Everything Is Broken
By Axel Brot
09/08/07 "Asia Times" -- - The American political class seems to have drawn all the wrong conclusions from the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union. Its leisurely stroll towards permanent global hegemony just did not happen. Thus, frustration and the craving for revenge have become main drivers of US policies. The events of September 11 focused their common dysfunctionality, but they are not its root cause.
It is from this vantage point that arises the resigned and poignant expectation that the US will permit neither a stable Russia nor a non-cataclysmic accommodation of China's rise. American politics now have just enough flexibility to negotiate the short-term priorities of whom to put under the pressure of regime-changing demands; but the system is rigged not to reward persuasion or accommodation but toward increasing confrontation, deadline diplomacy, and grandstanding on principles that carry the load of broken credibility.
Notwithstanding the worthy efforts of the Iraq Study Group or the Princeton Project on National Security to get some means-to-ends rationality back into US policies, politics are impaired by the lack of discipline and prudence that come with the reinforcement of the imperial mind-set of official Washington by the media and think tanks.
Unfortunately, this mind-set is not only the defining attribute of the present administration but of both parties - and abundantly so, of the serious contenders for the next US presidency. They are already competing in burning the bridges to a somewhat more patient approach to imperial policies while berating the present administration for its weakness. Different combinations of bombing Iran, breaking Hezbollah, confronting the Russians, sanctioning the Chinese, squeezing the Saudis and Pakistanis, pressuring the Indians into a subordinate relationship, installing an "accountable" dictatorship in Iraq (and/or taking it apart), are on the menu of the main candidates - plus unfettering US "soft power" and hitching the allies more effectively to whatever load is to be pulled.
It is therefore all too easy to see in the current travails of global diplomacy efforts to adapt to the implicit American choice of "either the US or chaos". But the lessons are not only Iraq and Afghanistan, but the failed attempts of Serbia (1999), Iran (2003) and Syria (ongoing), to bow to US/Western demands while keeping a measure of independence and dignity. In fact, looking at the last 16 years or so, at the fate of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, of the former Yugoslavia, and of Iraq or Afghanistan, they may come to the conclusion that they have nothing to lose even in a military confrontation.
And since the march of empire is tuned to the racial - alias "civilizational" - superiority (of the "Anglosphere"), non-Western elites may interpret this choice as "the US and chaos". If it is their ambition just to loot their countries and then to set-up shop in one of the Western tax-sheltered playgrounds or to turn into sharecroppers of their countries´ resources, the choice is a good one. If they are at all attentive, reasonably patriotic, and have a measure of pride, they cannot but resist it.
It is, in the last analysis, also a question of self-esteem and a sense of historical accountability. Can elites in their right mind bear to be the butt of a sardonic witticism like the one going around among Anglo-Saxon officials, targeting the Saudi combination of immense corruption and paying immense protection money: the Saudis "prefer to suffocate on their knees instead of dying on their feet".
But contempt and the lust for chaos ("creative destruction") have become the coin of the realm. They are heated by fantasies of a global caste society where "The Shield of Achilles", "Imperial Grunts", "Left Behind", and "The Diamond Age" are busy cross-pollinating the imperial imagination. One might add that a Pentagon (Office for Net Assessment) study of the consequences of climate change provides a window into the darkest, survivalist corner of this mind-set and implies, in addition, an answer to the questions "who is the West?" and "who is superfluous?"
The return with a vengeance of the "covert operations approach" to US international policies, therefore, has much more to do with this sinister self-fictionalization than with the nature of threats or the simple availability of the instruments. While for most periods of the Cold War, concerns about exposure, blowback, and provoking war with the Soviets kept it somewhat under control, it has slipped the leash. Everyone who can has gone into business. It is not only the White House that is exceedingly liberal in its use of privateers, frequently retreaded intelligence and military officials who should have been disposed of out of harm's way.
There is the evolution of a huge gray zone of private "consultancy" enterprises of former government officials who parlay their international contacts with state and sub-state actors, with insurgencies in search of upscale sponsoring, and policy-lobbying groups, as well as their international business contacts - in particular with the energy, financial, arms and security industries - into business and influence. On returning to government service, their pet projects, policies and money-spinners don´t just go into hibernation, they are continued as government policies. The merchandising of imperial policies and the mercantilization of military violence have become the hallmark of this strange combination of militarism and venality. One of the new breed of temporary, parvenu officials demonstrated its bottom-line aspect with the pithy question: "What is the use of empire when you can´t make money out of it?"
On the policy level, the concern about blowback and exposure has all but disappeared, except as a weapon of bureaucratic bloodletting when the hunt for the scapegoat is on. It can only operate as a restraint if a sense of moderation can be imposed and if its consequences have a deterring effect. None of this pertains. US policies, instead, gestate in the world of the much-quoted Melian Dialogue where a sense of impunity and omnipotence have destroyed any regard for prudence. Since the tyro-days of retired Air Force Major General Richard Secord's rubbing shoulders with the cocaine mafia in order to finance the Nicaraguan Contras, this state of affairs has given a completely new meaning to "unleashing covert operations", "plausible deniability", and, of course, to Ronald Reagan´s famous "boys will be boys" mentality.
