NY Times Book Review: ‘Thieves of State,’ by Sarah Chayes


February 23, 2015

Sunday Book Review

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/books/review/thieves-of-state-by-sarah-chayes.html?ref=books

‘Thieves of State,’ by Sarah Chayes

Chayes’s “Thieves of State” makes a strong case that acute corruption causes not only social breakdown but also violent extremism. She calls this a “basic fact,” showing that where there is poor governance — specifically, no appeal to the rule of law and no protected right of property — people begin a search for spiritual purity that puts them on a path to radicalization.

Thieves of State_978-0-393-23946-1

Across much of the world, populations suffer daily shakedowns by the police. At roadblocks, market stalls and entrances to government buildings, thugs in uniform gather “like spear fishermen hunting trout in a narrows,” as Sarah Chayes writes. But that isn’t the half of it. Globally, the three most important desiderata of our age — security, resilience and poverty reduction — are consistently being hollowed out by structural theft on a much larger scale, operating across corporations, governments, military establishments and civil services.

One key reason the United States and its allies have struggled to establish sustainable democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq is that the governments of those countries are mired in graft, caught in a mafia-like system in which money flows upward. The same goes for parts of Africa and Asia, and most of the former Soviet Union. The tenure of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, is being defined by his war on corruption, and in December President Hassan Rouhani of Iran spoke out against corruption there.

Chayes’s “Thieves of State” makes a strong case that acute corruption causes not only social breakdown but also violent extremism. She calls this a “basic fact,” showing that where there is poor governance — specifically, no appeal to the rule of law and no protected right of property — people begin a search for spiritual purity that puts them on a path to radicalization.

In a limited sense, this is Chayes’s own story too: A former reporter for NPR in AlgeriaSarah Chayes and Afghanistan, she abandoned journalism to work for a nongovernmental organization in Kandahar, then was a social entrepreneur there on her own account, finally becoming an adviser on corruption to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff. She (right) is now a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Her personal narrative is even more complicated than any summary might suggest. In 2001, Chayes helped found a charity “of unclear mission,” run by President Hamid Karzai’s Baltimore-based elder brother, Qayum, about whom she has this to say: “Not for years would I begin systematically comparing his seductively incisive words with his deeds. Welded to his brother’s interests, he behaved in ways that contradicted his language so starkly that for a long time I had difficulty processing the inconsistency.”

KarzaiElsewhere “those brothers” (there are six besides Hamid Karzai himself) are characterized as “self-serving,” with the younger half-brother Ahmed Wali singled out as someone “who stole land, imprisoned people for ransom, appointed key public officials, ran vast drug trafficking networks and private militias, and wielded ISAF like a weapon against people who stood up to him.” This, mind you, was also someone at whose house Chayes had dinner one night in 2003, in the course of which she watched C.I.A. officers “hand him a tinfoil-wrapped package of bills.”

Her experience corroborates an October 27, 2009, report in The New York Times,John Kerrry which stated that Ahmed Wali Karzai was on the C.I.A. payroll. It also prompts one to wonder at Senator John Kerry’s response at the time. “We should not condemn Ahmed Wali Karzai or damage our critical relations with his brother, President Karzai, on the basis of newspaper articles or rumors,” he said.

Ahmed Wali Karzai was assassinated by a police official and longtime confidant on July 12, 2011. About six years before that, Chayes severed her own relationship with the Karzais. After leaving for a few months, she returned to Kandahar in May 2005 with a project that, on the surface, could never smell of corruption and intrigue.

Armed with an oil press and $25,000 from Oprah Winfrey, she set up a cooperative producing scented soap and beauty products, taking advantage of Afghanistan’s horticultural riches. But she soon found that even this innocuous activity put her on the sharp end of corruption, as she tried to do simple things like deposit money in a bank without paying a bribe for the privilege of doing so. So she began, in an amateurish way, to develop ideas for limiting corruption in places like Afghanistan.

Very quickly, the amateur became professional. Chayes was soon called upon by NATO and ISAF to give expert briefings with a focus on anti-corruption measures. “ ‘Sally the Soap-Maker Gives an Ops Brief’ was how I jokingly came to refer to my main presentation,” she writes. This led to a job with ISAF, and then another as special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, flitting between Washington and Kabul as the United States laboriously and somewhat unwillingly developed an anti-corruption strategy for Afghanistan.

Any such strategy was bound to conflict with political and military exigencies, which presumably explains Kerry’s response to the report in The Times. But Chayes’s Afghan interlocutors told her again and again that poor governance was actually what was perpetuating the conflict, with graft generating disenchantment and driving people toward the Taliban. “Western officials,” she writes, “habitually flipped the sequence: First let’s establish security, then we can worry about governance.”

Ordinary Afghans, meanwhile, took Western inaction on corruption as approval. Aid just added to the problem, in Chayes’s view: “Development resources passed through a corrupt system not only reinforced that system by helping to fund it but also inflamed the feelings of injustice that were driving people toward the insurgency.”

Chayes refers to the body of medieval and Renaissance advice literature known as “Mirrors for Princes” to contextualize current abuses of government. She begins with the most famous mirror of all, Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” but it is lesser-known figures like William of Pagula and John of Salisbury who give her the most ammunition. She also uses the “Siyasat Nameh” — the “Book of Politics” — of the 11th-century Persian administrator Nizam al-Mulk.

