Apparently my post from December 7 “Quick thoughts on Mayor Pete’s 2008 Somaliland vacation and related op-ed” has gotten shared on Facebook and otherwise linked by people with both an aggressive left and aggressive right position as to the U.S. presidential election to the point that I thought it was worth coming back to note that my intention is for this blog to be nonpartisan. I am not a member of a political party at present and am not intending to give any advice here about who anyone should vote for in any of the primaries.
One specific thing that people seem to miss is that in 2007-2008 there was regular direct commercial air service between Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Hargeisa, Somaliland. So visiting Hargeisa was not some daunting overland journey or even some exotic series of “puddle jumps”. Again, there was an issue involving permission by the United States Government for United States Government employees and contractors to travel to the country which did not have formal government recognition, even though the United States was funding some aid programs, such as the one I and other International Republican Institute staff managed from our East Africa office in Nairobi and then with a satellite office in Hargeisa opening in the spring of 2008.
Somaliland Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Hargeisa
Buttigieg’s co-author in the New York Times op-ed from their brief visit to Somaliland was working for the World Bank in Addis and thus conveniently located for a quick trip.
Traveling to and from Hargeisa from Nairobi did require us to overnight in Addis where the Meles Zenawi government had staged a major crackdown on political opposition in the context of the contentious 2005 election and kicked out U.S. democracy assistance organizations including IRI and arrested lots of political dissenters. Thus, walking around the streets in Addis was for me, at least, a tenser environment than what I experienced in Hargeisa, although not quite to the level of Khartoum at that general time. (I never visited Somalia as NDI had the programs there and as best I recollect no commercial air flights were then scheduled into Mogadishu which was still impacted by the early years of the present war with al-Shabaab.)
In fact, see this 2010 Foreign Policy piece from Nathaniel Myers, Buttigieg’s co-author on Somaliland: “Ethiopia’s Democratic Sham“.
I highly commend to my friends who are Africanists or African, or Americans who have not been directly involved in the “national security” professions, a short op-ed piece today from Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.):
The immediate policy debate in Washington being addressed is consideration of reductions to AFRICOM to be redeployed in support of the Trump Administration’s National Security Strategy of greater emphasis on “Great Power Competition” relative to “Violent Extremism”/”Global Terrorism” so Adm. Stavridis provides an “ionospheric” look at the Continent and its future in support of his argument.
Adm. Stavridis retired from the Navy in 2013 after an extremely accomplished career. He served as Commander of the U.S. Southern Command from 2006 to 2009, then served as Commander of the European Command and Supreme Allied Commander. The perspective of a recent former SOUTHCOM and EUCOM Commander on AFRICOM is clearly invaluable to understanding that way of seeing the world.
Stavridis graduated from the Naval Academy in 1976 and climbed the ladder as a distinguished Surface Warfare Officer, along with UN/NATO deployments to Bosnia and Haiti in the 1990s. He ultimately commanded the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group “conducting combat operations in the Arabian Gulf in support of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom”.
Along the way, he did his PhD in International Relations at Tufts, along with other graduate degrees from Tufts, and the National and Naval War College. After retirement he served as the Dean of Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. So he is simply put a superstar by background and experience.
Today he is the Operating Executive for The Carlyle Group, the famous global defense-focused equity fund [NASDAQ: CG] and the Chair of the “Board of Counselors” of McClarty Associates, the famous Washington-based global consulting firm [“We know diplomacy; We provide diplomatic solutions”].
By way of disclosure, I retired from 12+ years as a defense industry lawyer working primarily in Navy shipbuilding around the time Stavridis retired from the Navy. I was on unpaid “public service leave” for my East Africa democracy assistance work at the International Republican Institute. So Stavridis’ perspective is all “second nature” for me but will not be intuitive to those from other places and backgrounds.
