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28 March 2011


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Walrus: The young generation of anarchists and alternatives building in Europe under immense police-pressure is actually quite positive, never mind a few torched cars now and then. Im writing this on holiday in Amsterdam, and there is a very strong sense of things happening.


do I remind you of your neighbor, since he is German? I would never lecture anybody on dogs and thousands of other subjects. But you may get the impression, since I babble along here, without having anything relevant to contribute? Escapism?

Did it ever feel I lectured you? That's odd, I really respect your experience and your very special point of view. And your to the point comments. Or the occasional rash statement that can be inspected like a riddle that can be solved: what exactly triggered it?

If I sounds as if I did, lecture you, that is, I am probably in the process of trying to scare off my own demons. I'll shut up for a while, maybe for good. But that I can't promise.

I hate people that lecture, but yes, I may not be free of it occasionally, if things feel important to me.

I like the title: shifting sands. Gone!


Germans are like that sometimes; Musterschüler syndrome, especially post 1945. Never forget that Karl May wrote books about the life in the Wild West without ever having been there =>

 Charles I

Thanks FB. I accept your comment but our motivated, educated youth vanguard is not the majority in these countries.

I accept Prof. Brenner's anecdotal assessment of popular sentiment in paras 5-7 of his second comment.

In my view, the settlement Veto was particularly costly at a time of ferment, intense scrutiny and an obvious fork in the road to perdition.

William R. Cumming

LeaNder! Asians both citizens and non-citizens are quota limited in all major US universities now. Why?
confusedponderer! Y ou are correct most would choose 1871. I chose 1878 because the full implications of the German state and it minions in the Franco-Prussian War had forced even rather independent soles like the Bavarians to recognize that their destiny was linked with the Prussians. Although while living in FRG I was told by several Bundeswehr officers that the Bavarians left their barracks in WWI disappointed to find out that they were fighting the French and not the Prussians.
I would analogize to how and when the US understood the full implications of WWII for our future!
I would defer to PL on this statistic but my understanding is that the 11 STATES of the old Confederacy dominate both enlisted and officer corp in the US Armed Forces.

Certainly the base structure is largely southern. Or overseas. NOT sure how the metrics of all that would be measured.

William R. Cumming

Perhaps I should have also mentioned that NO GERMAN soil was invaded in WWI. A remarkable statistic considering the Armistice on November 11th, 1918.
Thus allowing of course for the "stab-in-the-back" argument. Fortunately we in the US just fall on our rhetorical swords. Is the Viet Nam debate over? Not yet IMO.


@M. Brenner:

“Shifting sands” ? I believe we will only be able to tell once we hear Bashar Al Assad’s speech and witness Syrians reaction. But “political cataclysm shaking the region and reshaping its politics” ? Highly doubtful in my opinion.
This read leaves me with a feeling of confusion, and chaos rather than with the intellectual tools and knowledge necessary to rigorously assess what the future can hold for us in this region. Truths, half-truths and inaccuracies have never helped anyone understand this region.

Albeit laudable in itself, the daunting task of trying to classify those countries that have been affected by the wind of “Arab revolt” is doomed to failure. To understand each country individually and figure out the potential synergies and similarities between them and how they relate to each other is in my opinion much more efficient in trying to get a picture of where we are and where we might be heading in this region.

I don’t see Tunisia as the perfect example of the country that rid itself of its autocratic and his regime. Indeed Ben Ali is gone. And so was the Prime Minister from the old guard. But the political elite and power brokers as well as the military apparatus still remain the same in Tunis. The change is only cosmetic. Will it lead to the level of tyranny that we witnessed under Ben Ali? Probably not. At least not in the immediate future. But I don’t see any fundamental change in the political nor social arenas. It will still be one corrupt regime after another, concerned more with its survival and privileges than with the well being and development of its people. But history can prove me wrong. Indeed I am not wearing a turban.

But to suggest, even hypothetically, that Jordan could be put in the category of countries that rids itself of its autocratic leader is further evidence that the intellectual exercise of taxonomy is pointless and does not help better understand and put in context the recent wave of revolt in the Arab world. You are underestimating the affection of a large portion of native Jordanians towards their monarch, as much as you are underestimating the reluctance of Jordanians of Palestinian decent to create another flash point in the region. The Jordanian people by en large are much more aware of political and military realties of the region than you give them credit for. And although they are craving for more justice and less corruption, they are not demanding the removal of the king the way Bahraini Shiites do.

As to category C, I don’t see any evidence beside Yemen, regardless of what the MSM and some lobbyists in DC would like you to believe, that the rebellious movement is popular. Although I can understand your sympathy for the demands of the demonstrators in those countries you list, the ten thousand or so demonstrators in Manama or the couple thousands in Saudi Arabia is not evidence that their movement is popular. Certainly not popular enough to trigger a political shift the magnitude of which we witnessed in Cairo.

I don’t see how your taxonomy can lead to the “new givens” you mention?

