Fool me once, shame on you, Fool me twice…

There is the old saying, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. As a former manager once told me, “I am quite happy for you to make mistakes; that means you’re being active and learning. But if you make the same mistake again, you have learnt nothing from the first”.

On a geopolitical level, the Western nations seem to have made mistakes again and again, and yet are constantly surprised and amazed at the predictable result. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the US and the UK found themselves again on the front lines of the Cold War. The Place, Afghanistan. The Enemy, Russia, and the Communist backed government of Afghanistan. In the 1980s, the Americans flooded Afghanistan with sophisticated weapons, including MANPAD systems, explosives, and small arms. Along with the arms came money. Millions of dollars were poured into the country through the ISI in Pakistan, all for the purpose of “liberating” the country. Americans such as Charlie Wilson and the Right Wing Christian movement pushed vigorously for increased support to the Afghan Mujahedeen.

Along with weapons and money can support in the form of a public image campaign. American and British movies, from Rambo to James Bond, all portrayed a heroic struggle by a simple yet courageous people against a brutal government.

Support came also, from all over the world. Arab and Muslim fighters flocked to Afghanistan, where they enlisted in the call to Jihad against the infidel Soviets. Along with the droves of fighters came a wealthy Saudi Arabian man who dreamed of using his talents, his money, his connections, and his whole life to advancing the cause of Islam. His name of Usama Bin Laden. Usama, and many others like him, found their true calling in life in the fires of the Afghan resistance against the Soviets. CIA and SAS units were eager to arm and train anybody who would fight against the Soviets. Along with these arms came valuable training in explosives, assassination, sophisticated weapons systems, and other black arts. These lessons were learnt all to well by the young Muslim recruits, who then used them to great effect against the Soviets.


Bin Laden in Afghanistan 1980s

The Americans were successful. Through their proxy armies, they had defeated the Soviet Union, turning Afghanistan into a Russian Vietnam. Indeed, the defeat, and the expense incurred, was instrumental in bringing down an increasingly weak USSR some years later.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Deputy Direction of the CIA Richard Kerr

But as the victory celebrations died down, warlords such as Hekmatyar, Massoud, and other individuals realized that they now had to govern a power vacuum. It is said that nature abhors a vacuum, but politics and power do so even more. The weapons and training which had driven out the Soviets now were turned on each other, as the warlords fell to fighting each other for power.

In this vacuum arose a new power. Hailing from the religious schools on the Afghan border with Pakistan, and fired with religious zeal from the Whabbist schools of thought in Saudi Arabia, the Taliban swept into Afghanistan from the east, capturing Kabul, and controlling most of the country except for the northern areas held by Massoud and the Northern Alliance.
Having no love for the West, the Taliban imposed a strict view of Sharia upon the whole country, plunging the country back into the Dark Ages.

Others, though, had a more globalist view of the Jihad they had just won. Men like Bin Laden, Khalim, Basayev, Khattab, and al-Zawahiri were veterans of this war, which imbued them with the confidence to take on the West. After all, they had defeated one Superpower. Why not another one? When Bin Laden formed Al Qaeda in the 1990s in response to what he saw as American aggression towards Muslims and a desecration of Islam, he had a large source of recruits to choose from. Men who had fought with him in Afghanistan found themselves with a set of skills which could be very easily turned against their former benefactors, the United States. The Jihadists built up their experience and skills in Africa, in Afghanistan in support of the Taliban, in Pakistan, in Chechnya, in Palestine, in the Balkans, and in the Philippines. The view of Bin Laden was to leverage the contacts he had made in Afghanistan into a worldwide network to bring the fight to the West. Bin Laden came full circle when he returned to Afghanistan with Al Qaeda. Safe in the country, he established training facilities, to which a new generation of aspiring young men who sought the glories of Jihad flocked.

The reason we have discussed this history is that it bears very serious lessons for American foreign policy today, which are being very quickly forgotten by the current Administration. The Neo Conservative idea under President Bush was that if America only removed dictatorial regimes from power in the Middle East, other regimes would fall like dominos, creating a wave of freedom across the region. America put this theory to the test in Iraq, with a far less than satisfactory result. Rather than embracing freedom and democracy and the American way, Iraqis first turned against the American invaders and then against each other. More than any place on earth, the Middle East cannot have a political vacuum present without some group attempting to fill it. In Iraq, the Americans soon found that they lacked both the support and the political know-how to even consider filling the political vacuum they had created with the destruction of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

As a result, Al Qaeda moved in force into Iraq, carrying on both attacks against American forces, and then against Shiite Muslims in the country. Iran responded by filling the power vacuum with Shiite supporters such as the Madhi Army. These two groups brought Iraq into the verge of Civil War, before the Sunni backed Al Qaeda was pushed out of the country.

