Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Friday, April 28, 2017

Yes, Allies Could Have Saved Millions from the Holocaust

Henry Srebrnik, [Halifax, NS] Chronicle Herald

The recent release of the once-inaccessible archive of the United Nations War Crimes Commission, dating back to 1943, by the London-based Wiener Library, the world's oldest Holocaust archive and Britain's largest collection on the Nazi era, has reignited an old debate.

How much did the Allies know during the Second World War that Hitler was murdering millions of Jews? And could they have stopped it, or at least slowed it down?

Access to this vast quantity of evidence was timed to coincide with the publication of Human Rights After Hitler: The Lost History of Prosecuting Axis War Crimes, by Dan Plesch, a researcher who had been working on the documents for a decade.

Referring to their release, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu weighed in, stating in an address at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on April 23, Holocaust Memorial Day, that four million Jews could have been saved had the Allies bombed the death camps and the rail lines leading to them.

“When terrible crimes were being committed against the Jews, when our brothers and sisters were being sent to the furnaces,” he told the audience, “the powers knew and did not act.” After all, aerial reconnaissance photographs of Auschwitz were actually taken by the U.S. Air Force during the war.

All of this is not really a new revelation. Netanyahu was referring to the fact that the Polish underground, among others, had been providing the Allies with detailed information about the Nazi death camps located in their country, such as Treblinka and Auschwitz, where millions of Jews were gassed, as early as 1942.

On Dec. 10, 1942 the London-based Polish government in exile published an official Polish protest, titled “The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland.”

Indeed, to publicize these findings, Shmuel Zygielbojm, a prominent Polish Jewish leader who had escaped Poland in December 1939, committed suicide in London on May 11, 1943, to protest the indifference of the Allied governments in the face of the genocide.

When I was researching my PhD dissertation for the University of Birmingham in the 1970s, and reading the British press from the war years, it was clear that saving Europe’s Jews was not a high priority. Since that time, numerous books and journal articles have documented the lack of efforts to save the doomed Jews of Europe. 

I can do no better than to cite my own thesis, later published as a book in 1995:

Following the revelations of Nazi mass murder in 1942, Britain’s chief rabbi, J.H. Hertz, lamented that “the silence of large sections in this country had been taken by the Nazis as an encouragement to continue their techniques of annihilation.”

And though Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden described the ongoing genocide to the British House of Commons on Dec. 17, 1942, little was done. Indeed, 16 months after Eden’s speech, one newspaper on April 28, 1944 complained that “the indignation is cold and the promise of retribution is forgotten.”

So of course Netanyahu was right -- in fact, the Allies could have saved all six million Jews by defeating Hitler before 1939, when the Nazi state was not yet that powerful.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Is War With Russia on the Horizon?

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Are the neoconservative jingoists in Washington pushing for armed conflict with Russia?

The charge that an April 4 chemical gas attack by air against civilians in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun was ordered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported by Moscow, is, very conveniently, giving them further ammunition to create war hysteria.

Two days later, the United States launched cruise missiles at the airfield from which the Syrian jets had flown to bomb the town. Russia reacted harshly; it maintains that the planes had struck a rebel warehouse stocked with chemical weapons.

The American public has been coached ever since the 2016 presidential election to see Russia as, once again, a mortal enemy and “evil empire,” an existential threat to democracy worldwide, and a country that backs mass murderers.

There’s another reason for this war fever. The “deep state” nomenklatura, by amping up anti-Russian propaganda, seem to have neutralized Donald Trump, whom they regard as an illegitimate usurper.

They had two options: either to push the president to alter course, and give up his idea of rapprochement with Russian president Vladimir Putin, or -- should he refuse -- paint him as a Kremlin puppet and “traitor,” and begin proceedings to impeach him. Either way they’d win. It seems they have succeeded with the former.

Trump has now also embraced NATO, which he had criticized last year, saying he no longer considers it “obsolete,” reversing his rhetoric on the campaign trail last year.

The Republican war hawks, like Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, are braying for war. But so is the Democratic Party.

Most of the Democratic leadership announced that it supported his actions. Senator Charles Schumer of New York called the attack on Syria “the right thing to do.” Adam Schiff, ranking Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, supported the bombing and wants Congress to authorize more of it.

Hillary Clinton, always the hawk, thought air strikes on Syrian airfields were an appropriate response.

On April 12, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, once considered by the Clintonites “too close to Putin,” travelled to Moscow and met with the Russian president and with Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov. He told them that relations between the two countries are at “a low point” – some Russian puppet, he!

Putin, who had a hostile relationship with President Barack Obama, said that relations have actually gotten worse since Trump took office.

Some American voices are even advocating the partition of Syria and, if necessary, the insertion of American troops as part of a protective force.

Should Washington send troops to Syria, as no doubt the hawks will demand, a confrontation with Russian forces will be inevitable, even if it begins unintentionally, and it will quickly escalate.

The military and security establishment has already forced Trump to jettison Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor. He was replaced by Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster. The missile strike on Syria was overseen by McMaster, who has been replacing Flynn’s people with former Obama officials.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and the main target of the left, is struggling to keep his job with his portfolio reduced and his profile damaged. He has been removed from the National Security Council.

Clearly, Trump has been boxed in. William Kristol, a Trump critic and hawkish conservative voice, said the Republican foreign policy community was generally pleased to see the changes at the White House.

As the neoconservatives gathers steam, establishment papers like the New York Times and Washington Post, which have been pillorying Trump for months, are suddenly less harsh in their assessment of him. They are all beating the war drums.

Five major newspapers ran a total of 18 op-eds that praised the strikes.

As Yale University professor David Bromwich noted sarcastically on April 11 in “Bomb First,” on the New York Review of Books website, “You can make some highly respectable new friends by throwing missiles at an obnoxious foreign power. It works like a dream so long as you do it fast and give it a humanitarian gloss.”

So for those who still hope to get rid of Trump because they consider him a “cowboy,” I can only say, be careful what you wish for.

The Survival of Central Asia's Religious Culture

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

This past term, I was teaching a course on the politics of Russia and the other 14 successor states of the old Soviet Union, including the five Central Asian countries known collectively as the “stans.”

Independent since 1991, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have seen a revival of their Muslim cultures, which in the past were viciously suppressed by the Communist authorities in Moscow.

But forcibly trying to eradicate religion never works. That’s why one of our texts, written by historian Adeeb Khalid of Carleton College in Minnesota, is titled Islam After Communism, not Communism After Islam.

Islam arrived in Central Asia with Arab armies at the start of the eighth century and produced a number of renowned states and cities, including Bokhara, Tashkent and Samarkand. They were centres of learning and culture known throughout much of Asia and the Middle East.

Weakened by Mongol conquests in the thirteenth century, the Muslim entities were eventually conquered by the expanding tsarist Russian Empire.

