Previous posts in this discussion:
PostKurds or Turks: Who is America's Real Ally? (Cameron Sawyer, Russia, 12/27/18 5:02 am)
JE commented on December 25th:
"I would like to bring Cameron back to the Kurdish question. Yusuf Kanli's doubts notwithstanding, Erdogan appears poised to advance on the Syrian Kurds. WAISers know I never advocate for military adventurism, but don't we owe the Kurds...something?"
I don't normally like to answer a question with a question, but asking about the Kurds, what about the Turks? You can't discuss the Kurds without thinking about Turkey.
Turkey was for decades the anchor of the US geopolitical relationship to the Middle East. Much wiser and more skillful generations of US foreign policy experts helped to facilitate a rapprochement between Turkey and Israel which formed an axis of pro-American, anti-Islamist, democratic (more or less), modern societies aligned (more or less) with us and living (more or less) according to similar values. Our relationship with Saudi Arabia was always, at best, a marriage of convenience, and at worst a pact with the devil, and the true nature of that regime has exploded into our view recently with the grisly events in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, probably making a continuation of the old pretend friendship impossible. Moreover, Turkey is our NATO ally.
One of the many unintended consequences of our invasion of Iraq was the wholesale destruction of good will towards the US in the Middle East, and a sharp increase in support everywhere for Islamist political parties and politicians, who now rule most Middle Eastern countries, including even the former bastion of secularism and modernity, Turkey, something inconceivable even 20 years ago. So the Middle East gradually becomes a region which is generally hostile towards us and our values, and we have pushed even Turkey in the same direction, and Erdogan is the result. The recent history of Turkey is of course far more complex than this; I am neglecting the internal contradictions of Kemalism and other purely internal factors which also helped Erdogan onto the stage, but US policy mistakes are nevertheless a major factor in our losing Turkey.
So are we going to complete the process now and push Turkey the rest of the way out of our sphere of friendship and common interests? The Kurds have waged an armed struggle against Turkey since 1978, aimed at breaking off a large piece of Southeast Turkey and forming an independent Kurdistan hostile to Turkey, under the banner of the PKK, a formerly Marxist-Leninist far-left militant group, officially listed as a terrorist organization by the US government, NATO, the EU and others. Why do we have so little comprehension of the interests of other states, particularly their territorial integrity? For Turkey, and this did not by any means start with Erdogan, the Kurdish revolt is an existential struggle. How do we square support for the Kurds, particularly the Kurds in the border region between Turkey and Syria, with any prospect of any kind of future relations with our most important partner in the Middle East?
The answer of course is that we don't--we don't even think about it. We act as if other countries don't have their own interests, not even in their own territorial integrity. We use the Kurds when it is convenient for us, and to hell with Turkey. Tomorrow we will need Turkey, and to hell with the Kurds. This is wrong in relation to everyone, in relation to the Turks, but also in relation to the Kurds, and at the end of the day in relation to our own interests, which we have been so efficiently shredding in the Middle East for the last 15 years.
Our blundering around in the Middle East for the last 15 years, overturning governments, killing more than a million people and turning the whole region against us, has dramatically realigned the geopolitical situation there. Saudi Arabia, which finances terrorism all over the world, was never any kind of a friend. Iraq, which used to counterbalance Iran, is now aligned with Iran. Turkey is now run by an Islamist strong man. Israel is dramatically more isolated. Some good will might be left in perhaps--Jordan? Morocco? But not in any of the major powers of the Middle East, except perhaps...in Turkey.
So ironically enough, despite the dramatic degradation of our relationship with Turkey, Turkey is nevertheless more or less all we have left--among major powers in the Middle East. We need to make the best of what we have left, in our relations with Turkey, which despite everything is still the most modern country in the Middle East, still the largest economy, and still the best hope of modernity and civilization in the region. And that requires elementary respect for Turkey's interest in its own territorial integrity--a fundamental precondition for decent relations with any country--which means not arming and encouraging the Kurds.
JE comments: I'll reiterate what we could call the Gibbs Principle. One thing everyone in the Middle East can agree on: there will never be an independent Kurdistan. Still, a humanitarian crisis awaits the Syrian Kurds if/when Erdogan advances. Ultimately this may be the fault of the US, but how about Colin Powell's Pottery Barn Principle--you break it, you "own" it?
Erdogan's Turkey is Not a US Ally
(Istvan Simon, USA
12/28/18 9:11 AM)
Cameron Sawyer's views on Turkey, the Kurds and the United States are one-sided distortions that do not stand up to scrutiny (December 27th).
Erdogan is not the result of US policies any more than Putin is the result of US policies. Turkey is indeed a NATO member, but Turkey's policies under Erdogan are not well aligned with either NATO or with the geopolitical interests of the West.
Likewise, it is an untrue distortion of the tragedy of the Kurds, who are painted by Cameron Sawyer repeating uncritically the canards of Erdogan's propaganda, painting every Kurdish faction as if it were the same as the PKK, aligned with terrorism and Marxist. There is not any convincing evidence that the Kurds who expelled ISIS from Raqqa are Marxists, nor that they are affiliated with the PKK. I echo JE's comment that we miss Bob Gibbs' knowledge on this, who could have contributed with authority to this discussion.
There is also no convincing evidence that the cleric who lives in New Jersey had anything at all to do with the coup attempt against Erdogan. Under this pretext Erdogan has imprisoned thousands without a fair trial in Turkey, teachers, journalists, policemen, officers in Turkey's army, many of whom were fired from their jobs without apparently just cause.
Unfortunately, Turkey under Erdogan is no longer a legitimate democracy, but just another aberration in the Muslim world. Erdogan has Islamicized, corrupted and bastardized Turkey's once secular and democratic institutions. That was the Turkey that was a legitimate member of NATO, the Turkey that was in tune with the West, the secular Turkey founded by Ataturk. To pretend that Erdogan's Turkey is still the same Turkey, our ally and so on, is just untrue and certainly not the basis for a sound foreign policy of the United States towards either Turkey or the Kurds.
It is not yet clear what prompted Trump to remove our 2,000 troops from Syria. It seems certain that it had little to do with his "official" explanation, and it was certainly not consistent with our geopolitical national interest. Experience shows that the official reasons given by Trump are always pathetic lies. His sudden decision, announced without any consultation with his national security team, were indeed opposed by all of them, and all closely associated with national security in Congress. So one must search deeper to find the true reason.
There has been some credible speculation which points to Trump having betrayed the Kurds and taken this sudden decision without consulting anybody, as part of a dirty deal with Erdogan. The theory is that Erdogan would ease on the Saudis in the Khashoggi murder scandal in exchange for intervening in the border regions of Syria with his military to deal with the Kurds, that he fears near the Turkish border regions apparently much more than ISIS.
Indeed, Turkey had turned a blind eye to the migration of terrorists through Turkish territory in the buildup of ISIS in Syria. This is part of the dirty history of the Erdogan regime's policies in Syria. Now that the Kurds have killed a good number of these same ISIS terrorists, taken thousands of them prisoner, and expelled them from their strongholds with United States help, Erdogan is suddenly worried about the Kurds and has been rattling his swords, to intervene directly in the Syrian conflict. The removal of our 2,000 troops would allow Erdogan to do this without fear of causing an incident with our troops.
The future will tell if this theory holds water. There is some current evidence that seems to be consistent with it.
JE comments: Trump would sacrifice the Kurds just to keep the Saudis happy? Perhaps, but this doesn't seem like such a good deal for a supposedly shrewd businessman.
Erdogan's Turkey and Neo-Ottomanism
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
12/29/18 3:54 AM)
Oh, my goodness. I agree with Istvan Simon's main concept of his latest post (December 28th): that Turkey is not (any more) an ally of the US.
The alliance of Turkey with the US and Europe (but never with Greece) lasted relatively few years, from the time of Ataturk until the election of Erdogan. Otherwise it has been a thousand-year history of wars.
Erdogan initially dreamed of a union under him of the Turkish or believed Turkish nations, all the way east to Eastern Turkestan/Xinjiang. But now contrary to the accusation of genocide raised by Erdogan after the "massacre" of Urumqi in July 2009, the Turkish leader has cooled down his attacks on China. Rather, he has jumped for economic reasons on China's apparently winning band-wagon, at least for the time being.
Erdogan is now choosing the dream of a new Ottoman Empire which will certainly antagonize Europe over the Balkans (also thanks to the poor geopolitics of President Clinton).
But Erdogan seems convincing to his people. See our enlightened, democratic, and courageous friend Yusuf Kanli, who is deeply (but very understandably) influenced by the Ottoman history as he use the word "hordes" to indicate the Greek Cypriot enemies of the Turkish Cypriots. From a European point of view, the former had been oppressed by the Turks since 4 August 1571, the date of the fall of Famagosta after a one-year siege with the horrible skinning alive of the defender Marcoantonio Bragadin. But the skin was recovered and is now in the Church of San Giovanni e Paolo at Venice.
Of course we cannot advocate a return to pre-1571. The Turks have been living in Cyprus for generations but they should understand the Greek feelings and not call them "hordes."
At present, as usually, Greek-Turkish relations are very bad because of Turkey's claim to a couple of rocks in the Aegean sea and some military skirmish cannot be considered impossible.
By the way, very unfortunate news from Russia. According to Sergej Karaganov, president of the Russian Defense Council and Foreign Policy, Russia is sick and tired of the Empire's ridiculous Russophobia, and has chosen to look Eastward, forgetting any possible partnership with the US and Europe. This may be very unfortunate.
JE comments: This post may lead us back (again) to the Kurdish Question. Is there any chance that Erdogan, emboldened by Putin's successful occupation of Crimea, might try to annex the Kurdish areas of Syria?
When Talking about Empires, Why Does China Get a "Pass"?
(John Heelan, UK
12/31/18 4:28 AM)
Perhaps Eugenio Battaglia should fulminate also against the Chinese Empire as well as the US one?
Erdogan, like other Muslim leaders, has been remarkably silent against the Chinese repression of his co-religionists, the Uyghurs, in Xinjiang, especially as China seems to use capitalist geopolitics similar to those of the US.
See "Islamic Leaders Have Nothing to Say about China's Internment Camps for Muslims" in Foreign Policy magazine.
JE comments: There's an irony that China seems to be playing the game of economics and "soft power," the supposed tactics of Western imperialism, and the US is going the hard-power route. Will Eugenio Battaglia someday mean China when he refers to the Empire? Eugenio?
Thoughts on the Chinese Empire
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
01/01/19 7:51 AM)
Both John Heelan, 31 December, and JE call me to question about my supposed silence on Chinese imperial ambitions.
But I have already written a couple of times that the real danger is China.
The "Yellow Danger" was first mentioned by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1895 ("Gelbe Gefahr") to justify the occupation of part of China. He referenced the Mongol invasion of 1241.
Mussolini (as per Battaglia's Law: in any conversation, Mussolini will come to the surface) in the early 1930s called attention to the yellow danger. Really he was more afraid of Japanese interests in Ethiopia. The problem was settled when Italy and the Vatican (you may remember in Bartolucci's 1987 movie The Last Emperor, the young Emperor mentioned this fact) promptly recognized the Manchu Empire and Japan lost interest in Ethiopia.
Now China is the real yellow danger which may take over the world.
Xi Jinping on 23 November 2015 introduced profound changes to the People's Liberation Army, preparing it for any type of war.
Its Navy once could fight only coastal defensive skirmishes, but its almost nothingness has allowed it to build a powerful brand new fleet. Between 2015 and 2017, China has constructed 350,000 tons of new ships versus only 150,000 in the US. The military apparatus now is a powerful Army and a powerful brand new Air Force and Navy but also a Space Force and a Cyberwarfare Force. Granted, China needs more time to be really ready.
