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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Primakov's Revenge
Everyone speaks now of the Arab revolution. Isn’t it curious that so many of the region’s overthrown (or threatened) despots have a Soviet entry in their curricula vitae? Saddam, Mubarak, Gaddafi and Assad (once removed) all would not be where they are today without the USSR, despite their later defections (and re-defections) to the West. Ben Ali and Saleh are partial exceptions; each might have been a Soviet ally just as well. These first or second generation strong men are now objectionable to the modern world, just as the Shah or Nasser once was. Seizing power and living by the sword in this region would seem to guarantee a sad end; worse if you manage to install a son as your successor. Only if you manage to extend your family’s rule beyond two generations under Western patronage do you seem to have a chance at immortality. Thus the Gulf monarchies, the Hashemites and the Alaouites all seem to be likely survivors.

Yevgeny Primakov, the long serving dean of Soviet Arabist operatives must be asking himself, “what did we get wrong?” Primakov, reportedly born with the name “Finkelstein” and a canny post-revolutionary survivor in his own right, knew these men well. If they are skilled at one thing, it’s how to hold on to power. So why are they failing? Is there possibly a wider, or longer term, plot that involves their successors and altered relationships with a West that can’t seem to resist becoming deeply entangled in this part of the world?

We needn’t be specialists in Marxist dialectics to know the answer. We just need to wait and see.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

On Combustibility

A humble Tunisian fruit seller sets himself alight and regimes fall across North Africa and the Middle East. A lunatic preacher in Florida burns a Koran and murderous hordes pour into the streets in South Asia. Where, how, will it all end?

Such wildfires spread – like Gavrilo Princip’s shot that killed four grand empires – because of their liberating quality and their timing. The passions they release, so to speak, are always there, burning deep through the angry hearts of millions. It just takes a small gesture to set them free in the absence of a countervailing force; and far too much blood to seal them back up again.

Liberation comes in direct proportion to the crisis of authority. That absence now appears to be global. There may be no hordes marching in the streets of China, USA, EU, Saudi Arabia, Russia and many other places; but these powers so far have lacked the collective capacity and authority to bring order to what appears to be a growing trend of popular chaos still in early days. They are not speaking from the same page, although they should be. Wildfires sometimes burn themselves out when well contained. But not often.


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