28 August 2014

***Iraq and Syria Follow Lebanon's Precedent

August 26, 2014

Lebanon was created out of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. This agreement between Britain and France reshaped the collapsed Ottoman Empire south of Turkey into the states we know today -- Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and to some extent the Arabian Peninsula as well. For nearly 100 years, Sykes-Picot defined the region. A strong case can be made that the nation-states Sykes-Picot created are now defunct, and that what is occurring in Syria and Iraq represents the emergence of those post-British/French maps that the United States has been trying to maintain since the collapse of Franco-British power.

The Invention of Middle East Nation-States

Sykes-Picot, named for French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot and his British counterpart, Sir Mark Sykes, did two things. First, it created a British-dominated Iraq. Second, it divided the Ottoman province of Syria on a line from the Mediterranean Sea east through Mount Hermon. Everything north of this line was French. Everything south of this line was British. The French, who had been involved in the Levant since the 19th century, had allies among the region's Christians. They carved out part of Syria and created a country for them. Lacking a better name, they called it Lebanon, after the nearby mountain of the same name.

The British named the area to the west of the Jordan River after the Ottoman administrative district of Filistina, which turned into Palestine on the English tongue. However, the British had a problem. During World War I, while the British were fighting the Ottoman Turks, they had allied with a number of Arabian tribes seeking to expel the Turks. Two major tribes, hostile to each other, were the major British allies. The British had promised postwar power to both. It gave the victorious Sauds the right to rule Arabia -- hence Saudi Arabia. The other tribe, the Hashemites, had already been given the newly invented Iraqi monarchy and, outside of Arabia, a narrow strip of arable ground to the east of the Jordan River. For lack of a better name, it was called Trans-Jordan, or the other side of the Jordan. In due course the "trans" was dropped and it became Jordan.

And thus, along with Syria, five entities were created between the Mediterranean and Tigris, and between Turkey and the new nation of Saudi Arabia. This five became six after the United Nations voted to create Israel in 1947. The Sykes-Picot agreement suited European models and gave the Europeans a framework for managing the region that conformed to European administrative principles. The most important interest, the oil in Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula, was protected from the upheaval in their periphery as Turkey and Persia were undergoing upheaval. This gave the Europeans what they wanted.

What it did not do was create a framework that made a great deal of sense of the Arabs living in this region. The European model of individual rights expressed to the nation-states did not fit their cultural model. For the Arabs, the family -- not the individual -- was the fundamental unit of society. Families belonged to clans and clans to tribes, not nations. The Europeans used the concept of the nation-state to express divisions between "us" and "them." To the Arabs, this was an alien framework, which to this day still competes with religious and tribal identities.

The states the Europeans created were arbitrary, the inhabitants did not give their primary loyalty to them, and the tensions within states always went over the border to neighboring states. The British and French imposed ruling structures before the war, and then a wave of coups overthrew them after World War II. Syria and Iraq became pro-Soviet states while Israel, Jordan and the Arabians became pro-American, and monarchies and dictatorships ruled over most of the Arab countries. These authoritarian regimes held the countries together.

Reality Overcomes Cartography

**The Hard Hand of the Middle East

August 21, 2014

Reality can be harsh. In order for the United States to weaken and eventually defeat the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, it could use help from both the Iranian regime and that of President Bashar al Assad in Syria. In the Middle East, it takes illiberal forces to defeat an even more illiberal force. The mullahs' Iran and al Assad's Syria sadly represent the material at hand, with which the United States must somehow work or tolerate, however surreptitiously, however much it will deny it at the same time. Ah, you might say, What about the moderate, liberal opposition in Syria? Answer: Such forces are more viable on paper than on the battlefield.

The truth is understood but cannot always be admitted, either by officials or by journalists -- the truth being that order is preferable to disorder, meaning dictatorship is preferable to chaos, even if dictatorship itself has often been the root cause of such chaos.

The Islamic State is the fruit of chaos. It arose in a vacuum of authority. That vacuum was created by both the weakening of an absolutist (albeit secular-trending) regime in Syria and the inability of a stable, power-sharing system to take hold in Iraq following America's dismantling of Saddam Hussein's own repressive rule. And the worse the chaos, the more extreme will be the reaction. Thus, from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq that together have killed many hundreds of thousands of people and have featured a plethora of armed groups, the Islamic State has emerged in all its horrifying barbarity.

This harsh moral and political reality extends beyond Syria and Iraq to the larger Levant and the Middle East. Egypt is now, once again, governed by an illiberal, Pharaonic regime, worse arguably than that of the deposed military dictator Hosni Mubarak. It has killed many demonstrators in the streets. It features a budding personality cult around its president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Yet it is a friend of Western and Israeli interests, whereas the democratically-elected government it illegally deposed, that of the Muslim Brotherhood, was demonstrably not a friend of the West or Israel. That's right, Western interests can sometimes -- often, actually -- be better served by autocracies than by democracies: that's if the autocracy in question happens to be more liberal and secular in its values than the democracy in question. It is the regime's philosophical values that are crucial -- more so than the manner of how it came to power.

