28 May 2010

Treason by Incomprehensible Stupidity

There is a debate in the United States about what is to be done with the people captured over the world in the course of the so called "War on Terror". Particularly those picked up in Afghanistan in 2001 and since imprisoned without charges in the Guantanamo bay camp. A part of this debate is a question of whether the persons locked up there should be given a civilian, criminal trial or a military trial under the Bush era "Military Commissions Act".

The bizarre thing about this debate is that it is the hard-liners, the hawks, the anti-Islamofascists who are speaking up against the criminal trials and for the military trials and vehemently so. It is another example of their stupidity being so enormous it could well be called treason.

According to the norms of today's world some non-defensive, non-retaliatory violence can be permissible. For example certain actions of the state, like waging war in many instance. Also according to many, such violence is permissible when carried out by an organisation, which albeit not a state is like the state, pursuing political goals and is combating a state. This naturally almost always hinges on whether the person agrees with the goals of such a rebel organisation. And of course all of this is contrary to libertarian theory as well as to the most rudimentary common sense ethics. However it is our reality. While non-defensive, non-retaliatory violence which is non-political is always, without exception seen as unjustified. Same such violence when in the function of bringing about a certain political goal, will unfortunately be seen by many as justifiable.

So in a situation when you have a state and a non-state locked in a struggle in which they both engage in the sort of violence which would be deemed criminal if carried out for private aims what they both strive to do is present their violence as justifiable violence in service of a political aim, and the violence of the other side as indefensible banditry, thuggery and bestiality. As that violence which all people agree falls into the category of unjustifiable, impermissible violence or crime.

23 May 2010

George N. Crocker's Road to Conjecture

Roosevelt's Road to Russia
is a revisionist work of history first published in 1959 by a lawyer and military officer George N Crocker which, I suppose by the way of Old Right, is still read and appreciated by a fair number of libertarians. In it Crocker makes the claims that at every turn Roosevelt's diplomacy and conduct of the war favoured Stalin and the Soviet Union.

The work has its share of peculiarities that reveal Crocker was very much marked by certain biases of his time and place. As in the title so throughout the book the Soviet Union is referred to instead as "Russia" which is then called a "semi-Asiatic" or a "semi-Oriental dictatorship". In this the anti-Communist Crocker is in perfect sync with Marx and with Stalin who had written about Russia as "semi-Asiatic" before him. Stalin is mostly referred to as "the Russian dictator", sometimes as simply "the Russian". He finds time to tells the reader about something called vynoslivost or "lasting a thing out" which he informs us is said to be "congenial" with "Tartar-Slavs".

To Crocker Indochina is a place where "American planes and guns were eventually needed to hold at bay an enemy far more sinister than the Japanese". In his view Bolshevization of Western Europe had only been thwarted by the retention of American troops and airfields in Europe, the pouring in each year of billions of dollars in aid and "the feverish preparation for a war of survival".

He inaccurately reports the 1930 Yen Bai mutiny in French Indochina had been Communist inspired. In reality it was led by the Vietnamese version of the KMT. We are told that during the war the Chinese Communists "were taking their orders from Moscow". In reality the Chinese Communists disregarded instructions of Moscow to join forces with the Nationalists.

Now for the books's main point about Roosevelt:
"By intention and deed he not only built up the power of the Soviet Union and made it a high-priority project but also fanatically devoted himself to bringing about a state of affairs in Europe and Asia in which there would be no neighbouring powers capable of offering any check to Soviet ambitions. His "unconditional surrender" ultimatum and his insistence upon keeping American and British troops out of the Balkans and eastern German areas were but parts of this general design; and he overrode with inflexible stubbornness the efforts of Winston Churchill to look to the future and guard against the threat of a colossal Communistic hegemony casting its dark shadow over all of Europe and Asia."
In Crocker's mind aside from the German war and the Japanese war the Second World War also consisted of a Russian war, in which the Communist Soviet Union was the aggressor "on the march", bent on world domination. He claims that on every step in this war of theirs they were consciously and intentionally aided by Roosevelt for just this purpose. Roosevelt, his mind "possessed" of "Russophilism", aided the Soviet Union not only to defeat Nazi Germany but went far beyond that to greatly enhance its post war status and power. He helped make it the dominating power in Europe and handed over Manchuria to it which later led to the Soviet Empire expanding to include all of China.

18 May 2010

De-Imperialising German History

Today's LRC offers a reprint of historian Ralp Raico's talk Nazifying the Germans. I have no bones to pick with the piece regarding its main point. I do not know nor much care for what purpose American left-wingers, Zionists or internationalists invoke the Nazi period and whether it constitutes an obsession of sorts. But I will concern myself with aspects of Raico's response. He states:
"The German role over centuries in transmitting advanced culture to the peoples to the east and south was critical at certain stages of their development. The Hungarian liberal, Gaspar M. Tamas, speaking for his own people, the Czechs, and others, wrote of the Germans who had lived among them and were driven out in 1945, that their 'ancestors built our cathedrals, monasteries, universities, and railway stations.'”
It is difficult to see how Mr. Tamas, as a Hungarian could speak for people other than his own. Particularly seeing the history of Hungarian-German interactions is much different than the history of German-Polish, German-Czech, German-Slovene interactions and so on.
Another German role over centuries critical for the shape of development of the peoples to the east and south of the Germans was the aggressiveness and expansionism of German-speaking political entities towards them. It is arguable if the German push eastwards had the effect of spreading culture or arresting it. 

