Live and Let Die: The West’s Perennial Error of Picking Sides

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited

Rather than letting rabid militant Islamists slaughter each other to oblivion, the West keeps choosing sides and getting itself entangled in the internecine quagmire that is the Middle East. A policy of “live and let die” which would allow for the mutually-assured decimation of the fractious factions of these nether-lands would have had numerous advantages:

  1. Weakened by the attritive infighting, whichever the winner is, it would be compelled to collaborate with the West in order to survive. There is no substitute to the depth, innovativeness, and stability of the West’s capital, its markets, and its technology;
  2. The West would have conserved its resources while its ostensible and professed adversaries bled themselves to literal death;
  3. The neutrality of the West would have preserved its powerful and lucrative position as an arbiter and mediator of last resort;
  4. The denizens of the West would be spared the onslaught of all-pervasive terrorism that they are now forced to endure.

Islamist murderous and obscurantist thugs are not the first to benefit from the West’s curious habit of siding with one deranged assassin against another. Consider Hitler, for example.

Hitler and Nazism are often portrayed as an apocalyptic and seismic break with European history. Yet the truth is that they were the culmination and reification of European (and American) history in the 19th century. Europe’s (and the United States’) annals of colonialism have prepared it for the range of phenomena associated with the Nazi regime: from industrial-scale murder to racial theories, from slave labour to the forcible annexation of territory.

Germany was a colonial power no different to murderous Belgium or Britain or the United States. What set it apart is that it directed its colonial attentions at the heartland of Europe – rather than at Africa or Asia or Latin and Central America. Both World Wars were colonial wars fought on European soil.

Moreover, Nazi Germany innovated by applying prevailing racial theories (usually reserved to non-whites) to the white race itself. It started with the Jews – a non-controversial proposition – but then expanded them to include “east European” whites, such as the Poles and the Russians.

Still, Hitler was right to have been shocked by the failure of his wager: that the British Empire will side with him against the equally murderous Bolshevik Stalin. Hitler and Stalin were two of a kind: mass murderers, bent on an expansionist-imperialist agenda, promoters of ideologies that placed the state way ahead of individual life and freedoms. It made eminent sense for the Western powers to leverage Germany to get rid of Communism and prevent the rise of a lamentable and vile Stalinist Empire at the very heart of Europe. The peoples of Central and Eastern Europe have paid with four lost decades for the West’s erroneous choice of Stalin over Hitler. In hindsight, allowing Hitler and Stalin to decimate each other would have been far preferable.

Even more so since Germany was not alone in its malignant nationalism. The far right in France was as pernicious. Nazism – and Fascism – were world ideologies, adopted enthusiastically in places as diverse as Iraq, Egypt, Norway, Latin America, and Britain. At the end of the 1930’s, liberal capitalism, communism, and fascism (and its mutations) were locked in mortal battle of ideologies. Hitler’s mistake was to delusionally believe in the affinity between capitalism and Nazism – an affinity enhanced, to his mind, by Germany’s corporatism and by the existence of a common enemy: global communism.

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Author Bio

Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.
He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.
Visit Sam’s Web site at http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com

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Israel in 2025

“On the one-year anniversary of the independence of the Palestinian State, the newest member of the United Nations, the tension with its next-door neighbor, the State of Israel, is still there.

Sam Vaknin, an Israeli analyst answers our questions:

  1. Now, that the 2-states solution has been finally accepted and implemented by both nations, why the renewed tension between them?
  2. In order to be able to sign the Hebron Framework Agreement in February last year (which transformed the Palestinian Authority into a state recognized by Israel), Prime Minister Netanyahu was forced to make concessions to the more extreme far right. The Constitution was changed to say that the State of Israel is the Jewish home of the Jewish people, excluding 1.5 million Arabs within its pre-1967 borders and fostering the current unrest and “resistance” among them. Additionally, Israel was effectively transformed into a theocracy with enhanced powers granted to the rabbinate and to other Jewish Orthodox structures in various fields of life, including the military, education, and housing construction. This alienated the secular majority of Israelis. Fractured and weakened, Israel is in no position to make further compromises.

Palestine is in no better shape: its economy is still heavily dependent on Israel: VAT returns, food supplies, electricity, water, the Internet, trade in goods and services – everything comes from or through Israel. More than half the Palestinian budget still relies on international and Israeli handouts.

Moreover, the 2 security corridors or cordons that Israel insisted on maintaining cut across Palestinian territory and effectively bisect the new country, rendering it mutilated and dysfunctional. Roads, neighborhoods, villages, and cities are rended in half; police forces cannot engage in hot pursuit of, for instance, Israeli settlers, who are involved in terrorist activities, protesting the Hebron Agreement; goods are stuck in the border crossings and left to rot. This cannot go on for long. The Hebron Agreement foresees the elimination of these 2 arteries in 20 years, but I think it should and will be sooner than that – or Israel will face a fourth Intifada.

  1. What happened to Hamas?
  2. Hamas was totally discredited, even in the Arab street, when its close ties to certain intelligence agencies – including and especially the Israeli Mossad and Shin-Bet – were revealed. Still, it maintains its network of charities, schools, hospitals, and kitchens for the indigent throughout the Gaza Strip. Palestine right now has a technical government which is preparing all the necessary legislation, institutions, and Constitution prior to the elections in March next year. Fatah will remain in the lead, but Hamas may surprise with a comeback. The new political movement, al-Nahda, modeled after the successful party in Tunisia, may emerge as the third potent force in the territory.
  3. Five years ago, Israel was at war with Syria …
  4. Syria under al-Nusra and the remnants of ISIL was just the front. Israel was actually at war with the backers of the new Islamist regime there: Turkey, Iraq, Iran. But, in hindsight, this war was a “good” thing: it brought all the moderates in the region to their senses and made the Hebron Framework Agreement possible. The region was on the verge of nuclear war. It was a Cuba crisis moment. No one wants to see it happening again.
  5. Finally, how do Israelis feel about the Palestinian State on their doorstep?
  6. they are skeptical. Israel and the Palestinians experimented with dozens of solutions over the decades. Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza 2005. It built a wall around the Palestinian territories in the West Bank to isolate itself. It agreed to a Palestinian autonomy and the establishment of a state-like Authority. In 2000, Israel offered to the Palestinians 95% of all their territories and half of Jerusalem. Arafat rejected the offer. An Israeli politician once said: “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. The Palestinian State may be no exception. It may end up embroiled in war from within (civil war, like in Lebanon 1975-1990) and without, with Israel and Egypt.

Israel, on the other hand, has never learned how to properly administer the territories it occupied. Its administration was illegal, mean-spirited, violent, harsh, and short-sighted. It has been paying the price ever since.

10 Predictions for the Coming Decade

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “
Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited

  1. Italy, the euro, and the US dollar

On November 24, 2010, I published (in Global Politician and elsewhere) an article titled “Italy will Kill the Euro”. Six months later, credit rating agencies have downgraded Italy’s outlook from “stable” to “negative”. Italy has never really recovered. It has endured another downgrade in December 2014. Like Greece, it is in worse shape than most members of the European Union (EU): at 3% of GDP, it has an ostensibly sustainable budget deficit, but its external debt (now close to 170% of GDP) is higher, in constant dollars, than that of the most egregious wastrels in the bloc, Greece and Ireland included. Italy’s banking sector is over-exposed to borrowers in Central and Eastern Europe, a region habitually pendulating between recovery and economic calamity. If Italy goes Greece’s and Ireland’s way, the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – already over-extended by serial bailouts and with Greece on the brink of a second crisis – will be unable to stem the red tide. Italy may actually effectively default and, in the process, ruin the euro and restore the US dollar to its erstwhile glory.

  1. Korean Unification

By late 2010, a succession war was simmering in North Korea. His panoply of suddenly-bestowed senior political and military posts notwithstanding, the generals and military establishment are less than happy and impressed with Kim Jong-un, the younger son of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il. Each side flexes muscles in an attempt to burnish their nationalist and martial credentials. The outcomes of this internecine conflict are ominous: a series of ever-escalating military skirmishes with South Korea and the ramping up of North Korea’s already burgeoning nuclear weapons and cyberwar programs (as Sony discovered to its cost.)

North Korea’s leaders are likely to try to reform their country’s economy and introduce capitalism, but this will fail. The regime in North Korea is all but dead on its feet. These are its last days. China is facing the terrifying spectacle of a crony failed state with tens of millions of starved and destitute potential refugees swarming across its porous and indefensible borders. China’s ascendance to superpowerdom and its respectability are threatened by this association with the last remaining pariah rogue state. There is only one solution to all the problems of the Korean Peninsula: unification. The parties came close to discussing it in secret talks in 2002 and then again in 2009.

