Happy Birthday, America: It is the Fourth of July


July 4, 2015

4th of July

It is The Fourth of July for Americans at home and abroad. As a friend of your country and a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington D.C., I ( and my wife Dr. Kamsiah) extend to you our warmest wishes  and congratulations on your country’s birthday.

Once again, thank you for the generosity and consideration you gave me when I was a graduate student Kamsiah and Din4(1968-1970).  During my time at DC some 40+ years  ago–I visited your beautiful city again with my wife in June, 2013 as a guest of former US Ambassodor to Malaysia John R. Mallot–I witnessed you moan the loss of Martin Luther King and Robert Francis Kennedy and agonise over the loss of American lives in Vietnam.

I admired the manner in which you sought to end that bloody and costly war which destabilised South East Asia and brought untold tragedy and genocide to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodia where I now live and work at the Techo Sen (Hun Sen) School of Government and International Relations, The University of Cambodia in Phnom Penh.

The idea of America is best summed up in these words in Latin e pluribus unum–out of many, one.  These words led me to read Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter’s  delightful and educational book, The Idea that is AMERICA: Keeping Faith with Our Values in a Dangerous World.  Maybe by sheer coincidence, I just finished reading it today. Anne-Marie’s book comes to you with my recommendation.

Adlai StevensonStatesman and Presidential Candidate

In the opening of her concluding chapter (pg.215), Anne-Marie quotes my favorite American Statesman, Presidential Candidate and Diplomat, Adlai Stevenson as follows:

When an American says that he loves his country,  he means not only that he loves the New England hills, the prairies glistenng in the sun, the wide and rising plains, the great mountains, and the sea. He means he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self respect.–Adlai Stevenson

In the opening paragraph of that chapter, Stars to Steer By,  she says in almost Stevensonian fashion, and I quote her: “American patriotism is grounded not only in our love for the values our country stands for–of the idea that is  America, no matter how far short we may fail in practice. It is the idea that knits us together in our vast diversity. It is the idea that our soldiers fought for. It is the idea that all patriotic citizens stand for, even against our own government. And it is an idea that ultimately belongs to all the world’s peoples.”

James Balwin and Msrtin Luther KingJames Baldwin with Dr. King

Grandiose indeed. But inspirational. And yes, the idea is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights of the United of America. Anne-Marie also quotes my favorite African-American novelist who said: “I love America more than any other country in this world; and, exactly for  this reason. I insist on the right to criticise her perpetually.”(pg.14)

On the occasion of the 239th Anniversary of your freedom from the tyranny of King George III, I have a simple message to the Obama White House, the members of the US Congress and captains of American Industry. Diplomacy is about making friends. Foreign policy is about the pursuit of peace and cooperation and building partnerships founded on mutual respect and trust.

It is time to put an end to the era of regime change initiated by George W. Bush and his neo-conservatives. Make friends, not enemies. The world does not need hegemons, and prophets of war. We need enlightened leaders, not egotists and dictators.

To celebrate the Fourth of July, Dr. Kamsiah and I have to chosen John Denver to entertain us. Mr. Denver,  may God Bless you and thank you for your musical legacy.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican.

Book Review: More on Richard M. Nixon


July 2, 2015

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/24/books/review/being-nixon-and-one-man-against-the-world.html?ref=books

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President Richard M. Nixon–America’s Most Tortured President

In May, to start the final broadcast of David Letterman’s late-night show, a dimly familiar yellow-tinged 1970s video began to play. “My fellow Americans,” Gerald Ford intoned, “our long national nightmare is over.” In specially recorded messages, Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama then recited the famous line, which Ford had first spoken just after the disgraced Richard Nixon left the White House, the only president ever to resign. No one in the Letterman bit mentioned Nixon’s name, but his specter — as it so often does in our political culture — hovered over the whole thing.

Being NixonHard though it may be to recall, for a time during the 1990s Richard Nixon seemed bound for rehabilitation. He had spent his last years romancing the pundit class, fashioning an image as a sage. Historians, digging into his administration’s domestic record, developed a ­man-bites-dog story line that pronounced him a Great Society liberal. And as the flood of Watergate memoirs dried up, kooky conspiracy theories flourished, some exonerating Tricky Dick from a key part in the 1972 burglary and cover-up that brought him down.

Now we’ve come full circle. The release of White House tapes and documents since Nixon’s death in 1994 has rendered the pro-Nixon historiography of yesteryear a musty artifact. Washington ­pseudoscandals have come and gone, clarifying anew how breathtaking Watergate was. And this summer brings two major new Nixon books — Tim Weiner’s “One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon” and Evan Thomas’s “Being Nixon: A Man Divided” — neither of which offers much that’s novel but which together reaffirm the old (and new) consensus. These well-researched efforts remind us, fundamentally, that Nixon himself led the criminal conspiracy at the heart of his presidency, the revelation of which forever tarnished the White House in the public mind.

Both authors are highly accomplished journalists. Weiner, a former New York Times national security reporter, is decidedly hostile to Nixon, structuring his account of the presidency around a litany of transgressions related to Watergate and the Vietnam War. Thomas, a prolific author and veteran Newsweek editor, aims for a more fully rounded portrait, carefully pairing each indictment of Nixon with a mitigating perspective or flattering ­counterexample. Weiner makes more fruitful use of primary sources, while Thomas has a surer command of the secondary literature. Whether you prefer the edgier Weiner or the judicious Thomas may depend on whether you like your political history fizzy or still, spicy or mild, extra crispy or original recipe.

Dozens of splendid works on Nixon already exist, of course. My short list would include Garry Wills’s “Nixon Agonistes,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s “The Final Days” and Stanley I. Kutler’s “The Wars of Watergate” (all still in print). Yet there remains no authoritative cradle-to-grave biography. Stephen E. Ambrose banged out a solid, breezily written trilogy, but his wanton acts of plagiarism and the posthumous revelation that he fabricated interviews with Dwight Eisenhower have rendered his work unusable. Tom Wicker and Herbert S. Parmet each tried to fill the Nixon biography void, but they produced gargantuan tomes without touching key parts of his presidency. Roger Morris wrote a magisterial, if slightly conspiratorial, first installment of a planned multivolume work, but its thousand-plus pages reached only to the end of 1952. The other volumes never appeared.

