Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Turks won’t do the West’s dirty work & Beware our allies in MidEast as much as IS enemy

From The Daily Telegraph (9th October, 2014)

Turkish military intervention against Isil in northern Syria looks like a neat solution to the West’s dilemma in dealing with the threat from jihadi terrorists. In London, Washington and European capitals we want to destroy Isil – but without getting our feet dirty. Boots on the ground are taboo for President Barack Obama and David Cameron, so all eyes are turning to our old ally in Ankara to solve the problem. As a neighbour to both Iraq and Syria, our leaders ask themselves, hasn’t Turkey got a direct national interest in stability across its borders?
What’s more, with Nato’s second largest army, Turkey could easily strike a deadly blow against Isil in what is no-go terrain for her Western partners. But for days the serried ranks of Turkish tanks have been marshalled a few hundred yards from the bitter fighting in the Syrian border town of Kobani, like Stalin’s Red Army outside Warsaw in 1944. Despite repeated pleas for action from John Kerry, Ankara’s troops remain spectators to the crisis.
Kobani is a Kurdish town. That’s the nub of the matter. Kurds, both in Turkey and across Europe, have been demanding action: the Dutch Parliament has been besieged by Kurdish-led protests (which were promptly followed by the Dutch Air Force joining Nato attacks on Isil in Iraq); meanwhile, as many as 14 Kurds have been killed in confrontations with the Turkish police. But still Ankara watches and waits.
The reasons are clear. For Turkey’s Nato allies, Isil is the problem and arming the Kurds part of the solution. For Turkey, however, Kurdish ambitions for a state are a mortal threat. Nor do Sunni adversaries of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria want to see a Kurdish state carved out of their country. And the reality is that, although a long-term Nato ally, Turkey has been diverging in key respects from its Western allies since 2002.

For 12 years, Turkey has been ruled by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has its roots in an Islamic reaction to the tide of secularism that swept the country after Ataturk abolished the Ottoman caliphate 90 years ago. Ironically, since being elected president in August, AKP leader Recep Tayip Erdogan has achieved a political dominance unparalleled since Ataturk’s death in 1938. But Erdogan is the antithesis of modern Turkey’s father-figure.
Ataturk wanted to distance the new Turkey from the Ottoman Empire’s involvement with Arabs and Muslims. Europe is the future, forget the past was his motto. Yet neo-Ottomanism is the grand name of Erdogan’s foreign policy today. Although AKP leaders have publicly remained loyal to Turkey’s application to join the EU, the lure of religious solidarity with Sunni Arab movements from Hamas in Gaza to the Muslim Brothers of both Egypt and Syria has had a stronger emotional pull.
Since 2011, when the civil war began in Syria, Erdogan has called for the fall of Assad, an Alawite ally of Shia Muslims, and backed Sunnis in Syria who are no friends of the local Kurds. For those Kurds, the Turkish president’s demand that they subordinate themselves to his Sunni allies in Syria if they want the Turkish Army to advance south has been an unacceptable ultimatum. They are well aware that Sunni fundamentalist violence against Kurds in Syria predates 2011. Isil’s actions today have simply exaggerated it.
All of which is further complicated by the fact that the sectarian splits brutally on display in Syria and Iraq, are festering below the surface in Turkey, too. Roughly a quarter of Turks are Alevi Muslims, with the majority Sunnis. Although scholars remind us that Turkey’s Alevis should not be confused with Syria’s ruling Alawites, the AKP has routinely dismissed Erdogan’s critics as sectarian Assad-lovers, so that poisonous confusion does exist. Turks of Alevi background, including in the army, find intervention in Syria against Isil fundamentalists one thing; but pushing on to Damascus against Assad’s Alawite regime quite another.
That might be one reason that Erdogan has been slow to act in Syria. But given his almost messianic sense of mission, which has overcome every obstacle on his way to the pinnacle of power, it is more likely that he’s pursuing another strategy – bargaining with the West.
What will he be demanding in return for a decisive Turkish strike at Isil? He is sure to insist that Kurds remain not only stateless but also defenceless. Meanwhile, will European members of Nato swallow their opposition to Turkish entry into the EU? Even so, without being allowed to replace Assad with a Sunni regime not in the least friendly to Kurds, Erdogan still may not act.
His is a tempting offer, though. Turkish military intervention would solve the West’s immediate problem while avoiding discontent over casualties in Britain and the US. But any Turkish action would, in effect, be unilateral. Ankara – not Washington or London – will dictate the outcome of this diplomatic dance. For though the Isil problem might well disappear under the weight of Turkish firepower, the Middle East’s snake-pit of conflicting rivalries will remain. Will Israel, for instance, be happy to see allies of Hamas brought to power in Damascus by Turkish troops?
We must be clear about this deal. Leaping at the possibility of crushing Isil, and quickly, via Ankara, will seem cause for celebration today. After the party is over, however, we will wake up with a new Middle Eastern headache.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/11148908/The-Turks-wont-do-the-Wests-dirty-work.html
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On 27th September, 2014, The Mail on Sunday  published:
How can we win this war when our allies despise everything we stand for?: recent experience of building democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq is not encouraging."

No government could refuse the challenge after the bloody provocations of Islamic State. But having decided by a huge majority to embark  on what David Cameron warned would be a long campaign, the House of Commons vote on Friday did not make clear what the endgame would be.

Without knowing what victory will look like, have we embarked on a war we cannot win?

Our model of victory is what happened at the end of the Second World War when the West successfully established democracy in defeated Germany and Japan.

But recent experience building new democracies from faction-ridden Afghanistan to disintegrating Iraq is not encouraging.The US Army thought it had kept George W. Bush’s promise to bring democracy to Iraq. But ‘winner takes all’ at the polls in countries riven by bitter religious rivalries means democracy has a sour taste for losers.

Things went wrong in Iraq despite the presence of so many US and British troops and billions of dollars in aid, training and equipment.

Now David Cameron tells us to ‘forget’ the last Iraq war. This time things will be different. No ground forces. Just air power to back up local and regional allies who share our hostility to IS.

That all seems straightforward enough. The enemy is obvious, almost a caricature of evil. But though knowing your enemy is vital in war, knowing what your allies’ real aims are is equally important. 

It is our allies who frighten me almost as much as IS.

On the ground, the West has friends who have daggers drawn with each other. And they have contempt for our values.
Even leaving aside the oil-rich Arab despots who have signed  up for the anti-IS campaign for their own reasons, inside Nato, its key regional member, Turkey, is not fully on board.
Turkey borders both Iraq and Syria and has Nato’s  second-largest armed forces after America.

But precisely because Turkey is right in the thick of the Middle East, its government has a very different take on the crisis.
In London and Washington, the Kurds of the region seem natural allies against the common IS enemy. Arming the Kurds to fight the jihadis seems a neat way to get local boots to do the fighting on the ground in Northern Iraq and Syria.

But to Turkey, Kurds are not natural allies.

With so many Kurdish people living in Turkey itself, Ankara fears arming Kurds to fight IS today will provide them  with the weapons to fight for independence from Turkey tomorrow.
Given how much expensive American weaponry fell into IS hands earlier this year as the Iraqi Army disintegrated, is Turkey unreasonable to harbour suspicions that defeat of IS by the Kurdish Peshmerga guerrillas could be the signal  for a well-armed war for independence by its Kurds?

But the Islamic-led Turkish government has been drifting away from the West in any case. President Tayyip Erdogan has been a vocal critic of Israel and his open border policy to Syria has let foreign fighters, including hundreds from Britain, flow into the ranks of the jihadi forces fighting the Assad regime, but also taking Western aid workers hostages.

