Learning the Lessons of Intervention in Libya Idealists Aren’t Empirical

March 22, 2016 at 6:03 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , )

French naval aircraft striking Qaddafi regime forces in 2011

French naval aircraft striking Qaddafi regime forces in 2011

Those who allow ideology to trump national interests are poorly equipped to learn from experience. Specifically, euro-federalists are constructivists who believe and work towards the utopia of politically uniting the continent that bred the nation-state. Constructivists are philosophically positivist since they believe that solutions can be engineered without regard for the past or for the context. These old world bastards of the American Enlightenment are thus simply unable to draw conclusions from experience.

This is alas a recurring problem in Brussels – and in Washington D.C., I imagine – where problems arising everywhere never seem to elicit a logical consequential response from those in power, or at least not one that questions the legitimacy of the system in place. Eurosceptic populism, failed nation-building efforts abroad, social conservatism in allegedly euro-enthusiastic societies, challenges from regional hegemons, none of it is worthy of reconsidering the very legitimacy of the sacred union. Instead, bland politically orthodox conferences and workshops in Brussels focus on communication: how does one ‘communicate’ to the European citizens that Brussels is actually doing what is right for them? The fact that past policies fail is admitted on occasion only insofar as it serves the purpose of justifying why European governments must double-down on such policies and/or endow Brussels institutions with even more power to make the policies work; a line of argument all too similar to the neocon creed that “history will do us justice”.

Empiricists on the other hand, look to the past for guidance and usually with greater success. That which is not questioned is that which has worked longest: the nation-state. There is room for innovation but not revolution and utopias. Take Vladimir Putin who finds no alternative but to fight XXI century wars around the control of population centres – as terrorism and the age of humanitarianism now force all states to do – but who also understands that wars must be kept limited in scope and always proportional to the means available. He is not one to go on crusades around the world, intervening in ungovernable exotic vacation spots for whichever asinine cause du jour. Putin doesn’t shy away from war but he tries to negotiate first. The Russian President seeks military control to achieve strategic goals, not to defend idealistic causes.

This long introduction thus serves to prepare the reader for what will be an analysis of what goes wrong when a positivist tries to analyse empirically.

Committed euro-federalist Daniel Keohane set upon himself to learn lessons from the intervention in Libya, a topic made pertinent given that “(…) there is mounting speculation that a coalition of Western countries will launch a new military campaign there to tackle the growing threat from the self-styled Islamic State”. As he tells it, since 2011 “(…) a civil war has prevented the formation of a functioning Libyan government”. In truth, that civil war is not quite so …random. It was the idea of some NATO member-states to abuse a UNSC humanitarian resolution in order to launch a full scale military campaign against the Qaddafi regime which ultimately killed him. It was also the responsibility of both NATO and the EU to abstain from supporting any other strong man – such as General Hiftar for instance – after the Qaddafi overthrow to fill in the power vacuum. That would have pre-empted the emergence of some nasty actors like the Islamic State but of course, that would have meant the puritan Liberal democracies getting their hands dirty …

The Libyan civil war – if one posits the existence of such a coherent entity called Libya – also caused according to the author “(…) large flows of migrants and refugees into the EU”. Oh by Jove, such a nuisance … Say, how come that is identified as a problem but not one single brain in all the think-tanks of the grey city ever came up with an obvious response: stopping the flows? How quick they are to assign military vessels to the Mediterranean …to rescue the illegals, to welcome them, not to stop them. Here’s a thought: if the flows are not a positive development, what about not encouraging or facilitating them?

“(…) Europeans have more direct security interests at stake in Libya, which is why France and the UK initiated the 2011 intervention”. This one is particularly rich: British and French have strong interests in Libya, thus a military intervention that turns the territory into an anarchic hell hole is the way to go. How can someone be so blind or disingenuous? How exactly were the interests of the UK and France defended by overthrowing Qaddafi? Because if the dictator was the problem and only a democracy can serve those interests, then I dare say that relations with any Middle East state are pointless. If the instability resulting from the Arab Spring was the problem then an easier and more productive solution would have been to follow the Michelle Alliot-Marie doctrine: launch an intervention all right, but one on the side of the dictators! In all likelihood the real reason for the Franco-British intervention was the prospect of easily getting rid of Qaddafi along with a regime which had been a geopolitical thorn in the Atlanticists side for decades. No love lost for Qaddafi here. Normally the French are utterly pragmatic about their interventions – if Françafrique is anything to go by. What is precisely the corrosive element in the mix here, is the ideological influence of organisations which should have remained intergovernmental but slowly grew into lobbies of their own importance – aimed at self-perpetuation. The EU and NATO are no longer instruments at the service of governments, they have developed rather as a cancer working against the interests of their member-states by promoting normative ideologies irrespective of results. The closer to Brussels a military intervention is carried out, the more compliant it will have to be with the politically correct narrative of the NATO HQ or the European Commission/Parliament. Hence the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy ignited a ‘Ring of Fire’ around the old continent whereas France’s client states in Africa or America’s in the Middle East remain quite stable: idealism breeds disaster, time-tested pragmatism ensures stability.

