The War Criminal Next Door

28 05 2011

“He doesn’t look like a war criminal…”
“What does a War Criminal look like?”
“Y’know, angry, dead inside, crazy eyes… This guy looks like a folk singer or a farmer…”
I wish I were merely fabricating this conversation to build a straw man of ineptitude on human rights issues. The lesson of “the war criminal next door” has been taught and learned time and again, most recently with the Hungarian concentration camp supervisor living undetected for 50 years in middle America extradited months ago. But this was an actual quote from a very intelligent colleague, and the sentiment was echoed throughout friends and family in the past 3 days.

On the train to Kiev, Ukraine from Novi Sad, Serbia, I learned this lesson firsthand. As the vast curly-haired Russian babushka guided me to my train car, I was disappointed to find there were 3 beds per room, and a drunken Slav had already taken the bottom bunk. I guess that’s what $50 for a 38-hour train ride gets you. We shook hands, he raised a glass to me, drunkenly screamed a Serbian “Zdralavo ee jeevalee!” (I can only assume it was meant to be “hello and cheers!”) chugged down the contents and collapsed back onto his pillow. As I monkeyed my way to the top bunk, an even more disappointed Russian appeared in the doorway. He introduced himself as Kolya. Seeing us shake hands, the Serb sat up, poured two extra glasses of his homemade liquor, pointed to himself and declared “Ja Bojan!” and lifted his glass to us.

An American should never try to drink the hard stuff with a Russian and a Serb. We can’t compete, and we can’t cop out. You see, Slavs don’t understand the word “no.” “Ne” and “Nyet” don’t work either when it comes to booze. Believe me, I tried. After we’d shared 3 cups, my language skills improving with every sip, Bojan brought out the homemade bread and sausage. I’d been thinking the entire time “make sure you’re still sober enough not to have anyone jack your stuff,“ later recalling that I didn’t really have any stuff to jack. Food will help me retain some level of sobreity. “Moras da jede!” slurred the volume-control-challenged Bojan. “If you drink, you must eat!” he wisely suggested and forced fresh bread and home-made sausage into my cup-less hand.

After hours of tri-lingual humor and camaraderie, the conversation subtly turned from coffee to politics. Foolishly, after being engaged on the advice of Seselj, a radical Serb on trial in the Hague, I disparaged the memory of Arkan, the most atrocious of Balkan villains. Arkan, who led a paramilitary tank unit called The Tigers known for the rape of hundreds and the murder of thousands. It turns out, our drunken bunkmate had served under the notorious Arkan and took it upon himself to defend his honor.

“ Arkan nije bio los covek! Arkan je voleo svoju zemlju! Osmanlije ne vole nista!” lectured Bojan in a serious slur. Arkan is merely a man who loves his land, whereas the Muslims love nothing. This all started with a discussion of coffee. I needed to sober up fast. With that much moonshine in me, it wasn’t going to happen.

As we crossed into Ukraine, it seemed like the entire Soviet military was piling into the train. As row after row of scowling Soviets with German Shepherds filed past, a pair of very cute Ukrainian twins in camouflage entered our cabin to request my passport. I happily obliged, handing, to my surprise, one passport to each of them, at the same time using only one hand. I didn’t remember having two passports, though at this point I didn’t remember how I got on the train. This is about the last thing I recall before the terror of being shaken awake by the jovial, balding pudge of Bojan yelling “Kiev! Kiev!”

I rushed out of the train, nearly forgetting my bag, which my new war criminal acquaintance carried off the train to me. Kolya waved goodbye from within the train, but Bojan actually led me off the train and to a taxi, arranging my ride to a hostel he knew well.

Why tell this story? Ratko Mladic, the most wanted man in Europe, the second-most heinous Balkan war criminal, only after the now-deceased Arkan himself, was apprehended yesterday in northern Serbia. He’d been on the lam for 15 years. He was thought to be isolated in a small apartment in Belgrade last year. A 5 million dollar bounty had long been offered for information on his whereabouts. Yet it was only yesterday, far from the Serbian capitol, that he was finally arrested at his home, under the assumed identity of Milorad Komadic. Mladic was found in the Bosnian Serb village of Lazarevo, a self-contained unit within the multi-ethnic semi-autonomous province of Vojvodina, inhabited by some of Mladic’s family members.