  1. China’s Economy and the Second Great Depression

As I predicted in an article published on February 22, 2009 and titled “The Next 18 Months: Recession, False Recovery, Depression”, the years 2010-2011 saw a false recovery from the Great Recession of 2008-2009. Mounting sovereign debts crises in Europe and an anemic rebound in America’s economy were more than outweighed by the emergence of Asia as a global powerhouse. Yet, the warning signs were there: China’s economic “miracle” was based on unsustainable dollops of government largesse and monetary quantitative easing. This led to the formation of asset bubbles (mainly in real-estate) and to pernicious inflation. The Chinese authorities’ attempts to clamp down on rampant speculation and price gouging are too little, too late. The economy will slow down considerably and the Chinese house of cards will collapse ominously and swiftly. This will bring the entire global economic edifice into disarray with mounting imbalances and increased risk-aversion among investors. The second phase of the global crisis will resemble closely the Great Depression with massive write-offs in the values of equities and mounting, two-digit, unemployment rates everywhere.

  1. Israeli-Arab War

The Arab Spring of 2011 empowered Islamist and other anti-Israeli elements in Arab society. Israel and its allies, the reactionary Arab regimes, were long and justly perceived by the oppressed average Arab as outposts of American (and, previously, British) mercantilist neo-imperialism. The popular uprisings unseated these entrenched dictatorial elites and replaced them with military and Muslim ruling classes bent on restoring the anti-Israeli hostility and enmity that characterized the Middle-East before 1979. Phenomena like Sharia-toting ISIL have become the mainstream norm rather than the exception in large parts of Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and even India. In time, this – and heavy Iranian meddling – will lead to an all out war between Israel and its neighbours, the outcome of which cannot be predicted with any certainty.

  1. Russian Liberalism

On June 2, 2010, I published an article titled “Putin’s Last Days”. Putin is on his way out. The belligerent stance in Ukraine and the massive economic crisis that followed the West’s sanctions and the collapse in oil prices amount to Putin’s own personal Vietnam. With this clownish “strong man” gone, Russia is bound to become a far more liberal and democratic place. No matter who wins the next presidential elections or not, Russia’s oligarchs are a dying breed; the rule of law is asserting itself; property rights will be restored; a new cadre of politicians – young, educated, self-confident, and cosmopolitan (though not necessarily pro-Western) – will take Russia forward and free it from its pecuniary dependence on oil by diversifying its economy.

  1. First Cyberwar

In 2010, the Stuxnet worm delivered a paralyzing payload to Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, thus heralding the second salvo in a gathering storm of cyberwars (a Turkish pipeline was the first to have been attacked in 2008). Prior to Stuxnet, hacker networks – both government-mandated and self-assembling – attacked the Internet infrastructure of perceived enemies (the prime examples being Russian attacks on the Baltic States and on Georgia and Chinese attacks on dissidents’ accounts with Google). The resulting disruption was minimal and transient. Not so with Stuxnet which ruined the Iranian uranium enrichment infrastructure single-handedly and remotely and without a single casualty among the Israelis who launched it. Similar offensives will become common in the near future. State actors will also unleash guerrilla cyber skirmishes via hacker-teams and proxy computers (see North Korea’s humbling of Sony in December 2014).

  1. Change of Guard in International Institutions

The composition of and voting rights within the United Nations and its organs (including the World Bank) as well as other multilateral institutions (such as the IMF – International Monetary Fund) reflect the world as it was in 1946, after the Second World War. A lot has changed since then, most notably the emergence of Asia as the fastest-growing region, both economically and militarily and the relative decline of an insular Europe and depleted USA. Within the next few years, the upper echelons of the IMF and the UN will be revamped to reflect these gargantuan historic shifts: we will see Asians and Africans running the world.

  1. A Dictatorship in Turkey

Snubbed by the EU (European Union) and the USA alike, Turkey is re-orienting itself. Once again, it is playing the role of a regional potentate, with ties to regimes of all sorts: veteran and unsavoury; emerging and fundamentalist; terrorism-prone and peace-seeking. Turkey’s military and its secular political establishment have lost their decades-old grip on power. Moderate Islam, reified by Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan, is slowly being transformed into an authoritarian, fundamentalist, anti-Western pale imitation of Pakistan and Iran. Its erstwhile warm relationship with Israel is frayed. It surreptitiously supports terrorist organizations like ISIL against Syria’s Assad. Media freedoms and online access are curtailed and censored. Human rights are again breached and violated blatantly (especially where Kurds, intellectuals, and journalists are concerned). Turkey’s role in NATO, its special relationship with the USA, and its EU accession are all in doubt.

  1. War in Pakistan

The second war between the USA and China – directly and via proxies – will be fought on Pakistani, Indian, and Afghani soil. As an increasingly-Islamized Pakistan veers away from its frenemy, the United States, and towards its new-found ally, China, America’s vital interests in Afghanistan, India, Japan, and South Korea are at stake. Skirmishes will evolve into a full-fledged conflict, with a slate of nuclear powers as adversaries: Pakistan, India, China, Russia (who will back China), and the USA/NATO .

  1. Vatican in Conflict: An Assassinated Pope?

The job – and possibly life – of any Pope attempting to truly reform the Vatican is in jeopardy. The top echelons of the Catholic Church are in a deep crisis, faced with a reputation tattered by decades of unrelenting, egregious scandals, an ossified corporate culture, interpersonal relationships strained to the breaking point, and dwindling finances. The next few years will witness a titanic battle over the soul of this dysfunctional, secretive, and criminalized organization. A lot of money and power are at stake. People have been assassinated for less.

In general, the next decade will see a resurgence of political assassinations. Obama’s policies – lately on Cuba (remember Kennedy?) – put him at growing risk. ISIL may target one or more leaders of the European Union. An enraged and frustrated Palestinian may do away with an Israeli politician. The list of targets is long and growing by the day.

Can the Albanians in Macedonia be Bought off?

The once and future Prime Minister of Macedonia, Nikola Gruevski, has surrendered large swathes of his government to his Albanian coalition partners, DUI, the political incarnation of the rugged insurgents who roiled the country in an armed conflict in 2001. Even the sensitive Ministry of Defense is now in their hands. Moreover: Gruevski, the ostensible arch-nationalist gave way on a host of issues largely perceived by ethnic Macedonians of vital interest. Albanian will now be used as official second language everywhere, for instance and effective amnesty will be granted to Albanian terrorists who are alleged to have murdered and mutilated civilians. The measures are to be passed in the rubberstamp parliament in the form of fast track legislation. This unseemly alacrity is decried by both opposition and legal scholars as non-constitutional.
But will the Albanians be placated by these concessions? Can they be bought off? Is their long-term strategy of an incremental takeover of the state and its institutions paying off?
Western thinkers – even in the era of virulent nationalism – ignored Thucydides’ dictum (“People make war because of: honour, fear, and interest.”). They believed that throwing money at discontent – in the form of better and freer commerce – is the perfect and irretrievable antidote to war. They accentuated interest at the expense of fear and honour. The all-pervasiveness of this fallacy amounts to an almost reflexive defence mechanism of denial of the reality and inevitability of war and of its role as arbiter and pacifier.
In the Balkan, both the United States and the European Union continue this tradition. The association and stabilization agreements they often dangle and rarely sign, are sometimes followed by civil wars. The stability pact brought no stability. And the profusion of aid money and credits served only to augment flagrant corruption and arm the combatants.
The same tried and disproven methods are now applied by cynical and weary diplomats in Macedonia. Aid is withheld and promised as a bargaining chip. Elusive EU membership is supposed to concentrate the minds of the antagonists. But Macedonia’s problem is one of honour, and of fear, and only then – of self interest.
The Albanians in Macedonia are economically better off than their kith and kin anywhere else in the Balkan. This, they claim, is no thanks to the state. Official unemployment amongst the young is intolerably high. Access to secondary and higher education limited (especially since the use of the Albanian language in these institutions is restricted). They are under-represented in public administration. The physical infrastructure of their villages and cities is crumbling or altogether non-existent.
To this the Macedonians retort that Albanians make up a hefty chunk of the informal economy, thus distorting official unemployment figures. Albanians in western Macedonia largely do not pay taxes – an act of civil disobedience long preceding the current insurgency. Their admitted undr-representation in state administration is due to the lack of properly qualified and educated cadre. That they prevent their women from attending school does not help. And infrastructure all over the country is decrepit, Macedonia being the third poorest country in Europe.
What preceded what – discrimination poverty or the reverse – is immaterial except to traditional Balkan hair splitters. Economic problems should and can be solved by economic and regulatory means, goes the West. A tweaked constitution, the right laws passed, credits to small and medium enterprises and, presto, problem solved.
But the Macedonian problem – now in its second century – is a lot deeper than any Western pocket.
The Macedonians regards the current state of Macedonia as the final realization of a dream. It occupies less than a third of the historical territory known as Macedonia – but it is theirs, a sovereign state, where they are fully Macedonian in language and in custom. Macedonia to the Macedonians is, in other words, a fatherland, not merely a convenience. They cling to their tiny plot even more tenaciously in the face of Serb, Greek and Bulgarian disparagement. The Greek doubt the authenticity of the current inhabitants of Macedonia as do the Serbs (to whom Macedonia is “south Serbia”). The Bulgarians regard Macedonian as a villager’s dialect of Bulgarian. This inane opposition by their neighbours hardens Macedonian resolve to prevail and perpetuate both their national identity and their language. This is a throwback to the 19th century concept of nation-state – a space populated by a more or less homogeneous people with their own history, national myths, language, and political agenda.
Where the Macedonian’s attitude is historical – the Albanians’ is territorial (“Albania is where Albanians are”). To them Macedonia is a mere territory inhabited by two major nations (the Macedonians and the Albanians). It is a political and economic partnership. As such, it can theoretically be dismantled, or substantially altered at will. Since no single nation in such a citizen’s compact can have a privileged position – they each can veto each other’s decisions and vision.
This Albanian rendering of Macedonia is much closer to the American instrumental ethos of the state. To Americans, the USA, is the outcome of a social contract constantly re-negotiated and rephrased. It is founded upon piles of documents – the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. It is an abstract entity in flux, re-defined by its constituents and managed by semipternal arbitration.
The Albanian position is also close to the European Union’s new found totem of the “multi-cultural society”. States belong to their citizens, regardless of colour, race, or origin. Germany, the United Kingdom, and France are slowly being transformed into immigrant societies – dysfunctional melting pots of hitherto foreign cultures and societies. This tendency is further enhanced by the gradual emergence of the European supranational federation. Sovereignty is in the descendant – national cohabitation in the ascendant.
Here lies the danger to Macedonia’s future. Both the USA and the EU are likely to coerce Macedonia to adopt a contract-based, multi-cultural solution to the crisis. The Americans are likely to impose on it an American style constitution – and the European are likely to implement a bevy of “minority rights” measures. In a region still steeped in nationalistic lore and enthralled by the spectre of the nation-state, these would spell the end of Macedonia as a political entity. At the very least it would spell the end of Macedonia as the homeland of the Macedonians.

