Idealism is the new realism, it has been said. Nowhere has the adage proved more pertinent than in South East Europe, where socially fired popular protests against despotic regimes have consistently worked to strengthen the position of the Western alliance and the democratic world generally. It was, of course, thanks to the great wave of democratic revolutions in 1989, culminating in the overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu, that the two East Balkan countries of Romania and Bulgaria – not so long ago bastions of the worst kind of Communist tyranny – are today members of NATO and the EU. Serbia’s turn toward the West began with the revolution of October 2000 that overthrew Slobodan Milosevic; though this turning point turned out to be less sharp than was first imagined, Serbia’s evolution into a democratic state with credible ambitions to EU membership has been steady, if not exactly smooth, since then. Georgia and Ukraine, too, turned westward with the Rose and Orange Revolutions of 2003 and 2004.
Some might be inclined to view this through Cold War lenses, and to say that such upheavals are to be desired when directed against hostile regimes, but less so when directed against those that are our allies. Yet this would be to fail to grasp the political realities of the late 2000s. For there is a very good case to be made that states today that are less than democratic are necessarily less than perfect as allies, and that being subject to democratic change can only improve them in this regard. This is because authoritarian regimes tend inevitably to present pressure for democratic change in occidentalist, nativist terms, as part of an alien, Western imperialist, possibly Jewish assault on the nation. And rhetoric of this kind inevitably serves to undermine any alliance we may have with them, even if purely geopolitical factors should work in favour of such an alliance. Conversely, genuine democrats in non-democratic or democratising states will usually look to the US and EU as beacons of light.
This may be demonstrated by a look at the southern flank of South East Europe – Turkey and Greece. Both countries have been committed members of NATO for many years, but anti-democratic tendencies in both have rendered them less than model allies. Turkey’s brutal suppression of its Kurdish population, and the resulting war between the Turkish security forces and Kurdish PKK rebels, has persistently spilled over into northern Iraq, further undermining stability in that already barely stable country. Turkey is a strategically crucial member of the Western alliance, yet its human rights abuses, its restrictions on free speech and its military’s interference in politics have helped to keep it out of the EU. Turkey’s gradual democratisation in recent years, under the guidance of the moderately Islamic, pro-EU Justice and Development Party (AKP), has ironically, according to some sources, led extremist elements from the ranks of the secular Turks to begin closing ranks with the Turkish Islamists on an anti-democratic, anti-Western basis. It is the democratising elements that look westward, while their opponents seek to defend the nation and/or faith from corrupting Western influences.
As for Greece, though its restrictions on democracy and human rights abuses are not on the scale of Turkey’s, as an ally of the West it scores much lower than its eastern neighbour – precisely because it is not a mature democracy. Greece’s disgraceful role in regional politics; its past support for the Milosevic regime; its undermining of the fragile states of Macedonia and Kosova – all are the result in large part of a Greek ultranationalism that also hates the West as the mortal enemy of the Orthodox East, as Greek journalist Takis Michas has brilliantly described. Greece is, furthermore, among the most anti-Semitic countries in Europe, something that the Greek media’s reaction to the Gaza conflict has only confirmed.
Both Greece and Turkey are, however, countries whose internal politics are very much in states of flux. Greece has in recent weeks been the scene of a huge explosion of social anger on the part of youth and workers, directed against the very government of Costas Karamanlis that has been proving such a menace to regional stability. The protests have included riots, vandalism and assaults on police officers, something that can only be condemned without reservation. But the violent element cannot obscure the large numbers of Greeks who have been protesting and striking peacefully. Although the protests have now passed their peak, the social struggle in Greece is not over; Greek farmers are currently blockading roads and border crossings in Greece in protest at the low prices of farm produce. It would be a mistake to see these protests purely in social terms; as was the case with the Romanian revolution of 1989 and the Serbian revolution of 2000, the Greek protests, fired as they are by social grievances, may have positive political effects. There is every reason to hope that these protests will hasten the end of the Karamanlis regime and contribute to a political rejuvenation of Greek politics, resulting in a country more at peace with itself and with its neighbours.
There was a time, perhaps still not completely past, when radical socialists would see in every wave of social protest the harbinger of the overthrow of capitalism, and many members of the conservative right would fear such protest for the same reason. Yet saner heads today know this is false: ordinary people are fundamentally conservative with a small ‘c’. They do not want the overthrow of capitalism, or revolution for revolution’s sake, but engage in social protest defensively, when the system seems to be letting them down. What they want is stability, prosperity and the pursuit of happiness – things that liberal democracy is better able to offer than any other political system. For all the Cassandras’ talk of how recognising Kosova’s independence in February 2008 would drive the Serbian people into the arms of the extreme nationalists, most Serbian people are fundamentally less interested in Kosova than they are in feeding themselves and their families – as was proved when pro-European elements won the Serbian parliamentary elections that followed soon after international recognition of Kosova’s independence. Bread and butter issues will, in the last resort, trump nationalist pipe-dreams; Turkish Cypriots abandoned the unrealisable goal of an independent Turkish Cypriot state when in 2004 they voted overwhelmingly in favour of Cyprus’s reunification on the basis of the Annan Plan, because they wanted to enjoy the benefits of EU membership. Greek students who had a better chance of finding decent jobs and pursuing more promising careers after graduating would be less likely to go out on to the streets to fight the police. Thus, the ordinary people of the Balkans, like the rest of us, have an interest in the spread of stable, post-nationalist liberal democracy.
Quieter, but perhaps ultimately more significant than the social explosion in Greece, is the movement to apologise for the Armenian genocide currently under way in Turkey; more than 28,000 Turkish citizens to date have signed a petition drafted by a group of Turkish intellectuals apologising for what happened to the Armenians in 1915. Turkish state prosecutors have announced they will not take action against the organisers of the petition. This campaign, the work of entirely mainstream Turkish academics, journalists and others, marks a tremendous step forward for Turkish democracy; a step toward a Turkey that will, it is to be hoped, enjoy normal relations with neighbours like Armenia, Cyprus and Iraq, and whose commitment to, and sharing of the values of, the Western democratic bloc will be unquestioned. Yet this process of democratisation depends entirely on the initiatives of brave individuals, such as the organisers of the apology petition.
No southeast European nation is a stauncher friend of the West than Kosova. Here, a particularly active protest movent exists, directed against the international administration of the country but catalysed by social discontent, and spearheaded by Vetevendosje. Given the dismal record and stupendous corruption of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the pusillanimity of the EU in resisting Serbian efforts to destabilise Kosova, the frustration and anger that have spawned this movement can only be described as entirely legitimate and justified. The people of Kosova are as deserving of full democracy as any other nation, and full democracy requires full international independence. If we allow the international administration of Kosova to drag on indefinitely, without any meaningful progress on the reintegration of the Serb-controlled areas, we shall only have ourselves to blame for any future popular explosions in Kosova in which the international administration finds itself on the receiving end.
We can, at the very least, learn something from the Russians about how not to treat one’s allies. After the Russians cut gas supplies to the Balkans in the course of their dispute with Ukraine, citizens of Russia’s supposed ‘ally’ Serbia, in the industrial city of Kragujevac, burned a Russian flag earlier this month in protest at being left without heat during the winter. And as one elderly Belgrade resident was quoted as saying, ‘Russians always gave us nothing but misery. They should never be trusted, as this gas blackmail of Europe shows’. Resentment of Russia is not limited to Serbia, but has spread across eastern Europe. In the words of one elderly citizen of Bulgaria, another country frequently described as traditionally pro-Russian: ‘This is a war without weapons in which Russia has used its control of energy supply to flex its muscles in front of the world… I am cold and angry. We have always been dependent on Russia, and this crisis shows that the situation hasn’t changed. Instead of bombs or missiles, they want us to freeze to death.’ In the Bulgarian port of Varna, residents demonstrated in front of the Russian consulate, holding banners that read ‘Stop Putin’s gas war’. Moscow’s mistake has been to wage its gas war indiscriminately, without taking into account the effect this would have on South East Europeans upon whose goodwill its geopolitical ambitions ultimately depend.