In 1865, Russian troops occupied Tashkent, followed by the rapid subjugation of the rest of the khanate of Kokand, as well as the emirate of Bokhara and the khanate of Kiva.

Russia was now the paramount colonial power in central Asia. However, the peoples of the region were allowed to retain their faith.

Things changed following the 1917 Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik seizure of power. This new regime was far more intrusive and ideologically driven.

As atheists, the Communists viewed religion of any sort as an impediment to progress and modernization, and were determined to eradicate all forms of “backwardness” and “superstition.”

During the seven decades of Soviet rule in the Central Asian lands, all forms of Islamic expression came under sustained assault, and Islam was driven from the public realm.

Books written in Arabic were burned, and Muslims weren’t allowed to hold office. Religious tribunals and seminaries were closed, and conducting Muslim rituals became almost impossible.

In 1912, there were about 26,000 mosques in Central Asia. By 1941, there were just 1,000.

Meanwhile, new secular elites were fostered by the authorities.

The region was intentionally cut off from the rest of the Islamic world, including neighbouring states such as Iran and Afghanistan.

The Arabic scripts in use were eventually replaced by the Cyrillic alphabet. In an atheistic state that realized the power of symbols, such a potential rallying point for pan-Islamism could not be permitted to remain.

Under the harsh dictatorial regime of Joseph Stalin, the Muslim religious authorities, known as the ulema, were by the mid-1920s portrayed as the counter-revolutionary instruments of feudalism and bourgeois nationalism, standing in the way of building a new socialist society.

A particularly brutal attempt at challenging religion began in March 1927 in Uzbekistan, considered by the Soviets the most dangerously devout region of Turkestan. Known as the hujum, or assault, it involved the forcible unveiling of Muslim women.

Women were seen as a massive, but dormant, group of potential allies for the Communist Party that could be mobilized by propagating the party’s message of gender equality and liberation. It became the central priority for the Zhenotdel (The Party’s Women's Department).

However, the hujum was seen by many Muslims as an outside foreign force attacking their culture and so wearing that veil became an act of religious and political defiance.

Before it was called off two years later, women were assaulted, often raped, and even killed. The regime’s attack on Islam was unprecedented and the population’s continuity with the past was virtually decimated.

Today, Islam is back in public life in a way that would have been inconceivable in Soviet times, even though repression had become less severe after the 1960s and holidays could be celebrated publically.

Islamic observance is now widespread and Islamic knowledge has returned to the region. The religion also serves as a marker of national identity against the formerly dominant Russians.

For example, in the Hazrat Sultan Mosque (the largest in Central Asia) in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, detailed instructions on how to pray are written in Kazakh -- though not Russian -- for people still learning the religion.

That Islam survived even the murderous assaults by Stalin’s regime is a testament to its deep-seated strength among its adherents in Central Asia.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Rehabilitation of Egypt's Mubarak

Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary] Jewish Free Press

It was 18 days that shook the world, or at least the Middle East. The autocrat who had ruled Egypt for nearly three decades was gone, ousted by a popular uprising that was part of the larger upheaval in the Middle East known as the Arab Spring.

So it appeared at the time. But six years later, it now seems like a political mirage.

With the March 24 release of disgraced former dictator Hosni Mubarak from prison, it’s clear those heady days are just a memory. Now under the control of another military officer, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt has come full circle.

The top Egyptian appeals court acquitted Mubarak of involvement in the killing of protesters during the 2011 revolt in Cairo’s Tahrir Square; at least 900 people were killed during the uprising.

The 88-year-old Mubarak, a former air force commander who became the country’s president when Islamists assassinated President Anwar Sadat in October 1981, was arrested in April 2011 and initially received a prison sentence of 25 years.

Mubarak was also sentenced to three years in prison in May 2015 after being convicted at retrial of embezzling millions of dollars earmarked for the renovation of presidential palaces.

His sons Alaa and Gamal, and a number of his top officials, were also charged and jailed in 2011.

The rising political profile and economic influence of his sons had led many to believe Mubarak was grooming them to take power after his death, and even raised concerns among his allies in the military.

The trial stunned Egyptians, many of whom doubted until the last minute that their autocratic leader would be brought to justice. The sight of Mubarak being rolled into the defendant’s cage to be tried for his crimes was a powerful symbol of what the uprising represented for Egyptians. Never before had an Arab leader been held accountable in such a visible way.

Yet even when the revolution was at its height, protesters had to contend with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which was determined to use its powers to protect its extensive economic and political privileges.

The Mubarak trial was one of the concessions made by the SCAF in order to retain a semblance of legitimacy, as well as its need to pacify the masses during a tumultuous time.

Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political science at Cairo University, told the Al-Monitor news site that Mubarak’s men later effectively hijacked the revolution, taking advantage of the chaos that ensued following the election of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi to the presidency in June 2012.

When Morsi was overthrown by a military coup a year later, the way was paved for Egypt’s “deep state” to return to power, under al-Sisi. He was the Army’s director of military intelligence, a position that was virtually invisible to the public. Even when he ran for President, in the spring of 2014, he had no real platform.

Following Morsi’s removal, more than 1,400 people have been killed and tens of thousands detained.

Since then, the other members of Mubarak’s regime put on trial in 2011 have also been set free; his two sons were released in 2015.

Unlike Mubarak, Morsi remains in prison on numerous charges, and Egypt’s security forces have jailed tens of thousands.

Egyptian courts have handed down hundreds of death sentences in cases connected to political violence, most involving Brotherhood members. Critics claim that the country’s judiciary is today being used to crush dissent.

Mahienour el Massry, an activist and lawyer who served 15 months in prison under Sisi’s rule, accused his regime of “the same corruption, the same brutality.

“Mubarak might be released, but in the eyes of those who believe in the revolution he will always be a criminal killer and the godfather of corruption,” she told the London-based Guardian newspaper.

Timothy Kaldas, a fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, based in Washington, told Al Jazeera that Mubarak “being in or out of prison doesn’t change the fact that the military that took control in Egypt in 1952 continues to rule Egypt today.”

Without real parties, real political institutions, and real professional politicians, there are few ways for young Egyptians to get involved in politics, other than protesting in the streets. They lack organizational structures.

Most Egyptians, worried about worsening economic conditions, have reacted to the release with resignation. “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose,” as the saying goes – I’m sure it’s been translated into Arabic.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Chinese-Israeli Economic Relations Continue to Blossom

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Hoping to boost trade, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited China March 19-21, along with Israel’s largest-ever business delegation. The mission included five ministers in his government.

This was Netanyahu’s second visit to China in four years. Marking 25 years of relations with Beijing, Netanyahu met President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Li Keqiang, and the head of the country’s parliament, Zhang Dejiang.

While the European Union remains Israel’s largest trading partner, Asia is steadily closing the gap and politically it tends to put far fewer demands on Israel than the EU does.

