‘The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security’


March 9, 2015

NY Times SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW

‘The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security’

In foreign policy, every success is just the start of the next crisis. Brent Scowcroft (above with President G.H.W. Bush) has pointed this out often in his four ­decades at the top of the American national security establishment. When the Soviet Union was conceding defeat in the nuclear arms race, he wondered if Gorbachev would instead “kill us with kindness.” When the Evil Empire was crumbling, he fretted about loose ­nuclear weapons and ethnic slaughter. When American troops were routing Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf war of 1991, he worried that “Iraq could fall apart,” leaving us to pick up the pieces. Again and again, this taciturn Mormon has been the Woody ­Allen of American foreign policy.

In “The Strategist,” his informative but inelegant biography of Scowcroft, Bartholomew Sparrow argues that this former national security adviser (to both Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush) and still-reigning wise man (as he nears his 90th birthday) could also be considered “the United States’ leading foreign policy strategist of the last 40 years.” But just as there are writer’s writers, Scowcroft is a foreign policy strategist’s foreign policy strategist, not widely known outside the guild. One of Ronald Reagan’s national security advisers cited him as a model; so did one of Barack Obama’s. “They all wanted to be Scowcroft,” one study says of his successors. Sparrow, a professor at the University of Texas, wants to narrow the gap between guild esteem and public acclaim.

But the qualities that account for this esteem make Scowcroft a tough subject for a biographer: How do you give color to the classic gray man? Journalists have ­described him as having “the gaunt demeanor of a church elder,” his words “carefully weighted to ensure that they contain not a gram more of information than their author wishes to convey.” Even after hours of interviews, Sparrow’s Scowcroft remains a steely and reticent figure.

As national security adviser, Scowcroft was known for being a trusted “honest broker,” scrupulous about presenting different views and sticking to a fair process for debating and deciding among them. He also brought an unglamorous focus on details, since strategies, he said, “succeed or fail depending on whether they are implemented effectively.” Sparrow tries to discern a strategic vision as he traces his subject’s central role in many of ­recent history’s main events. What emerges is less a coherent vision than a distinct ­temperament — one resistant to the temptations of wishful thinking and suspicious of promises of either easy war or easy peace. “We’re humans,” Scowcroft has said. “Given a chance to screw up, we will.” That temperament has surely frustrated more than one commander in chief looking for the simple choice or smooth way forward. But it also may, more than anything, explain Scowcroft’s celebrated record.

When he was coaxing the Cold War to a peaceful end, a foreign policy triumph for which Scowcroft deserves a nontrivial share of credit, he rejected triumphalism in favor of caution. He was always “very worried about all that could go wrong,” one former aide told Sparrow, ordering preparation for all manner of unintended consequence as others gloated. Soaring rhetoric made him wince; Reagan’s thunderously cheered call to “tear down this wall” struck him as a “lousy statement” that only “made it less likely that Gorbachev would tear down the wall.” When it did come down, Scowcroft resolved that there would be “no jumping on the wall.” If ever there was a real mission-­accomplished moment, this was it. Yet compare that response to the later Bush administration’s triumphant reaction to the fall of Baghdad.

This caution held true of more controversial turns in Scowcroft’s career as well. In the wake of the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989, Scowcroft was caught by news cameras giving a respectful toast on an unannounced trip to China. He thought it less important to project outrage or serve up punishment than to get the United States-China ­relationship back on track. What seemed the morally ­upright stance, Scowcroft argued, would do little more than provoke a backlash by an insecure Communist leadership. “If this meant appearing less than zealous about defending the human rights of Chinese dissidents,” Sparrow writes, “so be it.” But Scowcroft was denounced as “supine” by the just-departed American Ambassador, Winston Lord, “obscene” and “embarrassing” on the floor of Congress.

Scowcroft has called his approach ­“gardening,” designed to patiently foster long-term change. For vindication of the long view, Sparrow considers an earlier diplomatic effort that met with ­opprobrium: the Helsinki Accords of 1975, which at first seemed to trade acceptance of Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe for token concessions on self-determination and human rights. When the ­agreement was signed by the Ford administration, some White House aides protested, the president’s approval rating fell and even Ford’s own party blasted him in its 1976 platform for “taking from those who do not have freedom the hope of one day getting it.” Yet to Scowcroft, Helsinki’s token concessions would create a framework for more meaningful change. And ultimately, far from bolstering Soviet power, the ­accord turned out to be, in the assessment of the historian John Lewis Gaddis, “the basis for legitimizing opposition to Soviet rule.” Eastern-bloc human rights organizations started calling themselves Helsinki groups.

Since Scowcroft long prided himself on a “passion for anonymity,” it was a “shocking gesture,” in Sparrow’s words, when he took to The Wall Street Journal in 2002 to warn, under the headline “Don’t Attack Saddam,” of the dire consequences of an invasion of Iraq. The administration was staffed by protégés and former colleagues, and George W. Bush is the son of one of his best friends. To them, this public counsel was an act of betrayal — ­prophetic perhaps, but betrayal just the same. All the more so because, a decade earlier, Scowcroft had been a key advocate of using American military power to respond to Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

Scowcroft and His GeneralHonest broker: Scowcroft with General H. Norman Schwarzkopf in 1990

In both cases, despite the apparent tension, Scowcroft had been focused on the same goal: preserving order. When ­Hussein threatened to upset the ­existing order, he felt Washington had to respond. And when the Bush administration threatened the existing order, he also ­responded.