The more vicious side of the problem, though, exposes the meltdown of the firewalls between the branches of government, between the executive branch and Congress, between public and private, between business and government - in a witches' brew of projects and interests. And no government agency has the clout or the will to turn off any of the cross-married projects of policy-lobbying, intelligence and black operations that acquired godparents in government, in Congress, or with one of the powerful lobbying outfits.
They may sink, perhaps, below the awareness threshold of the principals, but move they will unstintingly, metamorphosing, mutating and spawning descendents in the fetid swamp of subcontractors, public-private intelligence outfits, mercenaries, fundamentalist missionary organizations, security firms, to reappear someday as "operation in place", and thus renewing the cycle. The Sudanese troubles are a prime example of how this itinerant ecosystem produces and reproduces ever increasing mayhem in weak states cursed with strategic significance.
But all of that does not even begin to address the destructive effects of its frequent connection to the underworld, of the illicit trade in weapons, raw materials, etc, or to the globally operating crime syndicates and their economic infrastructure.
It is only logical that the selection of policy-making personnel seems now to follow the Israeli, Italian, and Japanese model, moving ever deeper into the world of clan loyalties (the neo-conservatives are only the most self-consciously "family-oriented" clan) where the distinction between loyalty to office and loyalty to clan disappears completely at the level of deputy assistant secretary.
And it is starting to infect Germany. Not only because many corners of the German foreign intelligence apparatus are, by design and tradition, bespoke to US and Israeli intelligence, and its political control mechanisms are slick even by Western standards. It is the osmosis of bad habits via the demands of Western solidarity.
In a moment of unguarded candor, the Berlin correspondent of the conservative Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung bemoaned the unrestrained recruiting of journalists and NGO representatives by German intelligence as far worse than spying on journalists to plug leaks. This comment illuminated for a short moment one of the rooms in the sub-basement of German foreign policy.
Of even greater salience for the shape of things to come is the introduction into Germany of the linkage of intelligence and business, and of both to covert operations. A story is floating around in the international media that the former head of German intelligence and current member of parliament Bernd Schmidbauer is allegedly the facilitator for an Israeli intelligence agent turned businessman who is deeply involved in Israeli projects in Iraqi Kurdistan. Using Schmidbauer's contacts among the leadership of the Iraqi Kurds, the Israeli agent reportedly secured land contracts worth many millions of dollars to give the Kurds a greater share of the (disappeared) billions from the oil-for-food account.
It is probably just an interesting, albeit rather disingenuous cover-story. But whatever the details, it is a fact that Schmidbauer is using his former office for that kind of purpose, and that is the message. And it is hard to judge what is worse: Schmidbauer involved in Israeli shenanigans that connect covert operations to business profits; or a private venture doing the same.
The discontent with German military involvement
More immediate, however, are concerns that German soldiers are already being sent into open-ended missions in potentially casualty-rich intervention environments - environments where American (British and Israeli) policies have publicly, contemptuously, and irreversibly debauched 100 years' worth of international law that tried to regulate the use of military violence. The German allies are running a kind of social-Darwinian selection experiment in their militaries, to weed out the conscience-ridden, the susceptible, and the whistle-blowers and to breed back the mind-set of colonial warfare against "enemy populations", with all the repercussions on civil society that this entails.
The resulting mercenary habits and "warrior ethics" - moral inhibitions restrained in favor of racial contempt as part of unit bonding - cannot but infect and then corrode the restraint trained into the "citizen-soldiers" of a parliamentary army. The more they are committed to operations in the "war on terror", the more they will encounter the desperate hate of those who have been exposed to the US ways of pacification, and the greater the danger of contamination.
In other words: there is fear that German forces will absorb this mentality by participating in these society-destroying operations whose results can already be seen in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine - and in future campaigns that have the potential to deteriorate into annihilation warfare. The fear is not far-fetched: one might look at the doctrinal evolution with regard to warfare in the "global ghettos" or, by way of example, scrutinize the strategies considered and the fervor for a war against Iran.
Those with legal training and some historical awareness cannot but see parallels between what is happening now and the judicial and propaganda preparations during the run-up to the German attack on Soviet Russia: imprinting on the soldiers' minds that they are going to confront a sub-human, vicious, cruel, and cunning enemy; then denying whole categories of enemy combatants any legal status, depriving others of the protections of the Hague Conventions, and limiting the protection of civilians by the code of military justice to the bare bones of maintaining combat discipline and preventing the army from turning into a raping, looting, murdering mob (which it did anyway, more often than not, especially after the expected short road to victory turned into the long slog towards defeat).
Thus, classifying anyone as a terrorist who fights, or as a
supporter of terrorism who could harbor hostile intent against, or support organizations judged hostile to Western interventions and interests, wards and dependents, simply extends the German experience of how to create a perverted ius in bello from Soviet Russia to the whole globe. It aims, of course, to delegitimize all armed (and increasingly unarmed) resistance to Western military expeditions and occupation, even trying to get international law to proscribe it because there is a population in the way ("human shields") of killing the terrorists. Less concerned with finding a way around the Geneva Conventions or the jurisdiction of Nuremburg is the innovative Israeli concept of "terrorist population". It just puts a new title over an old dictate: "Exterminate with extreme prejudice."