America’s credibility has not hit rock bottom. It might be the case in Europe or some other parts of the world. But not in those countries that are the subject of this post where “sands might be shifting”. I don’t believe a minute that the level of distrust towards America by Arab masses or elites, no matter their political views has changed fundamentally. What has changed however is the level of mistrust towards the Obama administration in which so many in this part of the world had put high hopes.

Although I agree with you that the threat of “Islamism” has been disproportionately exaggerated by both American parties to further advance their own political agenda, the threat of many Muslims out there hitting America again is real and still very alive. Bin Laden has emboldened many young idealists who would dream of nothing more than afflict severe casualties to America to force her to change her foreign policy towards Israel and the region. Saudi Arabia and by extension Yemen are still both hornets of young wannabe Bin Laden. Remember the warning by Prince Faysal Al Turki not long ago about the increasing difficulty they were having reining in potential terrorists willing to leave the country for Jihad. Remember to which extent that terrorist went when he faked his rendition to the Saudi minister, member of the royal family in charge of counter-terrorism and blew himself up with a bomb hidden in his rectum. Remember that Jordanian double agent who afflicted severe damage to our CIA operations in Af-Pak. That alone should give you an insight inside the mind of a Muslim terrorist, to what extent they are willing to go and how resourceful they can be. Although fear of their action should not be the determining factor in drafting American foreign policy it should not be minimized nor neglected.

Your criticism of Gates statement about Yemen is further evidence of your misgivings regarding the region. Yemen is already largely out of control of the Saleh government. Remove him from power and you will have the countryside running Sana’a but also all the security and military apparatus. Although Saleh could not afford to be the loyal dedicated interlocutor that you would have liked to have seated in Sana’a, he was still a helpful and willing interlocutor with whom you could negotiate. I’m not sure you would be able to say the same of anyone who could potentially replace him? But again I don’t know anything about those potential runners. But what I know is that the complex and very shifty nature of the tribal structure of this country, makes any change of leadership there challenging for any US administration. Gates is not inaccurate in his statement.

Also, to concern yourself with what the “democrats” in this region or the Shiites in Bahrain think of America is not only overestimating their political and social importance within their respective countries, it is also playing in the hands of those who cannot view our foreign policy but through the prism of their own ideological agenda trumpeting to whom would listen the values and merits of Democracy. As you so accurately pointed out, the people I talk to here in the Gulf and Arab world seem more concerned with corruption, incompetence, and disrespect for personal dignity by authoritarian leaders and authorities whether elected or not than the dawn of a democratic system “a la American”.

Yes indeed, “Our ability to maintain the 5 party coalition in support of Israeli’s draconian plans “will eventually force “Egypt (above all), Saudi Arabia and Jordan” to sideline their commitment in working with us to give in to popular pressure. But at a higher political level what might do the trick faster is your very selective and particular vilification of Saudi intervention in Bahrain. To ignore that the Saudi tanks were sent to Manama under the unanimous agreement of all the GCC countries and with their direct participation, is to ignore their will to take matters in their own hands to solve it regionally. For once that a region, this region in particular, is willing to solve their own problems by themselves and not wait for the US to play global cop, is probably resented in the arcane of powers in Saudi Arabia, a major partner in this region but other Gulf monarchies too. That you do not share their culture, opinions or values is one thing. That you do not recognize their contribution for decades in helping us keep the peace in the region and rely on peaceful negotiations to achieve that goal [ie: Lebanon] is ungrateful and counterproductive. The Saudi-US relation has been mutually beneficial. Not recognizing it because you don’t like them is pushing the ruling elite to handle their own homegrown terrorists the way Pakistan leadership has used their own terrorists.

Also, “The Sunni-Shi’ite rivalry has [not] deepened and become more embittered – largely due to events in Bahrain and eastern Saudi Arabia”. That antagonism dates back to the religious schism that some Muslim political dissidents created centuries ago when they advocated a succession to the Prophet Muhammed based on his blood line. Talking to people in the GCC countries and Syria you would realize that this antagonism never abated. And there is no “anti-American uprisings by Shi’ites in the Gulf”. This is a gross mischaracterization of the different Shiites movements in the GCC countries.

Contrary to what you suggest I believe that this rivalry is part of what partly strengthens our hand in the region and “serve our interest in regional stability”. Wasn’t it one of our government main selling points to Manama to open our naval base there?

Overall, I don’t see the sand shifting enough yet to characterize the recent events in the MENA as “political cataclysm shaking the region and reshaping its politics “. Nor do I see yet any “new givens”.

Patrick Lang


You are out of date. WP dominates the Army officer corps. It is overwhelmingly an institution populated by cadets from north of the Potomac and east of the Ohio. This has been the case for some decades.... Ah Hah! How can that be? The academy fills unfilled congressional nominations with people of its choosing and NE kids like to go to a place so characteristc of the "virtues" of their region.