Thomas’s “Being Nixon” aspires to be the go-to one-volume life. The author guides us from Nixon’s boyhood and eventful early career through the war-making, peace-making and policy-making of his presidency, to his post-resignation comeback bid. But it’s no knock on Thomas’s storytelling powers to conclude, on finishing his study, that a satisfying one-volume biography probably just can’t be written. The sheer yardage that one has to traverse simply defies easy narration.

Thomas has a fine eye for the telling quote and the funny vignette, and his style is eminently readable. But for much of the book he pin balls from one topic to the next. A quick take on school desegregation dissolves into a riff on Nixon’s taste in movies and then it’s off to Cambodia. The insistence on tackling so much material also precludes the sort of fine-grained analysis — whether of politics or policy or personality — that a porterhouse steak of a biography like this implicitly promises.

Fathoming the murky psychological depths of our most tortured president also presents a challenge. To his credit, Thomas treats Nixon as a human being, not a cartoon. Always on the lookout for the good deed or the sympathetic angle, he stresses not the familiar hatreds and well-known vindictiveness but Nixon’s shyness, his devotion to family, his sentimentality: “Being Nixon” opens with a meditation on Nixon’s love of the movie “Around the World in 80 Days,” and he is later shown listening happily to recordings of “Carousel” and “The King and I.

Empathy is admirable and even necessary in a historian, but Thomas’s fulsome charity obscures the rage, paranoia and chilling amorality that propelled Nixon to the peak of power and brought on the Watergate nightmare. In some places Thomas relies uncritically on dubious sources, like a 1993 Nixon hagiography by the conservative British politician Jonathan Aitken. At other times, his ­evenhandedness yields misleading understatement and ludicrous litotes. “Nixon was not completely free of prejudice,” he writes of this racist, anti-Semitic churl. “Favoring hush money over full disclosure was a moral lapse,” another sentence begins. He starts the book’s last paragraph, “Nixon was no saint,” before ending with the claim that Nixon tried “to dare to be brave, to see, often though sadly not always, the light in the dark.”

This peroration is unpersuasive, not least because Thomas himself show­cases so many scenes of Nixon rolling up his sleeves to break the law. “Being Nixon” doesn’t neglect the notorious train of abuses — from Henry Kissinger’s illegal wiretaps to the “Saturday Night Massacre” firing of the Watergate special prosecutor — that amounted to the worst constitutional crisis of the century. On the contrary, Thomas’s account gets exciting precisely when it hits Watergate and the obligatory discussions of wage and price controls and the office of consumer affairs recede. His gentle judgments thus ring false.

If “Being Nixon” struggles to encompass Nixon’s whole life, “One Man Against the World” zeros in on the Vietnam War and Watergate, with other Cold War dramas — China, détente, Chile, the Yom Kippur War — also getting attention. This focused approach avoids the pitfalls of sprawl. Weiner’s barrage of information, however, devolves into a charmless inventory. Intent on reeling off facts, he provides little scene setting, few character sketches and a dearth of political or historical context. And where Thomas suffers from a surfeit of empathy, Weiner displays too little.

Weiner’s staccato typewriter prose, with its one-sentence paragraphs and bullet judgments, also contrasts with Thomas’s inoffensive, glossy lyricism. On whether Nixon should be considered a liberal, for example, Thomas writes (correctly, in my view): “He was not, but he was a crafty activist who loved to outflank and confound his foes.” He then dilates dutifully on such topics as the environment and welfare reform. Nixon’s onetime assistant budget chief, James Schlesinger, is quoted saying that the president even reviewed the details of fiscal policy.

Weiner, on the other hand, states emphatically that Nixon “cared little about domestic affairs: least ofNixon One Man Against the World all housing, health, education, welfare and civil rights” — all true enough — and his narrative skirts those issues almost entirely. Yet he goes on to assert that “getting rid of things was the heart of Nixon’s domestic policy — especially tearing down the structures of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.” I know of no historians today who would endorse that claim. Nixon did in fact preside over a welter of new liberal programs, but mainly because the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, public opinion was demanding activist government and the president had bigger priorities than fighting those battles.

Differences also arise in the two biographers’ takes on the bombing and invasion of Cambodia, which Nixon mounted to stop the North Vietnamese forces from hiding across the border. Weiner emphasizes the president’s deceit in concealing the operation from the American people and in having the military issue false reports about it. And he concludes ominously, in the last sentence of one chapter, “The bombing of a neutral nation arguably violated the laws of war.”

Widening the war into Cambodia fueled tensions at home, and the concealment of the operation typified Nixon’s furtive diplomatic style. But it’s noteworthy that Congress dropped the Cambodia incursion from the charges of impeachment it drafted in 1974, and Weiner is compelled to include the deflating adverb “arguably” for a reason. As Thomas explains in his more balanced account, “The North Vietnamese controlled Cambodia’s bordering territory,” and “‘hot pursuit’ into neutral territory is an old military doctrine.”

Weiner’s book is valuable insofar as it adds details to confirm what we knew about Nixon’s desperate Vietnam gambits and his central role in directing the Watergate cover-up. For example, he unearths an incriminating May 1973 tape of Nixon talking to his chief of staff, Alexander Haig, about memos from the previous summer that had been delivered by Vernon Walters of the C.I.A.; those documents described the president’s illegal effort to have the agency shut down the F.B.I.’s burgeoning probe of the Watergate break-in on the bogus grounds that it would compromise national security. “It will be very embarrassing,” Nixon says of releasing Walters’s notes. “It’ll indicate that we tried to cover up with the C.I.A.”

Weiner has clearly logged time in primary sources — C.I.A. files, Nixon’s tapes, oral histories, the State Department documents collected in “Foreign Relations of the United States” — and he serves up delightful nuggets of information. He discovers, for instance, that Nixon included a sentence in his first inauguration speech, “Our lines of communication will be open,” at the suggestion of the Soviet intelligence operative Boris Sedov, as a signal to Moscow. Unfortunately, Weiner exaggerates the import of this diplomatic wink, calling it “the K.G.B.’s proposal to ghostwrite a passage of the inaugural address.” Here and elsewhere, hyperbole undercuts his reliability.

