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Archive for August, 2013

Egypt: Workers’ hopes dashed after military coup-Joel Beinin

Posted by admin On August - 31 - 2013 Comments Off on Egypt: Workers’ hopes dashed after military coup-Joel Beinin


The Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions supports the demands of the people’s revolution and calls for a general strike of Egyptian workers”, reads a banner at an anti-Mubarak demonstration in Tahrir Square. Photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy.

The independent labour movement that has flourished in Egypt since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak enthusiastically supported the Tamarrud (Rebel) campaign for the huge June 30 demonstrations asserting a popular vote of no confidence in President Mohammad Morsi.

The Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS), Egypt’s most experienced (and during the 1990s only) labour-oriented NGO, claims to have gathered 200,000 signatures for the Tamarrud petition through its six regional offices. Three independent trade union organisations — the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU), the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress (EDLC) and the Permanent Congress of Alexandria Workers (PCAW) — also collected signatures and monitored workers’ participation in the demonstrations.

These independent federations and hundreds of their constituent local unions have been established since the ejection of Mubarak because the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) created in 1957 has always functioned as an arm of the state.

The Tamarrud campaign demanded early presidential elections, but the Egyptian army seized the opportunity of the mass gathering to depose Morsi on July 3, claiming, with some justification, that its coup was the will of the people. The army has invoked this supposed popular mandate for all of its actions since, including the killings of some 1000 pro-Morsi demonstrators since the Muslim Brotherhood’s removal. Most of these people died in the army’s violent dispersal of two sit-ins on August 14.

The number of anti-Morsi protesters on June 30 was at least 2 million. Some estimates are much higher. Hence, a large number of workers must have participated. After the military issued its July 1 ultimatum to Morsi to resolve the crisis, the EFITU and EDLC called for a nationwide general strike on July 2. The strike never materialised. The reason is that the independent trade union movement is primarily a local, not a national force.

Despite the limited capacity of the EFITU and EDLC to mobilise at the national level, for the last two and a half years, workers have escalated the protest movement that began in the late 1990s. In the decade before Mubarak’s ouster well over 2 million workers participated in some 3400 strikes and other collective actions. The total number of workers collective actions in 2011 was 1400; in 2012 it reached 1969. According to the Egyptian Center for Social Rights (ECESR), in the first quarter of 2013 there were 2400 social and economic protests. At least half involved workers and publicly employed professionals — doctors, engineers and teachers.

This unprecedented social movement contributed substantially to delegitimising the regimes of both Morsi and Mubarak. Morsi’s Muslim Brothers have historically had little support among industrial or service workers. Moreover, the Brothers are just as committed to the free-market fundamentalism promoted by the international financial institutions as the Mubarak regime was. When workers continued to strike and protest, Morsi’s administration, like the Mubarak regime, often granted their economic demands but ignored their political demands and undermined their organisational autonomy. Its repressive measures were often more severe than those of the late Mubarak era.

Workers clearly hoped for better treatment with Morsi gone, particularly since one of their own, veteran trade unionist Kamal Abu Eita, accepted a post in the interim cabinet. One month later, those hopes are dashed. Abu Eita stood by while security forces crushed a militant strike at the Suez Steel Company, located in the Canal Zone city that, not coincidentally, was in the vanguard of the revolutionary forces that compelled Mubarak to step down.

‘Champions of production’

After Mubarak’s demise, Ahmad Hasan al-Bur‘i, a specialist in labour law at Cairo University’s faculty of law and a proponent of independent trade unionism, served as minister of manpower and migration for nine months. With input from independent trade unionists and labour-oriented NGOs, his ministry drafted a Trade Union Freedoms Law. It would have fully legalised independent trade unions. Al-Bur‘i had already directed the ministry to register such unions on the grounds that Egypt’s international treaty commitments, including ratified conventions of the International Labor Organization, overrode national legislation granting a trade union monopoly to the ETUF. The military, the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament, which met from January to June 2012, and the Morsi administration all refused to enact the legislation.

Interim prime minister Hazim al-Biblawi, who was installed after the army deposed Morsi on July 3, named al-Bur‘i as his minister of social solidarity. Al-Bur‘i announced that his first priority was enacting the Trade Union Freedoms Law. But his ministry does not have direct responsibility for the matter. Nonetheless, the appointment was an olive branch extended to independent trade unionists to win their support for the transitional government.

Abu Eita, the founding president of the EFITU, accepted the military’s embrace. He warmly welcomed its July 1 ultimatum to Morsi. After Morsi’s removal, Abu Eita proclaimed, “Workers who were champions of the strike under the previous regime should now become champions of production.” The EFITU later issued a “clarification” saying that it did not intend to forgo the strike weapon.

Abu Eita has long been involved in national politics and has been criticised for playing that game according to norms that have changed little since the toppling of Mubarak. He was a founding member of the Nasserist Karama (Dignity) Party (unrecognised by the Mubarak regime). Karama participated in the 2011-2012 parliamentary elections as part of the Democratic Alliance led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. Abu Eita won a seat in the parliament — the only worker to do so.

Interim premier al-Biblawi named Abu Eita minister of manpower and migration. In order to accept the post, Abu Eita resigned as EFITU president. He now has direct responsibility for the future of the Trade Union Freedoms Law. But neither a majority of the business-friendly cabinet, which includes some Mubarak-era figures, nor the military, the ultimate source of power, are likely to support the legislation drafted by al-Bur‘i.

Coup or cooptation

Even before the Suez steel strike, there was sharp debate over Abu Eita’s acceptance of the ministry and the army’s transitional “road map”. Some believed that his presence in the cabinet represented a victory for the workers’ movement and that Abu Eita would ensure that workers’ main demands were met. This was the position of a majority of the EFITU leadership. Its executive board issued a statement supporting the “road map”. Others worried that Abu Eita’s appointment was an effort to coopt the movement.

Both claims contain elements of truth. Abu Eita would never have been appointed were it not for the mass social movement in which he has been a prominent leader. Yet neither the government nor the army can countenance the decentralised direct democracy from below that is the strength of the workers’ movement.

EFITU executive board member Fatma Ramadan sees Abu Eita’s appointment as cooptation. According to her, he did not consult with other EFITU leaders before suggesting that workers would abandon the strike weapon. On July 10 she stated, “As a union federation our role must be to uphold all workers’ rights, including the right to strike…. We cannot possibly call on workers to protect the interests of businessmen by forfeiting labour rights under the pretext of bolstering the national economy.” Ramadan believes that “the military and the fuloul [old regime remnants] kidnapped [the June 30 movement].”

The Permanent Congress of Alexandria Workers, an independent regional federation not affiliated with the EFITU or EDLC, also issued a statement rejecting Abu Eita’s apparent support for a hiatus in the strike movement.

Ramadan, the PCAW and the ECESR supported the June 30 demonstrations. But they also openly opposed interim president ‘Adli Mansour’s July 8 constitutional declaration and the military’s “road map”. The Alexandria trade unionists expressed their distrust of al-Biblawi because he had been a minister in the first post-Mubarak transitional government appointed by the military chiefs and is known as a proponent of neoliberalism.

The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights posted a detailed critique on its website, entitled “A Constitutional Coup Against the Principles of the Revolution”. It protests that there was no consultation with the political forces that spearheaded the June 30 demonstrations over the contents of the constitutional declaration. Moreover, it says, the charter “ignored … economic and social rights, such as the right to housing, health, medical treatment, food, drink, clothes, insurance, pensions, social security and the minimum and maximum wage. It failed to link wages to prices or to specify the right to worker representation on corporate boards and in profit sharing.”

The Center for Trade Union and Workers Services also supported the June 30 demonstrations. Since then, it has refrained from open expressions of support or criticism of the military regime while issuing research papers documenting the Muslim Brotherhood’s anti-worker policies.

The CTUWS has historically prioritised building a broad-based workers’ movement over participating in national politics. Partly for this reason, unions aligned with the CTUWS withdrew from the EFITU in the summer of 2011. After a year and a half of grassroots organising, on April 24, 2013, it established the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress with 186 affiliated unions.

Yusri Ma‘rouf was elected president of the EDLC, a signal highlighting its commitment to defend the right to strike. He had been sentenced to three years in prison for leading a strike of 1500 workers at the Alexandria Container and Cargo Handling Company in October 2011. On June 17, 2013, an appeals court overturned his conviction, ruling that “sit-ins and strikes are guaranteed by the constitution, and the defendants simply exercised this right”. The judiciary first articulated that principle in 1986. The Mubarak regime, the military and the Morsi government all ignored it.

Criticism of Abu Eita has become sharper as the new government’s intentions become more obvious. Fatma Ramadan issued a statement in early August referring sarcastically to the “present” the new minister had given the strikers in Suez: After pledging repeatedly to back them in the cabinet, he did nothing of the kind, going so far as to lend rhetorical support to the strikebreaking “thugs” by invoking the “champions of production” line. The statement lamented that the working families of Suez would spend a “gloomy feast” at the close of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan.