The biggest advantage that the democratic world has over its enemies is that its governments govern with the consent of the people. We must never forget this, as we strive to deal with the difficult set of problems facing us in South East Europe.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
‘Left-wing people are always sad because they mind dreadfully about their causes, and the causes are always going so badly.’ – Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love
Greater Surbiton became one year old on 7 November. Some weeks before that, it passed the figure of 100,000 page-views. Many thanks to all my readers. Well, at least to some of them. As it has been a very busy academic term, I have not had the time until now to write a suitably self-indulgent birthday post. I apologise in advance for the rambling that follows.
I had two principal aims in mind when launching this blog: to discuss what progressive politics might mean in the twenty-first century, and to provide commentary on South East European affairs. The second of these has tended to predominate, partly because it has been such an eventful year in South East Europe, with the international recognition of Kosova, the failed nationalist assault on the liberal order in Serbia, the escalation of the conflicts between Greece and Macedonia and between Turkey and the PKK, the failed judicial putsch against the AKP government in Turkey, the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the Russian invasion of Georgia, and so on. Although the recognition of Kosova and the defeat of anti-democratic initiatives in Serbia and Turkey gives us reason for optimism about the region, all the indications are that events there will not cease to be ‘interesting’ in the forseeable future. Key struggles are either being decided now, or are simmering: for the international recognition of Kosova and its successful functioning as a state; for the defence of Macedonia’s name and nationhood; for the democratisation of Turkey; for the resolution of the Cyprus conflict; for the defence of Georgia’s independence and territorial integrity; and for the reintegration of Bosnia.
While I remain cautiously optimistic about at least some of these, reason for concern is provided by the direction in which EU policy is tending. This includes support for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s disgraceful six-point plan for Kosova, which will reinforce the country’s ‘partition lite’. It includes also support for a new partnership with Russia, in violation of the ceasefire agreement over Georgia (from which Russian forces have refused fully to withdraw) and at the expense of the military defence of the states of Eastern Europe. All this indicates a new appetite for appeasement, for which France, Germany, Italy and Spain are principally responsible. The big unknown, at the time of writing, is precisely what the Obama Administration’s policy toward the region will be. I am somewhat Obamaskeptic and have voiced my concern about this already, but we really won’t know what Obama will do until he assumes office. In the meantime, I am happy to note that our own, British ruling classes show no indication of going back down the road shamefully trodden by John Major’s government in the 1990s: David Miliband’s performance as Foreign Secretary with regard to South East Europe has on the whole been commendable, while David Cameron’s response to Russian aggression in Georgia was magnificent. Whichever party wins the next British general election, the UK is likely to act as a brake on some of the more ignoble impulses of our West European allies.
It is fortunate, indeed, that the only political parties likely to win the next general election are Labour and the Conservatives, both of them respectable parties of government, rather than some irrelevant fringe group. Such as the Liberal Democrats. I have written to my various MPs several times in the course of my life, and on a couple of occasions to other elected politicians. The only one who never wrote back was my current MP Ed Davey, the MP for Kingston and Surbiton, to whom I wrote to ask to support the campaign to provide asylum in the UK to Iraqi employees of the British armed forces. No doubt, as Mr Davey has assumed the immensely important job of Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, he will have even less time to waste on trivial matters such as writing to his constituents, and no doubt democracy would anyway potter along so much better if we all stopped pestering our MPs. And the fruits of Mr Davey’s labour are there for all to see – such as this empty, incoherent, waffling attack on ‘neo-Cons, from Dick Cheney to David Cameron’, for being too ‘macho’ over Georgia. One can always rely on a certain type of wishy-washy liberal to be infinitely more offended by resolute calls for action against aggression than they are by the aggression itself. The line isn’t to oppose aggression, comrades; the line is to oppose people who oppose aggression. The electoral contest here in Kingston and Surbiton is a straight fight between the Conservatives and the LibDems; readers may rest assured I won’t be voting for the LibDems.
Indeed, as a point of principle, progressives can no longer automatically back the left-wing candidate against the right-wing candidate; we need to think hard before deciding whether to back Merkel or Schroeder; Sarkozy or Royal; Livingstone or Johnson; Obama or McCain; Cameron or Brown. Politicians and parties of the left or of the right may be a force for positive change, while both the parliamentary left and the right must move toward the centre if they want to win elections. Thus, the US presidential election was fought between two centrist candidates, lost by the one who waged the more divisive and partisan campaign, and won by the one who reconciled a message of change with a message of healing and reconciliation. About a billion commentators have pointed out the signficance of a black man being elected president of the US, yet it was the reviled George W. Bush who appointed the US’s first black Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in 2001, and first black woman Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in 2005, something to which even the Guardian’s Gary Younge pays tribute.
Only joking. In his article at the start of this month on how inspiring the possibility of a black president is for young black people in the US, Younge actually complained that Obama hadn’t been all good, because he had voted to confirm Rice as Secretary of State. A couple of years ago, Younge said: ‘Of course, on one level it’s important that black people have the right to fuck up and to be bad, but we have to separate progress of symbols and progress of substance. At a symbolic level, Condoleezza Rice does represent some kind of progress, but if that’s where we are going with this thing I’m getting off the train now.’ Has everyone got that ? The election or appointment of black politicians to senior posts in the US should only be celebrated as symbolic of positive change if they’re politically sympathetic in the eyes of Guardian journalists.
If there’s one blogging decision I took that I was initially unsure about, but now definitely do not regret, it was the decision not to have comments. I realise that this makes me a social outcast in the blogosphere – something equivalent to a leper during the Middle Ages. But do you know what, dear readers ? I really don’t care. Just as I don’t like dog turds, half-eaten kebabs and squashed bubble gum littering the parks and pavements where I walk, let alone on my doorstep, so I don’t want my nice clean blog littered with comments from the assorted riff-raff of the internet: Chetniks; Ustashas; national chauvinists; genocide-deniers; Stalinists; Nazis; ‘anti-imperialists’; ‘anti-Zionists’; Islamophobes; Islamofascists; BNP supporters; SWP supporters; Red-Brown elements; ultra-left sectarians; toilet-mouthed troglodytes; Jeremy Kyle fodder; ‘Comment is Free’ types; and others like them. And I particularly don’t want flippant, inane comments that take ten seconds to think up and write, by Benjis who don’t bother to read the post properly in the first place. Thank you very much.
Let’s face it, members of the above-listed categories generally comprise about half of all the people who comment on blogs dealing with my fields.
Of course, all credit to those bloggers who do succeed in managing comments in a way that keeps the debate lively and the trolls and trogs to a minimum. But I see no reason why every article has to be followed by comments. While I applaud the democratisation of the means of communication that the blogging revolution represents, this democratisation has come at a price. The ubiquitous nature of online discussion and the generally inadequate level of comments moderation has resulted in a vulgarisation of public discourse. Where once the letters editor of a paper could be relied on to reject automatically semi-literate, abusive or otherwise bottom-quality letters for publication, now many, if not most, online discussions are filled with outright filth and rubbish. Well, I’m doing my bit for the online environment.
Related to this is the unfortunate fashion for blogging and commenting anonymously, which inevitably results in a ruder, nastier online atmosphere. I’m not going to judge any individual who chooses to remain anonymous – you may have a valid personal reason. But really, comrades, is all this anonymity necessary ? So long as you live in a democracy, and the secret police aren’t going to come round to visit you just because you express your opinion, then the default position should be to write under your real name.