“How could the people of Vojvodina have been fooled by such a flimsy disguise?” I hear asked. “They must have supported his actions, the people must have known and simply wished to keep him from justice.” Had I not been drunk and loose-lipped on my way to Ukraine, I’d never have known that I was traveling, drinking and laughing with a war criminal. Had my traveling companion not been quite so drunk, he might not have admitted so openly his allegiance and his deeds. Had he known he were a wanted fugitive, Bojan could easily have hidden the fact. In Mladic’s case, with government reports coming out that he had been located in Belgrade and with the protection of his quiet supporters in Lazarevo, what neighbor would have thought to ask? The tragedy of the arrest is that it is not simply his supporters within the Bosnian Serb village who will be tarred by the brush of war crimes.

I am deeply sorry for the liberalizing, pro-Western forces of Serbia who take European leaders at their word that they are now on the path to EU entry. This arrest will, in all likelihood, take Serbia further from, not closer to, EU entry. Not only must you deal with the inevitable radicalization of your own nationalists, the extremists of whom are already active and vocal even without this international “insult. No, you must also face the fact that, by making Serbia’s best-known persona once again a war criminal, the world will identify the innocent citizens, such as Mladic’s accidental neighbors in Vojvodina, as villains and sympathizers once more.

Zachary Gallant is a Fulbright Scholar in Postwar Redevelopment in the former Yugoslavia and author of the e-book Voices of a Revolution.

Copyright © 2011 Zachary Gallant All rights reserved.

Netanyahu to Obama: Everyone’s Thinking It… I’m Just Saying It

24 05 2011

The title above is a fitting summation of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statements while on an official visit to the US over the last few days.  Unlike President Obama, who introduces every vague assertion with his trademark motto, “let me be clear,” Prime Minister Netanyahu is nothing if not clear,  and has used his time before US audiences to explain exactly what Israel will and will not accept. In doing so, Netanyahu said what everyone else has been thinking in response to Obama’s proclamation last week that the  “borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines.” At the joint press conference with President Obama on Friday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “It’s not going to happen. Everybody knows it’s not going to happen. And I think it’s time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly it’s not going to happen.”

No one, except for President Obama it seems, harbors any delusions that a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict will involve the 1967 borders- time has passed and the situation has changed. (Apparently President Obama believes it is still 2008, as evidenced by the date he added to his signature in Westminster Abbey’s guest log today,  so perhaps that’s why he advanced a policy based on outdated facts rather than one based on today’s reality.)

Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu demonstrated as much with Tuesday’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress, which was received with thundering applause and nearly 30 standing ovations. He handily used the momentum from his appearance at the AIPAC policy conference Monday night to demonstrate quite clearly that the situation has changed and that the Congress does not support Obama’s “vision” for the Middle East, no matter how many times the President tries to clarify his “misrepresented” position. It’s safe to say that there is a bipartisan consensus that Obama’s statement, an attempt to upstage Netanyahu ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit, was a failure. It was not only disrespectful to the leader of America’s staunchest ally, it was also sadly indicative of the fact that Obama has no plan for addressing the situation- no alternative to challenge the Palestinian plan to put statehood to a vote at the UN in September.

Fellow Democrats quickly sought to distance themselves from the misguided policy statement. Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid used their own speeches to the AIPAC delegates to say as much, rejecting Obama’s calls in no uncertain terms. Even Hamas took issue with Obama’s plan, with one leader wondering why Obama did not call for a return to the 1948 borders. The result? America’s position as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is thrown into question and neither side can truly trust the US to bring the opposing sides to the negotiating table.

Unlike the President’s assertion that Israel needs to accept a Palestinian state and return to the 1967 borders, which blindsided the Israelis and perpetuated that aspect of the Obama Doctrine that seems to call for throwing allies under the bus, there was nothing new in Netanyahu’s speech. And that’s as it should be. Instead, Netanyahu looked and sounded relaxed, radiating integrity and power even as he told the Congress in no uncertain terms that Israel would not undermine her own security.

A recap of Netanyahu’s main positions:

1) No return to 1967 lines

2) Palestinian refugee issue resolved outside of Israel

3) United Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

4) Demilitarized Palestinian state

5) Peace (and Palestinian statehood) must be negotiated, not declared

Netanyahu had nothing to lose by being so forthright in his statements.  Negotiations with the Palestinians will not take place in the near future. The Palestinians have staked their entire position on September’s inevitably futile bid for statehood via a UN vote.

Not surprisingly, Netanyahu’s speech has been interpreted by Palestinians to be a “declaration of war” by no less than an aide to President Abbas, only helping to support the Prime Minister’s assertions that the Palestinians are not interested in peace. Various Palestinian leaders and analysts have argued that the Prime Minister did not give them a single reason to return to negotiations- as if any reason would suddenly make the Palestinians willing negotiating partners. Through the reconciliation deal with Hamas, Palestinian leaders could not have made their position any clearer.