Throughout the book, and in his public appearances promoting it, Weiner inflates his own contributions, sometimes leaving the impression that he first uncovered the information he cites. In truth, this volume adds less to our knowledge than two other recent books: Ken Hughes’s “Chasing Shadows,” about Nixon’s efforts during the 1968 election to keep the South Vietnamese from agreeing to Lyndon Johnson’s peace proposals, and John W. Dean’s “The Nixon Defense,” which uses hundreds of original tape transcriptions to illuminate the purpose of the 1972 Watergate break-in and the depth of Nixon’s knowledge of his aides’ obstruction of ­justice.

In 1994, during the height of the revisionism, one pro-Nixon scholar crowed that as time went on, Nixon would come to be known first for his social programs, next for his diplomacy and only incidentally for the orgy of lawlessness that had otherwise defined his reputation. Among the other verdicts that these two notable books offer — for all their sundry virtues and forgivable flaws — is the unmistakable conclusion that those revisionists were completely wrong.

ONE MAN AGAINST THE WORLD
The Tragedy of Richard Nixon
by Tim Weiner
369 pp. Henry Holt & Company.

BEING NIXON
A Man Divided
by Evan Thomas
Illustrated. 619 pp. Random House. $35.

David Greenberg, a professor of history and journalism at Rutgers University, is the author of “Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image” and the forthcoming “Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency.”

Cambodia under Samdech Hun Sen: Significant Progress with some challenges ahead


June 26, 2015

Cambodia under Samdech Hun Sen: Significant Progress with some Challenges ahead

by Vannarith Chheang@www.asiasentinel.com

http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/after-30-years-hun-sen-where-is-cambodia/

Hun Sen has steered Cambodia towards peace and development, helping overcome the most difficult period in the country’s history, which included both the civil war and subsequent factional power struggles. In the late 1990s, he managed to dissolve the remaining Khmer Rouge forces and reintegrate them into the Cambodian Royal Armed Forces, marking the end of the civil war

…Hun Sen’s governance strategy revolves around three factors: political stability, development and promoting cultural identity. His ambition is to transform Cambodia into a middle-income country by 2030, and a high-income country by 2050… In the 30 years Hun Sen has been in power, Cambodia has made significant progress but key challenges remain.

Phnom Penh2015 marks 30 years in power for Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who became Prime Minister in January 1985 at only 33 years old. He has consolidated his power base through charismatic leadership, paternalism, coercion and a system of patronage.

There are mixed views on Hun Sen’s leadership. It is essential to understand the national context to conduct a well-balanced assessment of his achievements and shortcomings. Cambodia is a fragile country after nearly three decades of war and conflict. Social and political distrust, a potential source of political instability, remain deeply embedded in Cambodian political culture and society.

For Hun Sen, peace and security and socio-economic development occupy center stage in Cambodia’s domestic politics, with democracy and human rights coming in second.

The Premier is one of the main architects of peace-building in Cambodia. His political career started with the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation which, with the support of Vietnam, toppled the Khmer Rouge regime in January 1979.

At the end of the 1980s, as similar economic reforms were being pursued in Vietnam and Laos, Hun Sen chose to follow the free-market economic model. But Cambodia took a different political reform path from that of Laos and Vietnam after the 1991 Paris Peace Accords. Cambodia adopted a liberal, multi-party political system, incorporating the principles of democracy and human rights in its 1993 constitution.

Hun Sen with Sam RainsyHun Sen has steered Cambodia towards peace and development, helping overcome the most difficult period in the country’s history, which included both the civil war and subsequent factional power struggles. In the late 1990s, he managed to dissolve the remaining Khmer Rouge forces and reintegrate them into the Cambodian Royal Armed Forces, marking the end of the civil war.

In the last two decades, Cambodia has enjoyed an average of 7.7 percent GDP growth. Cambodia is classified as a ‘high growth country’ by the World Bank. The poverty rate fell from 47.8 percent in 2007 to 18.9 per cent in 2012. But the development gap between urban and rural areas remains wide. In 2011, 91 percent of poor households were living in rural areas. Cambodia’s poor households are vulnerable to an array of shocks including natural disasters and water, food and energy security crises.

Hun Sen’s governance strategy revolves around three factors: political stability, development and promoting cultural identity. His ambition is to transform Cambodia into a middle-income country by 2030, and a high-income country by 2050.

Still, the Prime Minister’s leadership and legitimacy were critically challenged in the July 2013 general election when his Cambodian People Party (CPP) suffered a remarkable drop in popular support, losing 22 seats to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

One of the reasons for falling support for the CPP is the chronic and rampant corruption within the government and the party. Corruption is the root cause of social injustice, human rights violations, the culture of impunity, the mismanagement of natural and state resources, widening income inequality, and the downgrading of social ethics and values.

Acknowledging these problems, Hun Sen set a comprehensive reform agenda after the 2013 elections. But concrete outcomes have yet to be seen. To fulfil the agenda and build his own legacy, Hun Sen must make major institutional changes. He must be innovative and consistent in fighting corruption and nepotism otherwise his reform policy will fail, further challenging his legitimacy and legacy.

Transformative and adaptive political leadership, effective and efficient bureaucracy, and popular support and participation are necessary if political and economic reforms are to succeed. Hun Sen’s government must further deepen the reform agenda by focusing on these three elements.

Hun Sen has, some say, adapted his leadership style too slowly to cope with Cambodia’s fast-changing social transformation. His authoritarian leadership is not popular, especially among young people. The majority of Cambodian youth aspire to change. At the party congress in February, CPP leaders added youth leaders to the Central Committee, resulting in 70 out of 545 members being under the age of 50, in a bid to gain support from Cambodia’s youth.

Hun Sen also takes a pragmatic approach towards foreign affairs. His core foreign policy objectives are to maintain national peace and security, further economic development, reduce poverty, and raise Cambodia’s image and prestige.

Hun Ssn with Chinese President XiWhile he is pushing to diversify Cambodia’s strategic and economic partners, but there is currently still a tilt towards China. Economic and cultural ties define Cambodia–China relations. China is now Cambodia’s largest source of both foreign direct investment and development assistance.

