Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

    Pakistani journalist Ahmad Rashid has an interesting blog on how the United States forced a recalcitrant Karzai to accept a runoff.   However, as Matt Yglesias notes that the ethnic tinderbox in Afghanistan likely forces the United States to root for a victory by the inept Karzai.  The lack of a Pashtun alternative with support from his own community and who would be acceptable to Afghanistan’s other minorities has left the United States with little room to maneuver and hopefully the runoff will not saddle the United States with a partner of dubious legitimacy.

    Yglesias’s article also raises another point that has not always been addressed recently.   Is the Presidential system really suited for an ethically diverse country like Afghanistan?  While a Parliamentary system runs the risk of executive gridlock, it also gives a voice to minority groups from elected representatives instead of warlords and self appointed community leaders.  It is also a reason why even Iraq adopted a parliamentary system.  Such a system would also prevent Afghanistan from being saddled with a leader out of his depth for a fixed term of the next four years.

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