In a snarky retort during the 2012 presidential campaign Obama told Republican nominee Mitt Romney that the 1980s wanted their foreign policy back after Romney said that Russia was America's greatest national security threat. Obama should have told Benjamin Netanyahu that Pretoria wanted its 1980s foreign policy back. From 1978 to 1989, during the period of State President P.W. Botha, the ideology of the ruling National Party in Pretoria was that of the Total Onslaught/Total Response. This was a sort of neo-apartheid gloss on traditional apartheid. All of Pretoria's critics and enemies were clumped together as one threat led and controlled from Moscow: this meant the Western anti-apartheid movement advocating economic sanctions against South Africa in the United States and Europe, the white liberal opposition Progressive Federal Party, the liberal English-language press, the Third World countries supporting sanctions and voting against Pretoria in the United Nations (UN) and the African National Congress (ANC) liberation movement and its de facto internal wing, the United Democratic Front, and the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) liberation movement in Namibia and its Angolan and Cuban protectors in Angola. All part of the same conspiracy. Part of a vast left-wing conspiracy--it would almost make Hillary Clinton blush.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Monday, March 3, 2014
The present standoff in Ukraine makes me think of two things. First, in 1994 Ukraine voluntarily gave up its control of Soviet nuclear weapons then stationed on its territory under American pressure. Kiev wanted to please Washington, which wanted only one nuclear successor state for the Soviet Union rather than four (Belarus and Kazakhstan were the other two republics with nuclear weapons). For the sake of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, Washington wanted Moscow to assume complete control of all Soviet nuclear weapons. I remember thinking that given Russian history, Ukraine was crazy to give up control of its deterrent to Moscow--the capital that had twice in the past strangled Ukrainian sovereignty. Had I been an adviser in the Clinton administration I would have urged Clinton not to pressure any of the three republics to give up their weapons for a few years until Moscow had proved its good intentions.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Putin once said that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the greatest disaster of the Twentieth Century. Putin was a man formed by the Soviet Union, by the secret police that he spent his career in. Unlike Boris Yeltsin who appointed him prime minister in December 1999 he was never comfortable with the idea of freedom. Unlike Aleksander Solzhenitsyn who looks back to Russian history before the Soviet Union, Putin's scope of history is limited to the period after November 1917. So which Soviet leader does Putin see as his model? There are several who might come to mind.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
President Viktor Yanukovych, the ally of Vladimir Putin of Russia, signed an agreement with the opposition that provided for anmesty for the protesters, freed political opponent Yulia Tymoshenko from prison, and generally eased the way towards a genuine transition to democracy--if the Ukrainians are capable of it. At last report Yanukovych was said to be in Kharkov (Kharkiv in Ukrainian), the main city in the eastern half of the country, which is home to the Russian-speaking population. He fled his palace in Kiev (Kyiv in Ukrainian). Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is likely to try to return to power. But many of the protesters from Maidan square in Kiev reject her as both corrupt and autocratic. She was also closely linked to Putin.
I remember years ago a conversation with a fellow military linguist who had just returned from some time spent in Ukraine shortly after independence. He was Polish-American and a Russian linguist and told me that Ukrainian seemed to be about halfway between Polish, a western Slavic language, and Russian, an eastern Slavic language. The same thing could be said of Ukraine itself. Poland is clearly a western country that has identified its place with the West. Russia is a mixture of Asian and European influences and culture. Ukraine is somewhere in between these two (and Belarus, which is like Russia) in terms of readiness for democracy and political culture.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Two recent Indian polls point to a change in ruling coalitions in the Lok Sabha or lower house of parliament in India. A Times Now-CVoter poll projects 202 seats for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which ruled India from 1998 to 2004, and 25 additional seats for its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for a total of 227 seats in the 543 seat lower house. By contrast the now ruling United Progressive Alliance is projected to win a little over a hundred seats with its leading member, the Congress Party, winning 89 seats. If this holds true, an NDA coalition should prove to be quite stable.
