Timeline Oman–What Comes After Sultan Qaboos?

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

 

January 10, 2020 marks the passing of Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, the man who led Oman, the “other” Arabic country, for the past fifty years. We say the “other” Arabic country because by the standards of the region, Oman is a peaceful and happy place to live, which is something we can seldom say about that oil-rich corner of the world we call the Middle East. To understand a little about why Oman is not living up to the standards of mayhem and human suffering that most observers take for granted in that part of the world, it’s worth taking a glance at Oman’s history. We’ll do that with a timeline.

 

Image by CIA, public domain

OMAN HISTORICAL TIMELINE

6000 BC

Fire pit evidence indicates that people have arrived in Oman and stayed long enough to make a fire and eat a meal.

 

5000 BC

Non-nomads build fishing villages on the coast of Oman.

 

4500 BC

Pottery is produced in Oman.

 

2500 BC

Omani miners smelt copper, and Omani merchants set up trade with Mesopotamian trade ships. Copper is worth stealing, so concurrent with copper production and trade, large fortress construction starts in Oman to protect both mining and coastal areas.

 

2500 BC – 1300 BC

Oman continues to export copper and increases its boat making and seafaring skills as its neighbors evolve imperial domains such as Samaria and Ur. The increased sea trade to and from the Arabian Gulf benefits Oman.

 

1300 BC

Oman enters its iron age. Trade and wealth increase at a slow, but consistent rate.

 

1000 BC

Oman builds extensive irrigation ditches and, in doing so, becomes more “urban” as villages are able to support higher populations and develop more specialized skills. The irrigation technology may have been obtained from Persian immigrants. Oman begins to produce incense in commercial quantities for export.

 

300 BC

Wealth continues to accumulate in Oman. A classical period begins and sees an increase in commerce and art.

 

150 BC

Triliths are produced with inscriptions that remain undeciphered. The three stone structures are built in the interior of Oman in the frankincense-producing areas.

 

700 AD

Sultan Qaboos Mosque, Moscat, Oman
Image from CanstockPhotos

Bedouin Arabs enter Oman in greater number and bring Islam. Omani scholar Abu al-Sha’tha Jabir ibn Zayd al-Zahrani al-Azdi develops a moderate form of Islam known as “Ibadiyah,” which remains popular in Oman today. The Ibadi Muslims decide that while the Imam enjoys a high degree of control over the people, the people may vote to elect the Imam of their choice. The followers are entitled to impeach an Imam any time they decide to by simply voting to impeach him.

This is a notion that remains repulsive to modern-day Wahabis in Saudi Arabia, Shia junta members in Iran, Taliban thugs in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda and ISIS leaders, and despots of any flavor throughout the world.

This great scholar died in 711 AD, but his birth date is unknown. Thank you Jabir ibn Zayd al-Azid. Your influence is still felt today in Oman and in the Gulf. R.I.P.

 

1500 AD

Portugal becomes interested in the Gulf region and seeks to control trade throughout the area. Portugal uses amphibious tactics to attack, sack, and occasionally capture various ports in southern Arabia and in eastern Africa.

 

1508 AD

Afonso d’Albuquerque conquers the critical port city of Muscat on the coast of Oman.

 

1518 AD

In a well-executed campaign, Afonso captures Hormuz and throttles non-Portuguese trade through the Gulf of Arabia.

 

1650 AD

The Iberian Empire is busy throughout the world and is unable to reinforce Portuguese forces in Oman. The Portuguese are evicted, but they do not all leave. Many Omanis had established cordial relations with the Portuguese, and some of their descendants remain today as a distinct ethnic group in Oman. They are allowed to practice Christianity unmolested by the Islamic majority.

 

1700 AD

The Omani Sultanate is powerful enough to extend its reach and build a large fort on the island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa. Oman becomes a major slave trading area.

Oman builds two distinct cultures. The inland Omanis are more conservative and isolationist, but continue to practice moderate Islam. The coastal Omanis develop a more international view and a more international culture. The differences in culture cause strife at times.

Oman gains a three hundred square mile colony in the Gwadar Peninsula in what is now modern day Pakistan. Gwadar prospers due to pearl diving and a particularly lucrative slave trade that sends Persian and Central Asian women to Arabia for high prices.

 

1815 AD

When Britain tires of Wahabi Arab pirates taking British East India Company ships, Oman and Egypt side with the British and conduct a successful campaign against the Wahabi pirates.

 

1834 AD

Oman has strong, friendly ties with the United States of America as well as Great Britain. President Andrew Jackson has special silver dollars minted for the Sultan of Oman.

 

1840 AD

The Sultan of Oman moves his seat of government to Old Fort in Zanzibar.

During the remainder of the 19th century, questions of dynastic succession and competition between Imams in the interior of Oman keep Oman busy and detract from trade profits.

 

1907 AD

Great Britain heavily influences Omani politics and forces Oman to end the practice of slavery. In the early decades of the 1900s, the more conservative interior Omanis gain a degree of autonomy from the less conservative government of Oman.

 

1954 AD

A new Imam comes to power in the interior of Oman and attempts to reject the central control of the Omani government. With the help of the British, Oman’s central government defeats the Imam in 1957.

In particular, the British Special Air Service made tremendous contributions in dealing with the rebels in the dry mountains of the interior. The Saudi government had clandestinely supported the rebels and continued to do so after their defeat. The Saudis and other Arab states did not abandon the unprofitable effort until the 1980s. Oman will likely not forget the Saudi support for the Islamic rebels for a long time.

 

1964 AD

Soviet-backed rebels operating out of South Yemen attempt to generate a communist rebellion in Oman. The communist rebels prove to be more adept at controlling their Soviet controllers than the controllers are at controlling their insurgents. The rebellion eventually dies in 1975.

 

1965 AD

Oil is discovered in Oman.

 

1967 AD

Oil production begins in Oman.

 

Sultan Qaboos of Oman, May 21, 2013
Image US State Dept., public domain

1970 AD

Qaboos bin Said Al Said conducts a bloodless coup against his father, Sultan Said bin Taimur.

Qaboos was educated in India and England. He was a graduate of Sandhurst Military Academy and, unlike Moammar Gadhafi, the Academy staff remembers Qaboos attending and graduating. Qaboos served in the British Army in a Scottish regiment and was posted to Germany for a year. After leaving the British Army, he continued his studies in England and traveled widely.

Qaboos introduces liberal reforms and forms a council to be elected by business leaders and prominent citizens.

1979 AD

Oman is the only government of an Islamic-majority nation that recognizes Anwar Sadat’s peace treaty with Israel.

 

1984 AD

Oman joins the new Gulf Cooperation Council, along with the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. The forming of the council is symbolic of the Gulf States deciding to bury their differences in favor of a united defense against Iranian military threats.

