A legacy of death and dying

on a fateful day, in 2007 I quite vividly recall listening to a teacher at my school tell the class of her happiness at the fact that America had chosen, to her mind, the correct president in the person of Barrack Obama and had avoided four more years of the same under a McCain presidency. The four more years of the same she referred to in this was the torturous primacy of George W Bush who in his time did his level best during his time in office to steer his country away from the enlightened vision of its forefathers towards a nation with nothing short of a Stalinist embrace of its citizens and its enemies. I would openly confess that at that point in time I too felt a very similar emotion to my teacher, having always maintained an interest in world affairs I genuinely believed that with Bush gone and Obama in office that what we would see in his presidency would be a refreshingly new approach to politics. How naive I was. Albeit, my country has never been bombed by the US or had US agents destabilise/overthrow my government so it always remained easier for me to accept that the USA could be a force for good than it would be for an Iraqi refugee or Palestinian trapped in the warzones of Gaza, but none the less I was naive in assuming that all it would take to change the destructive imperialist agenda that the USA has followed since the times of Jefferson was one man. This being said, I will openly suggest that I feel that none of us could have predicted how far from the tree this particular apple would fall. Considering the rhetoric of the campaign I feel we have never before seen such a betrayal of principles by any individual who has walked the gilded halls of Washington. In this post I intend to cover the key issues which are often cited for why George Bush’s presidency was maligned by people all over the world and then I aim to compare it to that of Obama and arguably show how little has changed for the better and that actually in many ways things have only gotten worse.

First on the list of George W Bush’s crimes during his time in office would inevitably be his two ill-informed and disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and later Iraq. Two more short-sighted examples of foreign policy I cannot think of unless pushed hard on the topic. To be fair to the planners of these acts, in both cases the invasions in a strictly military sense were a success but then it seems the planning for any eventuality went out the window. Like a football team who scores two early goals in every match they play but then concede fifteen the USA and its allies in both cases found themselves fighting a running battle  against a variety of forces that they were too ill equipped and too ill informed to ever win against. For example in Iraq after the initial invasion had ended and just as the occupation was getting under way, large crowds looted and torched much of the former Baathist government’s ministry buildings and no effort was made to prevent this riotous behaviour. Oh wait, some effort was made – but only to prevent any damage happening to any of the ministry buildings that were related in any way to the production of oil. In allowing this destruction of much of Baghdad’s infrastructure the coalition authorities demonstrated in a quite blatant manner their utter disregard for the safety and livelihood of Iraqi civilians. In coming years who knows how many lives that were lost to a Cholera epidemic in 2007 could have been saved if armed gangs had not been allowed to loot and burn down the health ministries. Ultimately both the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq had far more negative outcomes than positive ones for them to ever be recorded in a entirely positive light and it is largely due to GW Bush and his administration that both of these invasions were such catastrophic failures with each invasion focussing on the minutiae of capturing one figurehead individual while neglecting to ensure that the populations of the countries US forces were riding roughshod over were happy with what was being done in their name.

Next on the list of crimes that were committed with oversight by GW Bush was the massive infringement of civil liberties conducted by US intelligience agencies in the name of the War on Terror. As Glenn Greenwald at the guardian says in an article discussing the civil liberties records of US presidents:

Bush seized on the 9/11 attack to usher in radical new surveillance and detention powers in the PATRIOT ACT, spied for years on the communications of US citizens without the warrants required by law, and claimed the power to indefinitely imprison even US citizens without charges in military brigs.

Such a concerted effort to eradicate civil liberties that the founding fathers strove to define and enshrine in the constitution at the time shocked and horrified many commentators and with good reason really. The programme of extraordinary rendition through which people suspected of terrorism were kidnapped and tortured in nations friendly with the US was one of the most flagrant abuses of international norms and law that I can conceive of. The same can be said about the willingness with which the Bush administration accepted the daily abuses of privacy that were abetted by the Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11. Surely the greatest show of strength in the fact of hatred that the US could have demonstrated in the wake of the single worst terrorist attack in history would have been to show that even in possibly the nations lowest moment that the government were still unwilling to violate the principles of personal privacy. But ultimately, the Bush administration danced according to the tune of the terrorists and reacted by demonstrating just how contemptible Western democracies can be in times of crisis putting the lie to their claims of superiority over the theocracies and autocracies of the developing world.

The third charge that would likely also stick were it to be levelled at George W Bush in a court of law would be the use of torture in an attempt to extract confessions and intelligence from those who had already been treated illegally in either being kidnapped and illegally rendered across international borders or as a result of detention on often highly dubious grounds for endless amounts of time. That the victims of torture in Bagram, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib were already victims of crimes committed by US forces does not however remove the later stain on the US of subjecting these individuals to torture. Such behaviour  and the frequency with which it was committed by the supposed “leaders of the free world” demonstrates how hollow such a title is and how much respect it should actually command in hindsight. To kill an innocent in a war is certainly an objective evil, but there is an argument to be heard that suggests torture is worse as the innocent must then live with the harrowing memory of being made to fear for their physical and mental health for the rest of their lives. And I genuinely feel that this argument holds some weight in light of the fact that often torturers simply extract lies from their victims who in sheer desperation will put their name to anything they are told to in an effort to stop their suffering and this is commonly known. It does take a special time of criminal to authorise such behaviour with the full knowledge that the likely outcomes will be of no use, and Bush certainly fits the mould. The exact same point about it taking a special kind of criminal to commit these crimes, can be raised about Bush’s rolling back of personal liberty and his invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan too.

The reality, however, is that in reality the current president of the USA, Barrack Obama is guilty of two of the exact same crimes his predecesor, Bush, and arguably guilty of a worse third crime than Bush which would on the surface suggest that actually the Nobel Peace Prize winner is worse than Bush. Who would have though it ?