A second poll of Indian youths who are smartphone users had 72 percent stating that politicians' children should not themselves enter politics, suggesting that they will not be allowed to vote for Rahul Ganhi, the prime ministerial candidate of Congress. According to the Economist magazine there are 120 million new voters aged 18 to 22. These new voters and other young voters are likely to vote for the BJP, led by Narendra Modi. The Clinton administration got along well with the BJP, as did the Bush administration. But Modi may be a different matter. Modi is considered responsible for sparking an anti-Muslim riot/pogrom in his native state of Gujurat several years ago. As a result he has been barred from entering the United States. Now after the recent diplomatic spat between Washington and New Delhi over the arrest of an Indian consul official in New York who allegedly lied on paperwork about the salary of her Indian domestic servant, the United States will likely face the prospect of dealing with a new prime minister who likely will not be well disposed towards Washington. Interesting times are ahead.
Here Jonah Hill in The Diplomat points out the limitations and shortcomings of Indian political polling.
Here Jonah Hill in The Diplomat points out the limitations and shortcomings of Indian political polling.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
The recently ended anti-government demonstrations against the government of President Yanukovych in Ukraine points out the existence of a major religious and cultural fault line that runs through Eastern Europe. Europe is divided by religion into three cultural zones: a Catholic zone in southern Europe and Ireland, a Protestant zone in northern and Western Europe, and an Orthodox zone in Eastern Europe. The differences between Orthodox Christians on one hand and both Catholic and Protestant Christians on the other are much greater than those between Catholics and Protestants. This is primarily due to two causes. First, the split between the Orthodox and the Catholics predates that between Catholics and Protestants by nearly five centuries: the former occurred in 1054 and the latter in 1517. Second, democracy has been present in Western and Central Europe much longer than it has in Eastern Europe, so Christian denomination no longer serves as quite the marker for political differences in Western and Central Europe that it does in Eastern Europe.
Ukraine is divided both on religious and national grounds. Western Ukraine is predominantly composed of ethnic Ukrainians who are Catholics; eastern Ukraine is predominantly composed of ethnic Ukrainians who are Orthodox and ethnic Russians. Although it is true that pockets of all three groups exist in both areas. Thus, the majority Catholics in the West are culturally oriented towards their fellow Catholics in Poland and Hungary. Both of these countries are today successful democracies and their populations were on the front lines fighting for freedom during the Cold War. In the East the Orthodox are oriented towards Russia. I want to emphasis that these differences are not due to theological differences between Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism but rather due to cultural orientations. The border between Orthodoxy and Catholicism/Protestantism runs horizontally through Eastern Europe and then vertically through the former Yugoslavia and Ukraine. Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Croatia are all mainly Catholic or mixed Catholic and Protestant. Bosnia, and Macedonia feature a three-way religious split among Catholics, Orthodox, and Muslims. Albania and Kosovo are predominantly Muslim but have Catholic minorities and even a small Orthodox Serb minority in the case of Kosovo. Greece, Serbia, Romania, Moldova, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Belarus and Russia are Orthodox. Ukraine is divided between Catholics and Orthodox.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Earlier this month I predicted that there will be more countries affected by the drive for freedom in the Arab world. I predicted that in my humble opinion Lebanon and Jordan are the two most likely candidates. This is not because I'm an expert in the internal workings of either country. My knowledge of Jordan relates mainly to its foreign policy and my knowledge of Lebanon is historical--from the period of the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-90. So on what basis do I make my predictions?
Both countries are neighbors of Syria and both are affected by the civil war in Syria. A 2007 Jordanian estimate was that there were 450,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan, and small numbers of refugees continue to arrive in Jordan each month due to continued fighting in Iraq. This puts strains on Jordanian resources and Jordan has never been a rich country in terms of natural resources. It lacks oil and natural gas unlike Iraq and the Gulf countries and even Syria, and its main natural resource is phosphates in the Dead Sea region. Jordan's economy is based primarily on agriculture, tourism as part of the Holy Land, and light industry. Jordan provides free health care and education for the Iraqi refugees. Now it has to provide for Syrian refugees as well who number more than 600,000 or almost a third of the more than two million Syrian refugees who have fled since 2011. The Jordanian Central Bank has already noted that their presence is a strain on the economy. Here is a recent LA Times article that echoes the above analysis.