Among the counsels that Nizam al-Mulk gave his sultan was: Listen to the griev­ances of your subjects directly, without intermediaries. Chayes argues that the ­voices of a majority of Afghans are drowned out by the Taliban on one side and by the Karzai government on the other. ISAF, she says, listened only to the government.

Many of the other countries Chayes brings into this chatty study (“John of Salisbury, as usual, nailed it”) show similar patterns. In each case, there are slightly different “variations on a theme,” as she has it, ranging from the military-­kleptocratic complex (Egypt) to the bureaucratic kleptocracy (Tunisia), the post-Soviet kleptocratic autocracy (Uzbekistan) and the resource kleptocracy (Nigeria). In her epilogue, titled “Self-­Reflection,” Chayes also discusses Western countries and the global financial crisis of 2008.

This is an important book that should be required reading for officials in foreign service, and for those working in commerce or the military. The story will interest the nonspecialist reader too, though the balance of exciting narrative, academic discourse and policy-wonk-speak will unsettle some. Indeed, Chayes touches on how language itself becomes corrupt. The standard terminology of military and diplomatic engagement (and much corporate rhetoric) is often evasive, with usage reflecting differences in value systems — as when assassination by drone is described as “targeted killing.”

While I am in full agreement with what Chayes says, I found her own prose style raising my hackles on occasion, with its effortful interpolations of color (“the legendary but painfully dilapidated blue and white Mediterranean port city of Algiers”), verbs on steroids (“I wheeled and strode over to our battered red pickup truck, clambered aboard, and roared off to the bank”), and its chapters that begin with such sentences as “Wait a second.” I did, but I wish she had.

Giles Foden is the author of “The Last King of Scotland.”

Malaysia, Singapore and two views on the last 50 years


February 19, 2015

Malaysia, Singapore and two views on the last 50 years

Bilahari-Kausikan-Singapore2by Bilahari Kausikan For The Straits Times

A new book fails to give due weight to the cooperative aspect of bilateral ties, says the writer.

I have known Tan Sri Kadir Mohamad, the former KSU (the equivalent of our Permanent Secretary) of Wisma Putra, for more than 30 years. We first met in 1984 when he was the Deputy Chief of mission at the Malaysian Embassy in Washington, DC and I was a newly minted First Secretary at our embassy.

In the subsequent decades our paths often crossed – the world of Kadir's BookSouth-east Asian diplomacy is not large and Malaysia is our closest neighbour – and on occasion I worked with him in ASEAN and on some bilateral matters. So when I heard that he had written a book on Malaysia-Singapore relations, I hastened to procure a copy.

The content was as I expected: a very journeyman-like effort. There were no significant errors of fact on bilateral issues that I could detect. Mr Kadir is nothing if not a consummate professional, and contrary to popular belief, good diplomats of every country generally tell the truth and stick to the facts, although there is no obligation to always tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Bilahari's ST article Malaysia and Singapore: Two Systems, One World

In any case, all the most important facts have long been placed in the public domain, mainly by Singapore in answers to parliamentary questions or by the release of documents on water talks more than a decade ago. A reader expecting dramatic new revelations will be disappointed.

Mr Kadir’s interpretations of the facts are of course different from the interpretations that I or other Singapore diplomats would have placed on the same facts. But that is only to be expected, and I am not inclined to quibble with him.

A different interpretation cannot change the most important fact of all: On almost every bilateral issue the book deals with – water, Pedra Blanca, the bridge and land reclamation – the outcome was not one that Malaysia had set out to achieve.

Diplomats try to promote their countries’ interests. So it is entirely understandable that in the twilight of his career, a distinguished Malaysian diplomat would want to place his version of events on the record and vent a little. It would be churlish to deny him even this satisfaction.

I will only take issue with his conclusion, encapsulated in the title of his book and the thread running through it, that it has been “Fifty Years Of Contentions”. Of course, Malaysian and Singapore interests often clashed. Relations between neighbours are always more complicated than relations between distant countries. But the interests of our countries have at least as often coincided.

Diplomacy is not, or at least ought not to be, a zero-sum game. Nor should any one aspect of any relationship be allowed to colour the entire relationship.

Although we contended over bilateral matters, Malaysia and Singapore have simultaneously worked together very well on other issues, for example as we did in ASEAN and the United Nations during the decade-long struggle in the 1980s – which coincided with some tense episodes in bilateral relations – to prevent a fait accompli in Vietnamese-occupied Cambodia. We still cooperate closely in ASEAN.

And even when the outcome of bilateral contentions was in Singapore’s favour, Malaysian interests were not irrevocably hurt. The 2010 agreement on the implementation of the 1990 Points of Agreement on railway land was beneficial to both countries. Malaysia still buys cheap processed water from Singapore.

After 18 years, Kadir’s search for letter still goes onMr Kadir’s failure to give sufficient recognition to the cooperative aspect of bilateral relations is, I think, due to the over-emphasis he places on what he describes as Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s “baggage full of bitterness and a heart filled with anger” over Separation. He describes his book as “…the story of how one man dictated the form and substance of relations…”

Separation was of course a traumatic event for both countries that did indeed shape and set in motion the essential dynamic of Malaysia-Singapore relations. But not in the way Mr Kadir thinks it did.