Atrocities are Good, Massacres are even Better!

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited” 

In 1979, during my first year of compulsory service in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), I was assigned to a unit of the much-dreaded “Golani” division. The unit’s remit encompassed a few villages in the West Bank. Jimmy Carter was visiting the region and we were tasked with suppressing any sign of overt dissent among the cowed populace. I was delighted to discover that a good friend of mine (we grew up together), SG, ended up in the same outfit. Otherwise, the company was comprised of social rejects, primary school dropouts, and worse.

The commanders of this tightly-knit camaraderie correctly interpreted their orders from highest up: they were to embark on a spree of torture and gruesome murder. One day, when they dispensed with an elderly villager by feeding him jam till his guts burst open, SG and I decided to maintain a coded diary of all events and to inform the military authorities of the unfolding atrocities.

Finally, at a serious risk to our lives, we both testified against the murderers and torturers in a closed session of a military court. The evidence was overwhelming, incontrovertible, and impeccable. Yet, the sentences were laughably lenient: the commander of the company, who murdered at least one Palestinian with his own hands, got six months in jail. Others were reprimanded.

As far as the military is concerned, atrocities and massacres have their good sides. Such misdeeds and abuse serve important strategic goals. They boost the morale of the troops and let them blow off steam; they deter would-be insurgents; they teach the Natives who is boss. The signal that such atrocities send is that the soldiery will stop at nothing and will observe no law when it is out to subdue a hostile population. This is why perpetrators of such deeds – if they belong to a victorious army – are never punished properly and proportionately.

A Kosovo Case Study

“You can’t blame the whole army. But why did they allow such a soldier to come here?”
“We believe he also has a mother an father and we cannot speak good or ill of him.”
Hamdi Shabiu, father of Merita, the sexually molested, forcibly sodomized and murdered child

“Sex offenders typically have a history, but if the guy was raised here, and went to school here, is there any evidence of it at all?”

“When soldiers are on a peacekeeping mission, it can be a very paranoid state. They’re not in attack mode, like they’re trained to be; they’re stuck in a neutral mode. (But…) the guy’s (Ronghi – SV) a staff sergeant. He’s been around, he’s not a rookie.”
Dr. Keith John Smedi, formerly a Mental Health Officer in the US Army

“We looked at KFOR as saviours, to save us from war and from violence… We want to see a picture of the man who did this to us.”
Remzje Shabiu, mother of Merita, the sexually molested, forcibly sodomized and murdered child

“We again trust the Americans.”
Hamdi Shabiu, father of Merita, the sexually molested, forcibly sodomized and murdered child

Staff Sergeant Frank J. Ronghi sexually molested, forcibly sodomized (“indecent acts with a child”) and then murdered an 11-years old girl in the basement of her drab building, when her father went to market to do some shopping. Then he spread flour from a UN aid package over the blood-stained floor. He wrapped the little, still warm body, in two sacks and dumped it under the staircase. He was sentenced to life in prison, without parole. It was a heinous crime which would have most certainly introduced him to the wrong end of a lethal injection in his homeland, the USA. But Staff Sergeant Ronghi was wise to have unleashed his depravity in Kosovo upon an Albanian girl. Ceteris paribus, it would seem that the going rate for dead Albanian girls is lower than for dead American ones.

There is nothing new in this supercilious attitude of the new masters of the universe. Fiercely independent, solipsistically provincial and fatuously ignorant – this nation of video clips and sound bites has imposed its narcissistic “culture” upon a world exhausted by wars hot and cold. Never averse to exploiting the global institutions to its ends – it often refrains from providing them with means. It still owes in excess of 160 million US dollars to the poorer nations of the world – its arrears to the UN peacekeeping operations. It refuses to subject itself to the judgements of the World Criminal Court, to the inspectors of the Chemical Weapons Convention, to the sanctions of the (anti) land mines treaty and to the provisions of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty. In short, it is a bully – making its own laws as it goes, twisting arms and breaking bones when faced with opposition and ignoring the very edicts it promulgated at its convenience. Its soldiers and peacekeepers, its bankers and businessmen, its traders and diplomats are its long arms, an embodiment of this potent mixture of superiority and contempt.

The case of the bestial murderer Ronghi is not an aberration. It happened before (in Japan in 1995, for instance). Nor is the double moral standard applied only by the USA. When a (most probably intoxicated) Norwegian soldier killed a Macedonian minister and his family in a car crash in August 1999 (having swerved into the wrong lane), he was rushed back to Norway to face an incredibly lenient sentence of two months in prison – unimaginable if the Minister were Norwegian and the venue Oslo. More than 60 criminal investigations against NATO soldiers by the Macedonian police (the tip of an iceberg, no doubt) ended this way. So did proceedings in more than 200 traffic accidents involving almost 20 fatalities. These are the remains of a colonial state of mind – natives come cheap, their lives dispensable, the white man’s burden must not be exacerbated by excess legalism. Western folks should stick together, you know and, above all, should never be exposed to the vagaries of primitive indigenous jurisprudence.

In the village of Vitina, in Kosovo, a wiry Hamdi Shabiu, in an upturned fur hat and evanescent nylon jacket, waves the photograph of the swollen face of his formerly beautiful daughter, Merita. Her battered body was discovered on Thursday, January 13, 2000 (no one seems to agree as to where). The 35 year old weapons squad leader from Fort Bragg, North Carolina (born in Niles, Ohio), was arrested 3 days later in a show of unprecedented investigative efficiency. He was transferred to a confinement facility (a military euphemism for prison) in Mannheim and from there to a prison in Wuerzburg, near Frankfurt, Germany.

It was the sad denouement of what started as a love affair. The American contingent of KFOR was welcomed by the Kosovars in scenes of jubilation not seen since the end of World War Two. But this exuberance was soon quelled by the liberties some soldiers took with the local girls (for instance, when “searching” their bodies for “weapons”). Complaints were lodged – and ignored (another pattern of behaviour – American soldiers are ex-territorial). Later, Americans were involved in violent and brutal clashes with local Albanians, including in Vitina. The atmosphere has soured.