Syria’s civil war is key to the crisis. But there, too, Western values and the West’s allies are  in conflict.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbours say they support the American-led alliance but they don’t want the victory of Western democracy in the Middle East. What we see as the best way to guarantee a future for peace and freedom, our Arab allies see as a mortal threat.

The Sunni fundamentalist monarchs tolerated their rich subjects funding IS-style  jihadis to fight Assad and other allies of Shia Iran, which they hate and fear.

But when upstart jihadis like the self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, began to get too big for their boots, the ruling sheikhs were happy to join in cutting him down to size.

But promoting democracy, human rights, respect for women and religious minorities are not their war aims.

Chaos breeds enemies like IS. It is not the solution.

If anarchy is the problem, and democracy doesn’t take root easily, is dictatorship the answer?
Given how unsavoury and unreliable some of our allies in the Middle East are, it is remarkable how reluctant Western leaders have been to  join up with the regimes of Syria or Iran, who have very good reasons of their own for hating and fearing IS.
David Cameron, like Barack Obama, has pronounced Assad beyond the pale. So it looks like the West is undertaking a three-sided war in the Middle East, fighting Assad and his allies as well as his enemies.

This may be consistent, but is it wise?

If the West isn’t prepared to cooperate with the forces fighting IS in its main strongholds in Syria, then mission creep by our troops seems inevitable.
A case exists for special forces operations against specific targets, like ‘high value’ IS targets or safe houses where hostages are held.

But large-scale deployment of Western soldiers on the ground would be an admission of failure.

This is a war which we cannot win for the locals. Maybe they can’t win it for themselves. Barring a lucky strike which knocks out the IS leadership and demoralises their supporters, air power is not going to produce rapid results.

Nobody should anticipate a Victory in the Middle East Day 1945-style.

The crimes of IS give us the right to fight it, but the war cannot be won by the West without local support.

Tragically for us, the enemy and our dubious allies will decide the terms of victory or defeat.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Arab governments alarmed by crackdown on British Summertime protests

AliBababa News Agency (10.30 am Mekka/ 10am GMT) –

“Londonistan in Flames – People overpower Bourgeois Police State.”

Londonistan – The bourgeois minority regime of Cameron, Clegg and Crony has been shaken by widespread People Power demonstrations across Britain for a third night running. Summertime protests have sent a chill wind of hope through Britain's long repressed people. "Fear of the police has gone," dissident youth leaders claim. "It's a free for all society now or never."

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has broken his silence by warning the regime not permit rioting to reach Saudi sovereign territory in the Mayfair district of the British capital and to introduce reforms at once. Other world leaders have joined the chorus of condemnation of the increasingly isolated Cameron clique. The Syrian foreign minister, Walid Haged, has welcomed the joint condemnation of Cameron's regime by the Arab League and African Union and suggested the UN Security Council should authorise all necessary means to stop repression by regime thugs of the street protests. Analysts expect the ban on heroin exports to Britain announced jointly by Afghanistan and Burma could add to the pressure-cooker atmosphere in Britain which is 100% dependent on narcotics imports.

The regime has pinned its hopes for international legitimacy on next year's Londonistan Olympic Games which were controversially awarded to bourgeois Britain despite signs that its economy was overheating and popular anger against the regime rising. Threats of a boycott by the highly-regarded Omani-burka clad beach volley ball team could be a humiliation too far for Cameron's clique.

Reports of foreign interference in the British crisis have been rejected by expert analysts. Instead domestic tensions are seen as the only cause .The Yemeni professor of protestology, Bahce Kewi, explains "The ruling Consumerist Party finds that thirty years of its strict ideological dominance has not bred a docile youth. Young people are aware of a cyber-world beyond Britain where values like free access to the internet are normal. They can't wait to join the cashless society and get their hands on stuff for nothing."

Rejecting the empty slogans “You Can’t Buck the Market” and “There is No Alternative,” indignant youth across Britain have stormed the ruling regime’s local headquarters setting fire to symbols of Consumerist dominance and removing telecommunications and internet monitoring equipment from branches of the feared Curry’s organization in towns across the country.

With unverifiable but plausible reports of more than a thousand deaths in the Arsenal district of north Londonistan where a crowd estimated at a million strong overwhelmed the hated Met riot squads to occupy the Consumer Electronic Outlets Center, its seems likely that the popular protests could spread from the simmering suburbs even to previously loyal uptown areas like Kensington and Cholsey where many regime supporters have their luxurious barricaded villas.

Recognising the growing unrest, the secular Consumerist regime has tried to ban the traditional hoodie and mask outfit worn by the nation’s discontented youth as a rejection of the tie-less suit-wearing “official” style. This has only inflamed the mood of desperation in the capital’s teeming suburbs like Cronydon, where uncollected garbage is piled up for two weeks at a time.

AliBaba’s reporters are not allowed into Britain but using social networking sights and videophone images uploaded via MagiKarpit internet portal, our team of experienced journalists supported by expert analysts have put together a clear picture of the crisis in Britain.

Analysts report that the British regime’s claim to democratic legitimacy masks the reality that it is drawn from the minority bourgeois tribe, and especially from the Etonian clan with its headquarters west of London overlooking the country’s main airport at Heathrow.

Dissidents inside Britain as well as reform-advocates outside the country at the Damascus-based British Underground Liberty League have provided international media with 24/7 updates via Foxglove and the Gaggle-website Rumors with an exhilarating insight into a popular uprising by brave young people in their millions who have exposed the hollowness of the Consumerist ideology.

The regime’s own media like the Bourgeois Broadcasting Corporation try to portray the popular protests as outbursts of criminality and refer to the occupations of Consumerist branches as looting, AliBaba’s satellite channel has been able to contact one Twitteringham resident via Blackberry outside a “liberated” shopping center. To protect his identity, Alibaba is calling him “The Finger.” Using a brand-new handset to outwit secret police surveillance, The Finger told Alibaba that “We ain’t dun nuffin wrong. The doors was open and we are protecting the property in our own way.”

This kind of spontaneous organisation at grass-roots level has baffled the previously all-powerful Consumerist regime. Unable to rely on the Army for crowd control because of the large Oik majority in the ranks, the bourgeois regime is floundering as its levers of power no longer react to commands.

Desperate measures are being used in some areas according to reliable tweets. The sinister silence of veteran bloggers like the Mosside community organiser, The Spliff, shows the extremism of the hardliners according to human rights observers who are increasingly concerned that Manchester's failure to rise in revolt alongside nearby Liverpool suggests that the regime's widely-reported use of chemical weapons there is true.

Expert analysts suggest that deep-seated socio-economic resentments are at the root of the protest movement as a tiny elite is suspected is ripping off state revenues to fund lavish lifestyles at the expense of the People. Corrupt bourgeois-run banks have been bailed out with billions taken from the country’s oil revenues while queues of the unemployed waiting for famine relief outside hospitals wait for months on an end for the chance of a drip-feed.

Fears of a sectarian split in Britain have also been voiced by some foreign academic observers. They point out that shops owned by the widely-hated bourgeois minority were attacked across the country and fear that if the Cameron regime fell, then isolated bourgeois communities could face copy-cat revenge attacks for their decades of profiteering at the expense of the long-suffering people.

Signs of internal dissent within the Consumerists have been detected. Defections from the regime have been reported. The finance vizier, George Osborne, has been sighted in California where Alibaba’s internet sources suggest he has stashed the regime’s gold reserves. Meanwhile Defence Minister, Liam Fox, is in Spain, though the regime insists that he remains loyal and “is directing operations from his hotel.” However, the fact that the Prime Minister’s own wife, Samantha and children have been flown to safety in Italy suggests that David Cameron himself is not confident of the regime’s survival.

