Tag Archives: revolution

Stratfor: Terrorism as Theater

Originally published: WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 27, 2014 – 03:55

By Robert D. Kaplan

The beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq was much more than an altogether gruesome and tragic affair: rather, it was a very sophisticated and professional film production deliberately punctuated with powerful symbols. Foley was dressed in an orange jumpsuit reminiscent of the Muslim prisoners held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay. He made his confession forcefully, as if well rehearsed. His executioner, masked and clad in black, made an equally long statement in a calm, British accent, again, as if rehearsed. It was as if the killing was secondary to the message being sent.

The killing, in other words, became merely the requirement to send the message. As experts have told me, there are more painful ways to dispatch someone if you really hate the victim and want him to suffer. You can burn him alive. You can torture him. But beheading, on the other hand, causes the victim to lose consciousness within seconds once a major artery is cut in the neck, experts say. Beheading, though, is the best method for the sake of a visually dramatic video, because you can show the severed head atop the chest at the conclusion. Using a short knife, as in this case, rather than a sword, also makes the event both more chilling and intimate. Truly, I do not mean to be cruel, indifferent, or vulgar. I am only saying that without the possibility of videotaping the event, there would be no motive in the first place to execute someone in such a manner.

In producing a docu-drama in its own twisted way, the Islamic State was sending the following messages:

  • We don’t play by your rules. There are no limits to what we are willing to do.
  • America’s mistreatment of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay comes with a “price tag,” to quote a recently adopted phrase for retribution killings. After all, we are a state. We have our own enemy combatants as you can see from the video, and our own way of dealing with them.
  • Just because we observe no limits does not mean we lack sophistication. We can be just as sophisticated as you in the West. Just listen to the British accent of our executioner. And we can produce a very short film up to Hollywood standards.
  • We’re not like the drug lords in Mexico who regularly behead people and subsequently post the videos on the Internet. The drug lords deliver only a communal message, designed to intimidate only those people within their area of control. That is why the world at large pays little attention to them; in fact, the world is barely aware of them. By contrast, we of the Islamic State are delivering a global, meta-message. And the message is this: We want to destroy all of you in America, all of you in the West, and everyone in the Muslim world who does not accept our version of Islam.
  • We will triumph because we observe absolutely no constraints. It is because only we have access to the truth that anything we do is sanctified by God.

Welcome to the mass media age. You thought mass media was just insipid network anchormen and rude prime-time hosts interrupting talking heads on cable. It is that, of course. But just as World War I was different from the Franco-Prussian War, because in between came the culmination of the Industrial Age and thus the possibility of killing on an industrial scale, the wars of the 21st century will be different from those of the 20th because of the culmination of the first stage of the Information Age, with all of its visual ramifications.

Passion, deep belief, political protests and so forth have little meaning nowadays if they cannot be broadcast. Likewise, torture and gruesome death must be communicated to large numbers of people if they are to be effective. Technology, which the geeky billionaires of Silicon Valley and the Pacific Northwest claim has liberated us with new forms of self-expression, has also brought us back to the worst sorts of barbarism. Communications technology is value neutral, it has no intrinsic moral worth, even as it can at times encourage the most hideous forms of exhibitionism: to wit, the Foley execution.

We are back to a medieval world of theater, in which the audience is global. Theater, when the actors are well-trained, can be among the most powerful and revelatory art forms. And nothing works in theater as much as symbols which the playwright manipulates. A short knife, a Guantanamo jumpsuit, a black-clad executioner with a British accent in the heart of the Middle East, are, taken together, symbols of power, sophistication, and retribution. We mean business. Are you in America capable of taking us on?

It has been said that the murder of Czar Nicholas II and his family in 1918 in Ekaterinburg by Lenin’s new government was a seminal crime: because if the Bolsheviks were willing to execute not only the Czar but his wife and children, too, they were also capable of murdering en masse. Indeed, that crime presaged the horrors to come of Bolshevik rule. The same might be said of the 1958 murder of Iraqi King Faisal II and his family and servants by military coup plotters, and the subsequent mutilation of the body of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Said by a Baghdad mob — events that presaged decades of increasingly totalitarian rule, culminating in Saddam Hussein. The theatrical murder of James Foley may appear as singular to some; more likely, it presages something truly terrible unfolding in the postmodern Middle East.

To be sure, the worse the chaos, the more extreme the ideology that emerges from it. Something has already emerged from the chaos of Syria and Iraq, even as Libya and Yemen — also in chaos — may be awaiting their own versions of the Islamic State. And remember, above all, what the video communicated was the fact that these people are literally capable of anything.

Terrorism as Theater is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

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Stratfor: Ukraine Turns From Revolution to Recovery

By George Friedman
Stratfor Global Intelligence

The uprising in Kiev has apparently reached its conclusion. President Viktor Yanukovich and the opposition reached an agreement, negotiated by the Polish, German and French foreign ministers. The parliament is now effectively in charge, deciding who will be ministers and when elections will be held, whether to dismiss judges and so on. It isn’t clear whether the parliament can fire the sitting president without impeachment and trial, but all of this is now moot. What is interesting is that the Polish, French and German foreign ministers negotiated an outcome that, for practical purposes, ignored the Constitution of Ukraine. It sets an interesting precedent. But for Ukraine, the constitution didn’t have the patina of tradition that a true constitution requires, and few will miss Yanukovich.

