Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Unrest in the world today

Turkey's invasion of Iraq

It was long in the pipline, but Turkey is going full-steam ahead with its invasion of Iraq to destroy the Kurdish PKK. Turkey and the PKK are into their 5th day of combat.

Turkey claims to have killed 153 PKK soldiers and lost 17 troops. The PKK has countered that claim, stating it has killed 81 Turkish soldiers.

The powerless Iraqi government was isolated in its pleas for Turkey to withdraw and respect its sovereignty. That sounds quite comical considering the sovereignty of Iraq has been violated by the US and the UK for five years now.

The regional powers are remaining tight lipped on Turkey's operation. In a rare sign of common interest, all rival sides appear to be backing Turkey. Ankara has received the blessing of Syria and Iran (both states share Turkey's concerns of greater Kurdish autonomy in Iraq), as well as the green light from the US and EU. Once again, the Kurds are taking the fight up without any external assistance.

Or are they?

I recall reading an article perhaps over 12 months ago revealing widespread Israeli assistance to the Kurds, including military training. It has long been an Arab allegation that the Kurds share close ties to Israel, whether it is true or not remains to be seen.

Serbs still venting Kosovo anger

Rioting has unabated in Kosovo and Belgrade, with Serbs refusing to allow their nation be partitioned by foreigners.

A quote from a pro-Western Serb sums up the hurt and anger, "“I would be spitting on America, cursing Europeans, saying, ‘You are stealing our territory, just because you are bigger and you can do it.’" Full article can be read here.

The US has stated Kosovo will never rejoin Serbia, whilst high-profile Russian officials visited Belgrade to demonstrate their support.

It is a new tug of war between the two global powers, what will this mean for Serbia and Kosovo? Has this backfired in the face of the US? Did they expect that so few nations would move to recognise Kosovo?

They have created another quagmire that could've been avoided. The opposition from Serbia was anticipated, but the amount of international rejections for recognition must have come as a shock to the West. Russia is not isolated in its calls for the annulment of Kosovo's declaration, and that is troubling for the West. They have a fight on their hands, a fight they created, a fight that could have and should have been avoided.

The New York Times asks whether it is the "last gasp of Serb anger" or "first breath of future Balkan turmoil". I'm not sure the West will be able to prevent a fallout in the Balkans, particularly if the Russians are insistent on making life hell for Kosovo (and are not alone at doing it).

Human aspect non-existent

It is pitiful that in both the cases of Turkey-Kurdistan-Iraq and Serbia-Kosovo, the humanitarian aspect is once again swept under the carpet. We are not simply toying with politics and power struggles, we are toying with peoples lives. We forget too often the simple fact that ordinary people live in these regions with the hope of enjoying a normal life.

We appear arrogant in giving the impression to the world that only those of us within Western borders have the right to a peaceful life. Well we shouldn't complain when millions of people from the troubled regions that we have exploited come pouring through our borders seeking a speck of the life we take for granted.

The Arabs might be heralding the Turkish attempt to crush the Kurds, but ethnic and tribal rivalries do not surpass the humanitarian aspect for this Arab. I was in Lebanon when Israel made a larger-scale incursion of the country in 2006. When reality hits, when death and misery is abound, all the labels we impose to differentiate between ourselves vanish. At the end of the day, we all seek the same means to survive.

Cyprus goes Communist, Cuba remains Communist

The European Union will welcome its first Communist Head of State, Demetris Christofias of Cyprus.

Our (Lebanon) neighbours (and former colony 3,000 years ago) out in the sea elected the left-wing leader over the weekend. Christofias is promising action on reunification with the Turkish north, hopefully bringing to an end decades of division and tension.

To the contrary, Communist Cuba's Castro #2 is not promising any change. Raul Castro stated he will continue consulting Fidel on policy, and has appointed the old-guard from the revolution era to key positions.

Angry Sarkozy erupts once again

Click the link above to watch a series of Sarkozy outbursts and insults since he came to power last May.

In another embarrassing setback for the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy's anger management issues have been caught on camera once again.

Nothing seems to be going right for Sarkozy. Angry Sarko's opinion ratings have been on a sharp decline since he came to office less than a year ago in last May. The French public elected Sarkozy with the fond belief that this was to be the man that would have strong enough characteristics to change the old French methodologies and renew France in the 21st century.

Well it's not the strong character that's lacking in Sarkozy, that's for sure.

I was in France during last year's election, and the French were well aware of his bad temper. His anger issues scared over 40% of the population from voting for him, and have remained in the back of the minds of the voters who opted to give him a chance at the top job.

Sarkozy, too, was conscious of his damaging rage. Throughout the campaign, the UMP leader made a concerted effort to tone down his feisty and controversial nature to win over skeptics. It worked, he made it into office, and since then has struggled to contain his rage. In the meantime, the fear that Sarkozy is too "fou" to lead a nuclear power has swelled among the French populous.

The French President's popularity is down to 38% in the most recent opinion poll, which was taken before the latest scandal. No doubt, pollsters are predicting a lower figure at the next turn of opinion polls following this week's angry outburst. Le Parisien reveals that over 3 million people have viewed online Sarkozy's vulgar tirade.