Cambodia has also engaged in promoting global peace and stability, sending more than 1,700 peacekeepers to different parts of the world under the UN framework and is actively involved in the global campaign to end landmines. It is taking a leading role in promoting the ‘responsibility to protect’ in Southeast Asia, and intends to build stronger partnerships with ASEAN and the UN to build the state’s capacity to protect its population from genocide and crimes against humanity, and from their incitement.

In the 30 years Hun Sen has been in power, Cambodia has made significant progress but key challenges remain.

Vannarith Chheang is lecturer of Asia Pacific Studies at the University of Leeds. This articles originally appeared n the East Asia Forum, a platform for analysis and research at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University

The American Plan for a South Asian “Kosovo” In Rohingyaland


June 18, 2015

The American Plan for a South Asian “Kosovo” In Rohingyaland ( Part 1)

by Andrew KORYBKO (USA)

http://orientalreview.org/2015/06/09/american-plan-for-a-south-asian-kosovo-in-rohingyaland-i/

“As complex as it may appear at times, the main consistency of US foreign policy is that it covers its pursuit of geopolitical self-interest with humanitarian and democratic rhetoric. There’s always an ulterior motive behind the US lecturing countries about ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’, and those two key words should raise immediate red flags to any concerned decision makers in the targeted state that the US is addressing. Being the expert image manipulator that it is, the US never shies away from exploiting human tragedy for its own strategic ends, a lesson that everyone would do well remembering when considering the Rohingya issue in Myanmar“.–Andrew Korybko

As complex as it may appear at times, the main consistency of US foreign policy is that it covers its pursuit of geopolitical self-interest with humanitarian and democratic rhetoric. There’s always an ulterior motive behind the US lecturing countries about ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’, and those two key words should raise immediate red flags to any concerned decision makers in the targeted state that the US is addressing. Being the expert image manipulator that it is, the US never shies away from exploiting human tragedy for its own strategic ends, a lesson that everyone would do well remembering when considering the Rohingya issue in Myanmar. While there certainly are some legitimate grievances that the Rohingya are leveling against the authorities, it’s evident that the US is already exploiting them for its own geopolitical ends. Washington wants to establish a military presence in the Bay of Bengal in order to control China’s pipelines through Myanmar (both of which go through Rohingya-inhabited Rakhine State), but in order to get to that point, it first needs for the Rohingya to have their own autonomous or independent government there.

The first part begins by unraveling the layers of complex context related to the issue, before going into the specifics of the current migrant crisis. Part II then explains how the US aims to create an autonomous or independent Rohingyaland by capitalizing on this tragedy, and concludes with an examination of the multifaceted benefits it would receive through the creation of the South Asian “Kosovo”.

Unscrambling The Context

The plight of the Rohingyas and their place in the bigger picture of American geostrategy against China can appear to be an overwhelmingly complex topic, but it can be subdivided into three simpler categories of general understanding; American grand strategy; Myanmar’s domestic affairs; and the Rohingyas’ situation. By breaking down the bigger, thematic picture into smaller, finer details, one should be able to acquire a more solid understanding of how the US is relentlessly pursuing its own self-interest at the Rohingyas’ expense.

American Grand Strategy:

The US’ post-Cold War foreign policy has hinged on adhering to Brzezinski’s ‘Eurasian Balkans’ concept, which essentially stipulates that the US could manipulate preexisting ethnic, religious, and territorial issues in Eurasia in order to prolong its control of the supercontinent. This can be done in two ways: the method of indirect disorder has the US utilizing proxy actors to stir endless chaos, much as it’s currently doing with ISIL in the Mideast; while direct control involves the US conventionally asserting its on-the-ground dominance, just like it did by building Camp Bondsteel (one of its largest European bases) in occupied Kosovo after the 1999 War on Yugoslavia. Indirect disorder can be used as a modus operandi for establishing direct control, and this is precisely the game that’s at play with Rohingyaland along the Bay of Bengal.

mapMyanmar:

No place in South or Southeast Asia is more susceptible to the Eurasian Balkans concept of American-directed strategic state fragmentation than Myanmar, which has been fighting the world’s longest-running civil war since 1948. To unduly simplify the conflict, it involves the majority Burmese ethnic group in the central part of the country fighting against the myriad minority groups along its periphery, with the rebels seeking a federation but the government fighting for the status quo unitary nature of the state. While the war has been at a stalemate for quite some time, the opening of a new rebel front in the Rohingya’s Rakhine State could be the strategic shift that’s needed to turn the tide against the government, as none of the other rebelling regions or ethnicities is located along the coast.

This factor is exceptionally important since it could enable a slew of foreign patrons to ship massive amounts of material support to the rebels, perhaps even using plausibly deniable methods such as flying other nations’ flags above their arms-running vessels. The inland rebels have no such tactical advantage in this regard, which may be part of the reason why they have yet to be successful in their half-century-long campaign. The addition of a pro-federation rebel movement capable of receiving such supplies could make the decisive difference in finally tipping the balance of power against the government’s forces.

Rohingyas:

The demographic subject of the present article is at odds with the Myanmar government over its identity. The 800,0001-million-plus Rohingyas claim that they constitute a unique ethnic group, but Naypyidaw sees them as nothing more than the descendants of illegal Bengali migrants, some of whom even fought against the state on several occasions. As such, the government refuses to confer them with citizenship, thus leaving them stateless and unwittingly complicating the present migrant predicament (to be described in the next section). Worse still, because they’re not considered to be citizens, the state is reluctant to actively protect them from the sectarian purges carried out by the ‘Buddhist Bin Laden’ and his pro-Western hyper-nationalist thugs. Instead, it’s settled on a policy of segregation, preferring to force them into separate communities ostensibly out of concern for their own safety. Many Rohingya protest these living conditions that some claim are contrary to their human rights, hence why so many of them have decided to flee the country. Sensing a convenient opportunity for geopolitical benefit, the US has taken up the torch of Rohingya guardianship, advocating loudly in their favor and becoming their de-facto international patron.

