Friday, October 30, 2015

The Age of Transnational Mercenaries

Syrian child laborers working Beirut’s streets

DDGD – October 30, 2015

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Today’s Post is brought to you by: Mercenaries Я Us: you pay, we kill, no muss, no fuss, no questions – just a friendly reminder: “bitch better have our money.”

Editorial Comment

The arc of history bends towards those who are more determined and more organized irrespective of their worldview, tactics or values. The moral progress, or rather the expansion of our ethical worldview that has been achieved over the last few millennia did not come as a haphazard or natural development, but as a result of obsessive determination to achieve it, even as our vision of what it means remains in constant flux.

Now, with the preceding paragraph serving as a necessary preamble, let jot down this note addressed to the amoral bastards of the world. Those loathsome individuals and groups who think that they could afford to have nothing to do with Syrian “mess” and whatever other messes currently unfolding in that underdeveloped, uncivilized and seemingly accursed part of the world, the part from which I hail and to which I still, in some way or another, belong:

When you stop getting much of your oil, natural gas, diamond and gold  from our part of the world; when you no longer need to transport yourselves and your goods back and forth through it; when your companies stop selling arms to our corrupt and autocratic regimes and suspend all manner of business with them; when our cheap labor is no longer needed to produce your goods; when our elite are no longer allowed to hide their monies in your banks, or spend it in your markets and resorts; and when you can, in fact, build a dome over us so that we stop breathing the same air, then, and only then, can you speak of our concerns and suffering as being irrelevant to you. Until then, I’m afraid, you just have to put up with us and our seemingly endless supply of “messes,” just as we put up with you, your arrogance, and your willful blindness as to your part in “our” messes. When you learn to do this with a greater sense of humility and humanity, we, that is, the peoples of the world, will all be better off.

But I am not trying to suggest here that “we,” that is, the uncivilized brutes of the world if you like, are completely blameless when it comes to our lot in this world and are nothing more than hapless and prefect victims to your perfect and willful villainy. Far from it. I am still quite convinced that we remain the major obstacle in our own way to a better life, especially that so many of us have perfected a Shirk ‘N’ Shift routine that allow them to keeping resisting change even as the reasons for it keep piling up.

So, and while we go about trying to figure out a way of this morass, there is a moral imperative that needs to be addressed by those in the world who have more knowledge and more power to have a far greater impact in charting our collective becoming than we do at this stage, and it is as plain and simple as this: stop exploiting us, and start helping us. It is towards this imperative that the arc-bends of history are meant to point. In an era when the peoples of the world saw fit to sit together around one table and pen a document which they billed as the Universal Declaration of human Rights, we cannot afford to keep treating such an imperative as an expression of romantic idealism. No. It is the quintessence of realism at this stage.

The Arabian dream: Colombians taking part in Yemen war. And it’s a tale that involves, Saudi Arabia, UAE and a former Blackwater chief. Mercenaries from Egypt, Mauritania, the Senegal and Sudan are also said to be involved fighting alongside Saudi, Bahraini and Emirati troops. Iranian advisers are likely to be involved on the side of the Houthis (despite official denials, which turned up to be quite false in case of Syria) and, of course, Al-Qaeda has members from far and sundry.

This development raises a couple of interesting question, the first: Are mercenaries really that much different from terrorists? For while the motivations might be different, more material in the first case and ideological in case of the latter, there are enough cases where the two sets of motives seem to be present, and enough commonality when it comes to the groups’ choice of tactics, and their demonstrable willingness to indulge in indiscriminate killing to make the distinction rather academic. Perhaps, legal experts should bear this in mind when investigating war crimes.

We heard the drought explanation; we heard the oil and natural gas explanation, now we have this:
Commodity Traders Helped Spark the War in Syria, Complex Systems Theorists Say. Yes, it’s the Commodities explanation. Here are my two cents on all these theories: That drought was a contributing factor to the rise of popular nonviolent protests phenomenon in Syria is something that has plenty of factual support; that energy politics might have been on the minds of so many regional and international players and might have, therefore, contributed to the policies and strategies they adopted vis-à-vis the issue of regime change in Syria is not something that we cannot dismiss because such considerations are always on the minds of global and regional powers; and that more complex phenomena like the price of commodities could have contributed to the crisis as well, no matter how indirectly, is also something that needs to be considered in this hyper-connected world.