In the meantime, getting around the Geneva Conventions provided a challenging occupation for the lawyers of the Bush Administration. They decided the Taliban were "unlawful combatants" - though they were the soldiers of a country the Clinton administration exercised heavy pressure on Germany to recognize - because Afghanistan was a "failed state". Even if Afghanistan under the Taliban would justify the term "failed state", it is useful to keep in mind that the West bears a heavy responsibility for making it thus. One has only to look at the textbooks and instruction material provided to the mudjahedin by the US and its co-workers in the 1980s.
Particularly disturbing, though, is the deliberately transparent hypocrisy that does not cover but flaunts a kind of violence that elementary common sense (not to mention a sense of shame) would keep sporadic and isolated. But there are now tens of thousands of victims of the institutionalized global archipelago of black torture prisons and camps. They have been subjected by a select and trained force to the result of decades of research into techniques of torture and sexual humiliation, as a way, one is led to believe, of "searing defeat into their minds", to spread the message that there is no recourse, no redress, no defense; any resistance will just hasten the transition to the violent dissolution of society, of the underpinnings for a functional state.
Moreover, the right to kill at will outside this system in covert free fire zones, to keep the subcontracting domestic security apparatus of dependent states on torture and assassination standby, cannot but herald the willful surrender of any credible claim by these governments to legitimacy or capacity for creating order. The United States and its allies are setting the stage for the kind of massive violence last seen in the "pacification" campaigns in colonial Africa and Asia. This time, however, it is for everyone to see - and for quite a number of its strategists, this seems to be part of the purpose.
The German political class and the media make all efforts to keep the scale and ramifications of this system as far as possible from public debate and from itself; if it deals with it at all, then it is as the unavoidable, though ugly, battle scars on the face of Western values. The contortions involved in refusing its connection to German military commitments and the ever more drastic, networked security measures are nothing if not remarkable.
There is, nevertheless, a black thread connecting Germany to the explosion of fundamentalist terrorism, buried in files and memories that reach back to the late 1970s. At that time, Germany sought to assure the ascendancy of Islamist right-wing organizations over its large Muslim community, to neutralize the influence of left-wing organizations. The consequences of this kind of social engineering are still in evidence today, and much bewailed by the political class.
Germany hosted also a substantial emigre community of fundamentalists from secular Arab countries - especially from Syria. Since Israeli intelligence had the free run of Germany, and parts of German intelligence (as well as its Bavarian godfathers) were at the beck and call of the Mossad, recruiting among the Syrian Muslim Brothers in Germany for a terrorist campaign against the government of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad could have been called a joint operation. Co-financed by Saudi money, Israel and its South Lebanese mercenaries trained them in camps in south Lebanon, advertized at that time as the top-of-the-league graduate school offering instruction in all these interesting techniques which make Western life now so thrilling.
This operation led, of course, to serious bloodletting in Syria. The survivors either returned to Germany, possibly as recruiters for the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, or transferred their talents directly to this new theater of Western endeavors
Recruiting for subversion and terrorism requires screening, interrogation of the bad apples and of the doubtful cases, and holding them for future use. Germans helped in the screening but avoided the other procedures (at least, one may hope so). The Khiam prison in south Lebanon was used for these purposes - for torture and prisoner-breaking beyond the Israeli rule-book (high-value kidnappees, though, are still kept in the "black wings" of Israeli prisons, also designed to be beyond the reach of the already exceedingly permissive rule-book).
The German connection to Israeli operations reached the awareness of some senior German bureaucrats and exposed them to the meaning of "black prison" via Khiam - which can be taken as one of the models for the American system. The horror and revulsion of the susceptible ones had at least the effect of making life difficult for former German foreign affairs minister Joschka Fischer when he had to assert piously that there were "no violators of human rights" among the 300 Lebanese torture- and rape-artists Germany accepted from Israel.
The will to ignorance that dominates the German debate makes it all too easy to sideline concerns about the myriad ways this system has begun to infest Germany: via its special forces, trained in the US, Israel, and Great Britain; or the officer exchange program with the US Army general staff college (where its ideological underpinnings are taught in the writings of Israeli Arabist Rafael Patai); via the busy network of itinerant torture specialists, bent psychologists and MDs, interrogation trainers, and anthropologists. The political principals are colluding with it behind the back of the less controllable members of parliament, and frequently against the better judgment of senior career officials.
What began in 2002 as a way to show solidarity with the Americans and went into high gear in 2003 to rebuild bridges to the US, transmogrified the enthusiasm of former Social Democratic interior secretary Otto Schily ("if they want death, they can have it"), the cravenness of former foreign minister Joschka Fischer, and Merkel´s impeccable "pro-American" credentials into an ideological program to make Germany (and the EU) fit for eternal war against the enemies of the West.