The Current Crisis

The Rohingya had already been on the Western media radar since their 2012 persecution, but it’s the current migrant boat crisis that’s made their cause seemingly more urgent. While there are no clear-cut numbers available, the UN estimates that around 100,000 of them have fled by sea in the past three years, which would represent between 10-12% of their total population in Myanmar. These discomfiting numbers clearly indicate that there are some serious domestic issues in Myanmar motivating their exodus, but in and of themselves they’re not cause for direct humanitarian concern. The problem arose when it was reported in early May that around 6000 Rohingya were thought to be lost in the Andaman Sea after having been abandoned by their human traffickers, and genuine horror was experienced when 139 graves were later unearthed in Malaysia, believed to be of dead Rohingyas who perished before reaching their ultimate destination. The squalid camps alongside the Thai-Malaysian border that the illegal Rohingya migrants are regularly kept in have led many to believe that they’re either being abused or held captive by their traffickers. All of these dangers have combined to generate what the UN referred to early last month as a “looming humanitarian crisis”, and the deluge of fake images and internet memes related to the issue have contributed to a feeling of global urgency in addressing it.

Regional Response:

Aung San's Hands Up for GenocideHands Up for Genocide

The destination states of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia don’t want to accept any more migrants, having already absorbed tens of thousands of them in the past couple of years, and previously refused to let the stranded boats land on their territory. According to officials, Malaysia already has received 120,000 Rohingyas, while Thailand claims to be housing 100,000 as it is. Nonetheless, because of the exorbitant international pressure directed against them, all three states countries have agreed to temporarily house the at-sea migrants until they can be sent back home or to a third country, thereby abandoning their earlier policy of turning back the boats. While this may temporarily de-escalate the crisis and give the floating migrants a safe reprieve from the dangerous high seas, it doesn’t address the root cause of why the Rohingya are risking their lives to leave Myanmar in the first place, which is something the US intends to resolve.

Official Myanmar And Bengladeshi Positions:

The issue becomes even more complicated when one takes into account Myanmar’s official position on the matter. Naypyidaw asserts that human trafficking networks are to blame, not government persecution, and that many of the illegal migrants in question are actually from Bangladesh. Government representatives have accused some of them of pretending to be Rohingyas so as to receive preferential aid from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that they wouldn’t be able to procure with their actual Bengali identity. While critics might hark that Myanmar is lying about Bangladesh’s connection to the migrant boat crisis, the latter’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina decreed that those leaving the country illegally would be punished because they’re “tainting the image of the country in the international arena and putting their life into danger”, on top of being “mentally sick” in their pursuit for money abroad. No matter how one feels about Hasina’s comments, the fact that she addressed the topic in such a way confirms that the Bengali government acknowledges that their citizens are involved in this crisis and that it’s not completely about Rohingyas. Her statement lends credence to Myanmar’s claims that many of the migrants may actually be Bengali and inconveniently dismantles the Western media myth that anti-Rohingya persecution is to blame for the boat crisis.

The American Plan for a South Asian “Kosovo” In Rohingyaland (Part 2)

Carving Out The Asian “Kosovo”

There was no way that the US could resist politicizing such a tempting geopolitical crisis, and as expected, it found a way to diplomatically intervene. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell spoke out against the Myanmar government and sprinkled his statement with strong shades of ‘humanitarian intervention/responsibility to protect’ rhetoric when he announced that “There’s the need for the government to do all it can to protect and assume responsibility for members of a long-suffering religious minority group, the Rohingya, thousands of whom have been forced to take to the high seas on dangerous makeshift vessels to escape persecution .” By claiming that the government is responsible for whatever happens to the Rohingya overseas (an utterly ridiculous assertion to level against any state), McConnell is slyly inferring that it has blood on its hands for initiating the highly publicized crisis. This opens the door for the US to potentially deepen its involvement in ‘mediating’ the situation and dictating proposed ‘solutions’ for bringing it to an end. In fact, President Obama already drew a connection between ‘democratization’ and the government’s treatment of Rohingyas, and the State Department demands that they be given immediate citizenship. The US is clearly pursuing ulterior interests by using the humanitarian crisis as a cover for lecturing Myanmar, but what exactly is its end game?

Towards A Federation Model:

More than anything, the US wants to weaken the centrality of the Myanmar state and impose a federation model on the country. While such a governing template could be constructive step towards resolving certain countries’ internal crises (e.g. Ukraine), in others, it may only accelerate the unravelling of the state. Myanmar falls into the second category, as a federation system would inevitably lead to an archipelago of autonomous nation-states scattered all along the country’s periphery, and empowered within their new framework, they can more efficiently oppose central rule. Not only that, but they’d be extremely vulnerable to foreign lobbying in support of their anti-government positions, and the US could coopt them in order to guarantee that Myanmar remains weak and divided for the foreseeable future. If need be, the US could also manipulate each of the autonomous nation-states against one other in order to manufacture a territorial or political crisis that it could then exploit in intensifying its involvement in Myanmar’s internal affairs. It might even one day make the decision to dismantle the Union of Myanmar (the official name of the state) entirely, using the bloody Yugoslav model as a precedent in coaxing a disastrous ‘Reverse Brzezinskiintervention from China.

The Rohingya Autumn:

To get to this point, however, the US needs to deal a critical blow to the Myanmar government so that it reverses its decades-long policy of unity and finally accedes to devolving into a federation.   As explained previously, the most conceivable way in which this could be achieved is if the Rohingya begin a full-scale rebellion against the authorities. A serious uprising in the coastal Rakhine State could more easily be supported by foreign patrons (i.e. the US) than the ones that have been ongoing for decades along the periphery, but if the latter are strategically ordered to renew their anti-government campaign in concurrent coordination with a Rohingya rebellion, then the authorities would be placed in an extremely precarious and unprecedented situation.