The Kosovo the peacekeepers entered is a fantastic place, the outcome of a hundred years of solitude. It is teeming with disgruntled and covinous guerilla fighters, steely-eyed and ruthless mafiosi, contumacious small-time delinquents and noisome, unctuous pimps in chintzy cars. In this nebulochaotically permissive atmosphere of insidious disintegration and ludic, sinuous sex – soldiers became involved in all manner of invenial skulduggery, drug peddling and abuse, in weapons trading and white prostitution networks. Ask any Macedonian, Kosovar, Greek, Albanian, Serb, or Bulgarian and they will tell you how deep and institutionalized the involvement of KFOR soldiers is in the smuggling of cigarettes, alcohol, sugar, flour and consumer goods. The surrealistic morass that is the Balkan has digested them and enmeshed them in venality and crime. The lack of functioning law enforcement institutions and the gaping void that replaced civil society in Kosovo contributed to the general moral turpitude. The unbearable lightness of being has rendered all moral precepts remote and niggling. To these soldiers, Kosovo was an Elysium of sin, an apogee of lasciviousness and avarice, a profligate perdition.

Ronghi set impassively through the reading of his verdict on July 30th. He offered the grieving family a convoluted apology: “I don’t know what went wrong that day”. Pathological Narcissists are characterized by alloplastic defences. They blame the world, destiny, the Universe, fate, or other people for their behaviour and for its (usually deleterious) outcomes. Faulty maps were blamed on the demolition of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The unfortunate event of the downing of an Iranian airliner was attributed to “human error”. An American pilot violated his flight instructions, killing vacationers in Italy in the process – and was exculpated. Ronghi, described as a wholesome American phenomenon by friends, family and commanders, blamed the day: “I don’t know what went wrong that day”, he said. He might as well have been discussing a scorched omelette. Devoid of all emotion or compunction, he added stolidly, reading from a crumpled piece of paper his lines of what evidently was, to him, merely a bad script. “I apologize from the bottom of my heart to the family. I ask them for my forgiveness” [sic! How Freudian!]. He added: “I never did anything wrong before. I know what I did was very wrong. That’s why I pleaded guilty.” In other words: I am a good and upright man, who can tell right from wrong and who assumes responsibility for his wrongful acts. The brutal rape and thrashing to death of a pre-adolescent girl is the exception in an otherwise commendable life and virtuous conduct.

But Ronghi was unfazed by what he did. To bury Merita’s body, ensconced in two UN flour sacks, under the staircase in the basement, Ronghi took with him another soldier, a private, who finally turned him in. He told him: “(it was) easy to get away with something like this in a Third World country”. Sergeant Christopher Rice, who was on duty the night Ronghi murdered the child, added: “He knew because he’d done it before in the desert (in operation ‘Desert Storm’ in Iraq – SV).”

If Rice knew this about Ronghi – why didn’t he turn him in? If the Army knew this about Ronghi – why did they send him on a peacekeeping mission involving contact with civilian population? Is it true that peacekeeping operations are the dumping grounds of mercenaries and military misfits, drug addicts and the criminally-inclined? That the selection criteria and procedures are less than rigorous is an open secret. Peacekeepers are notoriously culturally insensitive, undressing publicly (in Kumanovo), getting embroiled in inebriated brawls (in restaurants and bars), raping and thieving, smuggling and trading, playing with pistols during the famous Struga poetry festival. This has come to be expected of them. But not murder and, perhaps, not the rape of a pre-pubescent girl.

So many under-estimated the pernicious effects of promiscuousness and disdain combined. Many more have turned a blind eye to the convergence of the armed presence of Albanian thugs of all political hues and their counterparts in KFOR. To many soldiers, the citizens of Kosovo, both Albanian and Serb, were but sub-humans – a view shared by the Albanian predators that confiscated their apartments and killed them by the hundreds. This confluence of jaded scorn, this somnolent sadism and condescending malfeasance, this propinquity of criminal and law – made Kosovo the Dantesque netherland it has become. It killed Merita. It had the face of Ronghi but the number of the beast.

Affiliation and Morality

The Anglo-Saxon members of the motley “Coalition of the Willing” were proud of their aircraft’s and missiles’ “surgical” precision. The legal (and moral) imperative to spare the lives of innocent civilians was well observed, they bragged. “Collateral damage” was minimized. They were lucky to have confronted a dilapidated enemy. Precision bombing is expensive, in terms of lives – of fighter pilots. Military planners are well aware that there is a hushed trade-off between civilian and combatant casualties.

This dilemma is both ethical and practical. It is often “resolved” by applying – explicitly or implicitly – the principle of “over-riding affiliation”. As usual, Judaism was there first, agonizing over similar moral conflicts. Two Jewish sayings amount to a reluctant admission of the relativity of moral calculus: “One is close to oneself” and “Your city’s poor denizens come first (with regards to charity)”.

This is also known as “moral hypocrisy”. The moral hypocrite feels self-righteous even when he engages in acts and behaves in ways that he roundly condemns in others. Two psychologists, Piercarlo Valdesolo and David DeSteno, have demonstrated that, in the words of DeSteno:

“Anyone who is on ‘our team’ is excused for moral transgressions. The importance of group cohesion, of any type, simply extends our moral radius for lenience. Basically, it’s a form of one person’s patriot is another’s terrorist … The question here is whether we’re designed at heart to be fair or selfish.” (New-York Times, July 6, 2008).

Dr. Valdesolo added:

“Hypocrisy is driven by mental processes over which we have volitional control.. Our gut seems to be equally sensitive to our own and others’ transgressions, suggesting that we just need to find ways to better translate our moral feelings into moral actions.”

One’s proper conduct, in other words, is decided by one’s self-interest and by one’s affiliations with the ingroups one belongs to. Affiliation (to a community, or a fraternity), in turn, is determined by one’s positions and, to some extent, by one’s oppositions to various outgroups.

What are these “positions” (ingroups) and “oppositions” (outgroups)?

The most fundamental position – from which all others are derived – is the positive statement “I am a human being”. Belonging to the human race is an immutable and inalienable position. Denying this leads to horrors such as the Holocaust. The Nazis did not regard as humans the Jews, the Slavs, homosexuals, and other minorities – so they sought to exterminate them.

All other, synthetic, positions are made of couples of positive and negative statements with the structure “I am and I am not”.

But there is an important asymmetry at the heart of this neat arrangement.

The negative statements in each couple are fully derived from – and thus are entirely dependent on and implied by – the positive statements. Not so the positive statements. They cannot be derived from, or be implied by, the negative one.

Lest we get distractingly abstract, let us consider an example.

Study the couple “I am an Israeli” and “I am not a Syrian”.

Assuming that there are 220 countries and territories, the positive statement “I am an Israeli” implies about 220 certain (true) negative statements. You can derive each and every one of these negative statements from the positive statement. You can thus create 220 perfectly valid couples.

“I am an Israeli …”

Therefore:

“I am not … (a citizen of country X, which is not Israel)”.

You can safely derive the true statement “I am not a Syrian” from the statement “I am an Israeli”.

Can I derive the statement “I am an Israeli” from the statement “I am not a Syrian”?

Not with any certainty.

The negative statement “I am not a Syrian” implies 220 possible positive statements of the type “I am … (a citizen of country X, which is not India)”, including the statement “I am an Israeli”. “I am not a Syrian and I am a citizen of … (220 possibilities)”

Negative statements can be derived with certainty from any positive statement.

Negative statements as well as positive statements cannot be derived with certainty from any negative statement.

This formal-logical trait reflects a deep psychological reality with unsettling consequences.

A positive statement about one’s affiliation (“I am an Israeli”) immediately generates 220 certain negative statements (such as “I am not a Syrian”).

One’s positive self-definition automatically excludes all others by assigning to them negative values. “I am” always goes with “I am not”.

The positive self-definitions of others, in turn, negate one’s self-definition.

Statements about one’s affiliation are inevitably exclusionary.

It is possible for many people to share the same positive self-definition. About 6 million people can truly say “I am an Israeli”.

Affiliation – to a community, fraternity, nation, state, religion, or team – is really a positive statement of self-definition (“I am an Israeli”, for instance) shared by all the affiliated members (the affiliates).

One’s moral obligations towards one’s affiliates override and supersede one’s moral obligations towards non-affiliated humans. Ingroup bias carries the weight of a moral principle.

Thus, an American’s moral obligation to safeguard the lives of American fighter pilots overrides and supersedes (subordinates) his moral obligation to save the lives of innocent civilians, however numerous, if they are not Americans.

The larger the number of positive self-definitions I share with someone (i.e., the more affiliations we have in common) , the larger and more overriding is my moral obligation to him or her.

Example:

I have moral obligations towards all other humans because I share with them my affiliation to the human species.

But my moral obligations towards my countrymen supersede these obligation. I share with my compatriots two affiliations rather than one. We are all members of the human race – but we are also citizens of the same state.