As the situation now stands, if there is going to be a less violent relationship between Israel and Gaza it is more likely to occur through the auspices of the al-Sisi regime in Cairo than through the Obama administration in Washington. It might not even be an exaggeration to say that the Israeli government, for the moment at least, trusts al-Sisi more than it trusts U.S. President Barack Obama. Though Obama might like to think of himself as a realist, the fact is that a President Richard Nixon or a President George H. W. Bush -- and their secretaries of state, Henry Kissinger and James Baker III -- would have openly acknowledged their friendship with the current Egyptian regime, while Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, cannot quite bring themselves to do it.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon asks India-Pakistan to resolve issues through peaceful talks

August 26, 2014

Ban Ki-moon has asked India and Pakistan to resolve their issues peacefully and through dialogue.

There have been 21 ceasefire violations by Pakistani troops in less than a fortnight and 23 in August.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has asked India and Pakistan to resolve their issues peacefully and through dialogue, against the backdrop of cancellation of foreign-secretary level talks between the two nations and continued ceasefire violations by Pakistan along border posts.

“The Secretary-General calls on both sides to solve the issues peacefully and through dialogue,” according to a statement given from the office of Ban’s spokesperson in response to questions about the cancellation of the talks and ceasefire violations.

The statement did not respond to a question whether the UN chief would intervene in the tensed situation and encourage the leaders from the two countries to meet.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government cancelled the August 25 meeting scheduled in Islamabad between the foreign secretaries after Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit held talks with Kashmiri separatist leaders. Also, ceasefire violations by Pakistani forces along the Line of Control and the International Border have increased over the last few weeks.

There have been 21 ceasefire violations by Pakistani troops in less than a fortnight and 23 in August.

Defence Minister Arun Jaitley has said in New Delhi that India has been responding effectively and strongly to the ceasefire violations by Pakistan side.

India has also further strengthened its counter infiltration grid to tackle any attempt by Pakistan to push in militants during the ceasefire violations.

Indian Trade Seen Booming With ASEAN

August 26, 2014

A new report highlights the growing economic ties ASEAN is enjoying with India.

ASEAN business ties extending west into India have never enjoyed the same cachet as trade with China to the north. That’s partly because access to India was blocked by Myanmar’s isolation and partly because a two-decade economic boom in China soaked-up as much capital as ASEAN investors could spare.

But that equation is changing as China’s economy slows and growth buckles under debt while India reappraises its relationship with ASEAN amid the prospect that overland routes from Southeast Asia through Myanmar will improve east-west trade potential.

This optimism was underpinned this week with the release of a report from Standard Chartered forecasting that Indian exports into ASEAN would rise dramatically over the next 10 years to $280 billion a year, up from $33.13 billion in the 2013/14 financial year. Two-way trade is currently locked in at around $80 billion a year.

The report saw Indian export potential in six areas: petroleum products, organic chemicals, vehicles (including auto parts), pharmaceuticals, gems and jewellery, and apparel and clothing accessories.

“The first three are categories where ASEAN already accounts for a sizeable chunk of total Indian exports, and where export growth is high. The last three are areas where we feel there is potential for India to increase export growth rates,” Standard Chartered said.

Meanwhile ASEAN’s trading strengths would depend largely on natural resources and electronics.

The creation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by the end of 2015 will also dramatically reshape the economic landscape. The 10 members of ASEAN will emerge as a single market and production base with combined gross domestic product values of $2.3 trillion. That compares with India’s GDP of $1.8 trillion and China’s $8.3 trillion.

50 days on, Israel and Palestine truce begins

APPalestinians celebrate the ceasefire in Gaza City on Tuesday. Israel and Hamas agreed Tuesday to an open-ended ceasefire, halting a seven-week war that killed more than 2,200 people. 
APA displaced Palestinian child stands in a classroom, at the Abu Hussein U.N. school in Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip. File photo 

Under the Egyptian-brokered deal, Israel is to ease imports into Gaza, including aid and material for reconstruction.

Israel and Hamas agreed Tuesday to an open-ended ceasefire, halting a seven-week war that killed more than 2,200 people, the vast majority Palestinians, left tens of thousands in Gaza homeless and devastated entire neighbourhoods in the blockaded territory.

Under the Egyptian-brokered deal, Israel is to ease imports into Gaza, including aid and material for reconstruction. It also allows Palestinians to fish six nautical miles, up from three nautical miles.

In a month, the ceasefire calls for talks to begin in Cairo on more complex issues, including building a seaport and airport in Gaza, and Israel’s demand that Hamas disarm.

Previous ceasefire deals have collapsed since the war began on July 8, 2014 and it was not clear if this one would hold. The truce took effect at 7 p.m. local time (9.30 p.m. IST), but violence persisted until the last minute.

In Israel, mortar shells fired from Gaza killed one man and seriously wounded two people, authorities said.

Gaza truce open-ended, but puts off tough issues

Aug 27, 2014

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced some criticism from hard-line critics and residents of Israeli communities near Gaza who said the deal failed to defuse the threat from Gaza militants. 