Greater Surbiton has received plenty of intelligent criticism in the one year of its existence, and not a small amount of really stupid criticism. So, to round off this too-long post, I’m going to announce an award for Most Ill-Informed Attack on Something I Have Written. In this inaugural year, the award goes jointly to Hak Mao of the Drink-Soaked Troglodytes and to Daniel Davies of Aaronovitch Watch (unless you really have nothing better to do, you may want to stop reading at this point – it’s my time off and I’m having a bit of pointless fun with my sectarian chums).
‘There you are, minding your own business and then you read this steaming pile of bollocks: The most important change of opinion I’ve ever had … was realizing that ‘anti-imperialism’ … was something highly negative and reactionary, rather than positive and progressive. Can’t spell Vietnam, Laos, Amritsar, Bay of Pigs or Salvador eh? You are welcome to compose your own list of atrocities committed in the name of the ‘West’. And one of those whose historical contribution to human emancipation I most appreciate [is] … Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The emancipation of Armenians was particularly heartwarming.’
This criticism is being made by someone who is a born-again Leninist and Trotskyist religious believer, whose favourite book is still Lenin’s ‘State and Revolution’, who views Trotsky’s martyrdom the way Christians view the crucifixion, but who nevertheless writes for a pro-war, Christopher-Hitchens-worshipping website.
The Bolshevik regime of Lenin and Trotsky armed and funded Mustafa Kemal’s Turkish nationalists. It signed a treaty ceding to Turkey territory that had been inhabited and claimed by the Armenians; the US president Woodrow Wilson had wanted the Armenians to receive much more territory than the Bolshevik-Turkish treaty gave them. The Turkish slaughter of Armenian civilians in Smyrna in 1922 was made possible by Bolshevik military and financial support for the Kemalists. The Bolshevik regime was therefore utterly complicit in Turkish-nationalist crimes against the Armenians.
Someone like Hak Mao, properly equipped with a Scientific Theory of Class Struggle, who is faithful to the Principles of Revolutionary Socialism and well versed in Marxist-Leninist Scripture, can simultaneously 1) revere Lenin and Trotsky, 2) ignore their support for Mustafa Kemal and their complicity in his crimes against the Armenians; 3) denounce bourgeois reactionaries like myself who write favourably about Mustafa Kemal; and 4) justify all this in ‘scientific’ Marxist terms. And of course, everyone knows that, were Lenin and Trotsky alive today, they would undoubtedly, as good anti-imperialists, have joined with Christopher Hitchens in endorsing George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, in welcoming the Bush dynasty to the campaign against Islamic terror, and in supporting Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And naturally they would still have denounced apostates and traitors to the cause of anti-imperialism, such as myself, in the strongest possible terms.
Anyone with a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism can only reach this conclusion. If you do not reach this conclusion, it is because you do not have a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism. And anyone without a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism is an ignorant pleb whose views don’t count, and who should defer to a vanguard comprised of professional revolutionaries with a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism.
Here’s a joke for the comrades:
Q. What do you call a racist, anti-Semitic, Great German nationalist supporter of capitalism, the free market, globalisation, Western imperialism and colonialism ?
A. Karl Marx
(NB I’m also pro-war over Iraq and Afghanistan, and I agree with Christopher Hitchens more often than not. But I don’t pretend to be an ‘anti-imperialist’.)
‘Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban.’
Davies (‘Bruschettaboy’) replied:
‘call me a bad blogger, but I would shed very few tears and protest only halfheartedly at our terrible UK libel laws if it turned out that there were some sort of consequences for saying something like that.’
This is what Ahmed Rashid, one of the most eminent journalists of Afghanistan and the Taliban, writes in Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia:
‘Between 1994 and 1996 the USA supported the Taliban politically through its allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, essentially because Washington viewed the Taliban as anti-Iranian, anti-Shia and pro-Western. The USA conveniently ignored the Taliban’s own Islamic fundamentalist agenda, its suppression of women and the consternation they created in Central Asia largely because Washington was not interested in the larger picture.’
Hopefully, Rashid will agree to be my defence witness in the event that Clinton follows Daniel’s advice and takes me to court.
As for Milosevic, Davies clearly has not heard of the Dayton Accord, but I assume everyone else who reads this blog has (certainly everyone who reads it as assiduously as Daniel does), so I’ll confine myself to posting this picture of Clinton’s man Richard Holbrooke, the architect of Dayton, carrying out Western imperialist aggression against the anti-imperialist Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic:
You see, comrades from the ‘Indecent Left’ like Daniel see their mission as defending the leaders of Western imperialism and their record over crises like Afghanistan or Bosnia, from condemnation coming from the ranks of the ‘Decent Left’, and they do so in the most strident and aggressive manner – even when the condemnation is totally justified. And there I was, thinking we were all part of the same left-wing extended family.
Honestly, what a bunch of splitters.
Update: Davies isn’t now trying to defend his previous claim that Clinton never collaborated with Milosevic or the Taliban, and that I deserve to be sued for saying so, but is taking refuge in the defence that he didn’t understand what I was saying, because I wasn’t expressing myself clearly.
What do you think, readers, is the sentence ‘Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban’ at all difficult to understand ? Is the grammar or vocabulary at all complicated ? Perhaps I’m using opaque academic jargon that a non-specialist might find difficult ?
Or could it be that Daniel simply isn’t the sharpest tool in the box ?
It may be that I have spent too much time living in Serbia and studying it, and that some of that fabled Serbian inat, or bloodymindedness, has rubbed off on me (readers may be surprised to learn that, as an adult, I was christened in the Serbian Orthodox Church, something that occurred not because of religious belief – of which I have none – but because I was once married to a Serbian woman). Or it may be just that I don’t like jumping on bandwagons. Be this as it may, I’m not prepared to follow the herd and endorse Obama for US president. That said, there are some powerful arguments to be made in favour of Obama, which I have been hearing from Obama supporters – such as my own girlfriend, as well as my mother – for some time now. The strong reasons for supporting McCain, however, which I have outlined in previous posts, remain. Each of the candidates offers a very different set of advantages and disadvantages, and a US citizen deciding whom to vote for should weigh them up very carefully before deciding.
One of the paradoxes of this election is that Obama is perceived by much of the liberal intelligentsia in the West as being the progressive, anti-establishment candidate, even though his likely election victory will owe much to the fact that his campaign has enjoyed much greater financial resources than McCain’s. The richer candidate is spending his way to victory; even if a large part of this funding has consisted of small donations, the hated representatives of American capitalism have hardly been falling over themselves to fund his Republican opponent. Yet Obama’s greater popularity among the liberal intelligentsia, and indeed among international opinion generally, is undeniably because he is more widely – and unfairly – seen as less quintissentially American than McCain. Obama may be just another liberal Democrat in the tradition of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, but for various reasons – in part because he would represent a dramatic break with the politics of George Bush, in part because he is black, and in part because he is undeniably charismatic – he has been invested with much greater belief on the part of the outside world as a force for change than he probably warrants.
But perception matters. And here is the strongest reason for voting for Obama. A President Obama would restore the world’s goodwill toward the US. The outside world will give him the benefit of the doubt, and the US a second chance to enjoy the degree of international popularity it enjoyed before 9/11. Conversely, a victory for McCain – particularly after such a strong and sustained poll lead enjoyed by Obama for so long – would produce another great outpouring of anti-American bile across the world, and above all from the ranks of the European chattering classes. The Republicans would, once again, be viewed as having unfairly stolen the election; their regime would enjoy little international credibility or goodwill. McCain will be painted as a continuation of Bush, and continue to be punished for the sins, real or perceived, of his predecessor. Obama would, therefore, be better able than McCain to restore the US’s network of alliances and connections, rejuvenating the US’s world leadership, or what is termed on the left as ‘American imperialism’.