[Longtime readers or those who otherwise follow Kenyan elections closely might remember that McClarty Associates Vice Chairman John Negroponte was Deputy Secretary of State during the 2007-08 election crisis in Kenya. Negroponte met with representatives of the ODM opposition seeking release of the embargoed USAID-funded International Republican Institute exit poll done with the University of California, San Diego, showing an Odinga win. I learned through FOIA that Kalonzo Musyoka met with Negroponte the same day:
The Kalonzo-Negroponte meeting was the same day as U.S. Senate hearings on the Kenyan election, lobbying by ODM with IRI and Negroponte for release of the USAID/IRI exit poll and that evening’s announcement that IRI found the poll “invalid”. (My FOIA did not result in any documents regarding the ODM-Negroponte meeting.)
From my e-mail to Joel Barkan in 2012:
Kalonzo meeting with Negroponte was in Washington on Feb 7, 08–also included [Kenyan Ambassador] Ogego and a staffer from Kenyan embassy. He said power sharing would be a set back for democracy as Kibaki win was “evident” from review at ECK. Would be willing to step aside as VP for Raila, but the Kenyan people would not support it as it would be “undemocratic”. Kalonzo assured that the violence was now under control, but that the U.S. should continue to call it “ethnic cleansing”. According to Salim Lone interview in Standard back in December ’08 he and ODM delegation met with Negroponte that day to push for release of exit poll before meeting with IRI.
Somalilandsun -After agreements from two meetings between president Muse Bihi Abdi and Opposition parties Wadani and UCID leaders Abdirahman Irro and Eng. Feisal Ali respectively, the fate of parliamentary and local council elections remains in the dark.
The darkness emanates from the still in office new national elections commission NEC that has been disputed by the opposition parties leading to an agreement that the former NEC commissioners be returned to office thence elections sometimes in 2020 as pursued by the international community with a stake in the Somaliland democratization process.
Following the two meetings between the three principle politicians in the country it was agreed that president Bihi shall uphold the agreements to reinstate the former NEC as per elders mediation that had garnered support from the international community.
But despite all arrangements more the 10 January date in which the president promised to finalize the issue nothing has been done and the status remain the same notwithstanding numerous visits and meets with senior IC diplomats the latest being the UN SRSG to Somaliland and Somalia Amb James Swan.
While the commitment to 10 January was hailed as a conclusive decision failure to implement anything returns the country to the days of political tensions.
A statement released this week from the Minister of Information states that the Government concluded following the agreement among the parties that legal authority was lacking for either the President or Parliament to effect the negotiated agreement and replace the existing membership of the National Election Council. The Government argues the only way to proceed would be to call for voluntary resignations which is reportedly not acceptable to the other parties.
Somaliland has now been functionally independent almost as long as it was part of the independent Republic of Somalia following independence from the UK and joinder with the former Italian Somalia. I agree that once parliamentary elections are finally held it would be wise for the US and the UK to step up a concerted diplomatic effort to facilitate with the UN and AU a durable resolution of Somaliland’s status and relationship with the federal Somali government in Mogadishu and the regional government in Puntland. This will have to include resolution of the Suul and Sonaag borders and at least a mechanism to address mineral rights issues.
The diplomatic task will never be easy with the passions involved but I think the effort is timely now with a balance of progress in the South and the risk of some unexpected disruption to the status quo from waiting too long. The move of the Gulf Cooperation Council to establish a Red Sea security initiative without reference to Somaliland, while others have supported national maritime security efforts by Somaliland is an example highlighting the growing potential for international misunderstandings as the Horn region attracts growing outside interest.
Following the post-election negotiations between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga during December 2017 – March 2018, culminating in the famous March 9, 2018 “handshake” between the two, Kenyans have witnessed a prolonged period of political stasis in which Kenyatta has run the Government as he sees fit without opposition and former Prime Minister Odinga and Deputy President Ruto and their factions have carried on their 2022 campaigns.
We now have a 150+ page published report from the Government of Kenya representing the work product of a dual team of insiders for the two “sides” (Raila/ODM and Uhuru) making various recommendations for political governance issues as are always “on the table” in “post-Colonial” Kenya.