GAZA CITY: Israel and Gaza's ruling Hamas agreed on Tuesday to an open-ended cease-fire after seven weeks of fighting — an uneasy deal that halts the deadliest war the sides have fought in years, with more than 2,200 killed, but puts off the most difficult issues.

In the end, both sides settled for an ambiguous interim agreement in exchange for a period of calm. Hamas, though badly battered, remains in control of Gaza with part of its military arsenal intact. Israel and Egypt will continue to control access to blockaded Gaza, despite Hamas' long-running demand that the border closures imposed in 2007 be lifted.

Hamas declared victory, even though it had little to show for a war that killed 2,143 Palestinians, wounded more than 11,000 and left some 100,000 homeless. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers and six civilians were killed, including two killed by Palestinian mortar fire shortly before the cease-fire was announced.

Large crowds gathered in Gaza City after the truce took effect at dusk, some waving the green flags of Hamas, while celebratory gunfire and fireworks erupted across the territory.

Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, promised to rebuild homes destroyed in the war and said Hamas would rearm. "We will build and upgrade our arsenal to be ready for the coming battle, the battle of full liberation," he declared, surrounded by Hamas gunmen.

The Israeli response was more subdued.

"This time we hope the cease-fire will stick," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. He portrayed the deal as one Hamas had rejected in previous rounds of negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced some criticism from hard-line critics and residents of Israeli communities near Gaza who said the deal failed to defuse the threat from Gaza militants. Since July 8, Hamas and its allies have fired some 4,000 rockets and mortars at Israel, and tens of thousands of Israelis evacuated areas near Gaza in recent weeks.

Under the Egyptian-brokered deal, Israel is to ease imports to Gaza, including aid and material for reconstruction. It also agreed to a largely symbolic gesture, expanding a fishing zone for Gaza fishermen from three to six nautical miles into the Mediterranean.

In a month, talks are to begin on more complex issues, including Hamas' demand to start building a seaport and airport in Gaza. Israel has said it would only agree if Hamas disarms, a demand the militant group has rejected.

Israel, Hamas agree to open-ended Gaza ceasefire

APPalestinians celebrate the ceasefire in Gaza City on Tuesday. Israel and Hamas agreed Tuesday to an open-ended ceasefire, halting a seven-week war that killed more than 2,200 people. 
APA displaced Palestinian child stands in a classroom, at the Abu Hussein U.N. school in Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip. File photo 

Under the Egyptian-brokered deal, Israel is to ease imports into Gaza, including aid and material for reconstruction.

Israel and Hamas agreed Tuesday to an open-ended ceasefire, halting a seven-week war that killed more than 2,200 people, the vast majority Palestinians, left tens of thousands in Gaza homeless and devastated entire neighbourhoods in the blockaded territory.

Under the Egyptian-brokered deal, Israel is to ease imports into Gaza, including aid and material for reconstruction. It also allows Palestinians to fish six nautical miles, up from three nautical miles.

In a month, the ceasefire calls for talks to begin in Cairo on more complex issues, including building a seaport and airport in Gaza, and Israel’s demand that Hamas disarm.

Previous ceasefire deals have collapsed since the war began on July 8, 2014 and it was not clear if this one would hold. The truce took effect at 7 p.m. local time (9.30 p.m. IST), but violence persisted until the last minute.

In Israel, mortar shells fired from Gaza killed one man and seriously wounded two people, authorities said.

Gaza’s ace athlete left with no track to run


NYTNader-al-Mouri with his father beside the rubble of their family home.

Everything looked about the same in this town near Gaza’s northern border with Israel: piles of smashed concrete to the left and right, up ahead and in the rear view.

As we drove through the destruction earlier this month, Fares Akram, my Gaza-based reporting partner, somehow recognised a certain street as one we had been on four months before, to visit Nader al-Masri, Gaza’s premier distance runner.

There are few street addresses in Gaza, never mind Google Maps, but asking directions of passers-by will usually get you where you need to go. When Fares rolled down the window to confirm that we were in Mr. al-Masri’s neighbourhood, a series of strangers nodded and pointed the way — but not before clapping their hands against each other at an angle, in what has become a universal sign here. Roughly, it means “all gone.”

We had written about Mr. al-Masri in April, because Israel had denied exit permits to him and two dozen other runners who wanted to compete in a marathon in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Now, I searched the pile that had been his home for any sign of his vast collection of trophies and medals from 40 international competitions.

We found Mr. al-Masri at a United Nations school-turned-shelter not far away, along with about 80 of his relatives. He said they had left home July 21, the day after Israel dropped leaflets and sent text messages warning that the neighbourhood would not be safe.

When he took advantage of a halt in the hostilities to return, he said, “I did not recognise the street,” though he had lived there for 33 of his 34 years.

He said that he retrieved some of his awards from the rubble, but that others remained buried. He wore a fine black Adidas running shirt with yellow piping on the sleeves and “Palestine” in Arabic on the back, but his feet were in flip-flops; his sneakers were under the pile, too. His plans to compete in South Korea in October, where he hoped to run well enough to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, were fading. “All the places where I used to train are levelled,” he said. “I’m handcuffed.”