 

1986 AD

Oman’s first university opens. Emphasis is placed on science and on training teachers and nurses.

 

1990 AD

Sultan Qaboos announces a modern constitution which includes basic human rights for its citizens.

 

1996 AD

A census of Oman indicates a population of about two million.

 

2000 AD

Approximately 100,000 Omanis are allowed to participate in the selection of an 83-member council that will act as a “lower house” in a bicameral central government. Two women are elected. The Sultan selects the 48-member “upper house” and includes five women in the council.

 

2005 AD

An Omani court convicts thirty-one Islamic radicals of attempting a coup.

 

2012 AD

The history of Oman has resulted in a country that, while surrounded by anti-democratic governments and xenophobic cultures, has remained open to outsiders. Oman keeps cordial communications with Iran, and when Western governments wish to speak to the Iranian religious junta, they often do so through Omani diplomats. Western travelers have rarely encountered trouble in Oman. Islamic radicals are a small, shrinking minority and are not well-tolerated by the majority of the people or by the government. Oman makes no effort to stop anyone from practicing any religion. The minority Hindus and Catholics mix socially and professionally with their Islamic neighbors with no sign of segregation or hostilities. Neither the government nor the people of Oman have any interest in Islamic radicalism or any other fad in despotism.

At this point, Oman is a country trying to survive its radical neighbors while preparing itself for the loss of oil revenues that will occur in this decade. It is diversifying its economy. A major natural gas processing plant and port facility is being constructed with the help of British and American engineers. Since Sultan Qaboos came to power, education has grown rapidly, and literacy is at eighty-two percent and rising. Compared to Detroit and many other cities in the United States, these folks are Ivy League elitists.

Under Sultan Qaboos, Oman still had problems with unemployment, but protests were small, involving less than two hundred protesters. On one occasion, at least one protester was killed by a rubber bullet that struck him in the head. Qaboos responded by agreeing to more reforms and more jobs. The protesters in Oman under Qaboos were too few in number, and they did not appear to have any popular support.

 

March 2013 AD

Sultan Qaboos announced pardons for thirty-two anti-government protestor organizers and activists who had been convicted in 2012.

 

May 19, 2014 AD

In a landmark case, Oman’s former commerce minister Muhammad bin Nasir Al-Khusaibi was convicted of corruption. He was sentenced to three years in prison and a one million dollar fine for receiving bribes for construction work on the new Muscat International Airport. Former Omani Undersecretary for Transport and Communication Mohammed Al-Amri was also convicted of corruption concerning the same airport construction fiasco. He was sentenced to prison for three years and fined $3.1 million. For government officials anywhere in the Arabian peninsula to be held accountable for corruption is highly unusual and a hopeful sign for Oman’s future.

August 10, 2016 AD

Three journalists of the private Omani national newspaper Azaman were arrested for publishing an article alleging inappropriate government pressure on judges. The government claimed that the allegations were false and slanderous. Critics saw it as evidence that Oman lacks anything approaching free speech for journalism. Government supporters claimed that the newspaper was engaged in anti-government propaganda on behalf of foreigners. The Western media ignored the case.

 

June 2017 AD

In the midst of Qatar’s continuing political conflict with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, Oman allowed Qatar to use Omani ports to transfer cargo, thus bypassing sea, land, and air transport restrictions imposed on Qatar by its neighboring Gulf States.

 

October 5, 2017

The Omani Supreme Court ruled against the Azaman newspaper and ordered it permanently closed.

 

October 25, 2017 AD

New members of the consultative Majlis Ash’shura were elected. Several women campaigned for office, but only one woman was selected.

 

2019 AD

The government of Oman spoke openly about financial problems caused by the continued low oil prices. Oman’s credit ratings declined.

 

January 10, 2020 AD

Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said passed away. Sultan Qaboos’s cousin Haitham bin Tariq Al Said was sworn in as the new Sultan of Oman.

 

January 11, 2020 AD

In his first address to Oman, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq announced that he intended to continue with Oman’s long tradition of peaceful and moderate foreign policy, and that he intends to develop new economic programs to help Oman out of its current economic difficulties. Tariq is Oxford educated and has a reputation for being moderate, honest, and exceptionally intelligent. He has two decades of experience in quiet diplomacy on behalf of Sultan Qaboos and is well respected by foreign policy experts around the world.

Sultan Haitham bin Tariq faces great challenges.

On Oman’s southwestern border, Iranian-backed terrorists are fighting a brutally violent war with a weak Saudi-backed Yemeni government. On their northwestern border, Oman’s neighbors in the United Arab Emirates are facing new internal opposition. Twenty miles from Oman’s northern-most islands, the radical Iranian government continues to support terror groups across the region. Tariq will have to continue to skillfully handle Oman’s foreign policy while improving Oman’s economy. For the moment, he has wide support from Omanis.

Tariq also has one very important ace up his sleeve.

Oman has a new and vast refinery and port facility at Duqm on the Indian Ocean. The port facilities are continuing to grow, and China and several Western logistics companies have signed agreements with Oman for access to the new port. The Duqm port is quite valuable, as it will allow China and Western countries to access Gulf oil and natural gas supplies without having to venture near Iran’s coast or pass through the Straits of Hormuz. At the same time, dry goods from the West can be offloaded in Duqm and continue overland to the Gulf States. Duqm is a rare instance where China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Europe all find themselves on the same side of an important development. While the United States is currently a net oil exporter, any development that reduces Iran’s ability to threaten the world’s oil trade is good news.

The sooner the massive new Duqm port can increase its cargo traffic, the sooner Tariq will be able to stabilize Oman’s economy. Holmes’s best guess is that Sultan Tariq will succeed in improving Oman’s economy and will keep Oman independent and moderate.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now on pre-sale!

SPYCRAFT: The Good, the Bad, & the Booty, Key Figures in Espionage

Hollywood has yet to produce either heroes or villains that can match the heights and depths of humanity. Who is more courageous than a one-legged woman, “the most dangerous spy in all of France,” operating in Nazi-occupied territory? Who is more extraordinary than a young man left for dead, not worth a Viet Cong bullet, who survives to hunt down terrorists for six more decades? Who is more heroic than a homeless child living in a cardboard box who grows up to be an iconic showgirl, an espionage legend, and a tireless humanitarian? And what villain is more malevolent than the traitor that lurks in our midst, walking our halls and eating at our tables, while helping our enemies murder our own and butcher thousands of innocents?

Join us as we explore the lives of these espionage elites and others who prove that “we’re only human” is not an excuse to fail, but a reason to succeed.

