From Belletrist to Blogger: What progress, and the internet, has done to public intellectualism

I wrote this essay on my personal blog, but when it was retweeted by Adam Elkus, our old friend of Rethinking Security, I thought maybe the (remnant) audience here might appreciate it, or have some feedback.

From Belletrist to Blogger: What progress, and the internet, has done to public intellectualism

Basically, the argument is that the internet’s ability to fragment audiences has negatively impacted the role of public intellectuals. For what do you call a public intellectual without an audience?

Further to this, I would ask our esteemed readership who they look to for their public intellectualism these days. I have a few on my list (some of whom I mention in the post), but I fear they might be part of a dying breed.

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Are the Gulf Countries “Realist Anomalies”?

Stephen Walt, writing in Foreign Policy, is titled “The curious case of small Gulf states” and asks if the UAE, along with countries such as Qatar, Bahrain, and Brunei are realist anomalies:

The puzzle is this: How is it possible for very small, very rich, yet militarily weak countries to retain their independence? Why haven’t rapacious great powers or greedy neighbors gobbled these countries up long ago, and seized all that valuable oil and gas for themselves? If the world is as dog-eat-dog as realists depict, why are these states still in business?

There are several possible explanations. The most obvious is that these states have enjoyed great power protection for a long time, originally from Great Britain and subsequently from the United States. Their rulers have accommodated their protectors in most ways, in exchange for implicit or explicit security guarantees. In short, realism does explain a lot of why these states have survived: It was in the interests of some powerful countries to keep them safe and secure.

But why didn’t Britain or the United States take these places over and keep all that oil wealth for themselves?

That’s an interesting questions, but I don’t agree with his answer:

Simple. It turned out to be easier to let local elites run these societies, instead of turning them into sullen and resentful colonies. In the British case, moreover, the emergence of the Gulf as a major oil-producing center coincided with Britain’s imperial decline, signified by the Suez debacle in 1956 and the decision to withdraw military forces east of Suez in 1967. So Britain was in no position to take these places over anyway.

The United States has never been a very enthusiastic colonial power, and U.S. leaders wisely preferred to exercise influence indirectly and keep U.S. ground forces out of the region. As the experiments with “dual containment” in the 1990s (which helped fuel the rise of al Qaeda) and the invasion of Iraq in 2003 showed, getting too heavily engaged trying to run the region directly is not something the United States is very good at. Nor was it necessary.

Actually if either Britain or the US had the imperial will to control the states, they could have done so easily. And had world leaders in the 1960s and 1970s have known that Abu Dhabi and Qatar would hold such wealth today, they might well have done just that.

The second reason is also not quite convincing:

A second reason for the peculiar stability of the Gulf is the absence of a regional great power with the capacity to absorb the others, which in turn makes it possible for balance-of-power politics to work. The Shah of Iran did some minor muscle-flexing and territorial expansion in his day, but he never made a grab for any of his oil-rich neighbors. Saddam Hussein is the exception that proves the rule, and look what happened to him. Moreover, the militarily weak but oil-rich Gulf states all understand that trying to gain more wealth at someone else’s expense was both unnecessary and bad for business.

I think that the Persian Gulf War that kicked Iraq out of Kuwait was critical in preserving this illusion that powerful states cannot invade and rule weaker, smaller countries. Stopping Iraq made an invasion seem too risky. If Saudi Arabia – or Iran – were to, say, take over a country such as Bahrain, countries such as Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE would look much more vulnerable.

The third reason why these states retain their independence is the norm of sovereignty. It may be an accident of geology that the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, and others ended up with so much wealth underneath their soil, but once a country’s government and borders have been recognized by others, the status quo takes on a life of its own and efforts to overturn it face an uphill fight. Saddam Hussein tried to convince the world that Kuwait was Iraq’s “19th province” in order to make his invasion seem more legitimate, but nobody bought the argument and his invasion was seen as naked aggression. Because altering borders via force has become less and less legitimate over time, states can be really rich and really vulnerable and still be somewhat protected.

This is, I think, the core issue. Self-rule for sovereign states is just accepted as being the norm. Baring a major game-changing event, no one wants to go and take over a country. And the Persian Gulf War in 1991 made the adventure seem too risky.

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Big Things Have Small Beginnings

What led to the revelation of the affair that brought down General Patraeus? Turns out it was a Lebanese-American Florida housewife

Jill Kelley, a 37-year-old mother of three, became close with the disgraced for CIA director when he was serving at nearby MacDill Air Force Base between 2008 and 2010.