“(…) NATO now seems unlikely to act, partly because the image of its 2011 intervention is tarnished among some Libyans due to a lack of follow-up, and partly because the alliance is busy deterring Russia in Eastern Europe”. Again, if by lack of follow-up he means that another strong man was not backed to replace Qaddafi, then by all means, this is a valid statement. That, however, is not what he means: he means that more funding, more troops and more state-building would have staved off anarchy – you know, much like it did in Iraq or Afghanistan. In practice what Brussels sees as a solution in Libya, is a more muscled Bosnia-Herzegovina paradigm. “(…) the EU has strongly supported UN diplomatic efforts to form a unity government of rival Libyan factions and has deployed four missions to tackle some of the security challenges emanating from Libya since 2011”, see my point? The solution is to bribe and pacify local contenders ad infinitum. As for the Russian ‘threat’, if the supranational utopia’s legitimacy weren’t tied to universalist maximalist ideological principles, strategic compromises and tactical choices could be made to divert resources from one theatre to another. Yet the EU is no state which therefore prevents it from acting amorally. Therefore the actions of supranational ideological actors will always be maximalist irrespectively of the available means, and they will always move to confront all those who divert from their normative universalism regardless of the level of threat they represent: for universalists, every dissension is a vital existential problem.

Royal Navy's combined operations

Royal Navy’s combined operations

The second lesson is that the EU shouldn’t assist countries without legitimate governments”. True but only if one accepts the unwillingness to support non-liberal-democratic solutions. That said, whereas some EU states such as France have a national interest in protecting certain authoritarian regimes, most EU states in the East and North have nothing to gain by investing the political capital. Once again, divergent national interests prevent interventions overall.

The third lesson is that the EU has a useful military role in European homeland security”. Comes to mind that enforcing borders against mass migration could be useful but probably not what is on his mind: “(…) a search-and-rescue operation in the Mediterranean code-named Operation Triton and coordinated by the EU’s border agency, Frontex (…) has saved thousands of lives since November 2014”…


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Nicolas Sarkozy’s Foreign Policy Should Be Vindicated

July 7, 2012 at 6:50 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

George W. Bush and his acolytes are these days fond of claiming that history will eventually judge the administration of the former American president kindly. This is supposedly especially true of their foreign policy legacy: the “freedom agenda.” They went as far as to claim the “Arab spring” as vindication.

Bush and the neoconservatives are unlikely to ever find their swan song adequately praised in history manuals but by no means is foreign policy out of fashion as far as swan songs go.

Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency for one was controversial enough but unlike Bush’s, his track record may yet be vindicated.

In France itself, Sarkozy is currently reviled for his collaboration with Germany and toeing the line of “austerity” as far as dealing with Europe’s financial crisis goes. This, too, while more of a domestic legacy may also be vindicated as François Hollande’s reforms seem to amount to a “spare no expense” doctrine in a country on the verge of financial collapse. Then again, that was what he was elected to do.

In terms of foreign policy though, the Sarkozy doctrine should stand as a standard for future foreign policy decision-making. Not only did it promote French business interests; it promoted Paris’ strategic imperatives in the European Union.

Sarkozy had his ups and downs and his tactical populism did not always serve France well. Polemics over the Chinese Olympics for instance were unnecessary and France’s ties with China may have suffered from it. Equally less worthy of praise was the overall reaction to the Arab spring where Sarkozy and his government, while weary of the outcomes of the revolts, still chose the populist path of appealing to the success of the rebellions.

However, in policy arenas from Europe to the United Nations, France was extraordinarily assertive, pragmatic and ultimately efficient.

Facing an ever more independent Germany, Sarkozy chose to safeguard the Berlin-Paris axis as far as European questions were concerned but sought to hedge France’s bets by re-approaching Britain and the United States and reconstituting the Atlantic allies. France rejoined NATO’s political structure—mind you, at a time in which NATO’s political coherence is far from what it once was—thus pleasing its transatlantic ally—and paired with the United Kingdom in a number of industrial, military and geopolitical projects.

Germany, in spite of the French president’s efforts, turned out to be a bit of a challenge. Berlin united with the Central and Eastern European member states to downgrade Sarkozy’s Union for the Mediterranean into a meaningless discussion forum and inefficient member bloated exercise. The original plan, however, had been good. The point was to endow the EU’s southern neighborhood with a Finlandized area of its own. Open to preferential trade with the EU, willing to apprehend European values but devoid of actual membership—tout sauf institutions.