The interim vice president for international affairs, Mohamed ElBaradei, resigned in protest over the August 14 massacre. He was the interim government’s most credible liberal figure despite his political ineptitude. His departure underscored that Egypt’s army and internal security forces are the lynchpins of the present regime, as they were under Mubarak. No matter how popular the army may be at the moment, workers now face an emboldened authoritarian state that is openly hostile to their rights and aspirations.

Too close for comfort

The minister of defence and commander of the armed forces, General ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, called for nationwide demonstrations on July 26 to give him a mandate to confront “violence and terrorism” — a thinly veiled reference to the Muslim Brothers. Several human rights NGOs, including the ECESR, issued a declaration expressing concern about al-Sisi’s intentions. The EFITU released a statement affirming workers’ rights to freedom of expression, to demonstrate peacefully and to strike, while simultaneously supporting “the right of all the apparatuses of the Egyptian state to confront terror and violence”. Those same apparatuses were breaking strikes and attacking demonstrators during the Morsi administration. They have continued to do so since its dissolution.

The July 26 demonstrations (and counter-demonstrations by supporters of ousted president Morsi) were massive. Among those who answered al-Sisi’s call was the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, which pledged to muster all of its 5 million members. In fact, the ETUF has no more than 3.8 million members, and most of them cannot be mobilised because the ETUF’s structure is thoroughly undemocratic and unrepresentative. The ETUF opposed all but one of the strikes that occurred during the last 15 years. Independent trade unionists who expressed support for military intervention in ousting Morsi now find themselves uncomfortably close to a key institution of the Mubarak regime.

In December 2012 Morsi installed al-Gibali al-Maraghi, a Mubarak-era union apparatchik, as ETUF president and appointed him a member of the upper house of parliament (the Shura Council). This move was widely viewed as an offer by the Muslim Brothers to share control of the ETUF with former Mubarak supporters. That bargain is now defunct. Although the ETUF’s future is uncertain, its leadership has indicated willingness to line up behind the government and the army.

That government, however, now includes Kamal Abu Eita, whose appointment those same ETUF leaders strenuously opposed. They previously accused him of criminal behaviour for establishing an illegal union federation in contravention of the existing trade union law, which technically remains in force. Meanwhile, Abu Eita’s first public promise — that a new minimum wage law would be issued by July 21 — was not fulfilled.

The main victories of the workers’ movement since Mubarak’s ouster are the establishment of independent trade unions and federations and the enactment of a monthly minimum wage of 700 pounds (about US$100), although enforcement of the latter is uncertain. These gains were won by direct action on the street.

Since Mubarak’s demise, thousands of workers have been jailed, fired or disciplined for engaging in strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations, many more than in the last decade of the Mubarak era. Nearly all of these actions were local. As was the case under Mubarak and Morsi, the priorities of the independent trade union movement and its supporters are: reinstatement of fired workers; permanent status for many others who have worked for years on “temporary” contracts without benefits; a raise in the monthly minimum basic wage to 1500 pounds; establishment of a maximum wage; protection of the right to strike; and adoption of the Trade Union Freedoms Law. These priorities are more likely to be achieved by continued popular mobilisation than by reliance on a government installed by the military.

[Joel Beinin is Donald J. McLachlan professor of history and professor of Middle East history at Stanford University and a contributing editor of Middle East Report.]


For Turkey, Planned U.S. Missile Strikes on Syria Not Good Enough- Piotr Zalewski

Posted by admin On August - 31 - 2013 Comments Off on For Turkey, Planned U.S. Missile Strikes on Syria Not Good Enough- Piotr Zalewski


From left: Syria’s opposition chief Ahmad Jarba and Turkish Foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu at a press conference in Istanbul

For some American allies, such as the UK, whose parliament seemed to reject any armed involvement in Syria on Thursday, punitive airstrikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad might be too much to stomach. For others, it may be too little. As the U.S. readies to proceed with limited missile strikes against Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed over a thousand people last week, Turkey, a key regional ally and Syria’s neighbor, seems to want more than Washington is willing to give.

The Obama administration signaled Friday that any action against Syria would be brief and measured. Turkey, however, having declared it would join any international coalition against Assad, with or without U.N. backing, has made it equally clear it wants a more robust intervention. On Wednesday, according to Turkish media, Ahmet Davutoglu, the country’s Foreign Minister, counseled his US counterpart John Kerry that any action should be forceful enough to bring Assad’s regime to the negotiating table.

A Turkish foreign ministry official, speaking to TIME anonymously, fleshed out Davutoglu’s remarks. “Any intervention should be designed to clear the way for a solution,” he says, “rather than maintaining, or rather worse, aggravating the uncertainties prevalent right now.”

Since the beginning of the two-year-long civil war in Syria, Turkey, which shares a 560-mile border with its southern neighbor, has grown increasingly vulnerable to the conflict’s violent spillover. To date, almost half a million Syrians have found shelter in the country, including about 200,000 in refugee camps. Turkish soldiers manning the border have recently had to fight off thousands of heavily armed petrol smugglers near the town Reyhanli, where a car bombing earlier this year that Ankara links to Syrian intelligence agents claimed 53 lives. Further east, they have looked on helplessly as a Kurdish militia that has waged war against Turkey for the last 30 years has taken control over an area stretching from Ras al-Ayn, just south of the border in Syria, to northern Iraq.

The kind of intervention the Americans envision doesn’t address any of Turkey’s fundamental concerns about Syria’s unraveling state, says Aaron Stein, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London. “Kurdish autonomy on the border, rising refugees, these so-called smugglers… none of that will stop, none of that gets addressed by the air strikes,” he says. “They won’t change the trajectory of the war.”

Turkish officials might be quite sober about the limited scope and impact of US-led action, says Stein, “but I assume they’re hoping it’s a slippery slope to the kind of intervention that Turkey would ultimately like to see take place, including a no-fly zone and major strikes to tilt the balance on the ground in the rebels’ favor.” Referring to the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia, which forced Belgrade’s forces to withdraw from Kosovo, he says, “I think they’re hoping that this is the first of what will turn into Kosovo.”

Despite boasting the second biggest army in NATO, Turkey isn’t poised to play a leading role in the armed campaign against Syria, at least not at the outset, says Can Kasapoglu, a Research Fellow at EDAM, a think tank. Turkey can open its airspace and provide the US and allied forces access to some of its military bases and, if necessary, help them enforce a naval blockade in the eastern Mediterranean. If the campaign extends to a no-fly zone, he says, “the Air Force could be used in Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) operations, air refueling, and combat air patrol.”

The more that their country involves itself in the operations, many Turks fear, the higher the risk of Syrian retaliation. Ankara is far from invulnerable. Earlier this year, NATO stationed six Patriot batteries near the country’s border with Syria at Turkey’s behest. The batteries, manned by roughly 1,200 NATO troops, can protect up to 3.5 million people from a potential missile threat, according to NATO sources, but they cannot guarantee total protection. “No missile defense can work at 100% interception rates,” says Kasapoglu. And while failure to intercept a conventional missile “could be tolerable,” he says, the equation changes when biological and chemical warfare is brought into the picture. A WMD-tipped ballistic missile that penetrates Turkey’s defenses could spell disaster.

Until and unless the Syrian regime feels entirely cornered, however, any overt aggression against Turkey is very unlikely. “Assad has proven himself to be either preposterously stupid or not in control of his armed forces,” says Stein, but he would have to be mad to hit Turkey, a NATO member. Even if the Alliance has initially ruled out a role in a possible intervention in Syria, a major Syrian attack against Turkey could easily trigger NATO’s “mutual defense” clause. And that, says Stein, “would lead to very robust intervention by the West.”

Even as it debates the scale of its contribution, the Turkish government may run into a wall at home. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Davutoglu have been bellicose, but most Turks, who are traditionally wary of military adventures abroad, remain opposed to any armed intervention in Syria. So does much of the political opposition. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) commands a majority in Parliament but any resolution authorizing Turkish involvement in Syria, if its adoption proves necessary, may yet founder. It wouldn’t be the first time. On March 1, 2003, as the US readied for war with Iraq, Turkey’s parliament voted on a motion allowing more than 60,000 American troops to operate from the country’s bases. It fell by a margin of three votes.

The Legal Consequences of Illegal Wars-David Kaye

Posted by admin On August - 31 - 2013 Comments Off on The Legal Consequences of Illegal Wars-David Kaye

U.S. President Barack Obama during a news conference at the White House in Washington

President Obama at a White House press conference (Courtesy Reuters)
The United States, by all indications, will soon become a belligerent in Syria’s civil war. The Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons to kill hundreds crossed a redline that U.S. President Barack Obama claimed a year ago would be the game changer, and the game for Washington, London, and Paris has clearly changed. Yet one thing has not: the international law governing when states may use force.

That is not to suggest that government lawyers won’t eventually try to offer some sort of legal benediction. News coverage suggests that administration officials are pushing them to do just that. And the lawyers will want to be helpful, particularly if the policy consensus for force is strong and the evidence for the regime’s responsibility for the attacks is beyond reproach.

But they should also be clear: It is the lawyers’ duty to provide their clients — senior U.S. officials — with legal, not moral, advice and counsel. The lawyers’ remit is not to say whether attacking Syria is the right thing to do, but to state what the law is, explain the positions adopted by the United States in similar circumstances in the past, and predict what the legal and institutional consequences of law-breaking might be.