A serene oasis

Sharif meets Pak Army Chief to discuss political turmoil

August 26, 2014

The meeting between the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) came in the wake of protests by thousands of supporters of Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, demanding the Prime Minister's resignation. Source: AP photo

The issue of recent border "skirmishes" was also a subject of discussion in the meeting, Dawn News reported.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday met Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif to discuss the current political crisis caused due to anti-government protests here and the recent Indo-Pak border “skirmishes”.

“Overall security environment including the prevailing situation was discussed in the meeting. There was a consensus on the need to resolve the ongoing issue expeditiously in the best national interest,” a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said.

The meeting between the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) came in the wake of protests by thousands of supporters of Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, demanding the Prime Minister’s resignation.

The government did not give further details about the meeting but the army has already asked the two sides to end the crisis through negotiations.

The issue of recent border “skirmishes” was also a subject of discussion in the meeting, Dawn News reported.

There have been 95 ceasefire violations by Pakistan along the Line of Control and it has also breached the ceasefire pact 25 times on the International Border.

Sharif’s meeting with the Army Chief came on a day when the DGMOs (Director General Military Operations) of India and Pakistan held talks to discuss “all relevant issues”. The meeting between Sharif and the Army Chief was held after declarations by Khan and Qadri, making it clear that they will not call off their protests until the Prime Minister resigns.

The protesters allege that last year’s general election was rigged and therefore are calling for a re-election. Qadri has called for an overhaul of the entire system.

Supporters of Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) are camped outside the Parliament since last week.

Khan is insisting that Sharif should step down for at least 30 days to let an independent probe into the alleged rigging in polls won by the Prime Minister’s ruling PML-N.

El Qaida”: The Persistent, Baseless Claim That Terrorists Will Swarm the U.S. From Mexico

No terrorists allowed.

The Mexican government is expressing some irritation with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who suggested last week that there’s a “very real possibility” that members of ISIS or other terrorist groups are entering the U.S. illegally via Mexico. As Perry acknowledged in his own remarks—and as the Pentagon confirmed—there’s “no clear evidence” that this is happening. But as is generally the case when fears of “El Qaida” periodically emerge, a lack of evidence is no barrier to bold sweeping claims.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer atSlate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Intelligence officials have warned for some time that there’s a possibility of terrorists entering the U.S. from Mexico, and there is indeed some evidence of groups like Hezbollah operating in South America. It would be foolish, then, to completely rule out the possibility that terrorists have crossed into the United States from down Mexico way. But the frequent claims that this is already a major problem are, well, ridiculous. 

Last year, for instance, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert declared on C-SPAN that "We know al-Qaida has camps over with the drug cartels on the other side of the Mexican border” and that the group’s operatives are being trained to “act Hispanic.” This claim appears to have been based on essentially nothing.

Also last year, Deroy Murdock of National Review argued that “there are at least 7,518 reasons to get the U.S./Mexican border under control.” That figure refers to the number of citizens of State Department-listed “state sponsors of terrorism” arrested entering the U.S.—not just at the Mexican border—in fiscal 2011. More than half of those were from Cuba, a country which is still on the State Department’s list for a variety of reasons but whose immigrant population in the U.S. is not known as a hotbed of jihadist sentiment. (This isn’t to imply that those entering the U.S. from Syria or Afghanistan are likely terrorists. More likely, they’re fleeing terrorism.)

In 2012, Breitbart.com and a number of other conservative sites claimed that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had “admitted” that terrorists enter the U.S. from Mexico “from time to time.” The evidence for this supposed admission: what seems like a deliberate misreading of a garbled answer during congressional testimony. (Napolitano hasn’t always helped her own cause on this issue. In 2009 she had to walk back comments that seemed to suggest, falsely, that the 9/11 hijackers had entered the U.S. from Canada.)

Afghanistan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah threatens to pull out of election process

Aug 26, 2014

"The invalidation process is just a joke and there is no intention of throwing out fraudulent votes," Abdullah's chief auditor, told reporters in Kabul.

KABUL: One of two candidates competing to succeed Afghan leader HamidKarzai threatened on Tuesday to pull out of a UN-supervised audit of a disputed presidential election, undermining a process meant to defuse a standoff between the contenders. 

The audit is part of a US-brokered deal between presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, both of whom claim to have won the election designed to mark Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power. 

"The invalidation process is just a joke and there is no intention of throwing out fraudulent votes," Fazel Ahmad Manawi, Abdullah's chief auditor, told reporters in Kabul. 

"Today, I announce that if our demands are not accepted by tomorrow morning, we will not continue with this process and any outcome will have no value to us." 

Abdullah led after a first-round vote in April but failed to secure an outright majority. He trailed behind Ghani in a June run-off, according to preliminary figures, and has since rejected the outcome, claiming widespread vote rigging. 

As part of a plan to end the dispute, the Independent Election Commission is meant to throw out, or "invalidate", ballots deemed fraudulent in an audit of all eight million votes cast. 

Tension over the outcome of the vote has raised the spectre of another civil war in Afghanistan after the country was torn apart by years of fighting in the 1990s, which eventually led to the rise to power of the Taliban. 

"Whatever consequences are going to follow, we will not be responsible," Manawi said, adding that the United Nations was aware of their complaints but had failed to address them properly. 

