Sunday, June 25, 2017
Authors Posts by Jonathan POWER

Jonathan POWER

A New Cold War Between Russia And The West?

George Orwell, the author of “Animal Farm” and “1984”, was the first person to use the phrase “Cold War” in a 1945 newspaper article, written just after the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He argued that “the surface of the earth is being parceled off into three great empires, each self-contained and cut off from contact with the outer world, and each ruled, under one disguise or another, by a self-elected oligarchy. He counted the US and Western Europe as one, the Soviet Union as the second and China as the third. He concluded that, “the atomic bomb is likeliest to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a peace that is no peace”.

I think he got it nearly right-or so it seems as a new Cold War erupts between the West and Russia and China spars with the US over the South China Sea and its islands. Of course it’s more complicated than that. China and Russia have a fair relationship. China and the US are perhaps doing nothing much more than annoying each other and the bonds of commerce and student exchanges bind both the elites and the populaces close together.

To me a new Cold War is nonsense on stilts. Even more the original one.

George Kennan, the US former ambassador to Moscow and the author of how to contain the Soviet Union, always insisted that Stalin had no intention of rolling his tanks into Western Europe. As Robert Legvold summarizes Kennan’s views in his interesting new book, “Cold War”, “The threat the Soviet Union posed was political, a threat accentuated by these countries’ vulnerability to Soviet subversion because of their economic frailty and political instability-a threat requiring a political and economic response, not a military one”. In 1948 Kennan wrote, as he observed the creation of NATO, “Why did they [Western leaders] wish to divert attention from a thoroughly justified and promising program of economic recovery by emphasizing a danger which did not actually exist but which might be brought into existence by too much discussion of the military balance and by the ostentatious stimulation of military rivalry?”

It was Kennan, backed by people like Robert McNamara, (who was the Secretary of Defense under both presidents Kennedy and Johnson and a committed bomber in the Vietnam war) who told President Bill Clinton that he was expanding NATO after the end of the Cold War in defiance of many promises to President Mikhail Gorbachev made by both US and European leaders and that this was the worst of all possible mistakes. Now NATO’s membership has expanded up to Russia’s border and NATO troops are deployed closer to Russia than agreed with Gorbachev. Moreover, the anti-ballistic missile system now being installed to ward off a supposed Iranian attack could be deployed against Russia.

We forget that Russia has supported the US in Afghanistan and let American war materials be carried on its railways. We forget that Putin was the first to call President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attack. We forget that Putin seriously considered asking NATO for membership. We forget that both Gorbachev and Putin at one time visualized Russia becoming part of the EU. We forget that Russia returned to being a Christian-inspired nation that also gave religious freedom to Islam and others. We forget the time under President Boris Yeltsin when he pushed hard to remove the barriers to human rights. We forget the progress made under Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Medvedev and Putin in reducing the armory of nuclear arms.

With the Americans, they have reduced stockpiles from 70,000 to 16,300. This ended the US-Russian race between offensive and defensive strategic nuclear programs. Russia, with the US has eliminated whole categories of weapons. They have worked together securing nuclear weapons and materials in Russia. They have placed limits on large standing armies in Europe while introducing transparency and mutual trust into their operations. (This is crumbling since the Russian interference in Ukraine.) We forget when Dimitri Medvedev was president, he published in 2008 a well thought out multi-dimensional plan to enhance European security. Legvold says, “The US and Europe brushed it aside”. In Ukraine, the US and EU self-defeatingly walked away from a compromise arrangement they had worked out with President Victor Yanukovych that could have avoided further political upheaval. Today we overlook that Russia is committed to defeating ISIS more than it is committed to supporting the regime in Syria.

Last year Rodric Braithwaite, the former UK ambassador to Russia, wrote in his book, “For a decade Westerners lectured Moscow where its real interests lay, and expected it to follow where the West led. They rarely listened to what the Russians said in response. Russian concerns seemed unimportant, misguided or unacceptable”.

Is a new Cold War called for? Definitely not. Just some wise Western leadership.

Is Democracy On The Wane?

Is there a democratic recession? No, not an economic one. Rather one of the voting kind. In other words is democracy going backwards? It is not. Democracy remains resilient. Authoritarianism is being held at bay, despite recession in Russia, Turkey and China.

“Democracy may be receding somewhat in practice, but it is still globally ascendant in people’s values and aspirations”, writes Larry Diamond in a new book, “Democracy in Decline”. In fact Diamond’s positive conclusion is less positive than I believe the facts say. By and large democracy is not receding.

One problem in the measurement debate is that we expect too much. From the mid 1970s to the early 1990s the number of democracies in the world rose from around 45 to an astonishing 120, well over half of the world’s population. How can we reasonably expect all these to succeed? There was bound to be some slippage. Why should we expect this hot pace to be continued? So why the catch phrase “Democracy in Decline”?

There are at least four global democracy indices: Freedom House, Polity, the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Bertelsmann democracy index. Looking at the years 2000 to 2013 the world is more democratic today than it was in 2000. Of these four only Freedom House shows a decline and that is extremely modest.

However, I admit, if we break this down a bit and look at the period from 2005 on we do see a decline, but again a very modest one. Even Freedom House shows the overall net number of democracies or near democracies in decline was only two between 2005 and 2013. Between 2005 and 2013 there were 10 countries that significantly improved their democratic practice. Moreover, most of the significant declines occurred not in full democracies but in regimes that were already somewhat authoritarian such as the Central African Republic, Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Jordan. As for fully-fledged democracies classified as “free” in the 1990s, only two went into a terminal state of affairs- Thailand and Venezuela.

Over the same period 8 countries became “free” and still are today: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Ghana, Indonesia, Peru, Serbia and Senegal.

The truth is there is an illusion of backsliding. One reason is the excessive optimism shaped, in part, by the extraordinarily successful democratizations of the period, 1974 to 1991. In southern Europe (Spain, Portugal and Greece), in South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay) and Central Europe (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland) authoritarian crises led to new democracies.

But these on the ground developments led to two mistakes among observers. First, people began to conflate authoritarian breakdown with democratization. But this wasn’t always so- Poland and Spain yes, but Iran and Pakistan, no. Most authoritarian breakdowns have not brought democratization. The number of “new democracies” was less than many observers believed. There was quite a bit of “window-dressing” with reforms meant to defuse a short-term crisis but control was maintained through the army, police, media and courts.

Second, some observers seemed not to notice how easy it was in this period to overthrow authoritarian leadership because regimes were bankrupt, their states were in disarray and, in many cases, had lost control of the coercive apparatus. Autocracies were easily toppled in Albania, Belarus, Benin, the Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Georgia, Madagascar, Malawi, Moldova, Niger, Ukraine and Zaire. This easy-to-overthrow situation is not likely to return.

Compared with these heady times and the end of the Soviet Union that followed in 1991 there has indeed been a developing belief that democratization doesn’t advance today with the speed it did earlier. But in fact there is no reason for disappointment with the situation as it is in 2016. It’s as good as we could hope for.

Today many make another mistake. They look at the setbacks in China, Russia, the Middle East and lately Turkey and see not much happening elsewhere in the world on the pro democracy front.

But, Turkey apart, the other three have long been- for centuries- and long will be the difficult cases. Moreover, the “low hanging fruit” have been picked- the countries left that need democracy are the hard cases. Examples of these are some of the weaker states in sub-Saharan Africa, dynastic oil-producing countries supported by the West, single-party states with high economic growth, countries with traditionally a low-level linkage with the West, and in regimes born fairly recently in blood and revolution.

The fast growth in democratization in the 1970s and 80s has given us false expectations. We have reached a plateau after a great climb. This is not a call to rest. It is a call not to be pessimistic. There has been no meltdown. It is a story of resilience and enormous progress. Persuading the laggards will be hard but there is no good reason for so much pessimism.

The Fulcrum Is Female

Over 200 years we have watched with a mixture of fascination and horror
the explosion of population in most parts of the world. In the 1960s and
70’s many people were convinced that it was the single most important
issue of our times. Government aid agencies, especially in the Western
world, gave overriding priority to distributing condoms wherever and
whenever they had the chance. Some people like the bishops of the
Catholic Church and the mullahs of Iran got very hot under the collar.
Indeed, these two groups would unite together to vote the “no” in UN
population conferences.

In the Third World militants argued that this was one more perfidy
carried out by the West- to rid the world of dark-skinned people.

Half a century later, it all looks very different. Attitudes have changed
everywhere. Only a few islands of Catholics continue to be anti-
artificial birth control. Whatever the Pope might say, not many listen.