He places far too much emphasis on the personal element. It is undeniable that Mr Lee was a dominant personality in Singapore politics and policy making for many years. But I suspect that in trying to understand Singapore, Mr Kadir looked in a Malaysian mirror and saw Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Both were dominant personalities in the government and politics of their respective countries but not in entirely the same way. Far more than Dr Mahathir, Mr Lee worked within and respected the Cabinet system. Mr Lee was acutely aware that any agreement he reached with Malaysia had to outlast his tenure in political office and even his lifetime and therefore sought collective agreement.

By contrast, even after he retired as Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir attempted to influence the way his successors dealt with Singapore on bilateral issues when he did not agree with them. Many Malaysians certainly believe he tries to influence Malaysian domestic politics and policies to this day.

And the metaphor of “baggage” used by Mr Kadir and others is a singularly inappropriate – and simplistic – way to try to understand the complex dynamic of bilateral relations set in motion by Separation. “Baggage” connotes something that is carried by an individual or a group of individuals and which can be jettisoned or changed if necessary. The implication is that if this does not occur, it is only because those individuals are unwilling to do so or have been prevented from doing so. And Mr Kadir argues, or at least strongly implies, that this was what in fact Mr Lee did.

But the reason for Separation, or rather the reason why, as Mr Kadir bluntly and perhaps less euphemistically argues in his first chapter, “it was necessary to expel Singapore” goes far beyond individual personalities.

Singapore is organised on the basis of multiracial meritocracy. Malaysia is organised on the principle, politely described in Article 153 of its Constitution as “the special position of the Malays”, but more popularly and politically potently understood as “Ketuanan Melayu”.

Time has eased the sharp edges of Separation, and time will certainly ease them further. But it is difficult to conceive of either Singapore or Malaysia discarding their respective fundamental organising principles. They are embedded in our societies and political systems, not by the will or whim of any individual, however powerful, but by the collective choice of the majority in both countries.

There are of course Singaporeans who do not agree with the Government and some do not like Mr Lee. Some Singaporeans may well already have only the vaguest of notions of who Mr Lee is and what he has done. But I have yet to meet any serious-minded Singaporean who really wants to abandon our fundamental organising principle and adopt something akin to the Malaysian system.

Nor can I imagine Article 153 of the Malaysian Constitution ever being repealed. We may have been once one country, but are now and for evermore two countries. The existential tension between two countries organised on fundamentally irreconcilable political principles that defines the dynamic of Malaysia-Singapore relations is not going to go away and so must be managed and is being managed.

Once this is understood, a balanced and holistic view of Malaysia-Singapore relations becomes possible. It is a relationship based, like every other interstate relationship throughout history, on national interests, some of which will converge and some of which will diverge.

The complications in Malaysia-Singapore relations are the inevitable ones of proximity and an entangled history. They have some special characteristics, but that is in general not particularly unusual between neighbours anywhere. Every close relationship has its own special characteristics.

It is the purpose of diplomacy to broaden the area of convergence between national interests whenever possible and manage the tensions when interests diverge. That Singapore and Malaysian diplomats – Mr Kadir included – have succeeded in doing so at least as often as we have failed should not be overlooked.

Even if Mr Kadir is right that “the bitterness and anger towards Malaysian leaders that engulfed Lee Kuan Yew on 9 August 1965 … remains with him until this day” – and I think Mr Kadir is profoundly mistaken, entirely misreads Mr Lee, and may well be unconsciously projecting some of his own attitudes onto him – it did not prevent Mr Lee from concluding what was, until the 2010 railway land agreement, the most important Malaysia-Singapore agreement: The 1990 Linggiu Dam agreement.

In his speech at the launch of Mr Kadir’s book, former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi cut to the core when he said Malaysia cannot blame Singapore entirely for bilateral problems, but “… must also look at ourselves in the mirror”. Good advice.

The writer, a former Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, is now ambassador-at-large.

– See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/opinion/invitation/story/malaysia-singapore-and-two-views-the-last-50-years-20150218#sthash.CFPsvDRx.dpuf

Note: Tan Sri Kadir Mohamad’s book should be read along with Dr. Lily Zubaidah Rahim’s Singapore in the Malay World: Building and breaching regional bridges (New York: Routledge,2010) and Dr. Michael Leifer, Singapore’s Foreign Policy: Coping with Vulnerability  (London: Routledge, 2010).

 

Book Review: ‘Huck Finn’s America’ by Andrew Levy


February 16, 2015

BOOKS of the Times

Fresh Terrain in Huck’s Adventure

‘Huck Finn’s America’ by Andrew Levy

Reviewed by

mark_twain2Mark Twain

The famous preface to “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” reads like a goad: “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”

No book is as regularly ransacked. Bowdlerized, when not outright banned, from the moment of its publication in 1884, it has been read like a rune and interrogated for its embodiment of American anxieties about race and freedom and language, the call of the open road (or river). “The brilliance of ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ ” Toni Morrison wrote, “is that it is the argument it raises.”