His woes don't stop with internal and personal issues.

Berlin disapproves of Sarkozy

Le Monde yesterday had an interesting article on the deterioration of Franco-German relations since Sarkozy came to power. Indeed, where former French presidents concentrated on maintaining a solid partnership with Germany, Sarkozy has ditched Berlin and steered the ship towards Washington. Berlin isn't impressed.

Sarkozy's aggressive attitude towards his people is mirrored by his attempt to push through his policies in Europe, even at the cost of special relationships. Angry Sarko is insistent on his Mediterranean Union, a project of growing annoyance to Germany. Berlin fears a Mediterranean Union will break up the European Union, and have follow-on effects for other regions on the continent.

Germany is equally angry that Sarkozy is persisting with plans without at least consulting Berlin. Le Monde refers to divergent African policies, and in particular the refusal of Germany to commit troops to an EU force in Chad, as an example. Chad wouldn't be the first time Germany and Sarkozy have clashed on Africa. The French President riled the Germans when he signed with Libya's Qaddafi a contract to build nuclear reactors (on the same lines of Russia's contract to build nuclear reactors in Iran). Germany vehemently opposed the move as unnecessary proliferation of dangerous materials, pointing to the fact that Berlin was working on providing Libya with alternative energy means. Sarkozy undermined a German-Libyan deal in the pipeline, and essentially stole a contract that included nuclear proliferation.

Examples of divergence and frustration are plentiful between Paris and Berlin since Sarkozy's ascension to power, many of which are highlighted in the Le Monde editorial. Sarkozy is becoming increasingly unilateral and belligerent in his policies at home and within the European Union. His ratings among his European counterparts and his French populous are sliding. The Europeans aren't fond of aggressive men who dictate their policies, and the polls reflect that.

Le Monde
asks at the end, "how long will it take for Sarkozy to understand the necessity [of good Franco-German relations]?"

It is a valid question to ask given this week's dilemma.

Is Sarkozy able to lead such a nation of prominence?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Western belligerence fuelling a belligerent Russia

This was the week where international relations took a turn for the worst.

Russia is upping the ante on Kosovo, threatening military force should the EU or NATO move to officially recognise the newborn Balkan state.

Why do international powers constantly toy with the Balkan chessboard in order to test each other's patience? Not that I'm predicting a repeat of the events that led to World War I, but there is not one major power in this world that is acting responsibly.

US State Department spokesman, Nicholas Burns, claimed Russia had taken an isolated position in regards to Kosovo, but reality points to a much more evenly, polarised world. Russia has acquired the backing of China - the fastest growing economy, Indonesia - the world's largest Muslim nation, Spain and Argentina, to name a few.

The West is demonstrating an overconfidence in its relations vis a vis Russia. Since the turn of the century, and the hardening of Moscow under Putin, the West has itself taken on an incredibly belligerent attitude towards Russia. Often in the West, we look upon the Russians as having the stubborn tempers, but are the actions of our leaders excusable?

I can think of a number of things that have led to an angry, threatening Russia today:

In recent years, the US, along with its European allies, have:

- actively supported anti-Russian movements in Russia's sphere of influence such as Ukraine and Georgia.

- scrapped armament treaties in pursuit of America's star wars missile plan

- welcomed former Soviet republics such as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia (still considered by Russia as its backyard) into the European Union

- drawn up plans to install anti-missile shields in former Warsaw Pact countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic

- expanded the borders of NATO to Russia's frontline, when Moscow was assured that NATO's expansion had come to an end (after all NATO came into existence as a result of the Cold War, hence why Russia is baffled at the West's insistence on expanding NATO to Russia's borders)

- and this week, backed the independence of Kosovo, further breaking up Russia's key ally in southern Europe, Serbia.

After all the above, I can somehow understand why Russia (with the support of the majority of Russians) is becoming more hardline in its attitude towards the US and the West. There's one important principle of international relations that should never be forgotten ... cause and consequence. When Putin spoke about dire consequences, it was worth paying attention. Today, Russia does not have the means to compete with the US - let alone the entire Western alliance - but eventually, when the balance of power shift in the world, Russia won't be there as a friend. Putin is warning the West that Russia will not forget the last decade of provocative Western moves towards it. That should be worrying.

Russia painfully and helplessly watched in the 1990s as its Yugoslav gem in southern Europe came to an end. It swallowed the loss of Serb power in the 1990s, but it has enough stamina today to not sit back and allow a repeat unfold.

What is the West trying to achieve? It won the Cold War, Russia was brought to her knees. This was the West's chance to reconstruct a friendly Russia. It is foolish to assume that the largest nation on earth, with the largest gas reserves on earth, and one of the largest nuclear arsenals, was going to remain weak. Russia will always have enough strength in the world to influence the policy of other states. From a Western point of view, I would prefer having a Russia that is on our side than against it.

Indeed, Russia made the attempt. Post-9/11, Moscow demonstrated a willingness to assist the US in its global war on terror, with the establishment of US bases in Kremlin proxy states in central Asia a key example.