Yet the reason why Obama would enjoy such international goodwill, and be able to restore the US’s world image and standing, is also the reason why one should think twice before supporting him: the world prefers soft US presidents, and Obama will undoubtedly be a much softer president than McCain. George Bush Snr betrayed the Iraqi Kurds in 1991 and acted to keep Saddam Hussein in power; Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban, and strove hard to keep the US from having to intervene to stop genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia; yet neither has earned the kind of opprobrium incurred by the current US president for the crime of overthrowing Saddam. Obama has shown himself to be less committed than McCain to the defence of democratic Iraq and of independent Georgia; his restoration of US popularity globally may come at a high price.
Obama’s choice of the tough and experienced Joe Biden as his running mate does something to allay one’s concern at the foreign-policy implications of his presidency. Biden deserves credit for his opposition to aggression and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. But his instincts have not always been so good: he has supported the partition of Iraq. Biden is, like Obama, pro-Greek and anti-Turkish; they would be taking over leadership of the US at a time when, given the threats posed by the hostile regimes in Moscow and Tehran, we need to maintain the Turkish alliance, and at a time when Greece’s merciless bullying of the fragile Republic of Macedonia potentially threatens disaster in the Balkans.
So the choice between Obama and McCain revolves around the question of whether it is better to have a US president who can restore the US’s global popularity and standing but is likely to be less resolute in resisting the enemies of the democratic world, or a president who will be globally unpopular but more determined in resisting our enemies.
Some readers may feel that US domestic policy should count for more in this weighing up. All well and good; I prefer Obama to McCain on domestic issues, but there are 6.7 billion people in the world, and only 300 million of them are Americans. The United States is a sophisticated system of decentralised democracy and constitutional checks and balances, and the battle between conservatism and liberalism will continue to be fought out at multiple levels throughout the country, regardless of which candidate wins. But it is foreign policy where the president’s voice counts for most. I would discount on principle the idea that one should vote on the basis of the candidate’s age or skin-colour; Winston Churchill was presiding over the Normandy Landings when he was only a year or two younger than McCain is today, and was several years older when he became prime minister for the second time, while the social changes that have made it possible for the US presidency to be within reach of a black candidate have occurred, and will continue to occur, regardless of who wins. The fact that Obama supposedly is friends with various dangerous radicals is a big red herring; most of us probably have been, one way or another. But it is no more a red herring than the big Sarah Palin bogey; Palin was brought in by McCain to mobilise the Republican base; she will not determine US policy. McCain might die in office and leave the inexperienced and very right-wing Palin as acting president. But probably not. Finally, I have faith that US capitalism will rejuvenate itself, regardless of who is managing the economy.
So for me, it boils down to a choice between the man who will capture the world’s hearts and the man who will fight the world’s enemies. While there are strong arguments to be made for each, I would always support the candidate who, when the chips were down, defended a small nation against a brutal aggressor, against the candidate who has supported an aggressor against a fragile small nation.
Others may draw the line in a different place.
Army general Veljko Kadijevic (pictured), former Secretary for People’s Defence in the government of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, therefore the top Yugoslav military commander at the time of the 1991 war in Croatia, has been awarded Russian citizenship. Kadijevic was, after Slobodan Milosevic, probably the single individual most responsible for launching Serbia’s war of aggression against its neighbours in the early 1990s. Thanks to him and to his deputy, Chief of Staff Blagoje Adzic, Milosevic’s regime in Serbia was able to employ the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) to wage its war of conquest in Croatia, and subsequently in Bosnia. Without this army, Serbia would have lacked the military superiority over Croatia and Bosnia that made this war of conquest feasible.
Kadijevic was a traitor to Yugoslavia. In his memoirs, published in Belgrade in the 1990s, he admits that his policy from the spring of 1990, when non-Communist regimes came to power in Slovenia and Croatia, was to bring about the ‘peaceful’ exit of these republics from the Yugoslav federation – with appropriate territorial concessions on Croatia’s part, of course. This policy has been confirmed in the published diary of his ally, Borisav Jovic, the former Yugoslav president, Serbian representative on the federal presidency and president of Milosevic’s Socialist Party of Serbia, who admits that he and Kadijevic planned ‘forcibly to expel’ Slovenia and a dismembered Croatia from Yugoslavia. So Kadijevic’s war in Croatia had nothing to do with preserving Yugoslav unity. Nor was he motivated by loyalty to the Yugoslav constitutional order. In 1991, he travelled to Moscow to seek the support of his Soviet counterpart, Dmitry Yazov, for a projected military coup in Yugoslavia (Yazov was, it will be remembered, an equally treacherous conspirator involved in the coup against Mikhail Gorbachev later that year).
Thus, Kadijevic saw his job as ‘defence minister’ as defending ‘Yugoslavia’ from its own government and presidency. Although he vacillated between support for military dictatorship to keep Yugoslavia united, and support for the break-up of Yugoslavia and establishment of a Great Serbia, it was the latter policy for which he eventually opted. Yet Kadijevic was, at all times, a close ally of Milosevic’s regime in Serbia and enemy of the other Yugoslav republics (except for Serbia’s satellite Montenegro), ready to violate his duties toward the Yugoslav presidency, which was constitutionally his supreme commander, in the interests of this alliance. Before Franjo Tudjman’s Croatian nationalists had even had a chance to take over the reigns of power in Croatia, in the interval in 1990 following their electoral victory over the former Croatian Communists and during the handover of power, Kadijevic carried out the disarmament of Croatia’s Territorial Defence, in close consultation with Jovic, who was then Yugoslav president. Thus did Kadijevic begin the Serbian war of aggression against Croatia, before Tudjman’s regime had even had a chance to be guilty of anything whatsoever. Yet subsequently, when Croatia’s Stjepan Mesic became Yugoslav President, Kadijevic simply ignored Mesic’s instructions to the Yugoslav army, as he gloatingly recalls in his memoirs. In other words, his ‘obedience’ to his supreme commander, the Yugoslav presidency, was entirely dependent on whether the latter was pursuing Serbia’s policy or not. The war Kadijevic and the Yugoslav army waged against Croatia was totally illegal and unconstitutional; it was not authorised by the Yugoslav presidency (partly because there was no functioning presidency – Serbia having blocked the election of a Yugoslav president in May 1991, effectively leaving the country without an executive).
Kadijevic’s enmity was not, however, limited to Yugoslav politicians such as Mesic who supported Croatian independence; he was a sworn enemy also of Yugoslav Prime Minister Ante Markovic, a man who – unlike Milosevic, Jovic and Kadijevic himself – actually supported a united Yugoslavia. And although Kadijevic was sacked by the Belgrade regime before full-scale war in Bosnia was launched, he was instrumental in preparing the ground for the destruction of Bosnia – the one Yugoslav republic aside from Macedonia that actually wanted to keep Yugoslavia together (Milosevic’s Serbia declared its independence from Yugoslavia back in September 1990 – before Alija Izetbegovic was even elected to power in Bosnia – then formally announced its secession for the second time in March 1991, when Milosevic stated that Serbia would no longer be bound by the authority of the Yugoslav presidency).
Kadijevic is himself a native of Croatia, from near the town of Imotski, and despite his support for the Great Serbian war-drive in 1990-91, is of ethnically mixed background, with a Serb father and a Croat mother. He was, nevertheless, the man responsible for destroying the Croatian town of Vukovar in 1991; in his published diary, Jovic describes Kadijevic’s policy in Croatia as one of ‘destroying cities’. Not surprisingly, therefore, Croatia issued an Interpol warrant for Kadijevic’s arrest. Now, however, Russia’s award of citizenship to Kadijevic definitely stymies any possibility for Kadijevic’s extradition, as Russian law forbids the extradition of Russian citizens.