So what is the law? The black-letter law on the use of force is quite simple: Under the United Nations Charter, the central treaty of the modern era and largely the handiwork of the United States and its World War II allies, states are generally prohibited from using force against other states unless they are acting in individual or collective self-defense or pursuant to an authorization of the UN Security Council. Over the post-war history of the charter, self-defense claims have proven most controversial. States — especially the United States — have sought to expand the situations that fall under the definition of self-defense.

But a case for self-defense in Syria would break the concept of self-defense beyond recognition. What concerns the administration, according to official statements, is the “moral obscenity” of a chemical attack on one’s own citizen. As awful as it is, there has been no attack (or the threat of attack) on the United States to justify individual self-defense or on allies to justify collective self-defense as a matter of law.

Given that a Security Council resolution seems unlikely, the United States is left without strong legal arguments for force. Some states, non-governmental organizations, and scholars have sought to craft exceptions to the requirement for Council authorization, usually under the rubric of humanitarian intervention or its contemporary form, the Responsibility to Protect (or R2P). Both exceptions spring from a moral position that states owe their citizens a duty of care, and when they violate it by committing grave crimes, force should be an available mechanism to halt or deter them. But neither exception has the force of law. The United States itself rejected humanitarian intervention as legal justification for the Kosovo war in 1999 even as the United Kingdom espoused (and still espouses) it, but the UK has few allies on the matter. R2P was blessed by the United Nations in 2005, but even there the United Nations decided that Security Council authorization was necessary for any intervention to qualify as legal.

Obama has also evoked norms against the use of weapons of mass destruction, such as the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibiting use of poison weapons (to which Syria is a party). This prohibition may be strongly stated, but the treaty itself provides no basis for using force. Like many instruments of its time, it does not talk about the consequences of violation.

So, unless the Security Council authorizes action, the United States and its participating allies would be in violation of international law in using military force against Syria. Call it what you will: “illegal” if you are frank, “inconsistent with international law” if you are a lawyer, “difficult to defend” if you are a diplomat. They all amount to the same thing: No international law supports a U.S. attack on Syria, even in the face of mass killing by internationally prohibited weapons.

The United States will most likely seek some other means of justifying its actions. Its behavior in similar situations, when officials want to use force but have no obvious legal basis to do so, is instructive. Many commentators are pointing to the Kosovo war, for good reason, as the legal and political precedent in government lawyers’ deliberations. In 1999, with the war in Bosnia a very recent memory, the United States and its NATO allies perceived a major humanitarian disaster in the Balkans, with the alleged Serb ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians. But the Russian Federation then, as now, refused to countenance any Security Council authorization of force, which forced NATO to consider an alternative international legal basis.

State Department lawyers, wary of establishing a legal precedent that other states could exploit in future conflicts, refused to give their legal imprimatur. Instead, they worked with policymakers to generate a set of factors that, in the specific context of Kosovo, provided justification (if not legal sanction) for using force. Those factors included the threat of a humanitarian disaster, disruption of regional security, and the paralysis of the Security Council. But they also relied on the former Yugoslavia’s failure to meet prior Security Council demands.

In the case of Syria, there are no prior Security Council demands. But it does seem that the United States may be heading toward a renewal of that general approach. Obama, in an interview with PBS, listed a set of factors with specific relevance in Syria, especially the perceived need to uphold the international norm against the use of chemical weapons.

From a policy perspective, the so-called factors approach that applied to Kosovo is attractive; it makes force seem legitimate even when not legal, and many policymakers care more about legitimacy than legality, particularly if there are no concrete legal consequences to action. But by suggesting that law and legitimacy are oppositional — or more specifically, that the UN Charter’s framework is illegitimate to the extent that it allows some states to shelter and permit atrocious behavior by themselves or their allies — this kind of legal sleight-of-hand damages the integrity of international law and its institutions, including the Security Council. As some powers grow in strength, such as China, the United States could regret having helped undermine the Security Council’s legal control over the use of force.

Finally, there is the question of consequences for this kind of law-breaking. Criminal liability is almost unthinkable. Though the International Criminal Court may have jurisdiction over illegal uses of force in the future, using force unlawfully now does not generate the same kind of criminal culpability under international law as provided for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. States do not generally (if ever) investigate and prosecute such uses of force by foreign leaders under universal jurisdiction statutes. Unlike with claims about Bush administration torture programs, few if any states would be able to address illegal uses of force in their national courts.

Obama administration officials could still vacation in Europe, in other words (though perhaps not Belarus). But policymakers should still be thinking about the legal consequences for the UN Charter system. Would the unlawful use of force against Syria make it more difficult for the United States to complain about others using force outside the doctrine of self-defense or Security Council authorization? Would it contribute to the development of a non-institutionalized norm of humanitarian intervention, under which any state could use force on its own terms? Or rather, would this kind of law-breaking help reinforce other norms of international law, such as the norm against use of chemical weapons or the targeting of civilians? Since lawyers for the U.S. State Department also work deeply with international institutions, they will want to consider whether the use of force in Syria could complicate other efforts and relationships across the United Nations.

In short, the United States is heading toward an intervention in Syria that administration officials clearly believe to be right, necessary, and humane. Their cause may be just. But it won’t be legal, and no creative amount of lawyering can make it so.


Why India’s Economy Is Stumbling-ARVIND SUBRAMANIAN

Posted by admin On August - 31 - 2013 Comments Off on Why India’s Economy Is Stumbling-ARVIND SUBRAMANIAN


WASHINGTON — FOR the past three decades, the Indian economy has grown impressively, at an average annual rate of 6.4 percent. From 2002 to 2011, when the average rate was 7.7 percent, India seemed to be closing in on China — unstoppable, and engaged in a second “tryst with destiny,” to borrow Jawaharlal Nehru’s phrase. The economic potential of its vast population, expected to be the world’s largest by the middle of the next decade, appeared to be unleashed as India jettisoned the stifling central planning and economic controls bequeathed it by Mr. Nehru and the nation’s other socialist founders.
.But India’s self-confidence has been shaken. Growth has slowed to 4.4 percent a year; the rupee is in free fall, resulting in higher prices for imported goods; and the specter of a potential crisis, brought on by rising inflation and crippling budget deficits, looms.

To some extent, India has been just another victim of the ebb and flow of global finance, which it embraced too enthusiastically. The threat (or promise) of tighter monetary policies at the Federal Reserve and a resurgent American economy threaten to suck capital, and economic dynamism, out of many emerging-market economies.

But India’s problems have deep and stubborn origins of the country’s own making.

The current government, which took office in 2004, has made two fundamental errors. First, it assumed that growth was on autopilot and failed to address serious structural problems. Second, flush with revenues, it began major redistribution programs, neglecting their consequences: higher fiscal and trade deficits.

Structural problems were inherent in India’s unusual model of economic development, which relied on a limited pool of skilled labor rather than an abundant supply of cheap, unskilled, semiliterate labor. This meant that India specialized in call centers, writing software for European companies and providing back-office services for American health insurers and law firms and the like, rather than in a manufacturing model. Other economies that have developed successfully — Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and China — relied in their early years on manufacturing, which provided more jobs for the poor.

Two decades of double-digit growth in pay for skilled labor have caused wages to rise and have chipped away at India’s competitive advantage. Countries like the Philippines have emerged as attractive alternatives for outsourcing. India’s higher-education system is not generating enough talent to meet the demand for higher skills. Worst of all, India is failing to make full use of the estimated one million low-skilled workers who enter the job market every month.

Manufacturing requires transparent rules and reliable infrastructure. India is deficient in both. High-profile scandals over the allocation of mobile broadband spectrum, coal and land have undermined confidence in the government. If land cannot be easily acquired and coal supplies easily guaranteed, the private sector will shy away from investing in the power grid. Irregular electricity holds back investments in factories.

India’s panoply of regulations, including inflexible labor laws, discourages companies from expanding. As they grow, large Indian businesses prefer to substitute machines for unskilled labor. During China’s three-decade boom (1978-2010), manufacturing accounted for about 34 percent of China’s economy. In India, this number peaked at 17 percent in 1995 and is now around 14 percent.

In fairness, poverty has sharply declined over the last three decades, to about 20 percent from around 50 percent. But since the greatest beneficiaries were the highly skilled and talented, the Indian public has demanded that growth be more inclusive. Democratic and competitive politics have compelled politicians to address this challenge, and revenues from buoyant growth provided the means to do so.

Thus, India provided guarantees of rural employment and kept up subsidies to the poor for food, power, fuel and fertilizer. The subsidies consume as much as 2.7 percent of gross domestic product, but corruption and inefficient administration have meant that the most needy often don’t reap the benefits.

Meanwhile, rural subsidies have pushed up wages, contributing to double-digit inflation. India’s fiscal deficit amounts to about 9 percent of gross domestic product (compared with structural deficits of around 2.5 percent in the United States and 1.9 percent in the European Union). To hedge against inflation and general uncertainty, consumers have furiously acquired gold, rendering the country reliant on foreign capital to finance its trade deficit.

