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Yemen

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It has the world’s highest number of guns per unit of GDP, a population fast outgrowing the land’s carrying capacity, is riven by ethnic and religious divisions, and its cities look something like the Counter-Strike map de_dust.

Otherwise, I don’t know much about Yemen.

So I will not wax knowledgeable about it except insofar as the incipient intervention there allows me to make a couple wider points on the hypocrisy of international relations.

The first point was eloquently argued by my friend Alexander Mercouris at Sputnik earlier this morning. I will liberally paraphrase henceforth (I would otherwise quote outright, but I wish to add in some additional details as I go).

President Hadi was elected Yemen’s President in 2012 as the sole candidate with 99.8% of the vote, in what Hillary Clinton said was “another important step forward in their democratic transition process.” But early this year he was unseated and fled to the souther port city of Aden, declaring his overthrow illegal, and since then he has fled on to Saudi Arabia. He has called on the UN to “quickly support the legitimate authorities with any means at their disposal,” and his new hosts were quick on the uptake, assembling an Arab coalition of Sunni states and carrying out airstrikes against the Houthi rebels. They are doing this with logistical and intelligence support from the United States and the United Kingdom, both of which have also unequivocally made clear their views on the situation: The Obama administration refers to President Hadi’s regime as “the legitimate government,” and the UK’s Foreign Office calls him the “legitimate President.”

Now compare and contrast with what happened in Ukraine last year. In 2010, Yanukovych was elected President that was declared free and fair by the West. (How could they not? “Their” side had been ruling the country for the past five years). In March 2014, he was overthrown in a coup that was unconstitutional, went against public opinion, and was enabled by what even the Western MSM is admitting looks more and more like a false flag. He fled to Crimea, and then on to Rostov, from where he called himself the “legitimate” President – drawing smirks not only in Ukraine, but in Russia – and asked Russia to restore him to power. Russia didn’t overtly intervene, its influence being mostly circumscribed to the “military surplus store” that it maintains for the Novorossiya Armed Forces. Certainly nowhere near to the extent of using its air power, which could have depleted most Ukrainian military power in a matter of days. But instead of joining Russia in support of Ukraine’s “legitimate” President, there were sanctions and condemnations.

Why? Well, this goes back to my point about Westernism being a revealed truth, and deviation or opposition it being essentially a religious crime. As Alexander Mercouris puts it:

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov calls this a double standard. He is wrong. As Noam Chomsky (the US political activist who is also a prominent linguist) pointed out long ago what Lavrov calls a double standard is actually a single standard: the United States does not consider itself (or its allies) subject to rules of behaviour that apply to everyone else. The United States is always gravely offended when others say otherwise. The “exceptional country” is not subject to rules. It is lese-majeste when “lesser countries” say it is.

Or consider another precedent. In 2011, there was an exceedingly vicious crackdown on Shi’ite protesters against the Sunni Bahraini monarchy, up to and including the Bahraini security forces arresting and imprisoning medics for exercising the Hippocratic Oath and treating the wounded demonstrators. The Saudis ended up sending in their tanks. Did Obama fulfill his promise, made good in Libya that same year, that “we cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy.” Of course! The US and Britain sold them weapons throughout the turmoil, so in that sense, they indeed did not merely “stand by.”

One more point. The supposedly Iranian-backed Shi’ite Houthis, needless to say, are not exactly friendly with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, whom the US is purportedly at war with. Back when President Saleh was ruling the country before 2012 – the same guy to whom the Houthi rebels now pledge allegiance – a journalist who carried out interviews with Al Qaeda and was suspected of being a bit too friendly with them (human rights organizations disagreed), Abdulelah Haider Shaye, was imprisoned – at the explicit request of the Obama administration, funnily enough.

yemen-civil-war

According to the Wikipedia map, the Houthi insurgency now controls pretty much all of the western part of the country. But in the rest of the country, Al Qaeda and affiliated groups are disturbingly close to parity with the Hadi regime. While neither Hadi nor Saleh and the forces they represent are shining beacons of liberalism, gay rights, and non-nepotistic governance, pretty much every reasonable person will agree that they are “better” than the anti-civilizational fanatics of Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and sundry Islamist militants.

Which is why Saudi Arabia sees fit to concentrate its energies against the force there that has the most potential (by virtue of being strongest) of checking the spread of those Islamist militants. So okay, the Saudis like to play around with these groups, hoping that their boomerangs never end up rebounding on them; and at a basic geopolitical level, they must also be legitimately concerned about getting encircled both from the north (South Iraq) and south (West Yemen) by newfangled Shi’ite states that might ally with Iran.