For decades, Germany, like the Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway, managed to be regarded as more of a global social worker than as one of the closest American allies. Its role was well served by keeping aloof from military interventions, sticking scrupulously to its commitments, striving to coopt the modernizing elites of developing countries into the Western system, even at the price of high politics keeping itself ignorant of its netherworld's doings, and of sometimes diverging from US policies. Germany´s good name was a net provider of legitimacy for the West.
But under the new dispensation when the netherworld has become the main show and the compensatory human rights rhetoric an ever more strident exercise in hypocrisy, legitimacy seems to come from impunity. And the American political class has no more patience with divergent interests, claims of independent judgment, or "decent respect for the opinion of mankind".
The discontents with German-Israeli jointness
Last year, Germany inserted itself militarily into the Middle East's troubles with a naval squadron off the Lebanese coast. Its mission: to prevent the replenishment of Hezbollah armament stocks from the ocean. It has openly taken sides, notwithstanding its sub rosa alliance with Israel for decades, thus becoming part of a problem without a solution. Not only a majority of the population refuses to support the German commitment; it is also accompanied by the misgivings of quite a number of professionals - for good reasons.
One of them is rooted in the conviction that the pounding the US and Israel are inflicting on the Middle East is locking the West into an unending cycle of violence. Driving it is Israel's inability to consider peace more desirable than keeping its conquests. Though it would be a real career killer to admit to fears that Israel might use, or ignite itself, another conflagration in the Middle East to resolve its Palestinian problem once and for all - and, at the same time, to destroy all challenges to its hegemony - it is impossible not to be aware of this prospect. It informs concerns about the impact of the "war of civilizations" rhetoric that German (and European) opinion leaders are spreading in the media; a rhetoric,that can turn any moment into a free ticket for the Israeli leadership to get serious about what it has prepared its allies to expect and what a majority of its population demands.
In fact, indicators that the Israelis might limit their ambition to establishing a Bantustan-like system run by the Dahlan-Balusha goon squads of Fatah appears to be taken by official Germany as testimony to admirable and forward-looking Israeli restraint - to be encouraged, legitimized, and paid for to keep the Israelis from "acts of desperation".
The use of the term "Bantustan" in this context has nothing to do with an anti-semitic slur: when former South African premier and Nazi sympathizer John Vorster visited Israel in 1976, Shimon Peres, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Yitzhak Shamir , et al, lauded the South African system of racial separation as a role model for dealing with "their kushims" ("niggers"). And the conservative part of the German political class (especially in Bavaria, where the rather incestuous relationship between German intelligence and the Christian Social Union had sired its own foreign policy priorities) was deeply involved in the strategic cooperation between Israel and South Africa. Examples include support for the Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo) - also dubbed the "Khmer Noir" for starting the African plague of recruiting small children by traumatization - to WMD research, to the illegal transfer of blueprints for a new class of cruise-missile capable submarines. In the 1990s, by the way, Germany donated several of these submarines to Israel.
During the 1970s and 1980s Israel and South Africa were joined at the hips in their common fight against the kushims (and against the still numerous Jewish communists, hated by the Israeli political class more than the remaining German Nazis). And from some German conservative nooks and crannies, there was always facilitation, scientific support, or co-financing available.
But the above-board German support for Israel has also a tradition of unconditionality - since the 1970s especially - in co-financing the Israeli ways of occupation and never holding Israel to its obligations under the Geneva Conventions. During the Schmidt and Kohl governments it was tempered, nevertheless, by their commitment "to facilitate dialogue". Much of the reporting from the German embassy served to gauge where and when discrete German assistance could make a difference in encouraging contact between official Israel and chosen Palestinian interlocutors .
Under Green neoconservative foreign minister Fischer, though, not only context had changed. He threw the principle of differentiation out of the window. He chose himself as the main propagandist of Israeli claims that Palestinian violence had nothing to do with the
occupation but with the failure of Palestinian leadership and institutions, with foreign instigation (led by Iran and Syria), and that Israel is under "existential threat" by a tide of anti-semitism rooted in cultural and political retardation. As rumor has it, he even forbade any in-house discussion that went counter to his view of the world, valuing Israeli (or US) instruction much higher than the briefings of his desk officers.
At any rate, "unconditional support" came to mean no more in-house dissonances in analysis or judgment from the "solitary" interpretation of Israeli policies, motivations, and their consequences. The Merkel government then screwed tight Fischer´s proactive approach towards unconditionality - not only in supporting audibly and energetically last year's efforts to destroy Hezbollah, but working up toward military involvement on the Israeli side; its precise meaning will become much clearer with the next round of war.
The direction of Germany´s involvement, though, is unambiguous: Germany colluded avidly in preventing an early end to the Israeli campaign (during the Rome Conference) and left no doubt about its underwriting the Israeli right to kill and kidnap in Lebanon at will. In addition, in a gauche effort to rally public support for intervention on the Israeli side, Merkel dubbed Germany´s naval detachment in Lebanese waters (as well as the expanded United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon's presence on the ground) as an "Israel Protection Force". It goes without saying that Germany's assistance for Israeli operations in Lebanon, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Iran (in all three Germany has a heavy intelligence presence) has grown in scope and risk.
