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07 December 2014


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Charles I,

some "triggers" needing to be pulled by the end of the year.

No wonder Wolf Blitzer was talking about terror alerts and blowback this afternoon.

I wasn't listening closely. Pfffft. I'd rather make my fruitcakes.


different clue,

He's probably both, though primarily the latter of the two, IMO. He's been the president of the Council on Foreign Relations since 2003.



Make sure to check out the list of board members of the CFR. The CFR is one of the key foreign policy organizations of US "power elite." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Power_Elite

Lord Curzon

Funnily enough, being an admirer of his 'Long Walk', I listened to a few podcasts about his time at these institutions. His central premise was that there are limits to intervention and the centrality of legitimacy, out of which came his collaboration with Gerald Knaus and their book, Can Intervention Work? which I subsequently bought. Page 74-75 in the book is telling: trying to impart his experience of Iraq and Afghanistan to a class of sixty students at the Harvard Kennedy School,"My attempt to argue that the international community necessarily lacked the knowledge, power, and the legitimacy to engage with politics at a local level, was mocked."...."One distinguished former State Department officer and professor seemed to find my and the fellows' views unhelpfully nihilistic. Our arguments, therefore, had little impact on the policy debate on Afghanistan, in Washington or at Harvard."

I suggest his role on the Defence Select Committee maybe be more nuanced than you think...


Knesset dissolves


Bibi will have to stop being so 'liberal'

Charles I

No it was an anti-plo/arafat op from the get go, enemy of my enemy, all the rest is poison gravy.


A trainwreck in slow motion. It's maddening to watch.

It's the same with Syria as with the Iran talks or the Russia relations. Every time I look, the darned thing is still on course. It isn't as if anybody appears to learn from anything.

And the train analogy is apt - Western policy runs on tracks, by its own momentum, and wouldn't even need the ocasional R2P or neocon nut to stoke the fire.

Today on the tram I oversaw a Spiegel article which predicted Russia's recession, celebrated the Rubel's fall and blamed it all on Putin. As if he alone was responsible for the current oil prices (what did the Saudis do again?) or the sanctions. Of late, the Spiegel showed some signs of a return to even handedness but it seems so far not to have spread to the entire staff.

The Israelis have long made a habit of kicking the can down the road. They are purely tactical, and don't think beyond immediate benefits. They think that time is in their favour, after all, have they not annexed bit by bit more and more of Palestinian land and got away with it? They will continue that death by a thousand land grabs for Palestine in their pursuit of their Greater Israel.

Bibi probably sees Syrian weakness as a chance for expansion. I wouldn't put it beyond the Israelis to try to annex Druze parts of Syria 'for security and humnaitarian reasons' - one must after all protect Israel from those savage Jihadis and priotect the poor Druze from their deparavations. Considering the generally extremely deferential US position, he is realistic in expecting to get away with it.

Syria? ISIS and al Nusra's butchery notwithstanding, the US has chosen to ally with Al Nusra againbst Assad in the south, while fighting ISIS in the east, accomplishing the remarkable feat to be simumltaneouisly be allied with Islamist jihadis and fighting Islamist jihadis at the same time.

Apparently, the only flaw of ISIS is that they overdo it with the headchopping (and what makes Al Nusrae acceptable is apparently that they in a demonstration of self restraint limit themselves to throat cutting). The killing of Kurds, Alawis, displacing Christians and blowing up ancient churches and killing supporters of the the Syrian Government is actually something that the US appear to have no general problem with. Not losing face, and regime change über alles is the overriding imperative after all.

Now, of course, support doesn't equal an endorsement, but it sure makes the supporter co-culpable in the excesses of the proxies he enables. Just saying.

And of course, America's problem of demonisation (which has spead to the West) kicks in again. Politically it is near impossible for Obama to reconcile with Assad (or Putin, or Iran).

Since the US and western corporate media have chosen to cast Assad, the Iranians and Putin as hobgoblins, it is political increasingly pricey to make a deal with them, and it amounts to the US 'losing face', exacting a domestic political price (attack ads, accusations of being weak or defeatist etc pp).

In an sarcastic twist of history, American excellence at spin, PR and propaganda is such that it has rendered America incapable of a rational discourse on foreign policy. Congrats.

As a result, it's as if the simple question: "And then? What's next after that?" is never asked or answered.

Like my blessed if somewhat senile old tomcat, western governments, and the US government and the political players more than the others, are living in the here and now, with yesterday being hazy ancient history, and tomorrow being far far away.

Though I do my old cat injustice, considering that he is by temperament and inclination benign.