The Chinese and Israeli heads of government met in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, where Prime Minister Li praised Israel’s advances, saying it was a world leader in some technologies.

Netanyahu chaired a business and innovation forum, attended by more than 500 participants from both countries, and told them that Israel is well-positioned to help China upgrade its products, services and utilities with better technology. “I believe this is a marriage made in heaven.”

Included were the heads of Chinese conglomerates like Baidu, Alibaba, Wanda and Lenovo. Netanyahu said that he expects investments and jobs in Israel from these companies.

A number of economic agreements in various fields such as aviation, education, science, health and environmental protection were signed, to help Israeli get better access to Chinese markets.

As well, Netanyahu proposed the establishment of a fast track for Israeli and Chinese investors and also raised the possibility of a direct air link between Shanghai and Tel Aviv.

It’s a relationship that continues to blossom, and comes as the two countries continue negotiations over a free trade agreement, with another round of talks scheduled for July.

China is investing in Israel’s hi-tech, agriculture, food, water, med-tech, and bio-tech industries. It is also involved in building infrastructure in Israel, such as digging the Carmel tunnels in Haifa, laying the light rail line in Tel Aviv, and expanding the Ashdod and Haifa seaports.

Since 2013, Israel has seen numerous delegations from the Chinese business community visit Israel. Last year the Israeli Embassy in Beijing issued more than ten thousand visas to Chinese business people.

China is also encouraging the establishment of Israeli innovative enterprises in China, such as Shouguang’s Water City, which incorporates Israeli water technologies.

The establishment of a technological academic institute in Guangdong by the Technion, financed with a $130 million donation by billionaire Li Ka-shing, is another example of the role Chinese business people are playing in promoting bilateral relations.

More than half of China’s oil imports come from the Middle East, and as part of its One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, it is investing heavily in transportation infrastructures, such as roads, railroads, and sea ports, across Asia and the Middle East.

The initiative is meant to connect China to European and African markets, and is financed in part by the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which Israel joined as soon as it was founded in 2015.

“Israel would like to participate in projects under the initiative and hopes China will contribute from its experience in infrastructure to help promote the stability and economic development in the Middle East,” Alexander B. Pevzner, founding director of the Chinese Media Centre under the College of Management Academic Studies in Israel, told the Global Times of China.

China appears willing to approve Israel’s request to be exempt from a new Chinese policy barring investments in foreign countries. Currently, one-third of foreign investment in Israel comes from China, according to Netanyahu, who brought up the issue with President Xi.

According to Chinese estimates, the country’s total investment in Israel in 2015 reached more than half a billion dollars.

The Chinese president also announced the establishment of a “Comprehensive Innovation Partnership” with Israel, which Netanyahu hailed as “a tremendously important decision.”

China is Israel’s largest trading partner in Asia, and Israel’s exports to China have increased significantly over the last decade, going from just over $1 billion in 2007 to $3.3 billion in 2016. Overall bilateral trade volume has now surpassed $11 billion.

 “But economic and trade cooperation hasn't reached the limit, and there is still great potential for growth,” Chinese Minister of Science and Technology Wan Gang said at the forum hosted by Netanyahu.

Counterterrorism Trumps Human Rights

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
 
As turbulent a country as ever, in the last six years Egypt has seen an uprising topple a dictator, the election of a Muslim Brotherhood leader to power, and finally a coup that brought a former general into office.

When Barack Obama came to Washington, he promised a “reboot” in relations with Cairo. But the 2011 Tahrir Square Arab Spring that ousted Hosni Mubarak, the election of the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi in 2012, and then the repression that followed in 2013 under Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, cooled relations.

Obama refused to invite al-Sisi to Washington because of concerns about human rights violations and temporarily suspended the delivery of major weapons systems to Egypt after its security forces killed more than 800 protesters in Cairo on just one day on Aug. 14, 2013.

Since then, human rights abuses, including the torture and forced disappearances of critics and opponents, have occured. Some 41,000 people have been arrested.

But a new American president has made it clear that, for him, the fight against Islamic terrorism and security cooperation will take precedence over human right concerns.

The arrival of Egypt’s leader at the White House April 3 underscored the reversal of U.S. policy. As the two presidents faced reporters in the Oval Office, Donald Trump was effusive in his praise of al-Sisi, pledging close cooperation with him on counterterrorism operations and commending his leadership.

Despite lobbying by Coptic Americans, the concerns of Egypt’s Christian Coptic community also got short shrift, though it has been subjected to many terrorist attacks of late, including the suicide bombing of two churches by the Islamic State, killing 48 people, just days after al-Sisi’s visit.

In the aftermath, al-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency as well as the formation of a supreme council to fight terrorism and extremism in Egypt.

Egypt has been battling IS-affiliated terrorists in the Sinai in recent months and is making this the basis for asking for an increased its share of military aid. This has often meant a push to acquire larger items such as F-16 fighter jets and M1A1 tanks, though these would be of little use there.

 “The counter-terrorism campaign in the Sinai and in Egypt proper has not achieved its objectives, due largely to harsh methods, poor intelligence and the drivers of discontent intensifying,” according to Robert Springborg, an expert on Egypt’s military at Kings College London. “New military equipment will not impact these shortcomings.”

Cairo has also demanded that Western countries take a tougher stance against the Muslim Brotherhood. It wants the United States to designate it as a terrorist organization, something already done by a number of Arab states as well as Russia.

The Egyptian president also met with representatives of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund while in Washington. Egypt has been negotiating billions of dollars in aid to help its ailing economy.

In March, the government cut subsidies for bread, a move mandated by the IMF. As prices rose, bread riots hit a number of major cities. The country’s currency has also been in free fall.

There is anger at the Egyptian military establishment, which controls large chunks of the economy, and has escaped relatively unscathed amid Egypt’s fiscal troubles.

The bottom line is that al-Sisi got what he wanted simply by appearing with Trump. The White House has legitimated his regime. The liberal foreign policy establishment isn’t happy with this turn of events.

An official visit to Washington  by Egypt’s leader “as tens of thousands of Egyptians rot in jail” is “a strange way to build a stable strategic relationship,” Sarah Margon, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, declared in a statement on the eve of the visit.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Political Climate More Like 1914

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
 
Countries no longer go through the formality of actually declaring war, but the U.S. attack on a sovereign state, Syria, was an act of war.

It wasn’t mounted in self-defence, the only military action permitted by the UN Charter, and done without Security Council sanction.

As we know, on April 6, American missiles struck an air base in Syria in retaliation for the gassing of civilians by the Bashar al-Assad regime.

U.S. President Donald Trump also described his decision as part of a broader effort to “end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria,” suggesting that he may consider additional military action.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Russia must end its alliance with Syria and that Assad’s rule was “coming to an end.”

Was the attack motivated by humanitarian reasons or for reasons of national security?