In the final years of the Cold War, Scowcroft’s conservative focus on order may have been sufficient: Progress was on his side. But today, at a time when the international system is changing, for better or worse, the imperatives have ­become more complicated, less clear-cut. Scowcroft ­acknowledged later that once the Cold War ended, “we were confused, ­befuddled. We didn’t know what was ­going on, and we didn’t think it mattered much.” Or as Sparrow puts it, he does not try to “alter the nature of the game; . . . he plays the game set before him.” It was Scowcroft who helped momentarily push and then retract the widely derided concept of “the new world order.”

At one point in “The Strategist,” ­Sparrow paraphrases Seneca: “Luck is the result of preparation coupled with ­opportunity.” Scowcroft would most likely agree. In looking back at his accomplishments, he talks of “guiding and managing forces,” of “not bucking a tide.” Even if the imperatives today are different, Scowcroft’s temperament is still a useful tonic. For if anything makes Scowcroft a “great man,” it is that he does not see great men (or women) as all that significant.

Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, a member of the secretary of state’s policy-planning staff from 2009 to 2012, is an Eric and Wendy Schmidt fellow at the New America Foundation. He is writing a book about George Marshall.

A version of this review appears in print on March 8, 2015, on page BR24 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: On His Watch

The Altantuya Murder Case in Malaysia


February 1, 2015

The Altantuya Murder Case in Malaysia

Asia Sentinel wrote a series of stories on the brutal murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu, a young Mongolian woman slain in Kuala Lumpur in 2006 by two bodyguards assigned to now-Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s office.

altantuya1zn3The Brutally Murdered Mongolian Model

The stories linked the crime to Malaysian defense procurement irregularities, a bribery investigation in France and a court case that saw the two bodyguards convicted of murder but no higher-ups implicated in ordering the death of the 28 year old woman, who was pregnant at the time and had been romantically linked to a close friend of Najib’s.

Here are the stories we’ve reported:

2015

January 13:  Shock Altantuya Murder Verdict in Malaysia. Federal Court rules Mongolian woman’s killers were guilty after all

2014

July 9:  Altantuya Comes Back to Haunt Malaysia. A spectacular murder covered up by the government comes alive again

2013

August 23:  Malaysia Frees Altantuya’s Murderers. The tragedy of a brutal killing compounded by courtroom farce

July 30:  Submarine Furor Returns to Malaysia. Central figure in bribe case seeks to paint company at center of the scandal as legitimate

March 15:  Central Figure in Malaysian Submarine Murder Case Dies. Private detective who tied Prime Minister to relationship with murdered woman has heart attack.

2012

December 21:  Malaysian Carpet Dealer Names a New Figure in Scandal. Deepak Jaikishan names well connected lawyer in murder cover-up

December 13:  More Spectacular Malaysian Scandal Revelations. Carpet seller implicates, PM’s brother in bid to silence murder witness

December 4:  Torrent of Revelations Against Malaysian PM Continues
A rattled Najib tries to figure out how to counter allegations of criminal cover-up

November 28:  Cracks Open in Malaysia’s Murder-Sub Scandal. A key figure says he helped PM’s wife get a witness out of town

November 27:  French Lawyers Seek Malaysian PM Najib to Testify in Sub Scandal.  Highly doubtful that is going to happen, though

November 26:  Pesky French Lawyer Seeks to Return to KL. Sub scandal lawyer, booted out in 2011, scheduled by opposition to address parliament

October 23:  France Goes Slow on Bribery Reform. OECD report finds “serious deficiencies” in following up corruption probes

October 20:  Explosive Altantuya Revelations Coming?. Retired Malaysian Police Chief schedules mysterious Bangkok press conference Monday to announce “new revelations” in murder for hire case

October 18:  The Murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu. Six years on, troubling questions remain about the Mongolian beauty’s death, and who ordered it

June 27:  Altantuya in Paris. The murdered woman went to France with the man previously accused of her murder

June 26:  Malaysian Mindef Chief to Speak on Sub Scandal. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to defend government against corruption allegations

June 25:  Deep and Dirty: Malaysia’s Submarine Scandal. Leaked prosecution documents show a pattern of official misdeeds in two countries

June 25:  The French-Malaysian Submarine Scandal: the Documents. The 133 official documents uploaded onto this website are from the Directorate-General of the French National Police and the Judicial Police Directorate’s anti-organized and financial crimes unit.

April 30:  A Mystery Company in Malaysia’s French Sub Scandal. Is it just a sign on a Hong Kong door?

