Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Why we are Marxists

Written by Alan Woods
Monday, 13 December 2010

Two decades have passed since Francis Fukuyama published a book entitled The End of History and the Last Man, proclaiming the definitive triumph of market economics and bourgeois democracy. This idea seemed to be confirmed by almost 20 years of soaring markets and virtually uninterrupted economic growth. Politicians, central bankers and Wall Street managers were convinced that they had finally tamed the economic cycle of booms and slumps.

Now, two decades after the fall of the USSR, not one stone upon another remains of the illusions of the bourgeoisie. The world is experiencing the deepest crisis since the 1930s. Faced with a catastrophic situation on a world scale, the bourgeois of the USA, Europe and Japan are in a state of panic. In the 1930s, Trotsky said that the bourgeoisie was “tobogganing to disaster with its eyes closed.” These words are precisely applicable to the present situation. They could have been written yesterday.

Read the rest here



Renegade Eye

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Tension rising in Middle East: Could Israel attack Iran and why?

Written by Hamid Alizadeh
Wednesday, 01 December 2010

On August 21 the Bushehr nuclear power plant was officially launched. This marked a new stage in Iran's disputed nuclear programme. In the days preceding this event, former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, was quoted around the world as saying: "Israel has days to strike Bushehr" and further "diplomatically" hinted, “If Israel was right to destroy the Osiraq reactor [Iraqi nuclear reactor bombed by Israel in 1981], is it right to allow this one to continue? You can’t have it both ways.”

[Note: The recent Wikileaks were released after this article was written but confirm the analysis in all important aspects.

Read the rest here



RENEGADE EYE

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Stratfor: The World Looks at Obama After the U.S. Midterm Election

By George Friedman
November 04, 2010

The 2010 U.S. midterm elections were held, and the results were as expected: The Republicans took the House but did not take the Senate. The Democrats have such a small margin in the Senate, however, that they cannot impose cloture, which means the Republicans can block Obama administration initiatives in both houses of Congress. At the same time, the Republicans cannot override presidential vetoes alone, so they cannot legislate, either. The possible legislative outcomes are thus gridlock or significant compromises.

U.S. President Barack Obama hopes that the Republicans prove rigidly ideological. In 1994, after the Republicans won a similar victory over Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich attempted to use the speakership to craft national policy. Clinton ran for re-election in 1996 against Gingrich rather than the actual Republican candidate, Bob Dole; Clinton made Gingrich the issue, and he won. Obama hopes for the same opportunity to recoup. The new speaker, John Boehner, already has indicated that he does not intend to play Gingrich but rather is prepared to find compromises. Since Tea Party members are not close to forming a majority of the Republican Party in the House, Boehner is likely to get his way.

Another way to look at this is that the United States remains a predominantly right-of-center country. Obama won a substantial victory in 2008, but he did not change the architecture of American politics. Almost 48 percent of voters voted against him. Though he won a larger percentage than anyone since Ronald Reagan, he was not even close to the magnitude of Reagan’s victory. Reagan transformed the way American politics worked. Obama did not. In spite of his supporters’ excitement, his election did not signify a permanent national shift to the left. His attempt to govern from the left accordingly brought a predictable result: The public took away his ability to legislate on domestic affairs. Instead, they moved the country to a position where no one can legislate anything beyond the most carefully negotiated and neutral legislation.

Foreign Policy and Obama’s Campaign Position

That leaves foreign policy. Last week, I speculated on what Obama might do in foreign affairs, exploring his options with regard to Iran. This week, I’d like to consider the opposite side of the coin, namely, how foreign governments view Obama after this defeat. Let’s begin by considering how he positioned himself during his campaign.

The most important thing about his campaign was the difference between what he said he would do and what his supporters heard him saying he would do. There were several major elements to his foreign policy. First, he campaigned intensely against the Bush policy in Iraq, arguing that it was the wrong war in the wrong place. Second, he argued that the important war was in Afghanistan, where he pledged to switch his attention to face the real challenge of al Qaeda. Third, he argued against Bush administration policy on detention, military tribunals and torture, in his view symbolized by the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

In a fourth element, he argued that Bush had alienated the world by his unilateralism, by which he meant lack of consultation with allies — in particular the European allies who had been so important during the Cold War. Obama argued that global hostility toward the Bush administration arose from the Iraq war and the manner in which Bush waged the war on terror. He also made clear that the United States under Bush had an indifference to world opinion that cost it moral force. Obama wanted to change global perceptions of the United States as a unilateral global power to one that would participate as an equal partner with the rest of the world.

The Europeans were particularly jubilant at his election. They had in fact seen Bush as unwilling to take their counsel, and more to the point, as demanding that they participate in U.S. wars that they had no interest in participating in. The European view — or more precisely, the French and German view — was that allies should have a significant degree of control over what Americans do. Thus, the United States should not merely have consulted the Europeans, but should have shaped its policy with their wishes in mind. The Europeans saw Bush as bullying, unsophisticated and dangerous. Bush in turn saw allies’ unwillingness to share the burdens of a war as meaning they were not in fact allies. He considered so-called “Old Europe” as uncooperative and unwilling to repay past debts.

The European Misunderstanding of Obama

The Europeans’ pleasure in Obama’s election, however, represented a massive misunderstanding. Though they thought Obama would allow them a greater say in U.S. policy — and, above all, ask them for less — Obama in fact argued that the Europeans would be more likely to provide assistance to the United States if Washington was more collaborative with the Europeans.

Thus, in spite of the Nobel Peace Prize in the early days of the romance, the bloom wore off as the Europeans discovered that Obama was simply another U.S. president. More precisely, they learned that instead of being able to act according to his or her own wishes, circumstances constrain occupants of the U.S. presidency into acting like any other president would.

Campaign rhetoric notwithstanding, Obama’s position on Iraq consisted of slightly changing Bush’s withdrawal timetable. In Afghanistan, his strategy was to increase troop levels beyond what Bush would consider. Toward Iran, his policy has been the same as Bush’s: sanctions with a hint of something later.

The Europeans quickly became disappointed in Obama, especially when he escalated the Afghan war and asked them to increase forces when they wanted to withdraw. Perhaps most telling was his speech to the Muslim world from Cairo, where he tried to reach out to, and create a new relationship with, Muslims. The problem with this approach was that that in the speech, Obama warned that the United States would not abandon Israel — the same stance other U.S. presidents had adopted. It is hard to know what Obama was thinking. Perhaps he thought that by having reached out to the Muslim world, they should in turn understand the American commitment to Israel. Instead, Muslims understood the speech as saying that while Obama was prepared to adopt a different tone with Muslims, the basic structure of American policy in the region would not be different.

Why Obama Believed in a Reset Button

In both the European and Muslim case, the same question must be asked: Why did Obama believe that he was changing relations when in fact his policies were not significantly different from Bush’s policies? The answer is that Obama seemed to believe the essential U.S. problem with the world was rhetorical. The United States had not carefully explained itself, and in not explaining itself, the United States appeared arrogant.

Obama seemed to believe that the policies did not matter as much as the sensibility that surrounded the policies. It was not so much that he believed he could be charming — although he seemed to believe that with reason — but rather that foreign policy is personal, built around trust and familiarity rather than around interests. The idea that nations weren’t designed to trust or like one another, but rather pursued their interests with impersonal force, was alien to him. And so he thought he could explain the United States to the Muslims without changing U.S. policy and win the day.

U.S. policies in the Middle East remain intact, Guantanamo is still open, and most of the policies Obama opposed in his campaign are still there, offending the world much as they did under Bush. Moreover, the U.S. relationship with China has worsened, and while the U.S. relationship with Russia has appeared to improve, this is mostly atmospherics. This is not to criticize Obama, as these are reasonable policies for an American to pursue. Still, the substantial change in America’s place in the world that Europeans and his supporters entertained has not materialized. That it couldn’t may be true, but the gulf between what Obama said and what has happened is so deep that it shapes global perceptions.

Global Expectations and Obama’s Challenge

Having traveled a great deal in the last year and met a number of leaders and individuals with insight into the predominant thinking in their country, I can say with some confidence that the global perception of Obama today is as a leader given to rhetoric that doesn’t live up to its promise. It is not that anyone expected his rhetoric to live up to its promise, since no politician can pull that off, but that they see Obama as someone who thought rhetoric would change things. In that sense, he is seen as naive and, worse, as indecisive and unimaginative.

No one expected him to turn rhetoric into reality. But they did expect some significant shifts in foreign policy and a forceful presence in the world. Whatever the criticisms leveled against the United States, the expectation remains that the United States will remain at the center of events, acting decisively. This may be a contradiction in the global view of things, but it is the reality.

A foreign minister of a small — but not insignificant — country put it this way to me: Obama doesn’t seem to be there. By that he meant that Obama does not seem to occupy the American presidency and that the United States he governs does not seem like a force to be reckoned with. Decisions that other leaders wait for the United States to make don’t get made, the authority of U.S. emissaries is uncertain, the U.S. defense and state departments say different things, and serious issues are left unaddressed.

While it may seem an odd thing to say, it is true: The American president also presides over the world. U.S. power is such that there is an expectation that the president will attend to matters around the globe not out of charity, but because of American interest. The questions I have heard most often on many different issues are simple: What is the American position, what is the American interest, what will the Americans do? (As an American, I frequently find my hosts appointing me to be the representative of the United States.)

I have answered that the United States is off balance trying to place the U.S.-jihadist war in context, that it must be understood that the president is preoccupied but will attend to their region shortly. That is not a bad answer, since it is true. But the issue now is simple: Obama has spent two years on the trajectory in place when he was elected, having made few if any significant shifts. Inertia is not a bad thing in policy, as change for its own sake is dangerous. Yet a range of issues must be attended to, including China, Russia and the countries that border each of them.

Obama comes out of this election severely weakened domestically. If he continues his trajectory, the rest of the world will perceive him as a crippled president, something he needn’t be in foreign policy matters. Obama can no longer control Congress, but he still controls foreign policy. He could emerge from this defeat as a powerful foreign policy president, acting decisively in Afghanistan and beyond. It’s not a question of what he should do, but whether he will choose to act in a significant way at all.