In “Huck Finn’s America,” a capacious, companionable study of the novel, some 20 years in the making, Andrew Levy allows that, “One doesn’t say anything new about Huck Finn — a fact that, in itself, is not even a new thing to observe.” But in sifting through the scholarship, he discovers contemporary readers might have been misconstruing the book. We understand “Huck Finn” as a story for children and also a serious book about race. But in Mark Twain’s time, it was the other way around: The novel was regarded as lighthearted minstrelsy that contained a pointed and controversial critique of how childhood was being debated.

“The current fight over ‘Huck Finn’ is most recognizably a fight over the ‘n-word,’ ” — which appears more than 200 times in the book — “and whether or not the book ought to appear in secondary school Andrew Levyclassrooms,” Mr. Levy, an English Professor at Butler University, writes. But in the 1880s, another noisy public discussion reigned.

Children were being conceived of as a social class for the first time. Public playgrounds and pediatricians had started appearing. The number of public schools increased, and compulsory attendance came to be enforced. There were battles over corporal punishment and whether dime novels (the video games of their day) were a dangerous influence. With “Huck Finn,” Twain “was contributing something more than a lighthearted ‘boy’s book,’ ” Mr. Levy writes. “He was thinking and speaking about literacy, popular culture, compulsory education, juvenile delinquency, at risk children and the different ways we raise boys from girls, and rich from poor.”

Debates about race simmered at the time, too — Reconstruction began collapsing in those years — but Mr. Levy says Twain was less central to that conversation. “He was somewhere nearby, ingenious, outraged, self-interested, vastly more interested in how many Americans play with race than in how they rise above it, or render its terms obsolete at the ballot box.”

Twain began composing “Huck Finn” in the summer of 1876, Mr. Levy writes, in a “little octagonal study filled with cats” in Elmira, N.Y. Life seeped into the writing; Twain’s small daughter Susy, a terrific liar and a terrible speller, acted as partial model for Huck, and the book’s central plot derived from a real incident. A friend of Twain’s once found a fugitive slave hiding out on an abandoned island and tried, and failed, to help him. The slave was caught, mutilated and murdered.

Mr. Levy shows that much of the violence in the book, abhorred by critics at the time, was ripped from life. Twain’s childhood was filled with gothic horrors — he watched his father’s autopsy through a keyhole — and the newspapers of the day served up a steady fare of thrilling savagery. “I have to have my regular suicide before breakfast, like a cocktail, and my side-dish of murder in the first degree for a relish and my savory assassination to top off while I pick my teeth and smoke,” Twain wrote.

The papers at the time were especially excited by a new menace: feral boys, “made morbid by the habit of reading,” an editorial cautioned. “Victims as well as the patrons of the literature of crime.”

One of the most sensational stories of the day bore some resemblance to “Huck Finn”: the case of William Berner, the “boy murderer” of Cincinnati, who, with an accomplice, an older black man named Joe Palmer, robbed and killed their employer with so many different methods that multiple counts of murder were issued. Riots followed the trial, and editorials blamed another black man for inciting the violence, suggesting that, as with the “boy murderer” case, black men “seemed to open the gates to civil unrest, just or criminal. And boys, especially white ones, were always ready to rush through.”

Reformers began calling for more public schools, which gave rise to a fresh set of worries (all of them very familiar). Was the family being supplanted by schools and media? Was the new education system breeding pampered narcissists?

Huckleberry FinnThe Book I read when I was a School Boy –DDM

At the time, taking children’s stories seriously — by “writing about children as children alone meant taking sides with the reformers,” Mr. Levy writes. But Twain’s fictional children were victims and villains, sanctified by their unruliness, blasphemy and self-sufficiency — and openly contemptuous of becoming “sivilized,” as Huck might say, let alone suffering the indignities of standardized education.

Mr. Levy is excellent on Twain, on his drawl, his gait, his evolution on race matters — from youthful racism to passionate believer in the reparations owed former slaves — and even better on his contradictions. Twain, Mr. Levy reminds us, a friend to Frederick Douglass and benefactor of black college students, also commissioned the grotesque drawings of Jim for the novel and had a cheerfully proprietary relationship with black culture. “He saw that you could play with race: you could produce blackness. And you could make money-making blackness.”

The novel, though, too often feels like a shadowy presence in Mr. Levy’s book. We don’t get nearly enough of the text, which creates a curious distance — as if a doctor were examining a patient from the next room. Without the story closer at hand, Mr. Levy seems to pronounce and exalt rather than to delve and persuade. He repeats himself; chapters eddy instead of build.

But Mr. Levy lands his crucial point with feeling. The book, though familiarly cast as a fable about youth or racial progress, is, in fact, a brutal story about vulnerability, abuse and violence (some 13 bodies are very imaginatively dispatched) and a more deeply conflicted book about race than most readers realize. “These two mistakes are really twins of one mistake,” Mr. Levy has said in an interview. “Both signify that we, as Americans, are too easily convinced that we are moving forward when sometimes we are moving in circles.”

It’s peculiarly American amnesia, he says, a way of forgetting built into the very architecture of “Huck Finn.” In the sourest happy ending in literature, Huck learns from Jim that the brutal father he has been running from was long dead, that he has essentially been moving in circles. His last words to us are bitter, “I been there before.”