Russia’s sheltering of this Yugoslav traitor and mass murderer is, of course, what one would expect from the regime of Vladimir Putin, a man who is, in many ways, a kindred spirit of Kadijevic’s. One would, indeed, have been stunned if Moscow had respected Kadijevic’s international arrest warrant; Putin’s regime has not exactly been notable for its respect for international law. Yet Moscow might not, at least, have been able to get away with this quite so easily had the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Hague itself indicted Kadijevic.
The sad truth is, however, that neither Kadijevic nor his former deputy Adzic has been indicted by the Hague tribunal. The two top military officers of the army that was formally Yugoslav but de facto Serbian, who presided over the planning and launching of the wars against Croatia and Bosnia, were ultimately not considered worthy of prosecution by the ICTY’s prosecutors.
The same cannot be said for the two top military officers of the army that defended Bosnia. Sefer Halilovic and Rasim Delic, chief of staff and commander of the Bosnian army respectively, were both indicted by the Hague tribunal, despite the cases against them being extremely weak. While Halilovic was wholly acquitted by the judges, Rasim Delic was last month acquitted of most of the charges against him, including murder, but found guilty only of ‘cruel treatment’ of prisoners at the village of Livade and the Kamenica camp in the period July-August 1995. He was sentenced to three years in prison which, given that he has already spent nearly half that time in custody, means that he will be out soon.
Delic was, unlike Kadijevic, a professional officer who played no role in politics until full-scale war in Bosnia broke out in the spring of 1992. Up till that time, he had been simply a loyal soldier of the Yugoslav army, but he then joined Bosnia’s defenders. Given his lack of political ambition and his readiness to serve President Izetbegovic unquestioningly, he was promoted to the top post in the Bosnian army in 1993 in place of the self-willed Halilovic. During the last two years of the Bosnian war, 1993-95, he quietly allowed the Izetbegovic regime and the ruling Party of Democratic Action to assume full control over the Bosnian army, turning it into a politicised instrument of their own rule.
For all that, it is remarkable – given the degree of the brutality to which Bosnia and its population were subjected by the forces of Milosevic’s Serbia and Radovan Karadzic’s Bosnian Serb rebels – just how small-scale were the war-crimes carried out by the Bosnian army. Despite being Bosnia’s top commander for over two years, Delic was convicted only of failing to prevent or punish the cruel treatment of twelve captured Serb soldiers in a single village and camp in July and August 1995. The troops responsible for these abuses, furthermore, were not regular Bosnian soldiers, but foreign mujahedin, whose agenda was not that of the Bosnian army as a whole and over whom Delic’s authority was uncertain. Although two of the members of the ICTY’s three-judge panel felt that Delic could have punished the mujahedin for the abuses in Kamenica, presiding judge Bacone Moloto argued in a dissenting opinion that Delic ‘did not have effective control over the EMD at any time from the time of his assumption of duties as the Commander of the Main Staff of the ABiH…until the EMD was disbanded’ (the ‘EMD’ or ‘El Mujahed Detachment’ being the Bosnian army’s unit of foreign mujahedin). Be this as it may, there is no suggestion that Delic ordered the abuses. His crime may be compared in scale to the largest crime carried out by Serb forces in the same period, under the direction of Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic himself: the genocidal massacre of 8,000 Bosniak men and boys at Srebrenica.
So there we have it: the contrasting fates of generals Kadijevic and Delic. The first was an orchestrator of the war and of the destruction of Yugoslavia, who ordered the conquest of Croatia, presided over the destruction of Vukovar and siege of Dubrovnik, and laid the ground for the attack on Bosnia. The second was a professional officer who avoided politics until his country was attacked, and then led a military campaign notable for abuses that were small and few enough that the prosecution had difficulty pinning anything at all on him. The second was indicted by the ICTY; the first was not. This is the work of what some would have us believe is an ‘anti-Serb tribunal’.
While we are on the subject of the ‘anti-Serb bias’ of the ICTY – all part of the global German-American-Vatican-Comintern-Zionist-Islamist conspiracy to frame Milosevic, Karadzic and their lovely, merry men as bad people – it is worth comparing the treatment of the crimes at Livade and Kamenica with those at Vukovar. The top Bosnian commander was indicted for crimes carried out by irregular forces in a particular locality, while for the much larger-scale crime carried out at Ovcara following the capture of Vukovar, only middle-ranking Yugoslav officers were indicted. For the murder, torture and cruel treatment of 194 patients taken from the Vukovar hospital following its capture by the Serbs, Mile Mrksic was sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment. Veselin Sljivancanin received five years imprisonment for aiding and abetting the torture of the victims, while Miroslav Radic was acquitted of all charges.
Yes, that’s right – the ‘anti-Serb tribunal’ at which Naser Oric and Sefer Halilovic were acquitted, and at which Rasim Delic received only a three-year sentence, also acquitted one of the three Yugoslav officers accused over the massacre of Vukovar hospital patients at Ovcara, and sentenced one of the others to only five years.
And if that’s evidence of ‘anti-Serb bias’, then I’m Sarah Palin.
In fairness, the ICTY’s shocking, disgraceful record in prosecuting the top military leaders of the Bosnian people’s struggle against genocide while failing to prosecute the top military leaders of the side carrying out the genocide should be seen in context. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) last year found Serbia guilty of failing to prevent and punish genocide at Srebrenica, but acquitted it of graver genocide-related charges that might have involved financial compensation for the plaintiff. Despite its indisputable role in organising, arming and financing the Bosnian Serb army responsible for Srebrenica, Serbia got away scot free. Likewise, Dutch courts recently ruled that neither the United Nations nor the Dutch state could be held responsible for the failure to prevent the Srebrenica massacre; the Dutch because their soldiers (‘peacekeepers’) who failed to defend the enclave were under UN command; the UN because it enjoys immunity. So the ICTY’s record, poor though it is, is probably no worse than the record of international justice and the courts in general.
Justice for genocide victims ? Just ask General Kadijevic…
I apologise to my readers for the absence of posts recently. I have been on holiday, and am currently attending a conference abroad. Normal blogging activity will hopefully resume after I return home on Sunday.
According to a popular left-liberal viewpoint that has become widespread since the run-up to the Iraq War, US unilateralism threatens an otherwise stable global order that rests on international law underpinned by the UN. The latter, so the argument goes, is the institutional safeguard protecting the world from the unhindered exercise of power by the US; the guarantor of weak or independently minded nations that rightly fear American imperialism.
Some of us, however, suspected that this ‘multilateralist’ viewpoint was, more often than not, expressed insincerely by those who were much more interested in opposing the US than they were in upholding international law. We have only had our suspicions confirmed by the tepid international reaction to the Russian assault on Georgia. This unilateral invasion of a sovereign state, occurring without UN Security Council authorisation, has provoked rather less left-liberal outrage than the US invasion of Iraq, though it represented by any standards a much greater violation of the principle of state sovereignty – involving, as it did, territorial dismemberment and the unilateral redrawing of international borders - and though it was directed against a state that, unlike Iraq, represented no threat to its neighbours and was a democracy, albeit highly flawed. There has been no million-strong demonstration in London against the Russian invasion of Georgia. Still more pointed has been the support for the Russian aggression expressed most strongly by the very states, left liberals might have argued, that are most in need of the UN as a safeguard against the US.