Increasingly isolated, Cameron and his fellow Etonian clan member, Boris Johnson, who runs the City, have turned to the snakeheads of the regime, the so-called COBRA group. [COBRA = Coordinating Bourgeois Reaction Army – AliBaba editorial] Along with the Specials, a bourgeois militia who form the regime’s Reactionary Guards, COBRA are threatening to flood the streets of Britain’s cities with merciless politically-correctional “volunteers.”

With the stock-market in free fall and international sanctions in the offing, the economic basis of the Consumerists’ ability to buy off protest and pay off loyalist thugs masquerading as policemen and Specials is waning fast.

Banning popular sports like soccer threatens to put more youth onto the streets while formerly regime-backing footballers like David Beckham have gone into exile in Los Angeles rather than play the beautiful game in a Wembley stadium converted into a make-shift prison.

If Consumerism falls in Britain how long can it last in its hardline center, the United States, is a question being asked by analysts. Despite its clandestine nuclear weapons programme and mercenary militias called Contractors, even Washington’s hold over its own long-suffering people looks shaky. With flash mobs reported in Philadelphia and Newark, the ayatollahs of Wall Street are having to devote all their security resources to protecting the bourgeois heartland.

This leaves Cameron's dictatorship desperately exposed. The British regime’s only hope to keep the masses off the streets for a fourth night of protests is the weather forecast. Loyalists are praying for a rain of terror to come in from the Atlantic coast and keep the people power movement indoors. God-willing the cloud of Consumerism will be lifted from the long-suffering Britons before the end of Ramadan.

AliBaba Breaking News - Britain's puppet-parliament recalled for emergency session. After decades of docility rumors of a Westminster Palace putsch are spreading as are reports of a new tough state security law. Cameron says Olympic Games to go ahead over dead bodies.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

NATO helps Gaddafi look Libyans in the eye

After Buckingham Palace was bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz, the present Queen’s mother is supposed to have said, “Now we can look the East End in the eye.” In a war any sense that the rulers are immune to the risks and privations affecting ordinary folks is damaging to their leadership. Britain's royal family was grateful to Hitler for targeting their palace. Colonel Gaddafi must be feeling the same after NATO killed his youngest son and three grandchildren late on Saturday night.

His spokesman emphasised that the “Brother Leader” now shared the sacrifices made for forty days and forty nights by other Libyan families. By missing the Colonel and killing the kids, NATO has given the Colonel a huge boost just as trouble was growing on the Tunisian front as well as carrying on in Misrata and in the east beyond Brega. The man who outlived Reagan’s onslaught in 1986 has done it again.

Only the perverted predatory mentality of NATO’s target-selectors could locate a harmless son of Gaddafi as well as his children, and then think it was a smart move to kill them. It would be bad enough if this blunder was simply what some Nevada-based geek-in-uniform assumed would make a neat kill, but it is obvious that frustration with the failure of Gaddafi to fall after a few cruise missile strikes six weeks ago has led the NATO leaders to think that de-capitation is the way out of the war which they launched with gay abandon.

Until 30th April, the logic of NATO’s air campaign was to concentrate its fire on Gaddafi’s foot soldiers while endlessly repeating the demand that the Colonel and his sons leave Libya. This seemed a crude ploy to get ordinary Libyans to ask why their boys were dying while the Gaddafi clan were unharmed. Splitting your enemy is a time-honoured tactic in warfare. Instead of wearing down Libyan morale and undermining the regime’s legitimacy by leaving the Gaddafi clan free to chat to Western channels, while ordinary soldiers died, NATO has given Gaddafi’s clan a blood bond with its supporters.

Generals are often accused of fighting the last war. The humanitarian bombers are repeating the propaganda from their Kosovo intervention in 1999. Mass murder, government organised rape camps with mercenaries fired up on Viagra, and so on are the staples of Washington’s increasingly hysterical denunciations of Gaddafi as it turns out that his family has more support than the glib proponents of hellfire missiles as humanity’s preferred way to protect civilians would have had us believe.

The UN Security Council resolution 1973 made not distinction between the obligation to protect unarmed civilians in Libya. But NATO's interpretation is that Gaddafi’s civilian supporters are collateral damage under the guise of “command and control centres” in short trousers.

No strategist in their right mind would do what the witches sabbath of Hilary Clinton, Susannah Rice and Samantha Powers has cooked up for fighting Gaddafi. But the male chorus in this tragedy is no more worthy of respect. Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron are the new Bill Clintons as promiscuous in their use of high-tech weapons as he was, only not yet caught in flagrante with an intern. Attributing rational military motives to these posturing humanitarian warmongers in Washington, London and Paris is obviously a mistake. They clearly live on another planet from the humanity whom they claim to protect.

Maybe they hope to draw the Gaddafi family out for Saif al-Arab’s funeral. Remember the Western elite is devoted to The Godfather. It is the template of their style – look at the hoods who surround them for security and the black-windowed armoured limousines in which they travel – as well as their international policy-making. As Francis Ford Coppola demonstrated on celluloid funerals make a good place to eradicate rival clans. Their advisers will have told them that Arab culture requires a public burial with father and brothers in attendance. Vultures used to haunt desert graves, now predators hover above them.

Just as George W. Bush deliberately sought to exterminate the male members of Saddam Hussein’s family in Iraq, killing not only his odious sons but other junior members of the clan as well as executing the former dictator, so now the same logic is at work in the Obama-Cameron-Sarkozy mindset. Of course, the mirror-image of that familicidal mentality would be for a Libyan to target Queen Elizabeth and her sons, grandsons and other male relatives, all in uniform for the wedding of Flight-Lieutenant Wales on 29th April. Michelle Obama and the kids live in America’s command-and-control HQ and mobile missile-launching communications accompany her husband even when he is spending quality-time with his daughters so they are collateral damage in-waiting by Dad’s definition. As for Carla Bruni…

The Duke of Wellington rounded on an officer at Waterloo for suggesting that Bonaparte was within range: “Generals of armies have more important things to do than shoot at each other.” But since then Obama-Cameron-Sarkozy axis has rewritten the rules of war: family members are now fair game. When it comes to decapitating a regime, the kids are included too.

No normal person would wish the families of Western leaders to face the kind of brutal evaporation which their fathers and power-moms direct at humanity’s enemies, but the West itself is no longer ruled by people with normal humane values. The rhetoric of humanitarian war blinds them to any common humanity with anyone on the enemy side of whatever age or infirmity. Who can doubt that a colour-blind and morally-blind person would see no reason to spare the Cameron kids if firing on Downing Street anymore than Cameron baulks at sacrificing Gaddafi’s grandchildren?

Little wonder, the royal newly-weds’ honeymoon was suddenly cancelled on Saturday. So much of William and Kate’s nuptials was choreographed around their parents’ and grandparents’ weddings that it was a fair guess that like Princess Elizabeth and Philip they were going to fly to Malta to start their honeymoon before going on to Kenya where three generations of Windsors have enjoyed cementing their relations. Malta is too close to Libya for comfort and Kenya’s Muslim minority might not be too friendly to a serving NATO officer.

William Wales has been put in the firing line not only by his uniform but by his prime minister. David Cameron could defend himself by saying that he has willingly put Sam Cam and their “kids” at risk for the humanitarian cause but instead tried to weasel out of his responsibility by denying that NATO was targeting Gaddafi and sons. It is peculiarly distasteful that our humanitarian warriors want to claim the credit for their high-sounding motives but never to carry the can for the blood shed in pursuit of them. Their inability to take responsibility is the worm gnawing away at any remaining naïve public faith in their sincerity.