Sadly, Germany’s insistence for the inclusion of all EU member states in the Mediterranean Union would finally prevent it from ever emerging as a meaningful institution. It managed nevertheless to alter the EU’s paradigm of political approach to its southern neighborhood from a post 9/11 belief in promoting normative reform in illiberal regimes, to a more pragmatic and non-interfering engagement.

It was also Germany that prevented an easier French triumph in the Libyan war. France followed its diplomatic victory in Côte d’Ivoire, where it succeeded in replacing the regime with a more reliable one while using relevant international organizations as the Economic Community of West African States and the United Nations, with another impressive diplomatic mobilization of international organizations into adoption of the French narrative in Libya; Paris now being very likely to inherit the preferential commercial and military ties Tripoli used to respectively maintain with Italy and Russia and freed from Muammar Gaddafi’s nefarious influence over Françafrique.

Sarkozy wasn’t shy in advocating a heavy hand against Iran, a state which seeks to undermine Western interests in the Middle East. Along the way, apart from making France a front seat player in the world’s major developments and organizations (two successive French presidents of the International Monetary Fund) Sarkozy was good at securing a ceasefire between Georgia and Russia which for the most part secured the previous status quo (appeased Moscow, cooperative Tbilisi).

The truth is that Nicolas Sarkozy served the French people well in foreign affairs. One hopes that they are sensible enough to apprehend as much.

(Originally published in the Atlantic Sentinel)

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The Problem With “Zero Problem Neighborhood”

March 19, 2012 at 11:27 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Turkey’s MFA

While changes began in the foreign policy domain right from the onset of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government, it was only in his second term and after the nomination of Ahmet Davutoğlu that Turkey’s foreign policy acquired a more “independent” flavor. Until now, Davutoğlu has been lauded for his “zero problem neighborhood” vision but as things stand today, there seems to be little merit for that praise.

Foreign affairs is one of those portfolios with peculiar pros and cons: there can be plenty of popularity gains for a foreign minister, who gets to socialize with international leaders and opinion makers, but there is also the inherent uncertainty of securing results as diplomacy depends on at least two interlocutors and the government he belongs to is but one of them.

That said, it is one thing for a particular diplomatic initiative to founder into political oblivion, it is another altogether to turn a would be close ally into a soon to be mortal enemy as was the case recently in Turkish-Syrian relations.

No one expected diplomats or politicians to predict the Arab spring but when dealing with an authoritarian regime, a crackdown on a potential uprising is a policy option implied in any dictator’s job description. Yet Turkey backtracked in its relations with Damascus.

Before Syria though there was Libya, where Turkey had also attempted to improve relations.

Here Ankara secured several profitable contracts for Turkish companies and Turkish diplomats hoped Libya would become—through the brother leader’s petrodollar sponsored political and charity ties below the Sahara—Turkey’s gateway to Africa.

Erdoğan, the humanitarian who now lectures Bashar al-Assad and Benjamin Netanyahu on human rights, had little compunction in accepting in 2010 the “Muammar Gaddafi Human Rights Award”—which he refused to return even after the Libyan revolt.

Confronted with Libya’s uprising, Turkey’s diplomacy failed to react, resigning itself to merely observing Western powers—from whom it had sought equidistance—breed a rebellion that would destroy the regime Turkey had so patiently cultivated

What could Ankara say? That Turkey had economic interests it wished to safeguard? Surely not as Turkey was then an adamant proponent of human rights after chastising Israel for its treatment of Palestinians in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident. It couldn’t possibly now adopt a pragmatic speech favoring a dictator who referred to his own people as “rats.”

There was also the attempt at multilateral diplomacy in the United Nations Security Council earlier last year, where Turkey teamed up with Brazil to promote an alternate compromise between Iran and the West concerning the former’s nuclear program.

This too failed and Turkey, whose diplomats were rumored to be seeking to include Ankara in a potential Security Council permanent members expansion, was humiliated on the international stage. Both Iran and the West hardened their respective positions and ignored Turkey.

The very Iran that Davutoğlu and Erdoğan had wooed, by remaining largely silent during the Green movement’s protests against the ayatollahs, by promoting bilateral trade while the West embargoed and by engaging Islamist movements such as Hamas, rewarded Turkey’s “friendship” by supporting Syria’s crackdown, in defiance of the Turkish Government’s appeals for reform, and by promoting in Iraq a government headed by the Shī’ah Nouri Al-Maliki against Ankara’s preferred Sunni candidate Ayad Allawi.

Syrian army during operations in Bekaa valley, Lebanon

Maliki is another problem as Iraq has been publicly supportive of Assad and was even touted to mediate between Syria and the West. Iraq, a country until recently half occupied by American troops and Iranian agents; a country just barely rebuilding its economic infrastructure, is now apparently more influential in the Middle East than Turkey.