Afghanistan's Western allies are hoping a new leader will be in place before September 4, when a Nato summit is due to be held in Wales. 

Countries at the summit will weigh how much aid Afghanistan will get after most foreign troops pull out at the end of this year. 

A peaceful transfer of power would allow the United States and Afghanistan's other Western allies to trumpet a degree of success as their troops leave after nearly 13 years of inconclusive war.

Europe's Slow Surrender to Intolerance

AUG 22, 2014

On the one hand, it is completely unsurprising that Europe has become a swamp of anti-Jewish hostility. It is, after all, Europe. Anti-Jewish hostility has been its metier for centuries. (Yes, the locus of much anti-Jewish activity today is within Europe’s large Muslim-immigrant population; but the young men who threaten their Jewish neighbors draw on the language and traditions of European anti-Semitism as much as they do on Muslim modes of anti-Semitic thought.)

On the other hand, the intensity, and velocity, of anti-Jewish invective -- and actual anti-Jewish thuggery -- has surprised even Eurocynics such as myself. “Jews to the gas,” a chant heard at rallies in Germany, still has the capacity to shock. So do images of besieged synagogues and looted stores. And testimony from harassed rabbis and frightened Jewish children.

But I find myself most bothered by what seems to have been, on the surface, a relatively minor incident. The episode took place last weekend at a Sainsbury’s supermarket in central London. Protesters assembled outside the store to call for a boycott of Israeli-made goods. Quickly, the manager ordered employees to empty the kosher food section. One account suggests that a staff member, when asked about the empty shelves, said “We support Free Gaza.” Other reports suggest that the manager believed that demonstrators might invade the store and trash it. (There is precedent to justify his worry.)

After a good deal of publicity following the incident, Sainsbury’s apologized to its Jewish customers. “This will not happen again,” its corporate affairs director, Trevor Datsun, said, according to the Jewish Chronicle. “Managers will be told not to move kosher food because of some perceived threat.”

Why do I find this incident to be more disturbing than, say, reportedattacks on kippah-wearing Jews, or the scrawling of swastikas onJewish shops?

To the extent that it suggests that Israel and Judaism have been thoroughly conflated in the minds of many Europeans, the Sainsbury's kosher controversy is similar to other recent incidents. Kosher products -- in the case of the Sainsbury’s branch in question, some apparently from the U.K. and Poland -- were intuitively understood to be stand-ins for Israel itself, just as French Jewish males wearing kippot were understood by their attackers to be stand-ins for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kremlin is Caught Putting Boots on the Ground in Ukraine


Captured Russian paratroopers bolster charges of a stealth invasion while their families protest against what could become a very unpopular war.

MOSCOW, Russia — Hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko sat down for their first serious peace talks in Minsk on Tuesday, angry families of Russian paratroopers gathered outside a military base at Kastroma, deep in the Russian heartland. They demanded to know who had deployed their sons and husbands to Ukraine, where ten members of of the 331st Airborne Regiment of the 98th Division were captured on Monday afternoon, and others may have been wounded and killed.

Officially, the Kremlin has denied the Russian army gives active support to rebels fighting in the separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, and the division's commanders repeatedly promised the relatives some explanation, but, really, there was not much they could say. Their boys had already appeared on videos released by Kiev.

The Kremlin’s strategy ever since it staged the secession and annexation of Crimea earlier this year has been to deny any active role, and when discovered, continue to issue blanket denials until its objectives were accomplished. Thus it continues to obfuscate about the role it allegedly played supplying rebels with the sophisticated antiaircraft missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing almost 300 innocent civilians. Thus it dismissed charges by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Friday that Moscow had state “a major escalation” since mid-August, including the use of Russian forces, Russian artillery, and transfers of advanced weapons including armored personnel carriers and tanks. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded by complaining of regular “disinformation about our ‘incursions.’”

But the issue of the captured paratroopers is harder to deny and much more politically sensitive inside Russia. While the essentially bloodless annexation of Crimea was hugely popular and there is widespread sympathy for the Russian-speaking rebels in the regions of eastern Ukraine known collectively as Donbass, the Russian public does not want to see Russian boots on the ground there. The latest polls published by Public Opinion Foundation earlier this month showed that only 5 per cent of the Russian population expects the Russian army to be deployed across the border.

The soldiers from the 331st Airborne were captured by Ukrainian security forces after a firefight on Monday afternoon near the village of Dzerkalne in the Donetsk region, according to officials in Kiev, who released videos of four detainees being questioned at a Ukrainian military camp.
An unnamed defense ministry official saying they crossed the border "by accident."

Putin is key to avoiding a new cold war

25 August 2014 
The presidential summit in Minsk offers hope of a deal over Ukraine. But the Russian leader will not accept humiliation 

‘It would be extremely hard to contain, for more than a few months, a Russian-Ukrainian war within those countries’ boundaries.’ Photograph: Kimmo M ntyl /Rex

If the presidents of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine meet as planned in Minsk tomorrow, it will inevitably recall the time leaders of those same republics met to dissolve the USSR at the Belavezha hunting lodge in Belarus on 8 December 1991.