The first crime of launching questionable military interventions is certainly one Obama is guilty of, and much like Bush the end result doesn’t look very promising with the paint (metaphorically speaking) likely to run a little further before setting. The intervention which Obama championed was the lending of NATO air support to the Libyan rebels to help oust Muammar Gadaffi from power. Seemingly caught up by public and political sentiment that something should be done to support at least one nation in the “Arab Spring” uprisings and not wanting to overthrow one of his own Middle Eastern pawns considering the amount of money that has been poured into their pockets over the year, Libya was the unlucky nation to suffer the consequences of America’s attention. Much the same as in the case of the Afghanistan invasion , and almost identically to the Iraq invasion, the end result of intervention was demonstrably not thought out. The result being that a once relatively isolated/isolationist African nation is now a lawless war zone in which Islamist militias have monopolized power and control large swathes of the country and perhaps more alarmingly also hold large stockpiles of arms and munitions which if history repeats itself, as it is wont to do, will end up in the hands of whoever we fight in ten to fifteen years time. Of course, things might turn out just fine in Libya but the conflict has been officially over for more than a year and there is no end in sight of the lawlessness which grips much of the country and the parallels between the state of Afghanistan after its civil war and Libya as things stand is notable. So, on the first charge Bush’s crime will rank in the annals of history as the worst being as he went all out and invaded two countries as opposed to Obama’s one although there are the best part of three and half years left yet for Obama to fuck that one up.

On the second charge of restricting right and civil liberties within the USA itself, Obama, for a candidate who preached at length about open transparent government in his early campaigns and ultimately was carried to the white house on the back of the successes of the Civil Rights movement has a lot to answer for. While the getting involved in military interventions in another countries civil war struck me as a betrayal of all the Obama claimed to stand for during his election campaign, it is his attack on the rights that most people consider inalienable that must surprise most of all. The first demonstrable way in which Obama has betrayed those who voted for him is his failure to close Guantanamo Bay and end the abuses of human rights that have taken place daily there since its inception under Bush. Amongst the crimes that Guantanamo represents are torture and detention without anything like sufficient proof of guilt and often not even credible suspicion. The legacy of that site was one of the biggest blots on the Bush administration legacy and Obama’s inability or unwillingness to close down the facility there will certainly form one of the biggest blots on his presidential story. A further violation of the campaign rhetoric of open government would be the unfolding drama of the NSA’s massive spying operation in which seemingly almost every american has been spied upon and monitored without specific warrants which I won’t comment on much more than this as the depth of this crime is still only partly apparent as things stand. Needless to say that a crime of such scale really is Stalinist in its style and

The third and final charge which I think really is the deal breaker in demonstrating how Obama is measurably worse than Bush is his use of drone warfare both as means of repression both against american citizens in the wrong place at the wrong time and against poor brown people seemingly wherever he can find them. The move away from “boots on the ground” was something that Obama promised and so on that front, if literally no other, credit is due. However at no point in his run up to election did he ever make it clear that his intention was to remove one deadly force only to replace it with another equally deadly force which if possible is even less indiscriminate in its killing of non-combatants. The usage of drones which while not as directly comparable as the infringement of civil liberties and invasions of other countries was worth my raising as an issue for one reason. namely, that since taking office, Obama has already had more people extra-judicially executed with these weapons than were ever tortured under Bush’s orders during his entire presidency. This fact in itself is frightening when you take into account the tremendously positive light in which Obama is portrayed by comparison to the presentation of Bush jr throughout his presidency. However when you consider that Obama is not a full year into his second term yet, then the cogs should really start to whirr with the thought of how many more will likely die in later years. It must also be taken into account that many of the grievances that are often cited by the self same “islamic” terrorists that drones are supposedly utilised against involve grievances with the US army and its practices in the Middle East. While there are many reasons for grievances to be raised against the US armed forces, there are on balance probably several redeeming features which members of the armed forces have, Drones however can surely never have a redeeming feature as they simply kill and so the question must be asked as to simply how long it will be before this chicken comes home to roost and whenever that does happen we can already establish a chain of causation that leads directly to Obama’s trigger finger.

When they’re good they’re really good and when they’re bad they’re really bad

This week I intend to illuminate one of the Western political world’s most blatant double standards when it comes to geo-political issues. The issue in question is the relationships that Western nations have with theocratic governments around the world. When I say Theocracy of course, I assume that many readers who happen to live in “Western” nations, through ceaseless discussion in the media and in political spheres, have come to understand Iran as an encapsulating the notion of a theocracy, but how we view several other Middle Eastern nations with almost identical governments is a little more questionable. In the process of discussing how the current state of affairs came to be I will inevitably dip into the history of how theocracy in its current form came to be a popular movement in the world and will doubtless come to speculate on the dangers posed by all theocracies in the near future.

The history of theocracy as we understand it, certainly in the middle east, began during the earliest phases of the Cold War in Iran. The year was 1951 and the starting gun that sounded which began theocratic movements was the policy of the then Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, to nationalise Iranian oil production, in the process depriving British oil companies of funds they felt they were entitled to.

After Mossadegh’s movement towards nationalising the countries oil resources was initially ratified in the Hague as a legal action, a clandestine movement began to overthrow Mossadegh and re-instate the Shah (the traditional leader of the country) in a supreme position of power. The clandestine movement to overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran was, you’ve guessed it, initiated by an organisation who’s raison d’être was seemingly the planning of hair-brained coups, the CIA. In a bizarre twist however to the usual story of CIA ineptitude, the coup was actually a success and in place of Mossadegh now sat the dictatorial Shah Reza Pahlavi. What followed was a prolonged attempt by a western backed secular dictator to modernise Iran along Western lines which proved highly unpopular with many aspects of Iranian society. Whether the reason for the unpopularity of the modernisation programme was the break neck pace at which the Shah’s reforms were due to take place or whether it was the repressive way in which the Shah dealt with any who dissented against his rule, from both left and right of the political spectrum, we will never know exactly and will simply have to remain content to know that generally speaking the regimes movements were highly unpopular. After 25 years on the throne, the damn finally burst and a massive wave of protest, headed to some degree by religious movements as one of the most repressed social group under the Shah’s secular rule, deposed the Shah and seized control of Iran. After the revolution had successfully disposed of the former government, a vote was held and Iran officially became an Islamic republic and the worlds first theocracy as we currently understand the term. It is important that I point out here that the action which started this whole chain of events was not some innate love on the part of Iranians or by further extension, Muslims for governments based on their religion of choice, it was the imperialistic actions of dying empire trying to ensure that it could first of all, continue to plunder mineral wealth from the developing world and secondly, to prevent a government that had its own peoples interests at heart “going over” to communism. It was these two rationales that informed the British and American decision to re-impose an unpopular leader on the Iranian people who eventually coalesced around religion in defiance of the Shah. Politicians here can offer endless platitudes about the “evil” that the Iranian clerics and Hezbollah represent all they want, but they must never be allowed to forget that it was the West’s meddling hands that directly created the environments in which such movements and peoples developed.