AMAZON KINDLE

OTHER DIGITAL OUTLETS

HACKSAW RIDGE–A True Tale, Truly Told

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard

HACKSAW RIDGE is the true story of WWII hero Pfc. Desmond Doss, the first Conscientious Objector to earn the Medal of Honor.

 

hacksaw-ridge-movie-poster-one-man-stayed-2016

 

When Doss was drafted into the US Army during WWII, he chose to serve as a combat medic rather than go to a CO work camp, and he fought for the right to do so without carrying a weapon. During the Battle of Okinawa, the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment. A bloody battle ensued, resulting in heavy casualties driving the Battalion back. Doss refused to seek cover. He carried seventy-five injured men off the fire-swept battlefield and lowered them down the ridge to friendly hands below. HACKSAW RIDGE tracks Doss’s life through his commitment as a Conscientious Objector, his fight to be allowed to serve in combat without bearing arms, and his heroic rescue of seventy-five fellow soldiers.

The production quality of HACKSAW RIDGE is excellent, with award-worthy acting and cinematography.

The talented Andrew Garfield is brilliant as Pfc. Desmond Doss, and Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, and Teresa Palmer are outstanding in their supporting roles. However, the movie is every bit as graphic, and then some, as you would expect from BRAVEHEART producer Mel Gibson. The “R” rating is well-deserved, and people under the age of 17 should not be admitted for good reason. I would also warn veterans about seeing this movie. It does not pull any punches in either the graphics or the audio, and it might be too intense for someone who has seen combat in real life.

 

Doss pulling a man from the battlefield. Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

Doss pulling a man from the battlefield.
Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

 

HACKSAW RIDGE does an exceptional job presenting the conflicting-but-legitimate points of view of Doss, his fellow soldiers, and his officers.

Pfc. Desmond Doss was a devout Seventh Day Adventist who refused to touch a firearm or work on Saturdays. The story ably traces how Doss’s religion and home atmosphere solidified his commitment to never touch a weapon while instilling in him a deep sense of duty to serve his country. His faith was inseparable from his character and is portrayed realistically as such in the movie. Equally realistic are the reactions of Doss’s fellow soldiers to his “red lines.” They were suspect of Doss’s religious devotion, wondering if he was actually simply a coward who would get them killed on the battlefield. Doss’s officers were concerned, as well, about sending a man into the field who refused to fight, and they wanted him out. HACKSAW RIDGE gives a balanced and respectful presentation of the competing interests and motivations at work in the situation without over-dramatizing or unrealistically vilifying any of the men involved.

Some reviews have characterized HACKSAW RIDGE as “religious pomp and pornographic violence,” or “war propaganda.”

On the contrary, Doss was a deeply religious man, and religious beliefs were the foundation of his heroism in real life. The movie simply portrays him as such. As for the accusations of “pornographic violence,” I would invite those reviewers to do a tour or two in combat and then get back to us. Regarding the label “war propaganda,” a true tale truly told is not propaganda. HACKSAW RIDGE is true to Desmond Doss’s amazing life story with little dramatic embellishment. Interviews with Doss, his captain, and with soldiers who knew him at the end of the movie confirm the events and the characters as factual.

 

Image from HACKSAW RIDGE. Waiting for Doss to finish his prayers. This was true.

Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.
Waiting for Doss to finish his prayers.
This was true.

 

In fact, the movie HACKSAW RIDGE is not big enough to portray all of Doss’s heroic deeds.

For example, the film shows cargo nets hung from the top of the ridge. What it doesn’t show is that Doss was one of the three men to carry the massive cargo nets up the ridge and mount them there under the nose of the Japanese. (See article below, History vs. Hollywood, for historical picture of Doss with the nets at the top of the ridge.) After the battle wherein Doss brought down all seventy-five casualties on his own, he continued to assist wounded soldiers and to inspire the men in the 1st Battalion to go on to win a foothold on the ridge, even after being wounded by shrapnel and sniper fire. It’s worth reading the full text of his Medal of Honor citation below.

 

Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss Check out those cargo nets on that 400 ft. ridge. Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss
Check out those cargo nets on that 400 ft. ridge.
Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

 

In summary, this is a true story well told about a man of faith, whose faith gave him strength to rescue over seventy-five men from the battlefield during one of the bloodiest conflicts of WWII.

Those offended by displays of Christian faith or the horrors of war might find this movie is not for them. I would encourage those people to be open-minded and accepting of diversity and go anyway to learn about genuine historical events and a very real man who deserves an excellent movie. Those who are comfortable with religious conviction and who understand that war is hell will be amazed at the story of war hero Desmond Doss.

I give HACKSAW RIDGE our highest Bayard & Holmes rating, a .44 magnum, with one caveat.

Though the violence is realistic, it is extreme, just as one might expect the Battle of Okinawa to be. With excellent production and outstanding acting, it’s worth paying the prime time price for if you can stand the crowd.

 

 

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

 

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss public domain, wikimedia commons

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to
Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

The text of Pfc. Desmond Doss’s Medal of Honor citation speaks for itself, telling the story of his remarkable courage under fire:

“He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet [120 m] high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards [180 m] forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards [7.3 m] of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet [7.6 m] from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards [91 m] to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards [270 m] over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.”

 

For more about Pfc. Desmond Doss and how HACKSAW RIDGE compares to Doss’s real life, see HistoryvsHollywood.com Hacksaw Ridge and Bayard & Holmes article, The Medal of Honor Recipient Who Wouldn’t Fight.

 

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Bayard & Holmes Official Photo

Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE.

Watch for their upcoming non-fiction release, CHINA — THE PIRATE OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.

 

cover-3-china-the-pirate-of-the-south-china-sea

Keep in touch through updates at Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

 

ANTHROPOID — Espionage Legend on the Big Screen

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

ANTHROPOID brings one of history’s legendary espionage events to the big screen – the WWII assassination of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich by two Czech paratroopers and a few Czech resistance fighters.

 

2016 Aug Anthropoid Movie Poster

 

Heydrich, also known as the Butcher of Prague, was the architect of Hitler’s death camps and third in command after Hitler and Himmler. Jan Kubis (played by Jamie Dornan) and Jozef Gabcik (played by Cillian Murphy) trained for months in the UK and then parachuted into Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Once in Prague, they met up with the dwindling group of Czech resistance fighters, who helped them plan and execute Operation Anthropoid. Heydrich was the highest ranking Nazi officer assassinated during WWII.

Piper Bayard:

This movie is a symphony compared to a Bourne movie rock concert.

If you’re looking for unrealistic characters who do unrealistic things to thwart unrealistic villains with unrealistic explosions and quippy dialogue, this is not the movie for you.  On the other hand, if you enjoy historically accurate war dramas about real events and real people, then you will likely find ANTHROPOID captivating and informative.