The trigger for all of this destabilization could likely be the upcoming autumn general elections, scheduled to take place in either late October or early November. It’s for this exact reason that the US is so insistent that Myanmar grant the Rohingyas citizenship, since it wants them to partake in the election and throw the results for Rakhine State in a predetermined direction. This could take the form of voting for a fringe ‘protest candidate’ or party that has scarcely any hopes of an electoral victory, and when the Rohingya-affiliated candidate or party predictably loses, it could be a general signal for them to initiate their preplanned protest movement against the government. Under such a scenario, the Rohingyas could stage a Color Revolution demanding autonomy or outright independence as ‘compensation’ for what they allege was a ‘rigged election’ (echoing expected US and Western statements on the topic), and per the US’ new patterned approach to domestic interference, this could easily transition into a full-fledged Unconventional War. A similar scenario is that a Rohingya Color Revolution/Unconventional War breaks out sometime this summer in the run-up to the elections, which would be intended to pressure the government in making political concessions to them and the other ethnic rebels prior to the nationwide vote.

The Syrian Model:

The US’ Hybrid War against Myanmar could most likely follow the Syrian Model in extensively involving supportive regional states, in particular, those in which many Rohingya have already settled. This means that Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia are candidates for joining the covert ‘coalition of the willing’ against Myanmar, as each of them could potentially train some of their Rohingyas in Color Revolution and/or Unconventional Warfare techniques before sending them back to their home country for future deployment. Such a plan would mirror what Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are doing against Syria, since each of them has already been training regime change-minded Syrians (and members of dozens of other nationalities) on their territory for years now. What the highlighted Asian states would be doing against Myanmar is no different, since it follows the same tried-and-tested pattern that the US has perfected in the Mideast.

Not all of those four countries may participate, however, since political considerations in Bangladesh and Thailand might preclude their involvement. Malaysia and Indonesia, while having their respective reservations, might be tempted to play an active role in the forthcoming conflict if the US succeeds in convincing them that they’d be fighting against anti-Muslim discrimination in Myanmar. It could also sweeten the deal by throwing in certain economic incentives, such as agreeing to bankroll most or all of the operation so long as those respective countries’ territories can be used as training bases. Additionally, it might pressure Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta by making the continuation of existing support (be it political, military, or economic) contingent on them joining the ‘coalition’ in their intended capacities. In exchange for their cooperation, the US might assure them of its support in combating ISIL if it ever establishes a foothold in the Mindanao-Sulawesi Arc, as was nervously speculated upon at the Shangri-La Dialogue meeting late last month. It doesn’t matter whether the US is sincere in this pledge or not (it might even receive some strategic benefit by setting ISIL loose in the region), but what’s important here is that this promise alleviates Malaysia and Indonesia’s greatest insecurity fear and consequently influences them in agreeing to the Rohingya operation.

Chaos For Creative Ends

Weakening Myanmar isn’t the only reason why the US is supporting the Rohingyas, as it has more grand objectives in mind which would be greatly facilitated as well. Here’s what the US has in store for South Asia:

US Bases:

The creation of an independent or largely autonomous Rohingyaland could lead to the establishment of the first American base in mainland South Asia, just as the manufacturing of “Kosovo” led to Camp Bondsteel as its first outpost in the Balkans. The US may exploit the humanitarian concern surrounding the Rohingyas to press for Western ‘observers’ to ‘monitor’ the situation in Myanmar, and the outbreak of any large-scale rebellion there could possibly invite an international intervention (‘justified’ on the false basis of ‘humanitarian intervention/responsibility to protect’) for their support. Whichever way it develops, it’s evident that the US has an interest in gaining a strategic military foothold in the region, since this would then allow it to simultaneously exert more direct influence on the rest of Myanmar, Bangladesh, Northeast India (which the US could contribute to further destabilizing in order to punish Modi for any major forthcoming multipolar moves), and China’s multiethnic and pivotal province of Yunnan.

Break Tf04da2db112214f8b07818he BCIM:

The US’ interest in this corner of South Asia is predicated on the BCIM trade corridor that would connect Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar. Should this ambitious plan be implemented, then the resultant South Asian Silk Road would markedly decrease tensions between India and China, stabilize India’s restive Northeast and Myanmar’s rebellious periphery, and lay the groundwork for tangible development in this impoverished cross-border region. All of these benefits would advance multipolarity within the four-country corridor and fortify its defenses against creeping unipolarity, hence why the US has an important stake in sabotaging the project via its Rohingya manipulations.

Pipeline Ploys:

Energy geopolitics is the guiding motivation for the vast majority of American geopolitical decisions, not least of which is its described designs against Myanmar. China recently opened two strategic oil and gas pipelines running through the country, which incidentally end in Rakhine State. As is known, Beijing is disproportionately dependent on energy shipments transiting the Strait of Malacca chokepoint, and the opening of alternative routes is of the highest strategic order in ensuring China’s energy security. While its moves in Myanmar are certainly a step in this direction, if Rakhine State is destabilized with a future crisis (Color Revolution and/or Unconventional War), or becomes autonomous/independent under American tutelage, then the strategic benefit that Beijing derived from these pipelines would be nullified and conversely become a considerable vulnerability.

Anti-China Proxy War:

The article earlier mentioned how destabilization in Myanmar could be exploited to tempt China into a conventional intervention, which is certainly probable, but it could also be used to destabilize it by other means as well. A return to full-scale warfare could lead to a humanitarian crisis in Yunnan with hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into the province. Limited fighting between the Myanmar government and Kokang rebels earlier this year created a minor international sensation when an unexpected number of people fled to China, some of whom were supposedly turned back. The People’s Republic has reportedly had difficulty accommodating the refugees, demonstrating that it was relatively unprepared for the situation. One should understand that the fighting which prompted the humanitarian exodus was relatively small scale and of minor intensity, and that any real resumption of ethnic warfare along the entire Myanmar-China border would dwarf the earlier refugee crisis and create severe challenges for Beijing.

Jihadist Playground:

Last but not least, the Rohingya issue could become a rallying cry for international jidhadists due to the shades of Buddhist-on-Muslim violence. Experts are already warning that ISIL could recruit disgruntled Rohingyas, and one mustn’t forget that its Al Qaeda rival is also looking to set up shop in the region as well. While a plethora of exploitable regional opportunities present themselves for whichever jihadist group is interested , the Rohingya cause is the only one which has already received global recognition and near-universal sympathy, thereby implying a degree of ‘moral legitimacy’ for aspiring terrorists. Should ISIL or Al Qaeda nest themselves in Rakhine State, the destabilizing repercussions would be enormous and reverberate throughout the entire region. In fact, it might even prompt India and/or Bangladesh to stage some sort of intervention, especially if Rakhine-based terrorists carry out attacks against their countries. Suffice to say, the introduction of Islamic terrorism to Rakhine State would assuredly lead to the further internationalization of the Rohingya issue and constitute a dire security threat for the region’s governments.