There are many among the Palestinians who feel slighted by the adoration bestowed upon Netanyahu by those in the US Congress. But, as Hussein Ibish,  Senior Research Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), tweeted: “Those Arab and Muslim Americans upset by Congress’ pandering to Bibi should realize that we have done NOTHING to give them reason not to.”  Indeed.

Milena Rodban is a Political Risk Consultant, providing geopolitical analysis, strategic planning and media relations guidance. She is a Contributing Analyst at Wikistrat and writes for Milena received her Master of Arts degree in Security Studies from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Her current research focus is intelligence for private applications and she is developing a new methodology for conducting political risk analysis.

Copyright © 2011 Milena Rodban All rights reserved.

What The World Is Still Getting Wrong About Otpor: What Egypt’s activists should have learned from Serbia’s revolution

11 03 2011

By Zachary Gallant

Contrary to popular belief, Otpor, the movement that overthrew Slobodan Milosevic, was not all bread and roses. For anyone who hasn’t read Tina Rosenberg’s piece Revolution U in Foreign Policy, you’ll want to check it out for her idealistic whitewashing of what in many ways should be termed a failed revolution. She focuses on CANVAS, the Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies, in Belgrade, “an organization run by young Serbs who had cut their teeth in the late 1990s student uprising against Slobodan Milosevic. After ousting him, they embarked on the ambitious project of figuring out how to translate their success to other countries.” She immediately points to the most successful stories of the 50 countries they’ve worked in, “Georgia, Ukraine, Syria-occupied Lebanon, the Maldives, and now Egypt”. In each of these, we can already see one of Otpor’s biggest failures: the short-sightedness of its goals.

“If CANVAS has torn up the old democracy-promotion playbook, it’s because the group’s leaders have drawn up a new one, taken from their own firsthand experience.” Yes, the activists overthrew Milosevic, but overthrowing a dictator is only half the battle, if that. If there is no structure in place to replace your dictator, the same state structure will remain, as it did in Serbia’s case, and in Ukraine and Lebanon, even if it’s called democracy and the autocratic figurehead is gone. In fact, in Otpor’s case, many of the revolutionaries went beyond failure and straight to a betrayal of their founding anti-corruption tenets.

From Slobodan Homen, whose position as State Secretary in the Ministry of Justice set him up for a series of lucrative but questionable real estate deals, to Nenad Konstantinovic who this past summer was attempting to alter the anti-corruption laws so that he could hold multiple political offices at once, the founders of Otpor have lost their way and left their nation as bad off as the nineties by nearly all reports on the ground. Of those founders who tried to stay true to their beliefs, many have recently immigrated to the United States to escape the shame and disenchantment. Others stuck it out but found they could not win, like chapter head Branimir Nikolic who took his own life in March of last year after a decade of futile fights against corruption and failed governance, harshly declaring in his farewell letter “Revolution eats its own children.” Yet, all of this pales in the face of the fact that Otpor’s success was in itself a tragedy for the citizens of Serbia, with the election of the ultranationalist Vojislav Kostunica who opposed the extradition of Milosevic and whose own top aides were implicated in the assassination of his successor Zoran

None of this is CANVAS’s fault, of course, and they deserve to be commended for their work and their strategy. No, it’s the Otpor model itself that needs to be tweaked, though absolutely not ignored. In Ukraine, we watched last year as open society activists were beaten and jailed by the same state organizations that their Orange Revolution had supposedly cast off. In Georgia, the Otpor-inspired Rose Revolution cast off Soviet holdover Eduard Shevardnadze’s government, yet put in place no preventive measures against President Saakishvili’s increasingly autocratic rule. And though Mubarak is gone, the Egyptians are not out of the woods yet, with no promise that their provisional military government will in fact be provisional. Yesterday’s sectarian violence may be a mere rumble of what’s to come as the initial unity of the overthrow wears off. This is by no means saying that autocrats should not be overthrown, but if in their training CANVAS does not address the importance of building a structure for a democracy to emerge following the autocrat’s ouster, they are irresponsible at best, liable for tyranny at worst.

The greatest tragedy of the Balkans, 20 years on, is that for some reason the “solutions,” if you can call them that, from Holbrooke’s Dayton Accords to Otpor’s blueprints, are viewed as sacred panaceas for all international conflicts when they didn’t even work the first time around.

Zachary Gallant was a 2008 Fulbright Scholar in the former Yugoslavia, living with and documenting a secessionist women’s movement for the forthcoming Daughters of a Revolution.

Copyright © 2011 Zachary Gallant All rights reserved.