March 18:  Investigating Judges Named in Malaysia Submarine Graft Case French case draws closer to Malaysian officials

February 28:  Delayed Controversial Murder Appeal To Be Heard March 9.  Maybe, if it isn’t delayed again

January 26:  Altantuya Killers’ Appeal Up Soon. Case reopens doubts about Malaysian justice system

2011

July 22:  French Lawyer Detained in Kuala Lumpur. Leader of a team investigating kickbacks to Malaysian and French politicians is taken off a plane at KLIA

July 19:  Malaysia’s Sub Scandal Resurfaces. French prosecutors edge closer to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak

May 17:  WikiLeaks and the Altantuya Murder. Cables show the US embassy in KL feared “prosecutorial misconduct” during the sensational 2009 trial

April 15:  The Malaysian Murder that Won’t Go Away. Raja Petra backs off on claim linking Rosmah to Altantuya but questions remain

2010

November 22:  France’s Sub Scandal Resurfaces. Torpedoes Running!

November 5:  Closing the Books on Murder in Malaysia The episode of a sensational killing of a Mongolian translator appears to be about finished

June 30:  Mongolian Translator’s Murder Case Still Alive Mongolian government says it will fund a civil suit against Malaysia and Altantuya’s onetime lover

April 28:  Malaysian Submarine Scandal Ramps Up. French Lawyer Looks for Answers for Scandal in Kuala Lumpur 2009

November 13:  Najib and the Murdered Mongolian. The Malaysian murder case that won’t die

April 27:  French Legal Team in Malaysia to Probe Sub Deal Massive corruption suspected in billion-dollar deal tied to Prime Minister Najib

April 9:  Altantuya’s Killers Judged Guilty. But the case leaves an indelible stain on Malaysia’s political and legal systems

March 20:  The Confession that Never Was. A statement by the confessed murderer of Altantuya Shaariibuu raises more questions

March 9:  Again, What Did Najib Know and When Did He Know It?
An influential French daily newspaper raises new questions over the murder of a Mongolian translator in Malaysia

2009

December 7: The Murder that Won’t Go Away. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib again ducks questions over the death of a Mongolian translator

November 18:  Cherchez The French .Who got what for the sale of French submarines to Malaysia?

June 29:  The French Connection.In arms deals involving the French government, the chances of corruption are high

2008

November 24: Malaysia’s Mongolian Murder Mystery Continues.  The acquitted Abdul Razak Baginda does little to dispel suspicions over Deputy Prime Minister Najib’s involvement

November 4: The Fallout From a Malaysian Murder Verdict. The acquittal of a top political figure in the murder of a Mongolian translator appears unlikely to stop controversy

October 31: Political Analyst Freed in Mongolian Murder Case . If Abdul Razak Baginda didn’t order two elite cops to kill a Mongolian translator, who did?

October 20: A Malaysian Murder Trial to Nowhere .Two years after Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu was murdered, her accusers continue to sit in a courtroom

July 27: Bringing Najib to Malaysia’s Witness Stand. Unless Malaysia’s political opposition, it’s questionable if justice will be done

July 24: Malaysia’s Najib Ducks a Court Appearance. A high court judge rules that the Deputy Prime Minister doesn’t need to answer questions about a murder

July 21: Murder Most Foul .Malaysia’s legal pursuit of Anwar Ibrahim is destroying the country’s reputation

July 4: Balasubramaniam’s Statutory Declarations.

July 4: A Malaysian Private Eye Recants an Explosive Statement. Complete reversal on charges against Malaysia’s Deputy Prime minister raises questions of political pressure

June 23: Malaysian Deputy Premier’s Wife Allegedly Linked to Murder.An influential Malaysian Web journalist alleges that Najib Tun Razak’s wife was present when the Mongolian translator was murdered in 2006

April 30: Malaysian Deputy Premier Denies Murder Links. Najib Tun Razak says he had nothing to do with the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu. So why won’t he testify in court?

January 21: Malaysian Trial Drones Into Oblivion . Slain Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu sinks further from public consciousness

2007

October 15: Whatever Happened to Altantuya Shaariibuu? Timid prosecution, long delays and avoiding a powerful witness in a sensational murder case raise questions about Malaysia’s judicial system

September 10: What did Najib know and when did he know it?. Malaysia’s Mongolian murder trial raises more questions than it answers

September 3: Malaysia’s Politically Charged Murder Trial Resumes. Delays, avoidance of the powerful mark trial over murdered Mongolian beauty

August 6: Rot and More Rot in Malaysia’s Judicial System. The “retirement” of two top prosecutors is the latest fallout from the Mongolian murder trial, but the problems run deeper.

July 23: Some seriously troubling questions in Malaysia. An unbelievable spectacle took place in the bizarre murder trial of Mongolian beauty Altantuya Shaaribuu on June 29. Karpal Singh, the lawyer for the victim’s family, attempted to ask a question about a “government official” allegedly seen in a photograph with the victim. At that point, both the prosecutor and the defense lawyer sprang to their feet in unison to block the question.

July 13: Prosecution Setbacks in Mongolian Murder Case. Drama in a Malaysian courtroom as the prosecution treads water amid allegations of political pressure.