America should have learned valuable lessons from both Afghanistan and Iraq. Regime change in the Middle East is often the prelude to anarchy, violence, and greater bloodshed. And dictatorial regimes can be seen as being far superior to the violence which follows their demise. American styled Democracy does not take root easily in the Middle East, as has been seen in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria, and Libya.

Instead, the current American strategy is still to support and fight for regime change. In the case of Libya, this was successful, and a military campaign ousted Gadhafi from power, leading to his death and the formation of a new government. Around the same time, Mubarak fell from power in Egypt, bringing in new “democratic” elections.

The Arab Spring was touted by pundits, activists, and neoconservatives as being an amazing example of “People Power” rising up against oppressive regimes and overcoming them through willpower and the might of the population. It was seen as being a new wave of freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Very few voices, in the days of Libya’s revolution, sought to criticize the movements in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, and Yemen. After all, were not the governments in question corrupt, violent, and despotic? Isn’t the rule by the people the best kind of government?

American writers, bloggers, political scientists, and activists were not the only ones watching and rejoicing at the Arab Spring. Al Qaeda was watching events very carefully also. With the death of Usama Bin Laden, and on the run worldwide, Al Qaeda was in dire need of another safe haven, where they could regroup and plan their comeback. The Arab Spring gave them exactly this. It was a movement which posed serious threats to the secular, despotic governments who had so often waged war against them. In every country which has seen regime change, or attempted regime change, the Governments have waged an often brutal war against Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups. Libya, Egypt, and Syria had all sought to destroy their influence and power. And with these governments now crumbling, Al Qaeda saw the creation of more political vacuums. And as we have seen before, whenever there is a vacuum, the Jihadists are quick to try and take advantage of the opportunity.

In a four part series, we will discuss the impact of Al Qaeda and other extremist groups on the Arab Spring, their current successes in Libya, Syria, and Egypt, and the bleak future it poses for the region as they have seized power. Al Qaeda is back with a safe haven. It now has another battle to fight, it now has another source of recruits for their war, and another battle ground to test their skills in. And ironically, they are now fighting on the same side as an often well meaning but hopelessly ignorant America.



Respect and Political Fear

The father of modern political thought, Thomas Hobbs, who wrote in the early 1600s, believed strongly in the power of the state, as the overreaching “Leviathan”, which kept watch over the citizens below. To Hobbs, power rested with the state through the introduction of what he termed the “Social Contract”. In simple terms, the social contract states that the people of a nation will give up certain rights and freedoms in exchange for the rule of law and security by the state. One of the greatest “rights” given up was that of violence, which only the state then had the right to use. Only the state could resort to violence, and violence, according to Hobbs, was an instrument of the state to maintain law and order. Agents of the state, such as the police, military, and intelligence services could be given the right to use violence if necessary in order to maintain order.

Hobbs believed that there were two alternatives to the Human race. Either a population would give up part of their power to a central government, which Hobbs believed to be unaccountable for their actions, or anarchy and chaos would result. This anarchy and chaos was what Hobbs termed the “natural state” of man, and was driven by what he saw as the relentless pursuit of man for power.

Hobbs saw civilization, and the power of a central government, as integral to preventing this violent anarchical struggle which mankind would fall into by default.

This view is not new with Hobbs, however. Machiavelli before him wrote on power, and the use of such by a state. Thousands of years before, the Bible itself wrote of the early formation of the Jewish state as being in such a state of anarchy. The story is told in the book of Judges, for example, of the tribe of Dan who came across a household with precious goods and idols which they promptly took by force and threats. The story goes that they tribe then proceeded to seize territory by massacring the inhabitants of a peaceful city as they were stronger and of greater numbers. Further in the book, the story is told of a full breakdown of law and order in a city with travellers being accosted and killed, leading to a civil war in Israel. All through the book of Judges, there is story after story of acts of violence taking place just because one party was stronger than the other.

The book of Judges ends with the quote that “In those days, there was no King in Israel, so every man did what was right in his own eyes”.

Indeed, this is the very definition of anarchy, and would seem to support Hobbs belief that a central order was necessary to keep this natural state from developing.