Formally, this has been called the “Building Bridges Initiative” implemented by the “Building Bridges to Unity Advisory Taskforce” and has incorporated the usual process of donor supported public “input” sessions around the country to “popularize” the process, the teams of insiders and what they will agree on and eventually announce.
The adjustments proposed from the public comments and news so far appear to be relatively nondramatic and reflect what one would expect for an elite consensus process where the primary issue is the adjustment of interests among those at the table.
I was pleasantly surprised by the previous statements from the State Department both from Washington and in Nairobi, calling for “national dialogue” in the wake of Kenya’s fraught and objectionably violent environment in the wake of the boycotted October 26 presidential re-run.
Inthe latest release from Washington on December 4 the State Department said “the Acting Assistant Secretary will travel to Nairobi, Kenya from December 4-6, where he will meet with representatives of the Kenyan government, as well as with Kenyan civil society. The visit will encourage all sides in Kenya to participate in anational dialoguefollowing the presidential election.” (emphasis added)
Today, however, following the talks, anew statement was issued–by the Ambassador–backing off from the language “national dialogue”. Instead, along with a call for Odinga drop a “people’s swearing in”, and a generic call for protesters to avoid violence and the Government’s security forces to avoid unnecessary killing and to investigate themselves on the outstanding accusations that they had been doing so, the State Department now recommends a “national conversation”.
Why is this different? Well, you would have to ask the Embassy or Main State Department and/or the White House why they changed the language, but “national dialogue” is a clear reference to the formal process resulting from the February 2008 settlement agreement between Kibaki and Raila leading to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report (censored and held in abeyance by the Uhuruto Administration–an issue in the August election), the Kriegler Commission on the 2007 Election (leading to the buyout of the Kivuitu led ECK), the Waki Commission on the Post Election Violence (leading to the aborted ICC prosecutions) and constitutional reform process that led to the 2010 Referendum adopting the new Constitution which mandates the 2/3 gender rule (declined so far), diaspora voting (mostly declined so far), devolution (in process), and such. A “national conversation” is a nice notion and probably a good thing to do here in the United States as well as anywhere else culturally divisive politics.
October 11, 2019 (Washington D.C.) — Today, the United States placed sanctions on Ashraf Seed Ahmed Hussein Ali, widely known as Al-Cardinal, a tycoon with ties to the U.S., UK, and UAE.
Today’s action by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) target Al-Cardinal and his network of businesses, and come in the wake of two recent investigative reports by The Sentry “The Taking of South Sudan” and “Al-Cardinal: South Sudan’s Original Oligarch,” that detailed the business activities of Al-Cardinal, among others, and urged governments to sanction him and his networks.
. . . .
Joshua White, Director of Policy and Analysis at The Sentry, said: “The Sentry applauds today’s action by the Department of the Treasury, which should serve as a warning to the financial facilitators and commercial enablers of corrupt South Sudanese elites that they will lose access to the dollar unless they cease doing business that funds violence in the country. The United Kingdom and other European countries, as well as those in the region, should follow suit . . .
. . . .
The Sentry’s investigation found that Al-Cardinal has exploited opaque procurement processes, weak oversight institutions, and cozy relationships with South Sudan’s most powerful politicians to line his own pockets.
“A major enabler of corruption and violence for President Salva Kiir’s government,” according to the The Sentry’s reporting, Al-Cardinal has been embroiled in major procurement scandals, set up private businesses with ruthless military generals, imported military equipment during a bloody civil war and landed lucrative contracts linked to the implementation of the peace deal in South Sudan.
The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on two South Sudanese businessmen, Ashraf Seed Ahmed Al-Cardinal and Kur Ajing Ater, for their involvement in bribery, kickbacks and procurement fraud with senior government officials, the Treasury Department said on Friday.
After the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Benjamin Bol Mel, a key adviser to the South Sudanese president, in 2017, Mel used an account in the name of the companies of Al-Cardinal to evade sanctions and store personal funds, the Treasury Department said in a statement.