Now, support for Israeli projects appears not any longer to be limited to coordinating policies and information, or providing German passports for Israeli undercover work in Iran (as had been reported in Der Spiegel), or a pipeline to agents in Lebanese General Security (tracking Hezbollah leaders) or, for that matter, to taking the lead in poisoning the initial investigations into the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri (which was not the beginning but a second spike in a series of assassinations - the first one being the 2002 bombing of former Lebanese militia leader and Syrian politician Eli Hobeika, who allegedly intended to testify in Brussels against Ariel Sharon concerning the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre). Germany seems to have jumped with both feet into the sectarian violence game, not (yet?) with hits but by slaving at different levels of regional engagements to the commands of Israeli and, to a more limited extent, to American operations.
If Israel's ambassador in Berlin, Shimon Stein, had not reckoned with the domestic constraints on official Germany's solidarity with Israel, he could claim for Germany what Justice Minister Haim Ramon and Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador in Washington, asserted blandly for the US last year: "… even if our army should commit a 'mass massacre', the United States will still support us" (quoted in Le Monde Diplomatique).
In fact, in earlier days official Germany would have looked discreetly away or apologized "off the record" for the Israeli penchant for atrocities such as the Kfar Qana massacre in south Lebanon - which Israel never made a real effort to hide under its peculiar doctrine of deterrence. As General Motta Gur said as long ago as 1978: "... the Israeli army has always struck civilian populations purposely and consciously … the army … has never distinguished civilian [from military] targets" (quoted in Haaretz). Now Israel is demanding that official Germany demonstrate the correct attitude against "terrorist populations" - and it does, in the name of the "struggle against terrorism" and of preventing (!) "a war of civilizations".
For obvious reasons, Germany's original economic support for Israel could never have been considered leverage. But over the decades, its dimension and its aggregate impact contributed decisively to the fact that Israel had never to make hard choices; it subsidized the built-in maximalism in Israel's approach toward its neighborhood and the pretension that its wars of choice were wars for survival.
Separate from the meager individual recompensations, restitutions, etc, as managed (very badly for the destitute) by the Jewish Claims Conference or the Israeli state, German transfers up to now amount to at least 140 billion euros (US$193.2 billion) from the federal government in cash, goods, weapons and patents, another 20 to 30 billion euros in public-private partnership arrangements, plus billions more via EU mechanisms.
It is not surprising, therefore, that there is an uneasy awareness of German co-responsibility in fostering the combination of economic dependence, foreign funded militarism and the peculiar and exceedingly corrupt nature of the Israeli Praetorian state. The permanent state of siege and its steadily more powerful racist undercurrents have become the source of its cohesion and define its relationship to the world. As anyone knows who is acquainted with the Israeli debate, the old mantra that Israel will make the "concessions necessary for peace" if it feels sufficiently secure and supported, is good for public consumption and perhaps self-hypnosis, but nothing else.
Since Israel managed to persuade the Western political classes (the most fragile and corrupt Arab regimes need no convincing) that Palestinians' aspirations - as well as their rights under the Geneva Conventions - are unrealistic and therefore basically illegitimate, they have become a sideshow. Especially Europe appears resolved to stabilize it in limbo with lip service and sporadic shows of activism - but with hard support, of course, for those Israeli measures designed to break the last strands of Palestinian political and social cohesion.
As any undergraduate in coercive social engineering knows, destroying the social and economic infrastructure of a society to the extent that there are no more sources of independent social authority that could regenerate organized resistance, leaves the field to the broken, the cynics, the corrupt, the self-haters, the fantasists, and the criminals - and inflicts them on a dispirited, disposable mass of humanity.
The Iranian ascendancy, in contrast, is billed as the main show. And it was Fischer (ably assisted by France and Great Britain) who took the lead in navigating the European negotiating position between the American-Israeli push for war and the need to avoid it in view of the to-be-expected domestic repercussions; between the resolve to deny the Iranian right to close the nuclear fuel cycle and to hide the bad faith of their negotiating approach. Fischer made the issue repeatedly clear: the Iranian nuclear program signals the will to achieve "regional hegemony" to the detriment of the Israeli - and for him, the only legitimate one - claim to regional predominance.
When the government of then-Iranian president Mohammad Khatami offered in 2003, practically hat-in-hand, to negotiate with the US all outstanding bilateral problems - only to be refused, as he was part of the "axis of evil" - this was absorbed in a European proposal, that offered vague promises and no security guarantees, for the dismantling of the whole Iranian nuclear complex (including the courses and training in advanced nuclear engineering), plus the hobbling of its missile program.
Through the subterfuges and permutations of these negotiations, the German commitment to a peaceful resolution was always highly conditional, and Israel acquired something like a behind-the-scenes veto on the limits of the German position. It could (and can) well appreciate that for Germany - praised by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as the best Israeli ally - to join a war against Iran would at that time have destroyed Fischer´s Green Party as well as the government (and it still might do so now); not to join it would have created another trans-Atlantic rift, much deeper than the one caused by the Iraq war. Such rifts have a logic of their own and the potential to deeply fracture the German (and European) political landscape.