Going on in history, we find that any society or civilization goes through this stage of the strong overpowering the weak, and then creating a ruling order to centralize their power over the nation. Warfare then became the instrument of the state, and was used against other weaker nations. If we fast-forward in history, we can see the results of a collapsed state which is experiencing anarchy in such failed states as Somalia, where the natural order can be seen. Indeed, whenever there is a breakdown in the power of the state, chaos and anarchy seem to follow.

During the last 60-70 years, politics and political thought has experienced another revolution. With the formation of the United Nations was established a principle of Human Rights. For much of history, up until the Treaty of Westphalia, warfare was a legitimate tool of statecraft. Leading up to the end of the First World War, there was a desire among many European nations to never again see such a war take place. Thus, treaties such as the Treaty of Paris were signed, which forbade wars of aggression. Interestingly enough, both Japan and Germany were signatories to this treaty, which was flagrantly broken during the Second World War.

With the Second World War, the concept of genocide came into popular focus. While genocide was not a new concept by any means, the extermination campaigns of the Nazi party against Jews shocked the world like never before.

With the establishment of the United Nations, Human Rights were introduced. Political thought recognized that states do not always fulfil their side of the Social Contract which was introduced by Hobbes, and misuse their power against their own citizens. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations laid out 30 rights that citizens have, including freedom from persecution, protection of women and children, right of religion, and right of free expression in Government.

However, the UN upheld by social contract theory of Hobbs by stating that

“In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.  (UN Charter Article 29)

Thus, these freedoms are limited by the expression of the rights and freedoms of others, social morality, and public order and general welfare.

However, where does the line exist between the establishment of order and the will of the population? If the natural order exists in the absence of a centralized government, as Hobbes predicted, where do current protest movements ranging from the Arab Spring to the Occupy Movement sit?

Last year, at the start of the Libyan civil war, I wrote on this blog that Libya faced an uncertain future if Gadhafi was removed. The danger of a power vacuum being created existed then, and exists even more so now. Egypt has experienced a similar crisis, with the Mubarak regime being removed, but with an uncertain political future now existing.

In the opinion of Australia’s foremost expert on Libya and perhaps on the Arab Spring, Dr Sally Totman, the Arab Spring has accomplished very little actual good to the general population. In both Libya and Egypt, the ruling elites now are the same as before the rebellion. In Egypt it is the military who supported Mubarak, but who threw him to the wolves when international tide turned against him. In Libya, it is the old supporters of Gadhafi who once again turned against him with the general tide.  Syria has been in a state of anarchy and civil war for almost a year, with extremist influences such as Al Qaeda becoming more and more active in the country.

The mood of the Arab Spring has turned from one of optimism and change to one of cynicism and discontent. In Libya, the united tribes are beginning to turn on each other, with violent encounters occurring, and little attempt to create a stable state. In Egypt, there have been protests after protests against the current ruling body, to no avail. A general malevolent atmosphere has settled over the Middle East, setting in motion attempts by regional power brokers to seize greater support for themselves.

In short, the Arab Spring has turned into an Arab Winter, with few of the goals of the revolution being achieved, and only the figureheads of a regime being taken away.

But why are such movements gaining traction? Why are people, especially in the West, dissatisfied with their life, and are willing to take up action against the Government that they elected into power?

Hobbes, in his theory, considered greatly the idea of fear in politics. To Hobbes, mankind was driven by fear, and the greatest fear according to Hobbes was the fear of death. As the state was the only entity with the legitimate use of violence through the justice system against its own people, Hobbes held that fear was a necessary part of a stable society – fear of the sovereign and the consequences of acting against him. Machiavelli stated this also by posing the theoretical question “Should a Prince strive to be feared or loved?” His answer was very diplomatic:

Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated, which will always be as long as he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from their women. But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony.   

To both Hobbes and Machiavelli, a certain fear of the sovereign powers should always be present in the citizenship. Not hatred, but a certain fear of acting against them. The responsibility of the state, under the social contract, was not to move against their people unjustly or to attempt to use unjust force against them.

It may be argued that such revolutions as in Syria are a response to attempts by the Government to use unjust force against those protesting. It may also be argued that such force by the population is not unjust, even under a Hobbesian model, as Hobbes always held that citizens should have the right of self-preservation, even through use of violence.