A New Chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian Saga

12 02 2011

By Milena Rodban

Egypt’s revolution is just one of several developments this week which will significantly impact negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat resigned today after it was discovered that his office was the source of the leak of secret documents known as the “Palestine Papers,” which revealed the details of secret negotiations spanning over 10 years. Erekat, who continues to claim that the documents were tampered with, and accuses Al Jazeera of discrediting the peace process, nonetheless assumed responsibility for the security breach.

The resignation came just as the Palestinian Authority announced that new presidential and legislative elections would be held in September. Rejecting the PA’s plea that warring factions reconcile in the interest of advancing the peace process, Hamas immediately declared that the group would not participate in the elections or recognize the results.

Largely overshadowed by recent events in Egypt and the loss of Hosni Mubarak, who was widely perceived as a guarantor of regional stability, the peace process has suffered continuous setbacks since the breakdown of direct negotiations last year. No progress is expected in the near term, dashing the Obama administration’s naively optimistic predictions that peace could be reached within a year. Given the fragmentation of the Palestinian leadership, Israel is skeptical that the PA, having failed to bring Hamas to the negotiating table, could enforce any agreements reached.

Israel is largely taking a “wait and see” approach, hoping for a fortuitous resolution in Egypt.  Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, commander of the Supreme Military Council and current Acting President of Egypt, issued a statement today promising to  uphold Egypt’s international agreements, including a long standing peace treaty with Israel, in hopes of allaying fears.

The events in Egypt, Tunisia, etc. have had a profound impact on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, once and for all destroying the myth that all of the Arab world’s woes are rooted in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For decades, we have been asked to believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the root of all of the Middle East region’s problems. The conflict, we were told, bred the kind of hopelessness and despair that created an optimal environment for the emergence of terrorism as the only tool available to otherwise powerless people.

The plight of the Palestinians, however, is clearly the last thing on the minds of Egyptians. And the Egyptians’ woes are the result of imprudent leadership, high unemployment and skyrocketing food prices. But what it took to shatter that myth came at a steep price for Israel- losing Mubarak is a major blow to both security in the region, and the possibility of progress in negotiations with the Palestinians. The region looks much different, and the peace process, should it restart, will be handled much differently.

While a peaceful transition in Egypt is anything but assured, Israel should do everything possible to prepare for a spectrum of eventualities. With protests and clashes already taking place in Algeria, and a “Day of Rage” planned for Monday in Bahrain, Israel will find itself an island of stability in a sea of chaos.

Let’s hope Israel’s intelligence services have a better grasp of the situation than Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and better sources of intelligence than CIA Director Leon Panetta, who last week told lawmakers that he was getting his information from news reports.

About the author:

Milena Rodban is a consultant, providing geopolitical analysis, strategic planning and media relations guidance to startups. She received her Master of Arts degree in Security Studies from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Her current research focus is intelligence for private applications and she is developing a new methodology for conducting political risk analysis. She is a contributor at

Copyright © 2011 Milena Rodban All rights reserved.

It Took 10 Plagues to Convince Pharaoh…

10 02 2011

By Milena Rodban

Everyone remembers the story- it took 10 plagues to convince Pharaoh to let the Jewish People go. It looks like Hosni Mubarak will be just as hard to convince. Despite what seemed like an imminent resignation, Hosni Mubarak remains the President of Egypt. By now, the protesters probably know how Moses felt.

The Changing Global Landscape

The world is in constant flux, and 2011 especially is starting to look like it will be known as the “Year of Instability.” Today’s allies can become tomorrow’s enemies in an instant. Gone is the time of thousand year empires or century long empires. The end of Mubarak’s 30 year reign is the end of an era.  Though it did not end today, Mubarak has repeatedly assured the populace that it will end in September.  After hours of expecting an imminent statement of resignation from the embattled leader, the huge crowd gathered in Tahrir Square are enraged to hear that Mubarak has no intentions of stepping down. Mubarak’s announcement that he has transfered power to his Vice President, Omar Suleiman, have not pacified the people. The only explanation for Mubarak’s continued role is that the military is supporting his decision to stay. Otherwise, he would have been removed by now.

In the international relations field, we like to say that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  As much as we want to believe a free Egypt is inevitable now that events have been set in motion, a bright future is far from assured. Protesting a government is no small task, but it is nothing compared to dismantling that government and constructing a new one in its place. The military, which will presumably facilitate Egypt’s transition until what Mubarak has assured will be “fair and free elections” in September,  will hopefully be able to mitigate the effects of a country transitioning to democracy, always a messy and violent process. Even so, Egypt will be unstable for years to come.