Then, the key figure was the president of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin. Now it is Vladimir Putin. In 1991, George HW Bush was still striving to keep the Soviet Union together, and he was not sure which way Yeltsin would move. Today, Obama will be hoping for a settlement, but is very unsure of the outcome.

There is little doubt that the United States and the European Union will have done their utmost to persuade the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, to negotiate constructively. President Putin’s position remains unclear. But we can be sure that it will be, as Churchill defined Russia, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. Churchill, though, went on to offer a clue to solving the riddle: “Perhaps there is a key – that key is Russian national interest.”

There are four essential issues that have to be addressed, and probably not all of them can be resolved in one meeting. First and foremost, a devolved government for eastern Ukraine. Next, a full endorsement of all international agreements on air travel relating to Ukraine, Crimea and Russia. Then, linked to this, an agreement on all the issues surrounding the gas pipelines passing through Ukraine. Finally, though it may be too early for this, resolution of the international status of Crimea, perhaps along the lines of an indefinite international lease of Crimea to Russia along the lines of the US-Cuba agreement over Guantánamo.

US must acknowledge China’s ambition

By Christopher Layne 
AUGUST 26, 2014

A woman adjusts a flag during the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing in July.

ONE HUNDRED years ago this month, Britain declared war on Germany. And though the issues of that era may seem irrelevant now, the pre-war tensions between those two nations can actually help us understand where today’s Sino-American relationship is headed. After all, though history never repeats itself exactly, as Mark Twain famously observed, it does rhyme. Or to put it another way, clear patterns recur when two rival nations are locked in a cycle of rise and decline.

Throughout history, those power transitions have almost invariably resulted in war — and the US-China relationship is in just such a transition. China clearly is on the rise. It has surpassed the United States as the world’s leading manufacturing state, the leading trading state, and the leading exporter. Indeed, according to one World Bank measure, China already has overtaken the United States as the world’s largest economy. That nation’s growing wealth is financing a big buildup of its military capabilities and fueling its geopolitical ambitions.

When power transitions occur, great powers eventually face what students of great-power dynamics relations call “the Carr Moment.” In “The Twenty Years’ Crisis,” his classic study of international relations, British scholar Edward Hallett Carr focused on a crucial issue in great-power politics: When the balance of power is shifting, how can a declining nation’s desire to preserve the status quo be reconciled with an ascending rival’s desire to revise the world order to reflect its rising power?

The Carr Moment comes at the point when the declining power must decide whether to accede to that revision or try to preserve the prevailing order. Standing firm means risking war. But accommodating the rising power forces the fading hegemon to come to terms with its decline.

China Rising

AUGUST 25, 2014 2:22 PM

China recently conducted its third land-based missile-intercept test. These tests, most likely designed to facilitate “hit to kill” technologies critical for China’s missile defense and anti-satellite programs, are part of a well-planned, enormous military buildup in which the Chinese have been engaged for nearly 20 years.

Here are some features of that effort: 
They have created a large and modern navy, which, by 2020, will be substantially larger than America’s. Its vessels are highly capable and armed with long-range, advanced, anti-ship missiles and air-defense missiles. 

They are upgrading their nuclear arsenal and are on track to more than double the number of their nuclear warheads capable of striking the U.S. homeland over the next few years. 

They already have the world’s largest and most lethal inventory of conventional ballistic missiles as well as large numbers of highly capable and long-range ground-, air- and sea-based cruise missiles. They will continue to expand, diversify, and improve their missile inventory, enhancing their ability to coerce or use force against the United States and its allies and partners in Asia. China now is able to threaten U.S. bases and operating areas throughout the region, including those that it previously could not reach with conventional weapons, such as Anderson Air Force Base on Guam. 

They have almost 2,000 capable fighter aircraft and are on track to introduce two new fifth-generation fighters, which they will likely add to their inventory between 2017 and 2019. China also appears to be developing a new long-range stealth bomber. 

They are significantly upgrading their intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems and improving their amphibious capabilities. 

According to the Defense Science Board, they already have offensive cyber capabilities that can inflict existential damage on America’s critical infrastructure. 

James Foley's murder should only stiffen our resolve to destroy Islamic State

Journalist James Foley in Aleppo, Syria, in September 2012 Photo: AP

There is something disturbing about the fact that the murder of a single Westerner should elicit greater shock and garner more attention than the torture and killing of hundreds upon hundreds of Syrians and Iraqis stretching back years, but if this is what it takes to bring home the sadism and cruelty of the so-called caliphate, so be it.

I did not watch the Islamic State’s propaganda snuff movie of James Foley’s murder (the word “execution” is utterly misplaced), and it should not be screened, circulated, or given undue publicity, but the audio clipsconvey one of it’s most chilling aspects: the distinct British accent of his killer.

Just over a month ago, former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove argued that more than 500 Britons who had joined IS were “misguided young men, rather pathetic figures” who would be better ignored. There are indeed plenty of young Britons who travelled to Syria, only to find that they lacked the stomach for the fight.