But the most important thing is that China is not overextended and has plenty of money. It has an 18% debt on GDP versus the US which has almost 110% (Italy has 131%). Not only that, but China has on its side powerful partners such as Russia, in spite of the old problem of the eastern Russian regions.
Very unfortunately for the West, these developments are not due to the smartness of China but to the stupidity of NATO.
Of course the new Belt and Road Initiative is a great economic achievement for the world (in the great container port of Vado Ligure in front of my house, 50% are Chinese), but it is a tool for domination too. Chinese interests have participated in the construction of 42 ports in 34 nations.
China is preparing at full speed for four types of war:
1) World War III
2) A regional war for Taiwan
3) Local wars for the control of East and South China Seas
4) Terrorism in Xinjiang
In very few years unless the present US Empire does not change its path of overextension, bad relations with Russia, and self-defeating useless local wars, it will have to become a lackey of the new (and worse) Chinese empire.
On another item, Gary Moore (31 December) gives his interpretation of Kosovo. It is the usual Western version seen by an actor of this side. But there is another version coming from far away in time and space which relates to jihadist terrorists attacking Christian churches, monasteries, and Serbian civilians. These jihadists and irregular partisans were supplied with arms and money by foreign interests which want the usual regime change without concern for the destruction, killings, injuries, and refugees (mostly arriving and creating problems in Italy such as the Roma from the Balkans).
JE comments: The West's phobia of "Yellow Peril" goes back way before Wilhelm. I'd guess the Mongols were the first inspiration. And more recently, how about the Chinese Exclusion Act (US) of 1882?
At the close of the 21st century, perhaps decades sooner, it's highly likely that China will be the world hegemon. Or not? Anyone care to kick off 2019 with some long-range futurology?
Why Is China's Government Smarter than Ours?
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
01/03/19 4:34 AM)
Eugenio Battaglia (January 1st) made some interesting historical observations about China. But to me the neglected lesson about the PRC as a US partner and rival is the reality of how much smarter their Communist government (which I would have expected to be dumber and more narrow-minded) has been in playing the social political economic game.
China turned the invitation to become the cheap manufacturer/provider of all sorts of goods and services for the US and world markets into a powerful strategy to quickly become the second most powerful nation in the world. And today such strategic reality is sustainable whether we like it or not. In contrast, the only benefits the US received in return is a few millionaires/billionaires and a lot of cheap, mostly low-quality consumption goods. Whose decision was it to make China our manufacturing outsourcer? Certainly not the American people who also got the NAFTA treaty jammed down their throat with great benefits for Mexicans and drug traffickers. No democracy usually produces bad decisions except for the interested private interests.
On the same topic, a few WAIS colleagues were very critical of my response to JE's "concrete steps" to get US democracy operational again. Some people (most?) prefer the status quo. To me it is abundantly clear that their criticisms of my bitter medicine are not valid and the status quo is only destroying US democracy and justice at an increasingly faster rate. The American people know they have been had, they representatives don't represent them, they are being ripped off by special interests and corrupt politicians, nothing seems to work as it should, and increasingly chaos reigns everywhere.
Feel free to criticize mine, but what are your three "concrete steps" to restore US democracy and justice?
JE comments: Democracy is messy, yes, but is it also stupider? I'm still struck by the eagerness of many monied Chinese to leave the country. The central question: how truly "sustainable" is China's system of free-wheeling capitalism mixed with political totalitarianism? Doesn't this model present internal contradictions? To be sure, we said the same thing ten or twenty years ago, and the Party seems to be more in control than ever.
China's Multiple Major Challenges
(Istvan Simon, USA
01/06/19 12:00 PM)
Tor Guimaraes (January 3rd) thinks that "China's Communist government has been much smarter in playing the social political economic game."
Tor predicts that China will be the hegemon of the 21st century, an idea anticipated by John Eipper. He further excoriated the outsourcing of manufacturing to China as an "anti-democratic bad" decision, and likened it to NAFTA on which he echoes the Trump administration's views. Needless to say, all of these sweeping statements and generalizations are not beyond dispute. I will oppose them all in this post.
I do not believe that the emergence of China as an economic power was either a bad decision nor against Western interests. Apparently Tor sees these relationships as a zero-sum game, in which one side benefits at the expense of the other side. Nothing could be further from the truth. Trade is beneficial to both parties, and both China and the United States gained mightily from Chinese development. The same way, NAFTA has been hugely beneficial to Canada, Mexico, and the United States. This is a win-win situation to be praised not excoriated.
On the issue of the future of China, I likewise believe that Tor is wrong. China's communist government has not been particularly smart, nor is it playing better the "social political economic game." I put Tor's phrase in quotes not only to indicate that the words are his, but also because I find it offensive to call the lives of billions of people a "game." But quite aside from this point, I do not believe that China's development is sustainable as Tor states it is, under the current conditions. China has multiple major challenges, huge problems and vulnerabilities which are amplified by Xi JinPing's policies. Xi JinPing is actually undermining China's future success.
I have written on this before, but it seems necessary to bring these ideas to the fore once again, because they have bearing on the current topic.
China's model of development is unsustainable. It is challenge number one, because there is no indication that Xi JinPing's government is even aware of the limits of this model. It has been primarily based on real estate, put in place by Deng XiaoPing.
Deng's major crime was the massacre at Tiananmen Square. But on the positive side, he was responsible for the incredible economic success of China in the last 40 years. When Deng came to power China was an impoverished devastated country with 80% of its huge population toiling as peasants, eeking out a living by farming infertile lands using ancient labor-intensive methods. It was a country in ruins after Mao's last unpardonable crime, the Cultural Revolution. Mercifully, Mao did then the best thing he has done in his entire miserable life for both the world and China. He died. Deng XiaoPing took the ruins left by Mao and transformed it into the amazing China of today.
He did this by taking land away from the peasants, building housing, offices and factories on the land, and unleashing the power of capitalism in China, which did the rest. Peasants moved from the rural areas to the cities, and provided cheap labor for the factories. Contrary to what Tor said, it was not the West that provided the capital for this initial development--it was the Chinese of Taiwan and Hong Kong, who established modern manufacturing facilities in China. Eventually the West noticed what was happening and joined in taking advantages of the new opportunities provided by a finally a competent Chinese leader at the helm.
Deng's model was a mixture of state capitalism, in which enterprises deemed strategic by the communists were kept in the hands of the government, and private capital in everything else. The banking sector, railways, energy, and communications are state monopolies kept by the government.
The communist elite became super rich in this process, rife with corruption, but private enterprise also prospered, and China became a country of incredibly rich people at the top, and the rest of the country still relatively poor, but certainly much more prosperous than under Mao.
One of the greatest of the many contributions of Deng to China was the limiting of the term of the top leader to 10 years. This eliminated the possibility of a new Mao. But Xi JinPing, reversed this wise reform, and became the newest emperor of China. I will argue that by so doing he undermined the long-term success of China. However, this is only one of China's multiple major challenges that threaten the sustainability of its economy.
Deng created the one-child policy, fearful that China would not be able to feed its enormous population. Only a totalitarian leader could ever imagine such an intrusive rule into the lives of hundreds of millions of people. It is an enormous disrespect for human rights, for China's people, deemed unable to decide for themselves how many children they should have. But China has always been a totalitarian country, even before communism. Deng's one-child policy created a demographic time bomb, with negative effects that were entirely predictable, yet ignored by the Chinese.
After 40 years the government finally woke up, and eliminated the policy. But even if Chinese women started having more babies, which might not actually happen, the effects will take decades. In the meantime, China's population is rapidly aging, creating huge problems. Think of the enormous effects of having fewer and fewer children to educate in Chinese schools, year after year of the one-child policy, for example. There are a myriad of other economic distortions caused by this violent contraction in the number of children allowed to live. In a few decades, it clearly creates a large number of old people with few people in their prime that have to support them. These effects are aggravated by the Chinese preference for male children, which created an unhealthy in-balance between men and women. China will have to import women to find mates for their single-child men.
The reliance on real estate created a bubble in the Chinese economy. There was excessive construction that created an inventory of empty buildings. Buildings are capital-intensive investments. Empty buildings create defaults on bad loans. Bad loans that need to be absorbed by the monopolized banking sector. Furthermore, the price of real estate shot up in the last 40 years, which in turn creates ever-increasing costs for the factories built, which make Chinese manufacturing not competitive with other countries eager to repeat the Chinese economic miracle, like Vietnam and others. Meanwhile Chinese labor costs also increased. Deng's model has reached its limits, and China's growth has already slowed.
Unlike Mao, Xi JinPing, the new Chinese emperor, is no longer the only power in China. Deng's reforms created a large new class of highly successful unbelievably wealthy businessmen. They have a lot of money, and are doing what anybody with money would do in similar circumstances: protect their hard-earned assets from the new emperor that might take it away at a moment's notice. That means massive flight of capital and expertise from China. It also means bad news for the sustainability of China's economy. Jack Ma has retired. So will many others.
China's terrible pollution is also the legacy of its economic development without paying attention to environmental protection. China is still using coal, in spite of its large investments into solar energy. Climate change is hitting China hard, and will continue to do so just like any other country on Earth. Note that the climate of China is very unpleasant to begin with.
China must import food, a major long-term strategic weakness. And though China, under assault by the foolish Trump administration, has been lately flirting with Putin's Russia again, threatening the United States geopolitically, this union will not last, because both countries fear each other, and are natural historical enemies.
Mao knew that Russia and China are natural geopolitical rivals, in spite of communism, which was then still a major ideological affinity. Mao never trusted the Soviet Union, partly the result of being treated with disdain by Russia when Mao visited its communist big brother. Mao never forgot the slight and reciprocated when Khrushchev went to China. But quite apart from this personal animosity, Mao recognized that Russia on its borders is a far greater danger for China, than the far away "paper tiger" United States. Furthermore, Mao always had a genuine general admiration for the United States.
In the United States, Henry Kissinger engineered the United States reapproximation with China under president Nixon, but in China Mao was an eager and willing participant.
I related above the multiple major strategic challenges faced by China, all of which puts in doubt their supposed inevitable hegemony in the future.
Meanwhile, undoubtedly, we have our own problems. The most urgent is having a Russian mole in the White House, a mentally ill, erratic narcissist, publicity-seeking, lying corrupt fool, with no ethical standards. No semblance of strategic thinking. An ignoramus systematically assaulting our democratic institutions, the free press, sabotaging governmental agencies, and so on. In short, Trump is an absolute disaster, the worst president this country ever had. And it can be said that he is the symptom not the cause of the disease.
But, on the positive side, this country has always reacted healthily through our history to similar challenges, and though we have major problems to overcome, there are definitely signs that once again the country is reacting well to the abysmally bad choice made in 2016.
As Churchill said so wisely, democracy is the worst possible system, except when compared to all the others. This remains as true today as when Churchill uttered it, and is the ultimate best strategic advantage that the West has against our geopolitical rivals. Besides all the much worse problems that China and Russia face, they lack this major long-term advantage, because neither have democratic institutions to defend them against bad dictators like Putin and Xi JinPing.
JE comments: Istvan Simon's China analysis sounds spot-on to me. One follow-up question: Tor Guimaraes recently pointed out that China now outspends the US in scientific R & D. Istvan, won't this investment go a long way towards counterbalancing China's rising costs of manufacturing?
My Predictions on China: A Correction
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
01/08/19 10:31 AM)
Once again I must object to Istvan Simon putting words in my mouth (January 6th). I did not predict that "China will be the hegemon of the 21st century."
Based on economic theory, trade is supposed to work for the benefit of both sides. But regurgitation of how the theory is supposed to work is no substitute for reality. It does not take a rocket scientist to that the strategic results from blind faith in economic theory has produced little good for the US while catapulting the PRC to prominence as nation in a few decades.