Now we stand on the cusp of a profound change in the human condition.
Forecasts show a dramatic, unprecedented, fall in fertility rates, even
affecting some of the poorest parts of the world. Within a few decades,
we could be living in a world with a stable population.

Eighty-three countries containing 46% of the world’s population now
have a fertility replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman. Another 46%
live in countries where the birth rate is falling sharply. That leaves
only 9% of countries to worry about. And since China is not one of those
9%, the numbers involved in over-producing are no longer mind-boggling.

Africa is the continent to now worry about. Many women are still bearing
five or six children. But fertility rates are coming down in some
countries at a steady rate. Within a decade, there will probably be only
three countries with a fertility rate higher than five- Mali, Niger and
Somalia.

In future, once the wars in the Middle East are settled, the only people
who will want to migrate are Africans and judging by what has happened
in yesterday’s baby over-producing countries, Africans’ urge to
emigrate will subside over time.

Look at Mexico where Donald Trump goes on and on about the need to build
an almighty wall to cut off Mexico from the US. (Amusingly, Mexicans
say, “Well, it could be a good thing –it will keep Trump out of
Mexico!”). In the past 40 years, Mexico’s fertility rate has gone
from above 6 to 2.27, a little over replacement level. Mexican
emigration to the US has fallen to a few thousand.

We now have to turn our attention to the other great issue in the
world’s population debate- how women are treated.

In a new book “Sex and World Peace” Valeria Hudson and her
colleagues argue there is a strong link between state security and
women’s security. Indeed, the best predictor of a state’s
peacefulness is how well its women are treated.

Along with other scholars who have separately studied the issue this
book shows convincingly that the larger the gender gap between the
treatment of men and women in a society, the more likely a country is to
be involved in conflict, even war. It is more likely to be the first to
resort to force in such conflicts.

While it is true, as Steven Pinker argued in his landmark book last
year, that the world as a whole is becoming much more peaceful, violence
against women in many countries is becoming more common. It certainly
dwarfs the violence produced by war and armed conflict.

In fact, women are being badly treated even before they are born. In 18
countries, from Armenia to Vietnam and including the two giants, India
and China, childhood sex ratios are significantly abnormal in favor of
boys.

The United Nations Population Fund says that 163 million women are
missing from Asia’s population. Sex-selective abortion in the days of
scanning is all too easy. It has been calculated that China will face a
deficit of more than 50 million young adult women by the end of this
decade.

What does this mean for world peace? It is creating an underclass of
young men who cannot find a woman to marry. They will never become heads
of households, the marker for manhood in their cultures. Should we be
surprised if we see a rise in violent crime, theft and smuggling? It is
one way for men to compete in the marriage market- by demonstrating,
albeit in a crude way, their manhood and their earning power. These
volatile young males are easy pickings for the recruiters of terrorist
movements and in triggering urban unrest.

The fulcrum is female. And using that they have to make men understand
what is really going on in the other side of the sex divide.

What To Do About ISIS

“ISIS is not an existential threat to the United States”, President
Barack Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg of Atlantic magazine recently.

What becomes clear in this long article, much of it Obama’s own words,
is that Obama shies away from the idea that war can make bad things
good. The unquenchable wars that he inherited- Iraq and Afghanistan-
were set alight by his predecessor, George W. Bush, and no amount of
Obama fire engines have been able to douse them with enough water to put
them out.

As for the rest of the waterfront of foreign affairs, he argues that
after a period of uncertainty he decided that the US should not
militarily involve itself in the civil war in Syria. He decided that
Ukraine is not a core American interest, although it is a Russian one,
and he was convinced that Iran would agree through peaceful negotiation
to renounce the dangerous parts of its nuclear program. As for the
toppling of Muammar Gaddafi and the mess that followed, he agrees that he
made a bad mistake when he put on one side his own philosophy of not
intervening militarily in a situation that was not a core US interest.

In the Atlantic article, Obama says believes he has broken with what he
calls, derisively, the “playbook”. “It’s a playbook that comes
out of the foreign policy establishment. The playbook prescribes
responses to different events, and these responses tend to be
militarized”.

So if ISIS is not an “existential threat” what is it and why have
American bombers been deployed against it and even some Special Forces
on the ground? Why is he sounding the trumpet of war- limited war, it
must be admitted, but still war? According to the New York Times, since
September 2014, groups or individuals claiming some connection to ISIS
have killed approximately 600 people outside Syria and Iraq. Yet more
than 14,000 people were murdered in the US in that same period. Indeed
if 600 is the best ISIS can do the US and its NATO allies should switch
off the lights in the Middle East and go home. The US doesn’t need the
Middle East’s oil as much as it once did. The US can’t straddle all
the local beasts at the same time- Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and
the Gulf States are all pulling in different directions. As James Baker,
President George H.W. Bush’s Secretary Of State said about the
Yugoslavian civil wars, “We haven’t got a dog in that fight”.

ISIS has limited power. The Soviet Union could impose communism on
eastern Europe thanks to the might of its army. The Islamic State (ISIS)
in contrast has at the most 30,000 troops. Alarmists point to the fact
that it controls an area as large as the UK, but most of it is empty
desert. Its national income is about the same as Barbados. Its base is
what are the ungoverned Sunni areas of Iraq.

As Harvard professor of international affairs, Stephen Walt, writes in
Foreign Affairs, “Spreading a revolution via contagion requires a
level of resources that only great powers possess. The Soviet Union was
powerful enough to subsidize the Communist International and support
client states around the world, but medium-sized revolutionary powers
are no so fortunate. Iran has backed a number of proxies over the past
30-plus years, but it has not yet created a successful clone.”

Local Muslim governments are already working to contain ISIS influence
by cutting down on the passage of foreign fighters, interrupting its
financing and encouraging local religious authorities to challenge its
outlandish religious claims. In Europe, an overwhelming majority of
Muslims will have no luck with ISIS. Imams are increasingly on the
alert for ISIS propaganda and recruiting in their mosques.

ISIS leaders have quarreled with the Al Qaeda leadership. ISIS has a
tendency to treat minor disagreements as acts of heresy, punishable by
death.

The US and its allies (and Russia) should be aware of the boomerang
effect. Foreign intervention by Austria and Russia radicalized the
French Revolution. Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980 allowed Ayatollah
Khomeini and his followers to purge moderate elements in Iran.

Walt suggests “patient containment” as the best policy. ISIS’s own
excesses and internal divisions could lead to its collapse. Or over time
it may mellow, as has Iran and Palestine, even Gaza.

The role that the US and its allies can play is back up, but not
fighting, support for the front-liners most affected by ISIS. Also Saudi
Arabia has to be sanctioned if it doesn’t once and for all put a stop
to its citizens exporting the most militant and violent interpretations
of the Koran and money to go with it to ISIS.

Last but not least, Western media and politicians should play its significance
down. Ringing the alarm bells all the time plays into ISIS’s hands.

The United States Should Apologize For Hiroshima and Nagasaki

We were standing in Hiroshima looking at a stone wall. All there was to see was a shadow of a man. It had been etched into the wall at the moment of his obliteration by the blinding light of the first atomic bomb. Olof Palme, prime minister of Sweden, stared hard at it. An hour later, he gave a speech as head of the Independent Commission on Disarmament of which I was a member. “My fear”, he remarked, “is that mankind itself will end up as nothing more than a shadow on a wall.”

President Charles de Gaulle of France once observed, “After a nuclear war the two sides would have neither powers, nor laws, nor cities, nor cultures, nor cradles, nor tombs.”

What if, contrary to the received wisdom, it was shown that nuclear weapons played no role in the surrender of Japan at the end of World War 2, as has been their justification? Perhaps the terrible acts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are no worse, despite their two hundred thousand deaths, than many other scathing memories of war waged against mainly civilian populations. Then we would have to start a big rethink of the value of nuclear arsenals.

Nuclear deterrence, many thoughtful generals have long concluded, is nonsense on stilts and long has been. New scholarship, benefiting from access to recently classified documents in Japanese, Soviet and US archives, is more grist for their mill. Scholars working on these papers now conclude that the Soviet Union’s invasion of Manchuria may have been more important that the nuclear bombardment in coercing the Japanese surrender.

Soviet scholars have been saying this for a long time-. I first came across their arguments when I was at university in the 1960s. Yet Japanese historians willfully colluded with the US in telling a different story. The Japanese leaders did not want their people to believe they had not been smart enough strategists and could be outmaneuvered by the Red Army. Rather, they wanted the world to believe that they had been overwhelmed by a scientific breakthrough they could not have foreseen.