But the act of beheading a hostage on tape, having forced him to renounce his country, is something quite different. Indeed, it seems plausible that IS would intentionally choose a Briton to oversee this atrocity, precisely because of their intended audience. IS want to dissuade Western powers from taking on their caliphate, and what better way to convey the message than a voice all the more disturbing for its familiarity?

IS has always sought to use beheadings instrumentally, and this is no exception. They were careful to parade another hostage, Steven Sotloff, in yesterday’s video and declare that his life depended on Obama’s “next decision”. IS will be aware that both Britain and America are in the midst of debates, within government and amongst the public, over how far to go.

Although it’s unlikely that IS’ specific intention was to drive a wedge between Washington and London – after all, James Foley himself was American – it’s clear that this is a moment of uncertainty in the West. The grotesque spectacle of beheadings – orange jumpsuits, masked captors, desert landscape, and formulaic, coerced last words – are all intended to resonate amongst Western publics, as they are on today’s front pages, reinforcing that uncertainty, and breaking our will to take on a distant threat.

Analysis: Hamas-IS equation as perceived by the US

Obama's willingness to aid in the fight against radical Islam isn't a Carte Blanche for Netanyahu in Gaza

Imagine the Israelis and the Palestinians engulfed in a long and bloody war, with large number of casualties on both sides and images of death and destruction being splashed on the front pages of newspapers around the world. Large demonstrations in the Arab World blast Israel and its American ally while the Saudis, the Egyptians and other Arab governments, joined by the Soviet Union, demand that Washington "do something" ASAP to stop Israeli aggression and as American officials worry that the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict would result in rising oil prices and ignite Soviet diplomatic moves.

Well, you don't have to imagine such a scenario. It happened in 1982 after Israel responded to an alleged terrorist attack by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) by attacking PLO targets as well as civilian centers in Lebanon, and eventually occupying Beirut. The pro-Israeli administration of President Ronald Reagan came under enormous pressure at home and abroad to invest time and resources in trying to bring the war to an end and force Israel to withdraw from Lebanon. The Americans did that and even ended up deploying American peacekeeping troops in Beirut.
Now...Fast-forward thirty years later as the fighting between Israel and Hamas-led Palestinian forces is raging in Gaza. Once again there are images of civilian deaths as well as international anger directed at Israel. But this time most of the Arab governments and public aren't as mobilized in support of the Palestinian cause as they were in 1982 (or for that matter, during most of the post-1948 era). In fact, Egypt and Saudi Arabia seem to be distancing themselves from Hamas; and Cairo is even providing diplomatic backing for the Israelis.

And there are certainly no Arab threats to impose an oil embargo on the United States and unlike the Soviet Union during the Cold War, none of today's leading global players is identifying itself with the Palestinians. With the exception of a few American liberal pundits and leftist and Muslim activists no one has been actually putting pressure on the Obama administration to "do something" and restrain the Israeli government.

How James Foley’s Death Changed the Course of Obama’s Foreign Policy

BY ANDREW L. PEEK,Fiscal Times
August 24, 2014

Colin Powell is an American hero.He served two combat tours in Vietnam, and rose to become the first African-American Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But the doctrine that bears his name – the Powell Doctrine – is a disaster. That idea of American power has contributed to U.S. passivity leading to (among other things) the brutal execution of American journalist James Foley. That is why it is – finally – on the way out. 

The Powell Doctrine is somewhat of a misnomer: It’s actually mostly the Weinberger Doctrine, articulated by President Reagan’s former Secretary of Defense and refined by Powell afterwards. It says that American military power should not be used except overwhelmingly and as a last resort, with a clear political objective and exit strategy in mind. It evolved conceptually as a reaction to some of the perceived failures of the Vietnam War, such as shifting, vague political goals and artificial constraints on the use of force. 

UN Accuses ISIS of Mass Killings

August 25, 2014 
U.N. accuses Islamic State of mass killings 

Outgoing U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay talks during an interview to Reuters in her office in Geneva August 19, 2014.

(Reuters) - The United Nations condemned on Monday “appalling, widespread” crimes by Islamic State forces in Iraq, including mass executions of prisoners that could amount to war crimes. 

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay condemned “grave, horrific human rights violations” being committed by Islamic State, a Sunni Muslim group which has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria to the alarm of the Baghdad government and its allies in the West. 

Up to 670 prisoners from Badush prison in the city of Mosul were killed by Islamic State on June 10, Pillay said in a statement quoting survivors and witnesses to the “massacre” as telling U.N. human rights investigators. 

"Such cold-blooded, systematic and intentional killings of civilians, after singling them out for their religious affiliation, may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity," Pillay said. 

Islamic State (ISIL) loaded 1,000 to 1,500 prisoners from the jail on to trucks and took them for screening, Pillay said. Sunni inmates were then separated and removed. 

"ISIL gunmen then yelled insults at the remaining prisoners, lined them up in four rows, ordered them to kneel and opened fire," she said. 