Still, the Middle East is a tough neighborhood and surely Ankara’s goodwill would have paid off in less tumultuous surroundings. If it did though, it was not in Europe in spite of the fact that Davutoğlu has travelled extensively and worked tirelessly to bring to fruition his new foreign policy vision.

Apart from the all but suspended—courtesy of France and Germany—accession bid to the European Union, Ahmet Davutoğlu enacted a “football diplomacy” with Armenia to mend ties and ease tensions, visited Greece offering to delay Turkey’s pursuit of Greek debt as a good faith gesture and developed links with the Russian defense and energy industries.

Of course what was gained with Russia was disparaged when Turkey decided to hold military exercises with China outside of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s purview, sidelining Moscow, and more recently by seeking to isolate Syria against Russia’s wishes.

Relations with Armenia have gone nowhere largely because of the same old obstacles which had prevented it before—the unwillingness to recognize the Armenian genocide and Turkey’s preference for its fellow Turkic Azeris in any conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Finally, Greece has shown its appreciation for Turkish openings by continuing to support Greek Cyprus in its political and energetic disputes with Turkey and by moving quickly to sign mutual defense guarantees with Israel following the Israeli-Turkish rift.

Bad blood between Tel Aviv and Ankara is also not entirely one sided in blame. The Israeli commandos did lose their cool on board the Mavi Marmara (right) but Erdoğan milked the media outrage over the flotilla deaths as much as he could and moved quickly to identify Israel as a “regional threat”—hardly the actions of an ally and far from the proper reaction to what was always described as a “diplomatic incident.”

One should, on the other hand, not assign the onus for strained American-Turkish relations to the AKP Government. The United States Congress’ recognition of the Armenian genocide and the Bush Administration’s failure to curb the activities of Kurdish militants in Iraqi Kurdistan were what caused the strain. But if anyone deserves credit for repairing them, that someone is President Barack Obama, who made Turkey a personal priority, not Prime Minister Erdoğan.

When confronted by such principles as national interest and balance of power being applied by its interlocutors, Turkey’s “zero problem neighborhood” doctrine has been found wanting. Time now for some reflection on the part of Ankara’s leadership and those who made its case.

(Originally published in the Atlantic Sentinel)

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Redistricting the Middle East

November 5, 2011 at 8:41 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , )

An emerging Buffer-Crescent  

John Snyder writing for Foreign Policy once offered as examples of idealist foreign policy, Bin Laden and Gandhi. Some might find equating the two to be perverse but in fact they have something specific in common. Snyder was comparing International Relations constructivism with Realism and Liberal Internationalism and in this context, constructivists share their opposition to methodological individualism, i.e. materialist approaches.

Ultra-salafists like Pacifists believe in natural law – that certain rights and values are immanent and naturally present in all individuals – and also believe in taking the initiative in promoting their goals: were they to take a tactical and for the lack of a better word ‘political’ approach, they’d be as centrist and unprincipled as those they criticise; they therefore prefer to take a stand and stick to it. As constructivists, idealists wish to engineer a new and virtuous world and they believe that ideas alone can guide change. They thus present themselves to the world and fight henceforth for the implementation of their ideals.

Bin Laden proclaimed Jihad on America, Gandhi warned the British to go. They differed on methods but the righteousness of their cause was never at stake. They both believed that their values were superior and universal. Islam is the only true religion and freedom to all peoples would be only conducive to inter-community dialogue and peace.

Of course an absolutist doctrine tends to emerge from and provide incentives for the increase in polarisation. This is clearly visible in the US today after all the gerrymandering that was seen throughout decades and which has generated a very politically divided atmosphere. The same is true of the Middle East where forces such as neoconservatives, jihadists and radical shia have been busy pushing the region towards extremes since the beginning of the century.

Until now the Middle East had broadly two buffer zones –areas where spheres of interest juxtaposed: Iraq and Lebanon with their religious and ethnic separations stood as irrevocably vulnerable to some form or another of foreign intervention. Lebanon tried to deregulate itself in a libertarian fashion in order to appease its neighbours but as soon as core national interests related to security came into question it fell into civil war and/or weak governability. With Saddam Hussein Iraq was multicultural and unified; without an authoritarian government however, it soon fell into ethnic and creed strife. None of these countries has ever existed before and it would now seem that such lack of precedent is not without reason for the absence of a strong national identity prevents them from ever rising above devolution or extreme centralism. In other words they are non-functional polities.

 In spite of the artificial nature of the borders, the colonial legacy left in place a modicum of balance of power in the Middle East and this important legacy for stability has now been corrupted by the Freedom campaigns: in seeking to exogenously rid the region of its non-conformal nature with the values of the West, the successive interventions there have only managed to upset local hegemons or disrupt otherwise stable dependencies.

