Sunday, February 16, 2014

How Perfect Anti-American Campaign In Russia Should Look Like

Mr Michael McFaul, outgoing American ambassador in Russia often complained about anti-American campaign waged by state-run Russian media.
I disagree with him as I didn’t see such campaign in Russian media despite random anti-Western bias of some journalists, politicians & most of all Russian people commenting news stories.

Here is my take on hypothetical anti-American campaign how it should look like if it was indeed waged.

It started with a crash, brakes of Michael Hastings car malfunctioned and he suffered terrible death. Suspiciously Feds already were on him, interviewing relatives and friends and in the last moments he was chased by US security forces.

The next day leading Russian newspapers, Izvestia, Kommersant, tabloids MK & KP published front page articles & fiery editorials denouncing hostile to journalists & whistleblowers US regime of President Barack Obama.

Russian media cited sentence to 35 years behind bars of Bradley/Chelsea Manning as proof of inherent hostility of US regime to journalists of Wikileaks and Manning, their source.   

Russian journalists & editors demanded from President Putin’s administration to take actions against US, punishing erring American officials with denial of Russian visas and freezing their assets in Russian banks. it should be called Hastings List.

RBK, Kommersant and other business dailies publish detailed reports on how successive Republican and Democratic administrations with rubber-stamping Congress authorized multitrillion dollar bailouts of Wall Street fatcats and ailing autoindustry, in the process socializing private debts and who knows what bribes American politicians took for such favors.

In weekend shows Russian opposition politicians Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky labeled Obama as thug and his regime as gigantic kleptocracy. Former minister of defence Serdyukov, himself witness in case of budget improprieties under his watch, published tell-all memoirs where he criticized Kremlin but most of all Barack Obama, “who is bad for Americans”.

Same sense of pity & anger pervades Russian news coverage out of US, for example Duck Dynasty sudden demise was widely covered and discontinuation of popular show was widely attributed to the White House and “Obama’s allies” in media.

Obama’s private life ridiculed and pitied in Russian tabloids like Tvoy Den and MK. They published hoary stories about his dark past as gay hustler citing Republican sources in Fox News who knew Obama in youth. His current marital status and why Obamas sleep in different bedrooms also discussed in great detail.  

Outraged Russians post comments to such articles: “Obama is thug, plutocrat, not trustworthy”.

Serious newspapers started writing articles about chilly winds of New Cold War between US & Russia.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Wall Street Journal's instruction on US foreign policy

You don’t read The Wall Street Journal but you’re interested in current thinking of American establishment? You should read this newspaper well known not only for being a mouthpiece of Wall Street fatcats, obnoxious, often filled with untruths and propaganda Op-Ed pages and much better researched news analyses gathered by large corpus of its foreign correspondents.

In the first edition of this year, on January 2, the newspaper published interesting memo, “Global Disorder Scorecard”. It is list of current or anticipated conflicts of 2014, presented with descriptions of antagonists of these conflicts and whom American officials, politicians, journalists should “root for”.

WSJ scorecard photo WSJ.jpg

Here is this scorecard with my commentary

 • In the Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin is threatening and bribing to pull authoritarian Viktor Yanukovych away from Europe and into Moscow’s orbit. Street protestors and the opposition want to join the West with its rule of law and greater democratic transparency.

Whom to root for: The opposition. Without Ukraine, Russia can’t become a new empire, and a democratic victory in Kiev might have a useful demonstration effect in Moscow.

No surprise here, hostility to Russia is very well entrenched in psyche of US elite so WSJ urges readers to route for everything damaging for Moscow.
My comment: Ukrainian protesters are very na├»ve bunch of people, elderly babushkas hope to get 1000 euro a month pension from European Union, youngsters want visa free regime with EU that they can find work there, but I am afraid such dreams won’t be fulfilled in any scenario in foreseeable future. Presently they’re being exploited by not less crookish than Yanukovich opportunistic opposition composed of ex-gas princess Timoshenko, ultranationalists and Jewish circles. Russians naturally support Yanukovich but I have little hope he will use Moscow’s money wisely to break out of vicious circle between bankruptcy and anarchy.

• Thailand used to be one of Southeast Asia’s more stable nations. But the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra is under assault by opposition protestors who refuse to contest new elections and are openly begging for another military coup. The military has stayed neutral but may be tempted.

Root for: The Yingluck government. The opposition Democrat Party last won an election in 1992, and another coup would further destabilize a country that ought to be emerging as a beacon of Asian prosperity.

It’s only surprise for me as US before supported Thai royalist cliques, Bangkok middle class in form of Thai Democrats party and Thai military which ruled the country with short breaks since 1932.
Contrary I have been supporter of populist Thaksin policies since he was in office, he seemed to me visionary leader albeit flamboyant and immodest. Thailand lost its privileged position in South East Asia after the end of Vietnam war and now fiercely competes for tourists and investments with neighbors first of all Vietnam and royalist self-destructive antics only hold back the country.  