Economic stability can be restored through major reforms to cut inefficient spending and raise taxes, thereby pruning the deficit and taming inflation. The economist Raghuram G. Rajan, who just left the University of Chicago to run India’s central bank, has his work cut out for him. So do Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, also an economist, and the governing party, the Indian National Congress. These steps need not come at the expense of the poor. For example, India is implementing an ambitious biometric identification scheme that will allow targeted cash transfers to replace inefficient welfare programs.

India can still become a manufacturing powerhouse, if it makes major upgrades to its roads, ports and power systems and reforms its labor laws and business regulations. But the country is in pre-election mode until early next year. Elections increase pressures to spend and delay reform. So India’s weakness and turbulence may persist for some time yet.

Arvind Subramanian, a senior fellow at both the Peterson Institute for International Economics and the Center for Global Development, is the author of “Eclipse: Living in the Shadow of China’s Economic Dominance.”

A version of this op-ed appears in print on August 31, 2013, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: Why India’s Economy Is Stumbling..http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/31/opinion/why-indias-economy-is-stumbling.html?hp

Syria: On Brink of War-Boris DOLGOV

Posted by admin On August - 28 - 2013 Comments Off on Syria: On Brink of War-Boris DOLGOV


The news made public on August 21 about the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian army against anti-government formations and civilians living in Damascus suburban area prompted further exacerbation of the situation. It is getting worse by leaps and bounds. Ahmad Jarba, the head of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, rushed to put the blame for the «crime» committed on Syrian government and called on the United States of America, Great Britain and France to intervene immediately. The West was quick to support the unfounded accusation. Wasting no time for the investigation results to be announced, it started to make threats to launch a military intervention against Syria.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Western claims his regime used chemical weapons were an «insult to common sense» and warned the United States that it would face failure in case Syria were attacked. It’s a really absurd to think the Syrian army could use the chemical weapons against itself in the densely populated urban areas under the control of government forces. Damascus also said there is a solid material proof the chemical weapons were used by radical opposition. The Syrian state TV broadcast images of plastic jugs, gas masks, vials of an unspecified medication, explosives and other items made in Saudi Arabia that it said were seized from rebel hideouts. There were also chemical attack protective gear with «made in USA» labels. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said unambiguously the accusations against Syria were absurd and applied efforts to initiate a UN inspection on spot.

Washington is evidently trying to hinder the UN inspectors mission saying it possesses irrefutable evidence to prove it was the Syrian government who did it. The United States believes a military intervention is possible without the United Nations Security Council’s resolution. On August 27 US media started to report the strike is scheduled on Thursday, August 29. Three aircraft carrier strike groups are located in the vicinity of Syrian shore ready to deliver powerful air and cruise missile strikes. The US is supported by Great Britain, France and Turkey. A Western military attack on Syria would only create more problems in the region leading to more bloodshed and resulting in the same sort of «catastrophe» as such previous interventions in Iraq and Libya, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. But will it stop those who want a big war?

It’s clear the propaganda campaign about the alleged use of chemical weapons is a planned provocation aimed at undermining the emerging opportunities for political management of the Syrian crisis and creating a pretext for military intervention into the country.

The organizers of provocative action acted like laymen not setting much store by producing anything like convincing evidence to justify the planned aggression. The world recalls the events of 2003 when the same type of scenario took place. Back then invented pretexts was also used to justify the 2003 intervention by the United States and Great Britain in Iraq. One can remember how the Germany’s special services staged an imitated attack presumably launched by Polish servicemen against a German radio station in 1939.

The real intent of the incumbent US administration in Syria is to topple the country’s government led by Bashar Assad and dismember the decapitated country. In other words it wants to eliminate the Iranian ally so that it could concentrate on doing away with the Iran’s nuclear program, to deal with Hezbollah in Lebanon and to make the Sunni type of «political Islam» come to power in Iraq having it over and done with the clout of pro-Iranian Shiites. Israel sides with the United States, it believes that the main thing is to eliminate the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance.

As Washington believes, a victorious intervention in Syria would bolster the United States image as «the only global superpower», the image that suffered a heavy blow when the US-led policy of supporting Islamism in the Arab world failed. The failure is obvious: the US diplomats killed in Libya in 2012, the overthrow of President Morsi in Egypt, who once enjoyed the Washington’s support, the inability to topple the regime of Bashar Assad during more than two years using Islamists for the purpose. It was in 2011 when Obama said Assad lost «legitimacy». The Snowden’s case has greatly undermined the image of the United States as the «bulwark of freedom and democracy».

The threat of military intervention in Syria is the continuation of US global policy aimed at eliminating the statehood of power centers (Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya), which were not among US satellites and lacked the potential to counter the aggression.

The White House follows the ancient Greek political formula which said it’s easier to rule those who are small and weak than the ones who are big and strong.

If an intervention takes place, the ramifications will be dire. The Syrian army is one of the most powerful ones in the Middle East, it has modern equipment in the inventory. No matter the aggressor has an advantage, it won’t be an easy walk.

There is no doubt the military conflict sparked by Americans will spread throughout the entire Middle East region to encompass Iran, the Hezbollah movement and Palestinian groups. Israel may be attacked. The response will be asymmetric (small special operations teams, terrorist acts in cities)…

The military defeat of Syria would lead to the country’s division and proliferation of instability, interconfessional strife and terrorist activities spreading over other regions far beyond the Middle East boundaries. The US policy towards Syria is a cynical hegemonism while ignoring each and every norm of international law. The events in Syria demonstrate that all the efforts to be a US partner end up as utopias. Once there is no bipolar balance, the US politicians believe there can be only a lord-vassal relationship in the contemporary world. If a vassal is not needed anymore and possesses no capability to defend himself, then he is unceremoniously disposed of.

Iran’s Unavoidable Influence Over Afghanistan’s Future-Martha Brill Olcott

Posted by admin On August - 28 - 2013 Comments Off on Iran’s Unavoidable Influence Over Afghanistan’s Future-Martha Brill Olcott


Iran has positioned itself as an important regional actor in Central Asia and is committed to playing a role in neighboring Afghanistan. As U.S. troops draw down their numbers in Afghanistan, Washington should consider how improved U.S.-Iranian relations could further long-term U.S. policy goals in Afghanistan and in the region.

While the future of U.S.-Iranian relations remains unclear, any improvement in the relationship would facilitate the success of U.S.-supported initiatives in Afghanistan: the “New Silk Road” strategy, which seeks to improve Afghanistan’s economic ties with Central and South Asia, and the “Heart of Asia” confidence-building process, which fosters high-level dialogue on security, political, and economic cooperation among Afghanistan and its neighbors. Both are catchwords for Washington’s policy of trying to shift more responsibility for Afghanistan’s reconstruction to the states of the region. But the international sanctions against Iran and the state of U.S.-Iranian relations are making it difficult for policymakers in Washington to implement this regional approach.

Iran’s Close Ties to Central Asia
Martha Brill Olcott
Senior Associate
Russia and Eurasia Program and
al-Farabi Carnegie Program on Central Asia
More from this author…
Central Asia Today: An Afterthought
Challenges in Studying Collectivization and the Famine
Kazakhstan’s Political (r)evolution
 Iranian leaders pride themselves on being important actors in Central Asia, and they take advantage of all available international forums to make this case. For their part, the region’s other countries maintain normal diplomatic and trade relations with Iran.

The respect accorded to Iran in Central Asia was underscored by the presence of the presidents of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration. The presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan attended as well. Uzbekistan, which has kept somewhat more distance from Iran, sent the head of its parliament, as did Russia.

The three Central Asian presidents used their presence to bring up the topics of greatest importance to them. For the Tajiks, who share a language and culture with the Iranians and call Iran a “strategic partner,” this meant discussing Tajikistan’s hydroelectric plans.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev used his visit to reiterate his country’s interest in continuing to host the P5+1 nuclear talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, which are under the chairmanship of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton. Kazakhstan hosted P5+1 sessions in Almaty in February and April 2013.

Transport links were major themes for both the Kazakh and Turkmen leaders. With Iran, these countries are constructing a new railroad to link Uzen in Kazakhstan with Gyzylgaya, Bereket, and Etrek in Turkmenistan and end at Gorgan in the Iranian province of Golestan. The railroad will expand access for the Central Asian nations to Persian Gulf ports.

The Kazakh and Turkmen presidents jointly opened the first section of the railroad on May 11, 2013, during Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s official visit to Kazakhstan. The nearly 50-mile Iranian portion was inaugurated later that month.

But international sanctions against Iran have complicated Tehran’s attempts to gain influence in Central Asia. Given Iran’s participation in the project, for example, the new railroad could not secure international multilateral institution funding. Instead, it is being built with funds of the national railway companies of Iran, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.

Furthermore, Iran is not part of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) or the Central Asian Regional Economic Coordination, the ADB’s ten-country partnership that is sponsoring six new transport corridors to better link Afghanistan and Central Asia with Europe and Asia.

Sanctions against Iran have also limited international oil and gas export routes from the region by making it impossible to secure international financing for such projects. While the new rail link will create options for Kazakhstan to send oil by rail to the Persian Gulf, the Kazakhs have been frustrated in their desire to transport “big oil” or “big gas” through Iran. They do, however, supply northern Iran with oil and receive the export income from oil swapped by the Iranians in the south.