Russia feels it is only receiving slap after slap in return. It begs to see what will be Moscow's actions re Kosovo, but the day is nearing when Russia will return the slap. Every action has a reaction, and we are already beginning to feel the effects of a reactionary Russian bear.

What we have (perhaps provoked) today is a Russia that is willing to use its resources and clout in the world to thwart the US and Europe at every possible turn. It is forging closer ties with China (including large-scale war military exercises, and the co-chairing of a regional Asian council); it is boosting Iran's military and nuclear capabilities; and it is developing Syria's military capabilities (including the re-establishment of a Russian naval base). In addition to all the above is Russia's gas tactics to twist the arms of neighbouring states that are thinking of turning to team USA.

Kosovo's declaration has set the precedent for a more belligerent Russia to counter Western belligerence. One ill turn deserves another. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West has made one ill turn after another where Russia is concerned.

The only development the West has aided is the strengthening of ties between its foes - potential and current - such as China, Russia, Iran and Venezuela. The West must stop abusing its power if it wants to preserve its status as the world's policeman in a century's time. Otherwise, there is a dangerous possibility that the West may find itself isolated in a world of increasingly hostile, anti-Westerners.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More on Kosovo

I found some interesting articles yesterday on the Kosovo-Serbia situation.

Some might question the relevance of paying such close attention to Kosovo on a Lebanese/Middle Eastern blog. Allow me to say that it is incredibly relevant. We are part of a global sphere, a global geo-political chess game. Every move that happens in the world concerns us.

In addition to my points in the "Why Lebanese should oppose Kosovo independence" post, it's vital to remain conscious of the fact that our problems are not isolated. Just like the former Yugoslavia, we too are being manipulated by foreign powers, which isn't news to the ears. Many Lebanese will go to great lengths to stress that we are the pawns of a game between foreign powers. However, what many Lebanese fail to realise is that we're not alone in this situation. This is not only a Lebanese problem, but a global problem of larger nations belittling and bullying smaller states. This has been the case throughout human history, and yet we are still to learn from past mistakes.

We are on the list of exploited nations because we allow ourselves to be exploited. The rumblings of people power are true. We determine whether our state is functional or dysfunctional. The longer we stay divided, corrupt and paranoid of each other, the longer we'll remain a pawn for the rest of the world to juggle.

It's imperative that Lebanese watch other key events unfolding in the world closely, for it is a rare opportunity where we can see what it's like to be exploited from the outside.

We might just learn a few pointers.

International policy fails again in Serbia break-up
Aris Gounaris
The Canberra Times

In the lead-up to the declaration of Kosovo's independence, domestic and international media have been preoccupied with practicalities; the political and economic viability of the new state, divisions between European Union and United Nation member states regarding recognition, Serbia's likely reaction, and the fate of minorities, have all been discussed.

For its part, the English-language media continue to use well-worn (and misleading) cliches about so-called "ancient enmities" and the "last unresolved dispute of the Yugoslav wars" a label better suited to Bosnia.

Fundamental questions have been overlooked. Should a democratic state, for instance, be broken up? Influential members of the international community, including Britain, France and the United States, are doing just that breaking up a functioning, albeit fledgling democracy. Serbia may not have a strong democratic tradition, but it now holds free and fair elections; the results of the recent presidential election, narrowly won by Boris Tadic, were uncontested. Less than a decade ago, Slobodan Milosevic refused to budge after being voted out of office. Serbia's inroads should be encouraged, not punished.

It is wrong to partition a democratic state without the consent of all its citizens. Doing so sends all the wrong signals to disaffected groups wishing to carve out states of their own. Serbia's break-up represents yet another policy failing on the part of the international community. True, the Kosovo-Albanians want to live in their own state and they are well in their rights to demand a state of their own, or seek greater freedoms in the existing state. By the same token, sovereign states are legally entitled to defend their territorial integrity with deadly force. In Kosovo, neither side has been willing to compromise its demands. A stalemate was inevitable.

A solution, independence for Kosovo, has been imposed. It is the wrong solution. Independence may have been justified in the mid-1990s, when Milosevic was oppressing the people of Kosovo, but not now. The international community's failure to consider Kosovo's status as part of the 1995 Dayton Accords compelled the Kosovo-Albanians to take up arms. They provoked the Serbian authorities in the knowledge that only violence would put Kosovo on the agenda. The plan worked. NATO responded to Serbia's heavy-handed approach, first with diplomacy and then with air strikes in 1999.

Milosevic and his regime are dead. Serbia should be given a chance to demonstrate its democratic credentials given its pledge to work with the Kosovo-Albanians to create the conditions for a viable multi-ethnic state. This kind of trust has been extended to Kosovo; why not Serbia? Kosovo's "supervised independence" plan developed by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, allows for local autonomy, safeguards for minorities and cultural properties, and guaranteed seats in parliament for minority groups. Similar arrangements in Serbia could fast-track its EU candidate member status, notwithstanding the requirement to cooperate with the Hague's International War Crimes Tribunal.