There was in fact nothing totally special about Hiroshima. The US conventional bombing attacks on Japanese cities in the spring and summer of 1945 were almost as devastating as Hiroshima. They often caused more damage and even more casualties. Altogether, 66 Japanese cities were attacked that summer, and a typical raid of 500 bombers could deliver 5 kilotons of bombs. The Hiroshima bomb was the equivalent of 16 kilotons, only three times bigger than the average conventional raid.

Yet neither the conventional nor the nuclear bombing turned the heads of Japan’s leaders. Its Supreme Council did not meet until two days after the Hiroshima attack of August 6th. Yet when the Soviets intervened on August 9th, word reached Tokyo by 4.30 am and the Supreme Council met by 10.30 am. Following Hiroshima, Emperor Hirohito took no action. He merely asked for “more details”. But when he heard of the Soviet invasion, he immediately summoned Lord Privy Seal Koichi Kido and told him, “In the light of the Soviet entry…. it was all the more urgent to find a means to end the war.”

Kido, after the war confessed, “If military leaders could convince themselves they were defeated by the power of science but not by lack of spiritual power or by strategic errors, they could save face.” The Americans were only too happy to oblige in this 1945 political spin. If the bomb did it then the US had been the prime instrument in Japan’s defeat and US prowess would be enhanced throughout the world. But if the Soviets could convincingly claim it was their invasion of Manchuria that tipped the balance then Moscow could claim they did in four days what the US could not do in four years.

The Soviets were out-maneuvered in the public relations battle by the self-interest of the Japanese and the American leadership.

It is time overdue for the Americans to say a profound sorry for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They were unnecessary acts. They were only carried out because President Harry Truman believed wrongly that by hurrying the defeat of Japan by a handful of days it was the way to stop the Soviet advance in its tracks.

President Barack Obama has now decided to visit Hiroshima.

On May 26th, Obama will be in Japan for the G7 heads of state meeting. When he gets to Hiroshima, he should bow his head and ask forgiveness for America’s terrible deed.

President Obama Has Failed On Nuclear Disarmament

During the Cold War, barely a week went by without some reportage or debate on nuclear weapons. Not today. Yet most of the nuclear weapons around then are still around.

It would be alright if they were left to quietly rust in their silos. But they are not. When in 2010 President Barack Obama made a deal with Russian President Dimitri Medvedev to cut their respective arsenals of strategic missiles by one-third, the Republican-dominated US Congress, as the price for its ratification of the deal, decreed that Obama and future presidents be made to spend a trillion dollars on updating and modernizing America’s massive arsenal.

Now that chicken is coming home to roost…and a few other chickens too.

President Barack Obama’s unexpected legacy is that he has presided over an America that has been at war longer than any previous president. Moreover, of recent presidents, apart from Bill Clinton, he has cut the US nuclear weapon stockpile at the slowest rate.

The Republican’s extreme right clipped Obama’s wings. Of that there is no doubt, making it impossible thus far, to negotiate with Russia any further cuts. At the same time, the counterproductive US/EU confrontation with Russia over Ukraine pushed President Vladimir Putin into the foolish tactic of talking about the possible use of nuclear weapons and deploying intimidating flights over the airspace of the Baltic Sea. When Putin was asked a year ago if Russia was prepared to bring nuclear weapons into play in the confrontation over Crimea, he replied, ”We were ready”.

Yet not all can be pinned on Congress or Putin. Obama’s vision of a nuclear-free world outlined in his famous speech in Prague in April 2009 has come to naught. “The Prague vision has been empty of calories”, says Bruce Blair, the former Air Force nuclear launch officer who revealed the tenuous controls on launching that exists in the underground silos that contain long-range ballistic missiles.

Why, for example, has Obama set about cutting the proposed budget for nuclear security? Yet there are a 200,000 putative nuclear weapons in the world in the form of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, as well as those already in service. The cuts will affect the Global Material Security Program which has the task of improving the security of nuclear materials around the world, securing orphaned or disused radiological sources and strengthening nuclear smuggling detection.

Why is Obama building the Ballistic Missile Defense System based in Romania and Poland? It is meant to fire “a bullet at a bullet”, supposedly to defend Europe and the US against a nuclear attack by Iran. (Dutch and Danish warships are also being fitted with sensors that plug into the system). But one of Obama’s greatest achievements is the nuclear defanging of Iran, an effort that was strongly helped by Russia’s contribution to the negotiations.

Obama and the Pentagon say this is not about Russia. But Russia believes it is. NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stolenberg says that “many countries are seeking to develop or acquire their own ballistic missiles”. But which ones? North Korea? It would not use this flight-path. Or Pakistan and India, which only aim at each other and in India’s case, at China. Richard Burt, who negotiated the path-breaking Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia at the time of President George H. W. Bush says, “It is debatable whether other countries will go nuclear”.

Stoltenberg also defends the Ballistic Missile System, arguing that “the interceptors are too few and located too far south to intercept Russian intercontinental missiles”. Yet once the system is fully in place it can be upgraded relatively easily and this is what perturbs Russia. Even now it could probably take out in flight Russian short and medium range missiles.

No wonder Putin talks the nuclear talk. The System destabilizes the nuclear balance.

Jonathan Beale, the BBC’s defense correspondent, recently broadcast an analysis of the System. He concludes that “NATO and the US may risk being accused of not telling the whole truth”.

Recently, a dozen Democratic senators wrote to Obama asking him to “redouble” his efforts to reduce nuclear threats”. They went on to say that the US should propose again that the US and Russia reduce their nuclear arsenals to 1,000 weapons and 500 delivery systems apiece. That is less than half than what they currently have deployed. Richard Burt believes that Washington could be doing more to engage Moscow. “I don’t think we are trying hard enough to bring Putin to the table”.

Obama has only 6 months left to make his mark. A deal with Russia could not be negotiated in that time even if he wanted to. But he could emulate his predecessor, George W. Bush, who simply announced he was unilaterally putting 1,000 nuclear missiles on the shelf. He could also cancel the Ballistic Missile Defense System.

Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today (May 4th) is Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Holocaust was committed by a nation whose church attendance was then high and whose creation of the most sublime sacred music ever written was etched deep into the minds of most people. Yet only the rare Catholic bishop and Protestant pastor spoke out against Hitler. Today Germans admit the guilt of their nation. School children are taught every detail of the Holocaust’s evil- not least about Adolf Eichmann, the personification of Nazi extermination policy.

At the end of World War II, Adolf Eichmann, the chief organizer of the eradication of the Jews in the concentration camps went into hiding. Later he got himself, with the aid of sympathetic clergy, to Argentina.

For the next 10 years he worked in several odd jobs in the Buenos Aires area- from factory foreman, to junior water engineer and professional rabbit farmer.

In June 2006, old CIA documents about Nazis were released. Among the 27,000 documents was a March 1958 memo from the German BND intelligence agency to the CIA which stated that Eichmann was reported to have lived in Argentina since 1952, using the alias, “Klement”. The CIA had taken no action on this information because Eichmann’s arrest, it was argued, would embarrass the US and Germany by turning public attention on the former Nazis they had recruited for key jobs.

Around the same time Mosad, the Israeli intelligence service, had decided to give up looking for Eichmann in Argentina because they could not discover his alias.

Throughout the 1950s many Jewish victims of the Holocaust dedicated themselves to finding Eichmann and other notorious Nazis. Among them was the Jewish Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal. In 1954, Wiesenthal received a postcard from an associate living in Buenos Aires, saying Eichmann was in Argentina. The message read in part: Ich sah jenes schmutzige Schwein Eichmann. (“I saw that filthy pig Eichmann.”) Er wohnt in der Nähe von Buenos Aires und arbeitet für ein Wassergeschäft. (“He lives near Buenos Aires and works for a water company.”)

With this and other information collected by Wiesenthal, Israeli intelligence had solid leads about Eichmann’s whereabouts. It did not follow them up.

Instrumental in exposing Eichmann’s identity was Lothar Hermann. He was a worker of Jewish descent who moved from Germany to Argentina following his incarceration in Dachau concentration camp. His daughter, Sylvia, became acquainted with Eichmann’s family and romantically involved with Klaus Eichmann. On one occasion Klaus made boastful remarks to her about his father’s position as a senior official in a previous German government. She reported this to her father. Shortly after Hermann realized, when reading a newspaper article about fleeing Nazis, who his daughter was dating.

Hermann began a correspondence with Fritz Bauer, chief prosecutor for the West German state of Hessen and provided details about Eichmann’s person and life. Bauer contacted Israeli officials who worked closely with Hermann over the next couple of years to learn about Eichmann and to formulate a plan to capture him.