The story however did not end there. After the Iranian revolution had successfully purged itself of the last vestiges of the Shah’s regime, genuine fears were expressed throughout the west that much like the French revolution before it that the revolution would spread and overthrow more Western allies in the process. Adding to these concerns, in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of the Shah a crisis of sorts developed between the USA and Iran as armed groups stormed the American embassy in Tehran in search of documents which proved that the CIA had been directly involved in the overthrow of Mossadegh in the 1953 coup. It as this point in time that the seeds of mutual distrust and discord were sowed in both the USA and Iran and goes some way towards explaining how relationships between the two nations have remained so poor over the years. Further adding to the strained relationship between the West and Iran was a period, where during a protracted mutual antagonism between Iran and Iraq, many Western nations flooded neighbouring Iraq with weapons to prevent the spread of an Iranian style theocracy to another critical nation in the chain of oil supply.  This flow of weapons and support for Saddam Hussein likely lengthened the conflict much past the initial battles, to the point where in the end the war between Iran and Iraq lasted 8 long years with thousands butchered mindlessly for no major gain to either country. Alongside arming the neighbouring dictator, the Western world also engaged in a more subtle form of conflict with Iran in the form of economic blockades in an attempt to get Iran to play along with Western economic interests, economic blockades which have pretty much been a constant reality of life in Iran ever since with sanctions taking the place of the blockade in recent years. While the West intended through both of the above measures to subject Iran and principally the Iranian clerics to a position of economic and political inferiority, arguably both measures helped to cement the religio-nationalist movement in its position of power which it continues to hold unto this day.

During the same time period, events were afoot in neighbouring Afghanistan which eventually lead to the foundation of a theocratic government there. At this time, Afghanistan had recently undergone a revolution of its own, which unlike the Iranian one moved away from religion and towards a far more socialist approach to government. As the Saur revolution swept to power it became closely linked with the Soviet Union, who of course were happy to have another state on their Christmas card list, which only extended really to nations who cited Marx as a basis for their constitutions. Anyway, from the moment that a socialism-inclined government came to power and developed ties with Moscow, the loving care bear peace president of the United States Jimmy Carter signed directives to begin covert support for anti-government movements in Kabul. Eventually things came to a head when American and Pakistani backed Islamist militants, who were angry with government attempts to secularize the country, attempted to overthrow the Afghan government, which precipitated a greater period of instability throughout the country. Eventually the Soviet Union intervened in the conflict in an attempt to prop up the socialist government against a broad insurgency which among other elements had a strong religious backing. Anyone with a basic grounding in history knows what happened next now that the Soviet Union had become involved in the conflict, in the usual petty tit for tat that both superpowers waged throughout the Cold War, the USA started giving masses of military and financial aid to a plethora of insurgent groups which did eventually push the Soviet Union out of the country but in the process massively destabilised the country setting the stage for a hard-line religious government to capitalise on the anarchy that was widespread across the whole country at this point in time .

At this point in time I would take care to point out that in both the cases of Iran and Afghanistan prior to the coming to power of theocratic governments, what we can see is western political ideologies creating a vacuum which in both cases a reactionary religious movement has filled. In the case of Iran, to ensure the continuing supply of oil for the Western consumer markets, such market minded capitalism lead to a staged coup which ousted a democratically elected leader and replaced him with a widely hated monarch who however was willing to continue to perpetuate Iran’s economic subservience to Western nations. In Afghanistan we saw a European style socialist government attempt to modernise and secularize the country along the same lines as had been done by the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc nations which led to much popular resentment of the government among the people of the country and later, when the USA and USSR we saw later day imperialism ruin the country and create a lawless state where the rule of the strong would be the only thing capable of maintaining order. These facts demonstrate a clear line of causation between the actions of the West, that is both schools of Western thought – capitalism and communism, and the type of governments that later formed there. The racist rhetoric of the media who assume that somehow that there is an innate love of religious government amongst Muslims is nonsensical and we would do well to begin viewing the situation as it really is with religious governments simply being just one possible option that people who find themselves in desperate situations can turn towards to lead them.

While these two rather well known cases of theocracies were developing however, other nations in the world were also steadily moving towards a theocratic government of sorts under the radar and continue to do so. The countries in question are Israel and the Gulf Arab nations, with the main example being Saudi Arabia. It is true that neither of the two nations I have just named are true theocracies in the dictionary sense of the word defining a theocracy as a “system of government in which priests rule in the name of God or a god.” The above being true though, does not change the fact that both of the nations I mentioned above are nations were God is taken as the ultimate source of the constitution and the laws by which citizens live their lives. Saudi Arabia’s monarchy rule over a nation which is a theocracy in all but name and has been since the day it was first formed from the remnant states left after the Ottoman retreat in the First World War 1. The kingdom is not only a theocracy, but it is a theocracy of the type that gives atheists and secularists nightmares, with many of its laws based upon the most literal translation of thousands of year old texts which advocate many things which of course upset modern sensibilities. The problem with this as a practice, in my opinion at least, is that the laws were never defined by a wide political consensus but based upon the interpretations of holy texts by Religious and Political elites who naturally are inclined towards only creating laws that maintain their elite positions within society. I’m sure for example a majority of Saudi’s would likely feel less offended by adultery or women driving, than the clerics who enforce such laws which have been used to effectively terrorise the people into a miserable state of submission to the state. Of course were the truth of the matter that a wide array of Saudi’s had agreed upon the inclusion of such laws in their constitution then while it would admittedly still gall me then at least democracy had been practised but the theocratic practices of the Saudi monarchy are enforced from the top down with religion not only being a means of finding spiritual peace, as intended, but also a means for the elite to utilise in controlling the people, surely never the intention of any prophet.