 One of the nasty consequences of polity engineering has been a massive redistricting of the Middle East: just as in America gerrymandering led to more ideologically pure constituencies, so have the identity barriers deepened in this region – where they were already feeble. As a result, the viability of cohesive-enough polities to sustain the balance of power has eroded and with them stability. This is the direct outcome of trying to insert ‘fundamental’ rights in areas where security takes precedence, of trying to build federal models where civil society and democratic culture have little or no bearing on political priorities and needs. The Arab Spring seems to be continuing this trend, as ethnic tensions in Egypt, Libya and Syria apparently demonstrate.

Minorities Meridian

 On a wide perspective what were but two buffer zones for regional power centres – Iraq, Lebanon – have now become three – Syria. An immense Buffer-Crescent of instability is now a political reality in the Middle East and the Arab world seems to be its greatest victim. While the Iranian and Turkish polities have prospered, the Arab world seems to more and more bear the brunt of ethnic plurality. Apart from the Arab-shia/Curd components of the Buffer-Crescent, the Levantine ethnic exception to Middle Eastern Suni Arab majority is now also causing problems as a minorities meridian of Armenians, Alawites, Druzes, Maronites, Arab Christians and Jews stretches from the borders of Turkey to the Sinai, ready to be instrumentalised by the regional powers.

Rumours have it that Saudi Arabia and Jordan would be interested in having Syria’s Euphrates valley and Deir Al-Zour, along with its traditionalist Sunni population, amputated and eventually merged with Iraq’s Anbar province so as to create a polity loyal to Saudi Arabia and the GCC and which might thus be able to expand and consolidate the Arab anti-Iranian influence in the Mashreq.

 In the long term, were this minorities-meridian to unite, it might constitute a strategic counter-balance to Arabs, Turks and Iranians. While its profuse diversity might hinder plans of geopolitical union, the Balkans are a good example of how polities can merge in order to face an external threat. Given unity, a political entente with one of the other hegemons – probably Iran –  might help reshape a new balance of power.

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The Western Bloc Fights Back

April 16, 2011 at 8:16 am (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Many in the media have compared the Arab Spring to 1989. If none of the most obvious arguments against such analogy were enough, here is another: unlike the Soviet satellites, America’s are fighting back the revolutionary wave! Of course the socialist bloc was dependent on the unitary leadership of the USSR, the Warsaw Pact was imposed and did not serve the interests of the states in question (except for Russia of course), Gorbachev foolishly hoped eastern Europe to remain neutral and unilaterally decided to remove Moscow’s grip, the revolutionaries were unquestionably pro-western and last but not least the soviet bloc served ideals as much as strategic interests – unlike the strict usefulness of the current pro-western Arab regimes.

  •   You’re either very smart… or incredibly stupid’

What is the Obama Administration doing? No one knows. For all the proud transparency and democratic credentials of the leader of the free world, at times Obama and his team seem to be as Byzantine as a Eurasian regime. Gates says one thing, Clinton another and Obama says more than he does. Is Obama being extremely subtle, arranging behind the scenes deals – Chicago style – with the Arab regimes that will keep them in power while assuaging the young protestors? Or does he actually do what his speeches profess and he pushed for a fully free electoral system based new Egyptian regime without the tutelage of the Army? Was he truly not informed of the GCC’s mobilisation to Bahrain? If he really was not informed that should hardly be seen as something positive: either he is too weak to deserve the respect of his allies or he is consistently undermining them after reassuring them in private.

  • The Shia Crescent and Containment

What is at stake? The geopolitical control of the Middle East is at stake and Bahrain proves as much. Saudi Arabia has rarely intervened in the affairs of its neighbours. Notorious exceptions have been the wars against Israel, the support for Yemeni royals against Nasser, the fight against the shia Houthi rebels in the same country and now Bahrain. He who controls the flow of oil controls the world? At the very least, it helps. Most of all, depending on who controls the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, the world can be made more stable or less. Up to this point the US have controlled the Middle East. They are the only external entity that has the power to do so. The alternative is not the Europeans, or Russians or Chinese; the alternative is Iran. Can Iran be trusted to responsibly manage the region? The answer is unequivocally ‘no’!

Iran is led by a revolutionary regime that is more interested in the millennial narrative and the well being of its leadership than in the national interests of the state it runs. Why intervene in Lebanon? Why deploy its navy to Syria? What are Iran’s interests there?

Tehran also lacks the naval projection ability to control the Arabian and Red seas and its inevitable rivalry with Turkey would never make it an undisputed hegemon. Those who predict a Turko-Iranian condominium might also start by explaining who gets what; because Syria and Lebanon would be very much part of any Turkish sphere and Iran is not handling control of Hezbollah or Damascus to Ankara. No, stability is not what one can expect from the Islamic Republic.