But at a time when domestic oil production is booming and Saudi Arabia’s influence over OPEC has been diminishing, what dog does the US have in this fight?

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Islamism, Western Hypocrisy, Yemen 
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My latest for the US-Russia Experts Panel and VoR.

In this latest Panel, Vlad Sobell asks us supposed Russia “experts” whether Freedom House’s “alarmist stance” towards Russia is justified. Well, what do YOU think? I don’t think you need to be an expert to answer this; it’s an elementary issue of common sense and face validity. Consider the following:

Freedom House gives Russia a 5.5/7 on its “freedom” score, in which 7 is totalitarianism (e.g. North Korea) and 1 is complete freedom (e.g. the post-NDAA US).

This would make Putin’s Russia about as “unfree” as the following polities, as we learn from Freedom House:

  • The United Arab Emirates, a “federation of seven absolute dynastic monarchs whose appointees make all legislative and executive decisions”… where there are “no political parties” and court rulings are “subject to review by the political leadership” (quoting Daniel Treisman and Freedom House itself);
  • Bahrain, which recently shot up a ton of Shia demonstrators, and indefinitely arrested doctors for having the temerity to follow the Hippocratic oath and treat wounded protesters;
  • Any of the 1980’s “death-squad democracies” of Central America, in which tens of thousands of Communist sympathizers or just democracy supporters were forcibly disappeared;
  • The Argentinian junta, which “disappeared” tens of thousands of undesirables, some of whom were dropped from planes over the Atlantic Ocean;
  • Yemen, which lives under a strict interpretation of sharia law and where the sole candidate to the Presidency was elected with 100% of the vote in 2012 (which Hillary Clinton described as “another important step forward in their democratic transition process”).

Putin’s Russia is also, we are to believe, a lot more repressive than these polities:

  • South Korea in the 1980’s, a military dictatorship which carried out a massacre in Gwangju on the same scale as that of Tiananmen Square, for which China would be endlessly condemned;
  • Turkey, which bans YouTube from time to time, and today carries the dubious distinction of hosting more imprisoned journalists – 49 of them, according to the CPJ – than any other country, including Syria, Iran, and China. (Russia imprisons none).
  • Mexico under the PRI, which falsified elections throughout the years of its dominance to at least the same extent as United Russia.
  • Singapore, whose parliament makes the Duma look like a vibrant multiparty democracy and uses libel law to sue political opponents into bankruptcy. (In the meantime, Nemtsov is free to continue writing his screeds about Putin’s yachts and Swiss bank accounts).
  • Kuwait, where women only got the vote in 2005.

I’d say it’s pretty obvious that Freedom House has a definite bias which looks something like this: +1 points for being friendly with the West, -1 if not, and -2 if you also happen to have oil, and are thus in special urgent need of a color revolution. Then again, some call me a Kremlin troll, so you might be wiser to trust an organization that was until recently chaired by a former director of the CIA, an avowed neocon given to ranting about Russia’s backsliding into “fascism” among other things. If that’s the case you’re probably also the type who believes Iraq was 45 minutes away from launching WMD’s and that Islamist terrorists “hate us for our freedom.”

PS. If you want a reasonably accurate and well-researched political freedoms rating, check out the Polity IV series. Unfortunately, while it’s a thousand times better than Freedom House, it’s also about a thousand times less well-known.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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I am back to writing for the US-Russia.org Expert Discussion Panel, which since my hiatus has found an additional home at Voice of Russia. The latest topic was on whether Russia, China, and the West could find a common approach to the challenges of the Arab Spring. My response is pessimistic, as in my view Western actions are driven by a combination of ideological “democracy fetishism” and the imperative of improving their own geopolitical positions vis-à-vis Iran, Russia, and China. This makes it difficult to find any middle ground:

It is true that many Muslims in the Middle East want their aging strongman rulers out, and democracy in. Even Osama bin Laden, who purportedly “hates us for our freedom”, once mused that the reason Spain has a bigger economy than the entire Arab world combined was because “the ruler there is accountable.”

And this is also part of the reason why we should refrain from fetishizing “democracy” as the solution to all the region’s ills.

That is because liberal democracy as we know it in the West, with its separation of powers – in particular, that of the Church and state – isn’t at the top of most locals’ priority lists. It only really concerns the liberal youth who initially headed the revolt, while the other 95% of the population is concerned with more trivial things, like unemployment and food prices. As per the historical pattern with the French and Russian revolutions, the Arab Spring happened during a period of record high grain prices. And now as then, a revolution won’t magically create jobs or fill bellies.