It is probably too late to propose alternative practical arrangements for Kosovo. But it is worth reflecting on the principles that can inform the resolution of separatist disputes in general. Given its tendency to result in violent conflict, unilateral secession should be justified only as a remedy of last resort against serious and persistent injustices.

Democracy in Serbia means that the justification for unilateral secession no longer exists.
In Kosovo, this "remedial secession" principle has been ignored. The decision to support independence for Kosovo is more about expedience than a sense of justice. Common sense suggests that international relations are defined by the pursuit of self-interest; the promotion of justice and principle are mere aspirations. There is certainly much evidence to back these claims. Yet, this thinking is flawed. One of the reasons why separatist wars continue to be fought in every corner of the world is that there is no universally recognised set of justice-based principles for dealing with unilateral secession.

Supporting unilateral secession only if independence is sure to end injustices is the best way forward. This approach does not preclude secession by agreement; Czechoslovakia's dissolution in 1993 shows that secession can proceed peacefully and consensually. But where competing demands are irreconcilable, the onus rests with the separatists and independent observers to show that the status quo is unjust and that secession is the only viable remedy. Failing that, sovereign rights should be respected.

If such a principle were recognised in international law, the international community might deal with separatist conflicts more consistently and justly than it does now. By the same token, separatists would be less inclined to use force if they could anticipate universal condemnation of unilateral secession in the absence of serious injustices.

The EU, which is poised to help administer Kosovo post-independence, and the UN, may wish to ponder these and other fundamental questions when the time comes to settle the last unresolved dispute of the Yugoslav wars.

Aris Gounaris is a PhD candidate at La Trobe University. His doctoral dissertation in philosophy and history examines theories of secession and self-determination. Case studies include Kosovo, Chechnya and Aceh.

Superpower divide over Kosovo widens
Robert Wielaard
The Associated Press

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) — The U.S. and the European Union's biggest powers quickly recognized Kosovo as an independent nation Monday, widening a split with Russia, China and some EU members strongly opposed to letting the territory break away from Serbia.

A day after Kosovo declared independence, ethnic Serbs in the north angrily denounced the United States and urged Russia to help Serbia hold on to the territory that Serbs consider the birthplace of their civilization.

Protesters also marched in Serbia's capital, and that nation recalled its ambassador to the U.S. to protest American recognition for an independent Kosovo.

Despite clamoring of Serbs to retake Kosovo, Serbia's government has ruled out a military response.

But the dispute is likely to worsen already strained relations between the West and Russia, which is a traditional ally of Serbia and seeks to restore its influence in former Soviet bloc states. The Kremlin could become less likely to help in international efforts important to the U.S. and its allies, such as pressuring Iran to rein in its nuclear program.

Still, for Washington the declaration of independence by Kosovo vindicated years of dogged effort to help a land achieve its dream of self-determination after years of ethnic conflict and repression by Serbia.

Speaking in Tanzania, President Bush declared: "The Kosovars are now independent" — and Washington formally recognized Kosovo as an independent country soon afterward. Germany, Britain and France also gave their heavyweight backing, saying they planned to issue formal recognitions.

But Russia, Serbia's key ally, and emerging global power China remained adamantly opposed to Kosovo's independence, warning of the danger of inspiring separatist movements around the world, including in their own sprawling territories.

As veto-wielding Security Council members, Russia and China both have the power to block any attempt by Kosovo to gain a seat on the international body.

The Council met for 2 1/2 hours in New York in the second day of an emergnecy session on Kosovo but was unable to agree on a resolution or joint statement regarding Sunday's declaration of independence.

Serbia vowed to fight to the end against any U.N. recognition.

"The so-called Kosovo state will never be a member of the United Nations. Serbia will use all diplomatic means at its disposal to block Kosovo's recognition," said Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic.

The Kremlin was already working diplomatic levers to help Serbia achieve that aim.

Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, Russia's special envoy to the Balkans, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying Moscow expected U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to abide by a Security Council resolution that recognized Kosovo as part of Serbia.

Ban opened Monday's Security Council session by citing the many peaceful celebrations that accompanied Kosovo's declaration but also noting scattered violence.

He said the United Nations had achieved "peace consolidation and the establishment of functional self-government" in Kosovo, including five successful elections. "Kosovo has made considerable progress through the years," he said.

Serbian President Boris Tadic, who attended the U.N. meeting, urged the council to oppose Kosovo's move and to intervene as a last resort.

"The Republic of Serbia will not resort to force," said Tadic. "On the other hand, this arbitrary decision represents a precedent, which will cause irreparable damage to the international order."
He said Kosovo's declaration "annuls international law, tramples upon justice and enthrones injustice."

Serbia recalled its ambassador to Washington in protest of U.S. recognition for Kosovo, but said it was not severing diplomatic ties. It also withdrew envoys to France and Turkey and was expected to recall others as more nations formally recognized Kosovo as a new state.
"America and the European Union are stealing Kosovo from us, everyone must realize that," said Tomislav Nikolic, the head of Serbia's ultra-nationalist Radical Party.