Thus, the Arab powers have strived to contain Iran’s irredentist impulses and they have done so in spite of America’s squandering of the potential of local allies. In 1979, the regional supremacy of the Iranians was endangered by the Islamic revolution: the Iranian intelligentsia was chased out of the country, its military apparatus was purged, its closest patron – the US – shunned and the new regime turned to social endowments to seduce the part of the population it had not intimidated. The Arab leadership didn’t miss a beat and quickly moved to explore Iranian weakness. The jingoistic ambitions of Saddam Hussein suited them well and they financed their proxy’s aggression against Iran. By 1988 both Iraq and Iran were exhausted and Iran’s regional geostrategic hegemony was a thing of the past. Its military might gone, its economic potential kept in check by international sanctions, the shadow of Iranian deployments to the Middle East in case of world war, vanished. With the Arab League led by US allies – KSA, Egypt – the USSR in crisis and Iran isolated, the Arab world reigned supreme and trade between the Arabs and the West flourished.

The XXI century however brought the end of the Arab-American peace. America’s decline, the economic emergence of Russia and Turkey, the strategic rise of Iran (thanks to the War on Terror) and the European stagnation have levelled the playing field. Saudi Arabia and its allies have done their best to prolong the containment of Iran. They have financed the Sunni factions in Iraq’s internal squabbles, tried to do the same in Lebanon and have made sure Israel is undisturbed in the Levant, lest Egypt become distracted with a country which represents no threat to the Arab community. Containment has its limitations though, since Asia represents more and more a vital lifeline of FDI to Iran. China, Japan, Korea, Russia and to some extent India, help keep Iran afloat.

Now Egypt, one of the two pillars of Western-Arab Middle East supremacy, is in danger of falling under the influence of isolationist and/or constructionist elites. This leaves the KSA alone in the leadership of a pro-Western order in the Middle East.

  • From Suez to Syrte

In 1956, France and Britain mobilised to defend the international/European control of the Suez. In the wake of the formation of OPEC and widespread third-world nationalisations of first-world assets, Nasser turned to Egypt’s closest and most profitable European asset: the strategic passage of the Suez Canal. Paris and London wished to draw a line in the sand and determined not to lose any more of their empires, they allied with Israel and seized the Suez by force. The Sèvres Pact was ultimately not to succeed as it posed too great a threat to the new bipolar world order.  Paris and London walked out with different lessons learned. The UK used its anglosphere credentials to build a partnership with the US and was able to salvage some of its influence and assets from the anti-Berlin-Consensus and bipolar driven UN decolonisation process. Paris on the other hand understood the only answer to American-Soviet dominance was to build an alternative Gaullist lead sphere of interests.

  • Falklands, Françafrique

Interestingly, both policies paid off. When Argentina invaded the Falklands, the US looked the other way and abstained from enforcing its Monroe Doctrine mechanisms in favour of the ‘special relationship’. The UK was given free hand to engage the South American political game in its favour and defeat the Argentine military. France on the other hand supported anti non-aligned-movement (NAM) forces and alternative solutions to the decolonisation master narrative. In Biafra and Katanga, the French prerogative of preserving an independent sphere of third-world dependencies was very visible with Portugal, South Africa, Israel and others coming together to crush when possible the UN-NAM canon of colonial border maintenance – an entente the NAM would come to classify as ‘Unholy Alliance’ and which on rare occasions (like Biafra) managed to mutually reinforce itself with the socialist bloc’s own polar offshoot: the Chinese led communist alternative. While the fall of Portugal’s dictatorship, the RSA’s apartheid as well as France’s new found Arab policy prevented further cooperation, Paris went on to keep its own sphere of influence by intervening at will in Chad, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire.

  • The Hyperpower’s Orphan Offshoots

Now it seems that an American empire revamping itself from the War on Terror overstretch, prefers to leave its former allies to themselves. While the European partners may have enough power to defend their own interests, the second and third world ones, if left to fend for themselves, may eventually fall. At the moment the pro-western order in the Middle East is adrift but Saudi Arabia and the Emirates will not suffice to keep it afloat. The French military base in the UAE and the Arab League’s backing of the overthrow of Gaddafi – under Gulf designs no doubt – however seem to indicate that mutual cooperation in the near future is possible in an Euro-Arab understanding of sorts, which might become an adequate counter-weight to looming universalist challengers. The EU may become an obstacle though, just as inconvenient as UN based moral initiatives.

  • Incoherent Alignment translates as Fair Game

When one’s property degrades, one refurbishes. But the preference is for an upgrade, not for a temporary second-hand replacement. The principle of sovereignty, while well grounded, is deficient in the face of polities devoid of strategic coherence. A polity’s interests do not change according to ideology, they are constant. Thus, while sympathetic towards democratic movements throughout the world, any regime change would only be worth it if it entailed the maintenance of the status quo or its improvement. If the only governance alternatives imply a worse situation, they should be fought. Here, intervention is justified. Mubarak’s regime had been eroding for some time and certainly Washington should and could have facilitated a transition earlier. But not to a democratic model since as plainly visible now, the replacements anointed by the masses lack in realism what they over-profess in ideals.

