Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Iraqi Kurdish Independence Referendum

Kurdish warlords plot independence course to fill the ISIS vacuum, The Economist/The Australian, 25/9/17:

"As the jihadists of the so-called Islamic State retreat, the Arab and Kurdish forces allied against it in Iraq are turning their arms towards each other.

"Rather than celebrate victory, Masoud Barzani, the President of Iraqi Kurdistan, called a referendum on independence for today, not just in his constitutionally recognised autonomous zone but in the vast tracts that his forces seized from Islamic State. Protesting against this threat to Iraq's integrity, Iraq's Prime Minster Haider al-Abadi gathered his commanders at Makhmour, opposite the Kurdish front lines. If the referendum went ahead, Kurdistan 'might disappear', he warned. Hoping to prevent to prevent their allies from sparring, Western mediators have stepped in. But yesterday Barzani remained committed to his referendum.

"Kurdistan is far from ready for statehood. The government is steeped in debt; its coffers are empty. The Peshmerga, its vaunted fighting force, is split among family-led factions.

"Barzani, for his part, has made a mockery of the political system. In 2015 he shut parliament after it tried to limit his powers and questioned how he spends oil revenues. Instead of dealing with the region's ills ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections planned for November, he has used the referendum to distract the public and rouse nationalist fervour. Rallies across Kurdistan feature fireworks and fiery rhetoric. 'Whatever it takes (to gain independence),' says a normally cool-headed official at a rally. A toll of half a million dead, he suggests, could be acceptable.

"Neighbours around the enclave are uniting against the Kurds. Iraqi politicians speak of closing its airspace. Fearing that the referendum will stir separatists sentiments among their own Kurds, Turkey and Iran have mulled closing their borders with Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey is conducting military exercises on the frontier. It could turn off the tap of the territory's only pipeline, blocking its oil exports. Western powers are also threatening to withhold aid to Kurdistan if Barzani rejects their proposals.They are offering Barzani and Abadi a room in the US embassy to negotiate a deal under their auspices. Abadi might endorse a process that buys him time. Barzani is still hoping for a path to independence.

"Many Kurds, for now at least, would prefer their leaders focus on improving Kurdistan rather than seceding. Even in the Kurdish capital, Irbil, the referendum has left many nonplussed. As the threat of a siege mounts - Kurdistan imports almost everything - people are stockpiling basics. Flights out of Irbil are packed. But many are feeling squeezed financially. The referendum is 'a luxury only the rich like Barzani can afford,' complains a teacher, who moonlights as a taxi driver because of cuts to salaries. Beyond Barzani's strongholds the campaign for independence has begun belatedly, if at all. In a straw poll in the main market of Sulaymaniyah, in the east, your correspondent could not find one Kurd who said he would vote.

"In the Nineveh Plains, where an earthen wall splits the Arab- and Kurdish-ruled areas, other minorities view the referendum as an impossible loyalty test. 'Each side is forcing us to choose when we should just abstain,' says a priest at St Joseph's, a towering Chaldean church that serves displaced Christians in Irbil. Abadi is planning a conference for Christians to air their grievances at the end of the month. Barzani is urging priests not to go.

"The tensions are also affecting Kurds beyond Kurdistan. Under Saddam Hussein, Baghdad was Iraq's largest Kurdish city. Many Kurds have since drifted north, but hundreds still hold positions in the government and the army. Their loyalty has been questioned and jobs put at risk.

"If violence flares, Kirkuk may be where it starts. The fighting could spread quickly along the region's ethnic faultlines into Syria, where Arab and Kurdish forces are also competing to take land from Islamic State.

"Even if the referendum passes, Barzani is not obliged to declare independence. A deal might better serve his interests. Right now, he risks ignominy if the exuberance of statehood that he has stoked should dissipate, and his people flee a failed and besieged state. With an accord, he could boast of at least bringing evasive Iraqi officials to the table. He might yet win their agreement to restore the old subsidy for the Kurds that was cut when they began selling Kirkuk's plentiful oil independently. And he might add the Peshmerga to the Iraqi government's payroll, as was done for the Shia militias. He would thus alleviate Kurdish fears of being marginalised, having served their purpose in fighting Islamic State.

"Come the election in November, Western powers are likely to turn a blind eye if the ballot is again postponed. If so, Barzani could thus secure his position as Kurdistan's preeminent warlord, and prolong his one-man rule."