Charles I

I took the whole summer off from the web and nothing has changed

David Habakkuk

Lord Curzon,

No doubt I made much too categorical a judgement on the basis of an inadequate grasp of the evidence.

What has become a visceral aversion to the Harvard Kennedy School, and in particular to the ‘Carr Center for Human Rights Policy’ may have caused me to do Rory Stewart an injustice.

The visceral aversion, however, does have grounds.

As was well brought out in a critical account by Stephen Walt – who is on the faculty of the Center – earlier this year, in common with other elite American schools of ‘public policy’, it has a curriculum whose very structure inculcates the fundamentally false idea of the irrelevance of history to political understanding.

(See http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/03/10/foreign_policy_history_study_ukraine )

As to the Carr School, as the political philosopher John Gray brought out in an article entitled ‘What Rawls Hath Wrought’ back in 2011, ‘human rights’ has become our new utopian ideology.

And indeed, as Gray brought out, this ideology is itself a manifestation of the ahistorical nature of so much contemporary American – and indeed unfortunately now British – political thinking: of the belief that we live in a ‘modern’ world fundamentally different from everything that has gone before. An excerpt from his article:

‘It is partly the loss of the insight that human rights can only be secured by an effective state that explains the failure of the regime-change policies promoted by neoconservatives and liberal hawks over the past decade. If rights are what humans possess in the absence of a repressive regime, all that needs to be done to secure human rights is to remove the despot in question. But if rights are empty without the state to protect them, then the nature of the government that can be reasonably expected to emerge when tyranny has been overthrown becomes of crucial importance. The political ideas that are taught in universities do not often shape political practice in any direct fashion. But there can be little doubt that those who promoted the Iraq War believed the removal of Saddam Hussein would allow something like liberal democracy to flourish in the country, and in believing this, they showed that their thinking had been molded by theories of rights that ignored the crucial role of the state.

‘A willed ignorance of history was also at work. If rights are universally human, embodying a kind of natural freedom that appears as the accretions of history are wiped away, the past has little significance. But if human rights are artifacts that have been constructed in specific circumstances, as I would argue, history is all-important; and history tells us that when authoritarian regimes are suddenly swept aside, the result is often anarchy or a new form of tyranny – and quite often a mix of the two.’


An ironical illustration of the importance of history, incidentally, has just come to my notice. An Ottawa University scholar of Russian military history, Paul Robinson, recently set up his own blog. Between doing an undergraduate degree at Oxford and further degrees at Toronto and Oxford, Robinson spent five years in (British) Army Intelligence.

When he came to write his thesis – which became his first book – Robinson chose as subject a Russian émigré military organisation called the ‘Russian General Military Union’, founded by the White General P.N. Wrangel in 1924.

As Robinson noted in a recent blog post, the organisation actually outlasted the Bolsheviks – and returned to Russia. Moreover, its current leader, Igor Borisovich Ivanov, was for a while Deputy Chief of Staff and head of the political department of the army of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

(See https://irrussianality.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/the-importance-of-being-irrelevant/ .)

If elite American graduate schools did not teach a radically false view of the nature of politics, and indeed of human life, then we might not have imbeciles like Samantha Power assuming that people like Borisov are simply instruments of Putin’s project to resurrect the Soviet Empire.

In fact, in Russia, Ukraine, and throughout the post-Soviet space, the ghosts of the past are returning. But American and British intellectuals are in general totally ill-equipped to make sense of what is happening.

Babak Makkinejad

and as US goes so does EU...

I am still hoping, however, for the all-female Danish Army to invade....

Babak Makkinejad

And where, in all of this, is the Foreign Office? Or Quay d'Orasy? Or Auswärtiges Amt?

They were not trained at US Kennedy School.

NATO states are not yet willing to re-negotiate or to otherwise build a new peace to replace that of the defunct Peace of Yalta.


Until NATO state leaders accept the limitations of their own powers, evidently in a few more decades, we will not see any changes.

The only hope I see is that the costs eventually will become too unbearable - "...hunger will tame them..." as the old English saying goes.


"As a result, it's as if the simple question: "And then? What's next after that?" is never asked or answered."

The question is asked (especially by the military) though the civilians are unable and/or unwilling to answer.

It has been a slow generational usurpation of the levers government by the ambitious ideologues. A Totsky takeover you could say, and they will not stop until either they are knocked off their pedestal or reality burns their illusions down. Unfortunately it appears to one day be the later.

different clue


I read the article about Eitan. If I had more computer screentime I would try finding and linking to the specific comment where I read about Larijani, Iran, and Hezbollah. Because I have still not gotten around to getting myself a real computer, I am still limited to breaktimes at the work computers, or time with the public library computers. ( Procrastinertia is the most powerful force in my universe).