Turkmenistan has also had to fund its own projects in Iran. Years before the prospect of shipping large amounts of gas through China became possible, the Turkmen, angered by the terms of trade with Russia, agreed to build a gas pipeline from Korpezhe in Turkmenistan to Kurt Kui in Iran. Built in 1997 with a maximum capacity of 8 billion cubic meters per year (bcm/y), or 282 billion cubic feet per year (bcf/y), 35 percent of the gas went to pay for Turkmenistan’s share of construction costs during the first years. A second Turkmenistan–Iran line, the Dauletabad–Khangiran Pipeline, with a capacity of 12 bcm/y (424 bcf/y) was completed in 2010.

In addition to cooperation on transport, all of the Central Asian countries trade actively with Iran; in 2010 Iran was the fourth-largest exporter to Central Asia, with 4.8 percent of all exports, following distantly behind China, Russia, and the EU. Iran is a major buyer of Central Asian cotton, traditionally purchasing from Tajikistan, but it also became an important source of cotton sales for Uzbekistan after the EU introduced trade restrictions against Tashkent.

Rouhani has signaled the importance of the Central Asian region by deciding to make his first international trip a visit to Bishkek to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit being held there on September 3, just days before the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg. This will also be Rouhani’s first meeting as president with Vladimir Putin.

Iran, an observer in the SCO, has long sought full membership in that organization. But Russia has spoken out against Iran receiving full membership because of the difficulties that this might pose for the organization as a whole given the international sanctions in place against Iran. Afghanistan is also an observer of the SCO, and Turkey just took on this status in April, suggesting that the SCO might well be positioning itself to play a greater role in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2014.

Iran’s Engagement in AfghanistanPlaying a greater role in Afghanistan seems a clear goal of Iran. The two states share a border that is more than 560 miles long, and senior Iranian officials have participated in virtually every major international meeting on Afghanistan that they have been eligible to attend.

Ambassador James Dobbins, who served as U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan in 2001 and was appointed special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan in May 2013, notes that the suggestion that Hamid Karzai should lead Afghanistan was raised by the Iranian delegation to the international conference on Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany, in 2001.

According to Dobbins, he and Javad Zarif, then Iran’s delegate to the conference and today the newly appointed minister of foreign affairs, found informal settings in which to “accidently” meet and hold important substantive discussions. Dobbins noted that Iran pledged $540 million in assistance at the first Tokyo conference in 2002, the largest commitment made by any non-Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nation. Most of this assistance, according to Dobbins, was actually provided.

The U.S.-Iranian relationship soured soon after, when Mohammad Khatami was still president, and deteriorated dramatically during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency.

This created a very awkward moment for the United States at the fifth Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan meeting in March 2012. U.S. officials played a major role in helping organize the conference but were left playing more of a backstage role at the event itself given the participation of Ahmadinejad.

The Iranian leader used the occasion to attack the U.S.-led NATO presence in Afghanistan, demanding that reparations be paid to the Afghan people. This prompted the U.S. delegation, led by Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake, to leave the room. But this departure failed to have the desired effect—the room was so enormous that only those seated near the U.S. delegation noticed the delegates’ exit.

Because the U.S. delegation was headed by Assistant Secretary Blake, it ranked way down on the protocol lists for speakers, especially given that Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan were all represented by their presidents. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon also convened a summit of these four presidents in the days before the conference opened, on the occasion of Nowruz, the traditional spring holiday in the region, creating an exclusive format for discussions of Afghanistan’s future in which “outsiders,” including the United States, were not included.

U.S.-Iran Relations and the Future of AfghanistanThere is no reason to think that U.S. priorities on Afghanistan will be of anything other than marginal concern when the Obama administration considers how to deal with the new Rouhani administration.

The lifting of international sanctions against Iran depends on a breakthrough in the P5+1 talks on Iran’s nuclear industry and on the international community being satisfied that Tehran is indeed only pursuing the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

But an improved U.S.-Iranian relationship would yield many other dividends to U.S. foreign policy goals, not the least of which is that it would make the regional solution to Afghanistan’s economic recovery that Washington yearns for a much more realizable goal. Hopefully Javad Zarif and James Dobbins will have new opportunities to negotiate with each other and shape a more productive relationship for Iran, the United States, and Afghanistan.

—Martha Brill Olcott
Senior Associate
Russia and Eurasia Program and
al-Farabi Carnegie Program on Central Asia

How to Oust Assad-Michael Weiss

Posted by admin On August - 28 - 2013 Comments Off on How to Oust Assad-Michael Weiss


A protester holds up a poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a demonstration against Israeli air strikes in Syria, in Sanaa, May 10, 2013. (Khaled Abdullah / Courtesy Reuters)
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of the recent chemical attack in Syria as an “undeniable” fact — not a subject for debate. He called it “moral obscenity” and laid blame squarely on the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The statement was an undisguised war speech. The only question now is what form that war might take and how long the battle will last.

There are several rumors swirling. One is that the Obama administration would prefer a mere “punitive” campaign. Some precision-timed leaks to the media seem to point in this direction. But such a strategy would accomplish nothing if the goal is to deter the Assad regime from ever using chemical agents again. Over the course of the past year, Israel has waged half a dozen pinprick strikes on caches of advanced weapons inside Syria, likely because they were destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. The very number of operations attests to how little they altered Assad’s mindset: he still imports high-tech hardware.

Another rumored plan, which NBC reported, citing senior U.S. officials, is that sorties over the next few days would not aim to kill Assad or topple his regime, but may seek to destroy or degrade his command-and-control facilities, artillery systems, and airfields. That is surely a smarter option, provided that the strikes rise above “sending a message” and do some lasting damage to the regime’s military infrastructure. Anything short of that would be strategically useless and a waste of expensive missiles.

Indeed, U.S. President Barack Obama should re-articulate his policy of regime change for Syria, which he first announced in the summer of 2011 and has quietly revised and rescinded ever since. And he should gear any intervention toward furthering that policy, in accordance with what key American allies have said is their own preferred method for dislodging the 40-year dynastic dictatorship: the opposition’s gradual assertion of control. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, there are already examples that this can work in Syria.

The good news is that there aren’t many high-use tarmacs left to hit. Of the 27 airbases in Syria that are capable of assisting with the Syrian Air Force’s primary missions, just six are left in full use. The others are either under rebel controlled or are fiercely contested.


The easiest way to achieve regime change is no mystery to policymakers or to Pentagon war planners. Its initial phase might be called regime isolation. The United States should degrade or destroy the Assad regime’s aerial resupply capacity. This would entail no deployment of U.S. forces to Syria. Nor would it spell the collapse of the regime overnight. But it would hinder his ability to move men and weapons around inside Syria.

The strategy would have the added benefit of isolating Syria from its allies. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has repeatedly downplayed the importance of the Syrian Air Force, claiming, for instance, that of all Syrian fatalities in the two-and-a-half-year war, only about a tenth have been caused by rockets and bombs dropped from Assad’s aircraft. But this statistic elides a more important aspect of the regime’s use of airports, helicopters, and planes: Russian and Iranian military and commercial planes arrive daily to offload weapons (some of them advanced air or sea defense systems), ammunition, and personnel. Iran is spending an estimated $500 million a month to keep its ally afloat.

As a consequence, Iran has virtually inherited the Syrian security portfolio. By Syrian security officials’ own admission, Iran and Hezbollah have helped Damascus construct a 100,000-strong sectarian militia called the National Defense Force, without which, as The Wall Street Journal concluded on August 26, those recent regime victories in Homs would simply not have been possible. In some cases, Iran has even been flying conscripts for the National Defense Force to Tehran where they receive guerrilla warfare training. Because all of Syria’s borders — save the one with Lebanon — are either controlled by the rebels (Turkey, Jordan) or are easily monitored by them (Iraq), land transports of equipment and personnel are growing less frequent. But the shipments that make it to Damascus International Airport and Mezze airbase, which is controlled by the Fourth Armored Division and located southwest of the capital, are not.

So, its as simple as this: If you take out the runways, Iranian and Russian planes cannot land; nor can Syrian planes take off.

The good news is that there aren’t many high-use tarmacs left to hit. Of the 27 airbases in Syria that are capable of assisting with the Syrian Air Force’s primary missions, just six are left in full use. The others are either under rebel controlled or are fiercely contested. Chris Harmer, Senior Naval Analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, has shown that the Syrian Air Force is down to around 100 fixed-wing mission-ready aircraft. In a series of intricately detailed briefings, Harmer has also outlined a credible plan of action for seriously degrading Assad’s air capability without “any US aircraft entering Syrian air space.” Instead, the United States would chiefly rely on naval-launched cruise missiles or aircraft stand-off systems fired from international or allied territory. Israeli, Jordanian, Saudi Arabian, Turkish, and even Italian soil could all be used for this purpose. Those countries would all allow it, too.