The Kremlin called the attack an “act of aggression,” and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned that the strikes put the United States and Russia “on the verge of a military clash.” Iran, Assad’s main ally in the Middle East, also lashed out at Washington.

Yillerson visited Moscow on April 12 and met with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavror, but neither side budged from its positions.

I know, of course, that President Assad is a butcher, and, since he is fighting for his very political (and perhaps physical) life running an Alawite minority regime, he is committing war crimes.

I certainly wouldn’t lose a minute of sleep if he were removed, though the result, given his opponents, will likely be more post-2011 Libya than a Norway, with Islamist gangs and militias running amok and fighting each other.

Syria, Iraq, and many of these post-1920 Middle Eastern Sykes-Picot states, the creations of great power colonialism, will end up being dismembered, I’m afraid, and let’s not hear any foolishness about “nation-building.”

But Russia and China face similar insurgencies, in Chechnya and Xinjiang, respectively, and have also reacted brutally. The same holds true for a large number of countries around the world. Will Trump target cruise missiles at them too?

It was easy to attack Serbia in 1999, Libya in 2011, and now Syria, but the so-called international system is clearly in tatters. Only the strong are safe, and sovereignty, which used to be too sacrosanct, now means nothing. (North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, too, has taken this lessen to heart.)

Russia has invested a lot of energy, money and prestige in Syria. It has a major naval base in Syria, which is critical to the country’s efforts to project power in the Middle East. Putin won’t just let the U.S. humble him. He won’t allow Russia to be driven out of Syria, because for him that would be a return to the Yeltsin years when Russia was a joke run by a drunk.

Clearly the Pentagon and the neoconservatives, for better or worse, are now in charge of foreign policy. Who could have imagined that 26 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union we would be in a new Cold War?

The Russian military is entrenched in Syria and Moscow has placed some of the world’s most sophisticated air defence systems there. How long before there is a clash, even accidental, between American and Russian forces?

The current climate feels more like 1914 than 1939. It was 103 years ago that a war between big powers started, inadvertently, because of the actions of the smaller parties they backed. We know where that led, four years of mass slaughter at places like Vimy Ridge.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Trump, Nixon and the Deep State

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

The ongoing controversy regarding U.S. President Donald Trump and his relationship with Russia is the gift that keeps on giving – for the “deep state.” This has hobbled his presidency from the word go, and he may yet face a “Nixonian” removal from office at some point in his term.

The FBI is investigating whether any of Trump’s advisers colluded with Russia in its efforts to disrupt the 2016 election. Trump’s opponents would love to impeach him or, failing that, use the 25th amendment to the U.S. constitution to replace him with Vice President Mike Pence.

My guess is that the Watergate scandal itself will be increasingly seen as the removal from power in 1973-1974 of an increasingly inebriated, irrational, and paranoid president, Richard Nixon by a “deep state,” and not just because of the break-in at the Democratic Party’s National Committee offices at that office complex.

Rather, it was because those in the commanding heights of the American political system, including the powers-that-be in the Republican Party itself, saw him as an existential danger to the republic, if not the world.

Members of Nixon’s own party feared for his stability, as John Farrell’s new book, Richard Nixon: The Life, makes clear. Volatile, he would fly into rages and threaten to unleash nuclear war.

Nixon had considered using nuclear weapons during the Vietnam War, and also at the time of the conflict between India and Pakistan during the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, when he implicitly threatened India, then a Soviet ally, by ordering a nuclear aircraft carrier into the Bay of Bengal.

Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, and General Alexander Haig, the White House Chief of Staff, spent much of their time restraining him. Haig was essentially seen as the acting president during Nixon’s last few months in office.

While decades of literature on the subject has focused on those two intrepid Washington Post journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, in bringing Nixon down, it was of course “Deep Throat,” the FBI agent Mark Felt, who sought them out and used them in order to send Nixon packing.

Felt, the Bureau’s Associate Director, provided the information that eventually led to the resignation. The intelligence services put an end to Nixon’s presidency, for the good of the country.

This, even though he had been re-elected to a second term in 1972 in one of the largest landslides in U.S. history, winning 49 of the 50 states.

Is history repeating itself? Trump, considered a loose cannon, has been subjected to a flood of “leaks” designed to embarrass, if not derail, his administration.

Trump fired Michael Flynn as national security advisor in February over revelations Flynn misled senior officials over his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Trump sent out a now-infamous March 4 tweet claiming then-President Barack Obama “wiretapped” Trump Tower during the 2016 election. It has been widely mocked. But is it all fantasy or “fake news?”

Devin Nunes, the Republican chair of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, was recently provided with reports indicating that Trump or members of his transition team may have been “incidentally” caught up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.

An intelligence official who “unmasked” the names of multiple private citizens affiliated with the Trump team is someone “very senior in the intelligence world,” a source told Fox News on March 31.

 “Opposition by some in the intelligence agencies who were very connected to the Obama and Clinton teams was strong,” this source added. “After Trump was elected, they decided they were going to ruin his presidency by picking them off one by one.”

Comments from former Obama administration official Evelyn Farkas on MSNBC suggested her former colleagues tried to gather material on Trump team contacts with Russia.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested this raises “serious” concerns about whether there was an “organized and widespread effort by the Obama administration to use and leak highly sensitive intelligence information for political purposes.”

As for the term “deep state,” there's nothing sinister or conspiratorial about it; all it refers to is a multitude of people and organizations, most not in the “official” government.

Among them are high-level politicians, academics at elite Ivy League universities, prominent media and newspaper owners, fellows at think tanks, billionaires, and so forth. As Trump is also learning, judges, in particular, guard it.

So yes, Virginia, America does have a “deep state,” hiding in plain sight, if you know where to look.

China, Israel Discuss Political Issues

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited China in March, bringing along Israel’s largest-ever business delegation to the Asian economic giant. The three-day mission included five ministers in his government.

Marking 25 years of relations with Beijing, Netanyahu met President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Li Keqiang, and the head of the country’s parliament, Zhang Dejiang.

While the focus was, understandably, on trade, Netanyahu also noted that “there is a great deal of convulsion in the world, including in our part of the world.”

He told Prime Minister Li that “I would like to have the opportunity to exchange views with you and to see how we can cooperate together for the advancement of security, peace and stability, and prosperity.”

China’s political involvement in the Middle East has been minor and its small military presence is limited to peacekeeping missions, even though more than half of China’s oil imports come from the region.

Chinese envoys occasionally visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories, but Chinese efforts to mediate or play a role in that long-standing dispute have never amounted to much. But it has been trying to get more involved.

And Israel has shifted from discouraging China from involvement in Israel-related affairs during the early period of bilateral ties “to expecting China to play a greater role in the Middle East,” Li Weijian, a Middle East expert with the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, told the Global Times of China.

The China-Israel relationship is no longer just about trade, but also about geopolitics. “China has relations with everyone in the Middle East. So this is not only about Israel’s business interests, but also its political and strategic interests,” said political commentator Uri Dromi, the director general of the Jerusalem Press Club.