My argument, however, is far more pragmatic. In countries experiencing the Arab Spring, the Government did incite a culture of fear surrounding them. The general citizens were afraid of their governments, and with good reason. However, attempts to attack the government were not in response to actions by the Government. In Libya, Syria, and Egypt, there were no attempts by the state to engage in hostile action against the general population. Dissenters may have been treated harshly, however in the political climate these states existed in, such actions often were seen as necessary to keep order. In Libya, for example, harsh measures defeated the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, pushing them to the table to negotiate peace. In Egypt, they kept an undercurrent of fanaticism and terrorism controlled for decades.

It is said that desperate situations call for desperate measures, and this is what we have seen in Syria, Egypt, and Libya. Were they democracies? No. Were they necessarily a kind and welcoming regime? No. Did human rights abuses occur? Most probably yes. However, these were no worse than others in the region, and may be argued were a strategy by the government to ensure a stable society. The validity of such a revolution can be argued either way.

But what about Australia, Europe, and the US? Is there any reason for protest and revolt in these countries? I would say, absolutely not. I can speak from an Australian perspective, as that is what I am most familiar with. In Australia, there is a country which is one of the richest in the world. The economy has continued to be strong, and the recession did not nearly hit Australia as hard as other parts of the world. Australia as a social system which is large and generous, with public health cover, myriads of  government grants, and a unemployment system which enables one to effectively live without working productively. In short, life in Australia is mostly prosperous. Even counting in people’s bad decisions, it is not hard to survive in this country. And yet, we see violent protests in capital cities across Australia. We see a mob like attack on Australia’s elected Prime Minister. We see groups representing a large number of interests all attacking the government.

Here is where the concept of fear must be introduced. People must respect and fear their elected government, while at the moment, this lack of fear emboldens the protesters. With the attack on the Prime Minister in Canberra, no arrests were made, no person was charged, and very little attempt was made to disperse the rioters. With the Occupy protests, clashes in Melbourne resulted in attacks on serving Police Officers by protesters who flatly refused to obey direct orders by the state.

With the previous Melbourne G20 riots in 2006, Australian protesters assaulted police, destroyed property, attacked police vans, and generally engaged in public rioting.

Why do riots occur? They occur because there is no respect or fear left of the government. And this is partly the government’s fault. As with a child, the child must have a certain respect and sometimes even fear of the consequence of their actions in order to be brought up properly. If this respect for authority, and fear of consequences of bad behaviour is not present, the natural order of things will take place.

This natural order of things, this anarchy which is dreamed about by the left is a lie. It is a utopian concept which will result in public disorder and chaos. One can say that the most free society on earth is Somalia, or similar states with a breakdown of law and order. But my question is: “Is that what we want to live in?”

The Picture of Anarcy.

A Nuclear House of Saud?

The power structure in the Middle East has changed radically during the last two years. During this time, political leaders in numerous countries; Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen fell from power or fled to avoid the fate of their comrades in Egypt or Libya. President Assad in Syria, rather than face trial by his people for human rights abuses has determined to fight for his position, leading to what can be only described as a de facto state of civil war in the country. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iran, even Israel have seen their own protests and uprisings, however leaders in all countries have managed to hold onto power.

While Neo Conservatives in America may have first painted a rosy picture of democracy springing into the Middle East, the actual fact is that the current political systems, and even the future ones, will be very unlike the commonly accepted Western view of democracy. Only a small percentage of Libyan opposition groups have openly accepted democracy as a future political view, with the majority of Libyans rejecting democracy as a political system.

In Egypt, the most popular political party is the Muslim Brotherhood, who is steadfastly anti democratic. Indeed, the Brotherhood has come a long way from its past, when it was the umbrella group for the majority of extremist and terrorist groups, including many of the earlier members of Al Qaeda. While the Brotherhood may have technically forsaken violent action for political process, it does not mean for a moment that the group has become pro American and pro Democratic.


The Arab Spring

While the Middle East was once composed of many pro American governments, including those of Mubarak, it now has taken a strongly anti American turn. Even anti American governments such as Libya were a known entity. America knew how to handle Kaddafi. But the old known systems have now been replaced with an uncertain system which has not yet shown its true colours. The lines between friend and enemy are now broken, and American interests in the Middle East are now threatened.

With the American withdrawal from Iraq, American attention is now focused further upon Asia and Iran, while the Middle East (with the exclusion of the straits of Hormuz) have become less crucial to American interests.

American allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, have expressed concern regarding this recent shift of focus of American might. With the fall of Mubarak in Egypt, another American ally, the Saudi royals have expressed concern about the future security of their country. The belief is that American forces will not prevent a similar takeover in Saudi Arabia as what occurred in Egypt.