Perhaps a Democratic Egypt, but Not a Pro-Western Egypt

Americans, both in the media and the population in general, seem to think that the moment Mubarak leaves, Egypt will be free. And you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would be opposed to the triumph of the oppressed over their oppressors. Americans have always sympathized with others who seek freedom.

But the absence of a dictator, however, does not a democracy make. Egypt lacks a well organized opposition, a single leader, or even a plan. Whoever comes to power now will not just have to fill a void left by Mubarak, but also restore all that weeks of protests destroyed. The economy is floundering. Tourism is at a standstill. Foreigners have fled, taking their money with them. It will take a great deal of effort to bring them back, especially given the violence and rioting that has punctuated these protests. The proclivity for violence and xenophobia displayed through the vicious beatings of foreign press correspondents at the hands of the protesters suggests that Egypt will likely undergo a violent transition.

If you listen to the Egyptian protesters, you will hear that the Egyptians know what they don’t want, but don’t seem to know what they do want, beyond broad goals of jobs, prosperity, etc. Democracy is unlikely to solve their problems, especially in the short term. The longer problems fester, the greater the likelihood that foreign intervention of some sort will be necessary, or that regional powers will seek to advance their own agendas within Egypt. Iran is sitting pretty, waiting to become the de-facto regional power so it can fill the void, much like has happened in Lebanon, Gaza, etc.

In addition, democracy is about more than just elections. Egypt has none of the political infrastructure to transition to democracy. These include a free press, a stable and fair judicial system, etc. Conditions on the ground will keep investment from flowing into the country- that’s what you really need to create prosperity. Humanitarian aid, calls for which have appeared in several US publications, hasn’t created any prosperity- only dependence. And it won’t endear the US to the Egyptians.

Finally, over 20% of the Egyptian public supports Al Qaeda. Estimates vary, but somewhere between 50% and 80% of Egyptians have a negative view of the US. In recent days, the protests were characterized as the work of foreign elements. The only organized opposition is the Muslim Brotherhood, comprised of Islamists affiliated with Hamas, not peaceful people concerned with the freedoms of the Egyptian population. The people might be want to be free, but being free means having the ability to choose a leader who is unwilling to cooperate with the US, or maintain the peace treaty with Israel. A democratic Egypt will not necessarily be a pro-Western Egypt. In fact, it is far more likely that it will not.

The End of Engagement

Throughout the weeks of protests, the Obama administration has viewed the situation in Egypt as an inconvenience, taking attention away from jobs, etc. Seems the administration still hasn’t learned that it can’t dictate the global agenda. Instead, the president has continued to interject himself into Egypt’s internal affairs by giving largely meaningless speeches about what Egypt’s leaders should and shouldn’t do. Meanwhile, outgoing Press Secretary Robert’s Gibbs has sounded like a broken record, repeating, ad nauseum, that that “situation is very fluid.” Apparently it was so “fluid” that the administration could not keep up. Conflicting messages emerged from Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Special Envoy Frank Wisner, and President Obama, who opposed  Mubarak before he supported him. Were he more skilled at diplomacy, President Obama would have confined his suggestions and opinions to proper, private channels, and not taken his indecisiveness about whether to either side with Mubarak or against him to the airwaves, where he only hurt his own image.

The events of the past two weeks have spelled the death knell for Obama’s attempt at a policy of engagement- what passed for a loosely defined Obama Doctrine. Having sought to “restore America’s reputation abroad,” the President had charged the State Department with the responsibility of “engaging” with allies and adversaries, rather than continuing what he perceived to be the Bush administration’s failed policy of antagonizing hostile regimes, believing negotiation to be more effective than alienation. Instead of proving a success, however, the policy has failed at every turn, first with Iran, then with North Korea and now with Egypt.

While the media recently seemed to blame the intelligence community for failing to warn the Obama administration of the coming unrest, it is clear that this is equal parts an intelligence failure, and a diplomatic failure. On the intelligence front, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper seems woefully misinformed about the Muslim Brotherhood, telling the House Intelligence Committee that the organization is “largely secular,” and hard to generalize about because it encompasses “a very heterogeneous group … which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam.” Oh really? The slogan of the Brotherhood is “Islam is the Answer.”  The group’s Arabic site, which extols the organization’s message to the Arab speaking world, hardly justifies such a characterization for a group whose political leader, Rashad al-Bayoumi,  last week called for the peace treaty with Israel to be dissolved. Though FBI Director Robert Mueller challenged Clapper’s explanation, it is a cause for concern if those charged with keeping lawmakers informed are themselves sadly deluded.