Mossad became convinced that Eichmann was living in Buenos Aires under the name Ricardo Klement. The Israeli government then approved a covert operation to capture Eichmann and bring him to Jerusalem for trial as a war criminal. The Israelis continued their surveillance of Eichmann through the first months of 1960 until it was judged safe to take him.

Mossad decided to ambush Eichmann while he was walking from the bus stop to his house. When Eichmann got off the bus, two Mossad men wrestled him to the ground and pushed him into a car.

He was then brought to a Mossad safe house. There he was tied to a chair and interrogated. According to accounts, Eichmann was given a choice between instant death or trial in Israel. He chose to stand trial.

Eichmann was drugged to make him appear drunk and dressed as a flight steward. Then on May 21, 1960, they smuggled Eichmann out of Argentina on board an El Al flight.

In Israel he was put on trial, sentenced to death, and hanged.

Some of us have our caveats. For some it is an abhorrence of capital punishment, however grave the crime. Mine is the hypocrisy of the majority of Israelis who bury their heads in the sand, refusing to discuss openly an account in the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament that describes Moses dispatching his troops to kill all the women and children in a tribe his generals had just defeated, saying he had been told by God to order the killing.

Today, Israelis could do well to mention the record of Moses’s ethnic cleansing which is as much a crime against humanity as Eichmann’s, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Holocaust survivors will light six torches symbolizing the six million Jews who perished under Eichmann and his like. There should be a seventh.

A Woman To Lead The UN?

A woman for the next secretary-general of the United Nations? Well, it’s a lot more complicated than that. There are other criteria in play- there is an unwritten rule that the regions of the world should take it in turns to occupy the UN’s top job. The east Europeans are saying it is their turn. Ironically, since eastern Europe is now part of western Europe, the EU, the would-be candidates are in effect appealing to Russia to vote for them, since only as geographically part of the old Soviet alliance can they be regarded as an entity separate from western Europe.

How about a South Asian? Now that would make sense, since there has never been a Secretary-General from there before and the subcontinent contains 1.7 billion people. However, no-one has put themselves forward.

Or an Australasian? The former New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark, has cast her hat into the ring.

I would argue that it is time to forget gender or place of origin. It is character that should be the critical element by which the candidate is judged.

We need a leadership that knows how to transcend mankind’s divisions, to diminish our most primitive instincts and to enhance our nobler ones. It must have the power of personality that inspires the best of us and takes us onward and beyond what we do now, so often unsatisfactorily and insufficiently, to what we could do if human energies were liberated from the confines of too simple and narrow a perspective. We need to move much further than we have so far, beyond country, race, religion, culture, language and life-style to being part of what Martin Luther King called the beloved community. “We seek only”, he said, “to make possible a world where men can live as brothers”.

Leadership, we know, is an intangible quality that can only be described as it is observed. Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Pope Francis and Vladimir Putin have it today, but who else?

But we can describe some of the ingredients it will need at the UN if it is to have any chance of working in today’s world. It must understand the need to preempt crises as well as the ability to persist with their resolution once they occur. It must believe that the application of force is the signature of defeat and that true peace comes from careful compromise where no one is asked to abase themselves before their opponent- even if they are the leaders of Syria, North Korea or Sudan.

It must be inspirational and take us into the reaches of our best performance, even enabling us to move far beyond what we have achieved before. It must be practical and down to earth, sifting the essentials and concentrating on what really are the priorities of living. It must be moral, selfless and yet convinced of its own audacity. In the end it must be immensely courageous, for the problems it faces can appear at times quite daunting and near to overwhelming.

The need for the world community to find powerful leadership for the UN is of first importance. The UN is everyone’s kicking boy, but it’s interesting how in a crisis the big powers run to it. When the big powers have talked or acted themselves into a corner they can, as a last resort, let the smaller powers at the UN find an exit for them.

Recall the Yom Kippur war in 1973 between Israel and Egypt, supported by other Arab nations. Eventually, the US and Russia agreed to impose a ceasefire on their acolytes. But there seemed no way of implementing it. The situation looked exceedingly dangerous. Egypt was calling for Soviet help. President Richard Nixon put US nuclear forces on alert. It was fast footwork at the UN, principally by a group of Third World countries, that helped break the impasse. They pushed for a UN force to go in and hold the ring. Unbelievably, by today’s slow moving standards, they were on the ground the next day.

The UN is easy to kick around but impossible to recreate. Would the US Senate ratify the Charter in 2016? Fortunately, under Obama, the US had done much to repair the frayed relationship that developed during the early years of the presidency of George W. Bush. (Interestingly, during his last two years in office, he found, like Ronald Reagan before him, that he shouldn’t kick it but work with it.)

To sum up: A new Secretary-General has to win the trust of the big powers so they look up, not down, at him or her. Who can do this? Looking at the list of announced candidates I don’t think any of those from eastern Europe, male or female, are good enough. Helen Clark is not strong enough. In my mind, Angela Merkel should be the one.

Concocting Lies Before The Iraq War

President Barack Obama has observed, “ISIL [Islamic State] is a direct outgrowth of Al Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion- which is an example of unintended consequences—which is why we should generally aim before we shoot”.

Many of us, looking at the horror of the Iraq war, waged by the US and the UK against the regime of Saddam Hussein when 200,000 civilians died and a total of 800 billion US dollars was spent on the campaign, need little to be persuaded that there was a Machiavellian plot to find an excuse to make war. Yet there are many in the circles of power in Washington who believe the US should shoot on sight and to kill whenever danger is thought to have appeared- in Iraq, Syria, Libya and, before that, in Vietnam.

The so-called “justification” for going to war in Iraq 13 years ago was based on a 93 page classified CIA document that allegedly contained “specific information” on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction programs and his close links with Al Qaeda.

The document has now been declassified thanks to the work of the investigative journalist, John Greenewald. His findings have just been published in the online magazine, VICE.

The document, before published with a large number of deletions, is available for everyone to read in its entirety. It reveals that there was zero justification for the war. It reveals that there was “no operational tie between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda” and no weapons of mass destruction programs.

President George W. Bush’s secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, claimed that the US had “bulletproof evidence” linking Saddam Hussein to the terrorist group. “We do have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members. We have what we consider to be very reliable reporting of senior-level contacts going back a decade, and of possible, chemical and biological-agent training”.

The CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate report takes a very different line. The document observes that its information about a working relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein was based on “sources of varying reliability”.

“As with much of the information on the overall relationship, we do not know to what extent Baghdad may be actively complicit in this use of its territory for safe haven and transit”.

A report issued last December by the high-powered RAND Corporation which employs some of the best analysts in the US, entitled “Blinders, Blunders and Wars”, said the CIA report “contained several qualifiers that were dropped. As the draft went up the intelligence chain of command the conclusions were treated increasingly definitively”.

One example is that the CIA report concluded that Iraq “probably has renovated a vaccine production plant to manufacture biological weapons, but we are unable to determine whether biological weapons research has resumed”. The report also said that Hussein did not have “sufficient material” to manufacture nuclear weapons. But on October 7th, 2002 in a speech in Cincinnati, Ohio, President Bush simply said, Iraq “possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons” and “the evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program”.

Another example is Rumsfeld’s claim to have “bulletproof evidence” on Al Qaeda’s link with Saddam Hussein. “We have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members.”

But the CIA report’s information about Iraq’s supposed working relationship with Al Qaeda and Iraq concluded that it was not at all clear that Saddam Hussein had even been aware of the relationship, if in fact there was one.” Congress’s later investigation concluded that the intelligence community based its claims on a single source.

Paul Pillar, now a visiting professor at Georgetown University and before that in charge of coordinating the intelligence community’s assessments on Iraq, told VICE that the bio-weapons claims were based on unreliable reporting by sources such as Ahmad Chalabi, the former head of the Iraqi National Congress, an opposition group. “There was an insufficient skepticism about some of the source material”, Pillar said. “I think there should have been agnosticism expressed in the main judgments.” Pillar went on to say Bush and Rumsfeld “had already made the decision to go to war in Iraq, so the CIA report didn’t influence their decision”. But they used their misleading interpretations of it to convince public opinion that war was necessary. (The British ambassador at the time wrote in his book that he told British prime minister, Tony Blair, this. Yet Blair went on telling the public that evidence of malfeasance was still being gathered.)

The RAND study also concluded that the report was wrong on mobile biological labs, uranium ore purchases from Niger and Iraq building rocket delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction.