July 7: Maybe Najib Rides it Out. Despite a damaging week of revelations in the Mongolian murder case, clout and connections are likely to keep Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister where he is.

July 4: Witness Recounts Threats in Malaysian Murder Trial.Star witness says she was coerced as prosecutors challenge inconsistencies.

July 1: Najib and Altantuya: A Picture Connects Them.Testimony in a Malaysian courtroom links the Deputy Prime Minister to a lurid  murder case

June 22: Fury, Scorn and Murder in a Malaysian Courtroom. Sex, violence and political intrigue emerge in stunning testimony over a Mongolian beauty’s brutal slaying.

June 3: Mongolian beauty’s Malaysian Murder Case Postponed. Politically charged trial of three accused murderers is delayed as prosecution team is suddenly changed

March 30: Malaysia’s Deputy Premier Najib in Trouble? Pressure mounts in Kuala Lumpur to put the brakes on a scandal-tainted Malay politico

2006

November 8: Murder and Politics, Malaysia Style.Ruling party to debate its future while the slaying of a fashion model ensnares prominent politico

Sinking the Ships: Indonesia’s Foreign Policy under Jokowi


January 22, 2015

RSIS CommentariesCOMMENTARY

 Sinking the Ships: Indonesia’s Foreign Policy under Jokowi (CO15016)

by BA Hamzah*

Synopsis

BA HamzahDespite some adverse comments, President Joko Widodo is not about to drastically change Indonesia’s “free and active foreign policy”. What may change during his tenure is the emphasis, orientation and strategy.

His challenge is how to execute his foreign policy without losing friends. Jokowi should start calling on his ASEAN counterparts to continue the traditional regional diplomacy.

Commentary

OUTWARDLY PRESIDENT Joko Widodo’s policy of burning and sinking fishing vessels from friendly states for illegal fishing gives the impression that he cares less for regional diplomacy. His policy is a stark contrast to his predecessor President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s policy of “a million friends and zero enemies”. Yudhoyono has assiduously courted many friends over the last decade. In less than one hundred days, his successor, however, seems bent on leaving behind a different legacy.

indonesia-ship-kri-todak-Indonesian Navy Ship deployed to protect territorial waters

Although the action of burning fishing vessels is essentially a domestic matter, it has foreign policy implications. For states which have signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with Indonesia on how to treat wayward fishermen, especially in disputed maritime space (such as with Malaysia), the action has ruffled diplomatic feathers as it breaches international norms and possibly the ethics of modern-day diplomacy.

What next?

Coupled with Jokowi’s observations on what appears to be Indonesia’s conditional support for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), for example, it is daunting to speculate what he will do in the next five years. Many critics (including Indonesians) have asked whether the new President is changing course, pursuing a new foreign policy orientation, or simply grabbing headlines for domestic consumption.

Notwithstanding all the nuances, I believe President Jokowi will keep Indonesia on an even keel. He is not about to drastically change Indonesia’s foreign policy. Jokowi is going to retain Indonesia’s independent posture known as the “free and active foreign policy”, which has guided Indonesia for so long. What may change during his tenure, though, is the emphasis, orientation and strategy to achieve the objective while strengthening his political grip domestically. In a way, he may give the impression that he cares less about diplomacy – but is he?

As Head of State, he is answerable to the Parliament on many issues. As such, he has to operate within certain institutional bounds. Under President Jokowi, Indonesia is not likely to dump membership in ASEAN, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), United Nations, World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

On the contrary, Jakarta is likely to strengthen its role in all the multilateral institutions including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the East Asia Summit and the Group of Twenty (G20), the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and others. Rubbing shoulders with the world’s leading politicians is an essential part of diplomacy. More importantly, the national interests of Indonesia are better served by supporting their objectives.

Domestic support and diplomatic bridges

Just like his predecessors, Jokowi would not downplay the relevance of geography and geopolitics in the making of foreign policy. In a nation that is fast emerging as a middle power, Jokowi has to take into account demography and domestic politics, including managing rising nationalist sentiments in foreign policy making.

Jokowi-2Decisive Leadership

To be one among equals in the region, President Jokowi needs to formulate a pragmatic foreign policy. As he goes about strengthening his credentials at home, he should not burn the proverbial diplomatic bridges.

The seizure of the fishing vessels is Jokowi’s way of telling Indonesians that he is no pushover when it comes to defending the sovereignty and national resources of the state. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, in the long-run, the Indonesian Parliament is not likely to allow President Jokowi a free hand to undermine further Indonesia’s diplomatic credentials. Appealing to nationalist sentiments may have short-term advantages. However, it will not augur well with multilateralism in the global era.

One perennial complaint about Yudhoyono when he was in power was his indecisiveness. President Jokowi wants to be perceived as a decisive person, who does not always dance to the tune of big power politics. He will soon find out whether in an interdependent world, a reclusive nationalist is able to navigate through the rough seas all alone.