• China is increasingly assertive in its dispute with Japan over control of the small islands in the East China Sea known as the Senkakus (Diaoyus to the Chinese). With nationalism rising in both countries, especially China, this is the world’s most dangerous flashpoint outside the Middle East.

Root for: Japan, with the caveat that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stop worshiping at the shrine of World War II criminals. The U.S. is treaty-bound to defend Japan if it is attacked, and the best way to deter Chinese aggression is to let Beijing know that it will be resisted by both countries.

I don’t have any priorities here and I suspect American elite also divided in sympathies to US two largest foreign creditors.

• South Sudan, a new nation the U.S. helped to midwife over two decades, is descending into civil war. The main causes are personal rivalries and enmity between the Dinka and Nuer tribes over who will benefit from the East African country’s oil riches.

Root for: U.N. peacekeepers. Neither side merits Western support, so the goal should be to protect civilians. Some 12,000 U.N. peacekeepers will patrol land half the size of Western Europe, and they could use U.S. support as the two sides try to kill each other.

Vicious internecine conflicts in Africa will be very much mainstay of violence-addicted TV reporting in 21st century but as it’so far from the Far East I have little knowledge of what’s going on there, who kills whom and why. Still I strongly disagree with American scientific racists (and Francis Fukuyama) who argue that blacks genetically incapable of good governance citing random research of black children adopted in white families.

• North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un eliminated an internal political adversary when he had uncle Jang Song Thaek put to death in early December. But that may not have ended the internal threats to the crazy nephew’s consolidation of power, as the regime’s elites brawl over who gets the cash from their businesses and Western bribes.

Root for: More regime feuding and collapse. No amount of bribery will make the baby-faced despot give up nuclear weapons. The West should keep squeezing the North, denying the money it needs to buy domestic support, and heightening the internal contradictions, as the world’s last Marxists like to say.

North Korea is not far and baby-faced dictator who eliminated relative for not clapping enthusiastically enough on party forums is very scary figure. When I heard news of Jang Song Thaek’s execution by machine gun I said maybe it’s time to apply some calibrated pressure on the regime.

• The Syrian civil war will soon enter its fourth year, with President Bashar Assad and his Iranian protectors making gains against the divided opposition. With President Obama’s refusal to help moderates, and now his de facto alliance with Assad over chemical weapons, the opposition has become a breeding ground for Islamist fighters.

Root for: Some American strategists want a hundred year’s war, but as the conflict goes on the damage escalates. Lebanon is teetering, al Qaeda is spreading from Syria to Iraq, Jordan must cope with nearly a million refugees, and a region-wide Sunni-Shiite war is possible. With the U.S. on the sidelines, the least bad option is that the conflict burns itself out. Perhaps the country will split into de facto Shiite (Alawite), Sunni and Kurdish enclaves. The worst outcome is a victory for the Assad-Iran-Hezbollah axis.

Putin soon will be part of Shia axis of Russia-Syria-Iran but I hope he will held back as these regimes have nothing in common with Russian Federation. However as Saudi and Qatari funded terrorists continue to strike Russia with impunity I support some help to Damascus and Teheran in order to apply pressure on KSA.

• In Egypt, the military government has banned the Muslim Brotherhood and is rewriting the constitution to enhance its power, but this has bred a domestic terror campaign that may cost thousands of civilian lives.
Root for: An enlightened military leadership. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi views this as a fight for survival with the Brotherhood, and at this stage he’s probably right. The U.S. has squandered whatever influence it had with its inconstancy since the protests began against former strongman Hosni Mubarak. Let’s hope General Sisi leaves enough space for a more normal politics to develop over time and not leave Egyptians to choose only between two kinds of dictatorship—Islamist or military.

Probably Egypt is most terrible disappointment for the West. I don’t have much sympathy for Sisi who sold out to Saudis while clamping down on Muslim Brotherhood but understand he has to feed hungry mobs

• The greatest threat to world peace is Iran’s nuclear program, and President Obama seems determined to strike a diplomatic deal in the New Year that will let Iran retain much of its nuclear capacity and even to keep enriching uranium.
Root for: Political intervention from a bipartisan majority in Congress that opposes any deal short of dismantling Iran’s program and ending its enrichment capacity. It probably won’t happen as the White House pressures Senate Democrats to bend, but it’s the last hope other than Israeli military action for stopping the Iranian bomb.

I don’t have any trust in US Congress and even less in Iranian ayatollahs but I think US and Iran should civilize their rocky relationship and heal the past traumas. Threat to Israel from Iran is greatly exaggerated.