The question now is whether all of this makes any real difference in Ukraine or the world. There is a new temporary leadership, although it is still factionalized and the leaders of the factions have not fully emerged. The effect of hostile gunfire will forge unity in Kiev for a while, but in due course, ideology, ambition and animosity will re-emerge. That will make governing Ukraine as difficult as in the past, particularly because the differences among the neo-Nazis, the liberals and groups in between — all of which manned the barricades — are profound. A government of national unity will be difficult to form.

Another issue is what will happen the next time crowds storm government buildings. The precedent has been set — or rather, it was set during the 2004 Orange Revolution — that governments and regimes can be changed by a legalistic sleight of hand. At some point a large crowd will gather and occupy buildings. If the government opens fire, it is run by monsters. I don’t mean that ironically; I mean it literally. But if the government allows itself to be paralyzed by demonstrators, then how can it carry out its constitutional responsibilities? I don’t mean that ironically either. The Ukrainian Constitution, new or old, is meaningless because Ukrainians will not endure the pain of following it — and because foreign powers will pressure them to deviate from constitutional democracy in order to create a new one.

There should be no mistake. The Yanukovich government was rotten to the core, and he will not be missed. But most governments of Ukraine will be rotten to the core, partly because there is no tradition of respect for the law and because of the way property was privatized. How could there be a tradition of law in a country that was reduced to a province of another state and that numbered among its rulers Josef Stalin? Privatization, following the fall of the Soviet Union, occurred suddenly with vague rules that gave the advantage to the fast and ruthless. These people now own Ukraine, and however much the crowd despises them, it can’t unseat them. The oligarchs, as rich people in the former Soviet Union are called, are free; they can eliminate their critics or bribe them into silence. The only thing that is more powerful than money is a gun. But guns cost money and lives.

The idea that what will follow the Ukrainian revolution will be the birth of a liberal democracy reminds me of the Arab Spring. In the West, there is a tradition of seeing a passionate crowd massed in a square as the voice of the people. Reporters interview demonstrators and hear that they want an end to a corrupt and evil regime and subliminally recall the storming of the Bastille, the founding myth of the revolutionary tradition. A large crowd and a building anger at government evil points to the millennium.

In the Arab Spring the hope was great and the results disappointing. There was genuine hope for change, and observers assumed that the change was for liberal democracy. Perhaps it will yet be. Sometimes it was a change to a very different type of regime. What is portrayed and seen in this situation are the corrupt leaders commanding brutal soldiers. If the regime and the soldiers are wicked, it follows by this storyboard logic of good and evil that then their victims must be virtuous. It is rarely that easy. It is not only that the crowd is usually divided into many factions and bound together only by anger at the regime and the passionate moment. It is also that unexpected consequences lead them far from what they intended.

How Long Will Unity Last?

The deepest symbolism of revolution, and the most problematic, is that the people in the square speak for the people as a whole. The assumption made by the three foreign ministers was that in the negotiation between the three leaders of the demonstrators and the president, the protests’ leaders were more faithful representatives of the people than the elected president. They may have been in this case, but it is not certain.

Parts of Ukraine are bitterly angry about the outcome in Kiev. A Russian flag was raised over the city hall of Sevastopol, located in Crimea in the south, over the weekend. Crimea has historically belonged to Russia. In 1954, Nikita Khrushchev took it away from Russia and gave it to Ukraine. The Russians in Crimea have never really liked being part of Ukraine and the demonstrators didn’t represent them. Nor did they represent all those who live in the eastern part of the country, where Russian is commonly spoken and where being close to Russia is both an economic and cultural desire.

Thus there are two questions. The first is whether there is enough unity in the Ukrainian parliament to do what they must now do: create a government. The excitement of the moment has hidden the factions, which will soon re-emerge along with new ones. Yanukovich was not without support, for good reasons or bad. His supporters are bitter at this outcome and they are biding their time. In addition, the oligarchs are weaving their webs, save that many of the lawmakers are already caught in their web, some happily and some not. The underlying constraints that created the Yanukovich government are still there and can create a new Yanukovich out of the most enlightened Ukrainian leader.

The second question is whether Ukraine can remain united. The distinctions between the region oriented toward the West and that oriented toward Russia have been there from the beginning. In the past, governments have tried to balance between these two camps. Our three foreign ministers and the leaders of the demonstration have signaled that the days of taking Crimea and the east into account are over. At the very least their interests weren’t represented at the talks. Those interests could be rebalanced in the parliament, or they could be dismissed. If the latter were to happen, will Ukraine split in two? And if it does, what will be the economic and social consequences? If parliament takes to accommodating the two sides and their respective oligarchs, then how does it avoid winding up with a more photogenic and sympathetic Yanukovich?