Ironically, Gaddafi would have been regarded as the embodiment of bombastic mendacity without rival until Sarkozy, Cameron and the Nobel Prize-winning predator Barak Obama opened their mouths to explain their actions. Suddenly the Colonel has serious rivals for the status of least credible statesman of the age. Is there any indictment of these gentlemen’s humanitarian bloodletting than that a Libyan government spokesman’s account of the death of three children is more credible than their sleazy denials, obfuscations and shifting of responsibility? The proponents of humanitarian intervention constantly insist that they want an end to political leaders using force with impunity. Doesn’t making rulers responsible for civilian casualties begin at home?

Of course, Tony Blair’s Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, explained after Kosovo, there is no question of Western leaders going to Hague for any innocents killed by their order. Command responsibility did not apply to them. The “end of impunity” is for weak wogs, not nuclear-armed fops like Cameron, Sarkozy or Obama. But that reality of power can only fuel the rage of people belonging to lesser races subject to international law. Terrorism not freedom is the likely outcome of NATO’s stupid determination to make a martyr of Gaddafi. Sadly, with their armoured cars, blast-proof walled homes and swarms of security hoods, any anti-Western terrorism will not hurt the Western elite. Only little people will pay the price of our rulers’ folly. From Pakistan to the shores of the Mediterranean the predator has become the promoter of terrorism not its nemesis.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Libya - 100 Years of Bombing, or Is Fascism the Forgotten Root of Humanitarian Intervention?

The celebrations of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Italian unification in March, 2011, were overshadowed by the crisis in Libya. Coinciding with Italy’s birthday, Silvio Berlusconi’s government decided to make seven air bases available to NATO allies for the bombing of Colonel Gaddafi’s forces.

By coincidence, this was one hundred years since the Italians invented aerial bombardment and initiated its practice precisely over Libya. A century later, the bomber returns to the scene of its bloody birth. Clio seems to take a perverse enjoyment in ensuring that history repeats itself, first acting as imperialism then as humanitarian intervention, without even needing to change the stage-set.

On 1st November, 1911, Lieutenant Giulio Gavotti dropped the first bomb from an aeroplane. According to the Ottoman authorities it hit the military hospital in Ayn Zara in the Libyan desert. The Italians strongly denied targeting an installation protected by the Geneva Convention. Modern aerial warfare and the propaganda battle which has accompanied it ever since was underway from the start.

Lt. Gavotti’s four bombs were modified hand grenades, but soon the Italians had learned how to drop incendiary bomb and shrapnel bombs – what we would now call cluster munitions.

The initial impact of aircraft overhead was alarming and disorientating to the forces below. Panic spread as an airplane engine was heard approaching. But soon enough the Turks and Arabs below learned the limitations of aerial bombardment and their terror subsided. The Italians decided that they had to increase the terrorising effect of their bombing and strafing to keep the enemy on the run. The Italian pilots also realised that fixed targets like villages or oases were easier to find and strike than mobile guerrillas.

The British Arabist, G.F. Abbott who was with the mixed Turkish-Arab forces resisting the invasion noted that they soon recovered from their fear partly because bombs which fell into the sand tended to explode harmlessly. But he added, “The women and children in the villages are practically the only victims, and this fact excited the anger of the Arabs.”

Antagonising the civilian population was an unfortunate side-effect of the bombing which became a major factor in turning the Italian invasion into a protracted counter-insurgency.

When the idea of occupying Libya as a fiftieth birthday present to themselves was turned into practice in September, 1911, Italians were assured of a quick victory there. They were told that the Ottoman Turkish regime was thoroughly hated by the Arabs living there and that a warm welcome could be expected for the soldiers bringing civilization and liberation from the Sultan’s tyranny. To use modern parlance, Italians were encouraged to expect a cakewalk. The media assured the soldiers, “Arab hostility is nothing but a Turkish fable.”

Gavotti’s dropping of the first bombs in history barely a month into the campaign was evidence of how quickly the Italians realised that things were not going to plan. Resistance in the main cities like Tripoli was quickly crushed but in the great expanses of territory even the 100,000 troops deployed by Italy were not enough to regulate a thousand-mile-wide country stretching deep into the Sahara. The newly-invented airplane offered a way of displaying Italian power across vast swathes of land which were in effect controlled by local Arabs who preferred the Muslim Turks to the Christian Italians – not least when the Italians preached civilization via shrapnel bombs dropped from a few thousand feet.

The alleged cruelty of local Arabs and Turks towards captured Italian soldiers was one of the justifications for the widening use of reprisals from the air and on the ground in Libya. In a fight against uncivilized folk like them the rules of war could be suspended. But the Libyans proved harder to terrify into submission than Rome anticipated.

Nevertheless, on 9th November, 1911, the Italian government declared victory, even though the war was only just beginning. With the mission far from accomplished, the war was vastly more costly than Italians had expected. Characteristically, the prime minister, Giovanni Giolitti, lied to Parliament in Rome saying the war had cost 512 million lire. That was a huge figure given that the War Ministry’s last annual peacetime budget was only 399 million lire. But in reality off-balance sheet accounting hid another billion lire in costs of the war against the Ottoman Empire over Libya. As for the human cost, 8,000 Italians were killed or wounded. No-one counted the Arab dead.

Although the Italian elite had economic aims in occupying Libya wrapped up in nationalist and civilizational rhetoric, oil was not the Italian motive. Only at the end of the Fascist period was any serious exploration undertaken which indicated that oil lay beneath the desert. Libya’s first major oil strike was outside Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte in 1959. At the end of thirty years of Italian rule, salt was still Libya’s main export. Italians were fed the idea that Libya would return to being the bread basket of the Mediterranean as it had been under the Roman Empire. Few in 1911 seem to have realised that the desert had spread over the Roman fields and cities long ago.

As the war dragged on enthusiasm in Italy waned but the newspapers and instant books of the day record how united the opinion-makers were in support of the war at its opening shots. Above all, there was admiration for the airmen dealing death from the sky. The cult of the pilot soaring across the sky while clinically disposing of a dot-like savage foe below was born.

The greatest living Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzion immediately sought to immortalize Lt. Gavotti’s act in his Canzone della Diana. (A few laters in the First World War, D’Annunzio would take to the skies over Vienna and drop leaflets threatening bombs to come.)Giovanni Pascole sentimentalised the feats of Italian pilots as the Libyan war passed it first Christmas in La Notte di Natale. The Futurist, Filippo Marinetti, took the air over Libya itself to urge Italian soldiers below to fix bayonets and charge.

Everybody seemed to support the invasion at the beginning. The great philosopher and future anti-Fascist, Benedetto Croce declared –apparently without irony - that occupying Libya was a worthy birthday gift to Italy on the fiftieth anniversary of its unification. The 1907 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, E.T. Moneta, became the first – though by no means the last recipient of the dynamite fortune’s largesse – to anticipate Barak Obama's faith in aerial bombardment as a tool of progress for humanity and therefore declared it was not against his pacifist principles. The Catholic hierarchy had been hostile to the secular not to say Masonic Italian political elite but it endorsed Giolitti’s crusade in Libya with as much enthusiasm as its predecessors had backed the original version over eight hundred years earlier. The meeting of the poetry scholars of the Dante Aligheri Society on 20thSeptember, 1911, broke up with cries of “To Tripoli!”

It was not only Italian proto-Fascist intellectuals like D'Annunzio and Marinetti who swooned at the thought of a pilot soaring high over the desert dealing death to savages below. Sweden's Gustaf Janson described the intoxicating sense of unbridled power and of the pilot's impunity in action against primitives below whose air defence was incapable of revenging their casualties: "The empty earth beneath him, the empty sky above him and he, the solitary man, sailing between them! A feeling of power seizes him. He was flying through space to assert the indisputable superiority of the white race. Within his reach he had the proof, seven high- explosive bombs. To be able to sling them from the heavens themselves - that was convincing and irrefutable."