This is Obama’s great test. Reagan accelerated his presence in the world after his defeat in 1982. It is an option, and the most important question is whether he takes it. We will know in a few months. If he doesn’t, global events will begin unfolding without recourse to the United States, and issues held in check will no longer remain quiet.

RENEGADE EYE

Friday, November 05, 2010

Fair Game**** Plame fame



The story of Valerie Plame comes alive on the screen. Naomi Watts gives an Oscar worthy performance, being vulnerable to being James Bond.

The movie tears apart the Niger myth, and the tubes myth, as entry to the Iraq War.

I thought the film made a good case for Valerie Plame. I don't believe the left should have been fighting against exposing CIA agents. Laws like that were written against the left.

Still go see it.

RENEGADE EYE

Monday, November 01, 2010

Where Is Labor's Voice in the 2010 Elections?

Written by CMPL
Friday, 29 October 2010 16:00

CMPL Statement on the Midterm Elections

(If you agree with the perspective outlined below, we urge you to join the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor and help us raise these ideas in our unions, workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods.)



The 2010 midterm elections are now less than a week away, and the media is ramping up its coverage of the candidates and the “issues.” There is plenty of coverage about the need to make “hard choices” when it comes to budget cuts and the deficit, the latest declarations of the Tea Party, or the debate over raising or lowering taxes on small businesses in order to create a handful of jobs. But little attention is paid to the real root of the problem facing American workers: an economy unable to generate the millions of jobs needed to replace those lost during the last few years and to keep up with the growing population. Nor do the media pundits state the obvious: the budget shortfalls which now require such drastic sacrifices on our part are the result of billions being spent on foreign wars, and even greater amounts handed out with few or no strings attached to bail out the banks, insurance, and mortgage giants.

And yet it is not these massive Wall Street corporations, responsible as they are for the crisis, that are being made to pay. It is the workers, who bear no responsibility for this mess, who are being made to shoulder the load, directly and indirectly. And yet, with so much at stake for the working majority of the country, in terms of who decides budget priorities at the federal, state, and local level, the voices of labor are few and far between. Where is labor's voice in the midterm elections?

The limits of third party campaigns

Although there are a handful of candidates across the country standing against the Democrats and Republicans and their well-oiled electoral machinery, the fact is that few if any of these candidates stand any chance at being elected, even to local offices. On top of the millions spent by the major party candidates and their campaigns, there has been a 367% increase in outside spending this electoral cycle, as compared to the 2006 midterms. It is a big money race, and only those with deep pockets or well-heeled friends in high places need apply. Without resources and a mass backing, third party candidates will almost always end up in third place, no matter how good their platform is. In most races, therefore, we are once again left with more of the same: a race between corporate-backed candidate #1 and corporate-backed candidate #2.

In light of this, some have compared the U.S. electoral process to a “work” in professional wrestling. In public, the wrestlers from opposing camps are mortal enemies, say the most outrageous things about each other, and even smash chairs on their opponents' heads in order to build up a rivalry that will attract interest from the fans. But backstage things are very different. They are all friends and part of the same show business production, partners in the business of filling seats and selling pay-per-views. The parallels with big business politics would almost be funny if it weren't so tragic for the working class. But it isn't at all funny when millions are losing their homes, their jobs, and their hope.

Hope for real change is a powerful motivator. Just two years ago, the deep-seated desire for change in this country was heavy in the air. Literally millions of Americans flocked to catch a glimpse of Obama on the campaign trail, many with tears of joy in their eyes. People saw in him what they wanted to see: jobs, health care, education, and an end to the wars. For a few months, they were willing to “wait and see” what he would do to make things better. Then a year passed. Then another. Now millions Americans are starting to realize what seemed unthinkable to them just two years ago: the real Obama is much like every other big business politician.

Obama continues in Bush's footsteps

The proof is in his policies, many of which echo Bush's down to the letter. There has been no significant help for families whose homes have been foreclosed; No Employee Free Choice Act (card check); No repeal of Taft-Hartley or other anti-union laws; No universal health care; No universal education; No massive program of useful public works to create millions of jobs and rebuild the country's crumbling infrastructure.

On the contrary, it has been “business as usual” as corporate CEO pay has skyrocketed to even more absurd levels while the rest of us wonder whether we'll have a job or even a roof over or heads next month. No wonder the majority of American workers are unimpressed with the options before them in the midterms. No wonder the Democrats have to deal with an “enthusiasm gap.” No wonder it is seen by many as a referendum on Obama. And yet, after two years of near total inaction on issues of importance to labor, Obama is now desperately appealing to the unions to help keep the Democrats in power. And unfortunately, instead of calling him out as a defender of big business and proposing a concrete alternative, most union leaders are bending over backwards to oblige him.

All too often, American workers are compelled to vote “against” this or that, as opposed to “for” something they actually want. Instead of presenting a positive plan to not only save, but expand Social Security and Medicare in the face of Republican plans to privatize the system, raise the retirement age, and cut benefits, the labor leaders try to scare us into voting for the Democrats, who in reality only offer variations on the same policy. Instead of offering an optimistic vision of what is possible in the richest and most productive country on earth, we are told by the labor leaders merely to vote “against” the Tea Party. This is the result of their policy of economic and political partnership with the bosses. But pressure is mounting for them to change tack.

Thousands of union members are saying “enough is enough!” They instinctively understand that it's high time the American working class had its own political party, a mass party of labor based on the unions.

Changing mood

Already, there are signs of this changing mood. Under pressure from the rank and file, union contributions to Democratic Party candidates are down this electoral cycle. In North Carolina, the NC Families First Party, a state-wide labor party organized by SEIU has laid the groundwork for future campaigns against the Democrats and Republicans. In South Carolina, the Labor Party has been revived and is running a candidate for the SC House of Representatives. In Pittsburgh, the Steelworkers at least flirted with the idea of running one of their own against the incumbent Democrat in the midterms, although in the end they didn't run a candidate.

In addition, the modestly successful October 2nd mobilization for jobs in Washington, DC was the first significant stirring of the American workers since the crisis began. It was an indication that workers are willing to fight against the cuts and for jobs. Although many speakers tried to turn it into a pep rally for the Democrats, it wasn't so easy to do, as many of the tens of thousands of workers present weren't having it. Just two years ago, the union tops had no problem calling openly for a vote for the Democrats. Now they have to call for a vote “against” the Republicans.

Also under pressure from below, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka has made increasingly militant statements in the run up to the elections. For example, he recently said that “Charting a new course for our economy requires that we understand the causes behind wage stagnation and growing inequality over the past 35 years. And prominent among those causes is the free market orthodoxy that has served the interests of our nation’s wealthiest families and most powerful institutions but left the vast majority of working families behind.”

Condemning “free market orthodoxy” for the crisis facing “the vast majority of working families” is a bold statement coming from the leader of millions of organized workers. Unfortunately, Trumka has also done his utmost to mobilize a disillusioned rank and file to get out the vote for the Democrats, who, like the Republicans, are defenders of that same “free market orthodoxy.” In a pre-election conference call with president Obama and thousands of union activists, Trumka outlined the support the unions have given the Democrats, which Obama has called the “backbone” of the electoral campaign: “For every dollar spent by corporate CEOs, you’ve knocked on one door, dialed one number, handed out one leaflet. One voter at a time, you’ve been erasing those millions of dollars to let our opponents know that democracy isn’t for sale. We’re not for sale.”

It's time for the labor leaders to draw the necessary conclusions from their statements. The solution to the problem facing workers is right there in Trumka's own words. The labor movement is strong enough to be the “backbone” of a national political campaign. But instead of mobilizing to elect candidates from the pro-corporate Democratic Party, it's time for our leadership to break with the parties of the corporations and build our own mass political party. It's time for them realize that there can be no meaningful “partnership” with parties that will never in a thousand years represent anyone but the rich. It's time to stop throwing good money and resources after bad. It's time to use the substantial resources of the labor movement to run independent labor candidates in 2012, and lay the foundation for a mass party of labor in the years ahead. Instead of making excuses for the Democrats' lack of action, it's time for labor to stand on its own two feet, both at the workplace and at the polls.

Even bigger attacks coming

Whichever corporate party gets control of Congress, the states, and local government, we can be sure of one thing: the working majority of this country will not have a real political voice to fight in our interests. A whole series of austerity measures and cuts are already in the pipeline, and without genuine political representation for the workers, the rank and file will pressure the labor leadership to fight back against these attacks. Trumka and the rest of the leadership should give a bold lead on this front as well, using the unions' structures and resources to mobile the organized as well as the unorganized in the workplace, in the schools and universities, and on the streets. The recent mass workers' and students' strikes and blockades against cuts in Social Security in France, where even fewer workers are unionized than in the U.S., shows that it is more than possible for unions in the U.S. to lead such struggles, provided the leadership does what they were elected to do: lead.

However, even the most successful fight back against this or that cut or closure will have a limited effect in the long term unless it is linked with a broader political struggle. Unless and until such militant actions in the workplace and on the streets are backed up with legislation and enforcement to protect the gains we achieve in these struggles, they will always be in danger of being rolled back. This is just another reason we need a labor party, to fight on the political plane in concert with mobilizations on the streets.

Winners and losers

It would be impossible, and frankly, not very productive to try to predict the exact results of these elections. We'll know the results soon enough. But we can predict that frustration with the two party system will likely be expressed in high abstentionism. Many people can't see the point of voting when no matter what, things seem to keep getting worse.

So the Democrats may well squeak out a “victory” for their party by retaining control of Congress. With the memory of Bush and co. fresh in their minds, just enough voters may hold their noses and go to the polls anyway, to try to keep the so-called “lesser evil” out of power. But it is also possible that the millions of demoralized Obama 2008 supporters will simply stay home in disgust, giving Congress over to the so-called “greater evil”.

Either way, the “will of the people” will be determined by just a fraction of the population, and in most cases, the only ones with any real chance at winning will be those with enough personal riches or wealthy backers to spend hundreds of thousands and even millions on their campaigns. So in the end, no matter who “wins,” we can predict the loser: the American workers. Because it's six of one or half a dozen of the other. Or as the great rock band The Who sang in their classic Won't Get Fooled Again: “Meet the new boss… Same as the old boss...”

