US Foreign Policy

The usefulness of conflict

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Recently I had a conversation with a renowned expert in humanitarian relief and conflict resolution regarding ethnic cleansing in Myanmar against the Rohingya Muslims, and I expressed my concerns that the US might potentially back the fledgling militant group “The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army” (ARSA).  She disagreed, saying that the US had been very supportive of the Rohingya; they had welcomed refugees (before Trump), and had convened a Security Council meeting at the United Nations on the issue, facilitated relief work, and so on.  What was interesting to me about this was that she believed these actions by the US precluded the likelihood of American covert support for ARSA, whereas I do not see the slightest contradiction between US expressions of concern for the plight of the Rohingya and their simultaneous exacerbation of that plight.  But then again, I am American.  The US does that kind of thing all the time.

The US, let’s be clear, promotes democratic facades, not democracy.  When the façade is flimsy, they criticize, and offer dictatorial regimes the necessary marketing strategies to obscure their authoritarian tendencies.  Hold elections; talk about “transitions to democracy”, cultivating pluralism, and so on.  Meanwhile, they will simultaneously facilitate the intensification of repression.  Remember, American foreign policy is exclusively dedicated to securing the perceived “national interests”, and this translates to the interests of business.  No regime is better suited for doing that than an authoritarian one; preferably a corrupt military government.  The ideal situation is for any country to be ruled by an unscrupulous  group of local elites who are ready and willing to collaborate with global elites to deliver their country’s resources in exchange for a percentage and a guarantee of immunity.

One of the best mechanisms for camouflaging the fact that a client regime is tyrannical and not even slightly interested in democratic reforms (which no one in power really wants anyway), is the creation of, or the encouragement  of, internal conflict.  A military government can then impose brutal crackdowns in the name of securing peace and tranquility; while the actual objectives are the subjugation of popular dissent, the prevention of democracy, and the ruthless protection of vital business interests for themselves and their global sponsors. It is understood that the sponsors will occasionally reprimand the regime for particularly egregious atrocities, but these reprimands will be hollow, and the regime is allowed to ignore them.  In fact, they are essentially part of the mechanism required to enable the regime to continue, as they serve to abate any public pressure on the international community to actively intervene.  They are permissive condemnations, and everyone involved understands this.

In Myanmar, the central government’s real problem is the Rakhine, not the Rohingya.  The Rakhine are an ethnic minority living in a resource-rich, and strategically important state, who have a history of secessionist ambitions.  They are oppressed, exploited, and impoverished, and if they rose against the government, it would be a lethal blow to the Burmese.  As long as their resentment and hostility are directed against the helpless Rohingya,  the regime is secure.  Internal conflict in Arakan, therefore, is useful to everyone who matters.  The Rohingya, however, may need to be slightly less helpless in order for this conflict to be sustainable.  Hence, it is entirely possible that the US will covertly, with the help of conduits in the Gulf States, try to foster a semi-viable militant movement in Arakan; and probably is already doing so.  And this is entirely for the purpose of supporting the central government, increasing US ties to the Burmese military, and previous expressions of support for the Rohingya do not contradict with this strategy at all, but rather align with it.

 

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Blood in, blood out: you don’t get to just walk away from neoliberalism

 

(To be published in Arabic for Arabi21)

When the AK Party came to office in Turkey under the leadership of Recip Tayyip Erdogan in 2003, they inherited a government obligated to repay over $20 billion in debt to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other major international lenders.  The loans had been acquired largely by the former government’s economic minister Kemal Dervish (who had previously worked for the World Bank), and Dervish had put together a “National Plan” for restructuring Turkey’s economy to enable the government to service these loans.  Dervish’s plan was a classic neoliberal formula; the standard macroeconomic structural reforms demanded by the IMF of all its debtors.

The plan included large-scale privatization of state-owned enterprises and banks, and opening them up for foreign investors; as well as slashing social spending, stopping agricultural subsidies, freezing public sector wages, and so on. When the AKP came to power, this plan was already underway, and, since the debts were already hanging around Turkey’s neck. Erdogan’s government continued with the neoliberal program.

As a result of these policies, superficial economic data from Turkey went from strength to strength for the last 10 years.  Foreign investors were happy, the IMF was happy, and the AK government was almost universally praised.  The story of the real economy, as is most often the case under IMF structural adjustment reforms, was rather different.  By 2010 real wages in manufacturing were 12% lower than they were in 1998; household debt has increased, purchasing power has decreased, the gap between rich and poor has widened.  The richest 100 families in Turkey own wealth equivalent to the total wealth of the poorest 15% of the population (about 11.25 million people).

