Monday, January 31, 2011

Afghanistan: no end in sight.

The Kutuzov curse
The Americans and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) Iforces] are fighting a formidable war in Afghanistan, but there is no end or staying power in sight. One ends up questioning why so many lives have been lost, so much money spent, such a quantity of technology applied, to such little avail.
What comes to mind is the tactic that the Russian Generals Kutuzov and Bagration used to lure Napoleon into an ever-expanding spider web, which encouraged the French to overreach. The Taliban follow a similar path, obliging the American and  ISAF forces to adjust to enemy tactics rather than impose their strategy on an elusive enemy.
The Peruvian Nobel Laureate for Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa, not known for being pro-American, now calls Islamic fundamentalism the definitive “enemy”.
 It has been pointed out that this faceless, borderless, metamorphic enemy which pursues a strategy of metastasis worldwide is often immune to “traditional “warfare. In Afghanistan, the US and  ISAF have no alternative but to rely upon a “hit and run” model, supported by high- tech weaponry.  However, advanced technology is no match for a psychological situation where the other camp is addicted to a culture of death.
There is a growing clash at all levels (established government, Afghans, Taliban) between a tribal society, ruled by traditional rules and allegiances and a centralized, rational intervention force.
The Taliban did not “deliver” Osama Bin Laden because the rules of “giving shelter” that apply in that cultural model do not allow such a transgression. There were other motives as well, certainly, but one should not underestimate the “firewall” aspect of ingrained tribal customs.
Is this war “winnable”?  Maybe, but then what? Fundamental Islamism is a fifth column which can no longer be confined to a geographic area. Should we envisage a formula of permanent dispersed warfare that would distract us from our own priorities?
Under the current strategy we will never be able to evict this perverse Hydra from the face of the earth. We know that the ”beast” still feeds mostly in the elusive Bermuda triangle of Afghanistan/Pakistan/India.
 Afghanistan does not represent a homogeneous “ensemble.” Pashtuns, Tajiks, and Uzbeks divide Afghanistan, rather than uniting it, while Pakistan becomes an unreliable ally by the minute .THe US have there a geopolitical interest which is far more important than Afghanistan “an und fur Sich”.
India is a friendly democracy which fears for its own priorities in the region and will not accept living under the cloud of failed states (one nuclear) on its northern border.
Meanwhile China, Russia and the Caucasus look on or  give reluctant minimalist logistic  support to the Americans, without sharing the burden and  cash[ing] in [on] for their lip service.
I  share the belief that the United States has no real vested strategic interest in [the region] Afghanistan, other than to fight terrorism through other means  such as “intelligence” and micro interventions (drones, special forces).
Once the US troops leave, one might expect a wave of political Darwinism, with political, ideological and religious opponents fighting it out amongst themselves in the absence of the “Western Satan.”
The outcome will largely condition [our] policy in the future. [We].The lesson learned from the Iraq debacle is that the enemy you know can be more desirable than an alternative which lurks in the shadow. Besides, those costly interventions “a la carte” are amoral, since other similar situations in broken states, such as Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe, continue to deteriorate in a climate where indifference is fed by greed.
After Saddam, we got an emboldened Iran, its geopolitical power multiplied by two with the weakening of its rival, Iraq. Such miscalculations must be avoided at all cost in the future. The strategy should be to isolate, and only intervene[ in last instance,] with planned timing, economy of means, international support and attention to a timely “finish” (as was the case with the first Iraq war).
This form of containment is not passive. Humanitarian aid, education, and development of infrastructure are goals that are better pursued by the UN, which is not tainted by the burden of an occupant reputation. The US has its own priorities both at home and as  the leader of a multi-polar world.
Overstaying in Kabul is not in America’s interest. Despite America’s [this country’s]  many negatives (a damaged K-12 educational system, an economic model that is penalizing the middle class, to name just two), these are offset by a record number of Nobel Prize winners and creative entrepreneurs. America continues to attract minds. It should pay more attention to winning hearts.
Some commentators predict the end of American supremacy. Newly emerging countries have made extraordinary strides which generate disruptive innovations. China, first of the league, creates uneasiness not only in the West but also amongst its fellow dragons. Let us not forget that while some might dislike the USA, they still want to emulate them, whereas the Chinese are looked upon with envy but there is no love left for Beijing’s “pull model”.
 Meanwhile Beijing is all too happy to see the Americans do the dirty work in Afghanistan, which fits into their own handling of the Muslim minorities in Western China .
 The same goes for the Russian Federation, which faces an Islamic insurgence both at home and in Chechnya, Dagestan and Tajikistan. Moscow wants to stay clear of another engagement in Afghanistan but is fearful of an American debacle. Its support for the Americans comes more from self interest than genuine solidarity.
The added value of the American way of life should never be endangered, as it is today, by following a policy which is more an imposition than a choice. The US has friends, but the US and its [western] allies should not lose oversight of their fundamental interests, which are not rooted in the graveyard of Empires.