In early 2019, the South Sudanese government paid millions of dollars to a company owned by Al-Cardinal ostensibly for food, but that in fact was routed to senior South Sudanese government officials, the Treasury Department said. . . .
On October 2, Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy, the top U.S. diplomat assigned to Africa, conducted a post-UN General Assembly telephonic press briefing and availability for journalists in various Embassies on the continent. Read the full transcript here.
There were a striking number of questions about Sudan and South Sudan, but I thought this was most pertinent:
QUESTION:Okay, I can talk? All right, my name is Emmanuel from Eye Radio in Juba. I believe Mr. Tibor, you have come across the recent report that was released recently by The Sentry about implicating some South Sudanese top government officials and actually come out with recommendations to the U.S. government, so what is your current recommendations?
ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY:Thanks very much for raising that. Because I know the people involved in The Sentry very well. As a matter of fact, one of the key people John Prendergast, I have known and respected for a very long time. Our Department of State, U.S. government, we welcome the Sentry’s efforts to bring light to corrupt practices in South Sudan. We know for a long time that there’s been quite a relationship between corruption and conflict, unfortunately. Innocent people have suffered. The United States will very carefully review the material presented and the recommendations in The Sentry report and as you all know, the United States of America maintains the right to use all of the tools available whether diplomatic or whether financial or anything else to respond.
Right now there are allegations, they’re very serious allegations but they do require some careful analysis, evaluation and investigation. Thank you very much, over and out.
So before the “over and out” Asst. Sec. Nagy does commit the US to “very carefully review the material presented and the recommendations” but it is a bit ambiguous as to whether he is committing the US to the next step of “investigation” that he says is “required” since he characterizes the report’s findings as “allegations”.
My gut reaction is to think of Asst. Sec. Nagy as someone who would like us to conduct ourselves well when it comes to underwriting the type of conduct outlined in The Sentry report (although I don’t know him at all nor was I familiar before he was tapped for this job from retirement). At the same time, you don’t make a life as a diplomat without learning to carefully say very little and make it sound like it is more for those who want something enough to hear it. So, how quickly will we do our review/analysis/evaluation? What will we do next? How quickly will we investigate? Will we send the FBI? Career Justice Department prosectors? Alternatively, the Attorney General?
(The end of this post has been revised to reflect skepticism about an allegation by Kenya’s Minister of Natural Resources in 1998 that land for Windsor was irregularly allocated to Michuki from Karura Forest based on the geographic separation between Windsor and the Forest. Not a central issue, but I want to be as fair as possible.)
This very interesting piece of diplomatic and development history is noted in a recent oral history interview by a former USAID official, Kiertisak Toh, which I have introduced and excerpted below. I have not found reference in the Kenyan or U.S. media to the USAID role in this high profile development started in 1988.
But as the country’s internal security minister, his hands were covered in blood. He was implicated inmass extrajudicial killingsin 2007, in which hundreds of young Kenyan men were shot in the back of the head or bludgeoned to death for their alleged involvement in the Mungiki organised crime gang. And in 2006 Mr Michuki made a fool of himself by bringing to Kenyaa pair of Armenian gangstersto shut down newspapers and television critical of the government. Since then, the country’s media have operated more or less freely.
To many Mr Michuki was a bridge to an older Africa. The space between tribal traditions and the palatial Windsor Golf Club, which Mr Michuki built at the north end of Nairobi, can be measured in his life span. He was born in 1932 into a large polygamous Kikuyu family. Orphaned as a child, Mr Michuki left his rural home for Nairobi. He found work in a uniform shop sewing on buttons before battling his way through primary and secondary school. He was loyal to the crown in its bloody hammering of the Mau Mau insurgency. Choosing the British over his countrymen set him at odds with the founding myth of Kenya, but Mr Michuki was too intelligent and “no nonsense” to let it hinder his career. He won a scholarship to Oxford, and became a district commissioner. He was put in charge of newly independent Kenya’s treasury. He ran the Kenya Commercial Bank and got involved in politics. Like the then attorney-general, Charles Njonjo, Mr Michuki had an Anglophile sense of things “being done properly.”