But we don't need to keep losing elections. We don't need to keep voting for “boss #1” or “boss #2.” We don't need to keep getting “fooled again.” We don't need to limit ourselves to “third” parties and third place. There is another way forward. Since workers are the majority in this country, we should strive to be the “first” party, in first place. It all starts with the unions breaking with the bosses' parties and building a party of, by and for the working majority.

If you agree with this perspective, we urge you to join the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor and help us raise these ideas in our unions, workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods.

Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor

Renegade Eye

Thursday, October 28, 2010

500th Post! Egypt: The Gathering Storm

Written by Hamid Alizadeh and Frederik Ohsten
Thursday, 28 October 2010


Mohamed ElBaradei. Photo Elijah Zarwan


The tensions in Egypt are reaching boiling point. The crisis of the regime is reflected in a number of splits and growing opposition. The emergence of Mohamed Elbaradei on the political scene signifies an important change in the struggle against the regime. Until now, the masses have lacked a national point of reference to connect up the different struggles, but this is now changing. Revolution is developing just beneath the surface.

Read the rest here



RENEGADE EYE

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Stratfor: Syria, Hezbollah and Iran: An Alliance in Flux

This is another excellent assessment by intelligence think tank Stratfor. This page shows how dynamic the situation in the Middle East has become. As they say "You can't tell the players, without a program."

By Reva Bhalla
October 14, 2010

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Beirut on Oct. 13 for his first official visit to Lebanon since becoming president in 2005. He is reportedly returning to the country after a stint there in the 1980s as a young Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officer tasked with training Hezbollah in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. A great deal of controversy is surrounding his return. Rumors are spreading of Sunni militants attempting to mar the visit by provoking Iran’s allies in Hezbollah into a fight (already the car of a pro-Hezbollah imam who has been defending Ahmadinejad has been blown up), while elaborate security preparations are being made for Ahmadinejad to visit Lebanon’s heavily militarized border with Israel.

Rather than getting caught up in the drama surrounding the Iranian president’s visit, we want to take the opportunity provided by all the media coverage to probe into a deeper topic, one that has been occupying the minds of Iranian, Syrian and Hezbollah officials for some time. This topic is the durability of the Iran-Hezbollah-Syria alliance, which STRATFOR believes has been under great stress in recent months. More precisely, the question is: What are Syria’s current intentions toward Hezbollah?

The Origins of the Alliance

To address this topic, we need to review the origins of the trilateral pact, starting with the formation of an alliance in 1979 between secular Alawite-Baathist Syria and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ideologically speaking, the Syrian Alawite elite represent an offshoot of Shiite Islam that the Sunnis consider apostate. They found some commonality with the Shiite clerical elite in Tehran, but there were also broader strategic motivations in play. At the time, Syria was on a quest to establish the country’s regional prowess, and it knew that the first steps toward this end had to be taken in Lebanon. From the Syrian point of view, Lebanon is not just a natural extension of Syria; it is the heartland of the Greater Syria province that existed during Ottoman times. Since the days of Phoenicia, what is modern-day Lebanon has been a vibrant trading hub, connecting routes from the east and south to the Mediterranean basin. For Syria to feel like it has any real worth in the region, it must dominate Lebanon.

A civil war that had broken out in Lebanon in 1975 (and lasted through 1990) afforded Syria such an opportunity. The main obstruction to Syria’s agenda at the time, besides Israel, was the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) under Yasser Arafat, whose vision for a unified Palestine and whose operations in Lebanon ran counter to Syria’s bid for regional hegemony. The PLO, in fact, was one of the main reasons Syria intervened militarily in Lebanon in 1975 on behalf of its Maronite Christian allies. At the same time, Syria was looking for an ally to undermine the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, with whom the Syrian Baathists had a deep-seated rivalry. An alliance with Iran would grant Syria some much-needed individuality in a region dominated by the Arab powers Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Coming off the success of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and going into what would become a long and bloody war with Iraq, Iran was also looking for a venue to counter the Baathist regime in Baghdad. In addition, Iran was looking to undermine the Pan-Arab vision, establish a presence in the Levant and promote its own Islamic vision of government. In opposition to Israel, Hussein and Arafat, Iran and Syria thus uncovered the roots of an alliance, albeit one that was shifting uneasily between Syrian secularity and Iranian religiosity.

The adoption of Hezbollah by the two unlikely allies in 1982 was what helped bridge that gap. Hezbollah, an offshoot of Amal, the main Shiite political movement at the time, served multiple purposes for Damascus and Tehran. Syria found in Hezbollah a useful militant proxy to contain obstructions to Syrian influence in Lebanon and to compensate for its own military weakness in comparison to Israel. In the broader Syrian strategic vision, Hezbollah would develop into a bargaining chip for a future settlement with Israel once Syria could ensure that Lebanon was firmly within Syria’s grasp and was therefore unable to entertain a peace deal with Israel on its own.

The Iranians saw in Hezbollah the potential to export its Islamic Revolution into the Arab world, a strong binder for its still new and shaky alliance with Syria and a useful deterrent in dealing with adversaries like Israel, the United States and Saudi Arabia. So, Iran and Syria set out to divide their responsibilities in managing this militant proxy. Iran was primarily in charge of bankrolling, training and enforcing the group’s ideological loyalty to Tehran with IRGC assistance. Syria was in charge of creating the conditions for Iran to nurture Hezbollah, mainly by permitting IRGC officers to set up training camps in the Bekaa Valley and by securing a line of supply for weapons to reach the group via Syria.

But the triumvirate did not get off to a very smooth start. In fact, Hezbollah and Syria clashed a number of times in the early 1980s, when Syria felt the group, under Iranian direction, went too far in provoking external intervention (and thus risked drawing Syria into conflict). If Hezbollah was to operate on Syrian territory (as Syria viewed it) in Lebanon, Syria wanted Hezbollah operating on its terms. It was not until 1987, when Syrian troops in Lebanon shot 23 Hezbollah members, that Hezbollah fully realized the importance of maintaining an entente with Syria. In the meantime, Hezbollah, caught between occasionally conflicting Syrian and Iranian agendas, saw that the path to the group’s survival lay in becoming a more autonomous political — as opposed to purely militant — actor in the Lebanese political arena.

A Syrian Setback

The Iran-Hezbollah-Syria alliance operated relatively smoothly through the 1990s as Hezbollah gradually built up its political arm and as Syria kept close watch on the group through its roughly 14,000 troops and thousands of intelligence agents who had remained in Lebanon since the end of the civil war. In 2000, with Iranian and Syrian help, Hezbollah succeeded in forcing Israel to withdraw from Lebanon’s southern Security Zone, an event that greatly boosted Hezbollah’s credentials as a Lebanese nationalist actor.

But fresh challenges to the pact came with the turn of the century. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, in particular, was a defining moment for both Iran and Syria. The two allies felt enormously uncomfortable with having the world’s most powerful military on their borders, but they were also presented with an immediate opportunity to unseat their mutual archrival, Saddam Hussein. Iran and Syria also had different endgames in mind for a post-Hussein Iraq. Iran used its political, militant and intelligence links to consolidate influence in Iraq through the country’s Shiite majority. In contrast, Syria provided refuge to Iraq’s Sunni Baathists with the aim of extending its sphere of influence in the region through a secularist former-Baathist presence in Baghdad. The Syrians also planned to use those Sunni links later to bargain with the United States for a seat at the negotiating table, thereby affirming Syrian influence in the region.

But before Syria could gain much traction in its plans for Iraq, its agenda in Lebanon suffered a serious setback. On Feb. 14, 2005, a massive car bomb in Beirut killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, a powerful and vocal opponent of Syrian authority in Lebanon. The bombing is strongly believed to have been orchestrated by elements within the Syrian regime and executed by members of Hezbollah. While a major opponent of the Syrian regime was thereby eliminated, Syria did not anticipate that the death of al-Hariri would spark a revolution in Lebanon (which attracted the support of countries like France and the United States) and end up driving Syrian troops out of Lebanon. The vacuum that Syria left in Lebanon was rapidly filled by Iran (via Hezbollah), which had a pressing need to fortify Hezbollah as a proxy force as war tensions steadily built up in the region over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Though Syria knew it would only be a matter of time before it would return to Lebanon, it also had a strategic interest in demonstrating to the Israelis and the Americans the costs of Syria’s absence from Lebanon. The regime wanted to show that without a firm Syrian check on Hezbollah, disastrous events like the 2006 summer confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel could occur.

The Syrian Comeback

It has now been more than five and a half years since the al-Hariri assassination, and there is little question that Syria, once again, has reclaimed its hegemonic position in Lebanon. The Syrian intelligence apparatus pervades the country, and Lebanese politicians who dared to speak out against the Syrian regime are now asking for forgiveness. In perhaps the most glaring demonstration of the political tide shifting back toward Damascus, Saad al-Hariri, the son of the slain al-Hariri and Lebanon’s reluctant prime minister, announced in early June that Lebanon had “made a mistake” in making a “political accusation” against Syria for his father’s murder. The message was clear: Syria was back.

That message did not necessarily sit well with Hezbollah and Iran. Syria wants to keep Hezbollah in check, returning to the 1990s model when Syrian military and intelligence could still tightly control the group’s movements and supplies. Iran and Hezbollah have also watched as Syria has used its comeback in Lebanon to diversify its foreign policy portfolio over the past year. Saudi Arabia and Turkey, for example, have been cozying up to Damascus and have quietly bargained with the al Assad regime to place checks on Hezbollah as a way to undermine Iran’s key proxy in the Levant. As long as these regional powers recognize Syria’s authority in Lebanon, Syria is willing to use those relationships to exonerate itself from the al-Hariri assassination tribunal, rake much-needed investment into the Syrian economy and, most important, re-establish itself as a regional power. Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s decision to visit Beirut alongside Saudi King Abdullah was a deliberate signal to Hezbollah and Iran that Syria had options and was not afraid to display them.