In today’s Egypt, it is not foreign-residing technocrats like El Baradei, with his 2% approval ratings, who become President; nor is the cultural discourse set by young Cairo women who strip nude against patriarchy. Remove a secular, modernizing dictator from a country where 75% of the populations supports stoning for adultery, and sooner rather than later you get restrictive dress codes for women (de facto if not de jure), attacks against Christian minorities, and bearded Islamists worming their way into power.

As for Syria, the biggest practical difference is that the liberal minority in the opposition was sidelined even before the fall of the dictator, as it is the Islamists who are now taking the lead in the fighting against Assad.

Will the new regimes that emerge out of the Arab Spring be anywhere near as accommodating with the West as were the likes of Mubarak, or even Assad – who, as Putin reminded us, visited Paris more times that he did Moscow? Will religious fundamentalists be able, or even willing, to build up the (educational) human capital that is the most important component of sustained economic growth?wahh Will they even be able to regain control of their borders, or will they end up like Libya, an anarchic zone disgorging Wahhabi mujahedeen into neighboring countries that don’t really want them?

Western policy-makers do not seem all that eager to consider these questions. Maybe they think they can manipulate the Arab Spring to serve their own interests – after all, Assad’s Syria is an ally of Iran, supplies Hezbollah, and has security relations with Russia and China. They may be calculating that the geopolitical boon from removing the Alawites from power outweighs the costs of Islamists taking over in Damascus. Certainly there are grounds to doubt that genuine concern for democracy explains French, British, and American actions: After all, the two dictatorships friendliest to the West, Bahrain and Yemen, were actively supported in their crackdowns.

If the above interpretation is anywhere near true, there can be little hope for Russia and China finding common ground with the West. It would imply that the Middle East is a chessboard for Great Power games – and chess isn’t a game that you typically play to draw. The one thing everyone should bear in mind, though, is that no matter a man’s ideological leaning, he resents being a pawn. This is a life truism that was demonstrated in the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi, that is being played out today in Mali, and that will continue to reverberate so long as the crusaders – for they are widely seen as such – remain in Dar Al-Islam.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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I recently had the dubious pleasure of engaging in an extended Twitter exchange with Peter Savodnik. Peter is a consummately credentialed journalist based in New York. He is also a classical representative of the well-paid prostitute class otherwise known as Independent Western Journalists in polite (i.e. doublethink) society, as well as of that emigre clique which delights in smearing their former homeland at every opportunity (as with Julia Ioffe, Miriam Elder, etc). So nicely does he encapsulate the dinner suit-wearing, respectability-laden double standards, Western chauvinism, ingrained authoritarianism, and deep vein of conspiratorial paranoia that characterizes Western Independent Journalism that I think it useful to lay out our conversation in full.

[tweet https://twitter.com/petersavodnik/status/191952240007843842]

Because protesting sky-high education costs and corporate corruption is so much more morally repugnant than defiling one of a country’s most sacred places.

[tweet https://twitter.com/streetwiseprof/status/191955790771388416]

I noticed Mr. Savodnik’s ranting against Occupy thanks to the approving reply from Streetwise Professor, a Russia blogger. SWP (Craig Pirrong) is a well-known neocon, Russophobe and anti-civil liberties fanatic (who masquerades as a small government classical liberal), who has a rabid gaggle of groupies following his rock-star avatar around on the interwebs (e.g. @LibertyLynx, @catfitz, etc).

The depth of his derangement is demonstrated by his loathing for Wikipedia, which he views as some kind of Communist conspiracy (no kidding, his fan Catherine Fitzpatrick, who apart from her hobby of trolling non-Russophobe blogs also writes blog posts with titles such as What is Technocommunism and the Internet of Things? condemning open-source. Also the reason why she chooses to pay for TypePad, instead of using the free – and much superior – WordPress platform for her blog).

[tweet https://twitter.com/petersavodnik/status/191965291742375937]

So I guess by Savodnik logic given crackdowns in Belarus, the Meetings in Russia also look baseless and absurd? Time to expose that fool, methinks.