After an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Britain, Germany and France said they would quickly give recognition to Kosovo, a move that would be followed in the days ahead by most of the bloc's other 24 member states, officials said.

The EU does not recognize nations, leaving that up to its individual members, and Spain, Greece, Romania and Cyprus have criticized the effort to make Kosovo independent.
Despite that divide, the EU foreign ministers issued a joint statement citing "the conflict of the 1990s" in Kosovo as a justification for the independence declaration.

The U.S. and its NATO allies intervened with an air campaign against Serbia in 1999 to end a brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists that had killed 10,000 people. The territory had been under U.N. and NATO administration since then, although formally remaining part of Serbia.

Seeking to address the concerns of Russia and others about a free Kosovo, the foreign ministers stressed that Kosovo should be an exception to the international rule that national borders can be changed only if all parties agree.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has argued that independence without U.N. approval sets a dangerous precedent for the former Soviet Union, where separatists in Russia's Chechnya region and two areas of Georgia are agitating for independence.

Russian officials hinted last week that if Kosovo declared independence it might retaliate by recognizing the independence claims of Abkhazia and South Ossetia — two Russian-supported provinces in Georgia. Russia's parliament repeated the threat Monday.

On Monday, Kosovo independence took center stage in China's diplomatic jousting with Taiwan, which has been self-governing since the Chinese civil war in 1949 but which the Beijing regime considers to still be part of China.

China's Foreign Ministry criticized Taiwan for welcoming Kosovo's independence, saying the island's government did not meet the criteria for recognizing other countries.

"It is known to all that Taiwan, as a part of China, has no right and qualification at all to make the so-called recognition," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a statement posted on the ministry's Web site.

China has good ties with Serbia and expressed "deep concern" over Kosovo's independence declaration.

For Beijing, the announcement conjures up one of its greatest fears: that Taiwan could some day make a similar declaration, something China says it would meet with military force. Chinese leaders also worry about separatist sentiments in the heavily Muslim regions of western China.
Spain, which has battled a violent Basque separatist movement for decades, was the biggest European Union nation to oppose Kosovo independence. Greece, Romania and Cyprus also are against Kosovo's new status.

In Bucharest, Romanian President Traian Basescu called Kosovo's declaration "an illegal act" — a position rooted in Romania's traditional close ties with Serbia.

British Foreign Secretary defended the move by Kosovo's Albanians, saying the EU was keen to close the book on "two decades of violence and conflict and strife" in the western Balkans.
"There is a very strong head of steam building among a wide range of (EU) countries that do see this as the piece of the Yugoslav jigsaw and don't see stability in the western Balkans being established without the aspirations of the Kosovar people being respected," he said.

Associated Press writer John Heilprin at the United Nations and Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia contributed to this report.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Why Lebanese should oppose Kosovo independence

The declaration of Kosovo signals the end to the complete breakdown of the former Yugoslavia (a former powerful European Soviet ally) into several mini-states awarded to every minority group that once inhabited the nation.

Such a move should not be celebrated by Lebanese around the world as a sign of freedom from an oppressor. We should not be deceived by the impressions the West have given in regards to this troubled region.

The Balkans and the Middle East (particularly the Levant) have mainly history to thank for our current conflicts. We share a lot in common. We are both the crossroads of Islam, Western and Eastern Christianity. We are each the former borders of the Orthodox Byzantine Empire, as well as the former borders of the Muslim Ottoman Empire.

We all know the stories. The region's inhabitants were converted from Paganism to Christianity, and from Christianity to Islam with the subsequent conquerers. But at the heart of all these labels that have been smacked upon us over the centuries lies the same soul, the same people, and the same family that has fallen to the "divide and conquer" tactic once too often.

The nation of the southern Slavs, for that is what Yugoslavia was, a nation of Slavs - Muslim and Christian. And yet today, and over the past two decades in the Balkans, we have heard of 'ethnic' conflict. But what is the ethnicity of this region? Are they not all predominantly Slavs? Do they not all share the same language with various dialects, much as we do in the Arab world?

What is it that separates Serb from Croat from Albanian? One is Orthodox, one is Catholic and the other Muslim. The same religious labels used to divide a nation and a family.

What constitutes a nation these days? History underpins a nation. Without history, there is no national identity. Britain created myths and legends in the middle ages, likewise the French and other major powers, to give credence to their national identities. Kosovo was Serbia's historical legend. Kosovo is to Serbia what King Arthur is to England. The stories of heroism, of defiance on this land is what gives the Serbs its raison d'etre.

Today, the world has stolen an integral part of one nation's identity, all in the name of religious differences.

Where does the buck stop? Are all minorities going to be given a state? The Aboriginals of Australia have much less in common with us European settlers than the Kosovars have with Serbia, should we not put in an application for an independent Aboriginal state?

The West serves its own interests, that's no secret. It is by all means understandable for nations and identities to be torn to pieces ... so long as they're not Western. The West needed to destroy Yugoslavia. Once upon a time, the southern Slavs commanded the largest army in Southern Europe. It was a power outside of the Soviet Union, within Europe, that posed a threat to Western interests. The collapse of the Soviet Union had to be accompanied by the collapse of an anti-Western, European power.