In the case of Israel , we have a state which on the surface is even less of a theocracy than any of the three nations I have mentioned above and yet there are many unresolved issues with the country, several of which revolve around the place of religion in society. Central amongst the issues for both religious Zionists and for Palestinian Muslims and Christians that live within the borders of Israel proper is that Israel does not have a written constitution. The problem with a presumptive constitution is that it will inevitably lead to calls for the drafting and creation of a written constitution in the name of simplicity, and it is this drive by many for a written constitution to codify the laws that would govern the state of Israel that is the problem as the question is pondered as to whether the state of Israel is the state of all those within its borders or whether it is Jewish state exclusively for it’s Jewish citizens. This perhaps seems less repugnant to many in the West for example by comparison to the mandatory wearing of a headscarf but when we really get down to pondering the implications of the Israeli state defining itself as a Jewish state then they are just as horrifying. Dying with cancer and in urgent need of treatment to prevent death ? Wait your a Palestinian of the Shia branch of Islam, Sorry no space for you. Nearest school for you children to attend is just a mile down the road ? Sorry, if your a Palestinian Christian then the nearest school for your kids is ten miles away in a run down area of town. Want to keep your business open all day Saturday ? Sorry, Saturday is a holy day that all must observe whether they are religious or not. All of the above scenarios might seem a little far fetched but Israel already has a pitiably poor record when it comes to minority rights and it is entirely possible that, if the state of Israel was officially codified in writing as a Jewish state for its Jewish citizens, it would take this definition of itself to its logical conclusion by depriving anyone not of Jewish ancestry of valuable services and facilities.

When we look at countries where religion does play such a fundamental part as the basis of the laws by which society lives it is notable that the West has a very chequered record on this issue with certain theocracies being bad yet others being critical allies. On reflection, I feel Iran was simply unlucky when it became the first true theocracy in the current era in that it came to represent a powerful new political idea that to some degree helped a faltering nation in regaining much pride in itself by standing up to those who would have seen it subjected to their own political and economic interests and priorities. The success and totality with which the Iranian revolution overturned the existing natural order in one of the Middle East’s largest and arguably at the time most powerful nations undoubtedly scared many in the West whose economic and industrial and even cultural strengths to some degree were based almost entirely on access to cheap oil by which to export their goods to world markets and import the raw materials. Oil that is, that primarily came from other Middle Eastern countries  were now the West was worried similar revolutions might sweep to power and give rise to more nations that were willing to stand up to the neo-imperialist economic subjugation of their countries.

And this, as almost no ever says, is were it all went wrong. In true Western style, the nations of the West fed on a diet of poor quality intelligence and their own racist paranoia decided to embrace several other countries who were equally theocratic in nature and turn a blind eye to their barbarity which certainly in the cases of Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan was as bad if not worse that of Iran. In signing this compact with devil the West demonstrated its blatant double standards on moral issues when profits are concerned and must have further reduced its own standing as an entity in the eyes of those that found themselves in countries were their rights were now being abused by corrupt elites in the name of a fundamentalist interpretation of their religion.

If the reader was left unsure by arguments offered above then I simply would ask them to consider the case of Syria, were the West is openly engaged currently in verbally antagonising a secular regime, which has always strived to negate sectarian conflict in its ethnically diverse territotry, and materially supporting some seriously unsavoury characters in their war with the Syrian Army. The reason for this you ask ? Well, the Syrian government is supported by the main bad theocracy, Iran, which we want to replace with a group of extremists who will likely replicate the hell hole that was southern Afghanistan under the Taliban, and the reason we support these groups ? Simply because they represent the interests of and are supported by the good theocracies as exampled by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The enemy of my enemy…

Last week, a most unsurprising development in the Syrian civil war was announced in the news which then was presumably followed by much agonised chin scratching in western political circles who’s narrative regarding the ongoing conflict in Syria prior to said announcement had been relatively simple considering the convoluted nature of the crisis. The announcement that I make reference to is that of the Al-Nusra Front declaring themselves for Al-Qaeda which was surely news to no-one yet hit with devastating force none the less as people perhaps began to wake up and see that again foreign policy is all to often dictated by the proverb that I have used as the title for this post and that once again in Syria we are in bed with a group we barely understand. In years to come I genuinely fear that this saying will only gain in poignancy as we reflect on the legacy of the Arab Spring which despite holding such dreamy promises in its early days seems to have mutated into something bearing a greater resemblance to a nightmare. While many forces have been at work throughout the ongoing Arab Spring, this mutation of the idealistic revolution into something resembling more on a daily basis the revolutions of France and Russia is in all likelihood due in no small part to the part that has been played by Western actors who have armed factions with whom they shared all too convenient hatreds. In this post I intend to discuss notable times where the sentiments of this proverb have been applied and will demonstrate that each time it has been used that the results are always as spectacularly disastrous for innocent lives and show further that the Arab Spring is seemingly no different.

Perhaps the most notable case in relatively recent history of the use of this maxim to broker alliances between nations that were ultimately hostile to each other in the name of overriding interests would be the Second World War. Two alliances of convenience were formed during the six years in which this conflict raged, both involving the USSR as a regional power. First off the bat, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a mutual non-aggression pact known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact after the foreign ministers responsible for signing it. This pact on the part of Nazi Germany guaranteed that the Soviet Union would stay uninvolved in any emerging European war leaving Germany able to focus its energies on subjugation of Poland and other Western European nations. This is a prime example of an alliance of convenience as the Nazi party ultimately clawed hold of power in Germany through stoking the fires of suspicion against Communists working to subvert the Reichstag and democracy yet in a moment of need came to an agreement with a supposedly newly found friend. It is also a prime example this type of alliance as it ultimately collapsed once the supply of mutual enemies between the once antagonistic nations came to an end with Great Britain seemingly at the point of collapse and the USA yet to enter the war. In one of history’s most disastrous back-stabbings, Hitler then suddenly re-remembered that he despised communism and that his rant in book form Mein Kampf called for the annexation of much Soviet territory to satisfy the Nazi hunger for land.

Molotov signs the Nazi–Soviet non-aggression pact. Behind him are Ribbentrop and Stalin.

Molotov signs the Nazi–Soviet non-aggression pact. Behind him are Ribbentrop and Stalin.