Ditto for NAFTA, where the strategic results for Mexico and US are more appealing but only if one neglects to consider that the greatest beneficiaries are the drug traffickers who know only a small percent of their drug shipments by trucks will possibly be checked at the border.
Last, contrary to John E's assertion, I hope to have never said that China spends more on R&D than the US (including private R&D). That is different from saying that China has more research publications that the US.
JE comments: My apologies to Tor Guimaraes--I did mistakenly confuse "number of publications" with "investment in R & D."
Still, let's get out our long-term crystal ball. What nation(s) will be hegemonic in 50 years? Does the US have any legitimate challenger other than China?
Hegemons of 2069
(Brian Blodgett, USA
01/09/19 4:10 AM)
In regards to future hegemony, I believe that we must avoid just looking at the present and the near past and future, but look further back in history and try to project trends that we see. The US, without doubt, is currently waning in power and has been for some years, as it remains bogged down in internal political squabbles as well as external military conflicts. If I look back, it appears that the US really had its shining moments after World War II as it gained supremacy as a world power due to its military, but the years have not been kind to the nation and it is far from the superpower that it once was.
The obvious contender to the US is China, which while having a far inferior naval and air force, is not lacking in the ground-based area nor in the world of potential future wars, that of cyber. China is no longer a sleeping giant but is spreading itself around the world, dabbling not in politics in the way that the US had, nor as the colonial powers of the past did, but rather by making themselves helpful to countries in ways that tie them economically--which is far stronger than military can hope to be in our present age.
Yet we must not dwell on countries as we know them today since in 50 years will a country per se really matter as much as perhaps a collective group of countries? One can look at the European Union of today and say that it would not be able to match the US or China, but can we say that would be the case in 50 years? Remember from the mid-1800s to the start of the Great War, Britain was clearly the hegemonic power and then it was not until nearly 40 years later, after World War II, that the US picked up the mantle. Right now we are, to me, in a lull as the US wanes and China rises, but what will we have in 50 years remains the question.
I believe that the US will, not in the near term, but eventually reverse its trend and begin to rise, but that it will not be enough to allow the country to be the sole hegemonic power. China will also continue to rise but it too will only go so far and the two may not be equals, but above most individual countries. However, I am including two other possibilities, that of a conglomeration of European countries joining together unlike they are not in the EU, but rather more like a real united European union (note the small u, not a large U) and as one be on a level that allows them to be seen as a third hegemonic pillar. The fourth leg pillar will be individuals / mega-companies that join together in a true unbreakable monopoly of world power. They will not have a military, but they will also not need one. What they will have is the economy and all that goes with it. It may not be Gates, Amazon, or other rich individuals and companies that we have today, but rather those that are the fittest for 2068, a world that we do not know yet what will be the predominate measure of power.
Then there is the chance, the odd chance that we cannot rule out, that the hegemonic power will be none of the above, but rather a civilization yet unknown on earth, one from the stars that rules supreme over not only this world, but others.
However, the best hope for our world is that of a genuine World Federation, a world from Star Trek where the nations of Earth come together to end the problems that currently plague our orb; economically, socially, medically, etc., and we are reaching out to the stars. If one follows Moore's Law states that we are doubling our knowledge / technology every 18 months or so and expanding it beyond science, and even if it scientifically flattens out at some point in the future, we may find ourselves far enough along to live in the world that our science fiction writers are already in--after all, consider what the Jetsons and Kirk had that most everyone thought was unrealistic and see how much we have already surpassed it--or if you really want to step back in time and look towards the future, take a few hours and read Lord Lytton's 1871 book, The Coming Race and see how much of his novel is now our past of 50 or so years.
JE comments: Brian Blodgett puts his finger on the essence of futurology: we cannot know. In any case, we're going to revisit this post in 2069! Brian actually wrote 2068, but that's close enough.
Lord Lytton is best known for Literature's most iconic opening line, "It was a dark and stormy night." His The Coming Race is available on Project Gutenberg. Click below. Brian, can you give us a synopsis? What was the essence of the Coming Race?
- China's Explosion of Patents: Quality or Quantity? (Henry Levin, USA 01/09/19 4:38 AM)
Any discussion of scientific articles or patent applications must consider both quality and where the ideas came from originally. As somewhat of a China specialist who has taught at several of China's leading universities, I can provide some testimony on this.
The first is that Chinese scholars and scientists are under tremendous pressure to produce articles and apply for patents. Unfortunately, analysis of both forms of accomplishment suggest that there is a considerable "borrowing" of intellectual property from the US, which is only thinly disguised. I am preparing classes for this coming semester and cannot get into detail, but I offer a reliable article as well as suggesting that interested readers use Google to check on this topic. The only articles that rave about the quality of Chinese patents are found on websites of Chinese patent lawyers.
JE comments: The 2018 article from the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis reports that the majority of Chinese patents are in the "utility" category--meaning, new uses for existing technologies--rather than "invention." Still, the sheer numbers are worthy of note. As recently as 2013, China lagged far behind Japan and the US in the number of patents granted. Now it is in the lead.
Chinese Patents: Quantity over Quality? The Sinek Thesis
(Rodolfo Neirotti, USA
01/14/19 3:11 AM)
As usual, I enjoyed Henry Levin's post (January 9th), as well as reading the article on Chinese patents, grants and comparison with the leading countries.
I wonder if the subsidies encourage Chinese researchers to prioritize quantity over quality. In addition, I am curious if for the
same reasons they do not follow the sequence suggested in the following
JE comments: Simon Sinek's TED talk suggests that truly innovative leaders focus on the "why" rather than the "what" of their product. (He cites Apple, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Wright Brothers as examples.) His 2009 book (one of five) is titled Start with Why.
Mediocre leaders, in Sinek's view, focus on the what. Might this hierarchy translate to invention itself? I'm wondering where Amazon fits in the Sinek model. Don't we buy from Bezos because of the stuff?
A very happy 2019 to Rodolfo Neirotti.
- China's Scientific Output: "The Economist" (Henry Levin, USA 01/16/19 3:04 AM)
For those who have access to the Economist, January 12, there is an long article starting on p. 68 called "Chinese Science: The Great Experiment."
It lauds Chinese growth in science and technology relative to the past, but emphasizes concern about Chinese treatment of intellectual property which is obtained from other countries in clandestine ways or through reverse engineering. Even Chinese scientists agree that it is a numbers game, where "People fabricate or plagiarise papers so that they can pass their annual performance evaluations." Although the Chinese are making great strides to improve, the use of metrics like patent applications or articles is a misleading indicator without measuring the quality of the results and the origin of the ideas.
This also seems to fit the dilemma of an authoritarian system of measurement and control in an endeavor where thinking outside the box is key. One advantage of the Chinese use of science and technology relative to the West is the focus on application that is paramount to scientific activity.
JE comments: The article is below. Unfortunately, I've been "maxed out" on this month's free Economist content, so I can link it but not read it.
With China's moon landing, new aircraft carrier (Type 001A--must be a clean sheet design), and the J-20 stealth fighter plane, the Chinese have chalked up one triumph after another in the field of "application." Just last night on NPR, I learned that Chinese consumers have largely transitioned to a cashless economy, using phone-based payment apps for most purchases. We tend to think of totalitarianism as less "nimble" than democracy, but the counterexamples are also numerous.
- China as Hegemon of 21st Century? From Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 01/10/19 4:59 AM)
Ric Mauricio writes:
This is why I read my daily WAIS. A lot of interesting discourse. From Tor, Eugenio, Istvan, Brian, Henry, and of course, John E. I believe it was JE that brought the idea that China may be the hegemon of the 21st century, not Tor. Lots of interesting theories and predictions from all different perspectives.
As a global investor, I am a student of global economics and history. I find it interesting that history repeats itself over and over again. Empires and dynasties rise, then internally, self-destruct as their citizens grow complacent with the status quo. The leaders of these empires and dynasties seem to make the same mistake over and over again. They grow their empires, then find that governing their far-flung conquests and their cultures become unwieldy. Over and over again, we see Genghis Khan, Caesar, Alexander, the Ottomans, the Persians, the British Empire (the reason most of the world speaks English in addition to their native languages), the Russian Empire, and today (as Eugenio would aptly point out), the American empire, overextend their power beyond their original borders.
The PRC will make the same mistake, but how long it will play out in the future is anyone's guess. Are the Chinese smarter because they are utilizing economic power rather than military power? Perhaps so, perhaps not. There is always the temptation to utilize totalitarian power (via military power) to extend their economic (capitalistic) power. People tend to call the PRC a communist nation. In reality, when I visited Beijing and Hong Kong in the last 10 years, I tend to see the PRC as more capitalistic but still totalitarian than we (the US) are. But I am seeing, with the current administration, a move towards a more totalitarian system. So, looking forward, it is quite possible that a bird's-eye view will reveal that the PRC and the USA will be quite similar in makeup.
As for the saber rattling between Taiwan and the PRC, I have to laugh. Taiwan is the conduit of venture capital funds between the West (US and Europe) and the PRC. The saber rattling is just for show. Like a magician, you look at this, while I am doing that.
So what do I do when my country becomes less democratic and more totalitarian? I adapt, as the billionaires in China have done. Are there wealthy South and Central Americans who have come out of Argentina and Venezuela? You bet there are. How is that when most Argentinians and Venezuelans are suffering with their rapidly depreciating currencies, there are those who retain their wealth or even become wealthier? I can make you an instant millionaire, I promise people. Give me a dollar (US) and I will give you a million bolivars. Voila, instant millionaire. Don't like bolivars. Then give me 10,000 US dollars and I will give you give you a million Japanese yen. I used to have lots of fun with the Italian lira. One must invest accordingly. One must think. I find most people don't think. Just too hard to think.
As we start our new year, it reminds me of people and their insanity of making the same resolutions and doing the same workouts year after year and expecting different results. Insane. And really, if they just stop and think, apply smarter ways of working out, they can stop the insanity. (Yeah, as a personal trainer, I teach people the principles of exercise sequencing, muscle confusion, and metabolic finishers and not overtraining; more exercise is not better; marathon runners have a lower life expectancy than average). Ditto for investing. More trading is not better. Investing is better than speculating.
JE comments: A joyous 2019 to you, Ric! Can you tell us more about the symbiotic "love-hate" financial relationship between Taiwan and the PRC?
China's "Long Game" and a Zhou Enlai Quote
(John Heelan, UK
01/11/19 4:32 AM)
Ric Mauricio (10 January) writes an interesting view of the future global hegemon. However, I suspect he ignores the different concept of time held in Chinese philosophy. I have often argued in WAIS that the Chinese play the "long game," and after 2000+ years of quasi-civilisation who can blame them? (See link below.) Not only does the philosophy recognise "linear time" (as does the West) but also "cyclical time" (which might support Ric's comments).
About the impact of the French Revolution, Zhou Enlai said it was "too early to say." Given that the French Revolution of 1789 had occurred nearly 200 years before, Zhou was expressing the long view of history in a very witty and Oscar Wildean way.
News of this quote flew quickly around the chattering classes in the West, and it was soon used as evidence that the Chinese (especially Chinese intellectuals and leaders) took the long view of things, that they were a patient civilization, and that, when they thought about the future, it was hundreds of years distant. Although critics suggest that Zhou was referring to the 1968 student revolutions that France suffered rather than the original 1789 one.
JE comments: "Professor Buzzkill" argues that the question was mistranslated for Zhou, but it's one of those countless quotes that should have been. (When I watched TV news as a child, I always wondered why the Chinese would have a leader named JoAnn.)