This patriotism, in turn, is superseded by my moral obligation towards the members of my family. With them I share a third affiliation – we are all members of the same clan.

I owe the utmost to myself. With myself I share all the aforementioned affiliations plus one: the affiliation to the one member club that is me.

But this scheme raises some difficulties.

We postulated that the strength of one’s moral obligations towards other people is determined by the number of positive self-definitions (“affiliations”) he shares with them.

Moral obligations are, therefore, contingent. They are, indeed, the outcomes of interactions with others – but not in the immediate sense, as the personalist philosopher Emmanuel Levinas suggested.

Rather, ethical principles, rights, and obligations are merely the solutions yielded by a moral calculus of shared affiliations. Think about them as matrices with specific moral values and obligations attached to the numerical strengths of one’s affiliations.

Some moral obligations are universal and are the outcomes of one’s organic position as a human being (the “basic affiliation”). These are the “transcendent moral values”.

Other moral values and obligations arise only as the number of shared affiliations increases. These are the “derivative moral values”.

Moreover, it would wrong to say that moral values and obligations “accumulate”, or that the more fundamental ones are the strongest.

On the very contrary. The universal ethical principles – the ones related to one’s position as a human being – are the weakest. They are subordinate to derivative moral values and obligations yielded by one’s affiliations.

The universal imperative “thou shall not kill (another human being)” is easily over-ruled by the moral obligation to kill for one’s country. The imperative “though shall not steal” is superseded by one’s moral obligation to spy for one’s nation. Treason is when we prefer universal ethical principles to derivatives ones, dictated by our affiliation (citizenship).

This leads to another startling conclusion:

There is no such thing as a self-consistent moral system. Moral values and obligations often contradict and conflict with each other.

In the examples above, killing (for one’s country) and stealing (for one’s nation) are moral obligations, the outcomes of the application of derivative moral values. Yet, they contradict the universal moral value of the sanctity of life and property and the universal moral obligation not to kill.

Hence, killing the non-affiliated (civilians of another country) to defend one’s own (fighter pilots) is morally justified. It violates some fundamental principles – but upholds higher moral obligations, to one’s kin and kith.

Note – The Exclusionary Conscience

The self-identity of most nation-states is exclusionary and oppositional: to generate solidarity, a sense of shared community, and consensus, an ill-defined “we” is unfavorably contrasted with a fuzzy “they”. While hate speech has been largely outlawed the world over, these often counterfactual dichotomies between “us” and “them” still reign supreme.

In extreme – though surprisingly frequent – cases, whole groups (typically minorities) are excluded from the nation’s moral universe and from the ambit of civil society. Thus, they are rendered “invisible”, “subhuman”, and unprotected by laws, institutions, and ethics. This process of distancing and dehumanization I call “exclusionary conscience”.

The most recent examples are the massacre of the Tutsis in Rwanda, the Holocaust of the Jews in Nazi Germany’s Third Reich, and the Armenian Genocide in Turkey. Radical Islamists are now advocating the mass slaughter of Westerners, particularly of Americans and Israelis, regardless of age, gender, and alleged culpability. But the phenomenon of exclusionary conscience far predates these horrendous events. In the Bible, the ancient Hebrews are instructed to exterminate all Amalekites, men, women, and children.

In her book, “The Nazi Conscience”, Claudia Koontz quotes from Freud’s “Civilization and its Discontents”:

“If (the Golden Rule of morality) commanded ‘Love thy neighbor as thy neighbor loves thee’, I should not take exception to it. If he is a stranger to me … it will be hard for me to love him.” (p. 5)

Note – The Rule of Law, Discrimination, and Morality

In an article titled “Places Far Away, Places Very near – Mauthausen, the Camps of the Shoah, and the Bystanders” (published in Michael Berenbaum and Abraham J. Peck (eds.) – The Holocaust and History: The Known, the Unknown, the Disputed, and the Reexamined – Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1998), the author, Gordon J. Horwitz, describes how the denizens of the picturesque towns surrounding the infaous death camp were drawn into its economic and immoral ambit.

Why did these law-abiding citizens turn a blind eye towards the murder and mayhem that they had witnessed daily in the enclosure literally on their doorstep? Because morality is a transaction. As Rabbi Hillel, the Talmudic Jewish sage, and Jesus of Nazareth put it: do not do unto others that which you don’t want them to do to you (to apply a utilitarian slant to their words).

When people believe and are assured by the authorities that an immoral law or practice will never apply to them, they don’t mind its application to others. Immoral acts inevitably devolve from guaranteed impunity. The Rule of Law does not preclude exclusionary or discriminatory or even evil praxis.

The only way to make sure that agents behave ethically is by providing equal treatment to all subjects, regardless of race, sex, religious beliefs, sexual preferences, or age. “Don’t do unto others what you fear might be done to you” is a potent deterrent but it has a corollary: “Feel free to do unto them what, in all probability, will never be done to you.”

Nazi atrocities throughout conquered Europe were not a-historical eruptions. They took place within the framework of a morally corrupt, permissive and promiscuous environment. Events such as Dir Yassin, My Lai, and Rwanda prove that genocide can and will be repeated everywhere and at all times given the right circumstances.

The State of Israel (Dir Yassin) and the United States (My Lai) strictly prohibit crimes against humanity and explicitly protect civilians during military operations. Hence the rarity of genocidal actions by their armed forces. Rwanda and Nazi Germany openly condoned, encouraged, abetted, and logistically supported genocide.

Had the roles been reversed, would Israelis and Americans have committed genocide? Undoubtedly, they would have. Had the USA and Israel promulgated genocidal policies, their policemen, secret agents, and soldiers would have mercilessly massacred men, women, and children by the millions. It is human nature. What prevents genocide from becoming a daily occurrence is the fact that the vast majority of nations subscribe to what Adolf Hitler derisively termed “Judeo-Christian morality.”

Putin’s Last Days?

I. Putin’s Twilight
Putin is losing his grip on power. His allies – not least former KGB and current FSB operatives – are deserting him in droves, put off by his recent economic failures as much as by his clownish and narcissistic public conduct. Erstwhile faithful oligarchs are now hedging their bets, putting feelers to the West and even colluding with the banished Khodorkovsky and Berezovsky.
In June 2010, Mikhail Kasyanov, A former Russian prime minister, offered a spirited defense of incarcerated tycoon and Putin nemesis Mikhail Khodorkovsky. In a packed court in Moscow he labelled new charges against the disgraced oligarch “absurd”.

The week before, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev criticized Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s government for suppressing information or ignoring environmental problems. He threatened to get the presidency involved, encroaching on Putin’s turf, hitherto strictly off-limits.

Yury Shevchuk, a Russian musician and Kremlin critic of renown challenged Putin for his brutal mistreatment of peaceful protesters. With elections looming, Putin was forced to dissimulate: “protests don’t hinder but, on the contrary, help” the government. “If I see that people are pointing to crucial issues that the authorities should pay attention to, what can be wrong with that?” he exclaimed, unconvincingly. “One should say, ‘thank you.'” Following this tacit admission of defeat, Russian opposition activists rallied in Moscow on May 1, shouting slogans comparing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. The authorities licenced the demonstration.

German Gref,  general manager of Russia’s banking behemoth, state-controlled Sberbank and the architect of Putin’s economic policies while he was President of Russia, said that “the first stage of economic reform, which had required a tightly held political system to push through change, was nearing an end. Russia must carry out sweeping political reforms to safeguard future economic growth” (Reuters).