This does not mean Syria is ready and willing to sell out its Hezbollah and Iranian allies. On the contrary, Syria derives leverage from maintaining these relationships and acting as the bridge between the Shiite revivalists and the Sunni powers. Syria has illustrated as much in its current mediation efforts among the various Iraqi factions that are torn between Iran on one side and the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey on the other. But if we go back to reviewing the core reasons Syria agreed to an alliance with Iran and Hezbollah in the first place, it is easy to see why Hezbollah and Iran still have a lot of reason to be worried.

Syria’s priority in the early 1980s was to achieve suzerainty in Lebanon (done), eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in Iraq (done) and remove any key obstacles in Lebanon that could challenge Syria’s authority. In the 1970s, that obstacle was the PLO. Today, that obstacle is Hezbollah and its Iranian backers, who are competing for influence in Lebanon and no longer have a good read on Syrian intentions. Hezbollah relies heavily on Syria for its logistical support and knows that its communication systems, for example, are vulnerable to Syrian intelligence. Hezbollah has also grown nervous at the signs of Syria steadily ramping up support for competing militant groups — including the Amal Movement, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, al-Ahbash, the Nasserites, the Baath Party and the Mirada of Suleiman Franjiyye — to counter Hezbollah’s prowess.

Meanwhile, Iran is seeing one of the key prongs in its deterrent strategy — Hezbollah — grow increasingly vulnerable at a time when Iran is pressed to demonstrate to the United States and Israel that the costs of an attack on its nuclear installation are not worth incurring. The Iranian competition with Syria does not end in Lebanon, either. In Iraq, Syria is far more interested in establishing a secularist government with a former Baathist presence than it is in seeing Baghdad develop into a Shiite satellite for the Iranians.

For now, Syria is adroitly playing both sides of the geopolitical divide in the region, taking care to blend its reassurances toward the alliance and its primary negotiating partners in Saudi Arabia with threats of the destabilization that could erupt should Syria’s demands go ignored. Syria, for example, has made clear that in return for recognition of its authority in Lebanon it will prevent Hezbollah from laying siege on Beirut, whether they are ordered to do so by Tehran as part of an Iranian negotiating ploy with the Americans or whether they act on their own in retaliation against the al-Hariri tribunal proceedings. At the same time, Syrian officials will shuttle regularly between Lebanon and Iran to reaffirm their standing in the triumvirate. Behind this thick veneer of unity, however, a great deal of apprehension and distrust is building among the allies.

The core fear residing in Hezbollah and Iran has to do with Syrian intentions moving forward. In particular, Hezbollah would like to know if, in Syria’s eyes, the group is rapidly devolving from strategic patron to bargaining chip with every ounce of confidence that Syria gains in Lebanon. The answer to that question, however, lies not in Syria but in Israel and the United States. Israeli, U.S. and Saudi policymakers have grown weary of Syria’s mercantilist negotiating style in which Syrian officials will extract as much as possible from their negotiating partners while delivering very little in return.

At the same time, Syria cannot afford to take any big steps toward militant proxies like Hezbollah unless it receives firm assurances from Israel in backchannel peace talks that continue to stagnate. But Syria is also sensing an opportunity at its door: The United States is desperate to complete its exit strategy from Iraq and, like Israel, is looking for useful levers to undermine Iranian clout in the region. One such lever is Syria, which is why the mere idea of Israel and Syria talking peace right now should give Iran and Hezbollah ample food for thought.

RENEGADE EYE

Friday, October 15, 2010

World Perspectives: Venezuela

This is from the World Perspectives Document of the International Marxist Tendency. It was passed a few months ago, and reflects its general outlook.

Over the past decade on more than one occasion the workers could have taken power in Venezuela. The problem is a problem of leadership. Chavez is a very courageous and honest man, but he is proceeding empirically, improvising, making up a programme as he goes along. He is trying to balance between the working class and the bourgeoisie. And that cannot be maintained.

Lenin explained that politics is concentrated economics. Chavez was able to make concessions, reforms, the social missions, etc., for quite along time because of the economic situation. The high price of oil allowed him to do this. But that is finished. The price of oil has fallen dramatically, although it has now recovered a little. Inflation is at about 30%. Therefore there has been a fall in real wages. Many of the welfare schemes are being scaled back and unemployment
is increasing.



Bi-Centennial_celbrations_2There is no doubt that the Venezuelan workers still remain loyal to Chavez, but there is also no doubt whatsoever that many workers, even dedicated Chavistas, are getting impatient. They are asking: what sort of a Revolution is this? What sort of Socialism is this? Are we going to solve these problems or not? The threat of counterrevolution has not disappeared. The counterrevolutionary opposition is preparing a new offensive to win a majority in the National Assembly in 2010. If they succeed, or if they win a sufficiently large number of seats, the way will be open for a new counterrevolutionary offensive.

The most striking fact about the Venezuelan revolution is the inability of the imperialists to intervene directly. In the past, they would have sent in the Marines to overthrow Chavez. But they have been unable to intervene directly.

In the same way, British imperialism was compelled to relinquish direct military-bureaucratic control of its colonies, because of the high cost, both financial and political, of attempting to do so. Similarly, the cost of the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has stretched US resources. A direct military action against Venezuela therefore seems to be ruled out until it has withdrawn from these countries. However, this does not exclude a proxy intervention by Colombia sponsored by the USA, which has waged a constant campaign to undermine, isolate and destroy the Bolivarian Revolution. The defeat of the coup in 2002 was brought about by the intervention of the masses.

Washington is manoeuvring with Uribe to threaten Venezuela. The agreement under which Colombia granted the United States access to up to seven military bases was an act of aggression directed against the Venezuelan Revolution. The external threat from Colombia is very real. But far more serious is the threat from within. The bourgeoisie still holds in its hands key points in the economy. Ten banks still control 70% of the country’s financial activity. Most of the land remains in the hands of the big landowners, while 70% of the food is imported (along with inflation). Above all, the state remains in the hands of the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy. After more than a decade, there are signs of tiredness and disappointment in the masses. This is the most dangerous element in the equation.

At the First Extraordinary Congress of the PSUV Chavez admitted these things and stated that “socialism had not yet been achieved.” He called for the total elimination of capitalism, for the arming of the people and a workers’ militia. All this is necessary, but if this remains on the level of speeches, it will lead nowhere. The fact is that the bureaucracy is systematically undermining the Revolution from within. The movement towards workers’ control is being systematically sabotaged, and workers who attempt to fight the bureaucracy are coming under attack, as we saw in the case of Mitsubishi. This situation is producing a ferment of discontent and disillusionment that is the biggest danger of all. If this mood is expressed in apathy and abstention in the legislative elections, the scene will be set for a counteroffensive of the right.

In Venezuela the working class broke with the bourgeois parties and threw itself, on the basis of Chavez’s appeal, into the attempt to build its own party, a class party, the PSUV. This party, whose future is not yet decided, is being born in the middle of a revolution, and the masses take it as an attempt to build what we call an independent workers’ party.

The PSUV is born, in a confused way, with the impulse of the class, and in its midst there is a struggle between those who want to build a class party, without bosses, and those who would like to see the PSUV just as a party of order, representing their own wishes as a clique and the capitalist order. The main task of the Marxists in the Venezuelan revolution is to help in achieving a most positive outcome of this struggle, becoming a Marxist fraction of this party and building it energetically, helping its most serious elements to win a majority of the party, expel the bureaucrats and deepen the proletarian revolution which is taking place.

We must pay much more attention to our work in this Party, which is at the centre of the problem of the Revolution. We must admit frankly that the leadership of the Venezuelan section has not paid sufficient attention to this work, and as a result we have missed many opportunities. This is a very serious error, which must be rectified immediately. Trade union work is very important, but it must be given a political expression. Our work with the occupied factories remains a key question, but it will be completely sterile if it is not linked to the fight to transform the PSUV.

The Venezuela Marxists must combine theoretical firmness with the necessary tactical flexibility, always stressing the role of the Bolivarian movement and the PSUV. If we work correctly in the next couple of years, the foundation will be laid for a mass left wing opposition within the PSUV, in which we will participate, fertilizing it with the ideas of Marxism. This is the only way in which we can build a mass Marxist current in Venezuela, as the first step towards a future mass revolutionary Marxist Party.

RENEGADE EYE

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hamas, Hezbollah, and So-Called “Resistance” Against Zionist Imperialism

I recently discovered a blog called The Charnel-House. It is a socialist blog devoted to philosophy and art. I found it to be one of the most insightful blogs on the left, and should be supported. The writer doesn't pull punches. This piece is a good piece for discussion.

To all those who support the actions of jihadist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas on the grounds that they are supposedly putting up brave “resistance” to the imperialist forces of the U.S.-backed Israeli military, I submit the following quotes from Lenin (whose original theory of imperialism is unfortunately claimed as an inspiration by so many the anti-imperialist zombies floating around today). First, from chapter five of his 1916 work, A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism:

“Imperialism is as much our ‘mortal’ enemy as is capitalism. That is so. No Marxist will forget, however, that capitalism is progressive compared with feudalism, and that imperialism is progressive compared with pre-monopoly capitalism. Hence, it is not every struggle against imperialism that we should support. We will not support a struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism; we will not support an uprising of the reactionary classes against imperialism and capitalism.

Consequently, once the author admits the need to support an uprising of an oppressed nation (‘actively resisting’ suppression means supporting the uprising), [Kievskii] also admits that a national uprising is progressive, that the establishment of a separate and new state, of new frontiers, etc., resulting from a successful uprising, is progressive.


Notice, Lenin states that Marxists should only support progressive political tendencies in their struggle to achieve national self-determination. I.e., not the reactionary jihadist forces of Hezbollah and Hamas, whose sexist and homophobic ideology is founded on the ideas of Islamic fundamentalism. Indeed, if Lenin didn’t make himself clear enough on this score here, he spelled it out even more explicitly in 1920:

“With regard to the more backward states and nations, in which feudal or patriarchal and patriarchal-peasant relations predominate, it is particularly important to bear in mind:

first, that all Communist parties must assist the bourgeois-democratic liberation movement in these countries, and that the duty of rendering the most active assistance rests primarily with the workers of the country the backward nation is colonially or financially dependent on;

second, the need for a struggle against the clergy and other influential reactionary and medieval elements in backward countries;

third, the need to combat Pan-Islamism and similar trends, which strive to combine the liberation movement against European and American imperialism with an attempt to strengthen the positions of the khans, landowners, mullahs, etc.