Concluding Thoughts

The plight of the Rohingyas elicits understandable concern from many, but the unfortunate aspect is that the US is manipulating the world’s short-term emotional response to the current migrant crisis in order to pursue its long-term geopolitical interests in South Asia. The intended creation of a pro-American autonomous or independent Rohingyaland is akin to the same strategic pattern that it first spearheaded in “Kosovo”, except the US can now achieve its goals via the indirect Hybrid War lessons that it’s perfected in Syria. The crusade for state creation is inherently tied to the destruction of the targeted host state, which in this case would see Rohingyaland (and perhaps many other ethnic nation-states) being baptized through a sea of fire in separating from Myanmar. The US has concrete geopolitical reasons for why it supports the Rohingyas, chiefly concerning the establishment of its first intended base in mainland South Asia and its desire to cut off China’s non-Malacca pipeline routes through Myanmar. Additionally, with a firm regional outpost in Rohingyaland (whether direct or via proxy), the US can obstruct the multipolar BCIM trade corridor and leverage influence in Bangladesh, Northeast India, the rest of Myanmar, and perhaps even further afield in Yunnan Province. The coming months will be indicative of how far the US plans to go in supporting Rohingyaland, but by all current indications, it seems that this is a cause which Washington won’t give up on anytime soon.

Andrew Korybko is the political analyst and journalist for Sputnik who currently lives and studies in Moscow, exclusively for ORIENTAL REVIEW.

http://orientalreview.org/2015/06/09/american-plan-for-a-south-asian-kosovo-in-rohingyaland-ii/

NY Times: Power Struggle in Malaysia


June 18, 2015

Power Struggle in Malaysia Pits Former Premier Against a Protégé

by Thomas Fuller and Louise Story

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/18/world/asia/malaysia-prime-minister-najib-razak-mahathir-mohamad.html

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia — Malaysia’s governing party is at war with itself, embroiled in a power struggle that is destabilizing the country and threatening the party’s nearly six-decade stretch of uninterrupted governance.

The battle has revealed itself publicly in a nasty spat between two political titans. Mahathir Mohamad, a former Prime Minister who turns 90 next month, is the chief architect of a political insurgency aiming to oust the man he helped put into office six years ago, Prime Minister Najib Razak.

NY Times article by T FullerThe Man of the Moment

Having lost none of the combativeness honed during more than two decades in power, Mr. Mahathir is pressing allegations of malfeasance in a sovereign wealth fund, criticizing the “lavish” lifestyle of the prime minister’s wife, and has resurrected troubling questions about the murder of a Mongolian woman, the mistress of a former top aide to Mr. Najib.

“I’ve had quite a long time in government, and I’ve learned a few things,” Mr. Mahathir said in an interview at his office on Wednesday in Putrajaya, the administrative capital he built from scratch when he was Prime Minister.

Mr. Najib “wants to leave his own legacy,” he said. “But what he does is verging on criminal.”

Mr. Najib has denied allegations of abuse of power and urged patience while the country’s auditor general completes a report on the transactions of the sovereign wealth fund. “If there is any misuse of power, we will not shield anyone,” he told a Malaysian television channel in April. The report is due at the end of the month.

The political combat has transfixed this nation of 30 million people, an officially Muslim country with one of the most developed economies in the region.

The latest round took place early this month when Mr. Najib was scheduled to address a public forum on the questions swirling around his leadership.

When Mr. Najib failed to show up, Mr. Mahathir took the stage. But he had just begun to speak when the police shut him down, cutting off his microphone and escorting him off the stage.

This is the third time in Mr. Mahathir’s career that he has turned on his former protégés, and he succeeded in sidelining the first two. Another former deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, is in prison on charges of sodomy, which is illegal in Malaysia. Mr. Anwar’s five-year prison sentence, affirmed by the country’s highest court this year, was the culmination of trials that began when Mr. Mahathir fired Mr. Anwar as his deputy prime minister in 1998, declaring “I cannot accept a man who is a sodomist to become the leader of this country.”

The second time was nine years ago, when Mr. Mahathir came out of retirement and lashed out at his successor, Abdullah Badawi, for what he said was poor economic management. Mr. Abdullah resigned, and Mr. Najib took over as Prime Minister.

Mr. Najib’s approval ratings have plummeted over the past year amid bleaker economic prospects and higher living costs, and Mr. Mahathir says he fears that the party will lose elections if Mr. Najib remains at the helm. But he also expressed little faith in the long-term prospects of the party, the United Malays National Organization, which has led coalition governments since independence from Britain in 1957.

In the interview on Wednesday, Mr. Mahathir said that the party he led for decades, known as UMNO, lacks vision and talented people, and that it has become a repository of patronage-seeking politicians seeking to monopolize the spoils of power.

“The little Napoleons in UMNO try to keep out people who are more intelligent than themselves,” he said.

Government Ministers and Members of Parliament have been pressed to declare their allegiance in the dispute, and many have been cagey, afraid to alienate either their current leader or the next one if Mr. Mahathir gets his way.

For now, the divided opposition poses little threat. Its leader, Mr. Anwar, is in prison, and the unwieldy three-party coalition he led appears to have dissolved this week.

The political imbroglio comes on top of economic problems. About a third of government revenues comes from oil and gas production, whose prices have fallen steeply, and the government has been forced to pass an unpopular sales tax to make up for the loss.

Murray Hiebert, an expert on Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says the country’s political troubles “could hardly come at a worse time.”

“The Prime Minister is focused on political survival when the country’s economy is slowing due to low oil prices and falling exports resulting from China’s economic slowdown,” he said. The combination, he said, is “giving pause to the foreign investors Malaysia is seeking to court.”

The sour economy has also thrown into relief what Mr. Mahathir and others describe as the Najib family’s jet-setting lifestyle of shopping trips in world capitals and the buying of expensive real estate in the United States.

Mr. Mahathir criticized Mr. Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, for her “lavish lifestyle” and for acting “almost if she was a prime minister.”