A few Italians protested the naked aggression. It was left to the extremist Socialist newspaper editor, Benito Mussolini, to make the most unconditional rejection of the war. He was arrested after dismissing the national flag as a “rag to stick on a dunghill” in a speech denouncing the war in Forlì.

This was a stark contrast with the attitude of the ex-Marxist in power as Duce of Fascism after 1922. The airplane and the destructive power it could project enthralled Mussolini the Fascist as it had repelled Mussolini the Marxist. He declared that the airplane was “the first Fascist.” He became a born-again bomber.

Mussolini’s rejection of Marxism and his embrace of the thrill of ultra-modern war was simultaneous. Almost as soon as he came to power, Mussolini was taken up for his first flight by the war ace, Mario Stoppiani, who described the Duce’s “enthusiastic delirium” with the experience. Then he learned to fly (and to the alarm of his more pedestrian ally, Hitler, would take charge of the controls of planes with the timid Fuehrer on board.) Until George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin has there been a political leader who piloted himself so publicly?

The airplane was also used to suppress his opponents: Mafia bosses and Libyan tribal chiefs would be taken for a one-way flight out over the Mediterranean and pushed to their deaths in the sea below.

Mussolini developed the use of air power to repress rebels in Libya and eventually broke their resistance after almost twenty-five years occupation. In Ethiopia he took his war for civilization to new depths. Fascist Italy announced it would abolish slavery there but first it had to conquer the natives. The exiled Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, described to the League of Nations how the Italians used crop-spraying techniques designed to kill insects to poison his people. Mussolini’s regime made no bones about its methods and did not hide behind cant about having “no reports of civilian casualties.”

Flying Fascists became the order of the day as Mussolini became expansionist in the mid-1930s. His eldest son, Vittorio and his son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, took part as pilots in bombing Ethiopia.Mussolini’s son, Bruno, wrote a lyrical description of what it was like to watch Ethiopians explode like petals when he dropped his bombs among them.

Bertrand Russell saw Bruno Mussolini's evocation of air power's immaculate ability to destroy puny humans as embodying the reality of the modern totalitarian regimes, but worse still of a future world controlled from the air. Russell asked, "If one could imagine a government that governed from an aeroplane... wouldn't such a government get a completely different view of its opposition?" Russell feared that a regime of air power would "exterminate" any resistance or dissent. He thought the bomber rendered mass conscript armies redundant and highly-skilled mercenaries would replace them willing to do the bidding of their masters rather being part of the people: "“We seem now, through the aeroplane, to be returning to the need for forces composed of comparatively few highly trained men. It is to be expected, therefore, that the form of government, in every country exposed to serious war, will be such as airmen will like, which is not likely to be democracy.”

But the Italian Fascists were to discover that air power was a two-way street. Libyans and Ethiopians could not declare “no fly zones” over Rome or bombard Florence, but after 1940, the British then the Americans could.

Italian pioneering efforts at air warfare were widely admired and imitated. Fiorello La Guardia was trained to fly by Italian instructors after the United States entered the First World War in 1917. The American pioneer of bombing, Billy Mitchell, recognised Italy’s role as an air power pioneer and became an admirer of the Fascist regime, calling it in 1927 “one of the greatest constructive powers for good government that exists in the world today.” Like Mussolini’s air chiefs, Mitchell was a moderniser who got left behind by the pace of change: he agreed with the Fascist airmen that aircraft carriers had no future.

In Britain, too, there were close links between Fascism and flying. Lady Houston, who funded Supermarine’s embryo Spitfire to compete in the Remy Schneider Flying Trophy also offered £200,000 to the British Union of Fascists led by flying enthusiast Oswald Mosley – so her contribution to defeating Fascism was greater than the effect of backing the British Union of Fascists – aspects of the patriotic myth which are omitted the Leslie Howard film First of the Few (1942).

Even today there is the odd, even erotic, irony that Mosley’s step-granddaughter, the glamorous model Daphne Guinness is amorously linked to Bernard-Henri Levi, the chief French exponent of bombing as the path to freedom in Libya – a strange misalliance between the Repubblica Salo and the République Sarkozyste, or a reconciliation of a false dichotomy?

But whatever the role of other countries in pioneering air flight or even Fascism, Italy can fairly claim to have got both off the ground. It put the warplane in the sky soon enough with a Fascist at the joy-stick. Giulio Douhet was the first serious strategist of bombing. Although he backed Mussolini, Douhet’s career as a practitioner of airpower was stymied in Fascist Italy by rivals with better party credentials.

One of the few dissenting voices in 1911 belonged to a schoolboy in Ferrara who would become the second most famous Fascist after Mussolini not least for his flying exploits. Then the fifteen year old Italo Balbo broke with the nationalist atmosphere and published an article denouncing the invasion of the territory which he would come to rule after 1933 as Mussolini’s viceroy. But in the meantime Balbo became Italy’s own Charles Lindbergh – a celebrity pioneer aviator who criss-crossed much of the globe to demonstrate the new Fascist regime’s commitment to the most modern manifestation of power – the airplane.

Back in 1911 like Mussolini, Balbo was an odd man out. Of course not every future Fascist opposed the war. Sergio Panunzio, for instance, remonstrated with the young Balbo for publishing an article against the pro-war consensus: “Why? To go against the grain, against reality, against the government.” Panunzio anticipated the classic Fascist argument that right was made by the might of media opinion and the might of state power.

Italians were to be proud of pioneering military aviation in the cause of civilization. In 1911, Italians achieved a series of aerial firsts: the first night flight, the first aerial photograph, the first aerial bombing – and the first plane to be shot down. Some pedants pointed out that if balloon-launched explosives were included then it was Italian territory which was the first target of bombing as far back as 1849. Then the Austrians besieging rebel Venice sent balloons filled with explosives drifting across la Serenissima which crashed onto the Austrian troops on the other side causing the first casualties of aerial friendly-fire. The governor of Libya, Balbo himself, fell victim to friendly fire when his three-engined plane was shot down by his own anti-aircraft forces at Tobruk on 28th June, 1940. In 1941, Bruno Mussolini was also killed testing a new plane. The airplane was beginning to eat the Fascists and the nation which gave birth to its military role.

Rejecting any romantic nostalgia for the days of one-on-one fighter-pilot duels in the First World War, Balbo was the proponent of launching “hundreds and hundreds” of planes into the sky in future wars. Mass attacks were to be the Fascist approach to aerial warfare – but Mussolini’s regime was stronger on intimidating bombast than putting resources into such a vast expensive programme. It was the democracies who built and deployed the first fleets of heavy bombers.

As the Second World War progressed, northern Italy was especially badly hit by bombing as the Allies advanced to drive out the Germans and destroy Mussolini’s Salo regime. Leaving aside the human cost, the cultural losses were enormous. Buildings like La Scala in Milan or the Bramante church housing Leonardo’s Last Supper in its miraculously unscathed refectory could be rebuilt but the works of art in them like the Mantegna fresco of the Life of St. James in the Ovetari Chapel in Padua were lost when shattered by Allied bombs.

The impact of the Second World War left Italians deeply suspicious of getting involved in warfare, let alone bombing former colonial territory. In 1999, Italy broke the tabu. Led by ex-Marxists, the Italian government accepted the use of their country as the main launching ground for airstrikes on Serbia over Kosovo briefly part of Mussolini’s inglorious new Roman Empire (1941-43). Fishermen in the Adriatic still moan about the risks of falling victim to NATO ordinance dumped in the sea. But now a regime with “post-Fascist” participation competes with the post-Marxists to justify Italy’s renewal of war over Libya just in time for the centenary of a Italy as the mid-wife of aerial warfare.