The defection of the Libyan regime of Muammar al-Gaddafi from the ‘Axis of Evil’ has often been cited as one of the achievements of the Bush Administration and its tough policy on rogue states. Yet Libya has welcomed the Russian assault on Georgia. ‘What happened in Georgia is a good sign, which means America is no longer the sole world power setting the rules of the game,’ Seif al Islam al-Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader and head of the Gaddafi Foundation, has been quoted as saying; ‘There is a balance in the world now. Russia is resurging, which is good for us, for the entire Middle East.’ Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who in the 1980s successfully sued the US at the International Court of Justice, is the first head of state apart from Russia formally to recognise the ‘independence’ of the break-away Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, denouncing as he did so ‘political hegemonies’ that were ‘trying to surround Russia’. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has blamed the US, Georgia and ‘Zionists’ for the war in the Caucasus: ‘In our opinion, if Georgian officials had acted properly and not allowed outside forces to interfere, the situation wouldn’t have taken on its current dimensions’. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, too, supports Russia’s dismemberment of Georgia: ‘Russia has recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We support Russia. Russia is right and is defending its interests.’ Chavez has announced that Venezuela will host Russian troops and warships and carry out joint military exercises with Russia. According to Cuba’s Raul Castro, ‘It’s false that Georgia is defending its national sovereignty’; he went on to claim that the ‘Autonomous Republic of South Ossetia historically formed part of the Russian Federation’. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, in the course of offering to host Russian missiles on Syrian territory, stated ‘I think that after the crisis with Georgia, Russia has become only stronger’; furthermore, ‘It’s important that Russia takes the position of a superpower, and then all the attempts to isolate it will fail.’
Thus, far from seeing the UN and international law as desirable safeguards against ‘US imperialism’, those states – one or two of them headed by left-liberal icons – that are actually most in conflict with the latter are rushing to demolish these supposed safeguards. Russia is providing a banner behind which the West’s enemies can unite, even if this means tearing up the UN Charter and colluding in the invasion and dismemberment of a UN member-state.
Yet if the closing of ranks of the West’s enemies behind a nuclear-armed aggressor is a reason for consternation, we can draw comfort from a definite success story: one former rogue state, at least, appears definitely to have reformed. In Serbia, pro-Western parties emerged successful from parliamentary elections this spring; the new government appears to be cooperating with the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague, and has arrested the fugitive former Bosnian Serb warlord Radovan Karadzic; the leading Serbian anti-Western political force, the neo-Nazi Radical party, has imploded. The Serbian case is particularly significant because it is over Serbia that the Western alliance has frequently been condemned for acting ‘unilaterally’; i.e., without UN authorisation. That is, NATO went to war with Serbia in 1999 without UN sanction, then the US and most NATO and EU countries recognised the independence of Kosovo this year, again without UN sanction.
It is NATO and the EU, rather than the UN, than have proved the motors of change in Serbia; the promise of a European future has been the bait that has lured Serbian voters away from the nationalist parties, and the Serbian government toward collaboration with The Hague, while it was the question of whether to support Serbia’s Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU that occasioned the split among the Radicals. Far from the recognition of Kosovo’s independence driving Serbia into the arms of the nationalists, it has hastened the nationalists’ political decline. True, Serbia is still seeking to have the International Court of Justice rule the recognition of Kosovo’s independence illegal. But while we may deplore this move, it nevertheless represents a civilised way of conducting a dispute; a tremendous step forward from the rioting and attacks on foreign embassies that took place in Belgrade in February in response to international recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
The Western approach to Serbia has therefore proved a successful one: stick and carrot; military firmness combined with economic incentives and democracy promotion – mostly conducted independently of the UN. An approach of this kind is often stereotyped by its critics, whether from conservative-isolationist or left-liberal schools of opinion, as amounting simply to military aggressiveness. Yet the military-deterrent aspect of the Western policy that has guided Serbia toward Europe has ultimately proved less decisive than the economic carrot of EU integration. That this is so is highlighted by the failure of Western policy regarding a coutry that should, logically, be firmly in the Western camp but that may be slipping away: Turkey. Although Turkey is a loyal NATO member of long-standing; although it has long been committed to joining the EU; although it has responded relatively well to diplomatic and economic incentives to democratise; and although it historically fears Russian imperialism, yet Turkey is developing increasingly friendly relations with both Russia and Iran. Ahmadinejad visited Istanbul last month, and Ankara and Tehran reached agreements on a number of areas, though a full energy pact was not signed on account of US objections.
Heavily dependent on Russian trade and energy supplies, Ankara has meanwhile refused to support Georgia’s membership of NATO, resisted talk of modifying the Montreux Convention limiting naval access to the Black Sea by the US and other outside powers, and barred two US warships from entering the Black Sea in support of Georgia. Ankara is meanwhile promoting a ‘Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Pact’ that would group together Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – its essential purpose is to enable Turkey to establish a working regional collaboration with Russia that bypasses the US. Ankara’s drift toward friendship with two of the Western alliance’s most dangerous enemies is an all-too-predictable consquence of the declining attraction of the EU option for Turkey, resulting from open French and German opposition to Turkey’s EU membership. Given events in Georgia, the Franco-German alienating of Turkey appears increasingly short-sighted. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, that goes through Turkey, is the only pipeline transporting Caspian crude oil that does not go through Russia. Turkey’s strategic importance is increasing exponentially just as Franco-German cold-shouldering is having its negative effect.
Events on the world stage this summer have shattered the multilateralist, soft-liberal dream of a post-Cold-War world presided over by the UN, in which UN members live harmoniously according to its rules. Instead, the UN is resuming its Cold War role as merely one, ineffectual forum in which the conflict between the Western alliance and the anti-Western bloc is played out. In these circumstances, there is no point in believing in illusions about a UN-governed world that our enemies do not share. As the Serbian example shows, democratisation and integration into the democratic family of nations are the best way to remove the threat from a rogue state; even when not overtly hostile, dictatorships - from Pakistan to Libya – make unstable, unreliable allies. We should be foolish indeed if we were to abandon our support for democracy and human rights abroad, through diplomatic, economic and where necessary military means. The enemies of liberal democracy will always play by their own rules; we should play by ours.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
‘Georgia has lost South Ossetia and Abkhazia for good’—one can almost taste the relish in the Guardian’s editorial of 15 August, as it argued against even peaceful, diplomatic measures to punish Russia for attacking Georgia. For a significant strand of left-liberal opinion in the UK, the default position on the Russia-Georgia conflict is that it is payback for earlier western sins in Iraq and Kosovo; that US, not Russian, warmongering is the problem. Yet none of this is true. Russia’s intervention in Georgia and recognition of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s ‘independence’ are not equivalent to western action over Kosovo or Iraq, and we allow them to go unpunished at our peril…
[The rest of this article can be read at Prospect]
Hezbollah’s secretary-general, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has reportedly gloated over the Russian crushing of Georgia as a defeat for Israel. ‘[Israeli brigadier-general] Gal Hirsch, who was defeated in Lebanon, went to Georgia and they too lost because of him’, said Nasrallah; ‘Relying on Israeli experts and weapons, Georgia learned why the Israeli generals failed… what happened in Georgia is a message to all those the Americans are seeking to entangle in dangerous adventures.’ This opinion is endorsed by Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada, who writes in the Tehran Times : ‘The collapse of the Georgian offensive represents not only a disaster for that country and its U.S.-backed leaders, but another blow to the myth of Israel’s military prestige and prowess.’
Nasrallah is not the only sworn enemy of Israel and the US to feel heartened by the Russian victory. According to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: ‘It is not possible for the United States, which even failed to protect its ally Georgia, to attack Iran. The US could not even protect its own ally. US clout in world politics is decreasing. Moreover, it is in a major economic depression.’ He went on: ‘We will see that the US empire will crack and eventually collapse. There is nothing that the US can do against Iran.’
Meanwhile, Moscow is reportedly planning to establish large-scale military, naval and air-bases in Syria, including nuclear-capable Iskander missiles, and to supply previously withheld advanced weapons systems to Iran.
Until the outbreak of the current conflict in the Caucasus, Israel and Georgia had enjoyed close, friendly relations. Israel armed and trained Georgia’s armed forces, apparently supplying Georgia with some $200 million worth of equipment since 2000. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, for his part, has been a staunch ally of Israel. As Brenda Shaffer, an expert on the Caucasus at Haifa University, writes in Haaretz : ‘One of the first telephone calls I received from overseas in the summer of 2006, while missiles were showering on Haifa and the north, was from a senior adviser in Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s bureau. He said the president had instructed him to call me and say he was willing to fly over immediately to display solidarity with Israel in its hour of need.’