ANTHROPOID thankfully makes no effort to glamorize espionage, war, or the ordinary people made extraordinary by the demands of integrity and circumstance.

Courage falters, equipment fails, and humans make stupid mistakes, while at the same time they rise over and over again with a stubborn courage and devotion to their mission and to the Czechoslovakian people. While historical sources differ on the details, the main events surrounding the assassination are well portrayed.

 

Jamie Dornan as Jan Kubis and Cillian Murphy as Jozef Gabcik

Jamie Dornan as Jan Kubis and
Cillian Murphy as Jozef Gabcik

 

The tension and conflict are well drawn in spite of a script that is at times a bit stiff.

The stakes are clear. There is no doubt that not only are the lives of the Czech resistance fighters on the line, but also the lives of their families and the people of Czechoslovakia. The drama is not manufactured, but rather real, and raw, and tremendous in the fact that in spite of all human fears and failings, Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik carried on and succeeded in one of the greatest assassinations in history.

Jay Holmes:

In the way of disclosure, I must explain that I could not view Anthropoid with the objectivity that a reviewer should always employ.

Though I was not alive at the time of the operation, and I am not of Czech descent, I admire the operatives that conducted the operation, and I have always considered the Nazis to be contemptible. That combination makes it difficult for me to be completely objective in reviewing a movie like ANTHROPOID, but I am happy to share my impressions.

 

The real Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik Image by UK Govt., public domain

The real Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik
Image by UK Govt., public domain

 

Most war movies and action films that depict historic events are created with an emphasis on watchability, and the pace of events, the characters, and the dialogue sacrifice accuracy to make them more fun to watch. ANTHROPOID is not fun to watch, but it is an excellent movie all the same.

I am fairly well read on Operation Anthropoid, and I was once fortunate enough to meet a retired member of British Intelligence that had helped prepare the mission.

It is my impression that the movie ANTHROPOID succeeded in closely portraying the actions and moods of the men and women that were involved in the operation. For me, this made the movie more acceptable. It seems to me that the writer, producer, and actors were perhaps somewhat reverent in their attention to detail and accuracy. The movie may be the best memorial to Operation Anthropoid yet created. As such, I applaud it.

 

Reinhard Heydrich's car after the attack. Image in German Federal Archive, public domain

Reinhard Heydrich’s car after the attack.
Image in German Federal Archive, public domain

 

Interestingly, the process of researching and producing the movie has reawakened the Czech public’s interest in the event.

The Czech Government has now agreed to do forensic work to try to identify bodies from unmarked graves of that period and location to try to locate and rebury the Czech resistance fighters involved in Operation Anthropoid, and give them a proper military burial. I commend the Czech people for pursuing this course. The makers of Anthropoid can be proud that their movie has a tangible result beyond, and more important than, the box office.

Our Rating:

Overall the early reviews of the movie have been tepid. We will depart from the trend and give Anthropoid the Bayard and Holmes .44 magnum – our highest rating.

If the events of WWII and the moral questions surrounding those events matter to you, or if you are interested in raw espionage legend and the feats of real operatives, then you should make the short pilgrimage to see ANTHROPOID. Enjoy the symphony.

 

 

Critical Threshold for US-Philippine Relations

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On August 26, 2015, the Philippine government took a major step in Philippine foreign policy toward its closest ally, the US.

During an official visit to the Philippines, the commander of US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, met with Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. During that meeting, Secretary Gazmin requested US military assistance in resupplying Philippine military forces in the West Philippine Sea, or, as China calls it, the South China Sea.

Though largely ignored by most Western media outlets, that request is a signal event in US-Philippine relations.

Those of us who remember that the US military was unable to settle workable continued lease terms for two huge major US bases in the Philippines in 1992 might have to subdue an automatic “we told you so” response. Harris is a smart man, and he gave no such smug response. Instead, he politely listened and agreed to pass the request up the chain of command.

 

Spratly Islands with flags from the five contenders. Image by CIA, public domain.

Spratly Islands with flags from the five contenders.
Image by CIA, public domain.

 

The Spratly Islands, which lie between Viet Nam and the main Philippine islands, are germane to this request.

The islands are under conflicting claims between the Philippines, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, and Brunei. Since the largest of the Spratlys, Taiping Island, is only 110 acres at best, depending on the tide, it is clear that the land in the Spratlys is not what is central to the competing claims. Even the fishing rights, oil, and natural gas deposits are not what really drive the claims.

The critical underlying issue is the effect that a successful territorial claim would have in defining the national boundaries of China and the other claimant nations, and how those boundaries would impact navigation through what has previously been considered international waters.

The Philippines’ request for military assistance from the US is, on the surface, simple enough. However, beneath the surface, there has been a lack of unity on several issues that have greatly impacted US-Philippine relations since the fortunate demise of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The standard view of the fall of Marcos and the rise of Corazon Aquino in 1986 holds that the Marcos regime ended, Aquino brought democracy, the new democracy evicted the US from Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Field Air Force Base, and everyone lived happily ever after. The reality was, and remains, somewhat more complex.

 

Clark Air Force Base in Philippines, 1989. Image by US Air Force, public domain.

Clark Air Force Base in Philippines, 1989.
Image by US Air Force, public domain.

 

Marcos died, but the Marcos regime did not quite die with him.

The pressure for the US to abandon its bases in the Philippines did not come from a populist groundswell of Filipino public opinion, as was assumed by most Western journalists. Many on the right assumed that the US would, and should, remain. Many working class Filipinos also had no desire to see the US gather up its cash and leave. In fact, according to Philippine research, 85% of the Philippine people viewed the US favorably then, and still do today. Principally, wealthy landowners and the senators that they owned drove the desire for the US to leave. They saw the US as having enabled the fall of Marcos and the eventual rise of Corazon Aquino, a land reformer, to the presidency in 1986.

 

Corazon Aquino, 1986, at Andrews Air Force Base. Image by US Air Force, public domain.

Corazon Aquino, 1986, at Andrews Air Force Base.
Image by US Air Force, public domain.

 

One of the central themes in Corazon Aquino’s campaign was land reform, which was not a welcome concept to the wealthy plantation owners.

In 1972, her husband, Senator Benigno Aquino, was arrested and imprisoned on various charges after he spoke out against the Marcos regime. In 1980, after Benigno Aquino suffered a heart attack in prison, Imelda Marcos, likely in part due to US pressure, arranged for him and his family to travel to the US for medical treatment and asylum. The Marcos regime and the wealthy landowners that supported it hoped that they had seen the last of the troublesome Aquino family. They hadn’t.

In 1983, Marcos was hospitalized for a kidney transplant, and reformers sensed change in the wind. Aquino, well aware of the danger that awaited him, returned home to the Philippines, intending to battle the Marcos regime from prison by way of grass roots public support. He thought it would work. Unfortunately for Aquino, Marcos thought it would work, too.