To Mr Michuku, that meant keeping his buttons polished and being on time, but it did not mean transparency. He was part of the cabal of Kikuyu and Meru politicians, intelligence officers and businessmen who ran a state within a state and turned a blind eye to dodgy land and business dealings. President Mwai Kibaki yesterday called Mr Michuki a “true family friend and a dependable ally.” The shame was that his acuity and vigour were not more often put at the service of the common man. . . .
The Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club is explicitly neocolonial. No one’s heart is going to bleed for the British Royal Family over the cultural appropriation but as an American taxpayer, I feel a bit wretched on learning my “assistance dollars” were used directly instead of just indirectly to subsidize Kenya’s oligarchs in this way. (Disclosure: I have been a member of a private golf club myself, years ago, although I gave it up when I had children. But I am also aware of a variety of laws and regulations in the United States designed to keep governmental development and tax subsidies away from underwriting golf courses, even those that are far less exclusively targeted to the rich than Michuki’s Windsor.) [And, yes, I understand we are spending millions on President Trump’s golf resorts, and I object to that accordingly; that is straightforward self-dealing by our chief executive himself, rather than a misallocation of meagre development resources from poor to rich.]
I highly recommend reading the full Toh oral history interview for anyone interested in understanding the course of relations between Kenya and the United States from the mid-1980s through 2005, as well as one insider’s perspective on the tension between democratization and economic development assistance goals (Toh is an economist by background and initially worked in that capacity for USAID before rising into administration):
USAID/Washington – Program Economist, Africa Bureau/East Africa 1991-1992
USAID/Kenya – Mission Director 2001-2005
. . . .
Q: Well, why don’t you talk- So, this was- you’re in Kenya in 1986 to 1989, so at that point was it a pretty good size program in Kenya, was it one of our premiere programs?
TOH: Yes, it was a high profile and one of the largest programs in Africa with big ESF [Economic Support Funds] money and CIP, Commodity Import Program. We were in the Cold War era. Kenya was considered our geopolitical and strategic partner in the region.
Q: Oh, there was a Commodity Input Program there. Oh, I didn’t realize that.
TOH: And a large- I guess we tried to make the CIP as part of the private sector development program. Kenya at the time had foreign exchange controls which were a barrier to private business to import.
Q: Ah. So, it was a large ESF program. Was that because the U.S. military was using the Port of Mombasa?
TOH: I think so. Q: Yes, okay, so there was a military link to that. So, a large ESF and that was mostly Commodity Import Program?
TOH: Yes, mostly tied to Commodity Import Program. The foreign exchange part of the CIP program provided the balance-of-payments support and the counterpart local currency served as budget support mostly tied to USAID project.
Q: Private sector development. Was the- would imports tied to any sector or anything or were they just broad- do you recall?
TOH: It was broad until 1989 when we turned part (or most, not sure) of the ESF into targeted support for fertilizer imports.
Q: Well, the importers would have been providing the local currency, right? They would have been buying the- in essence buying the dollars?
TOH: In general, we provided the dollars to the Central Bank. The idea was for the government to make it easier for importers to get import licenses and through Central Bank the foreign exchange to pay for imports. The private sector bought the foreign exchange with the local currency, Kenyan shillings, which was deposited in the special accounts at the Central Bank. The local currency legally belonged to the government. But we agreed to program these funds jointly. A big portion of the local currency went to support USAID projects and other private sector development activities..
Q: Right, okay. So, it really was to liberalize then the whole foreign exchange regime?
Q: With the local currency used for private enterprise development, did some of that go into credit programs to the banks, or do you recall? Or some of it budget support to ministries. How would it have been used, do you recall?