The German political class is hamstrung and duly embarrassed over the lack of martial spirit in its population. But under the banner of "anything but war (now)", it maneuvers and waits for the right constellation that frees its hand: a Western uproar over a Gulf of Tonkin-type incident, a major terrorist event in the US or Germany, which will have nothing to do with Iran but could create the right popular mood. It compensates in the meantime with German overt and covert involvement for Israel's willingness not to put quite yet German domestic politics to the test. Nevertheless, after so many aborted moves toward war, the "war now" party in the US may any time push the Bush administration over the brink and tell the Germans to deal with it or even make it a test of the Merkel government´s survivability and pro-American stance.
Discontent with the seeding of future conflicts
Paul Wolfowitz noted with satisfaction in 1999 (in The National Interest) that his Lone-Ranger position of 1992 had turned into the bi-partisan consensus of US grand strategy: never to permit again a power, or combination of powers, on the Eurasian landmass to achieve the capacity to act as a "peer challenger" to US interests. And it is this principle that the European political elites are about to underwrite, too. Its apologetics are tried out in working- and study-groups: democracy and free markets can only take root when the Russian state is deprived of the economic, social, and demographic resources for its reconstitution as a viable ("imperial") power; and China, for the same reasons, has to be dissected into five independent states. And all of this by the right combination of applying hard (overwhelming military) and soft (dissolving elite and regime cohesion) power.
These are, of course, just fond hopes or selling points. In reality, it is a prescription for decades of chaos and violence, with a deep impact on Europe and Asia. But even these - one might call them Plan B - prospects may have much to recommend themselves from the American perspective, and they offer even an absolutely convincing, though difficult to pitch, strategic rationale for developing a global ballistic missile defense network.
It is this consensus, nevertheless, that provides the only reliable guide to the course of US policies towards Russia and China - and insight into the nature of the "hedges" against the worsening of relations be it with Russia, be it with China, or both. Since being tougher on national security than the next guy (or girl) or the sitting administration, is the coin of national strategy debates between Republicans and Democrats as well as the ultimate arbiter of the career prospects for elected office, "hedging" has not much to do with taking out insurance. It has, instead, everything to do with being able to initiate confrontations.
"Hedging" with regard to China highlights this approach. The massive building of depth into the American military dispositions in the Western Pacific, the pressures upon Taiwan to get on with its US$12-18 billion arms buying program, the success in integrating the Taiwanese as well as the increasingly offensive Japanese posture into American operations plans, enticing India into sharpening its strategic profile against China, are sold as measures for Asian stability. This is, however, everything that the hawks of the "confront-China" lobby ever demanded, minus the damage to US-Chinese economic relations.
These "hedges" are not designed to work as an insurance mechanism but as the rock slide overhanging China's continuously narrowing path between a sheer cliff face and the abyss. More prosaically, whenever America's internal bargaining comes up with the ace of spades for China, "full spectrum dominance" should be in place. Or so one might think. The problem, however, is the destabilizing consequences of the effort in getting there. The Chinese cannot but react to what they surely appreciate as the tailoring of a strategic straitjacket to immobilize them for vivisection, ie, "soft" regime change.
Similar considerations hold with regard to Russia. The expansion of NATO to members of the former Warsaw Pact and to the Baltic countries, as well as the anticipated one to the Ukraine and Georgia, are equally sold as a joist of Eurasia's security architecture. Ironically enough, the same rationale is given for the German-led efforts to draw the Central Asian and Caucasian republics - and, in particular, the Caspian resources - out of the Russian into the Western orbit. In this, Russia's "true, legitimate interests" are being served because this process encourages democracy, accountable government, respect for human rights, and the non-violent resolution of territorial conflicts.
The tongue-in-cheek character of the "stability" rhetoric reveals itself most clearly in the hasbara about the "missile shield" installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, ostensibly directed against incipient threats from North Korea (which is in the process of denuclearizing itself) and Iran (whose threat potential against the US is as phantasmagorical as its supposed intentions are fictional). They are sold to mass media consumers as insurance against the familiar "madmen"; to the more discerning audience as not directed against Russia (and Russian complaints are sold as Russian mischief-making), and to the more worried western European insiders, in classified briefings, as a "hedge" with growth potential to dissuade the evolution of a greater than expected Russian or Chinese threat.
In reality, as even the more godfearing observers of US policies cannot help but notice, it is a provocative move designed to trap the Russians into easily denouncable, but helpless gestures of protest and to put the onus on them for burdening further the EU-Russian relationship. And Russia has no way to evade the trap: retch or spit, down it will go.
At the same time, it increases the political weight of America's main allies in Eastern Europe. It provides the substance for aligning Poland and the Czech Republic (plus their Baltic retinue) ever closer with US policies - a US-dependent sub-NATO within a sub-EU. In the short term, this issue cannot but further weaken the already fragmenting will of the western European part of the EU to negotiate (in good faith) a successor to the partnership and cooperation agreement between the EU and Russia.
In the longer run, the substantial American military presence these two installations require, will tighten the strategic noose around Russia's throat. In addition, if the US should really place an additional installation in Georgia, this move would deliberately put the detonator for a US-Russian confrontation into the hands of the reckless and irresponsible Georgian leadership. In this context, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's slip of the tongue in terming Russia "the Soviet Union" is not only Freudian but a declaration of intent.