China welcomed Netanyahu just days after hosting Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and the signing of deals worth as much as $65 billion with Riyadh, as China steps up its tentative engagement with the Middle East.

However, the Chinese and Israeli governments are far apart when it comes to diplomatic issues. China, which is one of five permanent members on the UN Security Council, supported Resolution 2334 in December condemning Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

China has recognized Palestine as a state and often votes against Israel at the United Nations. “As a friend of both Israel and Palestine, China hopes to see the peaceful coexistence of the two sides and stability in the Middle East,” Li told Netanyahu.

The issue of Iran was on the agenda in Beijing. China was one of the six world powers that in 2015 signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to curb Tehran’s nuclear capability, over vociferous Israeli objections.

“China’s position on the matter is very clear. We think that it is necessary to observe the comprehensive nuclear agreement reached with Iran, and that it is necessary to uphold the international non-proliferation regime,” Deng Li, director general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s West Asian and North African Affairs Department,  told reporters after a meeting between the two prime ministers.

Still, the two countries are probably cooperating in many other ways. “You shouldn't ask me this question,” Deng responded, when the journalists asked whether Li and Netanyahu had discussed intelligence sharing.

In any case, Netanyahu hopes that Israel’s increasingly strong economic relations with China may yet change the country’s traditionally anti-Israel voting patterns at international organizations such as the United Nations. He noted that President Xi had remarked “that strong economic ties help diplomacy.”

China may also take advantage of the close relations between Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump. From Netanyahu’s perspective, allowing himself to be employed as a middleman between Beijing and Washington can help him carve out a legacy as a leader of international importance.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps: A State Within a State

Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary] Jewish Free Press

Iran is a very complicated political entity, because it is, in a sense, both a conventional state but also the leader of a political-religious movement.

Thus Iran has two militaries. While the Iranian Army is a conventional force whose mission is to protect the country, the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, or Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), known as the Pasdaran, is an independent ideologically driven military force of about a hundred and fifty thousand soldiers.

The IRGC was founded in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution as a custodian charged with defending the Islamic Republic against internal and external threats, but analysts say it has expanded far beyond its original mandate. It is Iran’s primary instrument for exporting the ideology of the Islamic Revolution worldwide.

It protects the country’s Islamic system and preserves the power of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has used his tight control over the Revolutionary Guards to expand his power.

Commanders report directly to him. Iran’s president has little influence on their day-to-day operations.

The IRGC since 2007 also controls the paramilitary Basij militia, which has about 90,000 active personnel. It is an auxiliary force engaged in activities such as internal security, law enforcement auxiliary, providing social services, organizing public religious ceremonies, policing morals, and suppression of dissident gatherings.

Basij volunteers have a history of violently crushing riots in Iranian cities. After the contested 2009 Iranian presidential elections, for example, the Basij brutally quashed protests and attacked student dormitories.

The IRGC has its own air force and navy. In January 2016, Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, commander of its navy, which defends Iran’s offshore facilities, coastlines and islands, seized two American naval vessels in the Persian Gulf and briefly held the sailors captive.

It also has an elite unit known as the Quds Force (Jerusalem Force), a paramilitary arm with 10,000 to 15,000 personnel.

It has supported and armed militant groups across the Middle East and beyond, including Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf states, Egypt, Turkey, and Chechnya, according to the U.S. State Department.

The Taliban, Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command are among those that the Quds Force has provided with material and financial support. It assists the Zaidi Houthis against al-Qaeda in Yemen.

It has been linked to various terrorist atrocities as far afield as Argentina, where it allegedly participated in the 1994 suicide bombing of an Argentine Jewish community center, killing 85 and wounding about 300. Two years earlier, a suicide bombing at the Israeli Embassy murdered 29 people and injured a further 242.

In the years since, the Quds Force has armed anti-government militants in Bahrain, and assisted in a 2011 assassination attempt on Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States.

Iran has now appointed a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps official and Quds Force adviser, Irad Masjedi, to be its new ambassador in Iraq, raising concerns that Iran plans to strengthen Iraq’s Shiite militias in the post-Islamic State era. Masjedi is close to Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani.

As well, the Iraqi militia Harakat al Nujaba in March announced the formation of its “Golan Liberation Brigade.” Does the name signal that the unit, which takes direct orders from Soleimani, could assist the Syrian regime in taking the Golan Heights, controlled by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in talks in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin March 9 focused on keeping Iran from filling the vacuum in Syria.

Roughly 1,300 to 1,500 Iranians currently operate in Syria. In addition, there are the Iranian-funded Shiite militias, which number approximately 7,000 to 10,000 fighters who came from places as far afield as Pakistan and Afghanistan. And the Shiite fighters of Hezbollah -- approximately 8,000 soldiers on Syrian soil -- who take orders from Tehran.

The IRGC is also one of Iran’s most influential economic players, wielding control over strategic industries, commercial services, and black-market enterprises.

It has developed a shadow economy within Iran to fund its activities and expand its power. It controls all official border crossings and runs several unofficial ports, solely for its own use.

Some 90 docks have been taken over, using them to circumvent sanctions and fund terrorist activities in the Middle East and beyond.

It is linked to dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of companies that are run by its members, as a way of circumventing economic sanctions.

The Revolutionary Guard engages in smuggling oil, gas, chemical products, cigarettes, narcotics, alcohol, mobile phones, pharmaceuticals, hygiene material and energy drugs and supplements.

The importing and exporting of these illicit goods has allowed the IRGC to net $12 billion annually.

It controls Iran’s missile batteries and nuclear program. Many of the front companies engaged in procuring nuclear technology are owned and run by the Revolutionary Guards.

The U.S. Treasury Department has labeled the National Iranian Oil Company “an agent or affiliate of the Revolutionary Guards.”

Created in 1989, Iran’s Khatam al-Anbia (KAA) is an IRGC-controlled engineering firm that acts as its construction arm. KAA maintains more than 800 subsidiaries, collectively employing more than 40,000 people. Approximately 70 per cent of the firm’s business is believed to be military-related.

According to a recent report in the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Jarida, Tehran has begun setting up rocket-manufacturing facilities in Lebanon and Syria, supervised by members of the IRGC.

The IRGC, through various companies, has been awarded billions of dollars in contracts in the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries, as well as major infrastructure projects, in countries such as Azerbaijan. It is definitely a force to be reckoned with.

Monday, April 03, 2017

The Death of Debate in Academia

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

There was a time when true contrarians and those who questioned ideological hegemony found a place in institutions of higher education. Not any more, it seems.

The examples are numerous and all around us. In March McGill University in Montreal, one of the most respected institutions in Canada, effectively forced out a professor who upset Quebec’s political class because he wrote an opinion piece about the province that they didn’t like.