TOH: Part of these shillings might have been used to support microenterprise credit and loans to businesses. I remember one of the loans went to an influential Kenyan government official to help finance the Windsor Golf Club. When I went back to Kenya the third time (2001) we tried to clean up the outstanding default loan. I am not sure whether we were able to recover the loan. Our private sector development program, except for the microcredit and the CIP programs, was not well targeted. We kind of followed the “thousand points of light” approach.
Q: Women-owned micro-enterprises, because Kenya had one of the big success stories of microenterprise for women, right? KREP?
TOH: Right, yes. We had a project, I think, that helped KREP, Kenya Rural Enterprise Project. And I still have an account with KREP.
. . . .
Fundamentally, diplomacy and development, though can be complementary, are inherently different in their missions, targets, how success is measured. Diplomacy is about maintaining favorable economic and political relationships abroad; it tends to be short-term orientated and transactional. The mission of development is about saving lives and support for long-term equitable growth and poverty reduction; it tends to be concerned with long-term transformative and sustainable changes. The targets for diplomacy are political leaders and citizens where geostrategic and foreign policy interests are most significant. The targets for development are populations where potential impact on poverty, human suffering, and human development is greatest. The success of diplomacy is measured by the strength of the relationship with the U.S. and support for U.S. political priorities. The success of development is measured by the progress in terms of saving lives, reducing poverty, and enhancing equitable, broad-based economic growth.
There are a lot of interesting items to follow up on here: 1) has the Windsor loan balance been collected or not?; 2) why was this project selected and approved, how much money was involved, etc.? 3) in 1998 Minster of Natural Resources claimed in Parliament that Michuki’s Windsor Golf Hotel and the Belgian Embassy had been irregularly allocated land from Karura Forest, but the Windsor club is not adjacent to the Forest so the allegation does not seem to make sense in that way, but it would be interesting to understand the acquisition of the land. [Note: I have revised this to express skepticism about Lotado’s allegation based on the geography as raised by readers.]
In my last post, I explored the fact that Amb. Kyle McCarter is the United States’ first Ambassador to Kenya to come from a background in elective politics. Because he had just done what seemed to be a well-received television interview I added in introductory material to the original draft to reflect that.
In the aftermath of following the interview with an invitation for questions on Twitter, the Ambassador got drawn into the Kenyan controversy about the Chinese-Kenyan Amu Power coal plant proposed for the Lamu area on the Coast. My sense is that he seemed to respond to a Kenyan political and legal controversy as a politician would in asserting his own opinion and judgment based on his own experience and positions–an easy thing to do on Twitter–in a quite different way than a diplomat would normally react.
In the context of following this discussion, I did a bit of quick updating on the internet of the status of the coal mining industry in Sen. McCarter’s former State Senate district in Illinois. By coincidence I spent some time visiting in the area as a young lawyer back in the 1990s and knew that at that time there was a perception of economic strain associated with a decline in local mining employment. I after going through some history of mining, I found a recent article in a local newspaper about a young mayor of a town in the area responding to the economic circumstances by promoting solar energy in his immediate community. I shared the article with the Ambassador and a Kenyan leader on the citizen fight against corruption in the power generation and resale businesses in Kenya (as opposed to an anti-coal activist or someone otherwise involved in the Lamu case).
The Ambassador responded tartly that coal provided 95% of the power in his region in Illinois, he knew the mines and plants, and that coal was the cleanest and cheapest approach to needed power in the context of the highest environmental standards in the world. Further, he was not inclined to be persuaded by “well paid activists” and that “facts are stubborn things.”
This furthered an impression–hopefully not intended–that the Ambassador was weighing in on the Kenyan legal and policy controversy about the Chinese-Kenyan Amu Power deal.
Likewise, this generated pushback form “Kenyans on Twitter” who felt patronized or insulted, as well as those who have a different view on “macro” issues relating to power generation and environmental issues than they interpreted the Ambassador to have Tweeted. As for me, I had just intended to share an interesting recent news article, without comment, and not to get under anyone’s skin, or debate the philosophy of coal economics in the global context.