Monday, September 25, 2017

That Was Then. This Is Now

Compare and contrast:

"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people... it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine... " Balfour Declaration, November 2, 1917

"Over 50 Christian and Muslim sites have been vandalized in Israel and the West Bank since 2009, but only 9 indictments have been filed and only 7 convictions handed down, according to Public Security Ministry data. Moreover, only 8 of the 53 cases are still under investigation, with the other 45 all closed." (53 mosques & churches vandalized in Israel since 2009, Yotan Berger & Nir Hasson, Haaretz, 24/9/17)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Joy of British Imperialism

What a damning indictment of little britain this finding is:

"The British public are generally proud of their country's role in colonialism and the British Empire, according to a new poll. At its height in 1922 the British Empire governed a fifth of the world's population and a quarter of the world's total land area... YouGov found 44% were proud of Britain's history of colonialism while only 21% regretted that it happened. 23% held neither view... The British Empire is not widely taught in detail in British schools, with history lessons tending to focus on other areas." (British people are generally proud of their country's role in colonialism and the British Empire, poll finds, Jon Stone, independent.co.uk, 19/1/16)

Trawling through the 320 comments which follow the report, it is safe to assume that the vast majority of little brits wouldn't even know the Balfour Declaration if it hit them in the face. Staggeringly, only one mentioned Palestine, Britain's worst ever colonial crime, and even then referred to it as 'Israel'.

Some examples of the abysmal ignorance of little brits on the subject of British colonialism in general, and the Middle East in particular, are as follows. The first borders on Trumpian parody:

"British Empire. Fantastic. Winners. Changed the world for the better. And made a fortune while doing it. No sitting idle on benefits for them. Technology, the law, exploration - the Brits were at the forefront. But nice to see so many comments from the heirs of so many losers. Obviously not exterminated. Clearly no genocide. To cap it all, the British were thoroughly nice too, freely handing back countries when the natives had gained some modicum of civility. Best Empire ever." (ScottishDanno)

As for the Middle East:

"The Middle East, to it's (sic) benefit would be seeing the rule of secular law right now rather than the vicious rule of religion." (PGwood)

Simple-minded PGwood is obviously blissfully unaware that his country was single-handedly responsible for transforming unsuspecting multi-sectarian Ottoman Palestine into the viciously mono-sectarian Jewish state of Israel.

The only response to PGwood, from NK, missed the opportunity to point this out, asking merely "Why would you want Britain to meddle in how people run their own countries? If reform is to take place there then let it happen from within. Look at the mess in Iraq and Syria right now because of British and US meddling."

PGwood, clearly oblivious to the fact that the Middle East isn't 'next door' to Britain, replied, apropos of nothing: "If your neighbour is throwing rocks at his wife, do you say something about it. or not?"

Coming closer to Britain's meddling in the Middle East, but nonetheless maddeningly vague, is this effort:

"Those getting all misty-eyed about colonialism would to well to reflect on its enduring legacy. No, not cricket and railway networks but the mess that is now the Middle East and North Africa and the human wave that is only starting to rebound on Europe. Empire is (sic) a very long embrace indeed." (lastflightout)

To which came this blame-it-all-on-the-French, blatantly racist reply:

"It didn't endure. It has no legacy. And actually, the Middle Eastern and African countries with most problems seem to have been French, not British. Regardless, when the civilised Europeans left, the natives returned to their brutal, savage and backward ways." (Brad_Humberside)

Which in turn elicited the following rejoinders: "Saudi Arabia? Israel? Yes? Would you like to have another go at defending British barbarism?" (Kay Parlay); "'civilised Europeans' - yes, so civilised they didn't know to wash their behinds after defecating, or wash their hands after that before eating." (adamcrossphoto)

But back to the "problems" of the Middle East. We've already had Brad_Humberside pointing the finger at the French, now we've got this genius blaming the Ottoman Empire:

"The middle east problems were as much caused by the collapse of Ottoman power (only partially nudged over the line by the British and French) and the ungainly carve up afterwards. Not the Empires finest moment maybe but you can only ever deal with the problems in front of you at the time." (RevCr)

Only partially NUDGED over the line!!!??? But let's focus on "the problems in front of you," shall we?

There was, in fact, no problem for the British and French to deal with in the Middle East during World War I or immediately thereafter. Rather, these two imperialist bovver boys created problems for the people of the Middle East:

Britain, for example, who had promised her Arab allies independence in the 1915 McMahon Treaty, betrayed them by agreeing to divide the Arab world between themselves and the French in the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. It then went on to compound that treachery by supporting, in the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine, thus creating the Palestine problem where before there had been no such problem.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The One Subject On Which All US Presidents Agree...

