Friday, January 13, 2017

Coming Trump World Order: Western Intelligence On Sixes and Sevens

Coming Trump World Order: Western Intelligence On Sixes and Sevens
                                                                                          Saeed Naqvi

Pardon my naiveté, but I cannot for the life of me, comprehend why the entire US establishment, with the Intelligence Community in the vanguard, is in convulsions about the alleged Russian efforts to hack into the US elections which brought Donald Trump to power. The CIA must be lazy if it doesn’t hack into Moscow, Beijing, everywhere.

The Washington Post on December 23 published a story by Lindsey A. Rourke, under the headline: “The US tried to change other countries’ governments 72 times during the Cold War”.

As a journalist, I have been witness to efforts at regime change or attempted assassination of leaders. Ronald Reagan bombed Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986, killing Qaddafi’s six month old daughter. Qaddafi barely escaped.

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was so moved that he arranged for a delegation of non aligned foreign ministers to Tripoli to commiserate with the Libyan leader.

The Reagan White House was not pleased. The power a particular Indian ambassador to Washington had acquired depended largely on extraordinary access to key officials around the President. To preserve this priceless access, Rajiv Gandhi was persuaded to sack Foreign Minister, Bali Ram Bhagat. His guilt? He led the “peace” delegation to Tripoli at Rajiv’s behest.

In 1987, in Managua, Nicaragua, Cardinal Ovando Bravo led me to Mother Mary’s statue in the centre of town which had not stopped “shedding tears” eversince the Daniel Ortega led Sandinistas came to power. Mary’s tears were not in vain. God was working through the US who were financing and arming the anti Sandinista Contra rebels. Mysterious were God’s ways. The money for the Contras came from a secret fund in Iran (Devil incarnate for neo cons) which was receiving arms from the US for this extraordinary munificence.

It might be argued that the examples listed above belong to the Cold War era. Well, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, all victims of US interventions, are clearly post cold war enterprises. Agreed, the creation of the Islamist Mujahideen did result in the Soviet Union vacating Afghanistan, but at the cost of the Afghan nation. Zbigniew Brzezinski placed the matter in a kind of perspective: “Our aim was to defeat the Soviet Union” he said. “And not worry about stirred up Muslims.”

The tizzy in which the US intelligence community finds itself, might be a good occasion to revisit the Syrian story to which I am witness from the very beginning. I extricate myself from a group of Arab experts at the Semiramis hotel in Damascus, to keep an appointment with Bouthaina Shaaban, senior adviser to President Bashar al Assad.

How do you explain US ambassador, Robert Stephen Ford and his French counterpart, holding meetings in Hama, Homs and Darra with rebel groups, in full public gaze? I ask her.

Ms. Shaaban, elegant and articulate, shrugs her shoulders. “Just shows how much we have been penetrated.” Ford, it is commonly known, was a great favourite of Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State.

Among the senior Arabists in Damascus at that time is also, Edward Lionel Peck, a former US ambassador to Arab countries. His disgust with Ford’s behaviour is contained in a letter he wrote to members of the group who were in Damascus with him. There is such universal endorsement of the Ford school of diplomacy which borders on the Secret Service type operations, that I feel obliged to give Peck as much airing as I can. He wrote: “I have been dismayed by the accolades and support given to Ambassador Ford, our man in - and now out of Syria, for stepping well out of the traditional and appropriate role of a diplomat and actively encouraging the revolt/insurrection/sectarian strife/outside meddling, call it what you will, that is still going on. It is easy to imagine the US reaction if an ambassador from anywhere were to engage in even distantly related activities here. I fear my country remains somewhat more than merely insensitive, and is sliding into just plain rampant and offensive arrogance.” Will Trump put an end to such shenanigans?

There is something strained and edgy in the way the neo cons, the media, with the Intelligence Community in front, have mounted a virtual war on the incoming administration. It is actually a kind of blackmail. The message seems to be: you will get more of the same if you deviate from the ongoing policy which sees Vladimir Putin as arch enemy.

Trump’s commitment to “bomb the shit” out of terrorists, threatens to expose the doublespeak of established policy on Syria too. So far the US and its allies have pursued a policy riddled with ambiguity: fight IS and al Nusra but also oust or atleast weaken the Assad regime, a paradox which, in the given circumstances, cannot be reconciled. The Russian policy is more straightforward: fight the IS and Nusra in which the regime troops can be decisive.

Trump is quite clear: seek Russian cooperation to defeat terrorism. Who can quarrel with this line? The moment of reckoning may also have arrived in Afghanistan, where the Taleban are to be mobilized by Russia and China to fight IS and Al Qaeda. Can Trump be far behind? That’s the tricky one.