The Kaczynski twins, President Lech and Prime Minister Jaroslaw of Poland respectively, also let everyone have a peek at the cat in the bag. In high dudgeon that its partners in NATO and the EU as well as the Russians might want to have a say in such a momentous decision, they maintained that the missile shield should not worry any "normal country".
But Russia, obviously, is nothing if not an "abnormal" country for the right-wing majority of the Polish political class: still indignant that Russia spoilt the imperial dreams (Poland from the Baltic to the Black Sea) that led General Josef Pilsudski to attack Russia in 1920, only to be defeated by the treacherous Reds; still resentful that World War II did not begin and end differently than it did; resenting that it has not yet managed a place at the Western high table, they expect the United States to procure them, at least, a special role within NATO (it recently blackmailed for itself a special position in the EU), and further down the line, a zone of Polish influence - from the Baltic to the Black Sea - and the right of first look for any territorial bits that may be on offer if or when Russia dissolves further (eg, the region of Kaliningrad).
Viewing these efforts in their full scope while keeping in mind the incessant din of media hostility against Russia (not forgetting the provocative mixture of subtle and crass intelligence operations), all of this is looking less like a hedge than moving the pieces for the endgame. One recent report of the well connected, US-based, private intelligence agency, Strategic Forecasting, Inc or Stratfor, on "The New Logic for Ballistic Missile Defense", spells it out rather bluntly: "… [T]he US is not yet finished with Moscow from a strategic perspective. Washington wants to pressure Russia until its will, as well as its ability, to pose a viable threat completely disintegrates." And the Russians are quite aware of the vector of US policies. Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech at the security conference in Munich, even Mikal Gorbachev´s recent interventions as well as Valentin Falin's widely discussed somber analysis last year, tell the same story.
They are up against the wall and have neither time nor good options. As Germany's Peter Struck, the Social Democratic former secretary of defense and current parliamentary whip, rather smugly, maintained: "The Russians would lose another Cold War". This in response to the "gobbledygook" of Putin's list of grievances at the Munich conference in February. A flash-poll, by the way, did show that a majority of Germans seems to have grasped its import and a majority even supported Putin's sentiments, in spite of the exceedingly derogatory chorus of the German media.
There is some worry that all of this might push the Russians into the arms of the Chinese. It touches, though, the outer limits of what is considered a legitimate worry. But there is the comforting notion that for such a rather fundamental revision of its foreign policy, Russia is neither strong and reliable enough to perform it, nor are the Russian elites ready to support it. Working toward a closer Russian-Chinese relationship - and knowing that China will turn out to be the stronger partner (however carefully the Chinese may defer to Russian sensitivities) - for a measure of security and independence, would require not only despair, but a sea-change in attitudes of the loot-corroded, fantasist and cynical majority of the new Russian elites. As the wag says in Influence 101: "You can always get to the elite Russians; half of them hate Mother Russia because Petersburg and Moscow aren't Paris or London; the other half hate her because she spawned the first half."
It helps, of course, that Western intelligence and quasi-NGOs are keeping the Russian leadership worried about domestic stability. To enrich its options, the West maintains influence also with the xenophobic right, anti-Chinese liberals, with the fighters for Chechen independence and others interested in ethnic strife games. Meanwhile the "new Russians" hope, against all odds, that Europe might still come around to provide the kind of safe anchorage against hostile policies Germany and France seemed able to offer in 2002/2003 and thus rescue their rent-funded, cosmopolitan dreams.
All of this is close enough to reality to foster the illusion the Russians can be managed; it just needs a little less obvious contempt and hectoring and a little bit more cooperative rhetoric to satisfy their craving for respect. This is more hope than reality, though - hope that will be disappointed, especially since Western politics and the venomously Russophobe media will make sure that the Russians are always aware of the stake which is to be driven through their collective heart.
There is, of course, also the Chinese perspective. Those Western China analysts from which its German section takes its cue seem to draw some satisfaction from observing China and Russia hands wondering whether the Russian leadership is still in thrall to its Western hopes and whether it is not continuing to commit slow suicide. These questions are not unreasonable. Russia is investing everywhere while it has not yet even restored its economy to the levels of 1989. Its industries, infrastructure, research, education, and health are still suffering from catastrophic underinvestment.
Since the West organized and oversaw the liquefaction of Soviet assets and their hemorrhaging out of Russia to the tune of about US$800 billion worth of cash, goods, and patents (including Boris Yelzin's gift to the US of the crown jewels of Soviet military and space technologies), as well as tens of thousands of its best engineers and scientists, one might think it would do all to recover from a disaster at least as bad as what Germany did to the Soviet Union in World War II, and form a peace worse than the one of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty of 1918.