Another reason that the Second World War is a prime example of this proverb in action is that in the aftermath of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, another alliance of convenience was formed this time between Great Britain (and later the USA) and the Soviet Union who if anything despised each other more than the Nazis and the Soviets had done. After all, the political movement which Stalin was a figurehead of at the time had in the minds of the British at least deserted them in their hour of need during the First World War and also the central ideology of the Soviet Union was deeply antagonistic to the ways of life of the British Empire and the United States. The feelings of dislike were very much mutual with Stalin reportedly saying that Churchill was “the worst of the capitalists” but ultimately the common interest of beating back Nazism prevailed momentarily at least. Of course, the ultimate legacy of this alliance was that while it did put an end to the threat of Nazism it evolved into a cold-war between the two diametrically opposed ideologies with almost fifty years of tension that could have at any moment ended the human race ensuing. Besides the irony of an alliance between enemies breaking down into a conflict which greatly outlasted the original war it sought to end, history will look back on this and likely say the strangest thing of all was the Britain and the USA in an effort to stop one tyrant bedded another far worse one in Stalin who is often blamed for upwards of 50 million deaths throughout his reign.

Stalin, FDR and Churchill at the Tehran conference - Papa Joe, king of the political wheeler-dealers and (probably) world mass murderers.

Stalin, FDR and Churchill at the Tehran conference – Papa Joe, king of the political wheeler-dealers and (probably) world mass murderers.

As has already been alluded to in the above section on the series of alliances of convenience that were struck in World War 2 the Nazi party, inflammatory rhetoric put to one side, wasn’t afraid to make alliances with nations that it despised in order to get ahead of more direct threats. Another example of the Nazi’s propensity for such types of alliances is the friendship that developed between Nazi agents and Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem and one of the most divisive Palestinians to ever enter the political stage. Again, this relationship on the surface makes little sense as according to the racial hierarchy that much of the Nazi empire was classified by, the Palestinian Arabs who al-Husseini represented, were not many steps higher than the Jews and consequently would likely have experienced the same treatment had the Nazis every really made headways in the Middle East. The decision  by al-Husseini to ally with the most vocally anti-Semitic power in the world was seemingly based around a mutual dislike for the British who ruled much of the Middle East at the time through League of Nation Mandates and also around the concern of Jewish immigration into Palestine as European Jews escaped the persecutions of the Nazis. And we can assume that all the Nazis saw in an alliance with the Arabs was simply a convenient ally who could support in the fight against the more militarily powerful British. Whatever the reasons for the alliance, time passed and eventually it broke down and back fired on the Palestinians. By allying himself with Hitler, al-Husseini arguably seriously discredited the Palestinian cause for a long time by making his antipathy to the foundation of a Jewish state appear to be related to anti-Semitism rather than simply being a result of his support of Arab nationalism. In appearing to be close to Hitler, whatever the ultimate reality of their relationship, al-Husseini gave the most ardent Zionists a conveniently unapologetic figurehead of supposed Arab anti-Semitism who to this day is used to justify the position of strength Israel feels the need to maintain.

Not the type of image you want surfacing later in life when fronting advocacy campaigns of any sort.

Not the type of image you want surfacing later in life when fronting advocacy campaigns of any sort.

The next case of a country following the mantra “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is perhaps one of the most famous instances of this idea in practice, the USA’s collusion and financial backing of Pakistani and Arab forces in Afghanistan after the Soviet Union’s invasion of 1979. Much has been done throughout the Cold War, the USA backed paramilitary forces that often were unlikely to reclaim power from the communist forces in whichever country but militarily were adept enough to be a serious thorn in the side of the supposed “international communist conspiracy”. The financial and logistical support which the foreign Mujahideen received enabled them to hold off the military juggernaut of the Soviet Union for over 9 years until Gorbachev decided that Soviet forces would withdraw in 1989 and arguably this defeat was critical in ensuring the eventual downfall of the one time superpower. If the record ended there then this alliance might have be the most successful alliance of convenience in the history of man but unfortunately for all parties involved the story does not end there. Slowly but surely after the Soviet armed forces withdrew, the Mujahideen warlords who, during the 9 years for which the conflict had raged, had amassed massive political and military power in Afghanistan dragged the country into a vicious civil war which ended tens of thousands of lives and destroyed more of the country than the Soviet Union ever managed. This period of Chaos did eventually end when the Taliban, a politico-religious force which sought to the end the period of instability  managed to gain control of the country. This in itself might have been enough proof that alliances of convenience are often very dangerous agreements but again history added some more spice to the dish when the Taliban allowed Al-Qaeda, architects of global terrorism, to take refuge in their Islamic fundamentalist state.

The direct result of Cold War politics

The direct result of Cold War politics.

Now that I have considered some historical examples of the use of the proverb “the enemy of my enemy …” I will now discuss the Arab Spring and show how true to form, alliances that were formed with groups purely on the basis of a common shared enemy seem to be doomed to failure. Either these alliances have already broken down in a remarkably short time scale, in the cases of Libya and Syria or seem consistently on the verge of breaking down as is the case in Egypt and to a questionable degree also Tunisia. For a movement that sprung from boundless optimism with the lofty intentions of killing off the corrupt old guard regimes throughout the Middle East and North Africa we have come a long way to the point at which we are at now with the only thing that seems to have changed being the dictator who happens to sit on the throne. I’ll now briefly look at each case in hand:

  • Tunisia – The first country to overthrow its leader and the birthplace of the Arab Spring. When Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire little did he know where his actions would end. The Arab Spring in Tunisia resulted in a massive democratisation of Tunisia with Ben Ali, head of state for 24 years overthrown, the dissolution of the political police and elections to a constituent assembly later that year. The newly democratised country of Tunisia is perhaps the most safe of all the countries who managed to overthrow their governments being as relatively speaking it was the most peaceful upheaval and did not rely on paramilitary groups or major violence to end the regime unlike the other three countries in question. However this is not to say that that the Tunisian “Jasmine revolution” isn’t endangered by foolish alliances of convenience like in neighbouring Libya. The calls to revolt which sounded in later 2010 appealed to a broad social consensus ranging from liberal human rights based groups through to hard-line Salafist groups and ultimately the success of the revolution was based on the involvement of every group that participated. In the time that has passed since Ben Ali was overthrown concern has been voiced that hard-line religious elements have begun to co-opt the democratic process for their own ends. In the case of Tunisia then the alliance that was formed between a variety of groups has yet to result in any major backlash as the result of hastily formed alliances and so there is still hope that Tunisia will buck the trend of one time allies either usurping the democratic process or forces supported by the west turning out to be a bigger threat than the government overthrown.
  • Egypt – The second country to successfully overthrow its government during the Arab Spring and a significantly more important regional player. Much the same as in the case of Tunisia the overthrow was ultimately achieved through the power of the Egyptian people themselves and not through the force of Western arms. Similar to the case of Tunisia, the threat to the Egyptian revolution is not one posed by alliances with external powers but created instead by alliances between liberally minded groups and radical elements such as the Muslim Brotherhood who were a critical component of the Egyptian revolution. Since the Election of Mohamed Morsi to the presidency and with the Islamist Bloc forming the second largest group in the Egyptian house of representatives, many Egyptians feel disillusioned and believe that their alliance with such elements was not worth it as increasingly Morsi rolls back the democratisation that took place in the absence of Mubarak and brings Egypt more in line with the Gulf Arab states.
  • Libya – The third country to overthrow its government and head of state, but the first to utilise Western military aid and financial support in doing so. Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt where protests were widespread and the majority of society seemed to support the overthrowing of the regime in Libya the protests were very much localised and relied on specific groups within society to achieve its aims. When Qadaffi’s armed forced seemed on the verge of crushing this regional rebellion. NATO intervened and through the use of air support helped the rebels slowly capture more and more of Libya until it fell to them. The alliance in question here is more at risk and this probably due to the fact that instead of being an alliance between different elements of society as a whole who had all suffered equally, it was an alliance between internal rebels and external powers with the only shared interest being the overthrow of a somewhat unpopular leader. From the beginning of the the Libyan revolution right through to today we have been aware of highly dangerous elements active in Libya and the end result is that while Qadaffi is no longer in power Libya does not seem much safer than when Rebels and the Libyan army were fighting throughout the country. The alliance struck between the West and forces in Libya is a perfect example of an alliance based on the proverb and like many such alliances has already broken down with Westerners and other traditional victims of fundamentalist Islamic groups being murdered and chased out of the country and this is still the early days with the new government seemingly unable to control the militias that fought in the uprising.
  • Syria – This last country is a slight aberration when compared to the rest I have discussed as unlike the others the revolutionary movement has not overthrown its government and is seemingly unlikely to do so. However as in Libya, Western politicians who have never been fond of the al-Assad family and its close ties to Russia, Iran and Hezbollah have decided to aid the rebel movement, helping them in this are the Gulf Arab states who are wary of a Shia dominated Arab nation with close ties to Iran. As a result of these regional rivalries what started as a genuine revolution for reform and perhaps even the overthrow of the government has increasingly mutated into a sectarian civil war with militias financed by external powers aiming to establish again a nation far closer in style to Saudi Arabia than the enlightened democracies of Scandinavia for example. While support for the rebels in Syria has repeatedly been vocalised and Bashar al-Assad demonised, the actual military support that we saw given to Libyan rebels is yet to materialise and we can hope that this remains the case or in all probability what will happen is that we will see one dictatorial regime overthrown and a far greater threat replace it in the form of allies we have armed whose stated aim is the establishing of a worldwide fundamentalist Salafist state. Whether the support will dry up by itself as a result of the Al-Nusra fronts declaration of support for Al – Qaeda remains to be unseen but I would not hold out too much hope as I’m sure the people in charge knew the elements that were present in Libya before Qaddafi fell.

Of course one difference in this region is that the identity of who is friend and foe is generally speaking continually and rapidly changing and the Arab Spring only seems to have exacerbated this tendency. Perhaps in years to come, unlike the instances of such alliances I offered earlier in this post which have been critically assessed, politicians will escape the blame for  some of the foolish decisions that have already been made and in all likelihood will continue to be made by using this as an excuse and failing to learn the lessons of making alliances based purely on mutual enemies. It is not too much to hope that international politics moves away from rash alliances of convenience and towards building relationships based on much broader and more substantial criteria. An ideology based on hatred – of anything, what so ever, is a curse on all our houses.

The Asian origins of a Third World War ?

I  have spent some time recently reading a lot of predictions for the likely outcome of the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014, and in the course of doing so I was struck by many similarities with a conflict that began one hundred years earlier and for all intents and purposes, set the twentieth century on the course that it followed. In this post I will attempt to explain where I feel the similarities lie between the Balkans in 1914 and a post NATO Afghanistan and why this fills me with a certain feeling of trepidation and why I believe it should fill the reader too with a similar emotion.

First of all, I would like to clarify that in writing this I do not see some divine hand involved here or anything else other than sheer dumb luck that one hundred years exactly separate the First World War and the withdrawal from Afghanistan that I believe has the potential to spiral into a much greater regional conflict. I will begin then by pointing out however that the eerie similarities do not end with both of these events, one in the past the other in the future, falling on years ending in the number 14, this in itself would have made this post too tenuous even for my liking . No, there are several similarities between the events of 1914 and the likely events of 2014 that I feel it is worth my while in pointing them out, Not as a prediction, but as a warning from history. As a postscript to this also I would like to add that any predictions I make later on in this post are loose ones at best made with tacit understanding that they are just some of a wide range of possible futures that we face.

I’ll begin here by describing in a very brief summary (for reasons of space) the situation that lead to the outbreak of the First World War and then will progress to describe the ways in which it is incredibly similar to the position we may find ourselves in come 2014. The spark that began the inferno that was the First World War was a region of Eastern Europe known collectively as the Balkans, It is a region where the territories of the countries therein are largely defined by their placing in the border regions of two former European empires, the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, rather than as a result of self determined borders as is often the case in Western European History. Consequently within these somewhat haphazard borders is contained a region of Europe that is particularly famed as being a multi-ethnic environment where conflict along nationalist lines was not unknown. In fact, in the years leading towards the outbreak of World War 1, twice the countries in this region became embroiled in a series of complex conflicts with each other for the right to govern the land and the right to self determination.By the time the First World War begins the situation in the Balkans looks like this on a map.

map of borders prior to World War 1

map of Balkan borders prior to WW1

This map shows that of those nations that went on to form Yugoslavia, prior to the outbreak of the First World War that only Serbia and Montenegro were sovereign nations and that before the start of hostilities that Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovenia were still firmly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However what this simplistic map does not show us is that throughout the region there was a common ethnicity shared by many of the inhabitants of these countries and it is this ethnic groups’ striving for a unified nation that inadvertently started the First World War. After the annexation of Bosnia by the Austro-Hungarian Empire a student movement named Young Bosnia began that advocated for a unified nation for the South Slav peoples of the Balkans, backed by an independent Serbia with ties to other more radical pro-Serb movements such as Black Hand. Utilising these ties  to more radical groups active in the region, Young Bosnia were able to infiltrate weapons and men into Sarajevo where a plan was in motion to assassinate the visiting heir to the Austro-Hungarian Throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. This plan succeeded and accordingly a chain of events was set in motion that led ultimately to the beginning of the First World War. The chain of events that ultimately precipitated the firing of the first volleys of that conflict is referred to as the July Crisis which was a month of back and forth diplomacy that aimed to diffuse the situation between Austro-Hungary and Serbia and prevent a hot war. It failed to do so and due to the complex net of alliances and treaties between the many European nations, all of the major European powers, and for that matter, world powers, were dragged into an arguably unnecessary conflict with each other  that had a major and arguably defining impact on the progression of history throughout the rest of the Twentieth Century and the world in which we live now.