Periodic eruptions of this sort are par for the course in this touchy province, and they happen every few years. The former Globe and Mail journalist Jan Wong and the late novelist Mordecai Richler both fell afoul of such hysteria, both of them accused of what today might be termed “Quebecophobia.”

A friend and I suffered a similar fate after publishing an article on the Jewish community’s fear of Québécois nationalism in the Jerusalem Post in 1982.

Here’s the latest example. Andrew Potter, the director of McGill’s Institute for the Study of Canada, penned an article, “How a Snowstorm Exposed Quebec’s Real Problem: Social Malaise,” in the March 20, 2017, issue of Maclean’s Magazine, in which he criticized what he called Quebec’s “political dysfunction” and argued the province was beset by “low trust and alienation.”

The roof fell in on him. Premier Philippe Couillard denounced the piece, while the nationalist newspaper Le Devoir published a letter comparing the column to the type of hate speech that led to the Rwandan genocide.

Even though the poor man was forced to grovel by posting an apology on Facebook, it wasn’t enough. It is not clear that he resigned of his own free will or under duress from McGill’s administrators; either way, he resigned as director.

McGill University’s principal, Suzanne Fortier, said in the statement that, while “academic freedom is a foundational principle” of the university, Potter had failed to uphold the institute’s “mission,”  which is “partly to promote a better understanding of Canada and its heritage.” George Orwell would have been proud of that remark.

She described concerns about political meddling in university matters as “unfounded rumours.” We might remember something the 19th century German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck once said: “Nothing can be confirmed until it has been officially denied.”

Andrew Coyne, in his March 24 National Post column, “This is Not How a Liberal Society Responds to Criticism,” also weighed in on this shabby treatment. “It is simply incomprehensible in a modern democracy that anyone, let alone a distinguished scholar,” could lose their job “over a piece of social criticism.”

Why this vehemence, when francophone writers are often equally critical? As Don Macpherson of the Montreal Gazette explained in his March 23 column, “Andrew Potter and la famille québécoise,” Potter’s “real crime is not what he wrote; it’s who wrote it, the language in which he wrote it, and for whom he wrote it.

“That is, Potter is an anglophone, who wrote in English, for a publication from outside Quebec.” For nationalists, “to belong to the English-speaking community in Quebec is to be excluded, or to choose to exclude oneself, from the French-speaking one, the true Québécois nation.”

Coyne, too, thinks that “the heat in the response, the very language,” with its reference to “attacks” and comparisons to “racism,” is of a kind that one would expect in response, not to a good-faith critique of society, but an ethnic slur. In other words, Potter is being condmend for being an “outsider.”

As for McGill, Emmett Macfarlane, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo, asserted that it was simply not the place of McGill to issue a statement disavowing itself from Potter’s opinion.

After all, he wrote in “The Chilling Effect of a University Tweet on its Scholars,” in Maclean’s on March 22, “academic freedom is only meaningful if it protects ideas, arguments, or research that we don’t all agree with.”

Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente summed it up very well in “Academic Freedom? McGill Caves in to Tribal Politics,” published March 24. “The message they have sent the researchers and professors and students could not be more clear. We didn’t stand up for him. So why should we stand up for you?”

I earned a BA and an MA from McGill many decades ago. Back then it was a place of intellectual ferment and critical thinking. Clearly that’s long behind us.

Is There an American "Deep State"?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
 
Mike Kelly, a Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania, got into political trouble for declaring, in a March 4 speech to an audience of fellow Republicans in Mercer County, that former President Barack Obama has remained in Washington “to run the shadow government that is going to totally upset the new agenda.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed that the Trump administration believes it is being undermined by people who “burrowed into government during eight years of the last administration,” during a press briefing on March 10.

They, and other Republicans, like Representative Steve King of Iowa, have essentially been arguing that their own government is being subverted by what they have taken to calling the “deep state.”

They point to various accusations of Trump officials of being in collusion with Russia. In one case, it led to the Feb. 13 resignation of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, amid a flow of intelligence leaks that he had secretly discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador to Washington.

Kelly, Spicer and King were thoroughly chastised and accused of peddling “conspiracy theories.”
But there’s nothing “conspiratorial” about it. We know Obama thoroughly disapproves of Donald Trump and threw his support behind the protests opposing Trump’s new administration.

In any case, why is the notion of a country having a so-called “deep state” suddenly considered so ridiculous?

Marxists and other leftists have always theorized that there is a “ruling class,” in America as elsewhere, which through various means controls a state apparatus that in effect does its bidding. Though unelected, it wields power with little to no public accountability.

They see the national security apparatus, arms companies, major media outlets, and corporate interests as the true guiding hand in American politics.

Academics like G. William Domhoff and C. Wright Mills decades ago popularized the notion of a “power elite.”

The theory posits that members of the financial elite, along with parts of the military and policy-planning networks, exercise power that is independent of the nation’s democratically elected officials.

Mills, a sociologist at New York’s Columbia University, introduced the term “power elite” in his 1956 book by that name. It described the relationships and class alliances among America’s intertwined political, military, and economic elites.

Domhoff, who taught at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in his 1967 book Who Rules America?, argued that a “power elite” wields power in America through its support of think-tanks, foundations, commissions, and academic departments.

In fact, even outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower in his farewell address to the nation on January 17, 1961 expressed concerns about the growing influence of what he termed the “military-industrial complex.”

Ordinary journalists and writers have always talked about something called “the establishment.” It refers to those who exercise ideological hegemony and power over society – something the noted Italian Marxist theoretician Antonio Gramsci wrote about.

In Britain, for example, when the Labour Party won the 1924 election in Great Britain, they failed to accomplish much because, as some writers contended, they were “in office but not in power.”

The term “deep state” refers to something that the very people on the left who now consider this to be a form of “conspiracy theory” have themselves always spoken about in the past.

The distinction between deep-state meddling and acceptable protest is difficult to draw in the United States today, according to Amy Zegart, the co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.

While the degree of opposition to the Trump administration is very unusual, she told the New York Times on Feb. 16, “I don’t think you can say in advance what inappropriate deep-state activity would look like, because we haven’t seen this before.”

Monday, March 27, 2017

Scottish Nationalism Since Brexit

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

While the United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave the European Union last June, one of its component nations, Scotland, voted no.

Overall, 52 per cent of voters in the country voted to leave the EU, with 48 per cent voting to remain, but in Scotland, 62 per cent voted to remain, with 38 per cent voting to get out.

Scottish nationalism has been on the upswing over the past two decades.  It had achieved a major victory with the devolution referendum of 1997. An overwhelming “yes” vote gave Scotland the power to form its own parliament.

By 2016 the Scottish National Party had won its third successive victory in elections to the Holyrood assembly in Edinburgh, with 63 of the 129 seats.

Today the SNP serves as the government of Scotland. It also controls 54 of the 59 Scottish seats in the Westminster House of Commons.