On the diplomatic front, one of America’s allies was quickly abandoned in an effort to curry favor with a population sympathetic to the plight of oppressed Egyptians, without consideration for the long term consequences for American interests, which the administration is charged with protecting. What signal does this send to our other allies, who face increasingly angry populations at home? What does it mean for cooperation on combating terrorism and other transnational challenges? What will the Saudis and others do to cement their power and prevent such events inside their own borders? Many make come to the conclusion that they can’t depend on America.

Knowing More, Understanding Less

While the Soviet Union, among other closed states, was able to lie and spread propaganda to people for decades, governments now cannot perpetuate such illusions, even despite their best efforts. Most headlines refer to the “unrest” in Egypt. This is not just unrest- it is a national political awakening. Better informed, more frustrated Egyptians have decided that they will no longer be lied to, coerced or oppressed by a government more concerned with staying in power than providing for the people.

As the saying goes, “information is power.” I would argue that it is inevitable that anyone with access to information that was previously confined to nations’ “confidential” stacks will have the ability to leverage it to achieve power. Look at Wikileaks and its effects.

Those who have argued that Al Jazeera somehow fanned the flames, are as misguided as those who think Wikileaks or Twitter caused the Tunisian uprising. Conditions have been ripe for a long time, and high unemployment, accompanied by skyrocketing food prices, proved to be the last straw. Protests in Egypt were not unpredictable, their scope, length and consequences were.

But despite the prevalence and abundance of information, we seem to continuously get caught by surprise. Events in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen demonstrate that while we have access to unprecedented amounts of information, we still refuse to understand how situations have changed. We might know more, but we understand less. We need to reevaluate our long held beliefs that only a month ago would have told us that Hosni Mubarak was comfortably, and firmly, in control.  As more information becomes available, we need to reevaluate our assumptions and challenge our biases, not hold ever more firmly to long-standing perceptions. It is my personal hope that these events will raise the profile of political risk analysis and convince the business world of the need for political risk analysis to be incorporated alongside other potential sources of risk. Signs point to an awakening among businesses that political risk analysis is worth paying for, not just to mitigate risks, but also seize opportunities, as recently outlined in  The Economist. The truth is, we now have the tools to measure a country’s pulse, to gauge the degree of frustration or support and predict likely outcomes. We just need to start using them.

Which regime will fall next, if any? We know one thing for sure. What happens in Egypt will not stay in Egypt, and the ramifications of Mubarak’s downfall will be significant, wide-reaching and long-lasting. What comes next? That’s a topic for my next post. Stay tuned.

About the author:

Milena Rodban is a consultant, providing geopolitical analysis, strategic planning and media relations guidance to startups. She received her Master of Arts degree in Security Studies from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Her current research focus is intelligence for private applications and she is developing a new methodology for conducting political risk analysis.

Copyright © 2011 Milena Rodban All rights reserved.

Lebanon: From Cedar Revolution to Sober Revelation

12 01 2011

By Milena Rodban

2011 is already proving to be a year of instability. Lebanon’s fragile coalition government collapsed earlier today as a result of the resignation of 11 ministers (10 Hezbollah ministers and the presidentially appointed Health Minister, Mohammed Jawad Khalife, whose AMAL party is aligned with Hezbollah) over the issue of the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) investigating Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s assassination in 2005. The mass resignation was prompted by the tribunal’s decision to indict Hezbollah members for their involvement in the beloved leader’s murder.

The origins of the collapse lie in the tenuous coalition that was begrudgingly formed after the June 2009 election which brought Rafiq Hariri’s son Saad’s anti-Syria party to power. Lebanon’s internal struggle pitted PM Hariri’s party, which originally sought to embrace the West and a far more cosmopolitan and modern future for the country against a large bloc that defines itself by its hatred for Israel and a mission of armed resistance against the Jewish State.  The coalition government was formed after more than five months of negotiations that often stalled due to impasses between the majority party and Hezbollah. A breakthrough came largely as a result of the interference of Syria and Saudi Arabia, two countries whose bilateral relations improved over joint interest in dictating Lebanon’s affairs, just before the coalition agreement was announced.

Before today’s collapse, the unity government was comprised of 30 ministers. Of these, 15 are from the majority party of current Prime Minister Saad Harri, 10 are from Hezbollah and 5 were appointed by the President, Michel Sulayman.

The coalition government, comprised of ministers whose fluid allegiances make the majority’s larger share hardly empowering, was largely meant to perpetuate gridlock and prevent Hariri from dictating a meaningful agenda. His efforts to address not very contentious issues, like corruption and institute administrative reforms, were nonetheless resisted. Given the fact that more than a third of the coalition is loyal to Hezbollah and not Lebanon, the collapse had been considered imminent from the beginning.