In brief, with Trump’s arrival on the scene, the stranglehold of the Intelligence Community on foreign policy may well weaken.

The world of western Intelligence is therefore all upside down.

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Friday, January 6, 2017

Keep Your Fingers Crossed In New Year: Beware Ides Of March

Keep Your Fingers Crossed In New Year: Beware Ides Of March
                                                                                       Saeed Naqvi

“Ek din keh leejiye jo kuch hai dil mein aapke
Ek din sun leejiye jo kuch hamare dil mein hai”
(Some day speak out everything in your heart.
But one day also listen to what we have in our hearts.)

You would imagine that this simple arrangement of words, a polite satire on the Prime Minister’s repetitious style of one-way communications (though in waist coats of diverse colours) would go down well with audiences who have stood in queues outside their banks. Wrong. A verse like this would break their trance.

Don’t forget our important tiraths, or pilgrimages Amarnath, Vaishno Devi, Sabrimala, Shravanabelagola, to name just a few, demand arduous journeys on foot before that moment of rapture, a sighting of the deity. It is in this framework that the Indian has been mobilized for some higher purpose. Not for him to reason why, not at the moment.

The man in the queue should not be confused with the elite who never had to stand in line and who see limited currency supply as a boon, a welcome route to automatic thrift. If I tipped a bearer Rs.100 before November 8, I now tip him only Rs.20 and the recipient, a born fatalist, is even happier. This in fact is the new norm. Economists will study the downstream consequences of this abrupt slowing of cashflow for months to come.

Never in history has every citizen been in possession of data which would be the envy of social scientists worldwide. In the past 60 days I must have asked questions on demonetization of, say, an average of five persons each day spread over Delhi, Lucknow, Aligarh.

What are my findings? Broadly, there are two categories of responses which, quite strangely, remind me of Mandal Commission and its consequences. Let me explain why:

The majority of the educated speculated about black money, remonetisation of banks, a degree of collusion between bank employees and corrupt depositors who transformed astronomical sums of old money into new, the problem the middle level stores and shops were having in acquiring swipe machines and so on. But this lot was almost without exception, over a period of time, beginning to give Narendra Modi a benefit of doubt: things will improve. This was the growing refrain. In the late 80s and 90s when reservations were being increased, this lot would have been the savarnas, the upper castes opposed to rapid Mandalization.

Have those averse to sustained mandalized politics, spotted a possible equalizer in the travails of demonetisation? The uneducated, the dalits on whose back a new mandalised leadership consolidated itself in state capitals, have to this day continued to sell fruits and vegetables in carts, pavement stalls; lounging between parked cars are daily wage workers, carpenters, barbers, street cobblers, rag pickers the list is endless.

“Many of these do not even know how to make phone calls”, says Prakash the contractor in Kotla Mubarakpur. How will they ever enter the cashless economy? These are the ones who have returned to their villages only to find their banks unable to give them any cash. Such stories reinforced by the narratives of their relatives and clans grow with geometrical progression this is the overwhelming majority in the country side. For this multitude, Modi is quite the opposite of the hero TV channels project him as. This population is totally at a variance from the city dweller in the queue “things will improve”.

Obviously, the two categories of voters will support opposite sides in the coming elections to UP, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa.

Uttarakhand was carved out to insulate the Hill savarnas from the ravages of UP’s Mandalized politics. The state has two dominant castes, Brahmins and Thakurs, both on the right side of the demonetization divide.

It is in UP where the wretched of the Earth, further dispossessed by the currency crunch, will expend their anger against Modi. Post Mandal, Yadavs, backbone of the Samajwadi party, have emerged as the most powerful intermediate caste. They do not rank with the poorest. Dalits do. And they are mostly with Mayawati. Will the formidable leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party be the biggest beneficiary of the currency mayhem? Muslims are badly hit too. Whether they will be seduced by SP or BSP, popularity currents on election night will dictate.

That Modi remains unchallenged after he made the nation stand outside its banks, for 60 days and more, would have been incendiary material had there been leaders of sufficient caliber to light the match, Hindu fatalism notwithstanding. Mamata Banerjee has spunk but no supporting character outside Bengal. Punjab, therefore, is consequential for Modi in this context.

Despite the media unabashedly playing the Corporate hand, ground reports from Punjab are favourable to AAP. Arvind Kejriwal, persistently reviled by the media, an unfriendly Lt. Governor, a piqued BJP and Congress, will acquire an aura if he wins. By the way, how is he faring in Goa?

What is playing out in Lucknow is a combination of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh and Lear. In Ferdowsi’s tragedy, Rustam slays his own son Sohrab. Lear goes mad, having been betrayed by his own progeny.