- On Hegemony and Imperial Decay (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 01/10/19 4:00 PM)
Gary Moore writes:
Ric Mauricio (January 10), in his observations on imperial decay, might find
a supporting voice in Toynbee, whose whole deal was that the consolidation
of the greatest extent of an empire, in itself, is a sign that its decay is already
Well, okay. And the earth will be a cold cinder someday. Who could
argue with that? The difficulty is in Ric's own specialty, numbers. If the "decay,"
as seen in thousand-year hindsight, started at, say, the beginning of the Augustan
consolidation, then for any given individual there, or their children, or grandchildren,
or grandchildren's children, the earth was unlikely to become a cinder that they noticed.
Technology makes the world an ever-new riddle--and the speed now makes any assumptions
seem old. Three hundred years hence, I'm going to be checking sharply on Ric's impression
of a possible rise and fall of China. Speed? In an age that is collapsing even such cultural icons
as homophobia, smoking, and mere language translation, might even the word "hegemony"
become somehow a musty over-simplification? Probably not. So don't hold me to this,
three hundred years hence.
Coming soon: analysis of Trump's Tuesday night (January 8th) wall speech. Short answer: too dismal
for words--because not just Trump but all of them, on both sides, are distorting the facts.
Should we apply for membership in some more logical species, like the tapeworms or botflies?
The slow, fragmentary, painful, illogic-strewn continental rapprochement of Spanish-speaking
North America with English-speaking North America may be a historic imperative that will
continue to produce surprises. Who would have thought, as recently as 2014, that a wall could
even be proposed? In the Mexican Revolution a century ago, as a catastrophically convulsing
nation's population dropped by a million, people on the US side of the border sat on rooftops
and watched, as an entertaining but contained spectacle, the disastrous battles just over on
the Mexican side; there was already some kind of wall, not a material one but dramatically
sealing off the chaos (Pancho Villa's saddlebag jerry cans of kerosene at Columbus, New Mexico,
only proving the rule). The deeply mystical-seeming differences have now produced another
landmark, a few nights ago.
JE comments: In the long term we're all dead, but you and I are going to revisit this topic in three centuries, Gary!
- Taiwanese Investment in PRC; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 01/16/19 3:36 AM)
Ric Mauricio writes:
John E asked about Taiwanese investment in the PRC. I found this: "Since the 1980s, Taiwanese companies have been investing heavily into China (the PRC), primarily through Hong Kong. The large flows of Taiwanese capital into the PRC and Southeast Asia reshaped the economic and political ties amongst these countries in Asia Pacific, with significant regional and global consequences. While the investment in China is well documented, there is relatively little literature in English on recent Taiwanese investments in Southeast Asia." (Asian Survey © 1996, University of California Press)
The best-known Taiwanese company in the PRC is Hon Hai Precision Industry, better known as Foxconn, maker of the Apple iPhones.
On the discussion of totalitarianism vs. democracy, capitalism vs communism/socialism, if one were to study the history of China, one would see a common thread of capitalism governed by totalitarianism. Only during Sun Yat Sen's Republic of China in the early 1900s did we have a semblance of democracy in China. The issue is our cultural perspective. We see things not through the eyes of a Chinese person in China or an African person in Africa or a person in Mideast. So when we say we prefer democracy, it is because we have grown up in a democracy and been taught democratic principles.
Can capitalism and totalitarianism coexist? One need only look at Singapore to answer that question in the affirmative. But it takes a different culture and a benevolent leader to make it work. That my friend, is the crux of the discussion. Even in companies that I have had to consult with here in Silicon Valley, you will find very few benevolent managers. Don't even get me started on the personalities of a Steve Jobs or a Carly Fiorina. There are so many pointy-haired managers that I lost count. Fortunately, they do create problems and as "The Fixer," I am well paid to come in and "fix" or "clean up," as in Pulp Fiction.
JE comments: Newer WAISers may not remember one of Ric Mauricio's classic posts, the 2014 "I made Carly Fiorina mad." Ric gives us a textbook example of "pluck." Note that Ric prophetically references another prickly CEO, Donald J. Trump:
- Hegemons of 2069: My Thoughts (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/11/19 4:17 AM)
Commenting on my post of January 8th, JE asked an intriguing question: "What nation(s) will be hegemonic in 50 years? Does the US have any legitimate challenger other than China?"
Fifty years is not a very long time for addressing such questions. After the old US-versus-USSR contest for hegemony, there is no major hegemonic power on the horizon. The US is slowly losing (or frittering away) its ability to lead on all fronts: social, political, technical, economically speaking. Contrary to what the European Union's rabid critics seem to think, my bet would be on it as a potential economic rival for the US (after China). However, they seem unable to sustain their social, political, and economic integration in an effective way.
We must never underestimate Russia as a major potential player. I share Cameron Sawyer's laments of how several US administrations were incapable of responding in kind to several Russian leaders over time who were wise enough to see the unproductive results from rivalry versus greater cooperation and partnership. Again I blame the disconnect on stupid ideology and private interests from our side. In my opinion, we engaged China way beyond the wise and pissed on the Russians in the same fashion.
Japan has amazing capability for leadership but is relatively shy (for historical reasons) and seems to avoid the hegemonic role altogether. Countries like Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia and India are too corrupt to get out of their own shadow. They don't have the credentials for hegemony beyond their immediate neighborhood.
Last, fifty years is not enough but perhaps in a hundred years, Canada and Australia may expand their own identities and become major players in the world stage. Most other countries are just too small to project an image significant enough for overall leadership, even though some might be quite capable of hegemony in specific narrower areas.
JE comments: The EU's existential struggles have prevented it from hegemony until now. Twenty years ago, wouldn't most people have predicted that by 2019 it would be more integrated and powerful?
- Is the Chinese Model "Sustainable"? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/13/19 11:58 AM)
Commenting on my post of January 3rd, JE stated: "Democracy is messy, yes, but is it also stupider? I'm still struck by the eagerness of many monied Chinese to leave the country. The central question: how truly 'sustainable' is China's system of free-wheeling capitalism mixed with political totalitarianism? Doesn't this model present internal contradictions? To be sure, we said the same thing ten or twenty years ago, and the Party seems to be more in control than ever."
There are several interesting dimensions to this commentary. The most important is that true democracy is never stupid because it represents the will of the people's majority, which I normally trust more than any small oligarchy or dictator. In the case of the PRC the democracy is limited to the members of the Communist Party. That is not a true democracy, but it has worked quite well for China in the last few decades when they got a "get out of the economic jail free" card from the Western world by becoming their cheap manufacturer. In that way Chinese "totalitarian democracy" seems more effective than US corrupted democracy.
Regarding John's characterization of "China's system of free-wheeling capitalism mixed with political totalitarianism," I think the system is very sustainable as long as the totalitarian side does not commit horrible mistakes. There is no basic contradiction: one is free to make money as long as one doesn't contradict Party rules and edicts; they both can be on the same side. I believe the buzzword for this combination is Fascism, which worked reasonably well for the Nazis until their crazy party leader started WWII.
JE comments: Totalitarian democracy--I'll have to chew on that one a bit, before I file it in the "oxymoron" drawer. Tor Guimaraes's comment raises a fundamental and unanswerable question: what do people prefer, prosperity or freedom?
Prosperity or Freedom? Maslow Hierarchy of Needs
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
01/14/19 9:16 AM)
Regarding John E's question, "what do people prefer, prosperity or freedom?" I believe the question has been answered by Maslow hierarchy of needs. Prosperity, which can be reasonably well defined as freedom from want, is thought most important among hungry and destitute people. Once people are reasonably free from these needs, they want security, freedom to travel, to express themselves, to do whatever they want. Needless to say, wealthy people understand the need to increase their wealth further to secure their freedom to influence their social, political and economic systems.
The word "freedom" is meaningless unless qualified as freedom to do what. Thus in a hybrid (capitalism mixed with political totalitarianism) nation like China today, there will always be political tension between the Party and the people. Very likely the totalitarianism will have to give ground slowly but inexorably, unless external forces provide the excuse for tighter controls. The clash may come if their capitalist system fails to deliver prosperity to the masses. Rest assured the Party is keenly aware of the importance of a reasonably "fair" income distribution, which is really never achieved satisfactorily to all.
On the other hand, it is also interesting to note that countries with dramatic gaps between the wealthy/high income oligarchy and the people, growing poverty can be slowly introduced to the masses even though the nation is supposedly democratic. Thus I hypothesize that under these conditions the growing poorer masses care less about political freedom and settle for getting money, religion, political ideology, and misinformation.
JE comments: Or the clash may come because the Party delivered prosperity. Perhaps this is why Xi seems to be doing his damnedest to achieve absolute power.
- Kurds Again; Russia's New Super-Weapon (Timothy Brown, USA 12/29/18 4:16 AM)
The world is bigger and much more interrelated than several recent postings have suggested.
On the mess in Syria, there are large communities of Kurds in Iraq, Turkey and Iran, not just the one in Syria. (Our daughter, a fellow WAIS colleague, was teaching in Kurdish Iraq and knows them much better than I ever will.) And I still remember when, three decades or so ago, former Governor of Nevada and the guru of both Senator Reid and me, Mike O'Callaghan, a champion of the downtrodden, in this case the Kurds, raced suddenly out of our home in Tegucigalpa and rushed to Kurdistan to help them.
Ours is a far more complex world than the one that's been reflected in a number of recent postings--from why we should be concerned by Russian hyper-sonic nuclear bombers sitting nearby and why, small as it is, Israel is of strategic, not just political, interest to the US, because both sit on or near SLOCs (strategic lines of communication), Russia near the Panama and Israel near the Suez Canals, and why we should also care about the Straight of Malacca and the South China Sea, since they, too, are of major importance, not just to the US but also to just about everyone else...
JE comments: Yes, complex. This is what keeps WAIS conversations going, 53 years later! Tim Brown mentions Russia's announced new super-weapon, a missile (not bomber) that flies erratically at 27 times the speed of sound. Who can give us insight on the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle? Is it hype (not hypersonic), or has the US been caught napping?
Tim, could you tell us more about Gov. O'Callaghan's defense of the Kurds?
In Defense of the Kurds: Mike O'Callaghan
(Tamara Zuniga-Brown, USA
01/05/19 4:32 AM)
I had the great privilege of teaching/helping the Chaldean Church in Iraqi Kurdistan open the doors the first Catholic University in Erbil (CUE) to all--about 27 miles away from the battle raging for Mosul. Archbishop Warda's vision to bring hope to religious ethnic minorities facing extinction and be an integral part in rebuilding fractured communities through an education in English is an indomitable and desperately needed mission indeed.
Without the Kurds giving refuge and providing support to the diverse mass of persecuted ethnic religious minorities fleeing Nineveh and Sinjar in 2014, they wouldn't have stood a chance--nor would have yours truly. So, tragically, the threat of eradicating the delicate balance of diversity permissible in that part of the world for over 2000 years is looming faster than ever with each mercurial presidential decision-making Tweet.
Having lived in Iraqi Kurdistan for a few short months, I can only speak from my positive experience there. But, as my father mentioned in his posting, Mike O'Callaghan was a great and long-time supporter of the Kurds--for good reason. Mike was a dear family friend, Korean War amputee, former Governor of the great state of Nevada, Director of FEMA, and patron of orphanages in Nicaragua to name but a few of his achievements. Over decades traveling back and forth to Iraqi Kurdistan, and in his position as executive editor, Las Vegas Sun, Mike continued raising awareness, showing his admiration and strong support for the Kurds, and defying policies directed against them (see first link)
These words written in his op-ed column, "Where I Stand", November 2002, could not ring truer today:
"Right now, there are several good reasons that we cannot allow the Kurds to be pushed aside by either Baghdad or Ankara. They have suffered terribly at the hands the Iraqi regime, have been bullied by the Turks and betrayed by the United States. Now the whole world is watching to see if US policy will sacrifice them again."