As dictators the world over have learned to their detriment, a totalitarian regime is an all-or-nothing proposition. Cracks in the monolithically repressive state tend to grow into fissures and lead to a loss of power. The surest way to regime change is via political reform. Soft concessions yield harsh consequences and the overthrow of potentates and their cronies. Putin is repeating the mistake that the Shah and Gorbachev and a myriad other tyrants have committed: they hung themselves by giving the people a little rope. Putin’s days are numbered. His successor – not necessarily Medvedev – is sharpening the knife. This time, the transition may not be pretty.
II. Putin’s Background

Being a KGB officer was always a lucrative and liberating proposition. Access to Western goods, travel to exotic destinations, making new (and influential) friends, mastering foreign languages, and doing some business on the side (often with one’s official “enemies” and unsupervised slush funds) – were all standard perks even in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Thus, when communism was replaced by criminal anarchy, KGB personnel (as well as mobsters) were the best suited to act as entrepreneurs in the new environment. They were well traveled, well connected, well capitalized, polyglot, possessed of management skills, disciplined, armed to the teeth, and ruthless. Far from being sidetracked, the security services rode the gravy train. But never more so than now.
January 2002. Putin’s dour gaze pierces from every wall in every office. His obese ministers often discover a sudden sycophantic propensity for skiing (a favorite pastime of the athletic President). The praise heaped on him by the servile media (Putin made sure that no other kind of media survives) comes uncomfortably close to a Central Asian personality cult. Yet, Putin is not in control of the machinery that brought him to the pinnacle of power, under-qualified as he was. This penumbral apparatus revolves around two pivots: the increasingly fractured and warlord controlled military and, ever more importantly, the KGB’s successors, mainly the FSB.
A. The Military
In 2001, Russia announced yet another plan to reform its bloated, inefficient, impoverished, demoralized and corrupt military. Close to 200,000 troops are to go immediately and the same number in the next 3 years. The draft is to be abolished and the army professionalized. At its current size (officially, 1.2 million servicemen), the armed forces are severely under-funded. Cases of hunger are not uncommon. Ill (and late) paid soldiers sometimes beg for cigarettes, or food.
Conscripts, in what resembles slave labour, are “rented out” by their commanders to economic enterprises (especially in the provinces). A host of such “trading” companies owned by bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defense was shut down last June by the incoming Minister of Defense (Sergei Ivanov), a close pal of Putin. But if restructuring is to proceed apace, the successful absorption of former soldiers in the economy (requiring pensions, housing, start up capital, employment) – if necessary with the help of foreign capital – is bound to become a priority sooner or later.
But this may be too late and too little – the much truncated and disorientated armed forces have been “privatized” and commandeered for personal gain by regional bosses in cahoots with the command structure and with organized crime. Ex-soldiers feature prominently in extortion, protection, and other anti-private sector rackets.
The war in Chechnya is another long standing pecuniary bonanza – and a vested interest of many generals. Senior Russian Interior Ministry field commanders trade (often in partnership with Chechen “rebels”) in stolen petroleum products, food, and munitions.
Putin is trying to reverse these pernicious trends by enlisting the (rank and file) army (one of his natural constituencies) in his battles against secessionist Chechens, influential oligarchs, venal governors, and bureaucrats beyond redemption.
As well as the army, the defense industry – with its 2 million employees – is also being brutally disabused of its centralist-nationalistic ideals.
Orders placed with Russia’s defense manufacturers by the destitute Russian armed forces are down to a trickle. Though the procurement budget was increased by 50% last year, to c. $2.2 billion (or 4% of the USA’s) and further increased this year to 79 billion rubles ($2.7 billion) –  whatever money is available goes towards R&D, arms modernization, and maintaining the inflated nuclear arsenal and the personal gear of front line soldiers in the interminable Chechen war. The Russian daily “Kommersant” quotes Former Armed Forces weapons chief, General Anatoly Sitnov, as claiming that  $16 billion should be allocated for arms purchases if all the existing needs are to be satisfied.
Having lost their major domestic client (defense constituted 75% of Russian industrial production at one time) – exports of Russian arms have soared to more than $4.4 billion annually (not including “sensitive” materiel). Old markets in the likes of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Algeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, China, India, and Libya have revived. Decision makers in Latin America and East Asia (including Malaysia and Vietnam) are being avidly courted. Bribes change hands, off-shore accounts are open and shut, export proceeds mysteriously evaporate. Many a Russian are wealthier due to this export cornucopia.
The reputation of Russia’s weapons manufacturers is dismal (no spare parts, after sales service, maintenance, or quality control).  But Russian weapons (often Cold War surplus) come cheap and the list of Russian firms and institutions blacklisted by the USA for selling weapons (from handguns to missile equipped destroyers) to “rogue states” grows by the day. Less than one quarter of 2500 defense-related firms are subject to (the amorphous and inapt) Russian Federal supervision. Gradually, Russia’s most advanced weaponry is being made available through these outfits.
Close to 4000 R&D programs and defense conversion projects (many financed by the West) have failed abysmally to transform Russia’s “military-industrial complex”. Following a much derided “privatization” (in which the state lost control over hundreds of defense firms to assorted autochthonous tycoons and foreign manufacturers) – the enterprises are still being abused and looted by politicians on all levels, including the regional and provincial ones. The Russian Federation, for instance, has controlling stakes in only 7 of c. 250 privatized air defense contractors. Manufacturing and R&D co-operation with Ukraine and other former Soviet republics is on the ascendant, often flying in the face of official policies and national security.
Despite the surge in exports, overproduction of unwanted goods leads to persistent accumulation of inventory. Even so, capacity utilization is said to be 25% in many factories. Lack of maintenance renders many plant facilities obsolete and non-competitive. The Russian government’s new emphasis on R&D is wise – Russia must replenish its catalog with hi-tech gadgets if it wishes to continue to export to prime clients. Still, the Russian Duma’s prescription of a return to state ownership, central planning, and subsidies, if implemented, is likely to prove to be the coup de grace rather than a graceful coup.
B. The FSB (the main successor to the KGB)
NOTE:
The KGB was succeeded by a host of agencies. The FSB inherited its internal security directorates. The SVR inherited the KGB’s foreign intelligence directorates.
With the ascendance of the Vladimir Putin and his coterie (all former KGB or FSB officers), the security services revealed their hand – they are in control of Russia and always have been. They number now twice as many as the KGB at its apex. Only a few days ago, the FSB had indirectly made known its enduring objections to a long mooted (and government approved) railway reform (a purely economic matter). President Putin made December 20 (the day the murderous Checka, the KGB’s ancestor, was established in 1917) a national holiday.
But the most significant tectonic shift has been the implosion of the unholy alliance between Russian organized crime and its security forces. The Russian mob served as the KGB’s long arm until 1998. The KGB often recruited and trained criminals (a task it took over from the Interior Ministry, the MVD). “Former” (reserve) and active agents joined international or domestic racketeering gangs, sometimes as their leaders.
After 1986 (and more so after 1991), many KGB members were moved from its bloated First (SVR) and Third Directorates to its Economic Department. They were instructed to dabble in business and banking (sometimes in joint ventures with foreigners). Inevitably, they crossed paths – and then collaborated – with the Russian mafia which, like the FSB, owns shares in privatized firms, residential property, banks, and money laundering facilities.
The co-operation with crime lords against corrupt (read: unco-operative) bureaucrats became institutional and all-pervasive under Yeltsin. The KGB is alleged to have spun off a series of “ghost” departments to deal with global drug dealing, weapons smuggling and sales, white slavery, money counterfeiting, and nuclear material.
In a desperate effort at self-preservation, other KGB departments are said to have conducted the illicit sales of raw materials (including tons of precious metals) for hard currency, and the laundering of the proceeds through financial institutions in the West (in Cyprus, Israel, Greece, the USA, Switzerland, and Austria). Specially established corporate shells and “banks” were used to launder money, mainly on behalf of the party nomenklatura. All said, the emerging KGB-crime cartel has been estimated to own or control c. 40% of Russian GDP as early as 1994, having absconded with c. $100 billion of state assets.
Under the dual pretexts of “crime busting” and “fighting terrorism”, the Interior Ministry and FSB used this period to construct massive, parallel, armies – better equipped and better trained than the official one.
Many genuinely retired KGB personnel found work as programmers, entrepreneurs, and computer engineers in the Russian private sector (and, later, in the West) – often financed by the KGB itself. The KGB thus came to spawn and dominate the nascent Information Technology and telecommunications industries in Russia. Add to this former (but on reserve duty) KGB personnel in banks, hi-tech corporations, security firms, consultancies, and media in the West as well as in joint ventures with foreign firms in Russia – and the security services’ latter day role (and next big fount of revenue) becomes clear: industrial and economic espionage. Russian scholars are already ordered (as of last May) to submit written reports about all their encounters with foreign colleagues.
This is where the FSB began to part ways with crime, albeit hitherto only haltingly.
The FSB has established itself both within Russian power structures and in business. What it needs now more than money and clout – are respectability and the access it brings to Western capital markets, intellectual property (proprietary technology), and management. Having co-opted criminal organizations for its own purposes (and having acted criminally themselves) – the alphabet soup of security agencies now wish to consolidate their gains and transform themselves into legitimate, globe-spanning, business concerns. The robbers’ most fervent wish is to become barons. Their erstwhile, less exalted, criminal friends are on the way. Expect a bloodbath, a genuine mafia gangland war over territory and spoils. The result is by no means guaranteed.
III. Putin: Historical Precedent
France’s Empire is very reminiscent of Vladimir Putin’s reign in post-Yeltsin Russia.
Karl Marx regarded Louis-Napoleon’s Second Empire as the first modern dictatorship – supported by the middle and upper classes but independent of their patronage and, thus, self-perpetuating. Others went as far as calling it proto-fascistic.
Yet, the Second Empire was insufficiently authoritarian or revolutionary to warrant this title. It did foster and encourage a personality cult, akin to the “Fuhrerprinzip” -but it derived its legitimacy, conservatively, from the Church and from the electorate. It was an odd mixture of Bonapartism, militarism, clericalism, conservatism and liberalism.
In a way, the Second Republic did amount to a secular religion, replete with martyrs and apostles. It made use of the nascent mass media to manipulate public opinion. It pursued industrialization and administrative modernization. But these features characterized all the political movements of the late 19th century, including socialism, and other empires, such as the Habsburg Austro-Hungary.
The Second Empire was, above all, inertial. It sought to preserve the bureaucratic, regulatory, and economic frameworks of the First Empire. It was a rationalist, positivist, and materialist movement – despite the deliberate irrationalism of the young Louis-Napoleon. It was not affiliated to a revolutionary party, nor to popular militias.  It was not collectivist. And its demise was the outcome of military defeat.
Like the French Second Empire, it follows a period of revolutions and counter-revolutions. It is not identified with any one class but does rely on the support of the middle class, the intelligentsia, the managers and industrialists, the security services, and the military.
Putin is authoritarian, but not revolutionary. His regime derives its legitimacy from parliamentary and presidential elections based on a neo-liberal model of government. It is socially conservative but seeks to modernize Russia’s administration and economy. Yet, it manipulates the mass media and encourages a personality cult.
Like Napoleon III, Putin started off as president (he was shortly as prime minister under Yeltsin). Like him, he may be undone by a military defeat, probably in the Caucasus or Central Asia.
The formative years of Putin and Louis-Napoleon have little in common, though.
The former was a cosseted member of the establishment and witnessed, first hand, the disintegration of his country. Putin was a KGB apparatchik. The KGB may have inspired, conspired in, or even instigated the transformation in Russian domestic affairs since the early 1980’s – but to call it “revolutionary” would be to stretch the term.
Louis-Napoleon, on the other hand, was a true revolutionary. He narrowly escaped death at the hands of Austrian troops in a rebellion in Italy in 1831. His brother was not as lucky. Louis-Napoleon’s claim to the throne of France (1832) was based on a half-baked ideology of imperial glory, concocted, disseminated and promoted by him. In 1836 and 1840 he even initiated  (failed) coups d’etat. He was expelled even from neutral Switzerland and exiled to the USA. He spent six years in prison.
Still, like Putin, Napoleon III was elected president. Like him, he was regarded by his political sponsors as merely a useful and disposable instrument. Like Putin, he had no parliamentary or political experience. Both of them won elections by promising “order” and “prosperity” coupled with “social compassion”. And, like Putin, Louis-Napoleon, to the great chagrin of his backers, proved to be his own man – independent-minded, determined, and tough.
Putin, like Louis-Napoleon before him, proceeded to expand his powers and installed loyalists in every corner of the administration and the army. Like Louis-Napoleon, Putin is a populist, travelling throughout the country, posing for photo opportunities, responding to citizens’ queries in Q-and-A radio shows, siding with the “average bloke” on every occasion, taking advantage of Russia’s previous economic and social disintegration to project an image of a “strong man”.
Putin is as little dependent on the Duma as Napoleon III was on his parliament. But Putin reaped what Boris Yeltsin, his predecessor, has sown when he established an imperial presidency after what amounted to a coup d’etat in 1993 (the bombing of the Duma). Napoleon had to organize his own coup d’etat all by himself in 1852.
Napoleon III – as does Putin now – faced a delicate balancing act between the legitimacy conferred by parliamentary liberalism and the need to maintain a police state. When he sought to strengthen the enfeebled legislature he reaped only growing opposition within it to his domestic and foreign policies alike.
He liberalized the media and enshrined in France’s legal code various civil freedoms. But he also set in motion and sanctioned a penumbral, all-pervasive and clandestine security apparatus which regularly gathered information on millions of Frenchmen and foreigners.
Putin is considerably less of an economic modernizer than was Napoleon III. Putin also seems to be less interested in the social implications of his policies, in poverty alleviation and in growing economic inequalities and social tensions. Napoleon III was a man for all seasons – a buffer against socialism as well as a utopian social and administrative reformer.
Business flourished under Napoleon III – as it does under Putin. The 1850’s witnessed rapid technological change – even more rapid than today’s. France became a popular destination for foreign investors. Napoleon III was the natural ally of domestic businessmen until he embarked on an unprecedented trade liberalization campaign in 1860. Similarly, Putin is nudging Russia towards WTO membership and enhanced foreign competition – alienating in the process the tycoon-oligarchs, the industrial complex, and the energy behemoths.
Napoleon III was a free trader – as is Putin. He believed in the beneficial economic effects of free markets and in the free exchange of goods, capital, and labour. So does Putin. But economic liberalism does not always translate to a pacific foreign policy.
Napoleon III sought to annul the decisions of the Congress of Vienna (1815) and reverse the trend of post-Napoleonic French humiliation. He wanted to resurrect “Great France” pretty much as Putin wants to restore Russia to its “rightful” place as a superpower.
But both pragmatic leaders realized that this rehabilitation cannot be achieved by force of arms and with a dilapidated economy. Napoleon III tried to co-opt the tidal wave of modern, revolutionary, nationalism to achieve the revitalization of France and the concomitant restoration of its glory. Putin strives to exploit the West’s aversion to conflict and addiction to wealth. Napoleon III struggled to establish a new, inclusive European order – as does Putin with NATO and, to a lesser degree, with the European Union today.
Putin artfully manipulated Europe in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the USA, his new found ally. He may yet find himself in the enviable position of Europe’s arbitrator, NATO’s most weighty member, a bridge between Central Asia, the Caucasus, North Korea and China – and the USA.  The longer his tenure, the more likely he is to become Europe’s elder statesman. This is a maneuver reminiscent of Louis-Napoleon’s following the Crimean War, when he teamed up with Great Britain against Russia.
Like Putin, Napoleon III modernized and professionalized his army. But, unlike Putin hitherto, he actually went to war (against Austria), moved by his (oft-thwarted) colonial and mercantilist aspirations. Putin is likely to follow the same path (probably in Central Asia, but, possibly, in the Baltic and east Europe as well). Reinvigorated armies (and industrialists) often force expansionary wars upon their reluctant ostensible political masters.
Should Putin fail in his military adventures as Napoleon III did in his and be deposed as he was – these eerie similarities will have come to their natural conclusion.