It is my contention that right now we stand on the precipice of a frighteningly similar moment in time that could see a web of inter-connectedness in Asia spin wildly out of control into a global conflict that could forever rewrite the narrative of history. I will now discuss the similarities between the situation in the Balkans prior to the First World War and the situation most expect Afghanistan to find itself in upon NATO’s withdrawal.

The first striking similarity is that both the Balkans prior to the First World War and Afghanistan in the current day and age are ethnically diverse territories where multiple ethnic groups live in close proximity to each other and as a result of competition for resources or due to poor governance, grievances between communities are often defined along ethnic lines rather than for example along class lines. See below for a map of first the Balkans and then Afghanistan and notice that on each map more than 8 ethnicities are listed as existing within the same national borders.

Map of ethnic groups in Former Yugoslavia

Map of ethnic groups in Former Yugoslavia

Map of ethnic groups in Afghanistan

Map of ethnic groups in Afghanistan

As well as being divided along ethnic lines, another way in which the people of both of these regions are divided is along religious lines, Yugoslavia was famously divided between Christianity of both the Catholic and Orthodox branches and Islam, Afghanistan like much of the Muslim world is racked by divisions between Sunni and Shi’a sects of Islam, such as the Shi’a Hazara who already suffering from persecution from more fundamentalist Sunni islamists are reportedly extremely worried about what NATO’s withdrawal will bring in 2014. Here we can see that both the Western Balkans in the lead up to the First World War (and still to this day) and Afghanistan are regions that can be defined by their incredible mixture of peoples and religions and further more defined by their potential to divide along these lines in times of strife.

Another somewhat obvious similarity between pre WW1 Yugoslavia and a post NATO Afghanistan is the presence of an ethnic group that does now have it’s own functioning nation state and instead straddles two national borders. In the example of Yugoslavia the ethnic group in question was that of the South Slavs who I will point out  at the time did have their own state in the form of the nations of Serbia and Montenegro however more southern Slavs lived in the territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia who desired union with their ethnic cohort rather than languishing under the auspices of Austro-Hungarian Rule. Similarly in Afghanistan one of the majority ethnicities is the Pashtun who also form a large part of neighbouring Pakistan’s ethnic make-up and many would argue similarly have long suffered at the peripheries of Afghan and Pakistani society . I seriously wonder what kind of destabilising effect  an organised Pashtun separatist movement might have on the long term chances of peace for both sides of this border especially considering what some such as the San Francisco Chronicle would argue is a plausible imminent collapse of the state in Pakistan before NATO even leave the region. See a map of the area that could one day choose to break away below.

areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan that make up Pashtun heartlands

areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan that make up Pashtun heartlands

The reason that my former point about the multi ethnic nature of both states in question and my latter point about the existence of one particular ethnic group that straddles borders are relevant is that they serve to highlight an issue about the formation of the states that went on to form Yugoslavia after the First World War and Afghanistan in its current form. The issue that they highlight is that, unlike in Western Europe where centuries of gradual warfare and population movement served to create relatively speaking ethnically homogeneous and therefore peaceful nation states, both the regions of the Western Balkans and the country of Afghanistan have borders which are defined not by self-interest but instead by the arbitrary definition of frontiers and borders by Imperial powers. The borders of  the nations of the Western Balkans were created in the spaces left to some degree unoccupied by either the Austro-Hungarian empire or the Ottoman Empire and similarly Afghanistan is surrounded not by borders which it defined for itself by those arbitrated by the Russian and British Empires. Whereas Western European powers who defined their own borders are able to thrive in a relatively peaceful environment, Nations whose borders were decided for them by others are told by the European powers that they must share the territory they own between their constituent parts regardless of any prior issues between peoples. This as a method of nation forming is not necessarily doomed to fail but when nations in this situation do fail, the divisions between people are ready made along ethnic, sectarian or classist lines and so conflict as opposed to reconciliation becomes that much easier to embrace.

In the years leading up to the First World War, a significant trend is noticeable in the history of the Western Balkans. This trend is the gradually increasing decline of the Ottoman Empire and its withdrawal from its former European dominions. As this trend occurred these same European political spaces were, in the place of the former imperial powers, filled with nations as actors such as Serbia or Albania. This creation of a power vacuum brought on by the withdrawal of an imperial power from a territory is an inevitable occurrence in post 2014 Afghanistan when American neo-imperialism leaves along with its armies with the only question left to be asked whether the nation that will fill this void will be a strong and united Afghanistan or several separate statelets supported by other nations within the region.

One more notable similarity that these regions share is the existence within their borders of several powerful non state  or semi state actors that are in touch with state level actors that are capable of driving agendas for that state. In the example of the Western Balkans we have the example of the Black Hand movement and then also Young Bosnia both of whom were in contact with Serbian state level actors and under the guise of southern Slavic separatism collectively aided the Serbian state in a covert war against the Austro-Hungarian empire. And in the case of Afghanistan if any readers need reminding who was harbouring World Public Enemy Number 1, Osama Bin Laden at the time of his death it was highly likely that it was elements within Pakistan’s ISI who did some of the harbouring as a means to continually secure large amounts of military aid from Washington. For those not convinced then there are also the Taliban, a religious movement that was originally created as a proxy force by the Pakistani government  to fight in the Soviet-Afghan war. In all seriousness the list of possible actors who could cause all manners of chaos in a post NATO Afghanistan who are currently residing in Pakistan that I could write a supplementary post alongside this listing them and it might even run to a greater length than this effort.