The following link is a 1992 NYT Op Ed by Abe Rosenthal. It provides an excellent sketch of the democratically minded Kurds, of Mike O'Callaghan's unwavering support, and of Washington's attitude: http://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/15/opinion/on-my-mind-the-absent-americans.html
Subsequent links are for those with time and interest in Mike O'Callaghan's historical and unique insight that led to his unfailing support and admiration of the Kurds over decades of persecution, struggle, and war:
I wish I could talk to him now--and to Bob Gibbs, too. I feel many of you might wish the same. As soon as Bob learned of my efforts in Iraqi Kurdistan, he immediately became a great source of support for me. I miss them both and can only imagine what they would have to say about history continuing to repeat itself, especially, with the events of the past months: the lack of support for the Kurdish referendum (Sept 2017) and the latest surprise decision to withdraw from Syria.
Keeping promises, upholding agreements, and validating the enormous sacrifices of allies with dignity and respect is simply the right thing to do. We would expect no lesser treatment. In my humble opinion, the Kurds are more than deserving.
JE comments: "Now the whole world is watching to see if US policy will sacrifice [the Kurds] again." Seventeen years later, the world has found its answer.
So good to hear from you, Tamara! All the best for 2019. I hope our paths cross again soon.
Gov. Mike O'Callaghan, Humanitarian
(Timothy Brown, USA
01/06/19 4:15 AM)
Many of our colleagues in WAIS may not be aware that Tamara Zúñiga-Brown is our daughter. Nor may they, or even most of today's Nevadans, be aware that Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) was Mike O'Callaghan's Lt. Governor, his high school student and life-long protege.
My book, Diplomarine, is dedicated to Gov. O'Callaghan and his wife Carolyn and introduced by Senator Reid, "our mutual friend and mentor, the late Gov. Mike O'Callaghan."
Leda and I proud that our daughter Tamara is following in O'Callaghan's humanitarian footsteps.
JE comments: And I am proud that Brown père et fille are both WAISers! Tim, I had a curiosity about the close bond between Gov. O'Callaghan, a Catholic of Irish background, and Sen. Reid, a Mormon. We don't normally see these kinds of political bedfellows, although things are, well, different in Nevada. Can you tell us more?
- Untangling the Kurdish Factions; Abdullah Öcalan of the PKK (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 12/29/18 4:45 AM)
In response to Istvan Simon (December 28th), no one said that Erdogan is a good guy (the contrary was said), and no one said that any current Kurdish organization is Marxist. Nor did anyone, in fact, propose just ditching the Kurds (N.B., however, we should be clear what we mean when we talk about "the Kurds").
What was stated in my last post was that we cannot ignore the interests of important players like Turkey (and if we do, we become more and more isolated, and thus achieve an ever-increasing degradation of our own interests in the region).
Nor did anyone "paint every Kurdish faction as the same"--I didn't actually even mention any specific Kurdish factions. But now that we are talking about it, the Kurdish faction which is fighting in Syria, the YPG, is in fact a sister organization of the PKK, so it is absolutely understandable that the Turks consider them to be terrorists. The YPG is the militant wing of the Democratic Union Party or PYD, the main Kurdish party in Syria. The PYD is a follower of Abdullah Öcalan, the founder of the PKK.
There is a good article about it here: https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/kurdish-connection-turkey-syria/
And a diagram of the relationships between the different Kurdish "factions":
It is exceedingly arrogant to ignore Turkey's legitimate concerns about this. Turkey's problem with armed rebellion by Kurds goes back to the 1970s and was not started by Erdogan. It is important to note that recognizing and considering Turkey's legitimate interest in its own territorial integrity, does not mean that we conclude that the Kurds have no legitimate complaints or that Turkey is blameless in the conflict. I am only saying that we cannot expect even an enemy state to take it lying down, when we support rebels or otherwise threaten that state's territorial integrity, and that doing so in regard to a state we hope to have any kind of relationship is just stupid--a mistake we repeat over and over again, with uniformly bad results.
In this case, we cannot pour weapons into the PYD, whose commanders are mostly PKK, and who fluidly cross the border between Turkey and Syria (Öcalan himself was based in Syria until 1998) and expect Turkey to just sit there. This is the height of arrogance. It doesn't mean we can't have any relationship with the PYD, who have been effective fighters against the deeply evil So-Called Islamic State, but we have to consider the complex web of interests involved and work it out between the various stakeholders, rather than just charging in, in the Cossack-in-a-sukkah manner we have been doing it.
Now that we are talking about the PKK and PYD--I have long studied these fascinating organizations. Their ideology is actually extraordinarily interesting. These groups have evolved away from Marxism-Leninism to a different brand of Communism--to a really odd brand of libertarian socialism, with anarchist strains, or "Democratic Confederalism", as Öcalan calls it. It is apparently a variant of Bookchin's "Communalism"--https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communalism . It is a kind of Nietzschean anti-authoritarian brand of Communism, very much like Kropotkin's anarcho-communism of the 19th century. It is also called "Apoism" after Öcalan. The ideology is really Communist, as it calls for the complete elimination of private property, so it is understandable why governments in the region don't tolerate it, which doesn't mean that they shouldn't find some kind of accommodation with it, as a truly open society would. Another good article about Apoism in Syria: https://carnegie-mec.org/diwan/55650 . "The Syrian civil war has presented unexpected opportunities for many political actors in the region that have been able to establish a presence on the ground and implement their own agendas. Among them is the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which follows the ideology of Abdullah Öcalan ("Apo"), the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the main Kurdish party in Turkey."
WAISers who are not familiar with Öcalan might want to look for some of his writings. He is a really interesting writer and a significant, if unrealistic political thinker. A basic work of his is here: http://www.freeocalan.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Ocalan-Democratic-Confederalism.pdf .
Of course anarcho-communism can never work, as the world knew already in the 19th century (because you can't have Communism without authoritarianism), but it is absolutely fascinating to see someone trying to apply it to modern society. Öcalan is an anti-nationalist and anti-authoritarian, so very much a man after my own heart in that regard, and I admire him for repudiating the nationalist themes which were behind the early PKK movement. It would be awfully good if the Turks and PKK could come to some kind of arrangement, but Öcalan languishes in a Napoleonic prison exile on the island of Imrali, and the present government does not seem much interested in a meaningful dialogue.
JE comments: The Carnegie article above states that the PKK does not specifically demand the formation of an independent Kurdish state. If this is the case, then why can't Turkey dialogue with them? (The article is from 2014, an eternity when it comes to developments in the region.)
A related question: Is Apoism officially secular, or is it reconciled with Islam?
Why are "We" in the Middle East?
(Nigel Jones, UK
12/29/18 11:17 AM)
This may be a naive question, but why do " we" (by which I take it Cameron Sawyer means the US/ NATO/ the West), have to support anyone in the interminable and endless conflicts in the Middle East?
The Kurds, the Turks, the Sunnis, the Shiites, have been fighting since the dawn of time and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
If "we" have any interest at all, it is surely to just let them get on with it, since the more energy they expend in fighting each other, the less they will expend in fighting "us."
Meantime, we should do what we can to wean ourselves off our addiction to oil by developing gasless vehicles.
JE comments: The grim calculus of "let them fight each other" sounds like the old days of the Iran-Iraq war. Realpolitik has its own logic, but do we no longer have an obligation to our fellow humans?
Remember our humanitarian intervention in the Balkans? Brian Blodgett (next) does.
When Two People Fight, Who Should be Helped? Kurdistan, Crimea, Kosovo
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
12/30/18 4:26 AM)
Commenting on the realist post of Nigel Jones, 29 December, JE asked, "Do we no longer have an obligation to our fellow humans?"
No better question could be asked, but when two fellow humans are fighting, which one should be helped? In the case of Turks versus Kurds, shall we side with the integrity of the Turkish state or on the side of people's self-determination? But what about the many other considerations connected to the possible victory of one side or the other? Shall we follow what the US had done up to now?
Frankly it is a poor record but with excellent propaganda, especially for its "Great Plans." See the farce of Wilson's 14 Points, or the Atlantic Charter of FDR. I assume that most of the average American citizens on the Turks-Kurds question would side for the self-determination of the people, but why in the case of the Crimea did they side with the integrity of the Ukrainian state, contradicting what was done very shortly before for Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina?
Maybe because at that time the Empire wanted to please Saudi Arabia and Turkey, one wanting to spread extreme Islam and the other preparing a new Ottoman Empire?
JE comments: Who can review for us the history of the Kosovo intervention? Were Turkey and Saudi Arabia advocating for NATO action against Serbia? It's hard to believe that the Balkan strife of the 1990s now seems so remote.
The biggest problem of promoting self-determination is that there will always be a group or "people" who get the short end of the stick. New grievances arise. Rinse, and repeat.
Why Did NATO Intervene in Kosovo? From Gary Moore
(John Eipper, USA
12/31/18 3:52 AM)
Gary Moore writes:
The reason for the 1999 Kosovo intervention (Brian Blodgett, December 30) can be
over-simplified in a word: Srebrenica.
Pre-Kosovo massacres like that in next-door Bosnia and related areas mortified the Clinton administration and NATO
in retrospect (the horrified peacekeepers reduced to inaction at Srebrenica
were largely Dutch). So, in standard governmental fashion, they drew
the line at the next case that came along: Kosovo--with many blunders
and hypocrisies but basically a successful mission. NATO did rescue a
captive people (2 million Kosovo Albanians). Also, the other 1990s horror,
Rwanda, had by then similarly shown in retrospect that the international
community had had plenty of warnings but did nothing to prevent the
Rwanda carnage: another prod toward saying, "We'll draw the line next time."
Doesn't sound much like the Kurds today, in various different ways.
A slightly closer but vague parallel might be the post-2014 ISIS atrocities against
groups like the Yazidis: Belatedly, the US and Europe did go in and get the atrocidaires.
JE comments: Gary Moore spent time in the Balkans during the chaotic 1990s--as did Brian Blodgett and the late Robert Gibbs (the latter two in the capacity of NATO peacekeepers). I'll never forget Gary's 2017 WAIS classic, "Partying with the Bektashis." Here it is, together with a "hu-hak!" for the New Year:
How Did the Cuban Regime Survive? From Gary Moore
(John Eipper, USA
01/01/19 4:43 AM)
Gary Moore writes:
Happy New Year to all--and a question:
In my eagerness for our moderator's modestly delayed report from Cuba,
a thought occurs: The old question of Castro's survival could use an update.
Once Fidel lost his million-dollars-a-day from the Soviet Union, he didn't fall,
but went soldiering on, seemingly on no money at all. Later there would be
Chávez in Venezuela to help with oil money, but did this alone explain Red Cuba's
Was there also some weary magic in the combination of proletarian
enthusiasm and police state, ensuring that enthusiasm at least looked like
enough? And if it did, could this mean (now the panoramic leap!) that
somewhat similar socialist-government straitjackets could have provided
an answer, so long ago, in the 1980s, for the Northern Triangle countries of
Central America? They agonized horribly through their massacre-fraught
prevention of communism, and now, as reward, have descended into unforeseen
The Cuba Question, here posed to JE and all, becomes large.
What is Raúl's Survivor Cuba, how did it survive--and does that prove anything?
JE comments: Two questions here, and a gentle reminder from Gary Moore. Last things first--I still owe the WAISitudes a Cuba report! My resolution for 2019: cut down on the procrastination. Maybe tomorrow I'll get around to it...
So how did Castroism survive? It is noteworthy that with the exception of the Soviet Union itself, all the communist regimes that came to power "organically" (from within) remain: look at China, Cuba, Vietnam, and Nicaragua. Venezuela, too. With the European Eastern Bloc, communism was imposed through conquest. Ordinary Cubans are far more dissatisfied with their material standard of living than with the political situation per se. This is perhaps unsurprising for a population that has known nothing else for sixty years.