Now, however, Russia appears to have scared Israel away from continued support for Georgia, by the threat of increased military support for Iran and Syria. The Israeli foreign ministry has recommended suspending further military cooperation with Georgia, reportedly on the grounds that ‘The Russians are selling many arms to Iran and Syria and there is no need to offer them an excuse to sell even more advanced weapons’, in the words of an Israeli official. This, indeed, was the Russian intention. According to Theodore Karasik, director for research and development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, ‘with immense strategic implications, Russia is also trying to send Israel a clear message that Tel Aviv’s military support for Tbilisi in organizing, training and equipping Georgia’s army will no longer be tolerated… Further, Israel’s interest in Caspian oil and gas pipelines is growing and Russia seeks to stop this activity at this time.’
The failure of the West to respond effectively to the Russian assault on Georgia, and Israel’s retreat before Russia’s threats, are nevertheless likely only to strengthen the confidence of other enemies of the US and Israel, including the regime in Tehran. As Shaffer writes: ‘Tehran is learning from the crisis in the Caucasus. If the U.S. fails to help its ally in Tbilisi, Tehran’s power will increase. On the other hand, serious American activity in Moscow’s back yard would teach Tehran a completely different lesson.’
Quite. Russia has opted to fight a new Cold War against the West, so there is no point in labouring under the delusion that it will join with us to contain the Iranian nuclear threat, while our failure to resist Russia in Georgia is emboldening Iran. To sacrifice Georgia - a loyal ally of Britain, the US and Israel, and the third-largest contributor of allied troops to Iraq – in the naive belief that a sufficient amount of grovelling will dissuade one sworn enemy from joining with another, can only strengthen and encourage both enemies.
This autumn will mark the seventieth anniversary of the Munich Agreement, when the democratic powers of Western Europe, Britain and France, weakened as they were by the self-hating, ‘anti-war’ defeatism of wide sections of the Western chattering classes - on the left as well as of the right – allowed a fascist, expansionist imperial power to carve up a much smaller and weaker multinational state, using the excuse that it wanted to protect the rights of its co-nationals. Of course, Hitler analogies are very tired, and ‘anti-war’ activists are fond of complaining that all our enemies are ‘Hitler’ – from Nasser through Galtieri to Saddam and Milosevic. But in the case of Vladimir Putin of Russia, their best legitimate counter-argument no longer applies: that however brutal these despots may have been, the states that they ruled were not nearly as powerful as Nazi Germany.
Now, for the first time since World War II, the democratic West is faced by a brutal, neo-fascist, expansionist regime in command of an imperial state whose military might is comparable to that of Hitler’s Third Reich. Putin is an aggressive despot who came to power determined to reverse the defeat and perceived humiliation of Russia in the Cold War, much as Hitler aimed to reverse Germany’s humiliation in World War I (Putin even employed a stunt to cement his power that was highly reminiscent of the 1933 Reichstag fire – the stage-managed ‘terrorist’ bombing of Russian cities by his security services, that could be conveniently blamed on the Chechens). He then used weapons of mass destruction against his own Chechen civilians, destroying the European city of Grozny. He has waged campaigns of persecution against Jewish magnates (‘oligarchs’) and Caucasian ethnic minorities. He has established a fascist-style youth movement (‘Nashi‘). He has suppressed the free Russian media, murdered independent journalists and effectively abolished Russian democracy. He has threatened and bullied his neighbours – even NATO-member Estonia. His state assassins are the likely culprits in the murder of his critic, the British citizen Alexander Litvinenko. And now he has invaded a sovereign state in an attempt both to overthrow its democratically elected government and to annex part of its territory. His own supporters view this act of military aggression as a strike against the US; The Independent‘s Matt Siegel quotes one Russian volunteer: ‘This war is absolutely a war between Russia and America. The biggest mistake was in underestimating us. Now you’ll see what happens.’
At this moment of danger, democratic Europe is paralysed by the same kind of political, intellectual and moral malaise that brought our continent to ruin in the 1930s. Today, fashionable left-liberal hatred of the liberal-democratic order expresses itself not merely in opposition to military intervention abroad and to our own governments, but frequently in a readiness to solidarise with anyone with whom our governments come into conflict - be they Iraqi and Afghan Islamist rebels, Sudanese genocidal murderers, Iranian and Venezuelan demagogues, Chinese Communist apparatchiks, Serb nationalists, Lebanese Shia fundamentalists, and so on. All this is filtered through a self-indulgent anti-Americanism of unparalelled virulence – naturally, the concerns about invading a sovereign state without UN Security Council authorisation that have so fired our left-liberal intelligentsia over Iraq are not being manifested quite so strongly over Russia and Georgia. Meanwhile, our armies are stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan and our publics are war-weary.
This already toxic brew contains another dangerous ingredient – the most likely candidate for a twenty-first century Neville Chamberlain in the form of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy. With France holding the EU presidency, Sarkozy travelled to Moscow to reassure the Russians: ‘It’s perfectly normal that Russia would want to defend the interests both of Russians in Russia and Russophones outside Russia.’ No doubt the French president would have been equally tactful if Putin had invaded France to protect ‘Russophones’ in Marseilles or Nice, but this kind of language highlights the EU’s unreadiness to oppose Russian aggression. This is particularly so given Sarkozy’s disgraceful record of pursuing narrow French national interests at South East Europe’s expense, which involved, among other things, denying Georgia a NATO Membership Action Plan in order to appease Moscow. Sarkozy has joined with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to impose a six-point plan on Georgia, that requires Tbilisi to ‘agree to the start of international talks on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia’, as the Moscow Times puts it, but which makes no reference to Georgian territorial integrity. With Medvedev openly advocating the dismemberment of Georgia, Sarkozy may be preparing the ground for a new Munich Agreement.
Some may ask whether we have any choice but to acquiesce in Russia’s geostrategic coup, given our existing military entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our concerns with Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, etc. Some may ask why we should care about distant Georgia and its territorial integrity. The best way to respond is to turn this question around, and ask whether we can afford not to care, and not to respond to Russian aggression. If we cannot afford to defend Georgia because of our existing military commitments, we presumably cannot afford to defend Ukraine, or NATO-member Estonia, should Putin decide to build upon his success by moving against one of these countries – something which, given his past record, is not unlikely. At what point do we decide that, however costly it may be, we cannot afford to stand idly by as Russia rampages across Eurasia ?
As was the case in the late 1930s, the longer democratic Europe waits before responding to the aggressor, the more difficult and costly the eventual confrontation will be. Putin has successfully crushed and humiliated a staunch Western ally that contributed two thousand troops to Iraq. We cannot legitimately expect our allies to stand by us in Iraq, or in Afghanistan, if we do not stand by them when they are under attack. The states of Eastern and South Eastern Europe – both those inside NATO, and those wanting to join it – are closely watching the Russian operation against Georgia. They may decide that a NATO unable or unwilling to protect a country whose desired future membership it has itself loudly declared is a NATO it cannot rely on, and which is not worth joining or upholding. The Balkans are finally drifting toward stability, as the dominant elements of the Serbian political classes appear finally to have turned away from destructive nationalism – a turn spectacularly demonstrated by the arrest of Radovan Karadzic. Some of them may now feel, as they witness the West’s weak response to the crushing of Georgia, that their turn has been premature, and that they can afford to be a bit more aggressive than they had thought until a week ago. In which case, we may be faced with another front opening up against us in the Balkans.
I write these words, not with any confidence that democratic Europe is likely to take an appropriately firm stance against Russian aggression in the immediate future, but with full confidence that the attack on Georgia is only the beginning, and that we will see further acts of Russian aggression in the months and years to come. Putin is an unreconstructed product of the Soviet intelligence services; a sworn enemy of the liberal-democratic order at home and abroad; an autocrat whose mission it is to reverse Moscow’s defeat in the Cold War.