Now I understand that many critics of Israel are influenced by Homi Bhabha’s post-colonial theory, and are familiar with his tedious notion of “hybridity.” Still, in light of Lenin’s unequivocal call here for Communist parties of all nations to combat Pan-Islamism and similar forces, it strikes one as exceptionally odd that some today would attempt to create a hybrid “International Pan-Islamic Communist Party of Proletarian Islam,” which claims to “believe in the Teachings of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet Muhammad” while “also believ[ing] in and follow[ing] the Revolutionary Communist teachings of V.I. Lenin [!!], Mirza Sultan-Galiev, Tan Malaka [this makes sense, obviously], J.V. Stalin, Mao Zedong, Kwame Nkrumah, Fidel.” This ideological confusion is compounded by the fact that Stalin personally signed the order to have Mirza Sultan-Galiev executed in 1940, on grounds of deviation brought about by his attempt to synthesize Marxism with pan-Islamic and pan-Turkic ideas (despite his perverse authoritarianism and numerous betrayals of revolutionary Marxism, it seems Stalin remained in fundamental agreement with Lenin on this point, at least).

Disregarding such extreme and contradictory manifestations of this bizarre tendency of leftists today to side with reactionary movements in their struggle against imperialism, we may return to the more troubling mainstream phenomenon of which this is a symptom. Imperialism, as Lenin states, is more progressive than the fanatical religious tendencies that fight to resist it, or the so-called “Marxist” groups (the PFLP, the LCP) that collude with them. But to be clear, this does not amount to an endorsement of U.S. or Israeli policies of aggression. All that it means is one should not support tendencies that are even more wretched than foreign, imperialist domination, simply in the name of national self-determination.

RENEGADE EYE

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Social Network ****



You'll never think the same of Facebook, after you see the semi-fictionalized account of the life of Mark Zuckerberg.

Jesse Eisenberg's fast talking, fast thinking portrayal of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was riveting. As negatively as Zuckerberg was portrayed, he should demand a sequel.

RENEGADE EYE

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Attempted Coup in Ecuador

It appears that there is an ongoing coup attempt in Ecuador as we speak. Details are very hard to determine as with any coup attempt, but here is what is known:

1) Section of the Police have occupied the airport in Quito and perhaps have occupied parts of Quito and Guayaquil.
2) President Rafael Correa, recovering from knee surgery, attempted to confront the police earlier today but was teargassed and now is sequestered in hospital.
3) According to President Chavez in a TELESUR interview, Correa is surrounded by police, but is not in custody. However, they are not allowing anybody to see him, including cabinet ministers and the Venezuelan Ambassador.
4) Despite reports that the protests were sparked by cuts to the police budget, that according to the Ecuadorian interior and exterior ministers, the protests were well arranged in advance as an excuse to launch the coup.
5) Following Honduras and Venezuela, this is the 3nd coup in the last decade in Latin America. It remains to be seen what involvement there is by the US.

We encourage all our supporters to remain vigilant for news of the coup which we obviously denounce. We will keep everybody informed of developments and possible action points as they come forward.

* Defend the Latin American Revolution!
* Down with US Imperialist backed coups!
* Hands off Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia!

UPDATE



RENEGADE EYE

Stratfor: Pakistan and the U.S. Exit From Afghanistan

By George Friedman
September 28, 2010



Bob Woodward has released another book, this one on the debate over Afghanistan strategy in the Obama administration. As all his books do, the book has riveted Washington. It reveals that intense debate occurred over what course to take, that the president sought alternative strategies and that compromises were reached. But while knowing the details of these things is interesting, what would have been shocking is if they hadn’t taken place.

It is interesting to reflect on the institutional inevitability of these disagreements. The military is involved in a war. It is institutionally and emotionally committed to victory in the theater of combat. It will demand all available resources for executing the war under way. For a soldier who has bled in that war, questioning the importance of the war is obscene. A war must be fought relentlessly and with all available means.

But while the military’s top generals and senior civilian leadership are responsible for providing the president with sound, clearheaded advice on all military matters including the highest levels of grand strategy, they are ultimately responsible for the pursuit of military objectives to which the commander-in-chief directs them. Generals must think about how to win the war they are fighting. Presidents must think about whether the war is worth fighting. The president is responsible for America’s global posture. He must consider what an unlimited commitment to a particular conflict might mean in other regions of the world where forces would be unavailable.

A president must take a more dispassionate view than his generals. He must calculate not only whether victory is possible but also the value of the victory relative to the cost. Given the nature of the war in Afghanistan, U.S. President Barack Obama and Gen. David Petraeus — first the U.S. Central Command chief and now the top commander in Afghanistan — had to view it differently. This is unavoidable. This is natural. And only one of the two is ultimately in charge.

The Nature of Guerrilla Warfare

In thinking about Afghanistan, it is essential that we begin by thinking about the nature of guerrilla warfare against an occupying force. The guerrilla lives in the country. He isn’t going anywhere else, as he has nowhere to go. By contrast, the foreigner has a place to which he can return. This is the core weakness of the occupier and the strength of the guerrilla. The former can leave and in all likelihood, his nation will survive. The guerrilla can’t. And having alternatives undermines the foreigner’s will to fight regardless of the importance of the war to him.

The strategy of the guerrilla is to make the option to withdraw more attractive. In order to do this, his strategic goal is simply to survive and fight on whatever level he can. His patience is built into who he is and what he is fighting for. The occupier’s patience is calculated against the cost of the occupation and its opportunity costs, thus, while troops are committed in this country, what is happening elsewhere?

Tactically, the guerrilla survives by being elusive. He disperses in small groups. He operates in hostile terrain. He denies the enemy intelligence on his location and capabilities. He forms political alliances with civilians who provide him supplies and intelligence on the occupation forces and misleads the occupiers about his own location. The guerrilla uses this intelligence network to decline combat on the enemy’s terms and to strike the enemy when he is least prepared. The guerrilla’s goal is not to seize and hold ground but to survive, evade and strike, imposing casualties on the occupier. Above all, the guerrilla must never form a center of gravity that, if struck, would lead to his defeat. He thus actively avoids anything that could be construed as a decisive contact.

The occupation force is normally a more conventional army. Its strength is superior firepower, resources and organization. If it knows where the guerrilla is and can strike before the guerrilla can disperse, the occupying force will defeat the guerrilla. The occupier’s problems are that his intelligence is normally inferior to that of the guerrillas; the guerrillas rarely mass in ways that permit decisive combat and normally can disperse faster than the occupier can pinpoint and deploy forces against them; and the guerrillas’ superior tactical capabilities allow them to impose a constant low rate of casualties on the occupier. Indeed, the massive amount of resources the occupier requires and the inflexibility of a military institution not solely committed to the particular theater of operations can actually work against the occupier by creating logistical vulnerabilities susceptible to guerrilla attacks and difficulty adapting at a rate sufficient to keep pace with the guerrilla. The occupation force will always win engagements, but that is never the measure of victory. If the guerrillas operate by doctrine, defeats in unplanned engagements will not undermine their basic goal of survival. While the occupier is not winning decisively, even while suffering only some casualties, he is losing. While the guerrilla is not losing decisively, even if suffering significant casualties, he is winning. Since the guerrilla is not going anywhere, he can afford far higher casualties than the occupier, who ultimately has the alternative of withdrawal.

The asymmetry of this warfare favors the guerrilla. This is particularly true when the strategic value of the war to the occupier is ambiguous, where the occupier does not possess sufficient force and patience to systematically overwhelm the guerrillas, and where either political or military constraints prevent operations against sanctuaries. This is a truth as relevant to David’s insurgency against the Philistines as it is to the U.S. experience in Vietnam or the Russian occupation of Afghanistan.

There has long been a myth about the unwillingness of Americans to absorb casualties for very long in guerrilla wars. In reality, the United States fought in Vietnam for at least seven years (depending on when you count the start and stop) and has now fought in Afghanistan for nine years. The idea that Americans can’t endure the long war has no empirical basis. What the United States has difficulty with — along with imperial and colonial powers before it — is a war in which the ability to impose one’s will on the enemy through force of arms is lacking and when it is not clear that the failure of previous years to win the war will be solved in the years ahead.

Far more relevant than casualties to whether Americans continue a war is the question of the conflict’s strategic importance, for which the president is ultimately responsible. This divides into several parts. This first is whether the United States has the ability with available force to achieve its political goals through prosecuting the war (since all war is fought for some political goal, from regime change to policy shift) and whether the force the United States is willing to dedicate suffices to achieve these goals. To address this question in Afghanistan, we have to focus on the political goal.

The Evolution of the U.S. Political Goal in Afghanistan

Washington’s primary goal at the initiation of the conflict was to destroy or disrupt al Qaeda in Afghanistan to protect the U.S. homeland from follow-on attacks to 9/11. But if Afghanistan were completely pacified, the threat of Islamist-fueled transnational terrorism would remain at issue because it is no longer just an issue of a single organization — al Qaeda — but a series of fragmented groups conducting operations in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, North Africa, Somalia and elsewhere.

Today, al Qaeda is simply one manifestation of the threat of this transnational jihadist phenomenon. It is important to stop and consider al Qaeda — and the transnational jihadist phenomenon in general — in terms of guerrillas, and to think of the phenomenon as a guerrilla force in its own right operating by the very same rules on a global basis. Thus, where the Taliban apply guerrilla principles to Afghanistan, today’s transnational jihadist applies them to the Islamic world and beyond. The transnational jihadists are not leaving and are not giving up. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan, they will decline combat against larger American forces and strike vulnerable targets when they can.