That said, I note the article didn't have Mrs. Eitan specifically saying that Eitan created Hezbollah as such, but rather that he created a militant Shia militia which went on to become Hezbollah. Can this square with what I remember about Islamic Revolutionary Iran sending Larijani to Lebanon to weld a bunch of little Shia militias into a highly organized Hezbollah during the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon? Could it be that Eitan created one of those little militias which Larijani found and welded together?
I hope Mr. Silverstein will write a follow-up article saying during which year(s) it was that Eitan was absent and maybe in Lebanon building up this militia.

Where I remember reading about Larijani is in a comment on one of the SST threads relevant to the Green Revolution Election Protests in Iran. Larijani was one of the Worthy Opponents running against Ahmadinejad. Someone had written in to say that Larijani didn't always used to be such a moderate shade of green. He had strong revolutionary intelligence roots including upbuilding Hezbollah in Lebanon. That comment itself might have been inaccurate, but that is what I remember it saying.
I have tried finding web-referrences to Larijani-in-Lebanon during those formative years, but I can't find anything. I do remember years ago skimming in a book store a book I found by an Israeli participant in the Sharon War in Lebanon.
I remember him talking about the Israeli Occupational nastiness which inspired Shia peasants to turn from welcoming the Israeli presence to seeking Israel's absence.


CP wrote: "Today on the tram I oversaw a Spiegel article which predicted Russia's recession, celebrated the Rubel's fall and blamed it all on Putin. As if he alone was responsible for the current oil prices (what did the Saudis do again?) or the sanctions."

Here one can indeed come to the conclusion that Putin is to blame.

The increase of crude price after 2000 was pure luck for Putin, he did nothing to earn that. The following years he did nothing to diversify the Russian economy, quite contrary the dependency on oil/NG exports was even increasing.

Now demand destruction and unconventional oil lead to an excess production of crude and therefore lower prices, I would say, that counts as bad luck and self inflicted pain.

RE Saudi Arabia: They have burnt their fingers in the 1980ies with reducing their output, experts do therefore not expect a dramatic reduction of their oil production. Steven Kopits writes good stuff on this topic:


The second aspect that credibility is a hard to gain but easily to spoil ingredient of a good economy, an aspect that Putin obviously does not understand, his OWN people transfer huge amounts of money out of Russia.

Or from a more general POV: Russias complete lack of soft power fuels an erosion process you do not IMHO stop with military power.

The third aspect is, that Putin started an interesting unconventional operation in the Krim and Ukraine in fields he understood better than his opponents, now he has to learn that other can do the same in fields he does not understand.

Babak Makkinejad

I do not think you fully appreciate what has happened:

The President of the Russian Federation evidently felt obliged to remind EU states as well as the United States that his country remains a nuclear weapon state and is quite capable of annihilating EU and US.

That he felt that he needed to issue such an explicit warning indicates to me his assessment that NATO states were bent on military escalation.

Put another way; he reminded that NATO states that they ought to care more about Paris than Kiev, Kiel than Odessa, Warsaw than Sevastopol.

David Habakkuk

Babak Makkinejad,

Our diplomats were not trained at the Kennedy School. However, the same habits of mind found there shaped the ‘reforms’ of the Foreign Office by ‘New Labour’. The point is of more than parochial interest, as it brings out the extent to which willed ignorance has been the product of ideology.

A succinct account of the history is provided in a piece written in September 2013 by the chief political commentator of the ‘Telegraph’, Peter Oborne – which contains an interesting observation from Rory Stewart, to whom ‘Lord Curzon’ referred:

‘It is impossible to overstate the damage done to the Foreign Office during 13 years of New Labour. The institution came under systematic and malicious attack. Tony Blair sidelined the organisation, setting up his own informal foreign policy apparatus, while handing out ambassadors’ jobs to various cronies.

‘Diplomats with independence of mind (particularly the Arabists who understand the culture of countries like Iraq and the Yemen) were sidelined. Others collaborated with the new regime, of whom the most noteworthy was the appalling Sir Michael (now Lord) Jay, permanent secretary from 2002-2006, arguably the most disastrous period in the history of the modern foreign office.

‘In an act of pure barbarism, the foreign office library (described by Gladstone’s foreign secretary Lord Granville as the “pivot on which the whole machinery of the office turned”) was closed down and emptied.

‘The language school was also closed with the result that a decreasing number of our diplomats could speak the language of the country where they served. By 2009, to give one horrifying example recently highlighted by Rory Stewart, only two officials in Britain’s 300 strong embassy in Afghanistan could speak Dari. Jay and the other New Labour permanent secretaries favoured management speak instead.’