Since the Ottoman times, business in Turkey has functioned under a kind of patronage system, with the state operating as a key facilitator, or even as a sponsor for favored groups of elites. Any type of entrepreneurial activity in Turkey has always been based on government relations.  Thus it has been said that in Turkey they do not have political parties per se, but rather they have patronage networks.  The Islamists have, therefore, always been locked out of this game in Turkey, as the anti-religious government exclusively patronized secular nationalist businessmen.  One of the common features of the neoliberal program is that it redistributes wealth and power within a society disproportionately to a small handful of locals who collaborate with the reform process and reap its benefits.  When the AKP took over the government, this altered the direction of patronage and has led to the creation of a new class of Islamist financial elites in Turkey, aided by the already skewed effects of neoliberal reforms.

Throughout the rise of Erdogan and the AKP, the Gulen Movement (Hizmet) played a key role.  In fact, it would not be inaccurate to say that the AKP harvested the political crop planted by the social and educational work of Hizmet in Turkey. Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen were essentially allies in the effort to loosen the grip of religious intolerance and to revive Islamic feeling in the society. As long as this was the case, the AKP had no objection to Hizmet members moving up the ranks in state institutions, replacing hardline anti-religious elements in the army, the police, the judiciary, and in higher education and the media.  Tensions between Erdogan and Gulen began when it started to emerge that Gulen had political ambitions himself, and that placing Hizmet members in key state institutions was actually part of a coordinated plan to seize power and declare his version of an Islamic state in Turkey, with himself as supreme leader.

Both because Erdogan is a democrat and because the sincerity of an Islamic state is questionable when its leader is living in luxurious, self-imposed exile in the United States, the tacit alliance between Hizmet movement and the AKP was broken.

Just prior to the split, in 2013 Erdogan successfully completed full repayment of the IMF loans because of which the government had subordinated its economic policy for a decade; and almost immediately, Erdogan’s attitude towards neoliberalism appeared to change. He rails against the IMF, relentlessly criticizes the Central Bank, advocates a zero percent or a negative interest rate, advocates much more populist economic policies, and wants greater economic sovereignty for Turkey. International business suspects that Erdogan is not the committed neoliberal they thought the was.

Within the AKP, there are at least two factions now; the neoliberals, and the populists.  Erdogan’s neoliberal advisors talk about “restructuring the industrial sector to boost value-added exports”, which is a complicated way of saying “suppress wages”, while the populists talk about trying to increase household savings and grow domestic consumer activity, which is another way of saying “raise wages and improve the quality of life”.  Whenever Erdogan does something politically which is perceived as consolidating his personal power, foreign investors get nervous, and this can only be because they are dubious about whether he will use that power to serve their interests or instead the interests of Turkey.  In fact, you can almost trace when Erdogan started to face criticism in the international media to the moment he released Turkey from IMF bondage and started to express a different economic vision.

All of this is important background to understand what happened on July 15th, the failed coup attempt by Gulenists, and the subsequent crackdown on their members within state institutions.

Fethullah Gulen is being hosted by the United States, living in a compound in Pennsylvania; and the popular perception in Turkey is that he has become an asset to American intelligence.  When the coup attempt was underway, the US embassy in Turkey issued an emergency warning to Americans in the country under the title “Turkish Uprising”; a rather conspicuously premature description of a strictly military attempt to overthrow the government.

It would seem to indicate that US intelligence anticipated that Gulenist  civilians would turn out in support of the puschists, to make the seizure of power appear like a popular uprising. It was reported on CNN during the night of the coup attempt in an interview with former CIA agent Bob Baer, that he had actually discussed the possibility of a coup in Turkey with Turkish military officers just a few months earlier. So, it appears that something of a consensus may have emerged regarding the desire to remove Erdogan from power because of the increasing doubts about his commitment to neoliberalism’; and it was believed  that the sprawling Gulen network would be able to deliver this result.

…انظروا من يتكلم                                 Look who’s talking…

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عدة أشخاص شاركوا مؤخرا هذه التدوينة التي كتبها إليوت أبرامز لأنهم، كما أعتقد، سعداء بانتقاداته للسيسي، ولأن المؤلف يكتب لمجلس العلاقات الخارجية كما أنه مستشار الأمن القومي السابق وبالتالي فكلماته قد ينظر لها على أنها ذات قيمة وأهمية، فهو من المطلعين على بواطن الحكومة، وشخصية كبيرة ومهمة، بالإضافة إلى أنه يهودي، لذلك فعندما يقول أن السيسي فاشل فقد وجب علينا جميعًا أن نكون سعداء، ولكن قد يكون من المفيد أن نعرف شيئًا عن هذا الكاتب.