There are certainly more players and more complexity to the global phenomenon than in a localized insurgency. Many governments across North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia have no interest in seeing these movements set up shop and stir up unrest in their territory. And al Qaeda’s devolution has seen frustrations as well as successes as it spreads. But the underlying principles of guerrilla warfare remain at issue. Whenever the Americans concentrate force in one area, al Qaeda disengages, disperses and regroups elsewhere and, perhaps more important, the ideology that underpins the phenomenon continues to exist. The threat will undoubtedly continue to evolve and face challenges, but in the end, it will continue to exist along the lines of the guerrilla acting against the United States.

There is another important way in which the global guerrilla analogy is apt. STRATFOR has long held that Islamist-fueled transnational terrorism does not represent a strategic, existential threat to the United States. While acts of transnational terrorism target civilians, they are not attacks — have not been and are not evolving into attacks — that endanger the territorial integrity of the United States or the way of life of the American people. They are dangerous and must be defended against, but transnational terrorism is and remains a tactical problem that for nearly a decade has been treated as if it were the pre-eminent strategic threat to the United States.

Nietzsche wrote that, “The most fundamental form of human stupidity is forgetting what we were trying to do in the first place.” The stated U.S. goal in Afghanistan was the destruction of al Qaeda. While al Qaeda as it existed in 2001 has certainly been disrupted and degraded, al Qaeda’s evolution and migration means that disrupting and degrading it — to say nothing of destroying it — can no longer be achieved by waging a war in Afghanistan. The guerrilla does not rely on a single piece of real estate (in this case Afghanistan) but rather on his ability to move seamlessly across terrain to evade decisive combat in any specific location. Islamist-fueled transnational terrorism is not centered on Afghanistan and does not need Afghanistan, so no matter how successful that war might be, it would make little difference in the larger fight against transnational jihadism.

Thus far, the United States has chosen to carry on fighting the war in Afghanistan. As al Qaeda has fled Afghanistan, the overall political goal for the United States in the country has evolved to include the creation of a democratic and uncorrupt Afghanistan. It is not clear that anyone knows how to do this, particularly given that most Afghans consider the ruling government of President Hamid Karzai — with which the United States is allied — as the heart of the corruption problem, and beyond Kabul most Afghans do not regard their way of making political and social arrangements to be corrupt.

Simply withdrawing from Afghanistan carries its own strategic and political costs, however. The strategic problem is that simply terminating the war after nine years would destabilize the Islamic world. The United States has managed to block al Qaeda’s goal of triggering a series of uprisings against existing regimes and replacing them with jihadist regimes. It did this by displaying a willingness to intervene where necessary. Of course, the idea that U.S. intervention destabilized the region raises the question of what regional stability would look like had it not intervened. The danger of withdrawal is that the network of relationships the United States created and imposed at the regime level could unravel if it withdrew. America would be seen as having lost the war, the prestige of radical Islamists and thereby the foundation of the ideology that underpins their movement would surge, and this could destabilize regimes and undermine American interests.

The political problem is domestic. Obama’s approval rating now stands at 42 percent. This is not unprecedented, but it means he is politically weak. One of the charges against him, fair or not, is that he is inherently anti-war by background and so not fully committed to the war effort. Where a Republican would face charges of being a warmonger, which would make withdrawal easier, Obama faces charges of being too soft. Since a president must maintain political support to be effective, withdrawal becomes even harder. Therefore, strategic analysis aside, the president is not going to order a complete withdrawal of all combat forces any time soon — the national (and international) political alignment won’t support such a step. At the same time, remaining in Afghanistan is unlikely to achieve any goal and leaves potential rivals like China and Russia freer rein.

The American Solution

The American solution, one that we suspect is already under way, is the Pakistanization of the war. By this, we do not mean extending the war into Pakistan but rather extending Pakistan into Afghanistan. The Taliban phenomenon has extended into Pakistan in ways that seriously complicate Pakistani efforts to regain their bearing in Afghanistan. It has created a major security problem for Islamabad, which, coupled with the severe deterioration of the country’s economy and now the floods, has weakened the Pakistanis’ ability to manage Afghanistan. In other words, the moment that the Pakistanis have been waiting for — American agreement and support for the Pakistanization of the war — has come at a time when the Pakistanis are not in an ideal position to capitalize on it.

In the past, the United States has endeavored to keep the Taliban in Afghanistan and the regime in Pakistan separate. (The Taliban movements in Afghanistan and Pakistan are not one and the same.) Washington has not succeeded in this regard, with the Pakistanis continuing to hedge their bets and maintain a relationship across the border. Still, U.S. opposition has been the single greatest impediment to Pakistan’s consolidation of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and abandoning this opposition leaves important avenues open for Islamabad.

The Pakistani relationship to the Taliban, which was a liability for the United States in the past, now becomes an advantage for Washington because it creates a trusted channel for meaningful communication with the Taliban. Logic suggests this channel is quite active now.

The Vietnam War ended with the Paris peace talks. Those formal talks were not where the real bargaining took place but rather where the results were ultimately confirmed. If talks are under way, a similar venue for the formal manifestation of the talks is needed — and Islamabad is as good a place as any.

Pakistan is an American ally which the United States needs, both to balance growing Chinese influence in and partnership with Pakistan, and to contain India. Pakistan needs the United States for the same reason. Meanwhile, the Taliban want to run Afghanistan. The United States has no strong national interest in how Afghanistan is run so long as it does not support and espouse transnational jihadism. But it needs its withdrawal to take place in a manner that strengthens its influence rather than weakens it, and Pakistan can provide the cover for turning a retreat into a negotiated settlement.

Pakistan has every reason to play this role. It needs the United States over the long term to balance against India. It must have a stable or relatively stable Afghanistan to secure its western frontier. It needs an end to U.S. forays into Pakistan that are destabilizing the regime. And playing this role would enhance Pakistan’s status in the Islamic world, something the United States could benefit from, too. We suspect that all sides are moving toward this end.

The United States isn’t going to defeat the Taliban. The original goal of the war is irrelevant, and the current goal is rather difficult to take seriously. Even a victory, whatever that would look like, would make little difference in the fight against transnational jihad, but a defeat could harm U.S. interests. Therefore, the United States needs a withdrawal that is not a defeat. Such a strategic shift is not without profound political complexity and difficulties. But the disparity between — and increasingly, the incompatibility of — the struggle with transnational terrorism and the war effort geographically rooted in Afghanistan is only becoming more apparent — even to the American public.

RENEGADE EYE

Friday, September 24, 2010

Venezuelan September 26th Elections Open Thread

It's election day September 26th in Venezuela. The vote will be for seats in the parliament. Previously the opposition to Hugo Chavez, boycotted the election, and ran no candidates. This time they're running with full force.

See this
.

RENEGADE EYE

Monday, September 13, 2010

Is Misery Afghanistan’s Destiny?

Written by Lal Khan
Monday, 13 September 2010



The serious strategists of US imperialism understand that a military victory in Afghanistan is ruled out. At the same time, Russia, India, China and other powers are manoeuvring to gain advantage from the situation. All this is the result of the reactionary defeat of the 1978 Saur Revolution. Now, however, memories of that period are coming back among the workers and youth, who are seeking an alternative to both the reactionary fundamentalists and the present regime.

Read the rest here

RENEGADE EYE

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Fidel: 'Cuban Model Doesn't Even Work For Us Anymore'

Some important headlines have been coming from Atlantic Magazine blogger Jeffrey Goldberg, who recently interviewed Fidel Castro.

1) Fidel: 'Cuban Model Doesn't Even Work For Us Anymore'

Readers of this blog shouldn't be too surprised by Fidel's statements. Contacts within Cuba, have been telling us, that Raul was fond of the Chinese model. In comments I'll talk more.

2) Fidel to Ahmadinejad: 'Stop Slandering the Jews'

3) Chavez: 'We Respect and Love the Jews'


RENEGADE EYE

Friday, September 03, 2010

Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor

Written by CMPL
Wednesday, 01 September 2010

The vast majority of people living in the United States are part of the working class: people who depend on wages and benefits linked to their jobs to support themselves and their families. And yet, we to have our needs overlooked by those in political power. The reason is clear: the richest one percent of the USA owns more than the bottom 95% of the population, and they want to keep it that way. These rich individuals and corporations use their wealth and influence to ensure that the government passes and enforces laws that defend their interests, not the interests of the majority.

Sick and tired of Bush and the Republicans, millions of Americans poured onto the streets during the 2008 election with a burning desire for change. They sincerely hoped that Obama’s policies would be fundamentally different. But the results are in: more of the same. As Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association put it: “This is not the change I hoped for.”

The fact is, both the Democrats and the Republicans are controlled by the tiny minority that lives off the wealth it gets by exploiting the workers. It should therefore come as no surprise that despite this or that difference on this or that issue, they promote and implement policies that benefit the interests of their largest financial contributors. Without a mass political party of our own to defend our interests, workers are forced to fight against the attacks of big business with one hand tied behind our backs.

For these reasons, the Workers International League has decided to launch a Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor (CMPL). Our purpose in launching this campaign is the following:

1. Explain the need for the labor movement to break with the Democrats and Republicans, run independent labor candidates, and build a mass labor party based on the unions.

2. Connect this idea with the struggles of workers and youth.

3. Show how a mass labor party could change society for the benefit of the working class, which makes up the vast majority of the population.

We invite all those who agree with us to join and help build the CMPL. If you would like to learn more about the CMPL, click here.

RENEGADE EYE

Monday, August 30, 2010

Stratfor: Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks, Again

By George Friedman
August 23, 2010

The Israeli government and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) have agreed to engage in direct peace talks Sept. 2 in Washington. Neither side has expressed any enthusiasm about the talks. In part, this comes from the fact that entering any negotiations with enthusiasm weakens your bargaining position. But the deeper reason is simply that there have been so many peace talks between the two sides and so many failures that it is difficult for a rational person to see much hope in them. Moreover, the failures have not occurred for trivial reasons. They have occurred because of profound divergences in the interests and outlooks of each side.