I don't know about the enlisted population. pl

Patrick Lang


You do know of course that a sizable piece of Germany was occupied for a couple of years? pl

William R. Cumming

Thanks PL! Yes, the Rhurr Coal and Steel District was occupied post Armistice/Peace Treaty until Hitler reentered in 1936?
Is the FREE TUITION the driver at WP or the chance to serve for those from the NE? I exempt from the choice being solely monetary for the many first generation born or raised in the US immigrants that are given the opportunity for WP! And the other Service Academies?

 Charles I

Well Bruno Bashir must be smoking the same "plotters-everywhere, disillusionment nowhere" inducing Bekka blond so befuddled my youth that MQ reputedly imbibes because he just trotted out that line to account for the people in the streets defying bullets.

The sand is shifting. The questions are how nimble or vicious can a satrap be, and how many serendipitous of ill-timed earthquakes, banana peels and vicious cretins will mark the path of the peoples toward firmer grasps of their own domains.

Toss in a three front Israeli war.

Patrick Lang


That's not what I am talking about. there was an actual zone of occupation.

Free prestigious education. immigrants are given no special chances. pl



"Bin Laden has emboldened many young idealists who would dream of nothing more than afflict severe casualties to America to force her to change her foreign policy towards Israel and the region."

Yes, how well did that work out for OBL? The results of his attack on the US has been a war that killed, injured and made homeless tens of thousands of Muslims. That being the one the neocons pushed the US into, then there's Afghanistan. Why would any 'idealistic' youth think this was a great achievement; or that should one their ilk actually kill a few hundred Americans inside the US the response of the next President would be anything more than a call for a punitive expedition, rather than a 'regime change'? Certainly whatever class is running the region can figure that one out.

So someone tried to knock off the Saudi anti-terrorism minister and someone else pulled a hit job on a dozen CIA agents? Those are not reasons to keep the same 'war on terror' policies in place.


@ Charles I:

Yes indeed a three front Israeli war would definitely have the potential to shift sands and reshape politics in the region. So would the removal of the Shiite Alawite ruling minority and its security aparatus from power in Damascus. But beside your Proustian wit I don’t see any evidence that could lead me to a different opinion.

If you think that a few thousands twenty something demonstrators in the streets of a desert island of 34mi by 11mi is enough to trigger an earth shaking movement in the region, you are definitely not taking into consideration the realities on the ground. Not to mention our US naval base that recently doubled its size, nor the interest of the rulers in the region to see that the Sunni ruling minority in Bahrain remains in power. But again at twenty something you are also prone to believe that you can run under a rainstorm and dodge rain drops.

I am still waiting for the reaction of the Syrian people to Assad’s speech last night. But so far there is also no evidence of any earth shattering movement about to take shape over there.

Although potentially erroneous, my argumentation was grounded on facts I tried to present clearly. You might argue the facts I have put forth. But as long as you have not provided valid sound counter arguments to refute my stance on the recent wave of freedom fighters in the Arab world, I will not be impressed by your wit alone.

Bashir the First aka Bruno

 Charles I

Bruno, just for clarity, I was referring al-Assad, not Bashir the First aka Bruno.

My point was that though the ice caps have not yet entirely slid into the sea, the melting precipitating that ineluctable fate has reached a tipping point. The infusion of cold dense fresh water into the adjoining basins has effects under the surface discernible only with different sensors searching for pure data rather than outcomes, as we eye the tip of the icebergs. The very albedo of the surface ice to which we are accustomed blinds us to the changes below.

As for the base in Bahrain, big deal. Where is Subic Bay now? Isn't it under a layer of ash?

I understand Power has the armed force. That it is capable of killing in Bahrain or kidnapping in the Ukraine without breaking a sweat.

It is no match for History. The region will not sustain half a dozen North Koreas, no matter how adeptly it is flogged, financed, finessed and lied to.

Have you ever had dial up, Bruno, then got high speed?

There's no going back, there's no living anymore with "dial up", no matter how many ships you have floating in the harbour, no matter how many generations you anchor there.

The only evidence I have of this is history,human nature and Wikileaks. I have posted here before about my belief in the effects of technology, particularly nanotechnology, on the power/political/military balance in these areas. It favours adept, motivated non-state actors.

As well, my faith n cretins, serendipity and banana peels is as intact as my naivte.


@ Charles I:

ROTFLMAO...the coma Charles... where is the coma?!

"Well Bruno Bashir must be smoking" is not the same as "Well Bruno, Bashir must be smoking"

People have gone to war for less.

Now if you'll excuse me, while you go back put your coma where it belongs, i'll try to recover from mine triggered by so much laughter!


I kind of liked Bruno Bashir though.

William R. Cumming

PL! AT some appropriate time could you give US a quick and dirty review of where each country stands as of April 2011 in ME and Maghreb!

Here is my quick and dirty take with 10 being major change and 1 being almost no change for several.

Saudi Arabia-2

Overall consolidated change in ME and Mahgreb since the self-immolation of the fruit stand owner in Tunisia--3

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