 

Malaysia-Singapore: 50 Years of Contentious and Prickly Relations


February 3, 2014

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BOOK REVIEW

by Din Merican

Malaysia-Singapore: 50 Years of Contentions, 1965-2015 by Kadir Mohamad

Kadir Mohamed's book2

I just completed reading Ambassador (Tan Sri) Kadir Mohamad’s Malaysia Singapore Fifty Years of Contentions, 1965-2015. By presenting his thoughts and views in the form of an excellent book, Ambassador Kadir, who was Secretary-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Wisma Putra) and Special Foreign Affairs Adviser to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, joins a select group of former Malaysian diplomats like Tun Ghazalie Shafie, Kamil Jaafar and Razali Ismail ,among others, who have shared their experiences with us. It is heartening to note that our public officials are making their contribution to our collective memory of Malaysian history since Independence.

His book is a timely contribution on the history of Malaysia-Singapore relations. In my view he is the first among them to deal in such great detail with the contentious and prickly relations between the neighbours since the republic’s “expulsion” (Kadir makes no apologies for using this word to describe what happened ) on August 9, 1965 from Malaysia. It is a serious book for the discerning student of foreign policy and international relations. It is not a memoir nor a ” last dispatch” of sorts that one encounters from some  recent writers on the subject.

Ambassador Kadir has “relied heavily on historical records, the works of other authors and contemporary writings by scholars and other public commentators for the facts”. His personal recollections and copious notes and other materials have also been employed to add value and excitement to the drama of diplomatic encounters on numerous issues  (in seven chapters) between Malaysia and Singapore over the last five decades.

Lee-Kuan-Yew

In Chapter 8, the author gives us credible evidence of how Lee Kuan Yew single-handedly prescribed Singapore’s policies towards Malaysia, even after he relinquished his premiership to Goh Chok Tong in 1990. In his role as Senior Minister and later as Minister Mentor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr. Lee, the micro-manager of Singapore, was able to exert strong influence on Singapore’s foreign, economic and social  policies. Singapore’s Cabinet served as his proxy, says Ambassador Kadir.

Even after his retirement following the 2011 General Elections, his  personality, political dexterity, intellectual brilliance and moral authority (after all, he is a Philosopher-King and Confucian Mandarin) loom large over the blue skies of Singapore.  Here is an amazing Mr. Singapore, a view shared by his admirers and detractors.

Throughout the book on bilateral issues, Mr. Lee’s statecraft is present.

“Singapore negotiators in the past always had Lee Kuan Yew looking over their shoulders like a taskmaster; and they had to prove themselves constantly in the eyes of the taskmaster….Lee Kuan Yew is absolutely one of a kind.”

I wish to add that Mr. Lee taught Singaporean ministers and negotiators how to conduct “Janus faced diplomacy” (Lily Zubaidah Rahim), and to quote Ambassador Kadir again,” in which the business of foreign relations is conducted without sentiment, ideology or illusion, particularly where it concerns  Singapore’s security. That was the way it was in the last 50 years”.

The book by Ambassador Kadir then goes on to support this thesis with Malaysia Singapore relations  from 1965-2015 as a case study. In Chapter 2, Kadir tells us of the acrimonious discussions between the Malaysians and Singaporeans on Water that went on over several years till 2004 without any agreement.

A large part of reason of the failure to reach agreement until today was Lee Kuan Yew’s intervention in the negotiation process between 2000 and 2002. The water issue remains a national sore point in Malaysia”.

There is a perception here in Kuala Lumpur that the Republic is raking enormous money by selling treated water to third parties, namely to ships berthed in Singapore harbour. The 1961 Agreement expired in 2011,while two other agreements are in force until 2061. Let us hope by then, we in Johor and Malaysia can get an equitable deal for our water.

Bilateral negotiations on the status of Pulau Batu Puteh (Pedra Branca), as discussed in Chapter 3, made no progress during 1993 and 1994. The talks stalled when Singapore opted to adopt Mr. Lee’s preference for the dispute to be settled by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague. The matter was finally adjudicated by the ICJ in 2008 in favour of Singapore, after some 18 years. It was, however, not a unanimous decision. This point was not known to the Malaysian public. Only 12 out 16 judges voted in favour of the decision.

In the case of Middle Rocks, 15 to 1 judges ruled in Malaysia’s favour. The ownership of South Ledge will be made after a delimitation of the territorial sea in the area surrounding Pulau Batu Puteh/Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks, and South Ledge.

Chapter Four  deals with Points of Agreement. The issue was finally settled in 2011 by the Najib Administration. Finally, Mr. Lee was able to get KTMB to move to Woodlands and the Malaysian keris was finally removed from the heart of Singapore. This was because some commercial deals deemed favorable to both countries were made by Khazanah Nasional (Malaysia) and Temasek Holdings with some details yet to be finalized.

Another issue, raised in Chapter Five, was very difficult  which  was resolved by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi when the construction of the crooked bridge to replace the Causeway across the Straits of Johore was aborted, much to the consternation of former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamed.Chapter 6 deals with Singapore’s Land Reclamation Project. It was the first time Malaysia took Singapore to international arbitration and got a judgment that in general was in its favour.

Chapter 7  deals with the Defence of Singapore. It makes a very interesting read on military strategy and security. It is Mr. Lee’s real legacy. How valid are his assumptions about its neighbours in South East Asia, especially Malaysia, in  the 21 century? Both countries are members of ASEAN and are bound by the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. Both have chosen in 50 years of their prickly and often contentious relations to resolve their differences through diplomacy and peaceful means. Surely, there must be better times ahead for Malaysians and Singaporeans.