There's much more to be said. Gary's other question is very provocative: would Guatemala, El Salvador, et al. be less violent and dysfunctional now if they had gone the route of Cuba and Nicaragua? This is setting the bar very low. But you certainly don't hear of Nicaraguan or Cuban gangs terrorizing the citizens of Los Angeles.
Nationalism and Anti-Semitism: Orwell
(John Heelan, UK
01/02/19 4:30 AM)
Gary Moore (January 1st) raises an interesting point about Cuba's survival without the USSR's support.
Maybe the answer has to do with the insidious strength of "Nationalism," something that EU institutions see creeping over the horizon. Two recently well-commented WAIS discussions addressed both "nationalism" and "anti-Semitism." They made me ponder whether George Orwell was anti-Semitic, given his contrasting descriptions of the Party's leader--Big Brother--and the Party's nemesis--Emanuel Goldstein.
For clarification of his views, I looked up his essay "Anti-Semitism in Britain" first published in Contemporary Jewish Record (April 1945). Later in the article, Orwell opines that "it seems to me a safe assumption that the disease loosely called 'nationalism' (and that) ‘anti-Semitism is only one manifestation of nationalism"..."but that anti-Semitism will definitively be cured without curing the larger disease of nationalism, I do not believe."
Does this not suggest that the EU will continue to see the growth of anti-Semitism as part and parcel of the EU's growing nationalist tendencies, indicating a continuance the problems in the Middle East? As Orwell points out, there is no objective analysis happening--the UK Community Security Trust charged with protecting Jewish communities seems to treat non-violent verbal abuses of as being equivalent to more violent abuses such as desecration of synagogues and other "Recognisably Jewish property." Both should be condemned by UK society, as should all such attacked on religions. The fear is that the growth of nationalism in EU Member States might prove to be an obstacle.
I note the website on which this essay appears (www.orwell.ru) has a Russian identifier. Whether that is significant I shall leave to others to comment upon.
JE comments: It never would occur to me to read anti-Semitism into Nineteen Eighty-Four. Goldstein (clearly Trotsky) is portrayed as the only voice of political "reason" in the horrific (let's call it Orwellian...) society of Oceania. Moreover, Goldstein's lengthy essay, "The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism," featured in its near-entirety towards the end of the novel, provides a cutting analysis of communist totalitarianism.
I'm grateful to John Heelan for the reference to Orwell's "Anti-Semitism in Britain." Here's the link. Why is such an important essay only available on an amateurish website?
- Kosovo and the Kurds: Parallels? (Brian Blodgett, USA 01/02/19 5:07 AM)
I had my questions about the NATO involvement in Kosovo when deployed there with the first of the many Kosovo Forces, since to me and many others whom I knew, we were invading a sovereign state to protect its citizens from its own government. I considered the action sort of like a group of nations deciding that the US was not doing enough (which it is not) to protect the rights of Native Americans and sending in troops to help them out.
So going back in time, at the beginning of the Balkan conflicts, the Federation of Yugoslavia once had six republics and two autonomous provinces, of which Kosovo was one of those two. Kosovo had become an autonomous region, as opposed to a republic, due to the demographics of the population, which was 90% or so ethnic Albanians with the remainder mainly being Serbs. Since ethnic Albanians already had their own homeland (Albania), they were given by Yugoslavia a lesser status than the republics of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. The other autonomous region was Vojvodina (ethnic Hungarians mainly). As an autonomous region, Kosovo had no right of secession, as it was not considered a bearer of Yugoslav sovereignty.
In 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence and the Yugoslavia military, composed mostly of Serbs, invaded Croatia in an "attempt" to protect ethnic Serb populations. As some of these republics sought to break away, Serbs began targeting Bosniak and Croatian civilians in a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina after it declared its independence in 1992. During the Bosnia crisis, the Serbs killed an estimated 100,000 people and displaced more than two million. In July 1995, Serbian forces massacred approximately 8,000 Bosniaks in Srebrenica while UN peacekeepers did nothing.
Initially, the Kosovo Albanians' only desire was to gain the status of a republic. However, during this time the Kosovo Albanians were harassing and discriminating the minority of the citizens in the region, the Serbs. Unfortunately, this occurred with a rise of nationalism in Serbia and in 1989, a decision was made by remove the autonomy from Kosovo. The Kosovo Albanians realized that they now needed to not only re-establish their autonomy but, after the Bosnia and Slovenia gained their independence, there was a shift to full independence from Yugoslavia. With Kosovo, the non-violent League for a Democratic Kosovo (LDK) created a parallel governmental system. For several years the LDK was successful, but over time, the lack of any progress towards Kosovo gaining independence and at the same time, increased Serbian violence within the area, resulted in Albanian militants forming the Kosovo Liberation Army in an attempt to gain independence. As the Kosovo Albanians were now in open contempt of the central government, it did not take long for Serbians from outside of Kosovo to come to the aid of their repressed Kosovo Serbian minority through not only regular Yugoslav military and Serbian police, but also paramilitary units. These forces often treated the Kosovo Albanians very harshly and were accused of ethnic cleansing.
At this time, the United Nations condemned the violence and declared the conflict within Kosovo a "threat to international peace and security" under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The UN Council promised further action if both parties in Kosovo did not reduce hostilities, but direct use of force was blocked by the fear of a Russian veto of a UN Security Council mandate. As a backdrop, NATO proposed peace between Yugoslavia and Kosovo under the Rambouillet Agreement, which Yugoslavia refused to accept. On 18 March 1999, the US and British delegations signed the Rambouillet Accords, which the Serbian and Russian delegations refused to sign. These accords called for a NATO administration of Kosovo as an autonomous province within Yugoslavia, a NATO force of 30,000 within Kosovo to maintain the peace, the right of NATO troops in Yugoslav territory (not just Kosovo), and immunity for NATO from Yugoslavian law. As historian Christopher Clark opined, the terms of the 1914 Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia appeared lenient when compared to NATO's demands. According to reports, senior US State Department officials had told journalists that they deliberately set the bar higher than the Serbs would ever accept.
Soon after, the international monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) withdrew their troops on 22 March, for fear of their safety based on impending NATO aggression. On 23 March, the Serbian assembly issued its own resolution that condemned the OSCE monitor withdraw and accepted the principle of autonomy for Kosovo and the non-military part of the Rambouileet Agreement.
This was not enough for NATO, and they used the refusal of Serbia and Russia to sign the accords as justification to start the air war. On 24 March 1999, NATO began their air attacks without any UN authorization, which did not hinder NATO's actions. NATO's stated aims matched those of the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice--maintaining peace and security within the region, prevention the escalation of valance and humanitarian catastrophe. NATO leaders believed that a brief bombing campaign would lead to the withdraw of Serbian forces from Kosovo and the end to the humanitarian crisis, but Milosevic believed that his forces could withstand a few days of bombing without serious harm.
On 8 June 1999, Milosevic agreed to terms proposed by Finland and Russia that involved the withdrawal of all Yugoslav forces from Kosovo under the Military-Technical Agreement between NATO and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia. On 10 June 1999, the UN passed Security Resolution 1244 (14 votes for to none against). China abstained despite being critical of the NATO offensive and the bombing of its embassy. They argued that the conflict should have been settled by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia government and its people, and were opposed to the external intervention. However, since Yugoslavia accepted it, China did not veto it. The resolution authorized an international civil and military presence in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and established the UN Interim Administration Mission Kosovo. After a 78-day air campaign, NATO deployed ground forces on 12 June. They are still there.
The omission of any reference to the bombing campaign in UNSCR 1244 can be seen as an indication of post facto authorization and was novel, as it was presented as a legal justification of the original use of force by NATO. As a result of the post facto authorization, international law was thrown on its end, but could it be a precedent for future action in other countries? In most cases the answer is probably no, because other secessionist movements do not have the wide support of an international community. However, how about for the Kurds? In comparing the Kurds in Iran, Iraq, and Syria, they have their origins from neighboring Turkey and were subject to persecution and up until 1991 and the first Gulf War, the UK, US, and France military intervened to protect the Kurdish minority. This was the first time that the UK actually espoused humanitarian intervention, not just the doctrine of it. The use of force to protect the Kurds, like the Kosovo Albanians, was not authorized by the UN Security Council. However, UNSCR 688, adopted on 5 April 1991 after France, Iran, and Turkey expressed the concern of the political repression of the Iraqi citizens, including those in Iraqi Kurdistan, the UN passed UNSCR 688 that insisted Iraq allow access by international humanitarian organizations to areas affected, to include the Kurdish-populated areas in northeastern Iraq. UNSCR 688 passed with 10 votes for, three against (Cuba, Yemen, and Zimbabwe), and two abstentions (China and India). It was under this resolution that the no-fly zones were established in Iraq, to protect humanitarian operations even through the resolution made no reference to the no-fly zones. So, like the Kosovo Albanians, the Iraqi Kurds gained protection in a similar way. However, that was history. What happens today with the Kurds remains undecided but it seems unlikely that the US would support the Kurds in their goal of having their own state. They did not during the reign of Saddam or since, and the US and its western allies have often been against independence movements. After all, do we see Europeans wanting the splintering of their nations or the US having a state declare its independence?
Agatonovic, M. (2018). "Is KFOR still guaranteeing stability and security in Kosovo?" Retrieved from https://europeanwesternbalkans.com/2018/12/17/kfor-still-guaranteeing-stability-security-kosovo/
Calamur, K. (2017). "Why doesn't the US support Kurdish independence?" Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/10/us-kurdish-independence/543540/
NATO. (2018). "NATO's role in Kosovo." Retrieved from https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/topics_48818.htm
Gunaratne, R. (n.d.). "The history behind a declaration of independence: Kosovo and its impact on the world." Retrieved from https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/topics_48818.htm
Wikipedia. (n.d.). "Rambouillet Agreement." Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rambouillet_Agreement
Wikipedia. (n.d.). "United Nations Security Council Resolution 688." Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Security_Council_Resolution_688
Wikipedia. (n.d.). "United Nations Security Council Resolution 12444." Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Security_Council_Resolution_1244
JE comments: A very informative overview. Perhaps the best explanation for International Community's refusal to support Kurdish independence is the necessity of going up against Iran, Iraq, and Syria, as well as Turkey. The Kosovars were fighting only against a weakened and discredited Serbia.
Brian, have you written in detail about your personal experience in Kosovo? This is a story that must be told.
Was the NATO Campaign in Kosovo a Success?
(Robert Gard, USA
01/03/19 3:56 AM)
Brian Blodgett's essay (January 2nd) on Kosovo is excellent. A few additions:
The Kosovo Liberation Army's attacks on government officials and police were excessive and designed to trigger an over-reaction from Milosevic that would promote NATO outrage and action.
The NATO bombing campaign was initiated on the assumption that Milosevic would fold in three days or sooner. Unable to locate Serbian military targets in Kosovo, the bombing shifted to civilian targets in Serbia in obvious violation of the laws of war.
Desperate to end the bombing that lasted 78 days, NATO accepted the brokered terms that eliminated the major provisions of the Rambouillet Agreement that had caused Milosevic to reject it.
Previously, our position had been no border changes in resolving disputes in Europe. Russia objected and later capitalized on our switch to justify its own actions in Georgia.
And we now call the NATO campaign a success!
JE comments: It's been a year or so since we last heard from Gen. Robert Gard. So glad you've written, and best wishes for 2019.
Robert, do you believe that NATO's actions in the Kosovo conflict emboldened Putin to move into Crimea?
Did Putin Use Kosovo to "Justify" Crimea?
(Robert Gard, USA
01/04/19 4:15 AM)
John E asked me if Putin was emboldened to occupy Crimea because of NATO's earlier actions in Kosovo.
It's hard to probe Putin's motivations, but I do believe he has taken license from our switch.