Israel and Turkey: The Impossible Alliance

In June 2010, Turkey voted against the UN Security Council resolution that imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Iran for its enrichment of uranium. Earlier in 2010, Turkey and Brazil have struck a deal with Iran to have two thirds of its nuclear fuel shipped outside its territory to be treated. Iran’s outspoken President Ahmadinejad and a bevy of lesser officials have visited Turkey multiply, cementing the NATO member’s tilt towards the West’s traditional enemies as well as its renewed focus on the Turkic peoples of Central Asia.

Earlier in the same month, various Turkish officials, from the Prime Minister down, have lashed at Israel’s “murderous piracy” when the latter’s special forces have raided a flotilla of ships intended to break through to the blockaded Gaza Strip. This followed bitter recriminations on previous occasions: upon Israel’s re-invasion of the Gaza Strip and an apparent disrespect shown to the Turkish Ambassador by high-level Israeli civil servants.

Prior to 2008, it has been a common – and misleading – truism that relations between Turkey and Israel have never been better. The former is ruled by yet another Islamic government, though somewhat constrained by secular-minded generals. The latter is increasingly nationalistic-Messianic and theocratic, though it is ruled by former army generals who cobble together largely secular coalition governments.

Throughout the last 10 years, behind the scenes, Israel’s only steadfast allies in Turkey were the military and extreme secularists, both on the receiving end of the judicial and economic wrath of an increasingly-Islamized government, a faithful mirror of a Muslim-fundamentalist populace.

Geopolitical ranting for internal and external consumption aside, economic relations are still healthy.

Each year, more than 300,000 Israelis spend their vacation – and more than a quarter of a billion dollars – in scenic and affordable Turkish resorts. A drought-stricken Israel revived a decade-old plan to buy from Turkey up to 400 million cubic meters a year, instead of expensively desalinating sea water.

Israeli land use, hydrological and agricultural experts roam the Texas-sized country. The parties – with a combined gross domestic product of $300 billion – have inked close to thirty agreements and protocols since 1991. Everything, from double taxation to joint development and manufacturing of missiles, has been covered.

Buoyed by a free trade agreement in force since 1997, bilateral trade exceeded $1.5 billion at its peak (2002), excluding clandestine sales of arms and weapons technologies. According to the Turkish Ambassador to the United States, “Turkish exports to Israel consist mainly of manufactured goods, foodstuffs and grain, while Israel’s main export items to Turkey are chemical products, plastics, computers and irrigation and telecommunications systems technologies.”