For purposes of geo-politics, that's fair logic. But Yugoslavia as a power was destroyed in the 1990s. Serbia of today poses no threat to Western interests. The support for Kosovo's independence is simply rubbing salt in the wound, kicking a man on his knees. In a century where Western power is predicted to be surpassed by other global powers, the EU and US should rethink its bullying tactics to former nemeses. Its arrogance won't be forgotten, not even in a 100 years. There may come a day when the US and the EU will be looking to Eastern Europe and Russia to serve as the crucial balance against the rising powers of Asia. They've been to Moscow for the same reasons before. Without Soviet help to counter Nazi Germany, the West would have never succeeded. Long-term strategic thinking seems to be lacking in Washington, but we concluded that in year 2000 when George W. Bush came to office.

The West created this world, it drew the borders last century. During the inception of the current world map, the West divided and conquered. It tore Lebanon and Jordan from Syria, it tore Kuwait from Iraq, it tore Pakistan from India, the list could go on. It appears to me that the world wasn't small enough. The West intend today to create mini-states out of the mini-states they created last century.

This is all the reason why we - as Lebanese and Middle Easterners - cannot endorse this move. If a nation cannot embrace the commonalities it shares - such as its ethnicity, socio-economic, cultural and linguistic ties - but instead divides itself on the basis of one's faith ... what hope do we have?

Will the day come when the size of Lebanon becomes an obstacle to the West? Shall they decide that each religious sect in Lebanon should have its own state?

Yugoslavia is our path if we choose not to change.

A nation of southern Slavs could not survive because they allowed their religious differences to outweigh their shared bonds. They competed within the one state, one community benefited over the either. The notion of sharing and building on what is common completely eluded the Yugoslav mindset. Indeed, Croats and Muslims suffered under Serbian insistence to rule the state.

It is the exact same story in Lebanon where sects are vying for the higher chair so that one community benefits over the other. The similarities shared between us are plentiful, yet we are blinded by a differing label that pits one sect against the other.

People have long wondered where Lebanon will end up. Kosovo is our destination if we continue on our path of selfishness and corruption. The former Yugoslavia is where we will end up. Kosovo's declaration of independence should signal a warning to all Lebanese. We must surpass our superficial differences and begin exploring what we have in common. We must learn how to share power and resources, and discover that we are truly one people.

Kosovo is a sign of failure. It signals that people of the same nation cannot share their differences in a harmonious manner. Let it not be our failure.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Secret Murdoch operatives lab in Israel

I subscribe to Crikey's free service in the hope tha one of the few free articles I receive each day might relay some of that juicy information this publication is renowned for. Occasionally, I do receive them, such as the one below.

It's pretty safe to state that Stephen Mayne, the founder of Crikey, is on a long crusade aimed at bringing down the man that is aiming to control how we think and what we hear, Rupert Murdoch. There have been a string of Mayne articles in Crikey (even before I did my little stint there) chronologically recording his battle with mighty Murdoch.

The entire media and political world is aware of the diabolic methods implemented by Murdoch to unscrupulously make his way to ultimate global hegemony, but very rarely do we get the specifics of his brutality. Below, Mayne discusses (in a brief article) secret operatives employed by Rupert in the 1990s that essentially conducted a computer-based war against News Corp's rivals.

What's more interesting - another addition to the Arab list of reasons to resent the Jewish state - is that the base of his operations was in Israel.

According to Arabs, both Murdoch and Israel are evil entities aimed at destroying everything that they are. Murdoch conducts a cultural war via the media, and Israel conducts the military war.

This important piece of information, courtesy of Stephen Mayne and Crikey, might be the little factual, Western reference required to pin the conspiracy theory that indeed Israel's powerful ruling hawks and Murdoch are but one and the same.

Enjoy the read.

How far would Rupert Murdoch go to hurt his rivals?

By Stephen Mayne
Published in Crikey, 15/02/08

Rupert Murdoch has a reputation for being incredibly brutal on his business opponents. Whether it be attempts to buy them, savage price wars or ferocious attacks in his media outlets, you don’t compete with the Sun King without being traumatised by the experience. The same goes for regulators and politicians who get in Rupert’s way.

But did the empire controlled by the world’s most powerful media mogul go too far in the global pay-TV wars of the 1990s?

Charlie Ergen’s EchoStar pay-TV company is suing News Corp subsidiary NDS in the US courts for $US1 billion, claiming that NDS had a hand in cracking and leaking its encryption codes for the smart cards that protect it from piracy.

The AFR’s Neil Chenoweth produced 5,317 words on this extraordinary saga yesterday and for a while there the paper took an enlightened approach by releasing this globally significant story on its website. Alas, it’s back behind the bone-headed subscription wall today.

The key court documents produced by EchoStar – including a startling affidavit from a now-dead Canadian hacker Reg Scullion – are available here.

Chenoweth’s piece is heavy with implication:

EchoStar and Nagrastar say their problems began in May 1997, when Rupert Murdoch walked away from an agreement with EchoStar founder Charlie Ergen to merge their US satellite interests.