In the region, Jokowi will have to tread carefully in ASEAN waters. If he adopts a very aloof policy towards ASEAN, at a time when the organisation needs robust support from all, regional cooperation will take a back seat. Despite recent statements, there is no reason to expect Indonesia to abandon ASEAN, which has contributed positively to the political development of Indonesia since the New Order replaced Sukarno in 1966. To clear the air of uncertainty in the region, Jokowi should start calling on his ASEAN counterparts as traditional diplomacy dictates.

Jokowi’s three-pronged maritime strategy

Since the time of President Suharto, Indonesia has had a moderating influence on ASEAN. For example, when the 45th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Phnom Penh in July 2012 failed to adopt the traditional Joint Communiqué, the Indonesian foreign minister stepped in to save the day. Together with his counterpart from Singapore, they drafted ASEAN’s Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea disputes.

To its credit, Indonesia has been instrumental in promoting the ASEAN Political and Security Community (APSC). Jakarta was also instrumental in establishing the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (1976) and Bali Concord II, which provided the foundation for the emerging ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Due to be formalised by the end of this year, the AEC will not be realised without Indonesia.

Over China, President Jokowi walks a tight rope. No one expects Jokowi to shy away from criticising China for its expansive maritime claims that overlaps with Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the Natuna islands. Nevertheless, demography, geopolitics, geography, economics and realpolitik dictate that Indonesia and China remain the best of friends. Moreover, Indonesia is considered the most acceptable party to engage with an assertive China in the South China Sea. For example, Jakarta can push for the conclusion of the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. It can also help moderate the Sino-US naval rivalry in the region.

President Jokowi’s policy of transforming the Indonesian maritime space is three-pronged. The first prong deals with strengthening internal resilience. The crackdown on illegal fishing is just one aspect of it. Upgrading the capabilities of the navy and air force is the second. The third prong involves the construction of some 24 deep-seaports across the entire archipelago as well as improving other support facilities in the maritime sector.

President Jokowi’s decision to upgrade the navy may exacerbate the ongoing regional naval arms race and make it more complex to manage regional security problems at sea, including the overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea. Besides Indonesia, Australia, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are also expanding their respective submarine fleets.

The challenge for President Jokowi is how to execute a robust maritime policy without losing friends in the region.

*B. A. Hamzah is a Senior Lecturer with the Department of Strategic Studies, National Defence University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. The views are personal. He contributed this specially to RSIS Commentary.

Anything that flies on anything that moves


October 20, 2014

Anything that flies on anything that moves

By John Pilger

In transmitting President Richard Nixon’s orders for a “massive” bombing ofHenry A.Kissinger Cambodia in 1969, Henry Kissinger (left)  said, “Anything that flies on everything that moves”. As Barack Obama ignites his seventh war against the Muslim world since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the orchestrated hysteria and lies make one almost nostalgic for Kissinger’s murderous honesty.

As a witness to the human consequences of aerial savagery – including the beheading of victims, their parts festooning trees and fields – I am not surprised by the disregard of memory and history, yet again. A telling example is the rise to power of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, who had much in common with today’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They, too, were ruthless medievalists who began as a small sect. They, too, were the product of an American-made apocalypse, this time in Asia.

According to Pol Pot, his movement had consisted of “fewer than 5,000 poorly armed guerrillas uncertain about their strategy, tactics, loyalty and leaders”. Once Nixon’s and Kissinger’s B52 bombers had gone to work as part of “Operation Menu”, the west’s ultimate demon could not believe his luck.

The Americans dropped the equivalent of five Hiroshimas on rural Cambodia during 1969-73. They leveled village after village, returning to bomb the rubble and corpses. The craters left monstrous necklaces of carnage, still visible from the air. The terror was unimaginable. A former Khmer Rouge official described how the survivors “froze up and they would wander around mute for three or four days. Terrified and half-crazy, the people were ready to believe what they were told … That was what made it so easy for the Khmer Rouge to win the people over.”

A Finnish Government Commission of Enquiry estimated that 600,000 Cambodians RM Nixondied in the ensuing civil war and described the bombing as the “first stage in a decade of genocide”. What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot, their beneficiary, completed. Under their bombs, the Khmer Rouge grew to a formidable army of 200,000.

ISIS has a similar past and present. By most scholarly measure, Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the deaths of some 700,000 people – in a country that had no history of jihadism. The Kurds had done territorial and political deals; Sunni and Shia had class and sectarian differences, but they were at peace; intermarriage was common. Three years before the invasion, I drove the length of Iraq without fear. On the way I met people proud, above all, to be Iraqis, the heirs of a civilization that seemed, for them, a presence.

Bush and Blair blew all this to bits. Iraq is now a nest of jihadism. Al-Qaeda – like Pol Pot’s “jihadists” – seized the opportunity provided by the onslaught of Shock and Awe and the civil war that followed. “Rebel” Syria offered even greater rewards, with CIA and Gulf state ratlines of weapons, logistics and money running through Turkey. The arrival of foreign recruits was inevitable. A former British ambassador, Oliver Miles, wrote recently, “The [Cameron] government seems to be following the example of Tony Blair, who ignored consistent advice from the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6 that our Middle East policy – and in particular our Middle East wars – had been a principal driver in the recruitment of Muslims in Britain for terrorism here.”