Hezbollah has, unsurprisingly, proven itself incapable of being a worthwhile partner in leading Lebanon, demonstrating that the group values its own interests above the interests of Lebanon and her people. Today’s developments prove quite clearly that the group is not prepared to renounce its violent means for a legitimate seat at the table. The group is content to keep the focus on imagined and contrived enemies, such as Israel, and to perpetuate the spread of an internal poison that has infected all of Lebanon.

Hariri was hardly in a position to ignore Hezbollah when the coalition was formed, considering the group seized much of west Beirut in the 2008 in response to the Prime Minister’s attempts to disarm the group, which has stockpiled a vast arsenal, which includes ballistic missiles supplied by Syria. A Hezbollah ally, Michel Aoun, has been serving as the minister for telecommunications, giving Hezbollah de facto access to communications and surveillance assets long desired by the group and making it a formidable force that Hariri is powerless to destroy.

Why does all this matter? Certainly the government’s collapse in Beirut is a critical development in a largely unstable region of the world quite important to US interests. Even more importantly, the collapse signals the high degree of power that Hezbollah, classified by the US as a terrorist organization, enjoys in the region. Hezbollah, with its enormous arsenal, is basically a state within a state, maintaining control of what is for all intents and purposes its own army and able to exercise military power, monopoly over which is usually the exclusive prerogative of the state, and not a sub-state actor.

Perhaps most importantly, the collapse signals Lebanon’s failure to shed its own legacy and image of a weak country susceptible to foreign intervention in its internal affairs. The Cedar Revolution in 2005, spurred by the assassination of Saad Hariri’s father, ousted Syrian forces from Lebanon, ending a 29 year occupation that kept Lebanon as an independent state in name only. Since then, the nation with a glorious past and a capital once hailed as the “Paris of the East” has struggled to shape its own destiny, superficially trading foreign intervention for an internal enemy: Hezbollah, still supplied and controlled by Syria and Iran.

Saad Hariri, once buffeted by the support of an outraged public determined to shape its own future and hailed abroad, particularly by the US and France, as the one who would return Lebanon to its former glory, has failed to lead. The public outrage slowly faded and the international support did not translate to tangible assistance to fight his internal enemies. Hariri is now largely powerless, at the mercy of Hezbollah, and unable to turn a dream of an independent Lebanon into a reality. Lebanon’s story is truly a tragedy, one which demonstrates the dangers and costs of appeasement and compromise. The man who articulated the hopes of a nation soon became little more than a mouthpiece for Hezbollah, the Syrians who supply it and the Iranians who direct it. Nowhere is this more obvious than Saad Hariri’s acceptance, in recent months, of the Hezbollah propaganda that Israel actually carried out his father’s murder.

In the end, Hariri, who meant to take his country back from his father’s murderers, became little more than their puppet, allowed to stay in power only so long as he remains useful to them. Once that is no longer the case, he will likely meet the same fate as his father, a threat that no doubt allows the Syrians and Iranians to keep him in line.

Lebanon’s struggle is just one example of what will continue to take place throughout the Middle East as people are faced with a stark choice: clinging to a fading past that keeps them in shackles or standing up to their jailers and reasserting control. Pakistan, Egypt, Tunisia are further examples of countries quickly approaching the brink because of increased internal turmoil.

As Caroline Glick so aptly stated in an article examining Hariri’s downfall in September 2010, we cannot “ignore the basic fact that freedom must be defended with blood and treasure. Otherwise, as happened in Lebanon, it will be defeated by blood and treasure.”

About the author:

Milena Rodban received her Master of Arts degree in Security Studies from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Her current research focus is intelligence for private applications and she is developing a new methodology for conducting political risk analysis.

Copyright © 2011 Milena Rodban All rights reserved.

2010: An Electoral Retrospective

3 01 2011

By Zachary Gallant

Elections do not imply democracy; we merely infer the correlation. 2010 was a vastly electoral year, but not a vastly democratic year. Across the world, from the Americas to Africa to the EU to the Balkans to the former USSR to the war zones of the mideast and central Asia, the past year was an electoral success, but largely a democratic failure.

Let’s start on a high note. America was this year’s shining democratic example. This sentence may well be an unpopular one, but the Tea Party victories are a good sign for democracy. Whether or not they are a good sign for the direction of the United States of America is an entirely different issue. What they show indisputably, however, is that the will of the people can in fact be freely expressed through the electoral process. At least in America.