The story talks about NDS operatives setting up a high-tech code cracking lab in Israel by mid-1997.

And these operatives that Rupert employed were something special. A former Scotland Yard commander called Ray Adams was the NDS security chief in the UK. The Guardian explained his colourful past in this story.

It was this story in The Guardian back in 2002 which caused the biggest impact because it directly linked Adams, and therefore the broader News Corp empire, to the piracy websites.

The French pay-TV company Canal Plus also sued NDS for $US1 billion but this was withdrawn when News Corp bought its business.

DirecTV, then controlled by General Motors, was also suing NDS for fraud when News Corp bought that business.

That left Charlie Ergen and EchoStar which is where Rupert’s problems might be just beginning.

Ergen is a tough poker-playing entrepreneur who is richer than the Sun King and won’t be selling out or settling any time soon. The case begins before a jury in the California District Court on April 8.

There are some pretty colourful affidavits by various hackers, but the NDS emails are the most interesting bit. NDS have put a court seal on anything to do with them, but there’s a lot of the detail in the copy of the complaint.

NDS has spent two and a half years trying to impose sanctions on EchoStar for allegedly stealing its documents. While the business implications are big, it is the reputational issues for News Corp that will really hurt because many of the revelation about its business practices seem quite extraordinary.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Australia reconciles, Lebanon divides

It's been a monumental week in Canberra and Beirut with both nations embarking on drastic steps that will have repercussions in the near future.

As Australia moved ever closer to reconciling with its dark history vis a vis its Aboriginal population, Lebanon edged ever further into the abyss.

Australia apologises

It takes immense courage for a nation to expose itself to en masse compensation claims as a result of altruistic measures. Very rarely in our current world where money spins the earth do we see virtuous leaders prepared to give up millions in claims payments to stand up for core human values. For that is what Australia's new, dovish Prime Minister Kevin Rudd did this week as he made action to his promise to apologise to the Aborigines for systematic ethnic cleansing in the better part of the 20th century by the means of the "Stolen Generation".

The nation erupted in joy at the commencement of a new chapter in white Australian and Aboriginal relations, as Rudd attempts to lead the country away from the mistakes of the past and into a united, prosperous future.

Threats abound in Lebanon

That same courage to reconcile with one's history appears to be severely lacking in my other country of the world, Lebanon. Instead of apologising for brutally massacring 200,000 Lebanese between 1975 - 1990, Lebanon's politicians were throwing threats of another war this week, starting off with Druze warlord Walid Jumblatt.

The PSP leader warned he is ready to fight Hizballah in a civil war, and a few hours after his threats, his mob launched an attack on an office of pro-Syrian Druze rivals.

The taunting of Jumblatt didn't faze Hizballah, highlighting the irrelevance of his threats. Despite his tough words, the PSP would not stand a chance against Hizballah in any civil war alone. It would require major external assistance to be able to confront the only Arab force to have humbled Israel. The Shi'ite party continues to refuse to be drawn into attempts by March 14 leaders to engage in internal strife, and Jumblatt's latest attempt has again fallen on deaf ears.

Assassination of Imad Mughniyeh

If there is anyone that can make Nasrallah's blood boil, it is his arch nemesis to his south. Israel successfully breached Syria's tight security network and assassinated Hizballah's number 2, Imad Mughniyeh.

Although the Israelis have brushed off Hizballah's accusations, the country did not offer a complete 100% denial of the incident. t obviously understands why it would be the number 1 suspect. If the Israelis did not assassinate Mughniyeh, it undoubtedly would have played a part in perhaps a cohesive effort by Western and Arab intelligence agencies to nab a crucial member of Hizballah. Some media outlets are touting that the skills, knowledge and contacts of Mughniyeh are irreplaceable, and the death is a serious blow to Hizballah.

Hizballah's next move

The Israelis singled out Mughniyeh as one of the few Hizballah leaders that played an instrumental part in orchestrating the Shia group's tactics in the 2006 war. His loss will come as a blow to Hizballah, and that was obvious in the ferocity of Nasrallah's return speech on Thursday. Declaring an open war with Israel, Nasrallah vowed he would strike back. The presence of the Iranian foreign minister at the rally highlights the importance of the loss of Mughniyeh, and the anger now festering in Tehran and Damascus. Syria, Iran and Hizballah are now working overtime to find a means, time and place to strike back.

Israel's decision to place its embassies around the world, and forces in the north on high alert is a reasonable response. It is aware that Hizballah's influence stretches beyond the southern regions in Lebanon, deep into the Palestinian territories, as well as the Arab Israeli community lying within the Jewish state's borders. Hizballah is capable of striking directly within Israel without claiming responsibility.

Nasrallah won't risk a launch of attacks on his southern border, Israel should be aware by now that it is not playing with fools. Israel has many enemies in the world, an attack on its targets outside or within its borders can easily be disguised as an Al-Qaida-inspired attack. Hizballah will most likely opt for this option.