Already, the USS Mahan, the USS Barry, the USS Ramage, and the USS Gravely — all Arleigh Burke Class destroyers carrying Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles — are en route or in position in the eastern Mediterranean. All are equipped with defensive weaponry against which any Syrian naval assault would be ineffective. (Tomahawks have a range of 1,000 nautical miles; Assad’s most advanced anti-ship missile, the P-800 Yakhont, has a range of 180.) The number of Tomahawks in the region could effectively double if the United States deploys attack or cruise missile submarines there, too. Furthermore, as Harmer notes, if the USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier division, which includes two Ticonderoga class cruisers and two additional Arleigh Burke Class destroyers, was repositioned from the Red Sea, where it is now, to the eastern Mediterranean, “it would significantly increase the striking power available to hit targets in Syria.” Targets for these munitions can and should include runways, stationary rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, air traffic control towers, army vehicles, air defense systems, naval ships, and regime headquarters.


No direct U.S. military engagement would work without a concomitant commitment to building up the armed opposition, which has also been a long-neglected official U.S. goal. A responsible and trustworthy rebel army could be tasked not only with fighting the regime and its manifold proxies but also with safeguarding U.S., European, and regional interests from the rise of extremists in the Levant.

Following the Assad’s earlier violation of Obama’s red line on chemical weapons, the White House announced that it would begin sending light weapons to the Supreme Military Command, which is a United States-backed coordination and logistics umbrella for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that is led by Salim Idris, a man with which every Western intelligence agency has grown quite familiar. To date, however, few if any weapons have been delivered. The status quo policy of allowing indirect gun-running in the Gulf states does persist.

In recent months, the southern front in Syria has seen rebel units backed by the West and its allies winning more and more territory. The credit for this goes mainly to Saudi Arabia and to what it calls its “southern strategy.”

And yet, in spite of such torpidity, there are encouraging signs. Little covered by the international press and policy wonks, in recent months, the southern front in Syria has seen rebel units backed by the West and its allies winning more and more territory at the expense of both Assad and al Qaeda, which has been using the war in Syria as an opportunity to expand its reach and establish what it hopes will be a Islamic emirate in advance of a worldwide caliphate. The credit for this goes mainly to Saudi Arabia and to what it calls its “southern strategy,” or the buildup of rebel forces in and around Damascus, particularly in the towns of Barzeh, Jobar, and Qaboun, where rebels have seized regime weapons caches and even overtaken an electrical facility. All of these towns are located in Eastern Ghouta district, the very same area that Assad gassed last week and had gassed before then, too.

As part of its southern strategy, Saudi Arabia has worked closely with Jordan — a development Saudi Arabia has downplayed, even denied, owing to King Abdullah’s fear that Assad will retaliate against his southern neighbor. Together, the two countries and their American, British, and French counterparts have set up and run an undisclosed joint operations center in Jordan to train vetted Syrian rebels in tactical warfare methods, intelligence, counterintelligence, and weapons application. One Syrian I interviewed this month confirmed that his brother had recently been through the training program. He remarked on the stark before-and-after contrast in his sibling’s martial skills, which now include proper breathing techniques during aiming a rifle. Roughly 1,000 trainees are said to have graduated from the program so far.

The United States should now make recruiting and training many thousands more rebels a top priority. One incentive for doing so is that, unless Washington plans to dispatch Joint Special Operations Command units into Syria at a later date (and that does not seem likely), it will require its own proxy — a Syrian gendarmerie — for curtailing the military and political influence of al Qaeda.

Some have said that building a trustworthy rebel ally is an impossible task. But there is perhaps no better indicator of the readiness of certain rebel formations to play ball than the confidence with which top FSA commanders in Deraa openly condemn Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — the two al Qaeda franchises in Syria — and label them hirelings of Syrian intelligence. A meeting I had two weeks ago with Ziad al-Fahad, the Supreme Military Command’s top commander in the southern front, is instructive. Al-Fahad told me that “the only reason people ever started fighting for extremist groups was because they had weapons and means.” By contrast, he said, “we had weapons and means in the south — we raided regime caches effectively. This is why the extremists here are not as strong.” He also spoke in no uncertain terms about the fact that the struggle for Syria is now a struggle against the regime and jihadists. Why? Because if “extremists get all the advanced weapons, [the FSA] will themselves become victims.”

Self-preservation, it should be remembered, was the main reason rebels took up arms against Assad in the first place. Their fear of being beheaded by militants after Assad leaves is justified, and is a strong calculation in their forward-planning. Both al-Fahad and his deputy, Abu Fadi, with whom I also spoke, relayed several anecdotes about how FSA units and local populations have defied or expelled Jabhat al-Nusra from villages in Deraa. Their stories were subsequently corroborated by activists. All in all, defiance against al Qaeda-aligned militants is an embryonic example of, as well as an object lesson for, a kind of Sunni Awakening, or sahwa, that will be crucial for any U.S. strategy.

Unfortunately, the prospect for sahwa in the northern provinces of Idlib, Aleppo, and Raqqa is much dimmer than in the south, given the prevalence of jihadist forces there and the dependence of local populations on these groups for everyday needs such as food, water, and medical care. (The Islamic State even put on carnivals and distributed toys for Syrian children in Aleppo during Ramadan.) Still, Teletubbies and musical chairs notwithstanding, al Qaeda is still al Qaeda. It is already making all the usual mistakes associated with the Zarqawist “state-building” initiatives in Iraq. For instance, it imposed sharia punishments for perceived crimes of blasphemy, shooting 15 year-old Muhammad Qata’a in the neck and face in front of his parents. It detained respected tribal elders in Raqqa, the only fully “liberated” province in Syria, who disagreed with its draconian governance style. It recently backed the assassination of a top-level FSA commander in Latakia. And it very likely kidnapped and murdered Paolo Dall’Oglio, a Catholic priest who is much revered by the opposition for his early support of the anti-Assad protest movement. All that spells public disenchantment: demonstrations against the Islamic State have been consistent and growing in Raqqa. As one Syria analyst put it to me recently: “When was the last time you saw an FSA unit grow so unpopular that, within about two months, it incited protests against itself in five cities, one of which continued every day for at least two weeks?”

Conditions are fertile for the weakening of the jihadists at the expense of the moderates. Beyond training, there are ways that the United States can help. Already, Turkey seems to have realized that, by leaving its border open for every type of scrofulous mujahideen to walk across, it has fashioned a rod for its own back. There are rumors in Ankara that Turkish intelligence has finally begun curtailing the weapons flow to Jabhat al-Nusra in northern Syria. (Although the Turkish government denies ever turning a blind eye to extremists, it has been reluctant to crackdown on them because of their formidability in the theatre. Not least among the tragedies of Syria has been seeing al Qaeda deferred to as the poor man’s Special Forces.) The United States should expend every effort to make rumors of al-Nusra’s interruption a reality. Turkey is desperate for intervention. The United States can use that to its own advantage by making its involvement contingent on better border disciple. It can also offer the FSA units in Aleppo, Idlib, and Raqqa performance-based incentives for cleaving their military operations and civil administrative responsibilities away from the crazies. If weapons get shared, seized, or simply “go missing,” no more will be forthcoming. Gen. Idris himself has offered just such an accountability agreement to the United States.

Finally, the U.S. Treasury Department, which has already designated al-Nusra as a terrorist entity, must pressure Gulf countries — Kuwait and Qatar in particular — to eliminate whatever private or quasi-state fundraising mechanisms al Qaeda and other non-FSA-aligned extremists groups in Syria exploit to keep themselves in cash and bullets. In Kuwait, the advertising campaigns to raise lucre for Ahrar al-Sham, another major Salafist brigade that will surely pose a security challenge in future, are public affairs. This is a scandal, but an easily remedied one.


It has taken two and a half years and more than 100,000 lives for several myths about Syria to be shattered. The first is that a state run by a brutal crime syndicate — the Sopranos with WMD — could be pressured or coaxed from power peacefully. The second is that a Baathist dictator would never again deploy poison gas against a people he enslaves, much less do so in the age of the camera cellphone and YouTube. The third is that any direct military intervention would be unilateral and therefore met with international skepticism or censure.

Obama never needed to go searching for coalition of the willing for Syria; one comes pre-assembled for him and has been knocking, in fact, at the door to the Oval Office for quite some time. Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, all see Syria as a grave short-term threat to their national security. Great Britain and France, both justly petrified of the return of radicalized militants to European soil, appear to glimpse at least a medium-term threat to their own borders. All will participate in a U.S.-led intervention, as has been made amply clear this week. And with four U.S. destroyers stationed in the Mediterranean — and pock-marked runways in Damascus — it is unlikely that Russia and Iran, neither of which share contiguous borders with Syria, can do much beyond scream and shout. Materially speaking, they’ve already done everything they can and it’s led us to where we are now.

In the next few days and weeks, then, it is not just live-images of explosions in Damascus that should consume the United States’ attention, but also activity at the northern and southern borders of Syria. Are the rebels receiving adequate weapons and training? Are they gaining ground the southern front? Has Idris stopped drafting open letters to the president begging him for more help than he’s yet received? The answers will indicate whether a coherent strategy is in play.

Even so, it would be folly to have witnessed the shattering of previously held myths about Syria only to see the recrudescence of another: that a Syria with Assad in it will prove more stable and manageable than a Syria without him. Obama needs to start by recognizing how foolish and dangerous that assumption is. Two or three days’ worth of airstrikes not geared toward regime change will do little to prevent the emergence of a Congo on the Mediterranean. But they will guarantee that the United States will be returning to this conflict later, at time not of its own choosing.