Part of the reason that these sub-state actors driving the agendas of different countries are so prominent within Afghanistan, and were so prominent in the lead up to the First World War is that because of arbitrary borders created at an empires convenience both of these regions of the world are blessed with the scourge of irredentism. For those less versed in overly complex sounding yet surprisingly simple concepts to understand irredentism is the desire of states to annex adjoining territory that belongs to another nation on grounds of common ethnicity or shared histories etc. Now if the reader cares to look back at the maps I posted earlier to demonstrate the incredible variety of ethnicities present in both Afghanistan and the Western Balkan region they will see that in the centre of both maps there is a nation filled with ethnicities that define the neighbouring countries. In the case of Afghanistan there are significant Tajik, Uzbek, Turkmen and Kyrgz populations within its borders, each of whom may feel affinity to a neighbouring country where their ethnic group form a majority rather than feeling love for a nation where they are simply one amongst many. In the case of the Western Balkans the nation that is most blighted with irredentism is Bosnia Herzegovina were the population can be divided into Croats, Serbs and “Muslims” (read Bosniak). The spark that caused World War 1 in this environment was created by Serbian irredentism and I have no reason concretely to believe that given the even greater level of potential irredentism in Afghanistan that a similar sparked caused by sub-state or non-state actors with the backing of just one neighbouring state will not eventually cause a continent wide inferno.

One more glaring similarity between the lead up to the First World War in the Balkans, but also in the wider context of pre-war Europe and modern day Asia as things currently stand in the lead up to withdrawal in the prevalence of powerful state actor such as who are more responsible for driving state agenda than they should be considering normal democratic process. In many discussions about how World War 1 began, it is often claimed that if the war was inevitable it was not as a result of the complex system of treaties and alliances between both the triple entente nations and the central powers but instead it was due to the heavy handed politics of several key figures within each countries government who desired war with opposing nations. On a similar note what we currently find in Asia, certainly the region of Asia where Afghanistan is located is a bevy of autocratic rulers who arguably are the sole source of their nations policies as opposed to delivering sane and sensible policies crafted by democratic consensus.

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Kim Jong Un

Kim Jong Un

Islam Karimov

Islam Karimov

You’d be surprised how much these three have in common when it comes to driving state agendas.

On another note perhaps amongst the most striking similarities between both the historic situation in Europe before the First World War and modern day Asia is the sheer level of complex inter-connectedness between all nations in Asia, the world too but particularly in Asia. Many lay the blame for World War 1 entirely at the door of the complex series of treaties between the two conflicting sides which in a step by step process dragged every major European power into the war. The step by step process in which each empire was dragged into the conflict is a little too dry ever for me to bother retyping so those seriously interested would do well to indulge themselves by doing a Wikipedia search on WW1. But when focussing on the modern day, if anything with more sovereign nation states in Asia than ever before the level of complex relations between Asian powers, other Asian powers and then the rest of the world is mind boggling. For example Japan is all of these things at once … friendly with Afghanistan and giving a lot of aid, Extremely friendly with the USA, still yet to resolve some issues with Moscow and almost at the brink of war with China since Abe started the race to debase the Yen . Russia is increasingly attempting to cosy up to all its former Soviet dominions , possibly in anticipation of  NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, standing stalwart alongside China in defending the right of the Syrian Government to defend itself against attack despite condemnation from the wider world and ramping up the bitchiness factor with the USA over somewhat trivial issues such as adoption which increasingly hint at the fact that Obama and Putin do not see eye to eye. I go could go on for a whole post the length of this one about how China is engaged in a war of words with almost all of its bordering states over the rights to certain territories or maritime borders and is the focus of a radical attempted shift in US foreign policy policy to compensate for growing assertiveness  on the part of Beijing. We can see from this brief summary that many nations in the region are A) holding a knife to the throat of at least one other Asian nation just as Europeans were 99 years ago and B) very good friends with another nation whose qualms are with the same power that their antagonism is. For example, India is friendly with Afghanistan based presumably entirely around the premise that an alliance between Afghanistan and India is inconvenient for India’s main enemy Pakistan whom some Afghans blame entirely for the destabilisation of their country, further to this India is also somewhat closer to China as a result of  the US alliance with Pakistan. What we have here is an even more convoluted and multi-directional system of agreements between nations, which on one hand could serve to pour water on any hot conflicts between the nations as there a greater variety of incentives to be peaceful as opposed to embracing war. However on the other hand what we might have is a system which in the right climate, just as before the First World War, will simply serve to escalate  an emergent conflict into something far more complex than it need be.

What could such a climate be I think the reader will ask and is there a similar one in Asia right now ? perhaps even out loud.  How about an almost identical situation where what is taking place in the wider region is an increasingly competitive arms race between several of the major players. This happened in the lead up to World War 1 and is arguably the reason that the war was one of the most bloody known to mankind. Right now in Asia the spending of several major regional powers is incredibly high (select spend in $ in top corner of graphic) and perhaps more worrying is that in several clusters the arms race between two nations is increasingly competitive. Examples of this include recently both China and Japan beginning programmes to bring their navies up to speed in the wake of the growing crisis between them over the Senkaku/Diayo Isles or India increasing its intelligence technologies to make any future war with Pakistan more efficient while Pakistan to counter is investing more in tactical nuclear weapons. This highly competitive military build-up is perhaps the most worrying similarity between pre-war Europe and post NATO Afghanistan as while it may not necessarily yield to the doomsday scenario of World War 3 that I fear it has the potential to create, it could easily in a best case scenario still lead to a devastating conflict in one of the worlds most sensitive regions spelling disaster for many.

After looking at what I feel are the most notable similarities between the two regions in the past and in the not too distant future I hope the reader will agree with my argument that there are a worrying number of similarities between both moments in time and feel a similar degree of concern for the fate of all innocents concerned. Make no mistake about it, I might be wrong but if I’m even close to being right I expect the next decade to be the most hideous mankind has ever seen and likely will ever see.  I repeat that I am not making a bold prediction about the future, simply stating that I’m a little worried about a plausible outcome if the situation in Afghanistan next year isn’t handled well. In the mean time please excuse me while I stock up on the following items:

The best a MAN can get

The best a MAN can get