ISIS is the progeny of those in Washington and London who, in destroying Iraq as both a state and a society, conspired to commit an epic crime against humanity. Like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ISIS are the mutations of a western state terror dispensed by a venal imperial elite undeterred by the consequences of actions taken at great remove in distance and culture. Their culpability is unmentionable in “our” societies.

It is 23 years since this holocaust enveloped Iraq, immediately after the first Gulf War, when the US and Britain hijacked the United Nations Security Council and imposed punitive “sanctions” on the Iraqi population – ironically, reinforcing the domestic authority of Saddam Hussein. It was like a medieval siege. Almost everything that sustained a modern state was, in the jargon, “blocked” – from chlorine for making the water supply safe to school pencils, parts for X-ray machines, common painkillers and drugs to combat previously unknown cancers carried in the dust from the southern battlefields contaminated with Depleted Uranium.

Just before Christmas 1999, the Department of Trade and Industry in London restricted the export of vaccines meant to protect Iraqi children against diphtheria and yellow fever. Kim Howells, a medical doctor and parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Blair government, explained why. “The children’s vaccines”, he said, “were capable of being used in weapons of mass destruction”. The British Government could get away with such an outrage because media reporting of Iraq – much of it manipulated by the Foreign Office – blamed Saddam Hussein for everything.

Under a bogus “humanitarian” Oil for Food Programme, $100 was allotted for each Iraqi to live on for a year. This figure had to pay for the entire society’s infrastructure and essential services, such as power and water. “Imagine,” the UN Assistant Secretary General, Hans Von Sponeck, told me, “setting that pittance against the lack of clean water, and the fact that the majority of sick people cannot afford treatment, and the sheer trauma of getting from day to day, and you have a glimpse of the nightmare. And make no mistake, this is deliberate. I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable.”

Disgusted, Von Sponeck resigned as UN Humanitarian Co-Ordinator in Iraq. His predecessor, Denis Halliday, an equally distinguished senior UN official, had also resigned. “I was instructed,” Halliday said, “to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults.”

AlbrightA study by the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef, found that between 1991 and 1998, the height of the blockade, there were 500,000 “excess” deaths of Iraqi infants under the age of five. An American TV reporter put this to Madeleine Albright, US Ambassador to the United Nations, asking her, “Is the price worth it?” Albright replied, “We think the price is worth it.”

In 2007, the senior British official responsible for the sanctions, Carne Ross, known as “Mr. Iraq”, told a parliamentary selection committee, “[The US and UK governments] effectively denied the entire population a means to live.” When I interviewed Carne Ross three years later, he was consumed by regret and contrition. “I feel ashamed,” he said. He is today a rare truth-teller of how governments deceive and how a compliant media plays a critical role in disseminating and maintaining the deception. “We would feed [journalists] factoids of sanitised intelligence,” he said, “or we’d freeze them out.”

On 25 September, a headline in the Guardian read: “Faced with the horror of Isis we must act.” The “we must act” is a ghost risen, a warning of the suppression of informed memory, facts, lessons learned and regrets or shame. The author of the article was Peter Hain, the former Foreign Office minister responsible for Iraq under Blair. In 1998, when Denis Halliday revealed the extent of the suffering in Iraq for which the Blair Government shared primary responsibility, Hain abused him on the BBC’s Newsnight as an “apologist for Saddam”. In 2003, Hain backed Blair’s invasion of stricken Iraq on the basis of transparent lies. At a subsequent Labour Party conference, he dismissed the invasion as a “fringe issue”.

Now Hain is demanding “air strikes, drones, military equipment and other support” for those “facing genocide” in Iraq and Syria. This will further “the imperative of a political solution”. Obama has the same in mind as he lifts what he calls the “restrictions” on US bombing and drone attacks. This means that missiles and 500-pound bombs can smash the homes of peasant people, as they are doing without restriction in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia – as they did in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. On 23 September, a Tomahawk cruise missile hit a village in Idlib Province in Syria, killing as many as a dozen civilians, including women and children. None waved a black flag.

HansThe day Hain’s article appeared, Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck happened to be in London and came to visit me. They were not shocked by the lethal hypocrisy of a politician, but lamented the enduring, almost inexplicable absence of intelligent diplomacy in negotiating a semblance of truce. Across the world, from Northern Ireland to Nepal, those regarding each other as terrorists and heretics have faced each other across a table. Why not now in Iraq and Syria.