It is important to further state that the burden of normative adaptation falls always upon the new political arrivals. Unlike what one hears from the Arab Street, it is not up to the US to adapt itself to an imperfect change (any support for the current regime may radicalise the opposition) but rather it is up to the revolutionaries to guarantee that Egypt’s strategic paradigm remains unaltered, in order to gain America’s blessing for the revolution. No country – even one as powerful as Egypt – can expect its domestic dynamics to remain undisturbed in the face of foreign policy changes – the world is interdependent. If on the other hand, foreign affairs were independent from domestic political dynamics, foreign intervention would not be legitimate; yet this isn’t the case with Egypt or with the rest of the Islamic world.

A good example can be found in Riyadh’s approach to Bahrain and Libya: in the former political change is objectionable, in the latter it is welcome. It is of little importance what kind of regime is in place so long as it serves the interests of the Kingdom.

A bad model is that of the Obama Administration: in Egypt the problem so far hasn’t been Obama’s inaction but rather – apparently – his wrongful choices. If he truly chose not to intervene that would have to mean abstaining from judging the actions of the government as well as those of the protestors; conversely he did intervene to undermine his allies in Egypt in favour of their (and America’s) rivals. As long as the military regime remains in place though, Obama should be given the benefit of the doubt.

The truth is that any and all polities that fail to solidify a coherent and bipartisan foreign policy orientation, become preferential targets of external intervention. Fortunately, principled multilateralism seems to be an affliction contained in just a few western capitals. Unfortunately additional antibodies to the disease of sympathy/moral ego, are nonetheless very much in need nowadays.

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Bandwagoning isn’t Strategy – Italy and the Failure of the Bureaucratic Model

March 8, 2011 at 5:16 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

These days the western media can’t help but give in to their magical feelings of wonder before a contemporary crumbling of a dictatorial bloc. Their darlings in the Middle East – the university educated youths – are a veritable intellectual vanguard for the overthrow of patriarchal royalty and the rise of a benign liberal democracy that will liberate the poor Arab masses…

The American right has caught on to the inherent problem that the West’s allies are falling and Iran is celebrating for a reason. This doesn’t make Fox’s pundits any less hypocritical but at least they are one step ahead of the liberal media which under the leadership of CNN has had nothing but kind words for the fall of loyal allies. In fact the western media in no way falls behind such outlets as Russia Today in the absolutely partial coverage of these events. The demonstrators always represent ‘the people of Egypt’, the regime is always tactical and never concerned for the national interest of the state in question.

The harsh reality is that much of the vulnerability of these regimes stems from liberalising reforms result of Western pressure. The reality is that many of these youths have no political platform whatsoever to replace the falling regimes. The reality is that corporatist domestic elites had a vested interest in ‘facilitating’ the exit of the economically liberal Mubarak clan. The reality is that the intellectual elite which is out in the streets may be secular but it also is leftist and will likely drive Egypt into a neo-Nasserite wave if elected. In fact the January 25th movement is not unlike the May of 68 one. A new order is envisioned based on lofty ideals, but just as the southern European democracies (5th Republic France, post-Franco Spain, 3rd Republic Portugal, 3rd Hellenic Republic) failed to emulate the civic and economic achievements of their social-democratic heroes of northern Europe, so too will Arabs fail to become liberal democratic republics – with the possible exception of Tunisia – even if so self-proclaimed in name.

Every regime distorts history in blaming its predecessor system for the economic faults of the state. In the case of Egypt and the Arab world, this will likely drive the new elites into a social endowment wave which will degrade even further the financial health of the different Arab societies. For all the hype that the corrupt regimes have left the Arab youth in poverty, Egypt was a notable case of fast economic growth in spite of a sluggish and over-centralised state apparatus. In fact Egypt’s credit ratings are still higher and healthier than Greece’s for example. All this will be endangered by any dramatic increase in social benefits. It is true that Egypt’s youth was driven to the streets by economic difficulties but it is also true that these are much more due to exaggerated demographic growth rather than economic mismanagement on the part of the government. Besides, there are protests against the effects of the global crisis all throughout the world and governments needn’t fall for that. No, the rhetoric of the youth of Egypt says nothing of one-child policies or birth-control, its platform is simply ‘more employment’ and this can only translate in more artificial government sponsored jobs. Any benefit in tackling corruption that freedom of speech might bring stands to be quickly squandered by more bureaucracy and true economic negligence stemming from demagogic policies.

If all this is true for many Arab states, Libya is a special case. Libya unlike Egypt, has never truly been an ally of the West. While the recent overture to American and European investment prevented further trouble for the Qadhafi regime – after all the country is located in NATO’s Mediterranean pond – Tripoli has persisted in remaining outside of the American sphere of influence. Its military purchases are made in Moscow, its diplomacy favours African and Arab fora and much of the investment that rivals with that of the West comes from Russia, China and Turkey. While Libya has apparently reversed its pro-terrorism pan-third-world stance, it is still rabidly and irrationally anti-Israel and anti-American.