The current political crisis in Belgium

The Belgian Agony
Belgium is no longer a failed State. It has entered a  new stage ,a coma which can last for years. Meanwhile what is left of the state   can hardly pay   attention to macro- priorities worldwide.  No overhaul has worked .  Politicians are exhausted while the verdict of the public opinion   ranges from   indifference , to disgust or rage.  Soon a diplomatic and financial “reality – check” might  lead to the conclusion that a modern state , which ranked amongst the most  developed  ,is near its end (in its current form ).
For years Belgium has ignored the structural consequences of globalization , while  becoming  self- obsessed  with its own small-town problems. Turning its back to statesmenship  it embraced  instead the claims of local necessity. Larger unavoidable challenges were   handed over to individuals for whom the next street was the “abroad”. Simultaneously   the country  was  slaughtered by an overdose of infrastructure which had more in common with “porc” than  economic  necessity. The governance became a Babel of competing lilliputian centers of power. The country sank under the weight of the monstruous metastasis which became the” Belgian way”: the solution to every problem resided in the multiplication of its guardians.
Today we  see  how the corpse is  no longer able to absorb and sustain this misguided therapy . The new global necessities, the large intellectual debates which are clouding the future like a gigantic sandstorm  bypass a country which lives barricaded in permanent denial and retro-introspection, oblivious  of the new millennium.
Is there an outcome ? Talking about it under the present circumstances, highlights the problem rather than creating conditions for a sound solution. In the absence of any efficiency  consideration  , the future looks  messy. Belgium is no Tchecoslovakia which opted for a clean divorce. Neither is it Yougoslavia  which  mobilized the attention of the political medics worldwide. Belgium stands, or better,  lies alone , without visitors or doctors. Its antiquated illness does not respond to a contemporary therapy. Soon  it might even disappear from the pages of the Economist.
 One should no longer exclude that Nato or the European Union will sooner or later prefer an alternative to being obliged to function in a self- imposed quarantine ,trying to stay afloat  in this sinking ship. The EU should be spared the contagion of this dysfunctional environment.
The main problem is that there are no takers. The two major partners have no suitors and the capital has sold its soul  to  real estate, rather than bother about quality of life, environmental priorities or immigration. Brussels is too often a perfect example of  “non savoir-faire” and of perverse gerrymandering at all levels. In the absence of takers and therapy, Europe’s “invalid” seems to be doomed to fall victim to its self inflicted necrosis.
 One  can no longer ignore a scenario wherein  Belgium dissolves itself in the EU . The consequential absurdity might be that three ” rotten successor “states  (if one counts Brussels) might end up having to do what they  stubbornly refused , bail each other out.
Paradoxically  Belgium  will look some day like a Paradise lost.

Egypt 01 01 11:The riddle of the Sphinx


The current events in Egypt are creating a quagmire for the United States. They find  themselves  hostage to contradictory readings of the situation.  On one hand they certainly would prefer Mubarak to leave the scene, while being unable to push him off the cliff (as they did with the Shah), on the other hand, time is running out for an uprising that is still a composite of different discontents. If not supported in unambiguous terms, it will surely in no time be hijacked by a more extreme fringe of the  opposition. The foreseeable  regional consequences of such a drastic transformational twist give rise to alarm.
The west is stuck in a triangulation exercise which might be lethal and alienate the street which has been united against Mubarak, rather than being  driven by a single  ideology.
What is at stake is enormous, covering oil supply ,the peace process in the Middle East, the ownership of the canal and, last but not least, the interplay of regional powers such as Iran, Saudi Arabia or the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah. The silence of Israel is deafening. The clumsy analysis that comes out of Washington is totally unconvincing. The American answer ignores the Egyptian clamor (“Away with Mubarak”) and resorts to a tangential tactic (democracy), hence ignoring the cause and interjecting the effect. One cannot follow two opposite strategies without blurring the good with the undesirable.
The Egyptian armed forces are “made in USA” and for the time being they stick to keeping their distance. If this can last or if , on the contrary, engagement with or against the uprising are in the cards remain an unanswered riddle. The President, new Vice President and Prime Minister all come from the army ranks. Supposed  loyalty is to be handled with care and can become a dangerous bet. It is better to confront the short pain, avoid compromising  ideological credibility in the region, than to continue  giving a lukewarm support to an unreliable joker. The longer the wait, the more contagious the crisis might become. Already the containment looks porous. Jordan , Yemen, Lebanon are in the eye of the storm. Egypt’s turmoil might awaken the Sudanese conundrum.
I fully realize that it might look as unfair to burden the USA again with yet a new supplementary  problem, while the Europeans, the Russians, Chinese and other Arab States  take refuge in platonic banalities.  The fact is that Egypt is linked to ”cynical “ US  interests , more than any other country maybe. Washington is partially to blame for its past unconditional support of a regime that was internationally helpful but internally corrupt and rotten to the core.
The United States should distance itself from ownership of this unfolding crisis by means of fast international deliberation and commitment to universal human rights, before others take the lead and divert the events in a direction that can be catastrophic. Mubarak must be pushed to the exit in order to avoid  other “bouncers”, with a different agenda, taking on the job, clearing  the place, and replacing democracy with theology.
The Shiites don’t need a Sunni twin, neither should we stay idle if the Suez Canal were to become  a transit for Islamism rather than for trade.
We are running against time, while others are ready to run against the future. We must support the original aims  if we do not want this consensual revolution to be deprived of its primary message. The   latter is in urgent need of breathing space to stay alive.  Only Mubarak’s immediate demise might give it still room to remain what it was meant to be.