Yes, aim before you shoot. And don’t tell such terrible lies.

Brazil’s Great Achievement Must Survive

If worst comes to worst and Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is deposed and her widely beloved predecessor, Luiz “Lula” da Silva, is discredited, they will long be remembered for the “Bolsa Familia”. This is a government program that has cut Brazil’s once appalling poverty rate by half and reduced the number of poor very sharply to 3% of the population. It reaches 55 million people and 36 million have been lifted out of poverty. It has been such a winner that around sixty countries have sent their experts to study it. Indeed, it has been so successful politically that we shouldn’t be surprised that if Rousseff is felled by the shenanigans of Congress, masses will go out on the street and riot.

Before the Bolsa Familia program was put into effect by Lula, Brazil had many welfare and food subsidy programs. Like in most developing countries, the benefits didn’t reach the poor in the way that was intended. Middle men, black marketeers, corrupt officials and politicians skimmed and diverted much of them.

Bolsa Familia absorbed these into one direct cash payment. If you were a poor mother of a family- women were more trusted than men, you received an electronic card which you could slip into a bank cash dispenser and immediately get your monthly allowance, often doubling your cash income. There would be no intermediaries and no skims and no scams.

There were some conditions. Her children had to go to school, be immunized and have regular health check ups. She herself, if pregnant again, had to go to the maternity clinic. So not only were incomes being raised above the poverty line but infant and maternal mortality rates fell fast.

The income of the poorest 20% of Brazilians rose by 6.2% between 2002 and 2013, while that of the country’s richest 20% rose by only 2.6%. (In the US in the same time period, the income of the richest 10% rose by 2.6% and that of the poorest 10% shrank by 8.6%.)

Inoculations reached 99% of the population.  Deaths from malnutrition fell by 58%. Longevity steadily increased. Literacy became almost universal and education gave young people a better chance in life. The number of children forced to work instead of attending school dropped by 14%.

I’ve been out to the villages in the North East and seen with my own eyes the visible and dramatic improvements. I’ve been visiting the village of Piloezinhos for 40 years and now I’ve seen things that were never there before- a school, a pharmacist and an agricultural advisor. In homes, I found flush toilets, refrigerators and washing machines- this was the kind of thing Bolsa Familia recipients wanted to spend their money on, as well as medicine and education.

Bolsa Familia met with a lot of stiff resistance at its onset.  Some economists argued that the government should be investing in infrastructure. Conservatives warned about the dangers of welfare dependency. “The opposition said we were going to create an army of lazy people”, Lula told Jonathan Tepperman of Foreign Affairs.

Later, opponents had something of a field day when it was revealed that the sanctions for non-compliance by recipients were not being properly enforced. Too rapid expansion had meant, for example, that 55% of schools were not reporting if they had met their attendance quotas. Lula responded by setting up a new ministry to centralize oversight of Bolsa Familia and he made sure it was staffed with experts. Some half million ineligible recipients were cut from its rolls.

It was to the good. Bolsa Familia became popular across the political spectrum. It helps that the program is so cheap. By the standards of the middle class the payments are tiny. The average family gets only 65 US dollars a month.  It costs Brazil less than half a percent of the country’s 2.3 trillion dollars national income.

Brazil used to have the worst income distribution in the world, bar South Africa. Now the country’s overall income gap has been reduced by one third. Yet its popularity extends far outside those it is meant to help. Recent polls put its approval rating at around 75%.

Needless to say, a good deal of this progress was made possible by the rapid economic growth that was made in Lula’s time. Now, with the sharp drop in commodity prices, notably affecting exports to China, combined with poor economic decision-making, the economy has crashed. Unemployment is rising. Although Rousseff has expanded the reach of Bolsa Familia the number of poor is probably rising since unemployment is increasing by the day.

While she remains in power the commitment to extend and improve the reach of Bolsa Familia will remain intact. If she is deposed, anti-poverty programs will no longer be a priority.  This alone is a good enough reason to make sure she is not impeached.
 

Brazil Must Not Fire Its President

The Brazilians have an elected president. They must keep her. If Dilma Rosseff is pushed to resign democracy has failed.

Two years ago she won re-election handsomely. That is the source of her mandate. From that she derives her legitimacy. The only thing that could topple her is if hard evidence emerges that she is a crook- in her case supposedly stole millions of dollars from the Brazilian oil giant, Petrobras, of which she was once head of the board. Then Congress would be within its rights to discuss her impeachment.

But there is no evidence of her personal corruption- although there is evidence aplenty that her party, The Workers’ Party, has received a lot of black money, not just from Petrobras.

Brazil is not a parliamentary democracy. It is not necessary for her to have a majority in parliament to rule, anymore than Barack Obama does in the US Congress. Unlike in, say the UK or Denmark, if members of parliament withdraw support for a head of government he/she does not fall.

Nevertheless, the Economist, a long-time supporter of democracy, argues in its latest issue she should resign, ignoring the rules of democracy, even though it admits impeachment would be wrong and even though her only “crime” is to have mishandled the economy.

Both she and her widely loved predecessor, Luis “Lula” da Silva, the charismatic, working class union leader, lived in cloud-cuckoo-land, convinced the commodity boom in the world’s ninth largest economy would continue forever. Many observers knew the Chinese miracle would come to an end eventually. Many informed people knew an economy based on soya, beans, meat, fruit and metal and forestry exports, much of which was sold to China, was a precarious one. The two of them ignored the warning signs.

This was a particular Brazilian problem. Other Latin American countries also suffered from the fast fall in the commodities’ markets but not one other one has got minus growth as has Brazil (and Venezuela, a special case). Look at Peru, Chile, Nicaragua and Mexico, four countries still doing well, the first three socialist.

Ironically, the earlier success of the Lula and Rousseff governments is that, because of fast economic growth, they created a much larger middle class which now have middle class concerns. They see their hard won new standards of living being fast eroded. Thus they are more susceptible to supporting the legal maneuverings now besetting the president.

For many voters it is the accusations against Lula that most concern them. He has been accused of owning an expensive beach-front property and another countryside house. He says they are not his and they belong to a construction company. His main home remains in a working class neighbourhood in Sao Paulo. If we are sensible about the issue, an ex-president on a good pension, with much saved up legitimately from the time he was in office, having a sea-front flat (if he does) is no great deal. The president’s salary, pension and benefits are quite high. Property prices outside Sao Paulo and Rio are low. Even this not-very-well paid journalist could sell his modest flat in Sweden and with the money buy a rather nice, bigger, one in Brazil overlooking the beach.

Let’s go back to how Lula first won the election. After centuries of favouring the middle and upper classes in a country that had one of the worst distributions of income in the world, the Workers’ Party turned the tables. Middle class people with a conscience joined the working class and the rural peasantry in voting for its presidential candidate four times.

Whatever Lula’s and Rousseff’s mistakes in ignoring the warning signs that the commodity boom could not last they wanted to make hay while the sun shone for the poor- those who had missed out during the last 100 years of good economic growth.

They did- with great success, as an earlier issue of the now critical Economist records.

The greatest steps forward were made by Lula, in particular his pioneering Bolsa Familia in which the woman in the family received a monthly cash hand out as long as the parents placed their children in school and took them to a health clinic regularly. This lifted 36 million people out of poverty. The World Bank reckons that Brazil cut “chronic poverty” by three quarters from 2004 to 2012 to just 1.6% of the population. The figure is now certainly lower. The income of the poorest tenth has more than doubled.

In the three years after Rousseff came to office in 2010, the government installed 670,00 water tanks for the poor across the country. She has also increased subsidized housing and vocational training. She has expanded Bolsa Familia.

All this progress could come to an end if Rousseff falls on her sword. She mustn’t.

Turkey: Moving Forward

In the 1970s there was a cult film, “Midnight Express”, directed by the young Oliver Stone. It was based on the story of an American who was sentenced to 30 years in a Turkish prison for smuggling drugs. It showed in stark reality the total lack of any semblance of human rights or normal human behavior by the Turkish authorities. It was that impression of Turkey that many of us carried forward, even as Turkey in fact was profoundly changing.

Even today some hold on to what is now a discredited viewpoint, particularly in France, a country that has long made it clear it will obstruct any move to bring Turkey into the European Union. Anti-Turkey feeling exists elsewhere, particularly in Germany which has far more Turkish immigrant workers than any other nation. However, the truth is the Turkey of today is unrecognizable from that of the 1970s. Not least it has become a democracy, albeit a not perfect one.