On this morbid anniversary, the crusade for civilization then has become a crusade for human rights today. The machinery of the contemporary crusaders may be faster than the bi-planes of 1911 and the bombs are certainly vastly more explosive, but the unanimity of the politicians and media across the West are a strange echo of Italy’s echo-chamber of mutually reinforcing propaganda from the men in power and men of the press. But today there isn’t even a Mussolini in parliament or the media to oppose air power as a force for progress!

Sources

Italians have written extensively about the war for Libya in 1911 and the invention of aerial bombardment by their fellow countrymen. Useful English sources include:

Richard Bosworth, Italy and the Approach of the First World War(Macmillan: London, 1983), Azar Gat, A History of Military Thought from the Enlightenment to the Cold War (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2011), Alan Kramer, Dynamic of Destruction. Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War(Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2007), Sven Lindqvist, A History of Bombing translated by Haverty Rugg (Granta: London, 2001), Bertrand Russell, Power with an introduction by Kirk Willis (Unwin, 1938, reprinted by Routledge: London, 1995), Dan Segre, Italo Balbo: A Fascist Life (University of California Press: Berkeley, 1987), David Stevenson, Armaments and the Coming of War. Europe, 1904-1914 paperback edition (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2000), and John Wright, The Emergence of Libya: Historical Essays(Society for Libyan Studies: London, 2008).


Monday, 14 February 2011

Was It Just a Dream? Egypt's Revolution: 'People Power' or Military Coup?

“Now our nightmare is over. Now it is time to dream.”

Wael Ghonim (New York Times – 13th February, 2011)

“I'm still trying to untangle the emotions and impact of the Egyptian revolution
in my own mind… For me, the contagious euphoria of Friday and Saturday has
been replaced by a Sunday morning letdown. Last night, as I made my way
through "liberated" Tahrir Square in Cairo, I was o vercome by sadness… It
oddly felt like an era is over.”

Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor – 13th February, 2011)

Was it all a beautiful dream? The Western world's broadcasters and print-journalists repeatedly characterised the celebratory atmosphere in Cairo and other Egyptian cities after Hosni Mubarak's resignation late on 11th February as like a rock festival or a big party. It was the happy ending to die for - or was it the end?

On Monday, the crowds who had defied the feared Mukhabarat of Mubarak melted away when told to go by the new ruling junta. When red-capped military policemen cleared away the remaining revellers or protestors, as you prefer, and the detritus of their Glastonbury-style camp, with them it was clear that People Power Egyptian-style was not what it had been all cracked up to be. But when or where in the last twenty years has the hype been followed by the fuflillment of the people's hopes?

While the world's media was focussed on the crowd scenes in Tahrir Square, regime-change as an inside-job was under way. Only Sky News Tim Marshall predicted from Day One of the protests that the most likely outcome of the protests was that the Egyptian Army would take power. Other on-the-spot reporters were whipped up by the exuberance of their own partisan reporting into insisting that the momentum of the People was unstoppable.

Now the spontaneity of the events is being called into question. The New York Times has a track record of raining on the People Power parade - when it is all done and dusted - and setting the record straight, but only once its editorial line has won. Until the object of popular derision, who happens also to have outlived his usefulness to the White House, has been toppled, the New York Times leads the pack of sententious insistence that only the People are involved. No suggestion of external political forces or internal power-plays is allowed to detract from the purity of the morality play on the streets of captal city X. From Belgrade to Tbilisi with a sidestep to Bishkek, the Times has always told the full story only once the telling cannot influence events.

Already it has begun to name the people forming international links with training centres and cash and technical aid from outside Egypt. Before long as with the Serbs or Georgians who thought they had played the decisive role, the celebration of the backroom cadre of People Power veterans who guide the spontaneous steps of each infant democracy will be "all the news that's fit to print." Instead of Arabic names our old favourites, Collonel Gene Sharp, the "Clausewitz of People Power," George Soros, "the Paymaster-General of People Power" and the various goatee-bearded NGO activists will get their commendations from the very media which decried any suggestion that a foreign hand might be in play. (In the meantime, for starters, see David D. Kirkpatrick & David E. Sanger, "A Tunisian-Egyptian Link That Shook Arab History" in the New York Times - 13th February, 2011.)

But what of the generals? Surely their patriotism and professionalism puts them above suspicion of having any interest except Egypt's own at heart?

In realty it seems Mubarak and the generals were engaged in a wrestling match - with Washington acting as a hardly impartial umpire. Remember the demonstrations kicked off while the Egyptian Defence Minister, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and the chief of staff, Sami Enan were in the Pentagon.

Washington has been concerned about the succession to the aging autocrat. Mubarak falls in a long line of former favourites who stayed on too long and risked destabilising their own regimes by putting family interests ahead of the ruling military group as a whole.

From Romania in 1989 to Egypt today, the people who go out on the streets - however well justified their grievances and whatever their courage in risking the first steps of public defiance - in practice seem to act as stage extras while a coup d'etat is carried through while the world watches their defiance not realising it is a popular pageant rather than People Power.

Just as Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu offended Communist sensitivities and the ambitions of better-qualified apparatchiks by promoting his son, Nicu, as well as his wife, Elena, so Mubarak - an old friend by the way of the Ceausescus - offended key elements in his regime by letting his son, Gamel, and other family members and cronies not only look set to succeed to the most prestigious job but also he let them get too much of the economic pie.

The military takeover after Mubarak's resignation was not a break with Egyptian political tradition but a continuation of it.

Inside the miltary regime which has ruled Egypt since 1952, there was tension between the generals with ambitions to succeed Mubarak and his grooming of his son, Gamel, as successor. Even the generals who did not imagine themselves as president, resented the growing intrusion of Mubarak fils and his cronies into areas of business traditionally reserved for the military.

Despite all the huffing and puffing about Egyptians' pride in their armed forces, Field Marshal Tantawi's exploits in 1973, in reality the Egyptian army has long been much less effective at defending the country than defending the interests of the officer corps. Like many other African armies, Egypt's is better understood as a protection racket rather than the protectors of the nation.

As a study prepared at Fort Leavenworth for the US military from as long as 14 years ago showed, the Egyptian Army was engaged in an offensive to control the rapidly privatizing Egyptian economy - rather as China's People's Liberation Army has its fingers in many private business pies. Ironically, Mubarak's nepotism was a threat to the military's own insider-deals.

Of course, dynastic succession was very unpopular with ordinary Egyptians who have been squeezed between the rapacious demands of the competing factions within the regime as well as by the impact of rapid inflation pushing up food and fuel prices. Mubarak loyally followed the Washington consensus in reducing subsidies to the poor, but not fast enough to keep in favour there, but more than fast enough to alienate ordinary people, even ordinary policemen. (Don't hold your breath for a "populist" candidate proposing more social protection in the promised elections. Free marketeers from micro-parties are already the favoured candidates with the people who decide such matters.)

Mubarak, however, had antagonised the Americans - not because he only went to Israel once or let anti-Israeli television shows run on state TV - but because he was beginning to let Chinese businesses into Egypt. He was also talking about energy deals with the Russians. No doubt, he would take his cut but Washington did not like to see Egypt less dependent on its largesse. The generals still got a huge handout from America and knew that Chinese businessmen, even with a PLA background, would be much better at business than them.

US geopolitics and the self-interest of the Egyptian general-managers ran together. Mubarak was becoming a threat to the mutual longterm interests of Washington and his generals.

Having asserted their authority and sent the demonstrators packing with the backing of the self-appointed leaders of the Facebook generation, the generals can now get down to what they do best: their business is running Egypt's business.

Although the generals doled out some food on Monday in poor parts of the big cities to reinforce the message that people who stayed away from public meetings would get a pat on the head.

What of the indomitabe proponents of People Power?