Mrs Kelley served as an unpaid, unofficial social liaison for U.S. Central Command, which Petraeus led at the time, and was reportedly a fixture at parties among the top brass — along with her husband Scott, a prominent cancer surgeon.

Petreaus biographer Paula Broadwell, revealed to be his mistress, sent harassing emails to Mrs Kelley that said ‘I know what you did,’ ‘back off’ and ‘stay away from my guy,’ a source told the New York Post.

Mrs Kelley responded by calling the FBI, which stumbled on Broadwell’s affair when agents examined her email account and found steamy exchanges with Petraeus.

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CA patron saint Robert D. Kaplan has an official home on the web! Check out to learn about his history, see all his articles and books, and to contact his assistant.

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Interview with Edward Luttwak

Interview here with the always wise and insightful Edward Luttwak.

A rather humorous selection:

There have been many different explanations given over the past 10 years for the strength of the American-Israeli relationship, ranging from the idea that Israel has the best and most immediately deployable army in the Middle East, to the idea that a small cabal of wealthy and influential Jews has hijacked American foreign policy.
You mean the Z.O.G.? The Zionist Occupied Government?

Personally, from an emotional point of view, myself, as me, I prefer the Z.O.G. explanation above all others. I love the idea that the Zionists have sufficient power to actually occupy America, and through America to basically run the world. I love the idea of being a member of a secretive and powerful cabal. If you put my name Luttwak together with Perle and Wolfowitz and you search the Internet, you will get this little list of people who run the American government and the world, and I’m on it. I love that.

Anytime you need an added jolt of ego gratification, you open your laptop and confirm the fact that you rule the world.
In Pakistan, there are millions of people who go to schools where they are taught that I am the ruler of the universe. So, emotionally speaking, I would explain everything that happens by referring to the Z.O.G., the Zionist Occupied Government, which is run by a small cabal of people, and that I am one of them.

Now, if I’m forced to actually think about this question, I would say that the cleanest analytical way of understanding the American-Israeli relationship is to say that the post-1945 career of the United States as a world-meddling, imperialist power has forced Americans to be very foreign-oriented. Many American families have had their sons killed overseas, and many other Americans have become foreign-oriented for many reasons. Among them there is a group of Christians who read the Bible, who believe in the Bible to some degree as a document that registers God’s will. For them, Israel is the proof of the truth of the Bible. Hence, the notion that the United States should be supporting rather than opposing Israel has now become expected, which was absolutely not true in 1948 when the United States did every possible thing to prevent the existence of Israel by systematically intercepting arms flows to the Jews.

Therefore, if we in the Z.O.G. didn’t really run everything, and there was no Zionist influence, then this solid mass of foreign-aware Americans, who also happen to be Bible-believers—we’re talking 50 million people—to them, the only foreign policy that counts is America’s support for Israel. Period.

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History of Tokyo subway lines map

History of Tokyo subway lines map

Shared by +Andrew Wright

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Genocide in Sudan, Part 2? The Worst Case Scenario for Southern Sudan Independence

Sudan is scheduled to be cleaved in two, as previously posted on here, here and here. While many are celebrating this as a great move for freedom, the problem from the beginning has been deciding where Southern Sudan begins, as I noted in a previous post:

But where exactly is Southern Sudan? This is the bigger question that most news articles trumpeting the referendum are ignoring. The new border has not yet been precisely drawn, and beyond the local squabbles over grazing rights and water rights is the larger issue as the border will become the new border between Black Africa and the Arab World. The geographical margin is small, but any doubt leaves open the possibility of local violence that could mushroom into something much worse. The key hotspot is Abyei, a town located on the western most light blue box on the map below, and which is representative of a larger problem in what is increasingly likely to be a demarcation creating a new country in Southern Sudan.

There have been several reports over the past week about fighting erupting in multiple spots across the border. Abyei appears to be the most contested area, but there are stories of violence in a number of villages. And the United Nations Peacekeeping Force has a mandate that expires next month upon the scheduled independence of Southern Sudan, with Northern Sudan insisting that they leave by then. There is a proposal for an Ethiopian force to take its place.