The more courtiers around Mulayam Singh egg him on for action against his son Akhilesh Yadav, the stronger will be the electoral storm gathering in the young chief minister’s favour. With Mulayam’s mental faculties in question, the conspirators are egging the aging Rustam to politically slay Sohrab.

Should Akhilesh prevail in these series of rounds, well, Modi will have to take note of another political contender for the 2019 general elections. Meanwhile, state elections will ominously bring into focus the fateful Ides of March which is when results will start pouring in.

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Friday, December 30, 2016

Head In Cashless Sand, As Global Events Pass India By

Head In Cashless Sand, As Global Events Pass India By
                                                                          Saeed Naqvi
While New Delhi is busy with the demonetization upheaval, it may find itself paces too slow in coping with the new strategic dynamic engulfing the region.

Neither Kabul nor New Delhi can be sanguine about the high level meeting in Moscow on Afghanistan to which China and Pakistan were invited. This follows Moscow’s declaration that it does not consider Taleban as the enemy. In fact Afghan Taleban can be allies against Al Qaeda and the Islamic States.

A piqued Ahmad Shekib Mostaghni, spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry, said “even if such talks are organized with goodwill, they cannot yield substantial results because there is no one from the Afghan side to brief the participants about the latest ground realities.”

New Delhi, preoccupied otherwise, has not reacted to the Moscow meet. Apparently, the Russians took the Indian Foreign office into confidence that “it was only about the internal situation in Afghanistan”. Russians are concerned about the rise of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, a diplomatic source said.

Does New Delhi accept Moscow’s anxieties about ISIS in Afghanistan? And does it go along with Moscow and Beijing’s evaluation that Taleban are possible allies against the more infectious ISIS? But Washington has invested blood and treasure fighting the Taleban for 14 years. Is New Delhi at a trijunction?

In diplomacy, friendly gestures come with disguised ambiguity. With the Trump Presidency, a new chapter may be opening in US-Moscow relations. In preparation for this phase, Moscow would like to retain some pressure points to determine the pace of new equations. Kabul maybe one such pressure point.

Should Trump turn upon Tehran over the nuclear deal, there is something in the Afghan cauldron for Iran to stir too.

So, the New Year begins with many new events to juggle with. Of the scattered scratches on my mind that 2016 leaves behind, the deepest one was etched in New York. At my friend’s DUMBO loft in Brooklyn on the night of November 8, an assortment of friends from every walk of life, left champagne bottles uncorked because the ground from under their feet moved when Hillary Clinton lost.

If you make Bernie Sanders impossible, I said then, you make Trump inevitable.

American exceptionalism notwithstanding, the popular mood globally across liberal democracies was the same – a disgust with establishments foisted on them by globalization and crony capitalism.

The assault on the establishment has come from the Left as well as the Right. Establishments, like the skilled matador, have deflected the people to the Right. This is their preferred fallback position. Hence, No to Bernie Sanders. Yes, to Trump. And now they are beating their breasts!

Well, let it be recorded, the American establishment did try to write itself into the script too. Clinton, after all, was nothing if not the establishment. Yes, people think I am untrustworthy. Yes, they think I am dishonest. Yes, I goofed in Benghazi…..but still vote for me because Russians have hacked into my email. Bill Clinton went one better. Did I not tell you, he said to an interviewer, that Boris Yeltsin was a much better President than Putin.

Who knows the new Trump team from Forbes Who’s Who may reassert an old motto: the Business of America is Business. This encourages one to conclude that Trump would like to restore America as the land of unvarnished capitalism minus the hegemonic distortions, one which has made the US the world’s most hated nation even in influential enclaves of Europe.

Whatever else Trump may achieve, will he ever succeed in weaning away the Occupy Wall Street youth Bernie Sanders had mobilized? If not, he will begin to look like a semi finalist until the next elections in 2020.

Establishments may be able to channelize popular preference away from the Left, once or twice, but they cannot make a habit of it.

Ultimately, all speculations will be tempered by a Realpolitik, like the one opening up to India’s north. Countermoves will come as soon as Trump finds his feet in the White House. As he surveys the scene from the Oval office, he will notice, a new bounce in the Russian tread in Islamabad, Beijing, Damascus, Ankara, Manila, Kuala Lampur. To be counted among Putin’s possible friends could well be French Presidential candidate, Francois Fillon who defeated Nicolas Sarkozy in recent Republican party elections. Trump has already held out his hand to Putin. How firmly will he clasp it? And will the clasp last over Afghanistan too? Will New Delhi have respite from the unfolding demonetisation drama to attend to all of this?