The Google executive whose spontaneous twitterings we were told set the whole thing in motion suddenly sent out a very different message once the generals had issued their orders. According to CNN on Sunday, Wael Ghonim told the People to get off the streets and forget about politics: "Dear Egyptians, go back to your work on Sunday, work like never before and help Egypt become a developed country." But neither Mr Ghonim nor CNN mentioned that 25% of Egyptians would be going back to work for the generals in one way or another. Mubarak's corruptioon, cronyism and skimming of contracts was an intolerable affront to the Egyptian People, but their patriotism enables them to see the Army's businesses as all for the good of the nation.

Maybe the generals will keep their promise to hold elections in six months. But will they be really any freer and fairer than those under Mubarak? After all the people counting the votes and controlling the streets look set to be very similar to those in place for past elections. Like so many other states which have undergone the excitement of People Power as a response to corruption and election fraud, in Egypt the fall of the old boss does not seem to have shatterd the old regime.

Back in France in 1789, Louis XVI's government was dispersed long before he was decapitated in 1793: none of his ministers or provincial governors were in office six months after the fall of the Bastille. Real revolutions tend to become more radical, and that it is not necessarily a good thing., but they are more than one-act teasers like our post-modern dramas. Nowadays, revolution seems to be an inverted fairy story with a happy ending at the beginning: it is all over so quickly that most of the old regime's loyal servants hardly have time to turn their coats before they resume work in the same office.

Dream or nightmare?

Who can say for certain, but don't ask the Egyptian generals, they are just busy getting Egypt back to business.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Ghost of Regime-Change Past: Enron’s Frank Wisner Jr does Dad’s Job in Egypt


Barak Obama’s slogan in 2008 was “Yes, we can.” By choosing as his point-man to guide Egypt’s future, the son of one of the CIA most famous “can do” covert operatives , Obama has shown once again that his promise of “Change We Can Believe in” did not rule out changes which turn the clock back.

On 31st January, the U.S. State Department admitted that Frank Wisner Jr was in Cairo but did not disclose when he arrived. The U.S. ambassador to Egypt, 1986-91, Mr Wisner is Washington’s special representative for the crisis facing the Egyptian regime. But for any historian of regime change, the name Frank Wisner is a familiar one. It conjures up a ghost from the CIA’s past covert role in “revolutions” and regime change in Iran, Central America and South-East Asia. Sometimes Papa Wisner’s boys toppled opponents of the United States, sometimes the victims were old friends who had lost their usefulness.

Today’s arbiter of Egypt’s future, Frank Wisner Jr has “regime change” in his DNA.

Although Washington is busily dispensing with the services of allied gerontocrats like Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak, it is an irony of the age of “People Power” that the White House chooses men with a careers stretching back deep into the Cold War-era of dirty tricks and covert operations as its representatives to guide young democracies in their wobbly infancy.

Now 73 years old, Frank Wisner Jr’s childhood was marked by extensive separation from his father because Frank Wisner Sr. was a wartime OSS agent. Wisner Sr. made the transition to the newly-established CIA in 1947. As head of operations and deputy director, he played a key role in countering Communism. To Wisner Sr. anything which he thought might tend to Communism if only by not bending Washington’s way was to be sabotaged and destroyed. From the Philippines in the early 1950s, Iran in 1953 via Guatemala in 1954 to South Vietnam in 1963, Frank Wisner’s fingers were in every regime-change pie. But he was more than just the advocate of manipulating the politics of foreign states.

Like several other key CIA officials in the first two decades of the Agency’s existence, Wisner was fascinated by mind-control. He encouraged research on brain-washing of individuals, something which the democracies had to learn to counter sinister Chinese and North Korean practices on U.S. PoWs in Korea. He encouraged the use of drugs like LSD in experiments on unwitting American civilians. (He may even have experimented on himself – as several other privileged U.S. insiders did.)

But controlling the minds of the Western public was his key goal. Wisner controlled unregistered funds with which he paid journalists and media proprietors. In the 1950s for the first time, young American journalists working for obscure newspapers or Mid-Western outlets with no obvious appetite for news from beyond the Prairies appeared able to live in exotic and expensive locations. Swarms of goatee-bearded civil society activists and new media specialists have followed in their footsteps in the last two decades.

Frank Wisner Sr is most famous for his indiscrete claim that he had so many agents and assets in the American and Western media that he could play the press like a “mighty Wurlitzer.” In the age of coordinated Twitter, Facebook and blogging campaigns, old man Wisner’s image of a cinema organ making the world’s mood music in a crisis might seem old-fashioned, but its essence - a coordinated campaign within the supposedly free media by strategically-placed intelligence assets – seems less anachronistic today than ever as countless breathless journalists for innumerable outlets seem to recite from the same script.

Frank Wisner Sr’s frenzy of subversive activity was liberally fuelled with booze. Nervous breakdowns rarely kept him long from his Langley desk but his erratic behaviour worried the more sober-suited spooks. Instead of sinking into an embarrassing alcohol-soaked retirement, he did the Agency a final favour in 1965 and shot himself – a tragic hero of the undercover world.

But should the son be judged in the light of his father’s career or habits?

The official line is that after a classic upper class[1] education at St. Albans and Princeton, Wisner Jr passed up the chance to serve his country in the CIA but took on the more open and honourable profession of diplomat instead. But, like several of his contemporaries, Wisner has mixed diplomacy, business and backstage influence in ways which have been very successful – but not explored by a free media as tame as in his father’s heyday when it comes to querying Washington’s power elite’s modus operandi.

Like Richard Holbrooke, Frank Wisner Jr cut his teeth in South Vietnam in the early 1960s as the U.S.-backed Diem regime came to a bloody end with Washington’s connivance but the rhetoric of democratization U.S.-style carried on. A generation later Holbrooke would denounce Serbs as “war criminals” for participating in the kind of pacification programme - targeted assassination, village clearances, and so on - which he helped advise on back then. Frank Wisner Jr was closer to the heart of the action in Saigon. Eight years earlier his father had played a key role in installing President Diem as President of South Vietnam. He was awarded an über-Mubarak 98.2% of the vote in the election called to confirm his installation in office. (Afficionados of CIA-sponsored Cold War film propaganda will remember the end of Joseph Mankiewicz’s cynically-twisted version of Greene’s Quiet American with its thanks to “the elected president of Vietnam”.) By the time young Frank’s membership of an obscure State Department-Pentagon overlap-unit in the U.S. embassy in Saigon was listed Diem’s star had waned in Washington and he was murdered in October, 1963, in a CIA-sponsored coup while his brother achieved what Robert Kennedy called the “unique feat” of committing suicide in custody with his hands tied behind his back! Young Frank learned how to stabilise a “nascent democracy” in tough conditions back then.

Another young member of the U.S. team in Vietnam then was Kenneth Lay. Mr Lay would leave public service – a Pentagon liaison team – to join the energy industry, but never lost contact with his comrades in the battle for democracy in Vietnam.

Although Frank Wisner Jr. carried on in the underpaid US diplomatic service, his path just kept crossing Ken Lay’s growing energy empire. His ambassadorship in the Philippines was devoted to promoting US investment – to be precise the purchase of Subic Bay power stations by Lay.

It was during his time in India that the Wisner-Lay axis reached its apogee and began to unravel the U.S. economy.

At the end of October, 1997, Wisner joined the board of Enron. He had just finished his stint as ambassador in India where he had represented U.S. interests since 1994. He had done much to promote the Texas-based energy giant’s activities in India. It was in India that Enron’s complex web of financial fraud began to unravel. No doubt the State Department took the line that what was good for Enron was good for America – certainly it was good for certain American diplomats.