I agree with Ambassador Kadir that Malayia is not a threat to Singapore’s security. So he rightly says:

” Indeed, Singapore need not be thinking like Israel because Singapore is not in the same situation as Israel. Israel has experienced actual military attack from outside while Singapore has not. Except for a few irrational acts of selective sabotage during Konfontasi, no country  has ever mounted a military attack against Singapore. A large part of the lingering problem is the teaching by Lee Kuan Yew that Singapore should never trust its neighbours. Such distrusting mind-set tends to imagine enemies everywhere and perceive threats where none exists.”

In the final chapter titled The Next Fifty Years, Ambassador Kadir isAfter 18 years, Kadir’s search for letter still goes on optimistic about our relations with Singapore. And why not? A new generation of leaders on both sides to the Causeway have taken over from their elders who fought colonialism, survived the two World Wars, gained independence and withstood the Cold War. These young leaders have new lenses on bilateral relations. Bitterness of the past should now be behind us.

Yes, Ambassador Kadir, as you say,

“…the logic for neighbouring countries is quite simple that they must cooperate. They can progress better by cooperating with each other instead of hindering one another. In fact, for Malaysia and Singapore the fundamentals already exist for establishing a new era of beneficial cooperation between themselves… Such cooperation is possible even if differences of opinion and approach continue to persist in some areas.”

In other words, let us put end to  50 years of contentious and prickly relations.

On Taib Mahmud and The Rape of Sarawak


January 25, 2015

Taib Mahmud: Money Logging and The Rape of Sarawak

http://sarawakheadhunter.blogspot.com/2015/01/taibs-kleptocracy-money-logging-on.html

Also READ

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/01/150111-borneo-rainforest-environment-conservation-ngbooktalk/

Book Review on Money Logging By Lukas Straumann, Bergli 

A sad tale of the Asian timber mafia and the man who did more than anything to create it, Abdul Taib Mahmud.

On October 3, 2011, a depressed and paranoic former Chief Operating Officer for a San Francisco-based property company called Sakti International named Ross Boyert slipped a plastic bag over his head, taped it tight and suffocated himself to death in a Los Angeles hotel room. He was 61.

But Boyert, however delusional he was when he died, left behind him an explosive legacy – the details of virtually all of the properties owned by Abdul Taib Mahmud, the longest-serving public official in Malaysia.

It is a breathtaking collection according to the documents that Boyert – who was fired by the Taib interests — gave to a crusading journalist named Clare Rewcastle Brown. They show that Taib, through nominees, family members and other subterfuges, is worth in excess of US$21 billion.

Taib and Timber

Taib is not mentioned on the Forbes list of Malaysia’s richest, but if he were, he would be worth almost twice as much as the man listed as richest — Robert Kuok, whose fortune is in property, sugar, palm oil and shipping. He would also be about halfway up the list of the world’s 50 richest billionaires although his name is not mentioned there either.

That is because, according to this book by Lukas Straumann, Taib amassed his entire fortune illegally, as undoubtedly a handful of others have around the world that remains hidden. Nonetheless, according to Boyert’s documents and the research by Rewcastle Brown and Straumann, he is an engine of corruption the likes of which the world has never seen.

Taib built his real estate empire in Canada, the United States, Australia and the East Malaysia state of Sarawak on timber. In the process, in his 33 years as Chief Minister, he staged some of the most depressing environmental destruction on the planet. An estimated 98 percent of the old-growth timber of Sarawak, a state three times the size of Switzerland, is gone, sold via timber permits to logging companies, many of them connected to him, that shipped the logs to Japan, China and across much of the rest of the world.

Using the documents furnished by Rewcastle Brown, and with considerable additional reporting, the story of Taib’s looting of Sarawak is told by Straumann, the Director of the Basel-headquartered Bruno Manser Fund, an NGO named for a Swiss naturalist who fought to save the indigenous Penan tribe from the depredations of the loggers’ bulldozers, and who disappeared into the forest in 2000 and has never been found.

Sarawak--Rape of the ForestMassive Deforestation in Sarawak

It is an explosive book. Taib has threatened to sue Amazon if it distributes it. So far, Amazon has backed away from delivering it.

The book, Money Logging: On the Trail of Asia’s Timber Mafia, published by Bergli Books, also of Basel, tells the story of Taib’s rise to power, starting in 1965 as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

By the end of that decade, he would be Sarawak’s richest politician. Today he holds interests in property companies that own prestigious buildings in Seattle, San Francisco, Ottawa, London, Adelaide and in Malaysia itself. The major companies he controls through family members or by proxies, according to Boyert’s documentation, include Sakti International, Wallyson’s Inc., Sakto Group, Citygate International, Ridgeford Properties, Sitehost City and literally scores of smaller ones. He is believed to control more than 100 companies.

One of the most important things about this story is that Taib was first anointed by Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Father of Malaysia and the country’s first Prime Minister. Abdul Rahman was followed in office by five other prime ministers who sat in Kuala Lumpur and later the Putarjaya government complex and did nothing about him.

It was hardly a secret that he was both looting the country and stealing, on a breathtaking scale, the resources that belonged to the Dayak, Murut, Penan and other local tribes that make up the peoples of Sarawak.