(See http://tinyurl.com/pfdn77c )

To grasp the scale of the intellectual disintegration in British foreign policymaking, one has only to the warning given in the ‘Telegraph’ in April 2013 by Sir Andrew Green, who was our ambassador in Syria in 1991-3, which was aptly entitled ‘Arming the Syrian rebels is pouring petrol on the fire.’

(See http://tinyurl.com/n72lxrm )


David Habakkuk

The same process of de-humanitizing the external organs of government here. The foreign service is not a place for poly-sci hacks and favored minorities. this process has reached the Foreign Area Officers of the Army who are encouraged to follow the same path. pl

Babak Makkinejad

So, the knaves, the ignoramus, the venal and assorted other adjectives are ruling the roost.

And they must be reminded - as Putin did p that they could be annihilated within 15 minutes by a nuclear attack.

Which, in a way, settles our long running argument about the utility of nuclear weapons - they are indispensable when a state is dealing with NATO states.

So much for "Peace in our time" after the end of the Cold War.


David Habakkuk, "visceral aversion" puts it mildly. Could set a new Faust there.


NOT TO FORGET: the humanities taught at US universities for 20-30 years was smothered in a Cheeze-Whiz equivalent of Critical Theory.



you assume that Putins statements are rational and not only meant for consumption by Russian population.

The point you miss is, that e.g. Merkel on one hand perfectly understand the nuclear thread, we lived with it for decades, and opposed everything that leads to a military confrontation but on the other hand made very clear statements that Putin does not acts rationally.

Putin tried to solve a problem with military means, now he has to learn that his opponents do not need a military response, which would be a real gain for Putin on the homefront, to strike back.

So what?

Babak Makkinejad

I assume Hitler was rational too.

David Habakkuk

Babak Makkinejad,

I will take up your response to my remarks about the intellectual decline of British foreign policy elites here. You wrote that it ‘in a way, settles our long running argument about the utility of nuclear weapons – they are indispensable when a state is dealing with NATO states.’

It does not ‘settle’ the argument.

The effect of nuclear weapons, as also so many other things, is always a matter of specific circumstances. A central problem with nuclear ‘deterrence’ has always been that it makes sense if one assumes that a potential ‘aggressor’ is making a cost-benefit analysis of what is to be gained from resort to war. It may then be ‘rational’ to conclude that it is prudent and moral to threaten to do what it would not be prudent and moral to do.

If however one conceives of the likely danger of war as arising from a chain of events running out of control, then the possibility of a catastrophic failure of ‘deterrence’ looms large.

This, as I have repeatedly noted, is why the Russian abandonment of their earlier repudiation of ‘first-use’ in 1994 was regarded with the deepest of foreboding by one of the most important of Soviet military intellectuals, General Makhmut Akhmetovich Gareev. As Jacob W. Kipp, then head of the Foreign Armies Study Office at Fort Leavenworth, summarised his view back in 1995:

‘Gareev strongly disagrees with the new Russian military doctrine’s open proclamation of possible first-use of nuclear weapons and points out the serious political dangers associated with such a declaratory policy. Dismissing the need for such actions against a wide range of states and noting the terrible risks associated in the use of such weapons against another nuclear power, Gareev concludes that a defensive military doctrine and first use of nuclear weapons amount to a dangerous contradiction. It can lead to confusion in times of crisis that could result in dangerous miscalculations.’

(See http://tinyurl.com/qbgv6zq )

What we see in Ukraine is the nemesis of a NATO policy which at one and the same time has pushed Russians into a situation where they can see no realistic alternative to threatening ‘first-use’, while recklessly provoking precisely the kind of crises where the kind of uncontrollable escalation which Gareev feared is an ever-present possibility.

And here, of course, the inanity of contemporary Western elites cuts both ways. On the one hand it means that – precisely as you say – Putin needs to remind them of the risks. But it also means that their ignorance and incuriosity about the complexities of what is happening on the ground – in particular, of the relations between the Donbass rebels and the Kremlin – increases the likelihood of their making a catastrophic ‘miscalculation.’

The best discussion I have seen of the relationship between the rebels and the Kremlin, incidentally, is by the Ottawa academic, and former British Army Intelligence officer, Paul Robinson, to whose work I referred in my earlier comments.

At the outset of a talk he gave on the subject recently, Robinson remarked that ‘anyone who tells you they really know what is going on between the rebels and the Kremlin I think is lying.’ But his assessment of the evidence is, I think, compelling.

The video, available at http://tinyurl.com/posb644, is in my view well worth in full, but for those who haven’t the time there is a convenient summary at http://tinyurl.com/nbbgvjn .

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