But none of this should distract us from considering the more direct and visible causes at play here: the Assad regime is inherently corrupt and autocratic, it is guilty of economic mismanagement on the local and national levels, it failed to deal effectively with the massive demographic displacement caused by the 2008 drought, its attempt at economic liberalization backfired and served to enrich the chosen few while breaking down the middle class, it neglected rural development, was unconcerned with urban planning, backed Jihadi elements operating in Iraq, Lebanon and even Jordan, and its record on human rights was dismal as it silenced dissenters through imprisonment, exile, and in some cases outright murder, and its policies vis-à-vis the Kurds remained inherently racist. So, when people took to the streets to protest in early 2011, they had ample reasons and justifications for doing so, and their aspirations for democratic change were genuine. This should never be dismissed. People are not going to risk their lives for vague notions, and no amount of agents provocateurs can incite or manipulate into rebelling on a mass-scale if the conditions on the ground and in their minds were not conducive to that. Manipulations happen afterwards, and no one denies that this revolution was manipulated into a proxy war. Even here though, the role of the regime was of primary importance in steering us through.

Briefly Noted

No-Fly Zone: Russia Says It Opposes UN Resolution on Syrian Barrel Bombs, because “especially at this very delicate moment we should not jeopardize the efforts that are being undertaken in Vienna.” Yes, the Russian UN Ambassador actually mouthed these words. And they make a lot of Putinist sense, don’t they? We should not condemn killing, because this might jeopardize our peacemaking.
Syria: Obama authorizes boots on ground to fight ISIS. Fifty are not enough, and an administration that has just sent 300 troops to Cameroon to fight Boko Haram knows it well. So, if the administration is serious about making a difference on the battle field, much more should follow soon, several thousands in fact. President Obama may not have foreseen such a scenario back in mid-2013, but that has always been his main problem here: his total lack of foresight. Indeed, at a time when we need leaders with strong intuitive capacities, we have Obama a man who, in the parlance of Meyers Briggs Test, is an ISTJ (introvert, sensing, thinking, judging) – which would make him the 21st Century equivalent of Herbert Hoover, albeit somewhat more eloquent. Anyway, as Stephen Colbert just said in his Late Show monologue, all Obama has to do now is decide who he will be fighting… in Syria, because all his “foreign” policies so far seem reactive and aimed more at combatting his domestic foes.

Nations agree on new Syria talks, but say little about Assad. An assortment of well-positioned little birdies in Vienna told me that the main disagreements witnessed during the meeting are the ones pitting Saudi Arabia and Iran against each other, and that Assad’s fate remain a point of vehement contention. John Kerry’s indecisiveness was a major problem, as he kept telling each side what it wanted to hear reinforcing its views. The Russians held firm to their position that Assad’s fate should be determined at the end not the beginning of the transitional process, and should be left to the Syrian people as part of an internationally monitored election. In other words, all sides stuck to their respective positions, while back in Syria the killing machines keep on churning more deaths. The agreement on a UN-led process that will involve convening meetings between selected members of the opposition and members of the regime, will not stop the fighting. While Kerry speaks of a future “counter-Daesh campaign,” the one the Russians keep conducting keep targeting FSA positions, and keep killing civilians.

Why Obama Should Just Let Putin Have the Mess in Syria “One way or another, the war in Syria will remain a hopeless mess -- best we leave it to Moscow.” It is indeed this kind of sensitivity, humanity, depth of analysis, foresight and moral solidarity that so delicately permeates this particular piece of “advice” that has created the mess in Syria to begin with, and that makes this world such a welcoming haven for all kinds of amoral bastards. Fuck you Emile Simpson! You almost (but not quite) make me hate the Gurkha bag which I received as a gift for speaking at the New Yorker Festival back in 2013. It takes a special kind of asshole to make one hate such a good thing.