Most likely the effect of German settlers moving east was a very positive one, but the havoc wrought in the attempts of German realms to extend their political borders eastward was not and the retardation of local, Slavonic cultures followed where these attempts succeeded.

14 May 2010

Enduring Callousness

It has been reported that the honchos running the occupation of Afghanistan are discussing introducing a medal for "courageous restraint". It would be handed to soldiers who do not take action that they are permitted under the (notoriously unrestrictive) "rules of engagement" in case that doing so could endanger civilians. For example, not opening fire on cars that approach a checkpoint or a military convoy with a speed greater than that which they deem acceptable. This in a nutshell is all one needs to see that imperial propaganda about Afghanistan is a farce. It reveals in of itself the imperials are the farthest thing from liberators there.

If the war was taking place in the US would the American troops need to be seduced into not "lighting up" civilians on checkpoints in Kansas or Idaho with medals? Of course not, among their people courageous restraint would be the default. Not to kill the people you are tasked to defend would not be seen as being meritorious, it would be the norm. If someone were to panic and shoot up an American civilian it would be understood he deserves a court-martial for cowardice and the harm inflicted, not just loose out on a bogus medal.

It shows the hypocrisy of the people running the occupation. On one hand they hand down instructions to their triggermen that allow them free reign and on the other they plan to entice them to refrain from shooting at everything that could conceivably be a threat with pieces of tin. The truth is that the occupation is not actually highly motivated to cut down on such incidents. If if were it would hand down new instructions to its rank and file, ordering them to refrain from opening fire in the circumstances when doing so could result in them harming the very civilians on whose behalf they claim to be in the country for.

This however, would require a systemic change. Currently the US military trains its troops to be as aggressive as possible, to shoot rather than be in doubt, to never hesitate and to feel no remorse. It is a culture the American military in particular works hard and very successfully to engrain in its troops in what it imagines is a way of increasing their efficiency and shortening casualty lists. But once this has been accomplished its troops expect to work in such an institutional environment where they are given a wide amount of leevay and are not "second guessed" when they go about their soldiering the way they have been trained, that is as aggressive and callous killers. As a consequence to demand of the soldiers that they show a great amount of restraint in a war zone would create a great amount of discontention among them.

It is true that in the long term the occupational troops with their indifference for the lives of occupied civilians work to make their own existence there more perilous as they turn the population against themselves. But this is only true in the long term. Because in a war such as this it is not always possible to right away know who is a threat and who is not, the guarantee that they will not be prosecuted or have their actions re-examined in the short term, however, grants them an added sense of security. A sense of security that they need in order to go along with the wars of the empire. A soldier is unlikely to concern himself with the outcome of an enterprise such as an occupation. For the most part he is merely looking to finish his "tour" in one piece. His outlook is extremely short term. Even if he is aware that his actions today may lead to increased anger of the populace and more attacks on the troops these are just as likely to fall on neighbouring units or those that will follow after his own.

The enlistees let themselves be shipped around the world, put in dangerous situations, on bizarre rationales and in return they receive considerable pay and a carte blanche to do whatever they think is necessary to protect themselves should they feel they are in danger regardless of whether the danger was actually present. Deprive them of their carte blanche and instead demand they put the lives of the local civilians before their own and they would be far less willing let themselves be shipped around, enforcing occupations. And how then would the empire prolong itself?

The likes of checkpoint slayings hurt the occupation, but this type of grumbling disaffection and the subsequent decrease of the lure of soldiering profession would hurt it more. In a trap of the military's own making any attempt to now expect that the rank and file demonstrate a certain amount of restraint and show some regard for life of the locals even at their own expense would be seen by them as the brass taking away their means of protection. For this reason we will never see the only thing that could truly improve the welfare of the affected civilians – the rules of engagement that are not already criminal in themselves and a change in culture to accompany them. But it makes one wonder. When the Taleban set up a checkpoint of their own, do their rank and file, so as not to callously kill their own civilians, also need to be enticed with medals?

01 May 2010

It Takes Two For a Great Game

The most notable thing about the overthrow of the government in Kirgizia last month - at least from the point of view of non-Kirgizians - has to be the contrast between the speedy and clear reaction of Moscow and the sluggish and vague initial reaction of Washington. Whereas Kremlin quickly got behind the new government the White House fell back onto meaningless government filler talk for such occasions, about the need to show respect for the law, about its "deep concern" and standard calls for dialogue, restoration of order and an end to violence. It was clear that unlike Russia, the US had been caught unaware by the development in Kirgizia and that consequently it was unsure how to react.