The latest reports are that Sudan — which may soon be known as “Northern Sudan” — is gathering its forces near the disputed territories, and also reports that there could be genocide all over again in the border territories in the attempt to limit the territory that becomes Southern Sudan. As evidence that this is already occurring, the New York Times quotes a report that tens of thousands are fleeing, mass graves containing thousands of bodies have been found, and vigilante (or government forces) are going door-to-door in bordertowns to carry out executions on the spot.

So Sudan’s independence is not as smooth as some had expected, and as warned on these pages more recently. Independence — now scheduled for less than a month away — is not going to be easy.

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RIP Patrick Leigh Fermor

One of Robert Young Pelton’s favourite authors — and I am certain referenced by Robert Kaplan — Britain’s greatest travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor has died. He was eulogized this week by none other than Christopher Hitchens.

UPDATE: Kaplan on Fermor in the NYT.

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Expanding the GCC

I previously described the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) as the future EU of Arabia. It is certainly the most successful multinational cooperative body outside the EU, and is made up of the six monarchies of the Gulf: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, and Oman. 25 May 2011 will mark the 30th anniversary of the organization’s founding.

For years there has been discussion that Yemen, the poorer republic to the south, could become a member state. And after the fall of Saddam, there was further discussion that Iraq could become a member as well. But both these candidate states have always seemed unlikely to me — they are republics that overthrew their monarchs, with larger and significantly poorer populations that make it an uneasy fit with the rest of the GCC.

But there has been much speculation in the news recently that the GCC could expand to include Jordan and Morocco. Jordan has officially submitted an application to become a member, and there is support and guidance for Morocco to submit an application soon.

There has been some criticism in international papers that the new members confirm the GCC as a club of monarchies. This could also increase the likelihood that democratic reformers inspired by Egypt and Tunisia will be subject to a Bahrain-like transnational army stopping protesters. But certainly Jordan stands to reap great economic benefits by tying up with the rich countries of the Gulf.

Endnote: Interestingly, a number of Gulf women fear that the admission of Jordan and Morocco to the GCC will result in the local men looking for wives in the two countries. With all the barriers for women in the Gulf countries to marry foreigners when compared to few restrictions on the men, an estimated 25% of men in the UAE are married to foreigners, causing a serious problem that has brought the spinster rate to as high as 30+%.

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Osama’s Will, Arabic Names, and Romanization of Arabic

Osama’s “Will” was recently released by a Kuwaiti newspaper. The title of the document is misleading — a will, as a document that distributes assets and property, is not recognized in Islam, as inheritance must take place in accordance with Shariah principles. The document is in fact a final message to his children (not to join Al Qaeda) and wives (don’t remarry!). It was written in December 2001 — when Osama was on the run in Afghanistan and when he thought he might be killed. Notably, there is no message or mention of people such as Mullah Omar or Ayman Al Zawahiri, his comrades in arms in Afghanistan.

You can read an English translation of the will here. But without further commenting, reading the signing name, I thought this would be a good chance to introduce Arabic names. Osama signed the will as:

Abu Abdullah Osama bin Muhammad bin Laden

He is referred to in the Western press as Osama bin Laden? What do all the other names mean?

Arabic Names
On birth, in most Arabic countries that I’m familiar with, children are given one name. Osama bin Laden was named Osama at birth, and that was probably the only given name written on his birth certificate.

Osama’s father was Mohammed, so his name is extended to “bin Mohammed” (“ibn” is also used in place of “bin”). In some cases, the grandfather’s name will included as well. In some countries such as in the Levant, neither are used, resulting in a string of names.

(Other official spellings of his name are “Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden” — Awad being his paternal grandfather.)

Bin Laden is the family name — unusual, in that it begins with “Bin”. A common beginning of tribal and family names in the Arab world is “Al”.

What about the first name, “Abu Abudallah”? When a man has a son in Arabic, he adopts that as part of his name used with friends. As Osama’s son was named Abdullah (after then-crown prince of Saudi Arabia Prince Abdullah), he adopts the name “Abu Abdullah.”

So if I was to Arabize my own name, it would be George bin Alfred Al Curzon — and as I had three daughters, some friends might call me Abu Mary. (Just remember that’s Sheikh George bin Alfred Al Curzon when addressing me properly.)

Arabic Romanization
Osama Bin Laden is also written as Usama or Bin Ladin, among other variants. That’s because Arabic has no unified system of romanization. Unlike Japanese, which has two or three majority schools of romanization used by various institutions, in Arabic, it’s a free-for-all when it comes to spelling in English. This causes all sorts of problems in today’s English-centric globalized world, as you can read about in more detail here.

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