JE comments: Armchair historians could posit volumes of Putin "what ifs." The biggest: if NATO hadn't expanded into the former Soviet Bloc, would Putin have played nice with the West? Robert Gard has phrased it perfectly--probing Putin's motivations is more art than science, as was the Kremlinology of yore.
Gary Moore (next) takes issue with Brian Blodgett's and Robert Gard's criticisms of the Kosovo campaign.
- Was NATO's Kosovo Campaign a Success? From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 01/04/19 4:35 AM)
Gary Moore writes:
I don't understand why Robert Gard (Jan 3) adds to Brian Blodgett (Jan 2)
the points he does in support of his skepticism on Kosovo being a successful
NATO mission. There are endless other such points he could have brought up, too,
and they have been brought up, by many who wished to leave Kosovo where
the Serbs had put it in 1912, under their rule.
I'm surprised General Gard didn't
bring up the atrocity argument, since an initial excited report said NATO was
responding to 100,000 Kosovo Albanians killed by Serbs in secret massacres--and this had to be quickly scaled down to around 10,000. Moreover, in my
quizzical position as investigator for international judges I could look at the
individual cases, and I concluded finally that the number was even lower, maybe
around 5,000. Kosovo was not Bosnia. And General Gard is right about the provocations
made by ethnic Albanian guerrillas, if one needs that tangential argument as well.
And he missed the favored argument that the majority of the Serb atrocities occurred
only after NATO had started bombing--and so were not a cause of the bombing but
a proxy response to it. (Why do I have to do all this heavy lifting for the skeptics?)
And we haven't even gotten to the disastrous pratfall on the Chinese Embassy.
Before the bombing an article by a prominent military man was showcased in the media
scoffing that everyone knew you could never win in Kosovo with an air war. Oops. Maybe
the writer meant a tidy, textbook air war. The NATO campaign did not make Kosovo a paradise
or the Albanians angels, but to say it didn't achieve its goal, and set them free (plus putting
a 7,000-strong US base, Bondsteel, into a Muslim cultural redoubt where America will
always be loved) is perplexing.
JE comments: Gary Moore inspires a thought: Might Kosovo be the one--the only?--Muslim society where the United States is wildly popular?
- NATO Nation-Wrecking in Yugoslavia, and Russia's Response (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 01/04/19 7:14 AM)
I was living in Russia at the time of the Serbian war.
What I can say about the Russian reaction to that is that it was the last nail in the coffin of Russia's desire to be integrated into the democratic, capitalist, European world. Up until the Serbian war, most people supported Yeltsin's idea that the Cold War was over and that there was no more fundamental conflict between Russia and the West. Most people hoped that, despite the betrayal of Bush's promise to Gorbachev not to move NATO East, Russia would be welcomed into the fold of civilized nations, and there was even still some discussion about Russia possibly joining NATO herself. A small number of hawks warned that the West did not respect Russia's interests and continued to be, fundamentally, Russia's enemy.
But the NATO nation-wrecking in Yugoslavia, so well described by Robert Gard (January 3rd), showed the Russians forcefully that the West did not care about their opinions or interests, and that was the end of the idea that Russia should try to form closer ties with the West and integrate herself into the community of "civilized" nations. The special historical relationship between Russia and Serbia made our actions just that much more shocking to Russians, who felt suddenly powerless and isolated. This indeed is the proximate cause of the massive Russian rearmament which started in the 2000s.
So certainly in the bigger sense, the bombing of Serbia did encourage Russia to partially dismember Ukraine, after we obliterated Yugoslavia over their objections. But we are so drunk on our own propaganda that few in the West see the parallels. The precedents we have set with our practice of nation-wrecking, started in Yugoslavia, and continuing in the Middle East up to the present day, are going to haunt us for decades to come. As well as other precedents like "targeted killing" of foreigners we don't like, on foreign soil, using drones, just because we can. It is not written in stone, that we will always be the only ones who are able to ignore the laws of warfare, and the rules of civilized behaviour with regard to sovereign nations, "just because we can."
This ties back into our discussion of Syria, the most boneheaded nation-wrecking campaign we have yet undertaken, arming various insurgents, some of them our own enemies, others the enemies of our legal NATO allies, against the legal government of the country.
JE comments: At least Syria wasn't intentionally started by the US/NATO, unlike Iraq. Or do I oversimplify?
Has there been a "nation-building" campaign in the last half-century that succeeded? Probably none since Germany, Japan, and finally South Korea. The big question mark: the successor states of Yugoslavia itself, which are currently at peace.
NATO Nation-Wrecking in Yugoslavia? What About Serbia's Ethnic Cleansing?
(Istvan Simon, USA
01/05/19 3:41 PM)
I do not agree with Robert Gard and Cameron Sawyer's take on the Kosovo intervention. One cannot forget the years of ethnic cleansing, massacres, and outrageous behavior by Serbian war criminals during the disintegration of Yugoslavia. None of this had anything to do with NATO. It happened under the eyes of UN peacekeepers who were unable to keep the peace, prevent the shelling and sniping of civilians in Sarajevo, Serbrencia, and so on, in case after case of deliberate genocide not seen in Europe since the Nazi atrocities.
A similar history occurred in Kosovo, no matter what the small KLA may have done.
My son had a colleague since elementary school whose family happened to be from Kosovo. This boy had Leukemia, possibly the result of exposure to escaped radiation as a toddler from the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. He was successfully treated and cured in the United States.
Anyway, we knew this boy and his family as a result of my son and their boy being classmates in school. The horrified stories that they told us had little to do with the KLA, and much to do with Serbian abuse of civilians in Kosovo which had occurred for many years. This was also years before NATO belatedly intervened, and in my opinion rightly so. The arms of the brother of the mother of my son's schoolmate had been broken by the Serbian police, for example. As far as I know he had done absolutely nothing to justify such abuse, not that such abuse could be justified anyway, even if he had. So, to answer General Gard, yes the intervention of NATO was a success. It put an end to these intolerable abuses, and liberated Kosovo from the choke of their abusive oppressors.
This does not justify nor condone in any way the following abuses of the Kosovars against Serbian minorities residing in Kosovo, which regrettably also happened.
Yugoslavia did not disintegrate as a result of Western policies. Neither did the Soviet Union. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union was not predicted in the West, and came as a surprise to those of us who desired the collapse of this rotten system. But at the time, it was unimaginable to those of us who had witnessed the Soviet military interventions to preserve communism in Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, East Germany, and the Berlin wall.
Andrei Amalrik wrote an essay in 1970 that predicted the disintegration of the Soviet Union by 1984. He was off by a few years before his prediction came true, but he had identified many of the causes and their corrosive effects with uncanny accuracy. History did not confirm all of Amalrik's predictions of how the collapse would eventually occur. But he understood the centrifugal internal forces within the Soviet Union which turned out to be correct. His predictions were discounted by Western Soviet scholars and the Soviet authorities as well. Natan Scharansky, another Soviet dissident, who later emigrated to Israel, recounted how the KGB had come to his prison cell in 1984 to mock Amalrik's prediction. But laughs best who laughs last.
Tragically, Amalrik died at age 42 in a car accident in 1980 in Spain, so he missed the historical events that vindicated his predictions.
JE comments: Amalrik's essay "Will the Soviet Union Survive until 1984?" can be read here:
All the best to Istvan Simon for the New Year!
Life on the Ground as a UN Peacekeeper, Balkans
(Brian Blodgett, USA
01/07/19 3:57 AM)
A recent posting by Ivan Simon (January 5th) had a comment about the UN Peacekeepers not being able to protect the individuals in the country where they were deployed. The statement that caught my attention was "it happened under the eyes of UN peacekeepers who were unable to keep the peace, prevent the shelling and sniping of civilians." I immediately recollected information from the Balkans and decided to do a bit of research to supplement my memory.
During the Bosnia-Herzegovina mission, the UN troops were from Bangladesh, Britain, France, Spain, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Turkey, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Russia, Ukraine, Norway, Pakistan, and Jordan. Note that a significant number of countries supporting the mission were non-European and likely did not have as good as equipment as they needed and this, and the Memorandum of Understanding between that allowed the UN to enter Bosnia-Herzegovina, had serious flaws.
As an example, the deployment of Bangladesh forces into the area known as the Bihac pocket (in north-west Bosnia-Herzegovina). From what I recall over 20 years later, the Bangladeshi troops arrived in the Balkans without proper equipment; lacking both firearms and survival gear. From I recall, the troops only had one firearm for every four soldiers and limited ammunition, as well as no winter gear (they arrived in the fall) and instead had their typical summer uniforms. I checked the temperature of Bihac, and in October the high is between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit with a low of between 40 and 48 degrees. By December, the high ranges between 29 and 35 with the lows in the 25 to 30 degree area. Meanwhile, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the average daily temperature for October is 80 degrees and by December it is in the low 70s. I seriously doubt that the average Bangladeshi troop had cold weather gear, nor did the military itself have much on stock.
I also recall hearing that the troops that we serving in the UN were often from countries that basically used the troop deployment as a source of income to their nation, rather than for pure humanitarian reasons--a review of the countries listed earlier may indicate this to be true, but I hope this is not true and perhaps someone can correct what I heard in the 1990s.
However, the UN does pay nations for sending troops on UN missions, to the rate of $1,332 per person per month (in 2016)--a significant amount for the nations that contribute the troops. For India, who paid its entry-level troops in 2016 around $366 per month, that extra $1,000 is a nice contribution. And that is India; consider the other top 25 countries: the most recent report from 2016 showed the top 25 countries as Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Nepal, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Egypt, Indonesia, China (a surprise), Tanzania, Nigeria, Niger, Togo, Morocco, Chad, Uruguay, South Africa, Brazil, Kenya, Benin, Cameroon, and Italy. Ethiopia at the top provided over 8,000 troops, about 6% of its active military. China is in a unique position as it votes to send troops, deploys peacekeepers, and funds the missions (KFC, 2017).
So when we consider the deployment of UN troops, we must also consider the Memorandum of Understanding that the nation receiving the troops and the UN agree to, and it often has severe limitations on exactly what the UN forces can do. From my recollection, there was a MOU for Bosnia but I am not sure if they are required for all UN deployment of forces--not sure how they could be when in some cases there is no real government in place.
Back to Bihac, we knew that the Muslim forces in the area that was surrounded by Serbian forces to the south and Croatia to the other sides were receiving supplies, but at NATO we could not figure out how. It was only after I was in Zagreb talking to the UN headquarters staff that I found out that the UN forces (Bangladeshi) were not allowed outside of their compound at night per the agreement and that they could only report on activities they saw. So, it was of no surprise that aircraft were landing at night at the local airport keeping the forces well supplied (whose airplanes they were, is something I never looked into), but the UN could not report any of this during the three-year siege of Bihac.
Regarding the shelling, I also recall the ridiculous aspect that the Serbs had to store their mortars and such in UN Collection Points but were able to enter the points at any time and withdraw the weapons for cleaning, which often also involved "test firing" them and using them to shell areas before returning them to the UN-controlled collection points.
Murphy, D. (1994). "Peacekeeper wounded in Bosnia dies: Balkans: Bangladeshi was one of five injured in Serbian attack. U.N. officials denounce it as most serious strike against their mission since war began". Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/1994-12-14/news/mn-8905_1_bangladeshi-peacekeeper
KFC. (2017) "Countries provide the most troops and funding?" Retrieved from https://bestdelegate.com/united-nations-peacekeepers-which-countries-provide-the-most-troops-and-funding/
United Nations (2018). "Deployment and Reimbursement." Retrieved from https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/deployment-and-reimbursement
Weather Spark. (2019). "Average weather in Bihac." Retrieved from https://weatherspark.com/y/148343/Average-Weather-at-Bihac-Croatia-Year-Round
Weather Spark. (2019). "Average weather in Dhaka." Retrieved from https://weatherspark.com/y/111858/Average-Weather-in-Dhaka-Bangladesh-Year-Round
JE comments: Fascinating, Brian. I was completely unaware of the economics of UN peacekeeping. Naïvely, I assumed the countries of origin paid for their supply and upkeep.