A sizable portion of Turkey’s $3-5 billion in annual spending on the modernization of its armed forces is rumored to end in Israeli pockets. This is part of a 25-year plan launched in 1997 and estimated to be worth a total of $150 billion. Israeli contractors are refurbishing ageing Turkish fighter planes and other weapons systems at a total cost exceeding $2 billion hitherto.

In May 2002, the Israeli Military Industries and Elbit secured a $688 million contract to upgrade 170 M-60A1 tanks. There are at least another 800 pieces in the pipeline. Small arms, unmanned aerial vehicles and rockets originating in Israel make only part of a long shopping list. Israeli pilots regularly train in Turkey. Joint military exercises and intelligence sharing are frequent. The Israeli backdoor allows friendly American administrations to circumvent a rarely Turkophile Congress.

The American-Israel Public Action Committee (AIPAC), the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and, more generally, the almighty Jewish lobby in Washington, often support Turkish causes on the Hill. In 2000, for example, Jews helped quash a resolution commemorating the Armenian genocide perpetrated by Turkish forces during the First World War. There was no repeat performance in 2010, though: Israel felt piqued by Turkey’s constant hectoring on human rights violations perpetrated by the Jewish state.

This exercise in hypocrisy did not endear the Jewish community or Israel to either Armenians or to European Union cardholding Greeks who have long permitted Palestinian terrorists to operate from the Greek part of Cyprus with impunity. The friend of my enemy is my enemy and Israel is clearly Turkey’s Jewish friend.

But Israeli hopes that Turkey will reciprocate by serving as a conduit to Arab regimes in the Middle East proved to be ill-founded. Only one tenth of Turkish trade is with its neighbors near and far. Turkey’s leverage is further limited by its chronic economic distress and its offensive designs to monopolize waterways shared by adjacent countries.

Though Muslim, like the Iranians, Turkey is not an Arab nation. It counts Syria, Iraq and Iran as potential enemies and competitors for scarce water resources as does Israel. The rebuff by its parliament of America’s request to station troops on Turkish soil prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 notwithstanding, the country is defiantly pro-American against a backdrop of anti-Western virulence.

Turkey aspires to join the European Union because it regards itself as an island of civilization in an ocean of backwardness and destitution. This counter-regional orientation is another thing it has in common with the Jewish state. In an effort to differentiate themselves, both polities were early adopters of economic trends such as deregulation, equities, venture capital, entrepreneurship, privatization and hi-tech.

Turkey was the first Moslem state to recognize an ominously isolated Israel in 1949. Both Israel and Turkey are democracies though they are implicated in systemic human rights violations on a massive scale. The political class of both is incestuously enmeshed with the military even to this very day.

The two countries face terrorism on a daily basis and feel threatened by the rise of militant Islam, by the spread of weapons of mass destruction – though Israel is hitherto the only regional nuclear power – and by global networks like al-Qaida.

In his travelogue, “Eastward to Tartary”, published in 2001, Robert Kaplan notes:

“Turkey’s more friendly position toward Israel was the result of several factors. (Turkey) became tired of diplomatic initiatives that failed to induce the Arabs to end their support of the Kurdish Workers’ party, which was responsible for the insurgency in southeastern Turkey. The Turks felt, too, that the Jews could help them with their Greek problem (via the Jewish lobby) … (The Turks realized) they might never gain full admittance to the European Union. Thus, they required another alliance.”

This confluence of interests and predicaments does not render Israel the darling of the Turkish street, though. Turks, addicted to conspiracy theories, fully believe that the second Iraq war has been instigated by the Israelis (or, at the very least, the Jews). They also decry the way Israel manhandles the Palestinian uprising. Flag-burning demonstrations are common occurrences in Ankara and Istanbul. Suleyman Demirel, Turkey’s former president, nearly paid with his life for the entente cordiale when a deranged pharmacist tried to assassinate him in 1996.

Turkey’s erstwhile power behind the throne and current and future prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called Israel’s Ariel Sharon a terrorist. The previous prime minister called Israel’s behavior in the occupied territories “genocide”, hastening to reverse himself when faced with the possible consequences of his Freudian slip.

Indeed, the conflict in Iraq has proven to be the watershed of the Turkish-Israeli love fest. Turkey is growing increasingly religious and more pro-Arab by the year. The further the United States – Israel’s sponsor and unwavering ally – pushes into the region, the less aligned are its interests with Turkey’s.

Consider the Kurdish question. Turkey is committed to preventing, if need be by force of arms, the emergence of independent Kurdish polity in Iraq. It would also wish to secure oil-rich northern Iraq as a Turkish protectorate. But the Kurds – America’s long-standing and long-suffering collaborators – are the United States’ “Northern Alliance” in Iraq. It cannot abandon them for both military and moral considerations.

But even in the absence of such blatant conflicts of interests, Turkey’s shift is inevitable, a matter of geography as destiny.

Turkey continues to ignore the Arab world at its peril. Regional conflicts fail to respect international borders as the country is discovering, faced with the damaging Iraqi spillover. Until 1998, Syria, another restive neighbor, actively aided and abetted the rebellious Kurds. It may yet resume its meddling if Israel, its bitter enemy, is neutered through a peace accord. The dispute over precious water sources is embedded in Turkish-Syrian topography and is, therefore, permanent.

It may have been in recognition of these facts that Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s previous prime minister, embarked on a tour of Arab capitals in January 2003. Simultaneously, then Turkish Trade Minister, Korsad Touzman, led a delegation of 150 businessmen in a two day visit to Baghdad to discuss trade issues. Turkey claims to have sustained damages in excess of $30 billion in the 1991 Gulf War – a measure of its regional integration.

Turkey has also recently begun considering the sale of water in the framework of the “Manavgat Project for Peace” to Egypt, Jordan and even Libya. Turkey’s then foreign minister, Bashar Yakis, is a Turkish diplomat who knows Arabic and had served in Damascus, Riyadh and Cairo.

Turkey’s Occidental orientation has proven to be counterproductive. As the European Union grows more fractured and indecisive and the United States more overweening and unilaterally belligerent, Turkey will have to give up its fantasies – bred by the country’s post-Ottoman founding father, Kemal Ataturk – of becoming an inalienable part of Western civilization.

Both Turkey and Israel will, in due time, be forced to accept – however reluctantly – that they are barely mid-sized, mostly Asiatic, regional powers and that their future – geopolitical and military, if not economic – lies in the Middle East, not in the Midwest. Turkey could then serve as a goodwill mediator between erstwhile enemies and Israel as a regional engine of growth.

Until they do, both countries are major founts of regional instability, often deliberately and gleefully so.

Israeli engineering firms, for instance, are heavily involved in the design and implementation of the regionally controversial Southeast Anatolian Project (GAP), intended to block Turkish water from reaching Syria and Iraq. Additionally, protestations to the contrary aside, the thrust of Israel’s burgeoning military cooperation with Turkey is, plausibly, anti-Arab.

Turkish security officials confirmed to the English-language daily, Turkish Daily News, in March 2002, that Turkey worked with Israel to counter the Hezbollah in Lebanon. As early as 1998, Turkey threatened war with Syria – and mobilized troops to back up its warnings – explicitly relying on the always-present Israeli “second front”. The Egyptian government’s mouthpiece, the daily al-Ahram, called this emerging de-facto alliance “the true axis of evil”.

Israel’s massive army, its nuclear weapons, its policies in the West Bank and Gaza, and its influence on right-wing American decision-makers and legislators provoke the very same threats they are intended to forestall, including terrorism, the coalescence of hostile axes and alliances and the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction by regional thugs.

Turkey’s disdain for everything Arab, its diversion of the Tigris, Asi and Euphrates rivers, its arms race, its suppression of the Kurds and its military-tainted democracy have led it, more than once, to the verge of open warfare. Such a conflict may not be containable. In 1995, Syria granted Greece the right to use its air bases and air space, thus explicitly dragging NATO and the European Union into the fray.

It is, therefore, the interest of the West to disabuse Turkey of its grandiosity and to convince Israel to choose peace. As September 11 and its aftermath have painfully demonstrated, no conflict in the Middle East is merely regional.


Also Read:

The Emerging Water Wars

Iran between Reform and Mayhem

Turkey’s Troubled Water

Israel’s Hi, Tech – Bye, Tech

Syria’s Sunshine Policy

Israel’s Economic Intifada

Saddam’s Thousand Nights

The Iraqi and the Madman

God’s Diplomacy and Human Conflicts

The Economies of the Middle East