One thing is certain with active Twitter use: all of us who Tweet actively will “step in it” sometimes. The Ambassador well knows this because his ultimate voice vote confirmation in the Senate was held up for some months in apparent reaction to a few previous Tweets that generated push back and follow-up. The Ambassador is also representing the United States and has a professional communications staff of public servants to help him.
This is a piece reflecting some partly tongue-in-cheek musing on complex and deadly serious larger questions of “who we want to be” in the world, with specific immediate relevance to the Sudan crisis, Libya and Yemen, along with current issues with Iran that I touched on in my last post.
I decided to subordinate the title and add this preface to make sure that it was clear that I hoped to be taken “seriously but not literally”:
If we replaced Turkey with Saudi Arabia in NATO could we acknowledge the Armenian genocide while cutting hypocrisy on current support for religious freedom versus security interests?
There are a few moving pieces here, but stay with me.
First, we have longstanding unfinished business on simply acknowledging historic fact on the Armenian genocide.
This was a basic premise of the Barack Obama presidential campaign in 2008–the whole “hope and change” versus fear and loathing thing. The whole Samantha Power to lead our Mission to the UN thing. Unfortunately, it got Overcome By Events, along with the notion that Obama’s personal background, “story” and manner would allow him to be a sort of “Christian Islamist Whisperer” to realize the hopes reflected in his June 2009 Cairo “remarks to the Muslim world” from Al-Azhar.
Instead, we have let ourselves be embarrassingly bullied by Turkey. See “For Anniversary of Armenian Genocide Obama Calls It an ‘Atrocity’ Instead“, NYTimes, April 24, 2014: (“Although Mr. Obama called the acts against the Armenians genocide as a presidential candidate in 2008 and vowed to do so once he reached the White House, he again chose not to follow through on his promise for fear of offending Turkey, a NATO ally that denies that the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians constituted genocide. Instead, Mr. Obama implied that he still thought it was genocide even if he did not say so directly.”). To what benefit? While we have and will continue to have some interests in common with the regime in Turkey it is clear that Turkey continues to move away from democratic values, including respect for religious freedom and tolerance at the same time they have made it clear that the security relationship is very situational. What might have made sense during the Cold War when confronting the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact during Turkey’s years of secular authoritarianism make less sense under Turkish Islamism now that even Greece has democratized, the Russians dissolved direct control of the various European and Central Asian republics previously colonized and the Warsaw Pact disbanded in accordance with the collapse of the Iron Curtain.
Of the Islamist governments in the region, it is Saudi Arabia with whom we seem to be mutually committed rather than Turkey. Likewise, in the context of NATO if there is one Western government more committed to the Saudis than we are, it is the UK (London), the other party to our “special relationship”. Selling arms to the Saudis is a “national emergency” for the Trump Administration, and keeping the Saudis off the list of countries using child soldiers just now and earlier certifying that the Saudis were serious about trying to miss civilians in their Yemen bombings join our commitment to “knowing” as little as possible about the Khashoggi murder in demonstrating some extraordinary bond. Just as British “national security” trumped law enforcement by the UK on the BAE bribery in the al-Yamamah deals.
Our relationship with the Saudis predates the formation of NATO and a time of recognition of reality vis-a-vis Turkey may be the time to more formally recognize what the Saudi alliance has now come to be.
By recognizing the Armenian genocide while formally including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in mutual defense obligations, we can show that we disapprove historically of the purging of Christian and other minority religious populations while making clear that our own security as we see it in an immediate sense is our first and foremost priority and that we do not object to exclusivist and repressive Islamist governments that are willing to cooperate militarily and on national security. (And this could be another opportunity for President Trump to cooperate with Kim Kardashian on a policy initiative, as in some criminal justice reforms.)