But even here, Western policies make sure that Russians and Chinese cannot but perceive the beginnings of the mobilization for economic warfare against both of them. All of a sudden investment barriers against Chinese and Russian capital appear in the US and in western Europe. There are substantial efforts devoted to coordinate the rolling-back of Chinese encroachment on the Western right to African raw materials - in the name of human rights and good governance (which is like Bluebeard, still gnawing on his latest virgin's femur, complaining about a peasant who sullies his next lunch with exploitive marriage proposals). And there is the hue and cry raised about the Russian and Chinese doing what the US is doing excessively: marking certain industrial sectors as "strategic".
The Chinese Western analysts are quite astute observers of where their Western counterparts are coming from. But educated under the all-encompassing need to gain time and strength to be able to survive gloomy geopolitical weather, the Chinese debate about Russia and the West just echoes the more salient debate: whether they are able to influence American (Western) perceptions and reactions to China's rise, at what price, and for how long. There are still those, frequently highlighted in Western workshops, quoting Russian voices about the impossibility of Russian-Chinese strategic cooperation, referring obliquely and with the due amount of nostalgia, to the golden age of Chinese-American strategic cooperation against the Soviets, and wondering audibly whether its resurrection might not promise another dawn in Chinese relations with the West.
But one does not need to carefully examine these debates. Though there is no audience for bad messages, it has not escaped the attention of the professional worriers that Russian and Chinese decision-makers seem to have concluded that they face a similar and geopolitically connected future. They may expect to be able to delay or blunt it but cannot evade it. The continuous Western efforts to leverage elite dissent as well as to force-grow and groom alternative elites (with their typical mixture of venality and blind idealism) in an increasingly worsening security environment, have hardened the conviction that they are up against a strategy to enable repeats of the Soviet collapse.
Indicators for the expectations of Russian and Chinese decision-makers are percolating through their foreign policy and military bureaucracies and are being picked up: the elimination, defeat, or terminal neutralization of the one will be the beginning of the same fate for the other. And they seem to feel that this is being imposed on them; it has not much to do with their choice of policies. The beginnings of a co-evolution of their strategic doctrines, therefore, has to be taken seriously. They don't care about facing the full range of American military power but think about how to stymie and defeat its deployment in the incipient stages of operations.
How to develop a posture capable of inflicting massive losses on US air power and carrier groups without requiring a hair-trigger posture seems to draw a lot of attention. There appears to be even a debate about preemption. With regard to nuclear deterrence, it appears to be moving toward a marriage between massive retaliation and different options of "technological decapitation" (ie, destroying selectively the netspace of military command and control as well as its fallback operations, plus regime and elite continuity functions).
In order to get a better understanding of its present strategic predicament, the Russian military has even begun to approach, very gingerly, the causes for the erosion of Soviet deterrence in the 1980s, especially the reasons why it could not react by increasing its force readiness to what it perceived as indications of Anglo-American maneuvering towards war.
But whatever the scenarios for the future or the probings of the past, Russia as well as China are for the foreseeable future much too weak to compete militarily at eye level with the West. Both have to struggle uphill just to make their militaries credible defenders of the integrity of the state. And there is almost no military backup for the political task of preventing a further deterioration of their strategic environment. They can neither rely on their ability to deflect the US from efforts to control it nor could they compete for control without mortgaging the survival of the state.
It is the paucity of their military and political choices that drives them together; but the need to avoid the hair trigger of American confrontation renders an explicit military alliance impractical. The Russians know it, the Chinese know it. And strategy-minded Americans count on the fact that a thin mattress makes bad bedfellows. But they also know that American politics are not strategy-minded; they generate their own stimuli for action.
After the Russian 1990s - and the Chinese 149 years after 1840 - no illusions are possible about the fate either of them should the West again gain control over their polities. This plus their weakness, however, should assist not only the credibility of a defensive nuclear posture but also give the Europeans or the Japanese reasons to think about the consequences of strategic desperation. Below this threshold, though, it is all coercive bargaining - be it under the guise of common interests or in the open, "jump, or else". There are no common interests, there is just jockeying for position and deferred hostility.
When Henry Kissinger and Yevgeny Primakov established their joint working-group of American and Russian elder statesmen to deal with "the threat of nuclear terrorism and proliferation" (as Kissinger described it), there is, therefore, a subtext: "Work with us regarding Iran (or the eventual "securing" of Pakistani nuclear warheads) because the first instance of nuclear terrorism could take place in Russia." One does not need to be of a wildly paranoid cast of mind to see the possibilities, eg, in view of the very close relations the British maintain with the Chechen resistance, and the dozens of tons of Soviet warhead material still waiting to be reworked into nuclear fuel rods.
The point is, there is no need for even an implied specific message. The awareness of so many fingers on so many operational triggers is quite sufficient for the prudent assumption: "What is thinkable, is possible; what is possible will happen, sometime, somewhere." In the meantime, one has to act as if some sort of reason and predictability might yet return to the exercise of American power.
Part 3: Hoisting the American flag. The German educated middle classes, still hung over from their half century of ideological debauche and from Germany's role as a genocidal ogre take great satisfaction in their country's reputation as a mostly harmless global social worker. They are reluctant to subscribe to an ideology of global mayhem and a "defense of Western values". But the German media are working overtime to change their minds.
Axel Brot is the pen name for a German defense analyst and former intelligence officer.