The Motives of Outsiders

What happened to Ukraine mattered deeply to the Germans, French, Poles and Americans, all of whom had a deep involvement and sympathy for the demonstrators and hostility toward Yanukovich. Certainly it matters to the Russians, for whom maintaining at least a neutral Ukraine is essential to the national interest. This entire crisis began when Yanukovich decided to reject closer ties to the European Union. It was that decision that triggered the demonstrations, which, after violent repression, evolved from desiring closer EU ties to desiring regime change and blood.

The Ukrainian government has $13 billion in debt, owed mostly to Western institutions. The Russian government has agreed to provide Ukraine with $15 billion in aid doled out in tranches to cover it, since Ukraine can’t. Russia is now withholding additional aid until it can be confident the emerging government in Kiev is one with which it can work. It has also given Ukraine discounted natural gas. Without this assistance Ukraine would be in an even worse situation.

In turning toward Europe, parliament has to address refinancing its debt and ensure that the Russians will continue to discount natural gas. The Europeans are in no position politically to underwrite the Ukrainian debt. Given the economic situation and austerity in many EU countries, there would be an uproar if Brussels diverted scarce resources to a non-member. And regardless of what might be believed, the idea that Ukraine will become a member of the European Union under current circumstances is dismal. The bloc has enough sick economies on its hands.

The Germans have suggested that the International Monetary Fund handle Ukraine’s economic problem. The IMF’s approach to such problems is best compared to surgery without anesthesia. The patient may survive and be better for it, but the agony will be intense. In return for any bailout, the IMF will demand a restructuring of Ukraine’s finances. Given Ukraine’s finances, that restructuring would be dramatic. And the consequences could well lead to yet another round of protests.

The Russians have agreed to this, likely chuckling. Either parliament will reject the IMF plan and ask Russia to assume the burden immediately, or it will turn to Russia after experiencing the pain. There is a reason the Russians have been so relaxed about events in Ukraine. They understand that between the debt, natural gas and tariffs on Ukrainian exports to Russia, Ukraine has extremely powerful constraints. Under the worst circumstances Ukraine would move into the Western camp an economic cripple. Under the best, Ukraine would recognize its fate and turn to Russia.

What the Europeans and Americans were doing in Ukraine is less clear. They had the triumphant moment and they have eliminated a corrupt leader. But they certainly are not ready to take on the burden of Ukraine’s economic problems. And with those economic problems, the ability to form a government that does not suffer from the ills of Yanukovich is slim. Good intentions notwithstanding, the Ukrainians will not like the IMF deal.

I will guess at two motives for European and American actions. One is to repay the Russians for their more aggressive stance in the world and to remind them of how vulnerable Russia is. The second is as a low-risk human rights intervention to satisfy internal political demand without risking much. The pure geopolitical explanation — that they did this in order to gain a platform from which to threaten Russia and increase its caution — is hard to believe. None of these powers were in a position to protect Ukraine from Russian economic or military retaliation. None of them have any appetite for threatening Russia’s fundamental interests.

As stated above, the question now is two fold. Will the Ukrainian parliament, once the adrenaline of revolution stops flowing, be able to govern, or will it fall into the factional gridlock that a presidential system was supposed to solve? Further, will the east and Crimea decide they don’t want to cast their lot with the new regime and proceed to secede, either becoming independent or joining Russia? In large part the second question will be determined by the first. If the parliament is gridlocked, or it adopts measures hostile to the east and Crimea, secession is possible. Of course, if it decides to accommodate these regions, it is not clear how the government will differ from Yanukovich’s.

Revolutions are much easier to make than to recover from. This was not such a vast uprising that it takes much recovery. But to the extent that Ukraine had a constitutional democracy, that is now broken by people who said their intention was to create one. The issue is whether good intentions align with reality. It is never a bad idea to be pessimistic about Ukraine. Perhaps this time will be different.
 
 
Ukraine Turns From Revolution to Recovery is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
 
 

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Analysis: Egypt – The blame game

Jerusalem Post:

“The Supreme Military Council wants to cover its failure to keep the peace in Sinai by throwing the blame on Israel.”

via Analysis: Egypt – The blame game – JPost – Middle East.

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Astute comments by former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Zvi Mazel, on the political aftermath of this week’s treacherous attacks launched from Sinai toward Eilat and on the general state of lawlessness in the desert peninsula.

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Coalition of the Blade

Leveraging the vast resource base of this generally under-developed continent, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has been working hard to create a socialist ‘Bolivarian’ revolution in South and Central America. A constant thorn in the backside of the ‘imperialist’ United States, Hugo has lately been ostentatiously doling out copies of the sword once wielded by the El Libertador (Simón Bolívar) to his leftist compatriots. 


chavez swords


Read about the original sword in this New York Times article from 1990. 

The sword was returned to the Bolivar Museum on February 1, 1991 by the M-19 rebels who purloined the prized artifact seventeen years earlier. 

So, is the sword in the Chavez-Correa image actually the real one?

UPDATE: Yes. After close inspection of the images, it appears that the sword shown in both the Raul Castro and Rafael Correa images is the genuine article. Apparently, after Castro and Chavez left grubby fingerprints on the beloved weapon, a decision was taken to don gloves a week later when Correa was invited to also inspect the original — before leaving with his own copy.

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