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Friday, December 23, 2016

Brutalities Of Aleppo Would Be More Real Without Western Propaganda

Brutalities Of Aleppo Would Be More Real Without Western Propaganda
                                                                                                    Saeed Naqvi
Why is Aleppo in such heavy focus just when the Syrians have more or less wrested the eastern part of their biggest city from an assortment of the extremist Jabhat Al Nusra and similar groups. The US, France, UK, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel have consistently dignified these as “Syrian rebels”. Turkey was a key member of this gang too but has switched sides after an attempted coup against President Tayyip Erdogan which he suspects had American origins. He travelled to Moscow outlining an Ankara, Moscow Teheran axis. This, by the way, is a game changing axis: major powers are meeting over Syria without US participation, for the first time.

This brings me back to the above question.

The American establishment, bruised by the defeat of its very own candidate, Hillary Clinton, is trying to influence the incoming administration on some issues it has invested heavily in – Russia and Syria, for instance. The CIA and the media, duly mobilized, would like to cast Russia in a cold warlike adversarial role. Also they would not like to give up on regime change and fragmentation of Syria. This, among other aims, is also designed to delude the Saudis, that they still have a hand to play in the Syrian misadventure for possible future bargaining in Geneva. Loss in Yemen and rout in Syria would cause heart failures in Riyadh.

The relentless propaganda war, with Aleppo as centre stage, is part of an effort to salvage something from the wreckage. What is happening in Aleppo is truly grim and very tragic. But tragedy dressed up as propaganda is what we are being exposed to. The propagandist’s expectation is that folks around Donald Trump would begin to worry about public opinion thus whipped up. This in turn would influence policy.

All of this is delusionary because Trump has come to power fighting precisely this kind of stuff and from these very sources – CIA and the media. He has set the cat among the pigeons by taking on the CIA even before he has assumed office. Never have CIA daily briefings to the President been so summarily dismissed. What is the point of listening to the same thing every morning, he says.

Rep Peter King who sits on the House Intelligence Committee says CIA director, John Brennan, is orchestrating a “hit job” against the President elect by leaking allegations that Russia hacked into US elections. Some heads may roll but the CIA will eventually fall in line once Trump enters the Oval office.

Media gyrations on the other hand would be interesting to watch as it begins to make adjustments. Stalwarts like Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria, (to name just two) have followed the Establishment script to the last syllable. Now that an avowed anti establishment is in the White House, will they change their spots?

There is another dimension to the media story which has been reinforced by Trump’s victory. He won despite major networks and newspapers arrayed behind Hillary Clinton? This is proof of an abysmal drop in the media’s credibility. This is a truth the media (including Indian media) will ignore to its peril. There is a consistent decline in the media’s credibility for two primary reasons.

The post Soviet, unipolar world order was accompanied by accelerated globalization which, in its wake, gave rise to crony capitalism worldwide.

It is in the nature of crony capitalism to have mainstream media (Think Tanks too) lined up behind the establishment. Recent history shows that this arrangement results in wide disparities of income and lifestyles. A majority begins to lose faith in the media which is seen as being partisan to an establishment they have lost trust in.

There is another durable cliché to remember. When wars break out, the first casualty is truth. In conditions of war, the journalist becomes myth maker and propagandist. Only the finest journalists are able to separate a war from the national interest. Such is the din of jingoism. There were many journalists who exposed the fallacies of the Vietnam War. They changed the course of history. That kind of professional honesty has been a casualty of journalism in the age of crony capitalism. What objectivity in an era of embedded journalists?

This media has been called upon to cover nearly 50 big or small conflicts the West embroiled itself in after the Soviet collapse. One sided coverage resulted in a huge loss of credibility.

During the final debate with Trump at Las Vegas, Clinton simulated a lump in her throat talking about the four year old Syrian boy with a burnt face. This was evidence of indiscriminate Russian bombing of civilians in Aleppo, she said. Is none of the brutality to be placed at Jabhat al Nusra’s door? Is the Nusra a benign force?

On cue, Christiane Amanpour thrust the very same photograph of the Syrian boy under Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov’s nose. “Crime against humanity” she emoted. In counter propaganda, youtube showed graphic details of how the “burnt boy” story was manufactured. Anyone can see it on youtube.

In the course of another interview, Amanpour thumped the table “are we going to allow another Srebrenica in Aleppo?”

In Srebrenica in 1995, 8000 Bosnian men were separated from their women and children by Serbian soldiers. They were lined up, shot and buried in mass graves, even as Dutch Peace Keeping troops turned the other way. True, Aleppo is witness to great brutality perpetrated by all sides. Where is the comparison with Srebrenica?

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