Nothing was done about him because he developed a political machine that could deliver votes to the Barisan Nasional, the ruling national coalition in Peninsular Malaysia. Taib is a Muslim. Most of the Sarawak tribes are either Christian or animist. And, to the government across the South China Sea, it would have been unthinkable to have a non-Muslim government leader in charge.

Later, during the current administration of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, it became clear that the Barisan’s very survival depended on Taib and his fellow kleptocrat, Musa Aman, who continues stealing the people of the neighboring state of Sabah blind, although on a smaller scale.

What’s worse is that Taib’s activities in Sarawak, according to the book, spawned a series of giant timber companies including Concord Pacific, Samling, Shin Yang, WTK and Ta Ann Holdings – all of which have received backing from the international banking community including HSBC and others – and have expanded far outside of Malaysia to Cambodia, Australia, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Congo-Brazzaville, Papua New Guinea and just about every other country with less than reputable governments and tropical timber to loot.

“Virtually all of this timber (from Papua New Guinea) was exported to China in the form of logs and other Asian destinations and the trickle-down of wealth in the country itself remained minimal,” Straumann writes. That is true of virtually every country in which the Malaysia-based lumber companies operated.

There is one more sad corollary to this story. As a December. 23, 2014 story in the New York Times about Costa Rica’s rainforests demonstrates, tropical forests will regenerate, and, given the space of time, return to their former state. The forests of Sarawak, if not all of Borneo, once one of the world’s greatest green lungs, will not. Sarawak’s forests are being replaced with oil palm plantations.

Taib has stepped aside as Chief Minister and is now the state’s governor. He ostensibly is under investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission after the Swiss government forwarded allegations to the Malaysians of money-laundering into Swiss banks.

Straussman

“It is up to his successors (as Chief Minister) to correct the state’s course of action and the government’s condescending attitude towards its indigenous peoples,” Straumann writes. “Now, the Malaysian Judiciary and Anti-Corruption authorities need to live up to their responsibility. While it is a good thing that Sarawak’s last ‘White Rajah’ has finally stepped down, he does not belong in the governor’s residence. He belongs in jail.

P.S: That last sentence is sadly unrealistic. Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Commission and the Attorney-General have no intention of doing anything about Abdul Taib Mahmud. He remains far too valuable to the ruling coalition in Putrajaya to keep the state in loyal hands.

On Israel’s George Washington, Ben-Gurion


January 25, 2015

NY Times Sunday Book Review

‘Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel,’ by Anita Shapira

About the Author

Anita ShapiraAnita Shapira is Professor Emerita in Jewish History at Tel Aviv University and founder of the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies. She specializes in the history of Zionism, the Jewish community in Palestine and the state of Israel, with an emphasis on cultural, social and intellectual history. She has published numerous books and articles, among them Berl Katznelson, A Biography of a Socialist Zionist (1984), Land and Power, The Zionist Resort to Force, 1881-1948 (1992), and Yigal Allon, Native Son (2008). Her recent book, Israel: A History, received the National Jewish Book Award for History in 2012. She has received numerous academic and professional awards and fellowships from Israeli and foreign universities, including Yale, Brandeis, City University of New York, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, the Oxford Center for Jewish Studies, Columbia University and others. She is the 2008 Israel Prize for Jewish History laureate. She received her B.A. and M.A., cum laude, and Ph.D., summa cum laude, in History and Jewish History from Tel Aviv University.

Recently, there was something of an ideological fistfight at the grave of Israel’s founding father. During a ceremony at Sde Boker in the Negev desert marking the 41 years since the death of David Ben-Gurion, the former and current presidents of Israel — Shimon Peres and Reuven Rivlin — slammed efforts to pass new legislation to enshrine Israel’s status as a Jewish state, a bill that many critics say will roll back Israel’s status as a democracy and turn the country’s Arabs, who are about 20 percent of the population, into second-class citizens.

The chief sponsor of the so-called Jewish nation-state bill, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sat stewing in the front row. When it was his turn to speak, he said that no one knows what Ben-Gurion would say were he alive today.

Ben-Gurion, born David Green in Plonsk, Poland, in 1886, would probably have been amused by this jockeying over his legacy. In his earlier years he was in a constant struggle to excel and lead amid contemporaries whose pedigrees, education and stature surpassed his. And yet it was he who ultimately succeeded in spearheading the establishment of modern Israel, and who became the country’s first prime minister in 1948.

Short but towering, passionate but reserved, deeply informal and intellectually astute, Ben-Gurion was a study in contradictions. Now, for the first time, an Israeli historian presents a biography that makes the squat man with the Einsteinesque hair easier to read, in large part by looking not just at Ben-Gurion the state-builder, but Ben-Gurion the man.

ShapiraBenGurion“Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel,” by Anita Shapira, a professor emerita at Tel Aviv University, provides what is probably the most intimate yet unflinching portrait to date of a man revered and reviled. Given that Shapira met hazaken or “the old man,” as he came to be known in his later years, when she visited his Sde Boker home, Shapira may be the last truly qualified person to unpack some of the mysteries of Israel’s George Washington.

Ben-Gurion immigrated from Poland to Palestine in 1906 after being introduced to Zionist ideals. “There I found the Palestine I had dreamed about,” he wrote in his memoirs.