Its leader, Nicola Sturgeon, a lawyer, has been serving as first minister since 2014. After the Brexit vote, she said she planned to begin discussions with the 28-member bloc to “protect Scotland’s relationship with the EU and our place in the single market.”

She also announced a twin-track approach, preparing for a fresh independence referendum within two years, while at the same time as investigating whether Scotland could be granted some form of associative status by the EU while remaining part of the UK.

On March 13 Sturgeon announced that she wanted a vote to be held between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of the following year. That would coincide with the expected conclusion of the UK’s Brexit negotiations.

In the referendum held in September 2014, Scotland rejected independence by 55 per cent to 45 per cent, leading to the resignation of Sturgeon’s predecessor, Alex Salmond.

Why would Scotland seek independence yet wish to be part of an even larger entity? Under the Act of Union, the 1707 act joining Scotland’s and England’s parliaments, Scotland exists in an “incorporating” union with England and Wales, not in a federal or confederal one.

In an incorporating union of unequal size it’s likely that the larger partner will dominate the smaller.  As one nationalist put it, “London doesn’t care what Scotland thinks.” In the EU, by contrast, each member is an equal partner and has an equal voice.

Although the differences are sometimes exaggerated, political scientists have theorized a dichotomy between “civic” and “ethnic” nationalism. The SNP is considered an advocate of the first version.

While ethnic nations are defined by a shared heritage, which usually includes a common language, faith, and ethnic ancestry, civic ones value freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights. They are open to all within its borders who identify with it and are part of its economic and political fabric.

We should remember that majority antipathy to minorities is not intrinsic to nationalism but depends on which form nationalism takes.

Since Scotland was an independent kingdom for centuries, and has always had clearly defined borders – only one on land – the SNP has not had to deal with questions as to who belongs to the Scottish nation.

The simple answer is: everyone north of the English border, no one outside of the country.

The Solway-Tweed line between England and Scotland was legally established in 1237 and with minor adjustments since, it remains the border today. It is one of the oldest extant boundaries in the world.

Membership in the Scottish nation is to be defined not by blood but by voluntary attachment to Scotland and participation in its civic life. The SNP has rejected an exclusionary jingoistic “Braveheart” nationalism.

All residents of Scotland had the right to vote in the 2014 referendum on independence, while those Scots who live outside Scotland, even if within the UK, could not.

The party has been rewarded with support from ethnic minorities; indeed, Scots of Asian descent actually support independence at a higher rate than the rest of the population.

As well, it has been remarkably effective at bridging the historic rifts within Scotland. The sectarian rivalry between ethnic Scots Protestants and Irish Catholics had been deeper than anywhere else in Britain, as bitterly reflected in the Rangers and Celtic soccer teams in Glasgow. Similar divides in Northern Ireland, on the other hand, remain unresolved.

The SNP’s success was due predominantly to appeals to the material self-interest of Scots, partly driven by the discovery of major oil fields in Scottish waters, rather than to the revival of historic sentiments of distinct identity.

As a consequence, Scottish nationalism is more a matter of economics and politics than culture.

Why Putin Remains Wary of America

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
 
The Indian essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra, in his new book, Age of Anger: A History of the Present, describes how “an army of Americanizers invaded Russia” following the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

These free-market theorists, convinced that laissez faire economics had won the cold war, proceeded to convince Russia’s new ruler, the buffoonish Boris Yeltsin, to administer economic shock therapy to a country still in a political shambles. It was, to use a Russian term, a new “time of troubles.”

Much blame for this calamity has been laid on by Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia University economics professor and an exponent of “transition economics” in Eastern Europe and Russia, but there’s plenty of blame to go around. Russians, just emerging from 75 years of Communism, were now to become guinea pigs, victims of American hubris.

The transfer of wealth from the Russian state to individuals began when President Yeltsin kick-started Russia’s privatization era in 1992.

With a small army of American advisers, he began selling off Soviet era assets. Vouchers worth 10,000 roubles each were given to 144 million citizens, entitling them to a share in Russia’s major enterprises.

But most cash-strapped workers, not seeing much value in them anyway, sold their vouchers immediately for cash. Privatization of assets went to a handful of well-connected politicians and bureaucrats who came to control the economy as a whole.

They had amassed a huge number of shares by 1995, and hence, the post-Soviet oligarchy was born. The work of 70 years of Soviet labor went to the pockets of two or three dozen people.

According to one estimate, approximately $200 billion worth of state property was transferred to private hands for a total of $7 billion.

Not surprisingly, post-Communist Russia degenerated into gangster capitalism and political despotism. Oligarchic clans filled the vacuum with private armies, political machines and newspapers.

Over the course of the 1990s, living standards collapsed. Russia’s GDP fell by 50 per cent, fully 30 per cent of the population fell into poverty, the mortality rate increased by 50 per cent, life expectancy for men was cut by six years, and the crime rate skyrocketed.

“Shock therapy” punished ordinary Russians as prices soared, factories stalled and the welfare state disintegrated.

These disasters culminated in the destruction of the rouble, which lost 70 per cent of its value in August 1998.

It was a depression worse than the one suffered in western countries in the 1930s. Less than a year before, Anatoly Chubais, the Russian politician and businessman who was responsible for privatization in Russia as an influential member of Boris Yeltsin's administration in the early 1990s, was being praised by the Economist magazine for his “dynamism, guile and vision.”

Though today reviled for organizing the fire sale of his country to oligarchs, Chubais landed on his feet: he is now a venture capitalist, a member of the Advisory Council for the JPMorgan Chase Bank and a member of the global board of advisers at the Council on Foreign Relations.

By the time the 1996 presidential election came around, Yeltsin’s popularity had plummeted, and he was in danger of being defeated by the resurgent Communists.

But a team of American political strategists came to Russia to turn his electoral prospects around (no doubt with the blessing of Bill Clinton’s White House).

The group worked in hiding on the 11th floor of the Kremlin's lavish President Hotel in downtown Moscow, laying out an American-style campaign to counter the public sentiment running against Yeltsin. He prevailed – though there were claims that the election was fraudulent.

Clinton funneled massive amounts in American “aid” to Yeltsin’s kleptocracy, most of which wound up in the oligarchs’ foreign bank accounts.

Though Yeltsin narrowly avoided losing in 1996, by 1999 he was so hated and ill that he agreed to step down – on condition he be granted immunity from prosecution for the corruption through which he, his family, and various cronies, had amassed great wealth.

We know what happened after that. The chaos and mass suffering under Yeltsin helped to turn a dour former KGB operative, Vladimir Putin, into Russia’s unlikely saviour.

Putin has driven most of the oligarchs out of power and into exile, and re-established a strong authoritarian state; for that reason, many Russians consider him a “good tsar.”