When Aquino stepped off the plane, security forces ushered him toward a waiting van. He was shot in the back of the head, and he died before reaching the hospital. Marcos and his pals had allowed a hapless communist agent to slip past the massive security scheme, and he may or may not have fired the .357 magnum revolver that killed Aquino. He may have simply been placed in the right location to be framed for the murder. The communist agent was shot dead at the scene, too, so we can’t ask his opinion.

 

Statue of Benigno Aquino, Jr. in Conception, Tarlac. Image by Ramon F Valasquez, CC3 License, wikimedia commons.

Statue of Benigno Aquino, Jr.
in Conception, Tarlac.
Image by Ramon F Valasquez,
CC3 License, wikimedia commons.

 

The murder of Aquino backfired on the Marcos gang.

Benigno Aquino became a martyr for the people of the Philippines. Aquino’s funeral on August 31, 1983, started at 9:00 a.m. at Santo Domingo Church with the Cardinal Archbishop of Manila, Jaime Sin, conducting the mass. It ended at 9 p.m., when Aquino was buried at the Manila Memorial Park. More than two million people lined the streets during the procession, which was broadcast by the Catholic Church-controlled Radio Veritas. The state controlled media did not broadcast the funeral. Eventually, after Corazon Aquino became president in 1986, twenty-four members of the Philippine military were convicted for conspiring to murder Senator Benigno Aquino.

Most of the long-awaited fairytale democracy has yet to materialize in the Philippines, but democracy has survived, land reform did occur, and now here we are in 2015, fielding a request from the Philippine government for military assistance. And who occupies the office of president of the Philippines now? Benigno Aquino III, the son of the late Senator Benigno Aquino II.

 

Inauguration of Benigno Aquino, III in June, 2010. Image by Govt. of Philippines, public domain.

Inauguration of Benigno Aquino, III in June, 2010.
Image by Govt. of Philippines, public domain.

 

So, what does that request for US military assistance mean in real terms?

It means that in 2015, the Philippines live too close to China. It also means the Philippines has not yet fielded a credible military force to prevent Communist China from moving its border to within two hundred miles of its shores. At this point, even the pissed off ex-landowners are thinking that the US Navy, backed up by a US Air Force, operating from US funded non-US bases in the Philippines could make life easier in the South China/West Philippine Sea.

To state this simply and accurately, the country of the Philippines is requesting that the US play the role of the colonial protectorate in guarding Philippine transport through the Spratly Islands. The Philippines is asking the US to risk military confrontation with China on its behalf.

What’s in it for the US?

The primary advantage is keeping international maritime traffic open through the region. It is not in the US interest for China to expand its Exclusive Economic Zone and its border to the eastern edge of the Spratly Islands. Another advantage is that, if the US must ever resort to a conflict with China, the alliance with the Philippines has the potential to extend the US perimeter to the Spratlys, helping to keep the fight away from our shores.

And how will the US respond to the request?

Cautiously, and quietly . . . We have been waiting for that request for a few years now, and nobody in the Pentagon or the State Department was surprised by it. The preference thus far has been to encourage the Philippines to start building a credible Navy and Air Force. That might happen one day, but not soon enough.

Lots of plans have been announced, but five years into their planned grand naval expansion, the Philippines has yet to acquire a functioning frigate to send to the Spratlys. Their new fifty meter patrol craft are not going to scare the Chinese. I cannot read the mind of President Obama or his closest advisors, but I don’t imagine that the White House would be anxious to commit to another military escalation while heading into a campaign season. A slogan such as “More Wars for Your Enjoyment” isn’t going to win any elections.

My best guess is that the US will step up diplomatic efforts to encourage closer military ties between the Philippines and all its neighbors not named “China.”

In the meantime, China is now dealing with economic problems and complex domestic political intrigues, and it is not as rock-solidly prepared as it would like us to believe to escalate beyond harassment and intimidation in the Spratlys. China will take everything it can get by way of intimidation, but I don’t see it significantly escalating its aggression in the Spratly Islands in the near future.

 

When Giants Dance — The Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

When the current Israeli/Palestinian conflict recently flared up, Holmes and I discussed the possibility of a fresh article on the topic. We concluded, however, that there was nothing fresh to say. To verify this, I looked up an article that Holmes wrote in November, 2012, which was the last time the ancient hostilities peaked. This is that same article, word for word. It was true then. It is true now. Generally speaking, it has been true for decades. We hope for the day when it is no longer true.

~ Piper Bayard

Israeli white phosphorous attack on UN school unaltered image by HRW, wikimedia commons

Israeli white phosphorous attack on UN school
unaltered image by HRW, wikimedia commons

When Giants Dance

By Jay Holmes

Today, news watchers in the West are seeing reports about the Israeli bombing of Gaza. Some are wondering if this week’s events in Israel and Gaza are the start World War Three.

My best guess is that this conflict will not escalate to that point, but if you happen to live in Gaza, it might feel like World War Three this week. If you happen to live in southern Israel, where the rockets fall every week, it might feel like that all the time.

Before throwing one more opinion into what will certainly not be the bloodiest war, but likely the most mediated war, let’s take a moment to consider the children on both sides of the border. These children have no control over the relations between Gaza and Israel, but the one constant tragedy in Gaza and southern Israel is that the children always suffer.

Of course, when I use the term “mediated” I am referring to the fact that the world’s “media” will deliver fantastic volumes of information about the current phase of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. It is sad how little of that information will be accurate or fairly presented. However, all of that information will likely generate revenue for the media industry.

To attempt to understand the current events in Gaza, we can help ourselves by considering a few of the less obvious facts.

We in the West think of Hamas as being in control of Gaza. Hamas likes to think that, as well, but it is not altogether accurate. Hamas appears to be one more run-of-the-mill Islamic terror group marching happily in step with all the other Islamic terror groups. But terrorists wreak havoc. This leaves them unskilled at performing anything like government. As a result, Hamas cannot control what goes on in Gaza.

Hamas is not even able to march happily in step with itself, which seriously impairs its ability to influence other Islamic terrorists in the area. The chaotic conditions in Gaza allowed competing terror groups to vacation there, and some of those vacationers decided to stay. Those groups do not obey Hamas. They obey whoever provides them with cash, weapons, hash, hookers, etc. Usually Syria and Iran would be that somebody, but Saudi Arabia and Gulf states are sometimes soft touches for cute young terror groups.

We in the West are not supposed to believe such dastardly things about our Saudi “friends.” However, the New American Reality Dictionary defines “friends” as, “Anyone who ships oil to the US.”

Many Americans find that disgusting. Many of those same Americans drive gasoline-consuming cars every day while they are finding that disgusting. Yes. Even my own car runs on gasoline, not on peaceful thoughts or good will.