[tweet https://twitter.com/AnatolyKarlin/status/192046123320483840]

[tweet https://twitter.com/petersavodnik/status/192108181902737409]

Actually according to my link only 5 of the journalists, or 7% of them, where arrested while “while participating in protests or civil disobedience related to Occupy events.” The rest where arrested while covering them – a perfectly valid journalistic activity. Yasha Levine in particular has a harrowing account (via blog posts) of his experiences in LA country jail – where he picked up a Third World skin disease – and his consequent legal troubles, which demonstrates that the justice system hates independent journalism every bit as much as the police does.

But note, in particular, Savodnik’s diversion of the conversation to Politkovskaya, a journalist murder in Russia SIX YEARS ago. He for one doesn’t seem to have troubles with whataboutism, of the “But in American they lynch Negroes” kind for which non-Russophobes like myself are frequently accused of – including by Sadovnik himself. But the Politkovskaya case has no relevance to the conversation – the issue is Peter Savodnik’s reference to press freedom violations in foreign countries to support repression of his ideological enemies in the West. I do not like hypocrisy, and I call him out on it.

[tweet https://twitter.com/AnatolyKarlin/status/192113326753456128]

[tweet https://twitter.com/petersavodnik/status/192114961227591683]

[tweet https://twitter.com/AnatolyKarlin/status/192118355212242944]

And now the you-work-for-the-KGB canard comes out, reliable as ever coming from liberasts! My eternal response to that – what a pity the paycheck always seems to get stuck in the mail…

[tweet https://twitter.com/petersavodnik/status/192115447397756928]

[tweet https://twitter.com/AnatolyKarlin/status/192135905794990081]

Had this exchange occurred at the Guardian, in its Orwellian-named “Comments are Free” section, at this point I’d have been unpersoned by the plagiarist hack Luke Harding for being a Kremlin troll.

[tweet https://twitter.com/petersavodnik/status/192120397309812736]

[tweet https://twitter.com/AnatolyKarlin/status/192128656489971712]

Now I take his argument to its logical conclusion, i.e. absurdity, now using Brazil (which is actually, when looked at from the POV of concrete statistics as opposed to Russophobic democraticist rhetoric, is far more dangerous for journalists than Russia) to “justify” Obama pressuring Yemen to imprison the critical journalist Abdulelah Hider Shaea. Because that is the kind of mental acrobatics that Savodnik utilizes to wield the Politkovskaya case against Occupy.

[tweet https://twitter.com/AnatolyKarlin/status/192129054546210816]

[tweet https://twitter.com/AnatolyKarlin/status/192129334616657920]

Predictably enough, shattered by the exposure of his true authoritarian leanings and patent double standards on free speech, Peter Savodnik goes off the deep end, ranting about the KGB, FSB, and “agents of an authoritarian regime that kills people.”

[tweet https://twitter.com/petersavodnik/status/192123874656272384]

[tweet https://twitter.com/petersavodnik/status/192131039529934849]

[tweet https://twitter.com/petersavodnik/status/192131393122349056]

Funny he says that, as it is Savodnik himself who has a reactionary hatred for ordinary Russian people and wants to disenfranchise them (see below). Projecting a bit much, Mr. Democratic Journalist?

[tweet https://twitter.com/petersavodnik/status/192131677156409344]

I’m sure that Peter Savodnik is not the worst of the lot. Any number of other, far more mendacious characters come to mind who are outstanding on the issue of their hypocrisy as regards Russia, RT, the US, and Wikileaks – Luke Harding (a Russophobe fanatic who blames Assange for releasing the unedited Wikileaks cables when it was actually HE HIMSELF, with David Hearst, who was responsible for publishing the passwords to them); Konstantin von Eggert; the SWP hive; Miriam Elder; fuck it, virtually the entirety of the Western mainstream media.

But what this conservation with Peter Savodnik is useful for is representing that general mendacity in brief, distilled, easily digestible (and disgusting) form.

Exposes of Luke Harding and Von Eggert to follow.

Addendum. Thanks to Minka in the comments for letting us know that Sadovnik also espouses extreme neoliberal Latynina-like views on the Russian majority of Putin voters (“peasants”), who should not be allowed to vote.

[tweet https://twitter.com/petersavodnik/status/176603211245957120]

[tweet https://twitter.com/petersavodnik/status/176619216445779968]

In fact it’s pretty clear Savodnik loathes the Russian people as a pack of uncultured peasants for not voting like Savodnik would. The gall!

[tweet https://twitter.com/petersavodnik/status/183188645828767744]

[tweet https://twitter.com/petersavodnik/status/183138599733178370]

For our freedom and mine… Right? I think it’s pretty clear that it is Sadovnik who is living in the 19th century, what with his reactionary hatred of ordinary people.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.