Update on Security Situation in Somalia and Yemen

August 25, 2014

Yemen: al Houthi movement publishes a statement addressing recent negotiations with the Yemeni Presidential Commission; anti-Houthi protestors demonstrate in Sana’a; al Houthi militants clash with al Islah tribesmen and Yemeni military in al Jawf; Ansar al Sharia militants detonate car bomb in Aden; Ansar al Sharia militants ambush Yemeni military patrol in Hadramawt; Ansar al Sharia militants assassinate local trader in Hadramawt; Yemeni airplanes bomb suspected AQAP house in Hadramawt; suspected AQAP militants attack government official’s home in Dhamar; al Houthi militants relocate forces from al Jawf and Ma’rib to Sa’ada; Yemeni military chief of staff meets with U.S. military delegation

Horn of Africa: AMISOM and Somali National Army forces seize key town in Bakool region from al Shabaab; al Shabaab militants clash with armed qat traders in Hiraan region; unidentified gunmen kill two Puntland police officers in Bari region; rival Somali clan militias clash in Kenya’s North Eastern Province

Yemen Security Brief 
The al Houthi movement’s political arm, Ansar Allah, published a statement on August 25 addressing recent negotiations that were conducted with President Hadi’s Presidential Commission, claiming that the Commission left early and did not have any actual power. President Hadi’s Presidential Commission stated that the al Houthi rebels rejected their proposals and claimed the al Houthis were angling for war. An anonymous Yemeni government official who participated in negotiations stated that the Yemeni government offered to resign within one month on August 23 amid ongoing al Houthi protests in Sana’a, on condition that the al Houthis cease their protests and withdraw from their camps. The government also agreed to review a recent cessation of a fuel subsidy program. However, it appears that the al Houthis have rejected this proposal.

[1]Thousands of anti-al Houthi protestors gathered in Sana’a on August 24, to demonstrate against the al Houthi movement’s protests.

[2]Al Houthi militants fought with al Islah party tribesmen and Yemeni soldiers on August 23 and 24 in al Ghail, al Jawf. Reportedly, 16 al Houthis were killed and four were injured in the clashes, while four al Islah party tribesmen were also killed and five were injured.

[3]Militants from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) insurgent arm, Ansar al Sharia, detonated a car bomb in the al Mansoura neighborhood in Aden on August 23, killing Colonel Ahmed Mohammed Saleh al Amri, director of military supplies for the 7th Regional Command. Following the explosion, Ansar al Sharia released a statement via Twitter on August 23, claiming credit for the car bomb and asserting al Amri had participated in the Yemeni military’s campaign against Sunnis in Shabwah and Abya.

Qaida-linked men free American writer missing in Syria since 2012

August 25

Al Qaida-linked militants in Syria on Sunday freed an American writer missing since 2012 following what officials said were efforts by the Gulf Arab state of Qatar to win his release.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement that Peter Theo Curtis had been held by Nusra Front, Al-Qaida's official wing in Syria whose rivalry with militant group Islamic State has fueled war among the insurgents themselves.

President Barack Obama, who was briefed on Curtis' release, "shares in the joy and relief that we all feel now that Theo is out of Syria and safe," the White House said.

"But we continue to hold in our thoughts and prayers the Americans who remain in captivity in Syria, and we will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal to see that the remaining American hostages are freed," the statement added.

News of Curtis' release emerged just days after the Islamic State group posted a video on the Internet showing one of its fighters beheading American journalist James Foley, who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012.

The United Nations said in a statement "it can confirm that it facilitated the handover of Peter Theo Curtis. He was handed over to UN peacekeepers in Al Rafid village, Quneitra, the Golan Heights, on 24 August 2014. After receiving a medical check-up, Mr Curtis was handed over to representatives of his government."

White House national security adviser Susan Rice said in a statement that Curtis, 45, was "safe outside of Syria, and we expect he will be reunited with his family shortly."— AFP

An author & a journalist 
Peter Theo Curtis, a US citizen held hostage in Syria, delivers a statement. AP/PTI 
Peter Theo Curtis is an author and journalist who published books under the name Theo Padnos. His family said in a statement that he changed his name legally to Peter Theo Curtis after he published a memoir called "Undercover Muslim: A Journey into Yemen" 
Curtis, who has a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Massachusetts, and is fluent in Arabic and French, wrote his first book about the frustrations of teaching literature to incarcerated teenagers in Vermont.
He later became fascinated with another type of troubled youth: Western men who converted to extremist Islamist causes. After moving to Yemen, he studied at religious madrassas along with disaffected young men from the US and Europe 
Curtis entered Syria in 2012 hoping to write freelance news stories to help the Syrian people, family spokeswoman Betsy Sullivan said 

Beheading video of Foley was ‘staged’

A masked Islamic State militant holding a knife stands next to James Foley at an unknown location. 
The gruesome video of an Islamist militant beheading James Foley was probably staged with the actual murder taking place off-camera, according to forensic experts 
It has emerged that the Briton might be a frontman and not the killer. The analysis highlights a number of discrepancies that could indicate that the beheading scene broadcast to the world was not the genuine killing 
Firstly, no blood can be seen, even though the knife is drawn across the neck area at least six times Secondly, sounds allegedly made by Foley do not appear consistent with what may be expected 
The forensic expert said no incision could be seen on Foley's neck, though the right hand of the jihadist partially blocked the shot