On the domestic front, the resolve of the Shia party will only be strengthened. It is simple human nature, the more you are squeezed into a corner, the harder your response. If Israel, the West and the Sunni Arabs want to squeeze Hizballah, they must expect a harsh response. If a compromise was on the cards in Lebanon, it is pretty much off the table. Adding Jumblatt's antics on top of the Israeli assassination, Hizballah will be in no mood to co-operate, but instead, press ahead with its aims of claiming power in Lebanon and pushing out American/Saudi/French influence.

The Future Movement seemed to exert the same fear as Saad Hariri, Fouad Siniora and the Sunni clergy all rushed condolences to Hizballah after the assassination. Hizballah is no small couch potato, and any response from the Shia group will directly have an impact on March 14's struggle to hold onto power. March 14 sought a compromise with the 10+10+10, and the Opposition rejected the offer, underscoring its confidence in thinking it will eventually gain the reins of power. The Opposition is content to wait until the 2009 parliamentary elections, confident it will score a majority to kick out March 14. Hopes of reaching a formula before hand seem to have gone out of the window with the latest assassination.

Hizballah has demonstrated it will not deal with a partner it cannot trust. Mughniyeh's death will only strengthen the voices of the Hizballah hardliners that warn that no one from March 14, or Europe, or the United Nations can be trusted as an equal partner.

We cannot measure the success of this assassination until Hizballah responds. However, as Israel expects, the response won't be a pleasant one. The Iranian-backed movement will react violently in Israel, but more importantly, there will be major political ramifications for Lebanon. We can safely place our bets on more tension and less compromising in Lebanon.

Syria exposed

The assassination has hit a sensitive nerve in the city it took place, Damascus. Security was renowned to be one of the few successes championed by the Syrian state, but now that image is in disarray. Syria boasts its ability to host Israel's arch enemies, under the pretext that their safety is guaranteed in the impenetrable Damascene fortress. Khaled Meshaal, and other Palestinian leaders would not be feeling as secure in Damascus as they have been for decades. Syria's own Baath leaders would be feeling less secure.

How could Syria have been breached?

We can detect some clues from Israel's response. Tel Aviv swiftly denied it was directly responsible, but I would suspect that the Israelis had to have some involvement. It could have been a concerted effort by various agencies to breach an incredibly tight Syrian network and take out a major target in a single attempt. The Israelis even had less luck with Yasser Arafat in the Palestinian territories, how did they get it so perfectly well in Damascus? It leads to the possibility that indeed US, European and Arab secret services had co-operated extensively on this operation, with critical Mossad involvement.

But that still doesn't explain how the attackers were able to accurately track the steps of Mughniyeh, a man known to be incredibly elusive. It would have required deep contacts, a contact that would have been able not only to breach Syria's internal security barrier, but Hizballah's intelligence service (thought to be greater than Lebanon's secret service).

This is one major aspect that would be incredibly worrying to both Syria and Hizballah. Is there a double agent among their ranks?

The majority of the disenchanted

March 14 had been in major preparations to commemorate Rafik Hariri with a massive rally on Thursday.

The assassination of Mughniyeh brought out tens of thousands of Hizballah supporters on the same day. Fears of clashes were avoided, as Hizballah restricted its demonstrations to the south of Beirut.

The rallies did bring out the battle of numbers again, as each side tries to present itself as having the majority of Lebanon's 'hearts and minds'. Hizballah did only have a few days to organise its rally, as opposed to March 14's several months.

The pro-American faction claimed its rally drew over 1 million. Western media agencies, including the BBC, put it as low as a "few tens of thousands".

Final figures are irrelevant, because what we do know is that the numbers of March 14's rallies have been in decline since Hariri's assassination in 2005. Today, the stories of disenchantment are being echoed around the country. The Lebanese came out onto the street in 2005 because they wanted change. We were foolishly under the impression that all our problems were a result of Syria. How foolish indeed!

The reality of Lebanon that we - Lebanese - are now confronting, and now acknowledge, is that the real problems of our country are not a result of either Syria or Israel, but are a consequence of our inability to manage our own country.

The declining numbers in March 14's rallies does not mean the Opposition has scored a few more points. There is a new majority in Lebanon, the majority of the disenchanted. The politicians are fighting for a power that means nothing to the people, for they have become too accustomed to the empty rhetoric of their leaders. They promise the world, and deliver hell. The Lebanese are tuning out from politics. They poured their energy, they demonstrated, with different leaders, waving different colours, only to find out they were all empty promises.

The politicians have destroyed the spirit of the people. Never has it been so low since the civil war. Under Syrian occupation, there was always a feeling that one day it will improve. When the Syrians leave, we will be able to restart. We were sure we learnt our lessons from the civil war, the little baby Lebanon had grown up and was ready to take responsibility. How foolish we were.

I was saddened to see in Lebanon a throng of youth rushing for visas, rushing to get out. They didn't care if they went to Africa to work, they were just tired of having their lives manipulated by an oligarchy of selfish warlords and clan chieftains.

Shi'ite, Maronite, Sunni, Druze, Orthodox, Alawite ... they're all simply labels. At the end of the day, we all cop the same rubbish.