إليوت أبرامز مجرم حرب، وهو أحد المهندسين الرئيسيين للفوضى في أمريكا اللاتينية لتهيئة الظروف لفرض النيوليبرالية، فهو صهيوني متطرف وكاذب مدان بالأدلة.

عندما يحذر أبرامز من انتهاكات لحقوق الإنسان فهذا أشبه ما يكون بتشارلز مانسون وهو يحذرنا من خطر الطوائف العنيفة. أبرامز كان حازًما في إنكار العديد من المجازر التي ارتكبها الجيش السلفادوري الذي تموله الولايات المتحدة، واصفًا مزاعم وروايات شهود العيان بأنها “دعاية” حتى بعد أن تم اكتشاف المقابر الجماعية، فقد أشاد بسياسة إدارة ريغان في السلفادور رغم أن الأمم المتحدة حملتها مسؤولية ما لا يقل عن 85٪ مما يقرب من 22،000 من الفظائع المرتكبة هناك، فوصف هو هذه الإدارة بأنها صاحبة “إنجاز رائع!”

عندما يصور مختل عقلي مثل إليوت أبرامز السيسي باعتباره حاكم غير كفء وفاسد ومتوحش، فهذا يعني في لغة ومنطق أبرامز أنه: “ليس متوحش أو فاسد بما فيه الكفاية!”

فإذا كان هذا السجال لا يعدوا أكثر من تسديد بعض الضربات السياسية الحزبية الداخلية، ففي الغالب تصريحات أبرامز هذه قد تعكس مشاعر شريحة من مجتمع الأعمال والصهاينة الكبار، الذي يرغبون في رؤية مصر تنزلق إلى حرب أهلية، وليس من الصعب تحديد أي شرائح مجتمع الأعمال نحن نتحدث عنها، فقط راجعوا قائمة الشركات الراعية لمجلس العلاقات الخارجية، فليس هناك شك في أن مثل هذه المشاعر موجودة وأن أبرامز كان هو المتحدث باسمهم عبر تاريخه، ولهذا فإنني لن أفسر تصريحاته على أنها بادرة أمل في أن السلطة في الولايات المتحدة قد أصبح لها ضمير فجأة أو أنها قد تعمل على الدفع بالديمقراطية والحرية وحقوق الإنسان في مصر… ولكنها قد تكون نذير محتمل ومزعج لفتن أسواء بكثير في الطريق.

Several people recently shared this blog post by Elliott Abrams, because, I think, they were happy about his criticisms of Sisi, and because the author is a writer for the Council on Foreign Relations, and a former National Security Adviser, his words are deemed to have value and importance.  He is a government insider, a big shot, a white guy in a tie, plus he’s Jewish; so when he says Sisi is a failure, we all get happy. But it might be useful to know something about who this author is.

Elliott Abrams is a war criminal, one of the key architects of chaos in Latin America to create conditions for the imposition of neoliberalism, a radical Zionist, and a convicted liar.

When Abrams warns about violations of Human Rights, it’s a bit like Charles Manson warning about the danger of violent cults. Abrams was resolute in denying the numerous massacres committed by the US-funded Salvadoran army, calling allegations and eye-witness accounts “propaganda” even after the mass graves had been discovered. He hailed the Reagan Administration’s policy in El Salvador, which was held responsible by the United Nations for at least 85% of roughly 22,000 atrocities, as a “fabulous achievement”.

So, when a psychopath like Elliott Abrams portrays Sisi as an incompetent, corrupt, and brutal ruler, what that means in Abrams-speak is “not brutal or corrupt enough.”

If this is anything more than partisan domestic political sniping, Abrams remarks may reflect the sentiments of a segment of the business community, and the ultra-Zionists, which would like to see Egypt descend into civil war. It isn’t difficult to identify which segments of the business community we are talking about, just check the corporate sponsors of the Council on Foreign relations. There is no doubt that such sentiments exist, and Abrams has historically been their spokesman; so I would not interpret his remarks as a hopeful sign that power in the US has suddenly developed a conscience, and is going to push for democracy, freedom, and Human Rights in Egypt…rather, it is a disturbing potential harbinger of far worse strife to come.