Our late colleague Bob Gibbs was also in the Balkans as a peacekeeper. In our phone conversations, he often lamented that the ROE (rules of engagement) hamstrung his unit at every turn, even preventing it from stopping specific acts of violence.
Witnessing the UN Peacekeepers, Balkans (from Gary Moore)
(John Eipper, USA
01/07/19 2:33 PM)
Gary Moore writes:
Seconding Brian Blodgett's (January 7) enlightening run-down on UN peacekeeping economics
in the Balkans, I remember marveling, in my year at the UN Mission in Kosovo, that every
single day seemed to bring some magnificently loony new UN absurdity, which people
back home might be hard-pressed to believe.
On the other hand, writing the area manual
I got to take one of those spiffy white minivans (or occasionally a pickup) all over the
country, and in one provincial boondock I found myself facing the UN administrator
for that town--who seemed a veritable super-robot of efficiency. He was from the Philippines,
and seemed to have every answer, know every nuance, and always with a cheerfully
diplomatic smile, while doing several things at once.
The UN does not prove there is
no hope for the human race; it just points up the mystery.
JE comments: Does the UN show the best and the worst of humanity? Or at least it's a testament to the best and worst of behemoth institutions.
(Gary, this is the first time I've seen "boondock" in the singular. But it fits. Next up--the singular "smithereen"...)
- In the Balkans, UN and NATO Did the Best They Could (Istvan Simon, USA 01/08/19 3:58 AM)
I am grateful to Brian Blodgett for his comprehensive contributions (January 2 and January 7) on the events in Yugoslavia. I am in complete agreement with Brian. I had made the same points, without his thoroughly researched details and deep insights.
I would like to add a few explanations to my post of January 5th:
First, Brian's January 2 post was so complete that I probably would not even have written mine had I read his, because Brian's post made it unnecessary. But I had not yet read Brian's when I wrote mine, which was in reaction to posts by Robert Gard and Cameron Sawyer I disagreed with. I wrote it entirely from memory, personal recollection of the events, gained mostly from newspaper accounts and through the Kosovo family I wrote about.
The second point I want to add is that I was not being critical of the UN peacekeepers when I mentioned that they were unable to keep the peace. They tried their best, and also provided much of the valuable, accurate and fair neutral information about the conflict in their reports. Their mission was not to fight either side in the conflict, but to separate and stop their fighting by their presence. They did not have the proper equipment for fighting either side, nor the proper rules of engagement. They had barely enough firepower to defend themselves when they came under attack in outrageous provocations by the Serbs.
It is intolerable that any party would have the audacity to attack UN peacekeeping troops, yet the Serbs did just that. I think that these provocations were additional strong reasons for NATO to belatedly intervene and put an end to it through overwhelming firepower and force.
No armed intervention is ever perfect, and NATO's was not either, as Gary Moore observed in his excellent comments of January 4. Nonetheless, to concentrate on the imperfections while ignoring the overall picture is a grave mistake. This is a point I tried to make and I think that this was also the main point made by Gary.
A final observation: I would like to oppose 20-20 hindsight in WAIS posts. This is not only unfair criticism but also a logical fallacy.
20-20 hindsight attributes responsibility for future events that could not have been foreseen when the historical decisions were actually made. It is the false argument that everything else that happened after a historical event, (most often criticizing decisions made by the United States), is a consequence of that decision, as if no other actors had any responsibility for what happens in the world.
JE comments: Yes, coincidence does not prove causality. This is the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. In the Balkans and the Middle East, the United States did get involved, and problems ensued. Does this prove anything? The Balkans were the proverbial "powder keg" (and "Balkanized" to boot) long before the US was an actor on the world stage.
Iraq is a different story, and 20-20 hindsight suggests it would have been easier and more peaceful for nearly everyone if we had reached an understanding with Saddam Hussein, and turned him into "our bastard."
Saddam Hussein as "Our Bastard"
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
01/09/19 3:50 AM)
I may be wrong, but even our excellent-in-everything Moderator may have overlooked something. To his credit we may say that it is something that any good American would forget. JE in fact, commenting on the post of Istvan Simon, 8 January, wrote, "It would have been easier and more peaceful for nearly everyone if we had reached an understanding with Saddam Hussein, and turned him into 'our bastard.'"
Perfect, but Saddam was the "bastard" of the Empire until the lousy trick of April. Maybe he had to be punished because he was unsuccessful in destroying Iran, despite all the help received?
Also, John's sentence "In the Balkans and in the Middle East, the United States did get involved" is correct, but who ordered the involvement? As far as I know the various US Presidents, very poor in geopolitics, did the ordering.
Considering that in a certain way the Empire is also involved in Ukraine and considering that the Ukrainian government is bombing its own people, a retaliatory bombing of Kiev by NATO would be appropriate, just as it had been in Belgrade.
It could be a good idea: in Kosovo the Empire was compensated with the huge military base of Bondsteel. It could ask the republics of Donetsk and Luhansk for another huge military base strategically placed at the same longitude as Moscow, only farther south.
JE comments: Eugenio, I presume you mean April Glaspie, the American diplomat who reportedly told Saddam that the US had "no opinion" on Iraq's claim to Kuwait. Given the war(s) that followed, this sounds like a tragic April Fools joke, but the meeting occurred in July.
- Nation-Building, Nation-Wrecking...or Bald Conquest? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/06/19 4:55 AM)
Commenting on the excellent post from Cameron Sawyer (4 January), JE asked: "Has there been a 'nation-building' campaign in the last half century that succeeded? Probably none since Germany, Japan and finally South Korea [and Italy--EB]. The big question mark: the successor states of Yugoslavia itself, which are currently at peace."
Frankly for Germany, Japan, Italy and South Korea it was not nation-building but occupied colony-building. Lately, however, it seems that at least part of the peoples of said nations are sick and tired of the situation. Being an ally is one thing, while being a de facto occupied colony and supplier of cannon fodder without the real possibility of dialogue is another.
The successor states of Yugoslavia, except Slovenia and Croatia, which nevertheless are still at odds for a small piece of land and sea (the ex-Italian Istria), are powder kegs ready to explode at any time, especially the impossible Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia, plus of course Serbia and Kosovo plus a question mark on Montenegro.
As I am speaking bluntly, here's an uncomfortable question: Should the defeated Axis nations thank the US for the help of the Marshall Plan or the USSR? Oh, by the way the Axis was only Italy and Germany to which other European nations, including Yugoslavia, adhered while Japan was an ally of Germany and Italy within the Tripartite Pact. Just remember the tragedy of the DEF (Disarmed Enemy Forces) of German soldiers, but also German civilians and some Italians, the Morgenthau Plan, etc.
Only in July 1947, more than two years after the end of the war in Europe, did Truman change policy, but only in order (rightly) to fight Communism, not due to a generous sense of nation-building. Only former president Hoover and the average American citizens were moved by generosity.
JE comments: The threefold dynamic of conquering, wrecking, and building usually go as a package. The trick is to get the order right. Eugenio Battaglia forces us to ponder the question of whether nation-building is motivated by altruism or self-interest. Invariably it's both--the dulce mixed with the utile?
- Kosovo and the Kurds: Any Parallels? (Brian Blodgett, USA 12/30/18 3:57 AM)
Quick question: Why was it acceptable for military forces from NATO and Russia to step in and free the citizens of Kosovo from Serbia, yet we do not view the Kurds in any similar manner?
JE comments: A deceptively simple question from Brian Blodgett. Perhaps NATO learned from Kosovo (and Iraq, and...) to stay away from nation-building? Or do European people somehow "deserve" more protection? Certainly, the world of 2018 is not the world of 1998. Twenty years ago Rwanda was fresh on our minds. Today, it's a general weariness with quagmires and interventions.
- Will Trump Make It Through 2019? (Istvan Simon, USA 12/31/18 6:54 AM)
John E wrote on December 28th: "Trump would sacrifice the Kurds just to keep the Saudis happy? Perhaps, but this doesn't seem like such a good deal for a supposedly shrewd businessman."
Trump is neither shrewd much less a good businessman. Just consider that he went bankrupt operating a casino. Now, a casino is basically a money-printing machine, so to go bankrupt operating one requires monumental stupidity and incompetence.
What deal has he done in the last two years which was even remotely good for the USA? I can't think of any. All his deals have been terrible. Kim Jong Un? Putin? Saudi Arabia?
He surrounds himself with people who were against Obama policies, and then fires them when they do not turn out to be yes-men. Mattis, Tillerson, Kelly, even his pathetic perjurer Jeff Sessions. Trump's selections are most often thieves and corrupt like himself (Price, Zinke, Pruitt, Ross, DeVos, Manafort, Gates). All are involved in self-dealing corruption scandals.
Do you know of a single president with so many scandals one after another in just two years? Frankly, I cannot think of a single one other than Trump.
JE comments: Here's a depressing question for the New Year. Will we be asking on December 31, 2019, "Do you know of a single president with so many scandals in just three years?" Not to sound too casino-like, but I'd put the odds at 50-50.
- Nation-Building, Nation-Wrecking...or Bald Conquest? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/06/19 4:55 AM)
- In the Balkans, UN and NATO Did the Best They Could (Istvan Simon, USA 01/08/19 3:58 AM)
- Witnessing the UN Peacekeepers, Balkans (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 01/07/19 2:33 PM)
- Life on the Ground as a UN Peacekeeper, Balkans (Brian Blodgett, USA 01/07/19 3:57 AM)
- Was NATO's Kosovo Campaign a Success? From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 01/04/19 4:35 AM)
- Did Putin Use Kosovo to "Justify" Crimea? (Robert Gard, USA 01/04/19 4:15 AM)
- Kosovo and the Kurds: Parallels? (Brian Blodgett, USA 01/02/19 5:07 AM)
- Nationalism and Anti-Semitism: Orwell (John Heelan, UK 01/02/19 4:30 AM)
- How Did the Cuban Regime Survive? From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 01/01/19 4:43 AM)
- Why Did NATO Intervene in Kosovo? From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 12/31/18 3:52 AM)
- When Two People Fight, Who Should be Helped? Kurdistan, Crimea, Kosovo (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/30/18 4:26 AM)
- Untangling the Kurdish Factions; Abdullah Öcalan of the PKK (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 12/29/18 4:45 AM)
- Gov. Mike O'Callaghan, Humanitarian (Timothy Brown, USA 01/06/19 4:15 AM)
- Kurds Again; Russia's New Super-Weapon (Timothy Brown, USA 12/29/18 4:16 AM)
- On Hegemony and Imperial Decay (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 01/10/19 4:00 PM)
- China's Scientific Output: "The Economist" (Henry Levin, USA 01/16/19 3:04 AM)
- China's Explosion of Patents: Quality or Quantity? (Henry Levin, USA 01/09/19 4:38 AM)
- Hegemons of 2069 (Brian Blodgett, USA 01/09/19 4:10 AM)
- My Predictions on China: A Correction (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/08/19 10:31 AM)
- China's Multiple Major Challenges (Istvan Simon, USA 01/06/19 12:00 PM)
- Why Is China's Government Smarter than Ours? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/03/19 4:34 AM)
- Thoughts on the Chinese Empire (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/01/19 7:51 AM)
- When Talking about Empires, Why Does China Get a "Pass"? (John Heelan, UK 12/31/18 4:28 AM)
- Erdogan's Turkey and Neo-Ottomanism (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/29/18 3:54 AM)