But that old-new land was four decades and two world wars away from becoming the internationally recognized state of Israel, and so Ben-Gurion was in and out of Palestine more often than one might imagine. He went to Istanbul in search of a higher education, and spent years going to and from Europe, gathering support at various Zionist congresses, living for periods in London and New York. It was while he was working on a book at the New York Public Library, “The Land of Israel Past and Present,” that he met Paula Munweis — a recent immigrant from Russia who became his wife and the mother of his three children. The price of falling in love with him, she soon realized, was being dragged along with the Zionist project, though she would have preferred to stay in America.

Indeed, some of the book’s revelations about Ben-Gurion’s relationships with the ones dearest to him present a less-than-­flattering image. In his early years, he pressed his father endlessly to send money, but then discouraged him from emigrating to Palestine. Ben-Gurion left Paula and his children for long periods to go abroad. When he wrote letters home, they were impersonal and seemed to be directed not so much to his wife as to posterity. “The warmth and love he had lavished on her in their early years together had dissipated,” Shapira writes. He fulfilled his desire for connections with more cerebral depth by carrying on an intense but probably platonic involvement with the British writer Doris May, and an actual relationship with a woman in New York named Miriam Cohen during World War II. But it was Ben-Gurion’s close friendship with Berl Katznelson, one of the intellectual giants of Labor Zionism (and the subject of an earlier Shapira biography), that sustained him most; Katznelson’s death in 1944 caused Ben-Gurion great grief from which he never fully recovered.

“Ben-Gurion” is at its most relevant when it explores the roots of today’s fractured Israel, leading the reader through the world of Zionism’s prestate politics and Ben-Gurion’s problems over whom to choose as allies — the Turks, the British or the Americans. Constant internecine rivalries flared up between various Zionist groups — whose progeny include today’s Labor and Likud Parties. In particular, the gentlemanly Chaim Weizmann had his own approach to Zionism, which involved quiet talks with men of importance rather than Ben-Gurion’s popular campaign of recruiting world Jewry to push for a state following the horrors of the Holocaust.

“Ben-Gurion’s revolutionary concept seemed to challenge 25 years of Weizmann’s cautious gradualism. . . . Ben-­Gurion turned it into a banner, a symbol of the revolutionary turnabout in Zionist action,” Shapira writes. Weizmann was “a master of one-on-one meetings” with the British and American elite. Ben-Gurion, by contrast, “saw organizing the Jews into an ethnic pressure group that could exert its political and electoral power” as the lever for change.

Among the turning points in which Ben-Gurion exhibited extraordinary if controversial leadership was his work to unite the different Zionist militias into one army after the state was declared — the newly minted Israel Defense Forces.

A right-wing group, Menachem Begin’s Irgun, agreed to relinquish its arms, but then was found to be smuggling more weapons to its men on a ship called the Altalena. In a test of the newborn state’s authority, Ben-Gurion ordered the I.D.F. to shell the boat. It caught fire, killing 14 and wounding 20. “The trauma of Jews firing on Jews — of a vessel bringing arms to Israel being sunk by the I.D.F. — was unforgettable,” Shapira observes.

Some readers may find it hard, as I did, to read Shapira’s brief treatment of the moment in 1948 when the commanders Yigal Allon and Yitzhak Rabin came to Ben-Gurion asking whether to carry out “a large-scale population evacuation.” Rabin reported that Ben-Gurion responded with a wave of the hand, saying “Expel them.” Shapira explains here that while he forbade the evacuation of some areas, like Nazareth, “like most of his ministers, he saw the Arabs’ exodus as a great miracle, one of the most important in that year of miracles, since the presence of a hostile population constituting some 40 percent of the new state’s total populace did not augur well for the future.”

Shapira doesn’t subject this incident to any ethical scrutiny or judgment, reporting it almost matter-of-factly. She does, however, note that given the history of the time — which included moving enormous masses of people across Europe and carrying out huge population transfers as part of the partition that divided Pakistan from India — Ben-Gurion’s decision wasn’t beyond the norm. “The decision not to allow the return of the Arab refugees was accepted as self-evident, and gained broad public support.”

Despite this, Ben-Gurion firmly believed peace was more important than territory: What he wanted was not more land but the ability to maintain an overwhelming Jewish majority in the land he had. That outlook has not prevailed. The fateful policy to settle the West Bank was made largely after he died in 1973. At the time, Shapira says, Israelis were in such turmoil in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war that they hardly noticed his passing.

I last visited Ben-Gurion’s grave in 2012. I was working on a book and looking for a quiet writing retreat before the birth of my second child. I came to appreciate the appeal of the remote place where Ben-Gurion chose to live out his later years.

There, on the edge of a majestic desert precipice, Israel isn’t a country the size of New Jersey constantly struggling for its survival. Rather, it is a place of proud, rugged expanses, a homeland of the reborn Jew comfortable in nature, re-establishing himself in a timeless landscape, neither oppressed nor oppressing. It was this yet unfulfilled promise in the promised land that Ben-Gurion wanted people to contemplate when they took a minute to envision what had been, and what was to come.

Ilene Prusher is a journalist based in Jerusalem and the author of the novel “Baghdad Fixer.”