Amidst the continuing turmoil and instability that touches many parts of the Middle East, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) maintain a fierce rivalry vying for regional and Islamic dominance. Both countries factor prominently into U.S. regional goals and interests as Iran (since its Islamic Revolution in 1979) serves as the preeminent regional threat and adversary to the U.S. while the KSA, in many ways, serves as the centerpiece of U.S. efforts to counter and degrade Iranian influence in the region. As the region’s premiere Islamic rivals, internal social, economic, and political movements within the KSA and the IRI inherently shape and inform U.S. actions and efforts aimed at undermining hostile (IRI) objectives while supporting friendly (KSA) initiatives. U.S. President Trump, for instance, was quick to voice support in early 2018 for protesters in Iran railing against (among other things) perceived regime inaction and contribution to the stagnant Iranian economy. Alternatively, Trump preserved U.S. support to the KSA even after allegations of KSA government involvement in the killing of a prominent and outspoken journalist. Such dynamics underscore how the inner-workings of regional rivals create venues and opportunities for the advancement of U.S. interests confronting regional threats by applying pressure and defining alliances using different elements of national power.
In 2016, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, known as “MBS,” unveiled an ambitious and grandiose plan for economic, cultural, and social change in the Kingdom. In response to a worldwide decline in oil prices that drastically shrunk Saudi cash reserves and simultaneously highlighted the precarious state of the Kingdom’s oil-dependent economy, MBS released “Vision2030”- a sweeping program of reform that aimed to create a vibrant society, build a thriving economy, and establish a culture of ambition within the Kingdom. Motivating these ideas was a desire to increase the privatization of the economy and make Saudi society attractive to foreign investment to diversify the economy and decrease its dependence on oil. Whether explicitly or implicitly, the mechanisms of change that drive the execution of MBS’ Vision2030 rest on the extent to which Western values (namely free-market principles and social liberalism) can be inculcated into a historically conservative and closed society. Given the magnitude of Vision2030’s scope, targeting all of Saudi society, the ideology involved in its execution (incorporating Western values), and the KSA’s geopolitical status as a key U.S. ally against Iranian foreign policy objectives, the implementation and execution of Vision2030 cannot fail but to have far-reaching impacts on both Middle Eastern regional stability in general and U.S. efforts confronting Iran in particular.
In terms of aid, the Trump Administration deserves credit for stepping up some overdue help and attention to minority religious communities beleaguered in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and the rise of al-Queda in Iraq/ISIS. At the same time, they have turned a harder, colder shoulder to accepting immigrants while embracing the exponents of Wahabist ideological expansionism who have done so much harm to pluralism and tolerance even in areas where it once thrived.
Chinese state television is gaining influence in Africa. But while the media outlets involved officially claim their journalism is independent, those who work for the companies tell a different story.
An interview? Or perhaps just a discussion on background? “We have no interest in speaking with you,” Liao Liang writes in an email. And, thank you for understanding, but a visit to his television broadcaster in Nairobi isn’t possible either, he writes. Indeed, the rejection is so complete, it’s as though he is protecting a state secret.
Yet Liao Liang’s mission in the Kenyan capital is hardly confidential: As a senior editor of the China Global Television Network (CGTN), a subsidiary of Chinese state television, his task is that of shining a positive light on his country’s ambitious activities — particularly those in Africa, where China’s reputation has suffered as its footprint has grown.
The broadcaster occupies three floors in the K-Rep Centre, a mirrored-glass high-rise in the upscale neighborhood of Kilimani. The first security check comes right at the building entrance, including a pat-down and questions from the suspicious receptionist. After that, though, there’s no getting by the next receptionist on the third floor. “To be honest,” she says with fake regret, “there is no chance you’ll be allowed to see Mr. Liao.”
Liao Liang is top dog at the broadcaster. He was allegedly an army officer in a previous life, but little else is known about him. CGTN employs around 150 people, including journalists from China, South Africa, Britain, Nigeria and Kenya, yet even when promised anonymity, nobody initially agreed to speak with DER SPIEGEL. “They’re afraid of Liao,” an employee would later say.