Moving South, Venezuela had a very successful Parliamentary election in September, and the people expressed soundly their distaste for Hugo Chavez’s ruling Socialist party. Unfortunately a popular election and 52% of the vote is no match for an imbalanced system that grants the bulk of electoral powers to regions loyal to the President. Though the opposition still managed to take away the two-thirds majority on which Chavez relies to rule free of checks and balances, the 18-month emergency (read: dictatorial) powers that his own lame-duck parliament granted him more than undermines the positive change of the power shift.

Crossing the Atlantic, we hit the Ivory Coast, whose November election was another fine success, and led directly to the deaths of at least 50 but more likely hundreds of supporters of newly-elected Alassane Ouattara (who is still being protected by UN peacekeepers in a hotel). The history of the African Union election enforcement is so weak that ousted President Gbagbo, who lost by a significant 8% of the vote, likely expected Ouattara to simply become a junior member of a power-sharing government as in recent Kenyan and Zimbabwean contests. But this time the AU held strong and demanded Gbagbo step down. With the military and media aligned with Gbagbo and powerful rebel groups prepared to die for Ouattara, the International Crisis Groups seems dead-on in predicting Cote d’Ivoire as one of “Next Year’s Wars.”

Straight up the map from here, the UK brought about a vast change and a surprising success both electorally and democratically with the well-spoken Conservative David Cameron in a surprising team-up with the young, dynamic Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg to oust a decade of Labour rule. The efficacy of the coalition is questionable, given the wholly opposed goals of the two members, but the election itself was a resounding success.

Moving to Central Europe, I have already written extensively on the failures of the democratic process in Bosnia. Kosovo, however, has been largely overlooked. The calls for an election themselves were a democratic success, with even the ousted ruler lauding them after a vote of no-confidence, and the aftermath, in which the ethnic Serb leadership is openly willing to work in coalition with the ruling Kosovar party, gives hope for civil society even in as violently divided a state as Kosovo. The election itself was so riddled with fraud, and the results such a sham of ethnic one-sidedness, however, that officials are still questioning the legitimacy of the entire process. Kosovo was both an electoral and democratic failure, yet brings more notes of hope than any other election this year.

On our way out of Europe, we’ll stop in the former Soviet East for a moment. Belarus, as written here, was the year’s best example of the Soviet style of democracy. Ukraine was a surprising success for both sides of the democratic coin and made a shift away from an increasingly volatile Yulia Timoshenko. Though 82% of citizens expected a rigged vote, all observers agree that the results were clean.

We end our trip down memory lane in Central Asia, with three special elections. Tajikistan was an all-around farce, “fail[ing] on many basic democratic standards,” (OSCE) and bringing the President’s party almost as much of the vote as Lukashenko got in Belarus. In Afghanistan, turnout was only 1/3, and thousands of fraud complaints led to the invalidation of over 20% of ballots, well over a million quelled voices, and 21 candidates disqualified, 19 of whom had actually won their election. The Taliban carried out over 100 attacks killing at least 14 people, and in the end nothing changed. Kyrgyzstan was the most memorable, a semi-violent revolution proven popular by an only-partially-falsified referendum. 69% of eligible voters made their voices heard, though this disregards the 10% of the population who had fled to Uzbekistan after ethnic conflicts. 4 months later, the people voted for the party that had been ousted by the revolution itself on the platform of rolling back reforms and bringing their leader out of exile. Not a success for stability, certainly, but an interesting case study in the mercurial nature of the electorate.

This was just a taste of 2010’s vast smorgasbord of electoral activity. I’ve left out important elections from around the globe, from Hungary whose new conservative parliament plans to rewrite the Constitution to Haiti whose rushed elections are so plagued with fraud they’re creating a political situation that could outdo the earthquake. I’ve not touched upon Sri Lanka and Columbia, Rwanda and Iraq, the Phillipines and Burma. Each of the hundreds of local, parliamentary and presidential elections around the globe have had vast importance for geopolitics, human rights and global democracy.

There is no keeping score in democracy. Partisans and politicians play politics like a game, but in 2010, there were no winners. As we prepare for civil war after Nigeria’s and Sudan’s elections in January, 2011 is not looking like a better year. If the International Community claims to be the arbiter of global democracy, it is hypocritical, nay criminal, to participate fully yet accept no responsibility for outcomes and aftermaths. Visionaries need to see clearly, and rose-colored glasses impede one’s sight. Yet the past decade of global policy ruled by selfish national interest has not brought any of us a brighter future. There is too much at stake to continue on with this false duality in foreign affairs. There is a third way. Not a “reset” button, but a wiser humanitarian approach. Perhaps in 2011, we can cease to view geopolitics as a global chess game and expend our capital – human, economic and political – on the real needs of the people we purport to serve.

Copyright © 2011 Zachary Gallant All rights reserved.


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