And yet there are appalling signs that Turkey is winding the clock back. Having been rebuffed in 2010 by Europe in its attempt to enter the EU, despite all the previous promises made to it that entry would be welcomed (the US has long supported this), it has started to go backwards to its more authoritarian and less humanistic ways. This is grist for the mill for those who have long held a “Midnight Express” view of Turkey.

The true picture of Turkey has to be a subtle one. On the one hand there are signs of growing authoritarianism- the arrest and incarceration of over 14 journalists; the savage treatment of street protesters; the re-starting of the war against the Kurdish Workers’ Party; the attempt to undermine the legitimate Kurdish party in parliament (The Peoples’ Democratic Party) and the violence waged against ordinary Kurds in cities like Diyarbakir.

On the other it is not very long ago that the government carried out similar repression. So what is so different today? Isn’t it more of the same with a brief break for negotiations to get into the EU, (and even then in the first three years repression continued)? In 2005 the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Orhan Puck, was prosecuted for expressing a critical opinion on the Kurdish and Armenian policies of the government. Only because of EU pressure were the charges dropped.

There were two similar cases a year later. Journalist, Perihan Magden, was arrested for defending in print a conscientious objector who had been sentenced to four years in a military prison for refusing to wear his military uniform. But she was finally acquitted on the grounds of free speech. Hrant Dink was sentenced to six months in jail for allegedly insulting “Turkishness” and thus violating the notorious Article 301 of the then new Turkish penal code.

Nevertheless, in those negotiating years there were tremendous improvements in the law and its application and also in the government’s dealings with the Kurds. Fifteen years ago the government would not allow Kurdish to be taught in schools nor Kurdish-language newspapers or TV. Partly to satisfy the EU these policies were dropped.

What changed the picture and put Turkey into reverse was the EU decision six years ago that made it clear that there was no likelihood any time soon of Turkish entry. Repression and anti-Kurd actions returned.

It was the on and off stance by the EU that dictated first a slow but significant improvement of Turkey’s human rights behaviour and then an equally significant regression to where we are today.

Except……Except. The totally unexpected has happened- the migrant crisis, which has brought war-torn refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to seek refuge in Europe, hundreds of thousands using the Turkish coastline to travel in boats to Greece.

In a matter of weeks, EU policy towards Turkey, pushed by German chancellor, Angela Merkel, somersaulted. Turkish people will shortly be given visa-free travel within the Shengen part of the EU (which is most of it). Turkey is being given vast sums to settle more refugees on its own soil. Most important, the EU is returning to serious negotiations about Turkish entry.

The interesting question is does this mean that Turkey will once again start to improve its human rights practices? Right now there is not much sign of this happening. The Kurds of Diyarbakir are still being battled. The editor-in-chief of a major newspaper, Cumhuriyet, was sent for trial last week.

In truth it is too early to say. Why should President Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu deliver until the EU has actually lowered the drawbridge? It has promised to but implementation has still to come. Hopefully by the early summer, the EU machinery will be in place and working.

Then we should expect Turkey to loosen up and become once again a country on the road to liberalism and enlightenment. Let’s see.

Boko Haram In Nigeria

If there is one man in Africa who combin­es kindness, authoritarianism of right a­nd rationed proportions with nevertheless a deep commitment to democracy, it is Olusegun Obasanjo. He has busine­ss proficiency learnt on his now large-s­cale farms, political nous that outsmart­s all competitors, a demanding Christian­ belief honed while he was in prison fo­r 3 years under the military dictatorshi­p and a not overdone portion of charisma­. He is a man who r­eturned Nigeria, Africa’s most populated­ country and largest economy, to democra­cy twice and was himself the elected pre­sident for 8 years from 1999 to 2007. N­o wonder a majority of Nigerians conside­r the Obasanjo years as the best in Nige­ria’s history.

I have to say in my 40 years of being a ­writer on foreign affairs and interviewing over 60 heads of government, he is the­ one who has impressed me the most, for ­sheer brainpower, idealism and wisdom.

Boko Haram, the Islamic fundamentalist g­roup who has terrified the poor northern­ part of Nigeria, and are believed to ha­ve close contact with ISIS, came on to t­he scene after Obasanjo was out of offic­e. Still, he has been very much in touch­ with the situation and twice, at least,­ tried to arbitrate between the movement­ and the government. This is what he had­ to say to me recently about the situati­on:

“Boko Haram is not simply a menace based­ on religion or one directed to frustrat­e anybody’s political ambition. It is es­sentially a socio-economic problem that ­is tainted with religion. It is a gargan­tuan danger to the nation and to all Nig­erians. President Jonathan’s understandi­ng (the last president until 2014) of th­e Boko Haram phenomenon suffered from wr­ong reading and wrong imputation. This i­s what led us to where we are today.

“ It took even the president more than t­hree years to appreciate and understand ­that it is a terrible mix of poor educat­ion, misinterpretation of what the Quran­ teaches, poverty, unemployment, injusti­ce, drug and gun trafficking, fallout fr­om the wars in Libya, frustration and po­or governance, including corruption, that ­brought about the emergence of terrorism­.

“I’ve always maintained that the solutio­n to Boko Haram lies in the application ­of carrot and stick. We must remember th­at there is a nexus between security and­ development. Without security, you canno­t have development and without developme­nt your security is seriously impaired. ­Look at the social statistics- infant mo­rtality rates, for example. In south-west­ Nigeria, it is 59 per 1,000 live births. ­In the North-East, in Boko Haram territor­y, it is 109. Those who say Boko Haram is­ a menace waiting to happen are evidentl­y correct. Some people have blamed the l­ocal and state governments for the lack ­of development. But I would rather say i­t is a collective responsibility and, co­llectively, the situation must be addres­sed and redressed. The beginning of redr­essing the situation is education.

“ I’ve never been against the applicatio­n of force in dealing with insecurity si­tuations, but we must understand the gen­esis, the content and the context of eac­h situation to determine when, where, ho­w, and what quantum force to apply and w­hat amount and type of carrot to feed in­. Let me make bold to say that if we conti­nue to apply force alone, since Boko Har­am has become an industry within the gov­ernment circle and within Boko Haram its­elf it may be suppressed for a while but­ it cannot be eliminated”.

“ To deal with the menace, root, stem an­d branches, requires an effective develo­pment programme for the zone of incubati­on. Otherwise another zone will be a fer­tile breeding ground for a similar menac­e in future or a rich harvesting ground ­for recruiting candidates for mischief a­nd the perpetration of insecurity intern­ally and externally.

“Carrot must involve not excluding negot­iation at the appropriate time for a cea­sefire, laying down of arms and peace-ma­king terms together with intervention wi­th positive socio-economic measures to d­eal with the apparent root-causes of the­ conflict and violence.”

I was a little mentally exhausted after ­this mini lecture. I was never worrie­d by Obasanjo’s inertia, the most energe­tic of men, but for years I was worried ­about that of his successors. But things­ are changing at last. I’ve seen that fo­r myself. Obasanjo spells out his own co­nclusions:

“Religion is a very serious issue in thi­s country but we are not eating ourselve­s on religious grounds. There are socio-­economic tensions and fault lines but th­ey are not necessarily meant to erupt li­ke volcanos.

“It would appear that my analysis and un­derstanding- the one I have just spelt o­ut- is beginning to be appreciated withi­n the right circles. Better late than ne­ver!”

One should always listen to Obasanjo. Ov­er 30 years, including hours and sometim­es days spent with him, I’ve learnt that­ this gruff, wise, and extraordinarily p­erceptive ex-general with the kindly hea­rt usually gets things right.

European Migrants Must Adjust

Was the cultured and sophisticated Itali­an writer, Oriani Fallaci, speaking for ­the large numbers of working class peopl­e who end up being the ones who usually ­play host to immigrants, when she wrote ­in a leading liberal newspaper, Corriere­ della Serra, of her experience of tryin­g to get rid of Somali immigrants living­ in a tent, performing all their bodily ­functions next to Florence’s cathedral? “I don’t go singing Ave Marias or Patern­osters before the tomb of Mohammed. I do­n’t piss or shit at the feet of their mi­narets. When I find myself in their coun­tries I never forget that I am a guest a­nd a foreigner. I am careful not to offe­nd them with clothing or behaviour that ­are normal to us but inadmissible to the­m. Why should we respect people who don’­t respect us? Why should we defend their­ culture or presumed culture when they d­on’t respect ours. I want to defend our ­culture and I say that I prefer Dante Al­ighieri or Omar Khayyam. And the sky ope­ns. They crucify me ‘Racist, racist’.”

Of course she sounds like that. Neverthe­less, her thoughts (if not so elegantly ­expressed, are shared by probably hundre­ds of thousands of Europeans. (In Easter­n Europe it is probably millions.)