Battling the Islamists: Egypt Risks Further Radicalization-Matthias Gebauer

Posted by admin On August - 21 - 2013 Comments Off on Battling the Islamists: Egypt Risks Further Radicalization-Matthias Gebauer

File photo of the Muslim Brotherhood's Badie during a news conference in Cairo

Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie has been arrested by Egyptian security forces.
The arrest of Muslim Brotherhood leader Badie is just the latest step in the Egyptian military’s ongoing attempt to stamp out Islamism. In justifying their iron-fist approach, many point to Germany’s own history with the Nazis, but further radicalization could be the result.
 Mohammed Badie looks tired. In the wobbly images aired on Monday night by the pro-army broadcaster OnTV, he is sitting in wrinkled, white robes in the backseat of a car. Next to him is a young man wearing a bullet-proof vest. The narrator is at pains to communicate the importance of the news he is presenting.
ANZEIGEThe arrest of Badie, the powerful spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, by an Egyptian special forces unit in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the narrator intones, is “a further strike against the terror” that has held the country in its grip for months. A trial against Badie and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders for inciting violence and murder is to take place as soon as possible, he adds.

Badie’s capture is doubtless a further success in the military regime’s ongoing battle against the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood. Police had been searching for the 70-year-old for weeks, before ultimately tracking him down in a house in the Nasr City quarter of Cairo, not far from where authorities killed hundreds of people last week while clearing a Muslim Brotherhood sit-in.

The violence of the raids last Wednesday was breathtaking, a clear message that General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s military regime was in no mood to show leniency to the followers of deposed President Mohammed Morsi, whose Islamist government was toppled by the military in early July. The myriad arrests made since then have demonstrated further resolve and massively weakened the Muslim Brotherhood. For the last several days, the police and military have been taking anyone who even looks likes an Islamist into custody. Because of the state of emergency imposed by Sissi, they can be held indefinitely without cause and without being charged.

Nazi Comparison

The wave of arrests has placed the Muslim Brotherhood, already cowed by last Wednesday’s massacre, even further on the defensive. On that day, at least 500 members of the group died, according to Cairo officials, with the Muslim Brotherhood claiming that twice that many were killed. More than 2,000 additional Islamists have been locked away in the country’s notorious prisons. Sissi’s government has said it is looking into outlawing the group.

It is a deep plunge. Under autocrat Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood was illegal and persecuted, but managed to win the first democratic election following his ouster in 2011, taking advantage both of its own excellent connections across the country as well as the lack of unity among Egypt’s other political parties. The resulting presidency of Mohammed Morsi lasted only one year before massive demonstrations, triggered by economic miasma and a lack of reforms, resulted in the military coup.

Since then, the new regime, together with some of Mubarak’s old confidants, has pursued a merciless offensive against the Islamists. And they have often justified it by comparing the Muslim Brotherhood to the rise of the Nazis in 1930s Germany. Just has Adolf Hitler rose to power in democratic elections, they say, Morsi too was voted into power, only displaying his true dictatorial tendencies once in office. The putsch, in other words, was necessary to eliminate the evil. Germany, so goes the argument, was only freed from Hitler by the military force of the Allies. Many find Berlin’s current wariness of the Sissi regime to be confusing.

Radicalization and Terror
The military has left little doubt that it is serious about stamping out the Islamists. Since removing Morsi, they have re-established many of the measures in place during the Mubarak years, the media appears to be under central control and any opposition to their rule is labelled terrorism. The parallels even extend to the current state of emergency declared by the Sissi regime. Like Mubarak, he too promised that it would only be in place for a month. But Mubarak kept it in place for 30 years.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s only choice appears to be that of returning underground. The official ban is likely to come soon, which means they will not be allowed to take part in elections, should they ultimately be held.

Observers are concerned that the move to marginalize the Muslim Brotherhood could further radicalize some of their most ardent followers, opening the door to excessive violence and terror attacks. It would mark yet another step in the escalation of the Egyptian conflict.


Brezhnev Elevated Detente over Class Struggle — to the Dismay of his Politburo Colleagues:Anatoly S. Chernyaev Diary, 1973

Posted by admin On August - 21 - 2013 Comments Off on Brezhnev Elevated Detente over Class Struggle — to the Dismay of his Politburo Colleagues:Anatoly S. Chernyaev Diary, 1973


Soviet Internal Politics and Decision Making from Anatoly Chernyaev’s “Remarkable Diary”[1]National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 430
Posted – May 25, 2013

Edited by Svetlana Savranskaya

Diary excerpt translated by Anna Melyakova and edited by Svetlana Savranskaya

For more information contact:
Svetlana Savranskaya – 202/994-7000 or svetlana@gwu.edu
Masterpieces of History: The Peaceful End of the Cold War in Europe, 1989

Previous Chernyaev Diary Postings

The Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev, 1972
Seventh Installment of Former Top Soviet Adviser’s Journal Available in English for First Time

The Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev, 1991
Sixth Installment of Former Top Soviet Adviser’s Journal Available in English for First Time

The Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev, 1990
Fifth Installment of Former Top Soviet Adviser’s Journal Available in English for First Time

The Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev 1989
Archive Publishes Fourth Installment of Former Top Soviet Adviser’s Journal

The Diary of Anatoly S. Chernyaev: 1987-1988

The Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev
Archive Publishes Second Installment of Former Top Soviet Adviser’s Journal

The Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev
Former Top Soviet Adviser’s Journal Chronicles Final Years of the Cold War



 Washington, D.C., May 25, 2013 – Today the National Security Archive is publishing — for the first time in English — excerpts from the diary of Anatoly S. Chernyaev from 1973, along with edits and a postscript by the author.

As in the previous installment of the diary, for 1972, Chernyaev, deputy head of the International Department of the Central Committee (and later a key foreign policy aide to Mikhail Gorbachev), continues to marvel at the contradictory and enigmatic person at the pinnacle of the Soviet leadership — General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. On the one hand, Chernyaev is sharply critical of Brezhnev’s primitive pompousness, his inability to express himself, and his ossified ideological dogmas. On the other hand, in one instance after another, Brezhnev shows himself as a real champion of peace and détente with the West; a man capable of dispassionate realpolitk. Chernyaev identifies the General Secretary’s two irreconcilable driving desires — to preserve the Soviet system intact and to cooperate with the West in order to prevent a world war and develop trade and investment.

Several key members of the Soviet leadership emerge from the pages of the diary looking quite different from their official portraits, described in merciless detail by a very astute observer. The series of diaries donated by Anatoly Sergeyevich to the National Security Archive represent an invaluable source, a keyhole through which we today, forty years later, can look back at the internal politics and decision making of the Soviet Politburo and its supporting apparatus.

In the first half of 1973, the Politburo discusses the upcoming seminal event — Brezhnev’s June trip to the United States. The main debate is over the clash between Marxist ideology and détente. How can the official Marxist teachings about the class struggle and eventual victory of socialism over capitalism be taken seriously if the Soviet leader has chosen a course for détente and peaceful coexistence with the imperialists? In his diary, Chernyaev is sharply critical of the positions of chief Politburo ideologist Mikhail Suslov and Sergey Trapeznikov, who oversaw the Academy of Sciences in the Central Committee. Suslov and Trapeznikov believed that détente did not change the nature of the international class struggle and were opposed to any rapprochement with the West. Here, Chernyaev closely watches Brezhnev’s visit to the U.S. and his business-like interactions with the Americans, and he gives an extremely high assessment of the results of the visit, comparing it to the victory over Hitler in its impact on the future of Europe.

Another fascinating debate that unfolds throughout the year is over the negotiations within the framework of the Helsinki process, and especially the significance of Basket III, which included provisions on the free movement of peoples, and human rights. It is obvious to Chernyaev’s colleagues in the International Department that the Soviet interest is to limit the European Conference to the issues of security and recognition of the GDR. However, the Europeans, including West European Communist parties, were putting pressure on their Soviet counterparts to include the human rights provisions. Chernyaev describes discussions in the Central Committee that indicate that already then, some members of the Soviet leadership understood the danger of including Basket III-that it could be used to challenge Soviet norms both by Western governments and internal dissidents. However, on this issue too, Brezhnev’s strong position in favor of détente and cooperation with capitalist democracies took precedence over the concerns expressed, which turned out to be very well founded.

In fact, while the Central Committee debated what the Soviet position should be in the CSCE negotiations, internal dissent was growing and making itself visible. Chernyaev closely followed the reaction in the West, especially in the French and Italian Communist parties, to the Yakir and Krasin trial, and to Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn’s publications and interviews. One of Chernyaev’s close friends was David (Dez’ka) Samoilov, a dissident poet who argued with Chernyaev about the importance of dissident ideas and who admired Sakharov. Chernyaev himself, expressing the general attitude of the intra-party free thinkers, was very skeptical of open dissent. The diary is full of his doubts and openly critical reflections on the emerging Soviet dissident movement.