A somewhat less crass and triumphalist approach on the part of western powers would have saved the humiliation that paved the way for Putin.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Story of Chrystia Freeland's Grandfather

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

I’ll lay my cards on the table: I have never been particularly fond of Chrystia Freeland’s attitude towards the Russian Federation.

I was aware that her family originates in the western part of Ukraine, inhabited by anti-Russian nationalists largely Ukrainian Catholic (Uniate) by religion, where collaboration with the German invaders was a major issue in the Second World War.

It never would have occurred to me, though, that her grandfather, Mykhailo Chomiak, ran a Ukrainian newspaper in Nazi-occupied Cracow, Poland, on behalf of the Hitler regime.

Before the war, he was a young journalist in Lviv, then a part of Poland. Having graduated from university with a degree in law and political science, he started work for the Ukrainian-language daily Dilo (Deed).

In 1939, as the Germans and Soviets attacked Poland, Lviv fell to the Russians, and Chomiak fled for Crakow, in the German zone of occupation, where he became editor of Krakivtsi Visti (Cracow News), in a plant confiscated by the Nazis from a Jewish-owned paper.

Chomiak’s work was directly supervised by Emil Gassner, the head of the Nazi press department there. It contained numerous anti-Semitic stories and revelled at German triumphs over the Allies in the early stages of the conflict. Other writers have now provided excerpts of his enthusiasm for “cleansing” various cities, including Kyiv, of Jews.

All this, while millions of Jews were being slaughtered in nearby death camps such as Belzec and Auschwitz.

So enmeshed was he with the Nazi Generalgouvernment headed by Hans Frank, that in the last stages of the war, he fled west with the retreating Nazis, and continued editing the paper from Vienna, until the final collapse of the Third Reich.

All this has now become public knowledge, along with the fact that Freeland not only kept quiet about this – understandable – but also fabricated her grandfather’s biography to make him appear a simple Ukrainian patriot opposed to both Stalin and Hitler, one who struggled “to return freedom and democracy to Ukraine,” rather than an enthusiastic collaborator.

My own life story is one almost the exact opposite. My parents were Polish Jews from Czestochowa, whose entire families in Europe were wiped out in the Holocaust. They were themselves in a Nazi concentration camp until liberated by Soviet troops in January 1945; I would otherwise not be alive today.

So clearly I have a very different perspective regarding the Russians, though I would never consider myself an apologist for Stalin’s (or Vladimir Putin’s) crimes, and I have in fact written a number of books regarding the naiveté of those Jews who allowed their anti-fascist sympathies to blind them to those crimes.

It needn’t have to be said that Chrystia Freeland, born long after the war ended, is not responsible for her grandfather’s war crimes, though it might have stood her in better stead had she condemned these long ago, especially once she entered public life, when they were bound to be unearthed sooner or later. She has known the truth for some two decades.

In other words, the problem isn't that her grandfather was a Nazi collaborator -- she can't, obviously, be blamed for this -- but that she defended him, in essence serving as a propagandist and purveyor of what people nowadays call “fake news.”

Yet not only have some sympathized with Freeland’s own rewriting of her grandfather’s history, they also try to turn the tables against the Russians by portraying Freeland as a victim.

One article in Maclean’s magazine, for example, suggested that the Russians have been trying to discredit Freeland, an outspoken advocate for continued sanctions, “with a smear job about her grandparents.” (A smear, though, usually implies libellous accusations; this story turns out to be true.)

None of our Canadian political parties have made any statements either. No, we can’t demand that Trudeau fire Freeland, despite her dissembling and attempts to turn this into a story of Russian attacks on her. But surely our leaders should at the least state their disappointment in her lack of candor.

Of course the post-2014 Ukrainian regime, its support coming mainly from western Ukraine, itself passed a law in 2015 that grants recognition, as fighters for Ukrainian Independence, to Stepan Bandera’s Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

They have been designated “defenders of the fatherland.” Streets have been renamed and statutes erected for Bandera.

These organizations were allied for much of the war with Hitler and participated in the massacres of many thousands of Jewish and Polish civilians. Poland itself has protested their rehabilitation.

Democratization Fails in Cambodia

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

One of the most horrific genocides of the twentieth century took place between 1975 and 1978 in the southeast Asian nation of Cambodia.

A Maoist group known as the Khmer Rouge captured power in the wake of the American withdrawal from Vietnam. Neighbouring Cambodia had also been devastated by the war, leaving a vacuum for Maoist guerrillas to take control.

The new regime dismantled modern society in its quest for an agrarian Marxist utopia. Their totalitarian policies forced the relocation of the population from urban centers to the countryside, torture, mass executions, malnutrition, and the use of forced labour. Those wearing glasses were executed as “intellectuals.”

“To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss,” declared the murderers. Starving prisoners kept in dank cells would catch and eat cockroaches and rats – but only when guards were not looking, lest they be beaten.

By the time they were ousted by Vietnamese troops in late 1978, the Khmer Rouge had managed to kill at least two million of their own compatriots, about a quarter of the overall population. Cambodia’s “killing fields” became notorious throughout the world.

Even then, the Maoists withdrew to the Thailand-Cambodia border and remained active there for 15 more years thanks to military and financial support from China.

Has the country managed to recover from such horrors? Yes and no. Justice has been meted out only slowly and sparingly.

Only in January of 2001 did the National Assembly pass legislation to try members of the murderous former regime.

A tribunal known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia was formed five years later, following an agreement between Cambodia and the United Nations to prosecute senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

A complex hybrid court, it combines elements of international and domestic law and its members include both local and foreign judges.

But it has been criticized, as only three people have been convicted so far. Many other mass murderers had already died, including Pol Pot, who had led the Khmer Rouge since 1963 and became the country’s leader in 1975, “Year Zero,” when it was renamed Democratic Kampuchea.

The current government, which includes many former Khmer Rouge officials, has fought efforts to prosecute anyone beyond the Khmer Rouge’s senior leaders and one notorious prison chief.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge soldier, has warned that more trials would cause fresh outbreaks of civil war and chaos.

Cambodia’s main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), nearly defeated Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party in a 2013 general election.

They charge the prime minister, who has ruled Cambodia since 1985, with attempts to weaken his rivals before local elections this coming June and a general election in 2018.

Some opposition politicians have been assaulted and even murdered. Kem Ley, a political commentator was shot dead last July; CNRP president Sam Rainsy described the murder as “state-sponsored terrorism.”

In February, though, he quit as CNRP leader in the face of increasing government pressure. This came as Hun Sen announced he will introduce a new law that would dissolve political parties if their leaders are convicted of domestic crimes.

Sam Rainsy has numerous defamation lawsuits to his name, and many are still pending trial. He has been in exile in France since late 2015. Hence his decision to step down; he has been replaced by Kem Sokha.

The forthcoming elections, it is clear, will do little to further the emergence of democratic ideals, reform-minded elites, and pro-democratic institutions in this tragic country.