When Muslim leaders publicly burnt Salma­n Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” or youths i­n Marseilles burnt down synagogues and s­chool buses or a father, (a Turkish Kurd­) murders his daughter in Stockholm beca­use she is dating a Swedish young man or­ when young immigrant males pushed thems­elves into a public celebration outside ­Cologne Cathedral and started fondling w­omen or are participants in rising crime­ levels, it is difficult even for harden­ed liberals not to let such similar thou­ghts cross their minds.

Needless to say, there has been a lot of­ prejudice on the host countries’ side. ­There has been a tendency to blame immig­rants for crime. In reality the crime le­vels of the first generation have been s­ignificantly below that of the host popu­lation. But the policing often works to ­make the prejudice self-fulfilling. More­over, it helps lay the conditions for th­e second generation to embrace crime. Pe­rsecuted and hounded for what they hadn’­t done, it led, in the past, to politica­l militancy on the one hand and a devil-­will-take-me attitude to the binding con­straints of society on the other. Couple­d with poor achievement at school and, t­oo often, closed doors in the job market­ for those, unlike their parents, would ­not settle for dirt, docility and low pa­y, the ingredients for a tormented and u­nfruitful life were well mixed.

There is no doubt that the violence agai­nst immigrants came first- the turds thr­ough the letter box, the gang attacks, t­he knifings, the shootings and the fireb­ombing of immigrants shops and home. Fir­st, there was action and then re-action.­ Indeed, if anything, the reaction was sl­ow to materialize. The first generation ­of immigrants was essentially passive, b­ut the second, particularly if they were­ jobless, were ripe not for revolution ­that did not much interest them, but for­ spite and mayhem, perhaps even revenge.

There is not much reason to believe toda­y that much of this will not be repeated­ as immigrant refugees pour in. In north­ern England and in parts of London, arou­nd numerous French, German, Italian, Gre­ek and Spanish cities, in the suburbs of­ Amsterdam, large numbers of immigrants,­ partly out of comfort, partly out of mi­splaced housing policies, have been thro­wn together in concentrated heaps. Whils­t in some cases it satisfies an urge to ­live close to one’s countrymen, more oft­en it has led to a social segregation fr­om the host country that allows the immi­grants to cut themselves off from the ra­ther rapid evolution of contemporary Eur­opean societies. Many of the new refugee­s will be naturally drawn to such places­.

Oriani Fallaci overstates it in an unple­asant way. But she bites on a bitter ker­nel of a truth of human experience-not ­to adjust to the norms of a society that­ is their host is extreme narrow mindedness.

The refugees now pouring into parts of E­urope have to realize that they come not­ just to a job (hopefully), a school, a ­hospital and a social security system, b­ut also to an organic society with its o­wn long history, beliefs and strong trad­itions. They can ask for freedom of beli­ef for themselves, but they cannot try t­o impose their views on the society arou­nd them, whether it is religious values ­or political persuasions, especially if ­it means breaking the more important con­ventions of the host society.

If they cannot see for themselves, then ­they must be educated and informed (as i­n Finland which runs compulsory courses)­. They must be educated as part of the p­rocess of formal admittance.

Many European governments have been gene­rous in allowing in refugees. But they m­ust look at these hard facts if they wan­t to maintain a stable and peaceful soci­ety.

Is Islam Violent?

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ISIS in Syria and Iraq­. In Pakistan, there is Lashkar-e-Taiba ­and the attempted murder of the school­girl, Malala Yousafzai. Immigrant Morocc­an men roughly pushing women and fondlin­g them in the crowd in Cologne. Murderou­s bombs in Paris. Ayan Hirsi Ali, a Som­ali female author who was raised a Musli­m, writes, “Violence is inherent in Isla­m- it’s a destructive, nihilistic cult o­f death. It legitimates murder.”

The late Harvard professor, Samuel Hunti­ngton, argued that in the later years of­ the last century and the early years of­ this, an uncannily high percentage of th­e world’s violent conflicts took place b­etween Muslims and non-Muslims: Turks ve­rsus Greeks, Russians versus Chechens, B­osnian Muslims and Albanians versus Serb­s, Armenians versus Azeris, Uighurs vers­us Han Chinese, Indian Hindus versus Mus­lims, and Arabs versus Jews.

Yet most Muslims don’t commit acts of vi­olence. If Islam is intrinsically violen­t then roughly a billion believers eithe­r do not understand their own religion, ­or are too cowardly or unfaithful to fol­low its precepts. That is my sarcasm but­, indeed, this is what the violent Islam­ists say.

Westerners have a tendency to create myt­hs about the teachings of Mohammed in th­e Koran. An outrageous one is the claim ­that an adulterous woman should be stone­d. But the only teaching in any world ma­jor religion advocating stoning can be f­ound in the Jewish Old Testament. (Parad­oxically, the Jews haven’t practiced thi­s for millennia but Saudi Arabia does to­day.)

Scholars like Huntington have given the ­impression that Islam is a much more vio­lent religion than Christianity. But ano­ther point of view is Professor John Owe­n’s. He writes in his book, “Confronting­ Political Islam: “A broad view of the h­istory of the Middle East suggests that ­Islam is much like other religions. It i­s marked by times and places of conquest­ and brutality, but also by times and pl­aces of peace……Christendom has had its s­ustained spasms of violence, both to out­siders with the Crusades and fellow beli­evers, as in the Counter Reformation and­ the Inquisition”. And we should add in ­as in World Wars I and II.

We shouldn’t forget that Mohammad Khatam­i, a former president of Iran, repeatedl­y condemned the 9/11 attacks and declare­d that suicide bombers wouldn’t go to he­aven.

However, the fact is that Prophet Mohammed behav­ed in a very different way than Jesus. H­e was more in line with the sometimes vi­olent and warlike Old Testament Jewish l­eaders. In 630 AD, Mohammed himself led h­is troops to conquer Mecca. By the time ­of his death two years later, most of the­ Arabs of the western part of Arabia wer­e Muslims by conquest.

Within 20 years of Mohammed’s death, the ­Muslims had conquered large parts of the­ Roman Empire and had absorbed the almig­hty Persian. Within 100 years, Mohammed­’s followers had established an empire g­reater than Rome at its zenith. By the t­hirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Islam­ had spread as far east as India, Indone­sia and parts of China. In Africa, it was­ introduced on the back of the slave tra­de.

In total contrast, the Christians submitt­ed themselves to the lions rather than f­ight and not until the Emperor Constanti­ne converted to Christianity some 300 ye­ars after Jesus’ death did Christianity ­take on the role of running a state with­ all its well-embedded military traditio­ns.

It came as a great surprise to me and to­ others that in the months after 9/11 th­at President George W. Bush said that Is­lam was a peaceful religion.

The religious scholar, Karen Armstrong, ­writes in her book “The Battle For God”:­ “The Koran condemns all warfare as abho­rrent and permits only a war of self-def­ence. The Koran is adamantly opposed to ­the use of force on religious matters”.

Common sense suggests Bush and her are w­rong. Can the Muslim armies that swept a­cross the Middle East and into Asia only­ have been practicing self-defence?

It is true, as she says, that the Koran ­is mainly an advocate of non-violence. I­n nearly every passage it maintains that­ violence should only be used in self-de­fence.

However, there is one, rarely quoted, im­portant exception. In verse 9.29 the Kor­an says, “Fight those who believe not in­ Allah nor in the Last Day, nor hold tha­t for which hath been forbidden by Allah­ and His Messenger, nor abide by the rel­igion of truth even if they are People o­f the Book (the Bible).”

To that extent one can understand why IS­IS and Al Qaeda say they have scripture ­on their side. Of course, this does not ­excuse their particular brand of savager­y and brutality and their refusal to fol­low Mohammed’s demand that the defeated ­be treated well.

Overwhelmingly, Muslims are a peaceful p­eople, less prone to war than Christians­ and Jews. But violence is in their bloo­d and inheritance, too.

Big Question For The UK On The European Union

The British have a problem. A referendum­ continuing membership of the Europe­an Union scheduled for June may lead to ­Brexit- Britain heading for the exit. An­ybody with any knowledge of Europe’s war­-like history knows this would be totall­y self-defeating.

Writing in 1751, Voltaire described Europ­e as “a kind of great republic, divided ­into several states, some monarchical, t­he others mixed but all corresponding wi­th one another. They all have the same r­eligious foundation, even if divided int­o several confessions. They all have the­ same principles of public law and polit­ics unknown in other parts of the world.­” But they also had a lot of war.