... and why.

Remember, as you read the following 'Who'd-have-thought,' that its author, Aaron David Miller (Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center), believes that the presidency, not the Israel lobby, is the decisive force in US Middle East policy. Hence his surprise at the enduring nature of the Trump/Netanyahu bromance:

"A year ago... I predicted that it would only be only a matter of time before US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be annoying the hell out of one another, and that anyone who believed that Trumpland would produce a dramatic improvement in the US-Israeli relationship ought to lie down and wait quietly until the feeling passed... Clearly... I've been dead wrong. As Netanyahu and Trump met Monday at the United Nations General Assembly for the third time in the president's first eight months - a first in the history of US-Israeli relations - even I'm a little stunned by how the relationship has blossomed seemingly without serious disruption and complication. So where did I wander off the highway? And what, if anything, might change in what appears to be not just an extended honeymoon but a pretty happy marriage?" (Mea culpa: I said Trump & Bibi would blow up, foreignpolicy.com, 18/9/17)

Back in the wake of the 2007 publication of Mearsheimer & Walt's groundbreaking study, The Israel Lobby & US Foreign Policy, Miller insisted in an interview that "the two professors attached far to much importance to the influence of the pro-Israeli community [Miller's euphemism for Israel lobby] as a force in America's Middle East policy," that "when presidents lead... lobbies almost always will follow," and that, "in the case of Arab-Israeli peacemaking... lobbies don't carry the day." (Debate over controversial 'Israel Lobby' continues, npr.org, 20/9/07)

In light of his 'Oh-what-a-surprise' Foreign Policy piece, I'd remind Miller's of the following words of Mearsheimer & Walt's (taken from the introduction to the book Miller dismissed, in the above interview, with these words: "I'm not sure I would describe the book as a thoroughly important one."):

"America is about to enter a presidential election year... The candidates will inevitably differ on various domestic issues - health care, abortion, gay marriage, taxes, education, immigration - and spirited debates are certain to erupt on a host of foreign policy questions as well... Yet on one subject, we can be equally confident that the candidates will speak with one voice. In 2008, as in previous election years, serious candidates for the highest office in the land will go to considerable lengths to express their deep personal commitment to one foreign country - Israel - as well as their determination to maintain unyielding US support for the Jewish state. Each candidate will emphasize that he or she fully appreciates the multitude of threats facing Israel and make it clear that, if elected, the United States will remain firmly committed to defending Israel's interests under any and all circumstances. None of the candidates is likely to criticize Israel in any significant way or suggest that the United States ought to pursue a more evenhanded policy in the region. Any who do will probably fall by the wayside." (p 3)

And why is this so?:

"The real reason why American politicians are so deferential is the political power of the Israel lobby." (p 5)

So much for presidents leading and lobbies  - Miller can't even bring himself to say 'Israel lobby' - following.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

When Rudd Went Rogue...

Ever dreamt of having the POWER & INFLUENCE to put words into a politician's mouth? Read on:

"Five days later I [John Lyons] was in Cairo, covering a visit by Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd. At a news conference, he spoke about his desire for Iran to agree the regular international inspections of its nuclear facilities. An Egyptian journalist asked: if Iran and other nations had to agree to inspections, why shouldn't Israel? Rudd remarked that he could not dispute the logic, and agreed that all countries with nuclear weapons should have to submit to regular inspections.

"My ears pricked up. I knew Israel preferred that nobody even referred to their nuclear weapons, let alone talked about inspections...

"So after the news conference I asked Rudd if he could elaborate on his comments. He told me: 'Our view has been consistent for a long period of time, and that is that all States in the region should adhere to the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty], and that includes Israel. And therefore their nuclear facility should be subject to IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspection.'

"Soon afterwards, Rudd was a guest at one of Albert Dadon's banquets at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem... The evening had been going calmly... when the mood in the room suddenly changed. An unwelcome guest had just arrived at the banquet courtesy of the Internet. My interview with Kevin Rudd in which he declared that Israel should not be exempt from international inspections had just been published online. People were standing looking at their phones and reading the story. The anger started bouncing off the walls.

"Sylvie came over to me: 'That man over there is telling people that you've verballed Kevin Rudd in your interview!'