Regardless of where the cash and weapons come from, we know where many of them end up—on Israeli roof tops. The current Israeli leader is Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israelis call him something else. I call him Beny Buddy. He calls me nothing at all. He never even calls me. I am not his friend. I’m not sure Beny does the friendship thing much. Living in that region might do that to a man.

In any event, his name hardly matters since this conflict predates him. Netanyahu and Likud, his political party, cannot remain in power if hundreds of rockets and mortar rounds from Gaza continue to land in Israel every month. From the Israeli perspective, the motives for the looming Israeli operations in Gaza are simple. The Israeli people don’t like rockets and bombs falling on their heads, and the current Israeli leadership does not like losing elections. Also, with Iran increasing the potency and quality of its missiles, the Israeli intelligence services might be feeling less patient than usual about the Gaza launch base.

The Hamas motives are a little trickier to define.

It takes a bit of guesswork, and that is because they are still guessing about it themselves. As long as Gaza remains in a state of chaos without any worthwhile government, and as long as start up terror groups are cutting their teeth in “Palestine,” anything can happen. And now it has.

While the Israelis love driving American tanks, they don’t always love American methods. Israel is not living on a giant Chinese credit card like the Pentagon is. If Israel calls up reservists, which it has, and it moves armor toward Gaza, it is NOT because Israelis think it is fun to waste fuel they cannot produce and can barely afford. Those tanks will end up in Gaza.

Hamas fully realizes this, and they are currently doing their best impersonation of innocent victims. They are not great actors, but they play for an easy audience—the Western media and Islamic-financed propaganda outlets. Hamas wants to generate “international outrage” as quickly as it can in order to give Israel as little time as possible to drive around Gaza blowing up rocket supplies with those cool tanks.

The Israeli lobbyists and propaganda outlets will seek the opposite. But Israelis are currently out of fad with a majority of Western voters, so they will be looking rather frustrated if you see them prowling the halls of the capitol or sitting in for some attack journalism by CNN interviewers.

I can just imagine a call from Iran to Hamas . . . “Okay. We’re sending more rockets. Rockets are supposed to blow up on those Jews, NOT in Gaza. Rockets don’t grow on trees, you know. If you can’t learn to take care of the rockets we give you, maybe we need to give them to someone else.”

One can find absurd humor in all of this as long as one does not live in or have relatives living in the region. Then the humor begins to pale. The children of Israel and Gaza have little to laugh at this week. They won’t have much next week, either.

Nobel Peace Prize: It Hasn’t Always Been a Joke

By Jay Holmes

This year’s nomination of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize has once again highlighted questions concerning the Prize’s legitimacy. The nomination came while Putin was orchestrating a Hitler-style takeover of the Crimean region of the Ukraine. Putin has responded to his nomination by accelerating the Russian military campaign and announcing that Russia might withdraw from the nuclear arms control verification process. No reasonable person would point to him as a shining example of a person who works for peace.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Vladimir Putin image by Pete Souza, wikimedia

Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama and
Nobel Peace Prize nominee Vladimir Putin
image by Pete Souza, wikimedia commons

If Putin’s nomination is comically absurd, he is not the first controversial nominee. In 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize only ninety days after taking office—too short a time for the Nobel selection committee to conduct anything like a thorough investigation of him as a candidate. Obama accepted the prize graciously, but he stated that he was surprised, and that he felt unworthy of the award. Many observers agreed. Since receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama has escalated the war in Afghanistan, expanded the world wide use of drone strikes, used Cruise Missiles to negotiate Gadhafi’s departure from Libya, sent a military aid team to the Central African Republic, authorized and – according to his supporters – personally orchestrated the U.S. military incursion into Pakistan to kill the infamous criminal Osama Bin Laden. I am not criticizing any of those actions, but only those who are religiously faithful to the president hold him up as an example of a “dove” at this point.

Of course Putin and Obama are not the first instances of controversy surrounding the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2002, after retired U.S. President Jimmy Carter received the Peace Prize, members of the selection committee admitted that their choice was politically motivated as a way to indirectly oppose the policies of President George Bush. Nevertheless, even if it was politically motivated, they at least picked someone who shunned the comforts of a wealthy retirement to spend his time directly working for world peace and to reduce the suffering of the poor.

1994 Nobel Laureates Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin image by Saar Yaacov for GPO

1994 Nobel Laureates Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin
image by Saar Yaacov for GPO, wikimedia commons

Far more controversial was their selection of Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres in 1994. Opinions on Peres and Arafat vary wildly depending on whether you ask a Palestinian or an Israeli, but for neutral observers, ignoring Arafat’s leadership in Palestinian terrorist activities requires a strong reliance on denial. If we consider that Arafat ordered the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre in which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered, and that he was responsible for dozens of other terrorist strikes around the world, then Arafat’s selection for the Nobel Peace Prize stands out as the Nobel selection committee’s most shameful moment . . . so far.

In spite of the Nobel Committee’s occasionally asinine behavior, it is worth remembering Alfred Nobel’s peaceful intent in setting up the Nobel Prize system and the fact that the Prize has, on many occasions, served to promote world peace. Let us consider a few of the many obvious cases of deserving recipients.

Ralph Bunche

The first recipient who comes to mind as highly deserving is American Professor Ralph Bunche. Ralph received the award in 1950. Before mentioning a few of Bunche’s many achievements, I would point out one of his most endearing personal qualities. Ralph started life as the son of poor parents in Detroit and ended up being raised by his grandparents in Los Angeles. Although that kid from the Detroit underclass became a renowned professor and United Nations big shot, he never forgot the poor. In spite of his fame and achievements, Ralph Bunche never hesitated to stand shoulder to shoulder with the most disadvantaged people of this world.

After a difficult childhood, Ralph Bunche graduated valedictorian of his class at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles. He attended the University of California at Los Angeles and graduated summa cum laude in 1927, and was the valedictorian of his class at a time when many universities around the U.S. were not allowing “negroes” to enroll. Ralph attended Howard University as a graduate student on an academic scholarship and received his masters in political science in 1928. In 1934, he became the first African-American to receive a doctorate in political science from an American university, after which he studied at the London School of Economics and the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

During World War Two, Ralph worked as an analyst for the Office of Strategic Services. After the war, he dedicated himself to working toward the foundation of the United Nations. Ralph Bunche and Eleanor Roosevelt worked tirelessly against staunch opposition from many nations’ delegates for the adoption of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. Some felt that human rights did not belong in the foundation of the U.N., but Bunche and Roosevelt believed that the U.N. would have no legitimacy without recognizing universal human rights.