Like Ebola from West Africa, a bacteria called “perpetual war” has crossed the Atlantic. Lord Richards, until recently head of the British military, wants “boots on the ground” now. There is a vapid, almost sociopathic verboseness from Cameron, Obama and their “coalition of the willing” – notably Australia’s aggressively weird Tony Abbott – as they prescribe more violence delivered from 30,000 feet on places where the blood of previous adventures never dried. They have never seen bombing and they apparently love it so much they want it to overthrow their one potentially valuable ally, Syria. This is nothing new, as the following leaked UK-US intelligence file illustrates:

“In order to facilitate the action of liberative [sic] forces … a special effort should be made to eliminate certain key individuals [and] to proceed with internal disturbances in Syria. CIA is prepared, and SIS (MI6) will attempt to mount minor sabotage and coup de main [sic] incidents within Syria, working through contacts with individuals… a necessary degree of fear… frontier and [staged] border clashes [will] provide a pretext for intervention… the CIA and SIS should use… capabilities in both psychological and action fields to augment tension.”

That was written in 1957, though it could have been written yesterday. In the imperial world, nothing essentially changes. Last year, the former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas revealed that “two years before the Arab spring”, he was told in London that a war on Syria was planned. “I am going to tell you something,” he said in an interview with the French TV channel LPC, “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria … Britain was organising an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer Minister for Foreign Affairs, if I would like to participate … This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned.”

The only effective opponents of ISIS are accredited demons of the west – Syria, Iran, Hezbollah. The obstacle is Turkey, an “ally” and a member of NATO, which has conspired with the CIA, MI6 and the Gulf medievalists to channel support to the Syrian “rebels”, including those now calling themselves ISIS. Supporting Turkey in its long-held ambition for regional dominance by overthrowing the Assad government beckons a major conventional war and the horrific dismemberment of the most ethnically diverse state in the Middle East.

A truce – however difficult to achieve – is the only way out of this imperial maze; otherwise, the beheadings will continue. That genuine negotiations with Syria should be seen as “morally questionable” (the Guardian) suggests that the assumptions of moral superiority among those who supported the war criminal Blair remain not only absurd, but dangerous.

Together with a truce, there should be an immediate cessation of all shipments of war materials to Israel and recognition of the State of Palestine. The issue of Palestine is the region’s most festering open wound, and the oft-stated justification for the rise of Islamic extremism. Osama bin Laden made that clear. Palestine also offers hope. Give justice to the Palestinians and you begin to change the world around them.

More than 40 years ago, the Nixon-Kissinger bombing of Cambodia unleashed aBlair and Bush torrent of suffering from which that country has never recovered. The same is true of the Blair-Bush crime in Iraq. With impeccable timing, Henry Kissinger’s latest self-serving tome has just been released with its satirical title, “World Order”. In one fawning review, Kissinger is described as a “key shaper of a world order that remained stable for a quarter of a century”. Tell that to the people of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Chile, East Timor and all the other victims of his “statecraft”. Only when “we” recognise the war criminals in our midst will the blood begin to dry.

Posted with permission www.johnpilger.com

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/World/WOR-01-091014.html

Book Review: ‘Worthy Fights,’ by Leon E. Panetta


October 10, 2014

On Actions Taken, or Not

‘Worthy Fights,’ by Leon E. Panetta

by Michiko Kakutani (10-06-14)

Malaysia Offers to Host U.S. Navy Aircraft


October 6, 2014

Malaysia Offers to Host U.S. Navy Aircraft

by Trefor Moss at trefor.moss@wsj.com

U.S. Says Malaysia’s Offer Covers Flights From Base on Edge of Waters Claimed by China

http://online.wsj.com/articles/malaysia-offers-to-host-u-s-navy-aircraft-military-official-says-1410524618

Malaysia has offered to host U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft at a base on the edge of a disputed part of the South China Sea, a move likely to heighten Chinese sensitivities about U.S. involvement in the region.

US Navy U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon

With the Philippines and Singapore having already agreed to host rotations of U.S. forces, Malaysian support marks a further boost to the Obama administration’s policy of rebalancing toward the Asian-Pacific region as anxiety persists in Southeast Asia about China’s assertiveness over its territorial claims.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the U.S. Navy’s chief of naval operations, said that “the Malaysians have offered us to fly detachments of P-8s out of East Malaysia” in a speech delivered Monday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank based in Washington.

The P-8 is capable of long-range surveillance and anti-submarine missions.Adm. Greenert emphasized the Malaysian base’s “closeness to the South China Sea” and identified Malaysia, along with Indonesia and Singapore, as “the key” to the U.S. Navy successfully increasing its regional presence.

The facility in question is likely to be the Royal Malaysian Air Force base on the island of Labuan, off the coast of Borneo, which U.S. forces have used for exercises in the past, according to a U.S. Navy officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter.

While the ownership of Labuan itself isn’t disputed by China, it lies close to the southern end of the Spratly Islands chain, which Malaysia and China both contest.

Lt. Rebekah Johnson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, said that no formal agreement had yet been signed between Kuala Lumpur and Washington, but she confirmed that an offer was on the table for P-8 aircraft to use the air base “on a case-by-case basis.”

Malaysian officials didn’t respond to questions about the arrangement. China’s foreign and defense ministries didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

While other South China Sea claimants—notably the Philippines and Vietnam—have objected vociferously to what they regard as aggressive Chinese behavior, Malaysia has kept a lower profile in the disputes, generally refraining from openly criticizing China.