As recounted in this extraordinary personal record, 1973 is a very rich year. It is full of domestic politics, disagreements within the Central Committee about substantive policies, petty rivalries, and party gossip. It also covers key international developments — the CSCE negotiations, Brezhnev’s visit to the United States, the Middle Eastern crisis and Kissinger’s visit to Moscow, Brezhnev’s visit to India, the Pinochet coup in Chile, and the development of policy toward China. In 1973, Chernyaev seems to be more involved, at least in his intellectual world, in issues of foreign policy as such, not just in the troubles of the International Communist Movement, which was his particular responsibility as deputy head of the International Department. The diary lets us into the corridors of the Kremlin and into numerous “writing dachas” where Soviet foreign policy was conceived and developed.


Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev, 1973


[1] Historian Amy Knight, New York Review of Books, April 6, 2012
Contents of this website Copyright 1995-2012 National Security Archive.

Egypt’s Sisi banishes wild dogs-M K Bhadrakumar

Posted by admin On August - 21 - 2013 Comments Off on Egypt’s Sisi banishes wild dogs-M K Bhadrakumar


Yves Jego, mayor of Montereau-Fault-Yonne, in the southeast suburb of Paris, announced on Monday that dog owners in his town with no sense of civic duty will be henceforth caught on closed-television cameras if they do not pick up their pet’s waste, and offenders will be fined 35 euros (US$46).

Mr Jego compared irresponsible dog owns to traffic offenders who pose a threat to public safety. The analogy can be applied to Syria. Indeed, even as the mayor spoke to Agence France-Presse, the French news agency also reported on an innocuous meeting being scheduled for the middle of next week, away from
the glare of international publicity in a city 468.7 kilometers to the north of Paris – The Hague.

There are stirrings of hope that a clean-up act over Syria cannot entirely be ruled out.

Byzantine city of wild dogs
According to the AFP, the proposed meeting of top US and Russian officials at The Hague was originally conceived at the August 9 meeting in Washington within the “2+2” format of the foreign and defense ministers of the two countries.

Wendy Sherman, US undersecretary of state for political affairs, will lead the American team, which includes, interestingly, US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, whom President Barack Obama recently re-designated as the next envoy to Cairo. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy on Syria, will also participate.

The stated purpose of The Hague meeting is to discuss preparations for the long-delayed international peace conference on Syria, dubbed as the “Geneva 2”, aimed at bringing together the Syrian regime and its allies and the opposition.

Moscow is yet to disclose at what level it will be represented at The Hague meeting. Russia will be anxious to convey that it’s business is as usual with Washington despite the brouhaha over the ex-CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden affair and the ensuing cancellation of President Barack Obama’s “bilateral” with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month.

On the other hand, Ford’s presence at The Hague could be somewhat disconcerting, given his controversial record as diplomat both in Iraq and Syria of leaving behind mountain heaps of dog waste, but then, Moscow will also ponder over an interesting thought that it is often such able hands who are also best employed to hold the broom and do an efficient job of cleaning up, since they know better than anyone else where the stench originates.

Equally, there is a lot going in favor of the Syrian peace talks picking up. For one thing, the dogs of war in Syria are finding themselves increasingly in dire straits. General Abdel Fattel al-Sisi, the Egyptian strongman, intensely hates dogs and has ordered the Syrian breed to vacate Cairo.

He is all set to follow Mr Jego’s footsteps and install CCTV cameras all along the Nile banks, and the best part is that, although a poor man himself, his enterprise is a 100% self-financing one, being generously funded by the very same wealthy sheikhs to whom the dogs of war in Syria not too long ago belonged.

These sheikhs are increasingly worried that the winds might carry the stench in Egypt all the way to their own grand palaces and pollute their beautiful desert environs, in which case all the perfumes of Arabia would be insufficient to mask the odor.

An emboldened Sisi now intends to bring out of retirement former dictator Hosni Mubarak, whose legendary skills in dog-waste management are a legion in the Middle East and whom the sheikhs implicitly trust.

At any rate, the Syrian canine breed has been quick to read the ominous signs of Sisi’s displeasure and have fled from Cairo to Istanbul, taking advantage of the authorities in Turkey and Egypt not being on talking terms anymore.

But they aren’t going to be safe for long in Istanbul, either, because it is an ancient Byzantine city and there are wild dogs there, too. The Syrian breed is a relatively delicate one, whereas the ones from Kurdistan and further beyond in Mesopotamia are real bloodhounds and some of them are rumored to be dog-eating-dogs.

Also, there are vague hints that it is a matter of time before the Turkish master may himself follow Sisi’s footsteps and decide to get rid of all dogs streaming into Anatolia from the surrounding regions that are polluting his beautiful compound too.

Tragic but potentially cathartic
This needs some explaining. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan phoned up Putin two weeks back and set up a meeting between the two on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit early next month in St Petersburg for a man-to-man talk regarding Syria.

Erdogan, being a gifted politician, understands that he has lost the game over Syria, while Putin holds most of the trump cards, including the fearsome “Kurdish card”.

Amid the growing signs of a Kurdish entity shaping up in northern Syria along the Turkish border on the lines of Iraqi Kurdistan, Moscow has suggested with a poker face that Syrian Kurds could be independently represented at Geneva 2 talks.

Erdogan was quick to grasp the message. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani of Qatar and Mohamed Morsi of Egypt used to be his closest associates in the Syrian project. But both have now relinquished power – one abdicating and the other deposed.

On the other hand, Egypt’s coup finds Erdogan to be the odd man on the regional chessboard, while Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Cooperation Council allies, Iraq, Syria, Israel and even Iran have decided to do business with the junta in Cairo.

The unkindest cut of all has been that Obama is nowadays ignoring Erdogan. From the high pedestal of being acclaimed as a role model for the new Middle East, Erdogan has fallen and it has been a “Shakespearean fall” – at once tragic but potentially cathartic.

Erdogan knows that Obama has his hands full with Egypt for the rest of his term in the White House, which means the US is being forced into a virtual disengagement from the Syrian project. At any rate, this is not the best of times to push for “regime change” in the Middle East.

In sum, Erdogan understands perfectly well that Moscow sizes up that the tide has turned in Syria.

The blistering propaganda campaign from Moscow regarding the specter of al-Qaeda raising its hood in Syria has registered in Western consciousness, and meanwhile, Bashar al-Assad is pressing home the advantage on the battlefield and is edging closer than ever to getting re-elected as Syria’s president in the 2014 poll.

Portents of evils imminent
Simply put, post-Soviet Russia is back with a bang on the Middle East’s chessboard. Indeed, strange things are beginning to happen all over the region.

The Syrian National Council representative in Istanbul, Khaled Khoja, bitterly said in an interview with Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper over the weekend,
The movement of the Syrian opposition in Egypt is being limited [by the new rulers] and opposition figures are leaving the country. We are moving the headquarters of the Syrian National Coalition from Egypt to Turkey.

Politically, Bashar al-Assad has become a role model to Arab dictators. What al-Assad and the Shabiha [armed men in civilian clothing who support al-Assad] are to Syria, [General Abdel Fatteh] al-Sisi and axmen [armed groups] are to Egypt.

A conviction is going around among Arab dictators that somehow the Arab Spring can be stopped. They include the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, which are in the group of the Friends of Syria. All of them have supported al-Sisi.

Following a nine-month siege, the opposition forces got hold of the airport near Aleppo and found Saudi Arabian rockets destined for the regime. The UAE is in the Friends of Syria Group, but Dubai has become the central bank of the Syrian regime. While members of the Friends of Syria should support the opposition, they are now showing the tendency of safeguarding the regime.
Unsurprisingly, Moscow’s warm equations with the Mubarak-era Egyptian “deep state” and the manifest empathy it is now displaying toward the junta in Cairo, coupled with its visceral hatred of the Muslim Brotherhood historically, are bringing about a strange proximity between Russia and Saudi Arabia over the vital issues affecting the future trajectory of the Arab Spring.

Looking back, King Abdullah’s initiative to depute his spy chief, Prince Bandar, to meet Putin last month underscored that the Saudis feel a commonality of interests over Syria emerging today on the regional plane with Moscow, which it does not feel with any other big power, including the US.

From all reports, it might have appeared that Putin and Bandar kept an ostentatious distance and warily probed each other, but in actuality they talked for four intense hours in the Russian leader’s residence.

Syria has been and perhaps still remains a point of difference between Saudi Arabia and Russia, but then, both Putin and King Abdullah are pragmatists par excellence, and as Mao Zedong once put it, “The differences between friends cannot but reinforce their friendship.”

Put differently, Sisi’s decision to kick out the Syrian National Council fellows from their watering hole in Cairo couldn’t have been possible without a Saudi nod and a wink, and it is highly improbable Bandar didn’t sensitize Putin. The council’s chief, Ahmad Jarba is, after all, widely regarded as a Saudi protege.

Syrian National Council representative Khoja could as well have repeated Julius Caesar’s words in William Shakespeare,
Calpurnia, my wife, stays me at home;
She dreamt to-night she saw my statua,
Which, like a fountain with an hundred spouts,
Did run pure blood; and many lusty Romans
Came smiling, and did bathe their hands in it:
And these does she apply for warnings, and portents,
And evils imminent; and on her knee
Hath begg’d that I will stay at home to-day.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).

(Copyright 2013 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd

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