Obama’s Syria Strategy Is Doomed to Fail “Containment keeps ISIS small, weak and insignificant. While further large-scale military intervention has the potential to increase the turmoil in the region.” Advocates of containment forget about the fate of so many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, who will be forced to live under ISIS rule, or in camps because they cannot go back home. From a more practical angle though, what does containment really mean? Accepting ISIS in its current borders? That should make ISIS leaders quite happy, and quite wealthy and, therefore, capable of exporting mayhem. Taking a few main cities away from them? But that will require ground troops, which brings us back full circle to the issue of America’s involvement. This is not about mission creep, it’s about the mission itself which needs to focus on defeating ISIS, and unseating Assad, one way or another. And the lesson we should learn for the future is to never the enormity of a certain challenge to lull us into inaction and willful blindness. Meanwhile, the Russians are battling with their own fears of mission creep.

Iranian-American Executive Arrested in Iran “Siamak Namazi’s arrest adds to signs that hard-liners are trying to block foreign investors in wake of nuclear deal.” What foreign investors are hard-liners trying to block? How many European and Asian investors are currently rotting in Iranian prisons as part of this hard-liners-led campaign? I think the hard-liners just want to block American investors in particular, even as they court European ones. Their ideology trumps America as the symbol of everything they hate about the modern world but their interests necessitate doing business with those deemed as the lesser evil. 

Indonesia is burning. So why is the world looking away? “The fires are destroying treasures as precious and irreplaceable as the archaeological remains being levelled by Isis… It’s not just the trees that are burning. It is the land itself… Why is this happening? Indonesia’s forests have been fragmented for decades by timber and farming companies. Canals have been cut through the peat to drain and dry it. Plantation companies move in to destroy what remains of the forest to plant monocultures of pulpwood, timber and palm oil. The easiest way to clear the land is to torch it. Every year, this causes disasters. But in an extreme El Niño year like this one, we have a perfect formula for environmental catastrophe.”

Then there is that: UN caused food poisoning in Syria with moldy old cookies: watchdog. And this: MSF: Syrian airstrikes hit multiple hospitals, 35 dead, 72 wounded. And this: Syrian refugee children work Beirut streets to support families. And this: Tragedy of two Syrian girls in Denmark, where Danish authorities’ delay tactics on cases of family reunion seem responsible for driving the two girls to commit suicide.  

Lax Americana

Many have been arguing of late that Pax Americana has finally come to an end or is in the process of collapsing. But while some tried to identify the causes and others the consequences, some sought to cast blame, it was all Obama’s doing, or Bush’s doing, while others rued the lack of an alternative, or tried to obfuscate blame by depicting the current retrenchment that contributed greatly to the momentum by casting it as a necessary, wise and inevitable step.

Personally, I find the case to be overstated and the guilt collective and to be borne by all administrations since the end of the Cold War. I also believe that there is nothing to gloat about or celebrate, that is, if one cares about peace, freedom, justice and dignity, you know, the things that make this world a habitable place, for the consequences of the end of Pax Americana are dire for all: the absence of a better alternative is opening the gateway to mayhem and chaos: Afghan, Iranian, Russian, Chechen, Saudi and Tunisians, among others, killing each other in Syria, and Colombians et al. fighting in Yemen.


Long ago, when I was younger and even more pretentious than now, I wrote a series of blogposts in which I tried to come to terms with the nature of the developments unfolding at the time ad their future implications. Here are some excerpts that seem to retain their relevance somehow:

The source of future troubles for the world, troubles that can indeed threaten the very continuity of modern civilization, no matter how one defines it: Western, Christian, Secular, or simply human, is not terrorism per se, and is not simply the resentment that peoples of the underdeveloped world harbor towards more developed countries as some do indeed assert. Nor does it squarely lie in the triumphalist attitude exhibited by the peoples and governments of developed countries - in that sense of hubris that imbues all of their actions and modes of address vis-à-vis everything “other.” Rather, the main problem lies in the fact that a sense of common destiny has not been reached yet by the majority of peoples and governments on earth.

For while the inhabitants of the developed world seem to revel in their imagined “victory” over the rest of the world, the inhabitants of the underdeveloped world continue to wallow in their seeming ignominy and all too real frustration, blaming all their misery on their rich neighbors.