"'That man' was Yuval Rotem, Israel's Ambassador to Australia - who had travelled to Jerusalem for that trip...

"By now it was fair to say I was pretty fired up. So often people instinctively blame the messenger if they don't like what someone has said. And so I went looking for Rotem. 'Ambassador, I hear you are telling people that Kevin Rudd did not make those comments about nuclear inspectors.'

"Rotem seemed uncomfortable that I had challenged him. 'Well, no Australian foreign minister has ever said that before,' he answered. 'Why would Kevin Rudd say it?'

"'Don't you think that's a question for you to ask Kevin Rudd?' I resonded. 'There are two tapes of that interview - I have one and Mr Rudd's staff have one. Would you like a copy? And Mr Rudd is just over there... '

"Just then Rudd's chief of staff, Philip Green, walked past. I beckoned him over. 'Philip, Mr Rotem is saying Foreign Minister Rudd never called for international inspectors for Israel's nuclear facilities.'

"'He did,' replied green. 'We have no problem with your story.'

"I then went looking for [Michael] Danby, who was also telling people in the room he doubted the story, and explained the same thing to him. Danby then switched his anger from me to Rudd. 'I'm going to take this up with Andrea Faulkner,' he said, referring to the Australian Ambassador to Israel...

"Now that it was clear that the quotes were not made up, the gates of fury opened against Kevin Rudd. The next morning I saw huddles in the foyer of the King David Hotel as different groups from Dadon's delegation discussed the issue.

"Dadon told me that while theoretically Israel should be under the same regime of inspections as anyone else, in reality they should be exempt. He was going to talk to Rudd and insist that he say at his upcoming press conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that Israel had 'unique' security circumstances'.

"At the press conference, Lieberman addressed the nuclear issue. 'What is important is not whether any country is a member of the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] but whether it is responsible,' he said. 'Israel does not regard any inspector as necessary, as it is a responsible country, and we have proved this for many years.'

"Then came Rudd's turn to speak. He concentrated more on Iran's situation, saying Australia was deeply concerned about Iran's nuclear program. Then he mentioned Israel. 'We recognise... Israel's unique security circumstances... but in terms of our fundamental position on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as it applies to this region... all states should be in, including Israel.'

"And so, while he had restated his position, he had added the words that Dadon told me he had wanted him to add.

"Dadon could not come to the press conference but, knowing that I was going along, telephoned me at home that night. He asked: 'Did Kevin use the phrase 'unique security circumstances?'

"'Yes,' I said.

"'Good.'" (Balcony Over Jerusalem: A Middle East Memoir, 2017, pp 268-71)

For the details as reported at the time, see my 20/12/10 post The Kevin Rudd Road Show 2.

Yet again: BUY THIS BOOK!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Rohingya Nakba

"Amnesty International says it has found evidence of an 'orchestrated campaign of systematic burnings' by Myanmar security forces targeting dozens of Rohingya villages over the past three weeks. The human rights group released a new analysis of video, satellite photos, witness accounts and other data that found more than 80 sites were torched in Myanmar's northern Rakhine State... The UN children's agency estimates about 389,000 people have fled to Bangladesh to escape a military offensive that has been described as ethnic cleansing." (Military burning Rohingya out: Amnesty, The Australian, 16/9/17)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Shout It from the Rooftops!

Could this be the first time in Australian history that the following sentiment has been publicly expressed?:

"For more than 20 years, Australians have read and heard pro-Israel positions from journalists, editors, politicians, trade union leaders, academics and students who have returned from the all-expenses-paid Israel-lobby trips. As someone who has both taken one of these trips when I was the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and then many years later lived in Israel for six years, I am in a position to compare what one is exposed to on these trips and the truth. In my opinion no editors, journalists or others should take these trips: they grotesquely distort the reality and are dangerous in the sense that they allow people with a very small amount of knowledge to pollute Australian public opinion. Those on the trips return to Australia thinking they have some sort of grasp of the place, but they have spent more time in Tel Aviv's most expensive restaurants and cafes and in settlements than looking at the real crisis behind trying to continue an occupation against another people. The effect of these trips is to shore up opinion behind the hardline pro-settlement elements of Israel politics. They allow Israel to avoid the public backlash that objective reporting of their settlement activity would bring." (Balcony Over Jerusalem: A Middle East Memoir, John Lyons, 2017, p 288)

If you haven't yet purchased a copy of Lyons' book, please, do it NOW!