In 1947 and 1948, Ralph worked to try to end the Arab-Israeli War. He was the senior assistant to the U.N. Special Committee on Palestine and rose to the office of Secretary of the U.N. Palestine Commission. In 1948, the U.N. appointed Bunche and Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden to mediate the conflict. In September 1948, members of the underground Jewish Lehi group assassinated Bernadotte in Jerusalem.

After the assassination, Bunche became the U.N.’s chief mediator. The Israeli representative was Moshe Dayan. Dayan was known to be an ill-tempered and stubborn individual. He wrote in his memoirs that his most productive negotiations with Bunche happened during billiards games in off hours. Ever the optimist, Bunche commissioned an artist to create memorial plates for each negotiator. When the agreement was signed, Bunche handed the negotiators their plates. Dayan asked Bunche what he would have done with them if the negotiations had failed, and Bunche responded, “I’d have broken the plates over your damn heads.”

Ralph Bunche, Ph.D. Photo by Carl Van Vechten, Library of Congress

Ralph Bunche, Ph.D.
Photo by Carl Van Vechten
Library of Congress

For achieving the 1949 Armistice Agreements, Dr. Bunche received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. He continued to work for the U.N. and mediated in other war-torn regions, including the Congo, Cyprus, Kashmir, and Yemen. He was then appointed Undersecretary-General of the U.N. in 1968. In spite of his busy schedule as one of the most productive leaders in the history of the U.N., Ralph Bunche also lent his status, expertise, and experience to the Civil Rights movement during the 1960s.

In 1971, Ralph Bunche took ill and left his position at the U.N. In December of that year, he died and was buried in New York. The world had lost one of its greatest champions of peace. Ralph Bunche had upheld the highest ideals of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Many other highly deserving Nobel Peace Prize recipients stand out as remarkable servants of peace. Co-recipients in 1976, Betty Williams and Mairéad Corrigan Maguire were two of the outstanding women of Northern Ireland who boldly stepped up the peace movement in the face of death threats from both sides of the conflict. Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa received the prize in 1984 for his work on bringing a peaceful end to apartheid in South Africa with his ability to gain the respect and trust of diverse church groups and help them to unite against the many opponents of peace in South Africa.

In 2003, Shirin Ebadi of Iran received the Peace Prize. As a lawyer and author, Shirin champions human rights, and in particular children’s rights. That is never an easy task, and doing so while speaking out against the pseudo-Islamic junta that runs Iran usually results in a slow and painful death. Remarkably, she survived the anger of the militant mullahs after defending accused dissidents in Iranian courts and founding a human rights group in Iran. She now resides in London, where in spite of repeated death threats against her and her family, she continues her work for human rights. She remains an international champion for children’s rights.

In reflecting on the entire list of Nobel Peace Prize winners, we see that nominees like Vladimir Putin, a.k.a. Stalin 2.0, and winners like Osama bin Laden Prototype Yasser Arafat demonstrate the weakest moments in Nobel Peace Prize history. Unfortunately, they usually receive the most attention. Today, let us remember that the Nobel Peace Prize has more often than not highlighted remarkable people who have worked for a better world.

What Nobel Peace Prize recipients do you consider to be most deserving?

Ukrainian Conquest Part Two: 2001 – Present

By Jay Holmes

As the storm breaks over the Eurasian steppes, the world is busy wondering how far Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, a.k.a. Stalin 2.0, will go in his invasion of Ukraine. To make a guess at that, it’s essential to understand the history that shapes today’s events. In Part One, we began a timeline of the of Ukraine’s violent past from the country’s beginnings at the turn of the 10th century through the ascendance of Vladimir Putin to the office of President of Russia in 2000. In Part Two, we continue that timeline through the current Russian invasion.

Ukraine Timeline:

2001 A.D.

In February, the European Union calls for an investigation of the murder of investigative journalist Georgiy Gongadze. Opposition demonstrations allege that President Kuchma was involved and call for his impeachment. President Kuchma denies the allegations.

2002 A.D.

Mass protests occur in Kiev and other cities in September demanding the resignation of President Kuchma.

U.S. officials release recordings in which President Kuchma is heard selling early-warning radar systems to Iraq. On the same tapes, Kuchma is heard ordering an official to “deal with” journalist Georgiy Gongadze.

Kiev demonstrations demanding Kuchma’s resignation grow in size and intensity in November. President Kuchma responds by sacking the prime minister, Anatoliy Kinakh. Viktor Yanukovych is appointed Prime Minister. Yanukovych pledges to fight poverty and corruption and to work toward integration into Europe.

2004 A.D.

Prime Minister Yanukovych wins the November presidential election. Western observers report widespread vote rigging. Opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko launches a campaign of mass street protests. Many of the protestors dress in orange, and the movement is dubbed the “Orange Revolution.” The Ukrainian Supreme Court later annuls the election results.

Orange Revolution, Nov. 22, 2004 image by Gutsul, wikimedia commons

Orange Revolution, Nov. 22, 2004
image by Gutsul, wikimedia commons

Opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko tops the polls in the re-run election in December. Yanukovych resigns.

2005 A.D.

In January, Yushchenko is sworn in as President of Ukraine.

Parliament overwhelmingly approves his nominee for prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, in February.

President Yushchenko announces in March that the suspected killers of journalist Georgiy Gongadze are in custody. He also accuses the former authorities of a cover-up.

Yushchenko dismisses the government of Yulia Tymoshenko in September, and Yuriy Yekhanurov is appointed prime minister.

2006 A.D.

In January, Russia briefly cuts gas supplies to Ukraine after a long fight over gas prices. Moscow says its reasons are purely economic, but Ukraine is certain that the cut-off is politically motivated.

Viktor Yanukovych’s party tops the polls in parliamentary elections for prime minister in March. Faced with a deadline to accept Viktor Yanukovych’s nomination or call new elections, President Yushchenko agrees that his rival can become prime minister. Yekhanurov is out.

2007 A.D.

In September, parliamentary elections result in pro-Russian parties gaining a small majority.

Yulia Tymoshenko is appointed prime minister for a second time in December in a coalition with President Yushchenko’s party.

U.S. President George W. Bush & Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko White House photo by Eric Draper

U.S. President George W. Bush & Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko
White House photo by Eric Draper

2008 A.D.

In March, Russia’s state-owned natural gas company Gazprom and Ukraine agree to a contract to supply Ukraine’s industrial consumers directly, temporarily ending a long fight over gas supplies.

In October, a global financial crisis causes a sharp decline in world demand for steel. Steel is a major Ukrainian export item. The value of Ukrainian currency plummets, and foreign investment in Ukraine dries up. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) offers Ukraine a loan of $16.5 billion (£10.4 billion) to help it weather the storm.