This echoes its behaviour during the 2005 unrest in Uzbekistan. Following the still murky events in which government forces by its own count gunned down 187 protestors and Uzbek government for a time appeared to be standing on shaky ground, the US - after initial silence and refusal to do anything that might alienate official Tashkent - later on came out with a response that was neither here nor there. It explicitly backed neither the Karimov government nor the protestors, while calling for restraint on the part of both parties and offering a subdued criticism of the government. The press release did not win it any moral capital, since it was far too timid in its condemnation of the actions of the Karimov government and since it had come only after days of hesitation. Jet it unexpectedly lost her a willing (if disagreeable) partner that is commandeering the most populous country in Central Asia. Karimov, appalled by the actions of a power which had been vying for his loyalties reacted by promptly evicting Americans from their Uzbekistan base and restoring Uzbekistan's alignment with Moscow, which unlike the US, had unambiguously come out on his side during the crisis.

Another 2005 event, Kirgizia's "Tulip Revolution" could be contrasted with the previous mentioned episodes as an example where, on the contrary, the US was not indecisive or passive but instead cleverly and boldly pulled strings to advance its agenda. However the Tulip Revolution was quite different from the other colour revolutions. Rather than firmly placing media attention on the coming election and building up interest beforehand like it was the case in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, in Kirgizia it was only after the fact that we were told that the violent change of regime had been a western inspired, democratic colour revolution. This retroactive branding casts heavy doubt on it ever being significantly the result of western money and training.

However it made sense for both of the parties, Washington and the new powers in Bishkek to claim otherwise, that it had been inspired by and belongs into the same category as the then lauded colour government overthrows. This way the revolutionaries were much more likely to be the beneficiaries of US largess, would be given more favourable media coverage in the West and perhaps add to their legitimacy. Washington on the other hand could add to its propaganda narrative about inspiring a spread of pro-western democracies and help justify their involvement from Belgrade to Baghdad to Tbilisi. Contrary to the instances of actual colour revolution the relations with the government consequently established did not come at the expense of and did not threaten relations with Russia. Kirgizia continued its membership in CSTO and SCO, continued to host a Russian military base, and in 2009 came close to evicting Americans from theirs. Bakiyevs profited nicely from working with the Americans, but the deposed Kirgiz government was never in the Western pocket in the style of other colour regimes - it did not have to be, it did not owe their rise to power to them.

Taking all of this into consideration a pattern emerges that establishes the US at a loss to understand the region. For all the talk of the New Great Game the US has in a decade failed to produce a particularly excellent move on the Central Asian chessboard. Russia on the other hand succeeded in luring Karimov - and with him Uzbekistan - into its sphere of influence with a mere well timed and clearly phrased press release. Then felt confident enough about its ability to predict the final outcome of the mess in Kirgizia this month so as to recognise the new government in Bishkek virtually before the bodies of the dead had been cleared from the streets.

Its speedy response has led to questions being raised of its involvement in the overthrow, but there is no real evidence of this. Much more likely the overthrow has solely to do with another round of fighting between political clans patronage networks in Kirgizia - and naturally with the very real wrath of the people over corrupt governance. The difference here is that Russia actually has some capacity to understand internal dynamics of Kirgizia and the ability to predict who will come out on top - and to therefore win their favour by coming out on their side, early and unambiguously. And to recognise which of the options coming out on top is more advantageous for it. Where Central Asia is an alien, exotic region for America it is far less so for Russia. The number of Kirgizians working in Russia is put at 800,000. Of Kirgizia's populace of 5.5 million nearly 500 thousand are Russians. A great deal of public life takes place in the Russian language which has an official status alongside Kirgiz. Russian language newspapers actually outnumber and have a higher circulation than those in the Kirgiz language. This goes to demonstrate that there are exist certain ties that enable Russians to follow events in this part of the globe with relative ease.

Besides this ability to understand the region, there is also the question of pull. The US is interested in the region's oil and natural gas resources, but other than cooperation in this one field it has nothing else to offer. While Russia is the first or the second most important trade partner for every one of these countries, the trade between Central Asian countries and the United States is all but non-existing. The populace of these countries understand this perfectly. Polls reveal that barely anyone in the region thinks sacrificing relations with Russia for relations with the United States would be wise.

All this means that in the end the New Great Game is a very uneven contest. The US simply does not have the cards to play. As is only natural. The United States may be a global power, but its global power is based on its control of the oceans. Central Asia however is a land-locked region, thousands of miles away from the nearest sea, and one that borders Russia and China at that. Any attempt of Washington to establish its dominance even here has as much chance of succeeding as a power other than the United States establishing itself in Central America. In reality Russian influence in the region is probably slowly receding, but it is not ceding ground to US influence, but to the pull of rising economic strength of China.