These particular talks are further flawed because of their origin. Neither side was eager for the talks. They are taking place because the United States wanted them. Indeed, in a certain sense, both sides are talking because they do not want to alienate the United States and because it is easier to talk and fail than it is to refuse to talk.

The United States has wanted Israeli-Palestinian talks since the Palestinians organized themselves into a distinct national movement in the 1970s. Particularly after the successful negotiations between Egypt and Israel and Israel’s implicit long-term understanding with Jordan, an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis appeared to be next on the agenda. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of its support for Fatah and other Palestinian groups, a peace process seemed logical and reasonable.

Over time, peace talks became an end in themselves for the United States. The United States has interests throughout the Islamic world. While U.S.-Israeli relations are not the sole point of friction between the Islamic world and the United States, they are certainly one point of friction, particularly on the level of public diplomacy. Indeed, though most Muslim governments may not regard Israel as critical to their national interests, their publics do regard it that way for ideological and religious reasons.

Many Muslim governments therefore engage in a two-level diplomacy: first, publicly condemning Israel and granting public support for the Palestinians as if it were a major issue and, second, quietly ignoring the issue and focusing on other matters of greater direct interest, which often actually involves collaborating with the Israelis. This accounts for the massive difference between the public stance of many governments and their private actions, which can range from indifference to hostility toward Palestinian interests. Countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are all prepared to cooperate deeply with the United States but face hostility from their populations over the matter.

The public pressure on governments is real, and the United States needs to deal with it. The last thing the United States wants to see is relatively cooperative Muslim governments in the region fall due to anti-Israeli or anti-American public sentiment. The issue of Israel and the United States also creates stickiness in the smooth functioning of relations with these countries. The United States wants to minimize this problem.

It should be understood that many Muslim governments would be appalled if the United States broke with Israel and Israel fell. For example, Egypt and Jordan, facing demographic and security issues of their own, are deeply hostile to at least some Palestinian factions. The vast majority of Jordan’s population is actually Palestinian. Egypt struggles with an Islamist movement called the Muslim Brotherhood, which has collaborated with like-minded Islamists among the Palestinians for decades. The countries of the Arabian Peninsula are infinitely more interested in the threat from Iran than in the existence of Israel and, indeed, see Israel as one of the buttresses against Iran. Even Iran is less interested in the destruction of Israel than it is in using the issue as a tool in building its own credibility and influence in the region.

In the Islamic world, public opinion, government rhetoric and government policy have long had a distant kinship. If the United States were actually to do what these countries publicly demand, the private response would be deep concern both about the reliability of the United States and about the consequences of a Palestinian state. A wave of euphoric radicalism could threaten all of these regimes. They quite like the status quo, including the part where they get to condemn the United States for maintaining it.

The United States does not see its relationship with Israel as inhibiting functional state-to-state relationships in the Islamic world, because it hasn’t. Washington paradoxically sees a break with Israel as destabilizing to the region. At the same time, the American government understands the political problems Muslim governments face in working with the United States, in particular the friction created by the American relationship with Israel. While not representing a fundamental challenge to American interests, this friction does represent an issue that must be taken into account and managed.

Peace talks are the American solution. Peace talks give the United States the appearance of seeking to settle the Israeli-Palestinian problem. The comings and goings of American diplomats, treating Palestinians as equals in negotiations and as being equally important to the United States, and the occasional photo op if some agreement is actually reached, all give the United States and pro-American Muslim governments a tool — even if it is not a very effective one — for managing Muslim public opinion. Peace talks also give the United States the ability, on occasion, to criticize Israel publicly, without changing the basic framework of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Most important, they cost the United States nothing. The United States has many diplomats available for multiple-track discussions and working groups for drawing up position papers. Talks do not solve the political problem in the region, but they do reshape perceptions a bit at very little cost. And they give the added benefit that, at some point in the talks, the United States will be able to ask the Europeans to support any solution — or tentative agreement — financially.

Therefore, the Obama administration has been pressuring the Israelis and the PNA, dominated by Fatah, to renew the peace process. Both have been reluctant because, unlike the United States, these talks pose political challenges to the two sides. Peace talks have the nasty habit of triggering internal political crises. Since neither side expects real success, neither government wants to bear the internal political costs that such talks entail. But since the United States is both a major funder of the PNA and Israel’s most significant ally, neither group is in a position to resist the call to talk. And so, after suitable resistance that both sides used for their own ends, the talks begin.

The Israeli problem with the talks is that they force the government to deal with an extraordinarily divided Israeli public. Israel has had weak governments for a generation. These governments are weak because they are formed by coalitions made up of diverse and sometimes opposed parties. In part, this is due to Israel’s electoral system, which increases the likelihood that parties that would never enter the parliament of other countries do sit in the Knesset with a handful of members. There are enough of these that the major parties never come close to a ruling majority and the coalition government that has to be created is crippled from the beginning. An Israeli prime minister spends most of his time avoiding dealing with important issues, since his Cabinet would fall apart if he did.

But the major issue is that the Israeli public is deeply divided ethnically and ideologically, with ideology frequently tracking ethnicity. The original European Jews are often still steeped in the original Zionist vision. But Russian Jews who now comprise roughly one-sixth of the population see the original Zionist plan as alien to them. Then there are the American Jews who moved to Israel for ideological reasons. All these splits and others create an Israel that reminds us of the Fourth French Republic between World War II and the rise of Charles de Gaulle. The term applied to it was “immobilism,” the inability to decide on anything, so it continued to do whatever it was already doing, however ineffective and harmful that course may have been.

Incidentally, Israel wasn’t always this way. After its formation in 1948, Israel’s leaders were all part of the leadership that achieved statehood. That cadre is all gone now, and Israel has yet to transition away from its dependence on its “founding fathers.” Between less trusted leadership and a maddeningly complex political demography, it is no surprise that Israeli politics can be so caustic and churning.

From the point of view of any Israeli foreign minister, the danger of peace talks is that the United States might actually engineer a solution. Any such solution would by definition involve Israeli concessions that would be opposed by a substantial Israeli bloc — and nearly any Israeli faction could derail any agreement. Israeli prime ministers go to the peace talks terrified that the Palestinians might actually get their house in order and be reasonable — leaving it to Israel to stand against an American solution. Had Ariel Sharon not had his stroke, there might have been a strong leader who could wrestle the Israeli political system to the ground and impose a settlement. But at this point, there has not been an Israeli leader since Menachem Begin who could negotiate with confidence in his position. Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself caught between the United States and his severely fractured Cabinet by peace talks.

Fortunately for Netanyahu, the PNA is even more troubled by talks. The Palestinians are deeply divided between two ideological enemies, Fatah and Hamas. Fatah is generally secular and derives from the Soviet-backed Palestinian movement. Having lost its sponsor, it has drifted toward the United States and Europe by default. Its old antagonist, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is still there and still suspicious. Fatah tried to overthrow the kingdom in 1970, and memories are long.

For its part, Hamas is a religious movement, with roots in Egypt and support from Saudi Arabia. Unlike Fatah, Hamas says it is unwilling to recognize the existence of Israel as a legitimate state, and it appears to be quite serious about this. While there seem to be some elements in Hamas that could consider a shift, this is not the consensus view. Iran also provides support, but the Sunni-Shiite split is real and Iran is mostly fishing in troubled waters. Hamas will take help where it can get it, but Hamas is, to a significant degree, funded by the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, so getting too close to Iran would create political problems for Hamas’ leadership. In addition, though Cairo has to deal with Hamas because of the Egypt-Gaza border, Cairo is at best deeply suspicions of the group. Egypt sees Hamas as deriving from the same bedrock of forces that gave birth to the Muslim Brotherhood and those who killed Anwar Sadat, forces which pose the greatest future challenge to Egyptian stability. As a result, Egypt continues to be Israel’s silent partner in the blockade of Gaza.

Therefore, the PNA dominated by Fatah in no way speaks for all Palestinians. While Fatah dominates the West Bank, Hamas controls Gaza. Were Fatah to make the kinds of concessions that might make a peace agreement possible, Hamas would not only oppose them but would have the means of scuttling anything that involved Gaza. Making matters worse for Fatah, Hamas does enjoy considerable — if precisely unknown — levels of support in the West Bank, and Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah and the PNA, is not eager to find out how much in the current super-heated atmosphere.

The most striking agreement between Arabs and Israelis was the Camp David Accords negotiated by U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Those accords were rooted in the 1973 war in which the Israelis were stunned by their own intelligence failures and the extraordinary capabilities shown by the Egyptian army so soon after its crushing defeat in 1967. All of Israel’s comfortable assumptions went out the window. At the same time, Egypt was ultimately defeated, with Israeli troops on the east shore of the Suez Canal.

The Israelis came away with greater respect for Egyptian military power and a decreased confidence in their own. The Egyptians came away with the recognition that however much they had improved, they were defeated in the end. The Israelis weren’t certain they would beat Egypt the next time. The Egyptians were doubtful they could ever beat Israel. For both, a negotiated settlement made sense. The mix of severely shaken confidence and morbid admittance to reality was what permitted Carter to negotiate a settlement that both sides wanted — and could sell to their respective publics.

There has been no similar defining moment in Israeli-Palestinian relations. There is no consensus on either side, nor does either side have a government that can speak authoritatively for the people it represents. On both sides, the rejectionists not only are in a blocking position but are actually in governing roles, and no coalition exists to sweep them aside. The Palestinians are divided by ideology and geography, while the Israelis are “merely” divided by ideology and a political system designed for paralysis.

But the United States wants a peace process, preferably a long one designed to put off the day when it fails. This will allow the United States to appear to be deeply committed to peace and to publicly pressure the Israelis, which will be of some minor use in U.S. efforts to manipulate the rest of the region. But it will not solve anything. Nor is it intended to.

The problem is that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are sufficiently unsettled to make peace. Both Egypt and Israel were shocked and afraid after the 1973 war. Mutual fear is the foundation of peace among enemies. The uncertainty of the future sobers both sides. But the fact right now is that all of the players prefer the status quo to the risks of the future. Hamas doesn’t want to risk its support by negotiating and implicitly recognizing Israel. The PNA doesn’t want to risk a Hamas uprising in the West Bank by making significant concessions. The Israelis don’t want to gamble with unreliable negotiating partners on a settlement that wouldn’t enjoy broad public support in a domestic political environment where even simple programs can get snarled in a morass of ideology. Until reality or some as-yet-uncommitted force shifts the game, it is easier for them — all of them — to do nothing.