Mr. Mahathir has also dredged up questions related to the case of Altantuya Shaariibuu, a Mongolian model who was murdered by two of Mr. Najib’s bodyguards in 2006. While the bodyguards were convicted, Mr. Mahathir has demanded to know who gave the orders.

But at the heart of his dispute with Mr. Najib is Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, which has debts running into the billions of dollars and is overseen by Mr. Najib, who is  Chairman of its Board of Advisers.

Mr. Mahathir says the fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, is missing “huge sums of money” that Mr. Najib has been unable to account for.

The fund has been criticized for the last several years for taking on expensive debt as well as for some of its investments, which opponents say have benefited supporters of Mr. Najib’s political party. “He has never been able to explain how the money was spent,” Mr. Mahathir said Wednesday. “They give a list of payments, but nobody believes it.”

Mr. Najib did not respond to requests for comment emailed to his spokesman.

The fund has also drawn controversy for its close relationship with a financier named Jho Low, a friend of Mr. Najib and of his stepson. Mr. Low has been involved in the sale of tens of millions of dollars of luxury real estate to the stepson in the United States.

Though Mr. Low holds no official position with 1MDB, he has acknowledged advising the fund, and several of his friends have held senior positions there. In recent months, documents have been published by The Edge, a Malaysian newspaper, and Sarawak Report, a British blog, showing that Mr. Low was instrumental in a deal between 1MDB and a Saudi oil company, PetroSaudi International. The newspaper also said the documents show that a company, Good Star Limited, was controlled by Mr. Low and received hundreds of millions of dollars from 1MDB as part of the oil deal.

Mr. Low did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement to The New York Times this week, 1MDB said that Good Star was owned by PetroSaudi and noted that PetroSaudi had confirmed that 1MDB said it had provided information about these transactions to the Malaysian authorities that are investigating the sovereign fund.

The payments by 1MDB are attracting attention in part because the fund is floundering. In recent weeks, the government announced a restructuring plan that involves the fund’s acceptance of money from the International Petroleum Investment Company, an investment fund affiliated with the Abu Dhabi government that has also made numerous deals with Mr. Low.

1MDB has issued statements disputing the notion that it is being bailed out. “This is a business transaction, not a loan, not any kind of debt and not a bailout,” the fund said in its statement to The Times.

Mr. Mahathir’s criticisms of the management of 1MDB, which he makes in regular blog postings and in public comments, are closely followed in Malaysia. But they have also been greeted with cynicism by those who say that money politics and bailouts of government-linked companies were very much a part of Mr. Mahathir’s 22 years in power.

“Mahathir is being disingenuous,” said Ibrahim Suffian, the director of the Merdeka Center, an independent polling company. “What we are seeing today did not happen overnight. It’s been heading this way for decades.”

Still, the concerns over 1MDB seem to have gained traction.

“We have been talking about and highlighting 1MDB for the last five years, and although it slowly gained momentum as a national issue, things changed the moment Mahathir picked 1MDB as an issue to bring down Najib,” said Rafizi Ramli, an opposition Parliament member. “For the first time, a government scandal has reached the attention of both sides of the political divide. In fact, it’s a bipartisan issue.”

Mahathir Mohamad-2014

Mahathir Mohamad, who served as Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003, turns 90 next month. He is forcing his way back into the center of Malaysian politics with a fire hose of criticism for the man he helped install in office, Najib Razak, the current Prime Minister.

In an interview, Mr. Mahathir lashed out at Mr. Najib for what he described as wastefulness and lavish spending. But he also broached a host of other topics, questioning the tenets of modern democracy and calling for a boycott of Myanmar over its persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority there.

Here are excerpts from the interview.

On the splintering of Malaysian politics:

The reason why Malaysia has managed to remain stable and to grow economically was because there was one big coalition of parties. But now you can see there’s a breakup. What will happen in the next election is that no one will be able to gain a majority. This, of course, leads to instability.

On the current Prime Minister:

I had always supported Najib. I was in a way instrumental in his becoming Prime Minister. [But] the apparent disappearance of huge sums of money. This is not good. He has never been able to explain how the money was spent. He wants to leave his own legacy. But what he does is verging on criminal. He’s going to lose in the next election.

On the prime minister’s wife, Rosmah Mansor:

She projects herself too much. Normally, the wife of the Prime Minister should be in the background supporting the husband.

On Western-style democracy in Asia:

If you look at the history of democracy, initially it was all about the right of the people to choose their own leaders. Since then, we have added more things to democracy. You must have this freedom and that freedom. I know what is wrong about democracy. It is when people interpret it wrongly. And they seem to think that liberty, freedom is absolute. It’s not.

On the use of detention without trial:

Running a country is not just about being nice. Sometimes you have to be nasty to people who have evil intentions.

Farah Ann Abdul Hadi

On a Muslim Malaysian gymnast who was criticized by religious leaders for wearing what they described as a revealing outfit:

I feel that these people are interpreting the religion in the wrong way. The religion is not wrong. It is these people who interpret it to suit their own purpose.

On how to deal with conservative Islamists:

You have to reply to them in the language of the religion. But if you say, ‘This is not constitutionally right,’ it’s not going to work.

On Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya:

The Rohingyas3

This country claims that the Rohingya are not their people. They’ve been there for 800 years, much longer than the Chinese in Malaysia. The atrocities committed are terrible. They killed and burned people, they beat people to death. In this day and age, people should not behave like that. AASEN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] should do something. If necessary, I think I would expel this country. It’s terrible. The whole world should boycott this country.

On the reasons he has turned against his anointed successors three times:

They all looked good to me before they held power, but they don’t seem to manage power. They seem to think that power is to satisfy their own ambition. Power is there to serve the people. It’s not for enriching yourself and living a high life.

On turning 90 next month:

I never thought I would reach 90(July 16)

China at the Crossroads


June 17, 2015

Elliot School of International Affairs @ The George Washington University, Washington DC:Lecture by Dr. David Shambaugh–China at the Crossroads

Published on May 1, 2015

Professor  Dr.David Shambaugh discusses China’s political future and the reform challenges faced by the ruling Communist party.

CSIS on China