Let there be no mistake: we are in for the long haul. It is time to prepare a long-term strategy of resistance to the new Russian imperialism so that, if we were caught unprepared this time, we will not be unable to respond next time. Britain must join with the US in sending troops to Georgia, even if these troops at the present time have a purely symbolic deterrent value. We must massively increase our financial and military assistance to our beleaguered ally, and reassure it that it is not being abandoned. Georgia’s accession to NATO and the EU must be accelerated – as, indeed, must the EU accession of Turkey, which will be a crucial ally in the coming confrontation; one that we cannot afford not to have on our side. We must insist that the precondition for any negotiations over the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is an acceptance by Moscow of Georgia’s territorial integrity. But this conflict is not just about Georgia, and it will not just be played out over Georgia.
Cold War II has begun. Western leaders must begin to prepare their publics for this reality, which means countering the defeatist and anti-Western currents of thought that are popular among wide sections of the chattering classes, and preparing the publics for the consequences of economic warfare with an enemy that supplies a large part of our energy. Full-scale sanctions against Russia may soon be necessary, and though this will hurt Moscow more than it will hurt us, it will hurt us too. Western leaders must state very loudly and clearly that any further military attack by Moscow against any other state in Eastern or South Eastern Europe will invite a military response from us.
There are several ways in which Moscow’s aggression can be immediately punished. We should expel Russia from the G8 group of industrialised nations, veto its accession to the World Trade Organisation and the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, suspend the EU’s Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia, abandon all negotiations for a new EU-Russia agreement, suspend the NATO-Russia Council and announce a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi. Given Moscow’s shameless promotion of the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, it is time to raise openly the question of Chechnya which, in terms of size, national homogeneity and viability as an entity, has a much stronger case for independence than either of Georgia’s enclaves. Since Moscow is demanding ‘self-determination’ for South Ossetia, let us openly challenge it to recognise the same right for the much larger Ossetian population in North Ossetia. Finally, our strategy vis-a-vis Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and other trouble-spots must be modified to take account of the new geopolitical front-line; this does not mean we should surrender the battle on any of these fronts, but we cannot continue to fight them as if the Russian threat did not exist.
Dangerous ? The real danger will come from burying our heads in the sand and hoping Putin will go away and leave us alone. It is better to adopt a tough but non-violent stance against Moscow now, than to encourage further Russian expansionism that will compel us to adopt more drastic measures in the future, measures that we may not be able to limit to the non-violent. Toughness in 1938 might have stopped Hitler without war; appeasement in 1938 led to war in 1939.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
See also John McCain’s excellent article, We are all Georgians
Almost exactly thirteen years after Croatia, with its ‘Operation Storm’, successfully liberated itself from Serbian imperialist occupation, Georgia has attempted an ‘Operation Storm’ of its own. Yet while Croatia was fortunate enough to be faced by a relatively weak oppressor, little Georgia must face the might of the world’s territorially largest country, and one of the world’s most powerful military machines. Although I have recently written here that military means are not a feasible way of reversing the Russian Anschluss with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and though I fear Tbilisi has been provoked into behaving rashly and entering a battle it cannot win, yet my solidarity is entirely with Georgia, her government and her people as they fight for their freedom.
When Georgia won its independence from the Soviet empire in the early 1990s, it paid the heavy price of territorial dismemberment, as Russia punished Georgia by assisting Abkhazian and South Ossetian separatists to break away from Tbilisi’s control. It is, of course, legitimate to ask what the noble principle of ‘national self-determination’ means for the compound land of Georgia, with its (now severed) autonomous entities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and what sort of national rights the latter should enjoy. But certain things should be spelled out. Firstly, until they were ethnically cleansed in the early 1990s, there were two and a half times as many ethnic Georgians as ethnic Abkhaz living in Abkhazia, and their right to self-determination is certainly not being respected. Secondly, there are approximately five times as many ethnic Ossetians living in North Ossetia in the Russian Federation as there are in Georgia’s South Ossetia, but North Ossetia’s independence is certainly not on offer from Moscow. Thirdly, freedom for the Caucasian nations requires the end of Russian colonial domination of the region, something that can only be set back by the Russian crushing of Georgia. And fourthly, if Russia is allowed to annex de facto what are effectively its irredentas – in Abkhazia and South Ossetia – it will be encouraged to annex other irredentas: in Moldova’s Transnistria; Ukraine’s Sevastopol; northern Kazakhstan; and so on.
South Ossetia is, unlike the former ‘Republic of Serb Krajina’ in Croatia, a legitimate entity representing a genuine national minority, with a right to enjoy very extensive autonomy – which Tbilisi has offered it. But with an ethnic Ossetian population at the start of the 1990s of only about 65,000 and a total population of about 100,000, South Ossetia is more on the scale of a town or enclave than of a nation: its resident population is approximately one thirtieth the size of Kosova’s; smaller than the Muslim Bosniak population of Serbia’s Sanjak region or the Albanian population of Macedonia (neither of whose right to secede, incidentally, I would recognise); smaller than any European nation other than the mini-states of Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein and San Marino. The ‘independence’ of this tiny region means, effectively, its annexation by Russia – which is, in effect, a process that is underway, and which the desperate Georgian offensive is attempting to halt. I have already explained at length why South Ossetia is in no way equivalent to Kosova, either in terms of its constitutional or legal status, or in terms of its actual credentials as a ‘nation’. ‘Self-determination’ does not mean the right of a former colonial power – in this case Russia – to annex enclaves in its former colonies.
This is not a case of Moscow supporting the right of national majorities to secede – the Abkhaz have no majority, not even a plurality, in Abkhazia. Nor is it a case of Moscow supporting the right of autonomous entities of the former Soviet Union to secede – Moscow has extended the same support to the separatists of Transnistria, which enjoyed no autonomous status in the USSR, while denying the right to secede of the Chechen Republic. This is simply a case of naked Russian imperialist expansionism. It is Georgia which is fighting to establish its independence, and Georgia which deserves our support. Georgia is a staunch ally of the West; the third largest contributor of troops to the allied coalition in Iraq. A Russian defeat of Georgia would be a tremendous setback for the West’s credibility and moral standing; it would increase Russian control of our energy supplies and encourage further Russian acts of aggression in the former Soviet Union.
We cannot afford to back down before this act of Russian imperialist aggression. We should defend Georgia with all the means at our disposal. We should send troops to bolster her. We should threaten Russia with sanctions. Heroic Georgia is fighting our fight; she is defending the freedom and security of democratic Europe.
The presidential contest currently under way in the US has generated unprecedented interest in the UK and Europe. Were it left to us on this side of the pond, Barack Obama would win with a landslide. On account of his youth, his colour and his relatively liberal views, Obama is the darling of Europe’s liberals, while not only they, but also European conservatives widely look forward to his presidency as a welcome departure from the hawkish, abrasive unilateralism of George W. Bush’s administration. Yet while Obama as US president would be likely to go down well with the European and, indeed, the world public, this would above all be for the negative reason that – like Clinton before him – he probably would not do very much in the field of foreign affairs. By not rocking the boat or rapping knuckles, a President Obama would appease European liberals and conservatives alike. But by the same token, he may prove inadequate in meeting very real threats to peace and stability in Europe. Nowhere are these threats more real than in the south-eastern borderlands of our continent: the Balkans, Turkey and the Caucasus…
[The rest of this article can be read at Standpoint.Online]
- Basque Country
- Central Europe
- East Timor
- European Union
- Faroe Islands
- Former Soviet Union
- Former Yugoslavia
- Marko Attila Hoare
- Middle East
- Political correctness
- Red-Brown Alliance
- South Ossetia
- The Left