For all these reasons, it isn’t as strange to find a lack of goodwill towards Libya in Western capitals, as it is towards Mubarak. Libya also demonstrates that the national interests of western states differ irrespective of the nature of their regimes (democracy) or constructivist arrangements (EU, NATO).

Not all capitals of the West would like to see Qadhafi gone. Rome stands out as the state with most to lose from an overthrow of Qadhafi. Half of Libya’s exports to the EU wind up in Italy and the Italian Republic provides for almost 40% of the Jamahiriya’s imports. This is mostly the result of a legitimate and natural pursuit by Italy of close relations with its former colony. The Berlusconi governments in particular have been avid pioneers in Libya’s opening to the West, also using in their favour the special relationship Italy has entertained with Russia for some decades now. Companies such as ENI, Finmeccanica, Ansaldo or UniCredit are to a great extent interdependent with the Libyan economy.

But Rome suffers from an original sin which is common in the West: lack of strategic posture. Scholars such as Patrick Porter have been keen on pointing out – a propos of Britain’s defence review – that “with no obvious major enemy to focus the mind, British strategy has been shaped by Washington’s agenda, and become overly concerned with ‘narrative’”. The same is true for much of Europe since naming likely enemies is politically incorrect and choosing interests over values, a media suicide.

Let us look at the foundations of modern Italy. Italy was born a kingdom for a reason yet the Allied Powers led by the US thought it best to turn it into a federal republic after its fascist experience during WWII. Usually the US despises the royals and with the exception of Japan, it is America’s model that serves as a stepping stone for the re-engineering of other countries (Germany, Italy, Iraq, Afghanistan). Consequently, without strong tradition in democracy, Italy becomes an expectedly fragile and unstable republic. Italian governments rarely fulfil their constitutional term and the country has become a ‘dictatorship of the Directors-General’. While some may see in this the technocratic ideal of governance, one of the problems is the inherent lack of strategic planning. It is all too well that Rome’s bureaucracy understands what Italy’s needs are and how to get them. Berlusconi’s opportunistic behaviour certainly brought a high degree of success. Ultimately though, Italy’s interests in Libya were not protected by any coherent strategy, as the diplomatic debacle of Berlusconi plainly demonstrates it now.

In simple terms: what’s the point of getting there first if you can’t hold your ground?

Strategy shouldn’t be too complicated but it should also be sustainable and coherent. Italy has in effect lost Libya (If the current regime falls, its replacement will seek ties with those who in the past aided the Benghazi rebellion. If the current regime survives it will become a pariah, probably under EU and UN sanctions, and giving preference to those who do not morally condemn it – Russia, China, Turkey) because it did not anchor its economic conquests with the necessary diplomacy to sustain dealings with radical regimes. At first the Italian government kept quiet and then it felt it had no other choice but to jump into the train of European and Western condemnation, thus risking forfeiting its business investments. Apart from incoherent positioning, Italy also found itself isolated. Couldn’t the Italians have reminded the French that they weren’t the only ones protecting a dictatorial regime? Couldn’t Rome have persuaded Germany that actively siding against Qadhafi might cost money in a near future? What about partnering with Turkey and others in demanding that the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) be put in charge of the response to the crisis – and in so doing prevent a consensus on intervention?

It is comprehensible that Paris and London are interested in removing Qadhafi, it is not that Rome doesn’t move a finger to salvage its assets.

This is also due in part to the pacifist indoctrination the country experienced to counter the legacy of Mussolini’s militarism. A great part of Italy’s elite, civil servants and diplomats abhors unilateral action. Italy embarks on every multilateral project without regard to the consequences. It doesn’t hold a permanent seat in the Security Council and indeed the ‘enemy state’ language is still in use, but Italy is one of the hardest proponents of UN backed legitimacy for intervention – hard to understand how it mustered the strength to prevent Germany from gaining a permanent seat in the UNSC. It is a central and founding member of the EU, yet it bows to the will of the Paris-Berlin axis. It adhered to the UfM, a structure under French leadership. It is a member of NATO and went along – even if reluctantly – with the campaign in Kosovo, even though it was for the benefit of Washington and Berlin.

The Italian MFA is a disgrace but so is Berlusconi for not having had the statesmanship to secure Italy’s national interest. Italy as a central country – in the Mediterranean, Europe – simply cannot afford to completely depend on others. It must engineer its own regional diplomatic framework to allow the prosecution of its interests. What good are its armed forces and financial power if only used for the sake of others? Libya is not a crucial territory for other European or Middle Eastern powers; if Italy can’t stand up for itself there, where can it do so?

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