Everybody is still caught up in that all too familiar worldview that pits “us,” however we define ourselves, against “them,” however we define them. This at a time when all ideologies have failed, and/or are failing, and all borders are becoming increasingly meaningless and artificial.

The Arab-Israeli Conflict, among many other ongoing conflicts in the world today, may indeed encapsulate this tendency: the failure of ideologies in this instance and the artificial nature of the borders involved being all too demonstrable. Still, the tendency itself transcends regional conflicts and is quite global in both essence and character. This is evident even from a casual consideration of the ongoing US-led global anti-terrorism campaign, with all the controversies and dilemmas it is provoking, and the way in which a saintly in-God-we-trust America is pitted against a declared axis of well-nigh inexhaustible evil. Or, looking at it from the point of view of Osama Bin Ladin and his sympathizers, the way an evil and greedy superpower is trying to impose its ways and pursue its interests at the expense of the inhabitants of the Muslim World, its peoples and its cultures.

Such mentalities: triumphalist on the one hand, victimary on the other, cannot and will not, in their nature, be accommodative of the needs, desires, points of view and aspirations of the other side, no matter how legitimate and human they happen to be. The same goes for the accursed progeny of these mentalities: globalization and modernism in the first instance, terrorism and fundamentalism in the other.

For globalization, as a project for the not so distant future, seems pretty much to occur concomitantly with the process of leveling: that is the process of creating smaller and smaller, and hence more controllable, entities out of existing states, with the pretension that this is being done in order to accommodate various ethnic and sectarian aspirations. The main problem with this project is that the prosperity, if not the very survival, of the smaller entities will always be dependent on their ability to service the needs of, and accept the role assigned to them by the project leaders, the emerging larger blocks, chiefly: the EU and North America. As such, these smaller entities will always live at the mercy of the larger blocks and will never have the chance to mount any serious challenge to their global domination. These are the real lessons of the US-led intervention in the Former Yugoslavia, and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And while globalization pits smaller entities against larger blocks, modernism pits ways of life and modes of thoughts against each other, by giving absolutely no chance for the possibility of accommodating any piece of existing traditions, and by precluding the very possibility of analyzing traditional culture with the aim of actually learning from it and probing and absorbing what is actually useful in it. This is so simply because modernism seems to posit its values as a new faith system. In a sense, then, it is not modern at all. It is, in fact, an extension of the very traditional system of thought it claims to replace, with some of the terms having been changed and new ones introduced and adopted. …

… Be that as it may, the American Empire is the first empire in human history to be so globally dominant. Indeed, and regardless of any pretensions it makes, fails to make, or are made on its behalf, the Empire is already universal in terms of its influence. No prior imperial venture in history stood so unopposed before and exerted such a universal sway over global events and cultures. This, and we seem to be only at the beginning of its universal phase!
So what will happen when this Empire implodes? Will there be global chaos, or will a new Empire simply emerge out of the rubble? If so, what sort of Empire will it be?

While chaos is always a possibility that can impose itself at any given moment in time, it should be clear by now that the civilizational impetus/drive/momentum/ etc., has permanently shifted to the "West." As such, whatever new Empire is destined to emerge upon the implosion, or simply the downsizing, of the American Empire, it will still have to be described, due to its very nature, as Western. Human unity will continue to be worked out through the institutions and the political, economic and, even, socio-cultural framework of Western Civilization. In this process, the "Orient," indeed, has nothing left to offer except for its people, some remaining material resources and, perhaps, few spiritual hints.

These assertions, which might sound too categorical and prejudicial to some, come in fact as reflections of certain new geo-environmental realities. The continuing ecological degradation of the "Orient," its population explosion and the continuing hold of Medievalist traditions and thought patterns on the minds (and psyche) of its peoples have all combined to create a situation whereby civilization can no longer be fashioned/produced/assembled/etc. out of indigenous resources.

Civilization is, indeed, a luxury, item. It is a byproduct of leisure. People who are consumed with the search for the anthropological and psychological basics of food, shelter and security (both material and cultural) are, simply put, incapable of producing civilization.

Quote of the Day

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”  --Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

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Video(s) of the Day

GoPro lets you feel what it means to be a rescue worker in Syria.

Artistic Delirium

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