Malaysia’s view of how to handle China seemed to shift, however, during the bruising experience after the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March, said Tim Huxley, executive director of the IISS-Asia, a Singapore-based think tank. Mr. Huxley said the incident not only exposed serious weaknesses in Malaysia’s air defense system, which failed to track the lost airliner effectively, but also left the country feeling bullied by China. Beijing took a keen interest in the search operation because of the 153 Chinese passengers on board and at times disparaged Malaysia’s efforts.

That episode, combined with Chinese pressure in the South China Sea, may finally have led Kuala Lumpur to see “a confluence of interest” with the U.S. and “may have provided sufficient incentives for Malaysia to further intensify defense and security relations,” Mr. Huxley said.

President Barack Obama visited the country in April and agreed to upgrade bilateral relations with Malaysia to the level of “comprehensive partnership,” signaling a broad commitment to increase collaboration in a wide range of areas, including defense.

China has repeatedly opposed the U.S.’s monitoring of its activities in the South China Sea—especially with aircraft, like the P-8, capable of tracking submarines. On Tuesday, Gen. Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, told U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice, who was visiting Beijing, that the U.S. should scale back or completely halt monitoring near the Chinese coast.

Last month, a Chinese fighter jet intercepted a U.S. Navy P-8 off the coast of Hainan. The incident sparked fears that there could be a repeat of the 2001 collision between a U.S. surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter, also near Hainan, due to what the Pentagon described as dangerous maneuvers on the part of the Chinese pilot. China denied this, saying its fighter kept a safe distance during the encounter.

Write to Trefor Moss at trefor.moss@wsj.com

Civilisational clash ‘not of our doing’


September 29, 2014

Civilisational clash ‘not of our doing’

by Dr. Farish M. Noor@www.nst.com,my

farish-a-noorTHE ongoing bombardment of Syria — ostensibly to remove the threat of the Islamic State (IS) — has sparked off a bout of serious questioning about the propriety of the campaign, and whether such a strategy would actually work.

Interestingly, many of these questions are also being raised in the Western press, where opinion makers have argued that such a strategy may well end up entrenching IS further and angering ordinary civilians, who will also be the victims of such attacks, for it is well-known that “smart weapons” are seldom truly smart, and that civilian casualties are bound to be incurred.

But more worrying still is the talk of a “war against evil” and the need to fight against IS in the defence of “civilisation”, “law and order”, and “justice”.The somewhat simplistic dialectics of such arguments are embarrassingly clear, where the insurgents of IS are being labelled as uncivilised and barbaric, while those who attack them have summarily assumed the mantle of a higher moral authority.

Under such circumstances, is it any wonder if critical thinkers the world over have opined that what we are seeing today is a nasty prelude to a larger conflict that will be fought along the fault-lines of culture and civilisation?

Lest it be forgotten, we need to remember that IS does not represent the civilisation of Arab-Muslims in any way. In their deeds and words IS does not represent the same grand civilisation that was the product of thinkers like al-Ghazali, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd and Ibn Khaldun.

As many contemporary Muslim leaders have argued, what we see in the ranks of IS is a travesty of Arab civilisation that was once the fountainhead of science and rational thinking.  But equally worrisome is the language and vocabulary of IS’s opponents, who have applied to them a pathology that is general, sweeping and reductionist.

To argue, as some Western leaders and policymakers have, that IS is the result of blind hate and anger, would be to reduce the frustrations and anxieties of millions of Arabs to bare emotions and reactionary action, without any attempt to understand and recognise the very real political-economic underpinnings of such collective anxiety.

It is dumfounding that hardly any of these leaders have noted the obvious fact that IS has emerged in a region that has been torn apart for three decades, since the Iran-Iraq war, that was also supported by external states and other actors.

It is equally perplexing to note that none of these leaders have acknowledged their own culpability in their policy of intervening in that region — in the name of “regime change” — and by doing so, weakened the states of the Arab world to the point where none of them can really rein in radical movements and splinter groups like IS. Do we seriously expect a moderate society to emerge from a region that has been reduced to a war zone for so long?

It is for this reason that the term “Clash of Civilisations” is so misleading, and dangerously so. As a glib slogan that reduces and over-simplifies the complexity of the problems of the Arab world, it is a convenient by-word that allows external actors and players to absolve themselves of their own responsibility for the mess they have created.

The term is dangerous in the manner that it reduces the phenomenon of violent radical resistance to the level of primordial irrational sentiments, and reinforces the racist stereotype of Arabs as inherently violent and pathologically fatalistic.

In dealing with the real problem of groups like IS, a degree of honest, objective analysis is required that would also unveil the hidden hands at work, the connections with external agendas and interests.

What we do not need at the moment is some convenient slogan that white-washes the facts about intervention, regime change/manipulation and their monstrous outcomes.

And, we need to remember that the idea of the “Clash of Civilisations” itself is a concept that was never invented by us, but rather imposed upon us and other communities — perhaps in an effort to deny our genuine political-economic needs and aspirations, and to discard serious critical thinking for simplistic oppositional dialectics instead.