Enron was desperate to get the Dabhol power project in Maharashta state. The U.S. embassy fought hard, some say dirty, to get the Indians to sign up to a deal which required the state to guarantee the profits of the foreign private investor. It was emblematic of the new world order: profits would be private but any losses, environmental costs and so on would be borne by the people. But without Wisner on hand and with turbulent local democracy electing officials who were not take with Socialism for the Foreign Rich, things began to go wrong. By 2001, Enron was both India’s biggest foreign investor and losing money there hand over fist. Sucheta Dalal noted that February, “The fact that Frank Wisner, the aggressive and high profile former US ambassador to India, promptly joined the Enron Corporation board of directors after leaving the country, has done nothing to enhance the power company's credibility. If that were not enough, Wisner's successor Richard Celeste chose to emulate his predecessor and used a farewell visit to Bombay to openly lobby for Enron and threaten the state government.” [2]

As in California at the same time, Enron was reaping the whirlwind of its successful lobbying to weaken state regulation of electricity prices and hike them, but as in California its early super-profits had soured into soaring losses. Indians could not and would not pay Enron’s inflated prices – but Enron needed their cash to flow through its complicated fraudulent financial system to keep it afloat.

Like the other members of the Teflon Texas political elite, Wisner Jr walked untainted from the wreckage of Enron. A guardian angel hovered over his career and reputation – maybe Dad put in a good word with the patron saint of greed for him. American newspapers always call him “respected” but never mention Enron and his name in the same column.

After the Enron debacle, Wisner went on to bigger and better bankruptcies. He became a member of the board of AIG, but though it went belly-up in 2008 taking umpteen billions of U.S. taxpayers dollars, Frank Wisner Jr’s unblemished reputation lives on.

Contrary to the “idiot leftists” who see capitalism as the determinant of politics, the careers of a Wisner or his fellow late AIG director Richard Holbrooke compared with the humiliating fate of Enron’s Ken Lay show it is political insider-status that enables a power-broker to survive insider-dealing admissions as Holbrooke himself made in 1999 on the eve of the Kosovo War which he did so much to promote.

To sit on the board of one economic Titanic without noticing the icebergs looming ahead might seem unlucky, but to grace two capsized engines of capitalism like Wisner looks careless – except when you have his aura. Money might buy influence, even protection. Power guarantees it.

Promoting Kosovo’s independence, despite the evidence of unsavoury criminal activities by the politicians whom Washington backed was Frank Wisner’s main “diplomatic” activity in retirement. Just as Dad had turned a blind eye to the drugs smuggler from Marseilles to the Mekong Delta who helped the anti-Communist fight after 1947, so his boy seems to have been unconcerned about evidence in the possession of the US government and its European allies that the KLA had a profitable sideline in corruption, drug smuggling to Western Europe, people trafficking and – it is alleged by the Council of Europe – even organ trafficking.

Just as his father’s CIA saw exotic micro-peoples in South-East Asia – Hongs and Karens – as valuable allies in the main struggle despite their involvement in the heroin trade, so promoting weak, criminalised micro-states has been part of his son’s “foreign policy.” Such entities are dependent on protection by a great power. Being Mafioso-states, they understand and respect power.

Egypt is a very big state with 80 million people, but its internal regime based on intertwining family and corporate interests with the mechanisms of state power to guarantee them is not essentially different from other U.S. allies of convenience.

Wisner Jr. did not drop his interest in Egypt after he had served there as ambassador during the painful period, 1986-91, when Mubarak began “reforms” cutting living standards and privatizing. This process has gone on until now with good GDP figures which pleased foreign investors but masked the reality of growing poverty for the many while a relative few profited from the “growth.” Mubarak was a poster boy for economic reform in the Arab world and took no nonsense from whinging populists.

In recent years, Wisner has worked for the Washington lobbyist firm, Patton Boggs, which has lucrative contracts on behalf of the Egyptian government, including the military. Polishing Egypt’s public image has been one of Patton Boggs’ tasks. Maybe, today, President Mubarak will be asking whether he got his money’s worth.

In 2005, Wisner endorsed Mubarak’s decision to stand for re-election as President of Egypt and suggested that in a free and fair election 65% of Egyptians would endorse their president since 1981. But there was a sting in the tail of his endorsement: All of these are factors, plus the fact that this is clearly the last time President Mubarak will stand for re-election. His age is such that [Egypt] is clearly in a transition period, with something else to follow.”[3] However, as we anticipate a post-Mubarak regime, Wisner also had a s sting in the tail for naïve democrats who believe that Mubarak’s slow motion resignation means that someone entirely new and untainted by service in the Mubarak camp will be his successor. Wisner remarked, “The political culture of Egypt is to vote for stability.”

On 1st February, an anonymous US official – possibly Wisner himself – told AP, Wisner and Mubarak are friends and the official said the retired ambassador made clear that it was the U.S ‘view that his tenure as president is coming to close.’”[4]

Frank Wisner Jr has been director of the appropriately-named Pharaonic American Life Insurance Company (ALICO) in Egypt since 2007. He also serves on the board of Hakluyt, the British “investigative” company which may employee a higher proportion of ex-spooks than any other company on either side of the Atlantic. Along with Pentagon’s Ken Bacon, Wisner has shown his charitable side serving on the board of Refugees International. Cynics will be unkind enough to recall his father’s involvement, along with Allen Dulles, in infiltrating charities aiding so many refugees in Europe after 1939. America needed agents and information, refugees need help – for them it is a matter of life or death. But association with an intelligence service via a charity could be fatal too as some of those who got help from the proto-CIA ended up shot by Hitler or later by Stalin as spies, real or imagined.

But it is Wisner’s role today as the pivot of America’s regime-change agenda in Egypt which makes him so important despite his invisibility. The man in the shadows has strings to pull which are anchored at the Archimidean point of world politics in Washington.

It is not just a case of easing out Mubarak but of making sure that all of what Tony Blair would call the “good he has been doing” is carried forward. Not only must Egypt’s next president be a reliable ally in the Middle East peace process, but under the guise of democratic legitimacy, real or media-hyped, he must also pursue the economic agenda which has undermined Mubarak’s regime.

When American officials from Obama downwards repeatedly couple their calls for democratisation in Egypt with demands for market reforms, the old Enron devil inside Frank Wisner knows what that must mean for Egypt’s impoverished masses. If tens of millions of Egyptians are angry with Mubarak about getting poorer already, what will they make of the final abolition of any subsidies on food and energy?

Mr Wisner is such a “respected” diplomat that no-one in the official media has queried possible conflicts of interest arising from his business activities in the country whose political system he is reshaping so selflessly. Future privatizations are part of the reform agenda being pressed on Egypt. Could it possible have occurred to the former director of Enron and AIG as well as of the Pharaonic American Life Insurance Company that a privatization on the epic scale worthy of the land of the Pharaohs is looming: the Suez Canal was nationalised by Mubarak’s first patron, Gamel Abdul Nasser, won’t it be a neat sign that People Power has truly triumphed in Egypt when ownership of the Suez Canal is returned to private, preferably international owners? And then of course, the Aswan dam’s electricity generating capacity can only improve if foreigners with expertise in the energy field give a helping hand….

Asking who has the power to profit from People Power is an undiplomatic question. Maybe it is wiser to leave it in the shadows where Wisners prefer to remain.



[1] Married to the French President’s stepmother, the former Christine Sarkozy, Wisner is bi-lingual in French which helps in North Africa especially where French culture lingers among the elites.

[2] See Sacheta Dalal, “The Enron crisis reaches a crisis point” Rediff.com (8th February, 2001): http://www.rediff.com/money/2001/feb/08dalal.htm.

[4] See Matthew Lee, “AP source: Obama envoy tells Mubarak time is up” AP (1st February, 2011): http://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/ap-source-obama-envoy-824086.html.