But the Americans want talks, and so the talks will begin.

RENEGADE EYE

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Stratfor: The US Withdrawal and Limited Options in Iraq

By Geo. Friedman
August 17, 2010

It is August 2010, which is the month when the last U.S. combat troops are scheduled to leave Iraq. It is therefore time to take stock of the situation in Iraq, which has changed places with Afghanistan as the forgotten war. This is all the more important since 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq, and while they may not be considered combat troops, a great deal of combat power remains embedded with them. So we are far from the end of the war in Iraq. The question is whether the departure of the last combat units is a significant milestone and, if it is, what it signifies.

The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 with three goals: The first was the destruction of the Iraqi army, the second was the destruction of the Baathist regime and the third was the replacement of that regime with a stable, pro-American government in Baghdad. The first two goals were achieved within weeks. Seven years later, however, Iraq still does not yet have a stable government, let alone a pro-American government. The lack of that government is what puts the current strategy in jeopardy.

The fundamental flaw of the invasion of Iraq was not in its execution but in the political expectations that were put in place. As the Americans knew, the Shiite community was anti-Baathist but heavily influenced by Iranian intelligence. The decision to destroy the Baathists put the Sunnis, who were the backbone of Saddam’s regime, in a desperate position. Facing a hostile American army and an equally hostile Shiite community backed by Iran, the Sunnis faced disaster. Taking support from where they could get it — from the foreign jihadists that were entering Iraq — they launched an insurgency against both the Americans and the Shia.

The Sunnis simply had nothing to lose. In their view, they faced permanent subjugation at best and annihilation at worst. The United States had the option of creating a Shiite-based government but realized that this government would ultimately be under Iranian control. The political miscalculation placed the United States simultaneously into a war with the Sunnis and a near-war situation with many of the Shia, while the Shia and Sunnis waged a civil war among themselves and the Sunnis occasionally fought the Kurds as well. From late 2003 until 2007, the United States was not so much in a state of war in Iraq as it was in a state of chaos.

The new strategy of Gen. David Petraeus emerged from the realization that the United States could not pacify Iraq and be at war with everyone. After a 2006 defeat in the midterm elections, it was expected that U.S. President George W. Bush would order the withdrawal of forces from Iraq. Instead, he announced the surge. The surge was really not much of a surge, but it created psychological surprise — not only were the Americans not leaving, but more were on the way. Anyone who was calculating a position based on the assumption of a U.S. withdrawal had to recalculate.

The Americans understood that the key was reversing the position of the Sunni insurgents. So long as they remained at war with the Americans and Shia, there was no possibility of controlling the situation. Moreover, only the Sunnis could cut the legs out from under the foreign jihadists operating in the Sunni community. These jihadists were challenging the traditional leadership of the Sunni community, so turning this community against the jihadists was not difficult. The Sunnis also were terrified that the United States would withdraw, leaving them at the mercy of the Shia. These considerations, along with substantial sums of money given to Sunni tribal elders, caused the Sunnis to do an about-face. This put the Shia on the defensive, since the Sunni alignment with the Americans enabled the Americans to strike at the Shiite militias.

Petraeus stabilized the situation, but he did not win the war. The war could only be considered won when there was a stable government in Baghdad that actually had the ability to govern Iraq. A government could be formed with people sitting in meetings and talking, but that did not mean that their decisions would have any significance. For that there had to be an Iraqi army to enforce the will of the government and protect the country from its neighbors, particularly Iran (from the American point of view). There also had to be a police force to enforce whatever laws might be made. And from the American perspective, this government did not have to be pro-American (that had long ago disappeared as a viable goal), but it could not be dominated by Iran.

Iraq is not ready to deal with the enforcement of the will of the government because it has no government. Once it has a government, it will be a long time before its military and police forces will be able to enforce its will throughout the country. And it will be much longer before it can block Iranian power by itself. As it stands now, there is no government, so the rest doesn’t much matter.

The geopolitical problem the Americans face is that, with the United States gone, Iran would be the most powerful conventional power in the Persian Gulf. The historical balance of power had been between Iraq and Iran. The American invasion destroyed the Iraqi army and government, and the United States was unable to recreate either. Part of this had to do with the fact that the Iranians did not want the Americans to succeed.

For Iran, a strong Iraq is the geopolitical nightmare. Iran once fought a war with Iraq that cost Iran a million casualties (imagine the United States having more than 4 million casualties), and the foundation of Iranian national strategy is to prevent a repeat of that war by making certain that Iraq becomes a puppet to Iran or, failing that, that it remains weak and divided. At this point, the Iranians do not have the ability to impose a government on Iraq. However, they do have the ability to prevent the formation of a government or to destabilize one that is formed. Iranian intelligence has sufficient allies and resources in Iraq to guarantee the failure of any stabilization attempt that doesn’t please Tehran.

There are many who are baffled by Iranian confidence and defiance in the face of American pressure on the nuclear issue. This is the reason for that confidence: Should the United States attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, or even if the United States does not attack, Iran holds the key to the success of the American strategy in Iraq. Everything done since 2006 fails if the United States must maintain tens of thousands of troops in Iraq in perpetuity. Should the United States leave, Iran has the capability of forcing a new order not only on Iraq but also on the rest of the Persian Gulf. Should the United States stay, Iran has the ability to prevent the stabilization of Iraq, or even to escalate violence to the point that the Americans are drawn back into combat. The Iranians understand the weakness of America’s position in Iraq, and they are confident that they can use that to influence American policy elsewhere.

American and Iraqi officials have publicly said that the reason an Iraqi government has not been formed is Iranian interference. To put it more clearly, there are any number of Shiite politicians who are close to Tehran and, for a range of reasons, will take their orders from there. There are not enough of these politicians to create a government, but there are enough to block a government from being formed. Therefore, no government is being formed.

With 50,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq, the United States does not yet face a crisis. The current withdrawal milestone is not the measure of the success of the strategy. The threat of a crisis will arise if the United States continues its withdrawal to the point where the Shia feel free to launch a sustained and escalating attack on the Sunnis, possibly supported by Iranian forces, volunteers or covert advisers. At that point, the Iraqi government must be in place, be united and command sufficient forces to control the country and deter Iranian plans.

The problem is, as we have seen, that in order to achieve that government there must be Iranian concurrence, and Iran has no reason to want to allow that to happen. Iran has very little to lose by, and a great deal to gain from, continuing the stability the Petraeus strategy provided. The American problem is that a genuine withdrawal from Iraq requires a shift in Iranian policy, and the United States has little to offer Iran to change the policy.

From the Iranian point of view, they have the Americans in a difficult position. On the one hand, the Americans are trumpeting the success of the Petraeus plan in Iraq and trying to repeat the success in Afghanistan. On the other hand, the secret is that the Petraeus plan has not yet succeeded in Iraq. Certainly, it ended the major fighting involving the Americans and settled down Sunni-Shiite tensions. But it has not taken Iraq anywhere near the end state the original strategy envisioned. Iraq has neither a government nor a functional army — and what is blocking it is Tehran.

One impulse of the Americans is to settle with the Iranians militarily. However, Iran is a mountainous country of 70 million, and an invasion is simply not in the cards. Airstrikes are always possible, but as the United States learned over North Vietnam — or from the Battle of Britain or in the bombing of Germany and Japan before the use of nuclear weapons — air campaigns alone don’t usually force nations to capitulate or change their policies. Serbia did give up Kosovo after a three-month air campaign, but we suspect Iran would be a tougher case. In any event, the United States has no appetite for another war while the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still under way, let alone a war against Iran in order to extricate itself from Iraq. The impulse to use force against Iran was resisted by President Bush and is now being resisted by President Barack Obama. And even if the Israelis attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iran could still wreak havoc in Iraq.

Two strategies follow from this. The first is that the United States will reduce U.S. forces in Iraq somewhat but will not complete the withdrawal until a more distant date (the current Status of Forces Agreement requires all American troops to be withdrawn by the end of 2011). The problems with this strategy are that Iran is not going anywhere, destabilizing Iraq is not costing it much and protecting itself from an Iraqi resurgence is Iran’s highest foreign policy priority. That means that the decision really isn’t whether the United States will delay its withdrawal but whether the United States will permanently base forces in Iraq — and how vulnerable those forces might be to an upsurge in violence, which is an option that Iran retains.

Another choice for the United States, as we have discussed previously, is to enter into negotiations with Iran. This is a distasteful choice from the American point of view, but surely not more distasteful than negotiating with Stalin or Mao. At the same time, the Iranians’ price would be high. At the very least, they would want the “Finlandization” of Iraq, similar to the situation where the Soviets had a degree of control over Finland’s government. And it is far from clear that such a situation in Iraq would be sufficient for the Iranians.

The United States cannot withdraw completely without some arrangement, because that would leave Iran in an extremely powerful position in the region. The Iranian strategy seems to be to make the United States sufficiently uncomfortable to see withdrawal as attractive but not to be so threatening as to deter the withdrawal. As clever as that strategy is, however, it does not hide the fact that Iran would dominate the Persian Gulf region after the withdrawal. Thus, the United States has nothing but unpleasant choices in Iraq. It can stay in perpetuity and remain vulnerable to violence. It can withdraw and hand the region over to Iran. It can go to war with yet another Islamic country. Or it can negotiate with a government that it despises — and which despises it right back.

Given all that has been said about the success of the Petraeus strategy, it must be observed that while it broke the cycle of violence and carved out a fragile stability in Iraq, it has not achieved, nor can it alone achieve, the political solution that would end the war. Nor has it precluded a return of violence at some point. The Petraeus strategy has not solved the fundamental reality that has always been the shadow over Iraq: Iran. But that was beyond Petraeus’ task and, for now, beyond American capabilities. That is why the Iranians can afford to be so confident.

RENEGADE EYE