What is missing in this scorecard?

First of all Russia herself. WSJ probably rooted for ultranationalist Navalny but Bolotnaya protests dissipated.

Bangladesh. US hostility to Hasina became muted as American interest in the region has waned.

Iraq which became battleground for Iran who dominate Maliki’s regime and Iraqi Al-Qaeda financed by Saudi Arabia (just other day Maliki claimed he has evidence of $150 mln Saudis gave to one group).

Overall Wall Street Journal's scorecard is comic-book style with cartoonish black and white good guys vs bad guys that is why American foreign policy often than not faces fiasco around the world.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Devyani controversy and what it says about India's foreign policy

I don't like writing just for the sake of writing and thank god have no need  to attract visitors to my blog all the time to get traffic for ads. I write only if I have something interesting  to say on certain subject, to argue with some point of view, to comment on outrageous articles and so on. Usually I'm content with posting short comments in my twitter feed @FarEasterner  and I open my blog just to express in length fresh ideas.

A case of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade arrested and strip searched in New York attracted my attention immediately after arrest happened and I raised alarm in my twitter. Thankfully I was not alone who felt  humiliated by treatment of Indian diplomat, my tweets pressurizing UPA government to take retaliatory actions  against US were retweeted 100s times.

India took largely symbolic steps which brought about partial satisfaction today as Devyani was declared persona non grata by US and thrown out of the country. She was expected to arrive in New Delhi few hours ago late Friday.

Devyani case in nutshell is very simple and mundane, about domestic dispute between employer and servant. Publicity-seeking New York attorney Preet Bharara gave a touch of originated overseas  vicious intra-Indian affairI spilling over US noble shores. If US didn't take rude and unnecessary step of arresting and strip-searching Devyani there would not be public outcry in India and no damage to important bilateral relations would be done.

Observers, commentators and indeed public on both sides of the story had their say and covered all aspects of the case, including personas of Devyani Khobragade, Sangeeta Richard, her maid, South Manhattan attorney Preet Bharara & US/Indian diplomats, politicians who took active part in mutual recriminations.

My questions regarding the case concern with character of India's foreign policy and extent of damage done to US-India relations by the affair and what it means for the world.

Let's start with Indian foreign policy which dissatisfied many Indians who think it's too shy, too toothless, too pliable to concerns and wishes of more powerful players in the world, Indian policy seem to them as weak, not assertive and unsuitable for the great power which India strives to be.

 I'd disagree with such opinions of ultrapatriotic Indians because I believe that India has independent foreign policy based on her perceived national interests. Often it seems reluctant, parochial & short-sighted, even arrogant in relation to smaller neighbors (and I harshly criticized Indian diplomats in the past), nevertheless it's independent.

That's why I disagreed with charges made by Prakash Karat & Communist comrades as well as by some in BJP like Yashwant Sinha that Manmohan Singh' government sold out to America on much-touted nuclear deal. I thought the deal itself was nothing to worry about, India wishes to have more electricity to fuel economic growth, what's the problem. Of course, both US/India sides read too much into it, tasting newly found bonhomie but I knew from my experience with Indians that Manmohan Singh government is not sold out to US, and maintains independent foreign policy inherited since Nehru's non-alignment  movement.

Indians always seem to me very nationalistic, not in a sense of "India for Indians" but in patriotic sense, and legacy of long rule by foreigners, first Muslim emperors, then British colonizers is sitting firmly in Indian public memory shaping and determining the country's foreign policy.

Indians are very tolerant, welcoming, easy-going people but they will not tolerate insults to national pride from anybody, be it Russia, US or China and unfortunately for  Western strategists who cherished dream of turning India into cat's paw in South Asia it was clumsy Washington who put foot on Indian pride first like elephant in china shop. Former undersecretary PJ Crowely admitted this, citing bureaucratic and diplomatic negligence behind Devyani's mistreatment for minor crime.

So what will be consequences for India-US relations after Devyani incident? I think they will be two-fold, on practical side I don't see any immediate negative effects, because it's initially was diplomatic brawl, however mutual trust & nuclear deal bonhomie evaporated in the process of strip-searching Devyani by US marshals. Public and press on both sides feel other side was confrontational and it's not going to change in near future. Considering Obama's preoccupation with Snowden scandal it seems unlikely he will launch new far-reaching initiatives with indian lame-duck government. Expected victory of Narendra Modi who was repeatedly denied US visa will make things worse.

As Washington Post said today in editorial rosy view of India-US relations was shattered by Devyani affair.  Maybe crisis in bilateral relations happened timely as both sides and first of all Western media need to be realists, not propagandists, replacing sober assessment  with rosy views and wishful thinking.