Saudi Arabia at the moment is extremely concerned regarding possible Iranian involvement in creating disturbance in the country through the minority Shiite population. There have already been several attacks against Saudi interests by Shiite terrorists. As the most significant source of oil in the region, and the most reliable as Iranian supply is becoming increasingly unstable, Saudi Arabia  is the major supplier of global oil at the moment. Surrounded by a hostile and an increasingly ambitious Turkey to the north, an uncertain Egypt to the West, a chaotic Yemen to the South, and an openly hostile Iran to the East, Saudi Arabia has found itself in an increasingly bad neighbourhood.

To add to the problems that Saudi Arabia faces, it is widely seen in the Arab world as an American puppet and as a corrupt and secular government, who is more interested in oil profits from the Americans than in assisting Muslims in the region. The Muslim world sees Saudi Arabia as a traitor who has taken American money in exchange for allowing American troops to desecrate the Holy Land by building military bases in the country. In addition, Saudi Arabia is seen as doing nothing to prevent the regional power of Israel from growing. Thus, the Saudi royal family is a top target for groups such as Al Qaeda.


With the withdrawal of American troops from the region, and the increasing belief that American protection will not cover the Kingdom, Saudi Arabia has begun to seek defensive capacities from other sources.

While traditionally the House of Saud sought weapons and defensive capacities from the United States, it is recently begun to approach other countries such as China for defensive and offensive weapons.

The deal which alarmed Washington the most was that of the Saudi purchase of Chinese CSS-5 missiles to replace the CSS-2 missiles purchased from China in the 1980s. While these reports are not officially confirmed, they do align with the Saudi intent to develop nuclear capacity in response to Iranian developments. The deal maker for this, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, has been the Saudi go to man for any business of this nature for the last 20 years.

The CSS-5 missile is a 2 stage solid propellant type, launcher based rocket, with a range of over 2,000 km. The missile can carry a HE warhead, or a more lethal chemical payload or a 250 – 500 kT nuclear tipped payload.

With the map below, you can see the radius of the new missiles sought by Saudi Arabia. Once launched, the missile can hit any target with a great degree of accuracy in almost the entire Middle East. Iran is almost totally covered by this radius, as is Israel, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and a good part of Turkey.


Range of the CSS V


The damage potentially caused by a 250 kT nuclear warhead on either Tehran or Tel Aviv is shown below.


Tel Aviv


As seen, a large portion of the city would be destroyed, leading to potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of casualties. By contrast, the atomic weapon dropped on Hiroshima was only 16 kT.

Saudi Arabia knows that the deciding factor in the Iran Iraq War was a massive Scud strike upon Tehran by Iraq, which effectively stopped the Iranians from progressing into Iraq. Such a similar strategy of missile war would therefore be attractive in the event that Iran threatened Saudi Arabia with a missile attack.

Iran does have the capacity to strike at Saudi Arabia with it’s Shahab 3 missile with a range of up to 1,800 km. While the Shahab 3 does not have the accuracy or range of the CSS-5, it can hold a nuclear payload of up to 800 kT, far greater than the CSS-5. There are rumours of either a Satellite Launch Weapon or the disputed Shahab 4, with a purported range of up to 3000 km being developed by Iran.

The status of Iran’s nuclear enrichment process is unknown, but wildly speculated. Even if Iran did develop the “bomb”, Saudi Arabia would feel the necessity to develop a nuclear deterrent of its own. To the House of Saud, having both its rivals in the region, Israel and Iran, with nuclear weapons, it would be unacceptable to not have the same capacity.

The most likely source of weapons grade fissionable material by the Saudis would be either a locally produced version or through direct purchase. Saudi Arabia has committed to building over 10 new nuclear reactors in the country in the coming years, which may be for civilian power, but which may easily be turned into military use.

A cheaper and easier alternative may be direct purchase of either nuclear materials or nuclear know how. The Pakistani government and Saudi Arabia have held long ties together, and with the nuclear network of former scientist Dr Khan from Pakistan, it is possible that Saudi Arabia has either already acquired nuclear material from Pakistan or is in the process of doing so. Khan is known to have had dealings with the Kingdom before his arrest. Even if the Saudi’s have not already purchased material, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Islamabad would provide such materials to their ally in the region.

The development of a nuclear armed Saudi Arabia is not a prospect which will generate further peace in the Middle East. The impact of such an action, along with a possible scenario if this occurred will be discussed in a further post.


World Missile Fleet