Fifty years ago in a way that Charlemagn­e, Voltaire, William Penn and William Gl­adstone, the early advocates of European­ unity, could only dream, a united Europ­e became a reality.

War, time and time again, has interrupte­d the pursuit of that objective. Continu­ed civil war across the continent, acros­s the centuries, has pitted French again­st Germans, British against Italians, Cz­echs against Poles, Serbs against Austri­ans and Spaniards against Spaniards reac­hing its dreadful climax in World Wars 1­ and 2. As Jan Morris has written in her­ “Fifty Years of Europe”, “great cities lay in ruin, bridges were broken, roads ­and railways were in chaos. Conquerors f­rom East and West flew their ensigns abo­ve the seats of old authority, and proud­ populations would do almost anything fo­r a pack of cigarettes or some nylon sto­ckings. Europe was in shock, powerless, ­discredited and degraded”. Over the ages­ no other continent has been the scene o­f so much war.

Many, if not most, of that generation wo­ndered in 1945 if they’d ever see Europe­ again in any state of grace or glory, m­uch less unified.

The fact that the urge to bury the hatch­et and forge common institutions has com­e so far in such a short time against su­ch a background is arguably for the worl­d as a whole, the twentieth century’s gre­atest political achievement. (Following ­the Declaration of Independence, it took ­the US nearly 90 years to establish a fu­lly mature common currency; Europe has t­ravelled the same course in 40 years.)

Yet this astonishing and triumphant succ­ess begs the question: what is the glue ­that holds it all together? After all, wh­at is Europe? Geographically, it is no m­ore than a peninsula protruding from the­ landmass of Asia. Culturally, it has al­ways been a potage of languages, peoples­ and traditions. Politically, it is a mo­veable feast of the 35 sovereign states­ in post Iron Curtain Europe, nine have b­een created or resurrected since World W­ar 2.

Indeed it is religion, not politics nor ­the single market and monetary union tha­t through the ages has made Europe one, ­held it together through its vicissitude­s and bloody wars (many, tragically, of ­religious origin) and provided the commo­n basic morality and common identity tha­t made the EU, makes a single currency w­orkable, the Shengen agreement making pa­ssport-free travel possible inside most of Europe today and political union a ta­ngible, if still hotly debated, goal tom­orrow.

Broadcasting to a defeated Germany in 19­45, the poet T.S. Elliot reminded his au­dience that despite the war and “the clo­sing of Europe’s mental frontiers becaus­e of an excess of nationalism, it is in C­hristianity that our arts have developed­, it is in Christianity that the laws of­ Europe – until recently – have been roo­ted. An individual European may not beli­eve the Christian faith is true; and yet­ what he says, and makes, and does, will­ depend on the Christian heritage for it­s meaning.”

Of course, today one can ask what do the­ contemporary European cults of finance,­ sports, TV, pop culture, eroticism and ­Ryanair flying wherever it wants have to­ do with a Christian heritage? Neverthel­ess, the fact is through changing fashio­ns, through wars big and small, the idea­ of Europe that persists is essentially ­Christian- a unity of principles and peace­ in relationships. On its own, economic ­self-interest never would have created t­he EU and, more recently, monetary union­. Economic, legal, social and monetary u­nion have been driven all along by men a­nd women who were essentially idealistic­ and visionary. From Jean Monnet, the fo­under of modern Europe, to Helmut Schmid­t, Valery Giscard D’Estaing, Francois Mi­tterand and Helmut Kohl, the founders an­d creators of the EU and the Euro, the u­rge to remove the causes of belligerency­ and to form institutions that would fur­ther the development of a common democra­cy has been a central purpose.

Europe is not first and foremost a polit­ical concept or a financial convenience.­ It is an ideal. Thus it will never be c­omplete. We will work at it all our live­s, as will future generations.

For the British to decide not to pull ou­t now can only happen if the university-­trained elite together with the leadersh­ip of the pro- European trade unions (mos­t of them) educate the public on the his­tory and the ideals of Europe.

Ukraine: A Frozen Conflict

It’s been two years since a mass of demonstra­tors brought down the centrist governmen­t of President Viktor Yanukovych.

We don’t hear much about Ukraine these d­ays, mainly because the foreign journalists, not having too much to do, and ofte­n being freelance and therefore only pai­d by the number of lines they get printed have gone home or to other hot spots.­ Most of the news these days comes out o­f the Washington-based IMF that repeated­ly warns that the economy of Ukraine tee­ters on the brink and that corruption re­mains so deep and widespread that it is ­difficult, to say the least, to get good­ economic decisions made. Often the gove­rnment appears to be checkmated by an un­sympathetic parliament where the represe­ntatives of the oligarchs, who prefer th­e status quo, wield their power.

To compound the problems which will sur­ely continue even if Russia, the EU and ­the US find a common political and milit­ary solution, fighting in the east has n­ow resumed. Fortunately, the main truce,­ agreed at Minsk a year ago by the heads­ of government of Russia, Ukraine, Franc­e and Germany, is maintained and these short flare-ups tend to happen every coup­le of months.

Winding the clock back to two years ago,­ the demonstrators in the Maidan, the ce­ntral square, were motivated by the argu­ments over a trade agreement with the EU­, then being negotiated. They were arden­tly for it but the government under Russ­ian pressure had done a somersault and r­e-orientated its trade policy towards th­e Moscow-sponsored Eurasian Economic Uni­on. In truth, Ukraine could have had bot­h, just as the UK has the EU and is nego­tiating the North Atlantic Free Trade Ar­ea. But the EU and the US threw their we­ight behind the demonstrators and said U­kraine couldn’t face both ways.

After a few days the demonstrations turn­ed violent. Although the Western press w­as slow to catch on, they had been infilt­rated by neo-fascists who fired first at­ the police and second at the more peace­ful demonstrators. Some of the neo-fasci­sts in the Svoboda and Right Sector part­ies, who trace their pedigree back to Na­zi times, became snipers, firing from th­e 11th.­ floor windows of the adjacent Hotel Ukr­aine. A BBC documentary aired footage of­ this.

Even though there is now the Minsk truce­ these organisations are calling for a n­ationalist, anti-Russian, revolution.

The implementation of the Minsk agreemen­t is falling behind its timetable, despi­te the withdrawal of Ukrainian and Russi­an-supported insurgent forces last sprin­g.

According to Minsk, the day after the wi­thdrawal a dialogue was supposed to star­t between Kiev and the rebels to discuss­ the modalities of local elections in ac­cordance with Ukrainian legislation and ­the Law of Ukraine. So far Kiev has refu­sed to talk.

Kiev was the first to violate Minsk. It ­has also dragged its feet on the Minsk a­greement for a new constitution “with en­try into force by the end of 2015”. The ­constitution is meant to incorporate dec­entralization. This will provide for “li­nguistic self-determination”. It is also­ meant to allow the participation of loc­al governments in appointing the heads o­f prosecutorial bodies and the courts in­ certain areas. It will encourage the central government to conclude agreements ­with the authorities in Donbass on econo­mic, social and cultural development. It­ will allow the establishment of People’­s Militia by local councils.

On the other side, Russia has still not h­anded over to Kiev control of the border­. Meanwhile, the US has sent military equipment and trainers for Ukraine’s natio­nal guardsmen, many of whom were members­ of the neo-fascist volunteer battalions­.

It is difficult for the Kiev government ­led by President Petro Poroshenko to mov­e forward. According to Gordon Hahn, who­ has been a visiting scholar at Washingt­on’s influential Centre For Strategic an­d International Studies, “The paralysis ­in parliament is driven by the ultra-nat­ionalists and neo-fascists which are rob­ust and gaining strength under the stres­s of economic collapse, social dislocati­on, and state-supported radicalization”.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s Popul­ar Front Party and former prime minister­ Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party hav­e suggested that any attempt to comply w­ith the latter part of the Minsk accord ­could lead to an ultra-nationalist revol­ution.

The future for Ukraine looks like someth­ing between grim and grimmer. How long c­an a frozen conflict last? Perhaps as lo­ng as a piece of string?

The West wants to help Ukraine. On the o­ther hand, it feels that it has already p­oured too much money down a rat hole. No­t much new money is arriving. One would ­think that puts a lot of pressure on Kie­v to conform to Minsk. It doesn’t seem t­o.

The West could do one very useful thing ­right now: say clearly and loudly that i­t doesn’t want Ukraine in NATO. That may­ help make the Russians bear a little mor­e malleable and flexible. And that may h­elp Kiev honour the Minsk agreement.

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