2009 A.D.

January talks between Russia and Ukraine about unpaid bills and gas prices collapse, and Russia stops all gas supplies to Ukraine. This causes gas shortages in southeast Europe. A week later, Ukraine and Russia sign a 10-year deal on gas transit, and supplies are restored.

That December, Ukraine and Russia sign an agreement on oil transit for 2010. Europe had been concerned that supplies would be cut off again.

2010 A.D.

Viktor Yanukovych is declared winner of second round of presidential election in February. His main rival, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, refuses to accept the result, alleging fraud.

Tymoshenko resigns in March after a no-confidence vote, and President Yanukovych appoints Mykola Azarov to succeed her.

In April, Ukraine agrees to eliminate its stockpile of weapons-grade nuclear material ahead of the Washington Nuclear Security Summit. It also extends an agreement on Russia’s lease on the Black Sea fleet base at Sevastopol in Crimea for 25 years in return for cheaper gas imports.

The Ukrainian Parliament votes to abandon any plans for NATO membership in June.

In July, international media freedom watchdogs criticize a Kiev court’s decision to cancel the allocation of broadcasting frequencies to two privately run TV channels.

The IMF approves another $15 billion (£9 billion) loan for Ukraine in August, subject to the government curbing subsidies for utilities bills.

In October, the Ukrainian Constitutional Court overturns limits on presidential power that were introduced in 2004.

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych image by Pavol Freso, wikimedia commons

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych
image by Pavol Freso, wikimedia commons

President Yanukovych vetoes a tax reform in November that had prompted thousands of business owners and opposition activists to protest in city centers nationwide. The reform was part of austerity measures demanded by the IMF as a condition of the bailout approved in August.

In December, Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko are charged with abuse of state funds. Both deny the charges and say the accusations are politically motivated.

2011 A.D.

In March, Ex-President Leonid Kuchma is charged for involvement the 2000 murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze. He denies any part in the killing. In the same month, the Ukraine government fails to pass a pension reform bill and also increases the watering down of gas price. The IMF puts its $15 billion bailout on hold.

The main suspect in the Gongadze killing, former Interior Ministry official Olexiy Pukach, goes on trial in April. According to prosecutors, he had confessed to strangling and beheading Gongadze. He claimed to have received his orders from Kuchma.

In October, a Ukrainian court finds former Prime Minister Tymoshenko guilty of abuse of power over a gas deal with Russia in 2009 and sentences her to seven years in prison. European governments view her arrest and conviction as a political ploy inspired by Vladimir Putin and his cohorts within the Ukrainian government. The E.U. warns Ukraine of “profound implications.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin image by www.kremlin.ru

Russian President Vladimir Putin
image by http://www.kremlin.ru

2012 A.D.

Ukraine postpones a summit of Central and East European leaders in Yalta in May after several leaders boycott it over the mistreatment of Yulia Tymoshenko in prison. Others boycott the Euro 2012 football championship.

In July, a new law makes Russian the regional language. Protestors demonstrate in anger. Police in Kiev tear-gas them.

In October, the first parliamentary elections since President Yanukovych came to power in 2010 see a decisive win for his governing Party of Regions and a surprise boost for the far-right Freedom Party. Observers from the U.S. and the E.U. claim that the poll was seriously tainted.

2013 A.D.

In February, the European Union gives Ukraine a deadline to meet conditions for the planned trade agreement. At a meeting in Brussels, Ukraine President Viktor F. Yanukovich said he believed that the outstanding issues  could be resolved by November 2013.

The European Court of Human Rights rules unanimously in April that the arrest and detention of Yulia Tymoshenko in 2011 was illegal and unjust.

November 21 –Yanukovich’s government abruptly rejects a trade agreement with the European Union on grounds that it would damage ties with Russia. The Ukrainian Parliament also rejects a bill that would have allowed jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko to leave the country. A few hundred pro-Ukrainian, pro-democracy protestors enter Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the Kiev equivalent of Independence Square.

November 24 – About 100,000 protestors occupy Maidan to voice their anger over what they see as Yanukovich selling out the Ukraine to Russian President Vladmir Putin’s government. Large protests occur in other Ukraine cities as well.

November 30 – Riot police brutally attack demonstrators at Maidan.

December 1 – The violence prompts public outrage in Ukraine and some concern around the world. Pro-democracy activists occupy Kiev city hall and establish a tent camp at Maidan.

December 11 – Thousands of riot police storm Maidan but are unable to clear out the protestors. The police retreat after a few hours. Protestors are emboldened, and additional groups reinforce them.

December 8 –Over 800,000 active protestors gather on the streets of Kiev. Thousands more man support centers to handle communications and protect injured protestors in hospitals from being kidnapped by police or Russian agents. An angry crowd topples and smashes a statue of Lenin, Kiev’s most prominent monument to the communist leader.

December 14 – Pro-Russian protestors are bussed into Kiev. Their numbers are about one tenth those of the anti-Russian mainstream protest movements. There is evidence that Putin is directly funding and supporting the “pro-Russian” groups. The pro-Russian protests dominate the Russian government controlled media.

December 17 – After a series of meetings between Yanukovich and Vladimir Putin, Moscow announces that it will to lend $15 billion to Ukraine and slash the price it pays for gas.

2014 A.D.

Kiev Barricade Jan. 4, 2014 image by Александр Мотин, wikimedia commons

Kiev Barricade Jan. 4, 2014
image by Александр Мотин, wikimedia commons

January 16 – Yanukovich’s allies in parliament ignore the Ukrainian Constitution and pass bills to outlaw most forms of street protest.

January 19 – Some of the more radical Ukrainian activists barricade Grushevsky Street, which runs from Maidan to the parliament.

January 22 – Police shoot and kill two protesters. A third protestor dies after falling from a colonnade on Grushevsky Street. The police deny responsibility. During the following week, several activists are abducted and tortured by police. One is killed. Yanukovich and his cabal deny knowledge of the kidnappings, but only he and the Russians claim to believe his denials.

January 24 – Protesters occupy the Agricultural Policy Ministry close to Maidan and announce the seizure of local government buildings in several cities in western and central Ukraine.

January 28 – Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigns, and the anti-protest law is rescinded. Opposition leaders refuse to form a new cabinet under Yanukovich.

January 29 – Parliament passes an amnesty bill promising to drop charges against all those arrested during the unrest if protesters agree to leave government buildings. The opposition rejects its conditions.

February 10, 2014 Maidan Protestor plays piano atop burned Berkut bus image by BBnaCeHKO, wikimedia commons

February 10, 2014
Maidan Protestor plays piano atop burned Berkut bus
image by BBnaCeHKO, wikimedia commons

February 16 – Amnesty is granted to detained protesters after activists agree to vacate some occupied buildings and streets. The ability of the protestors to negotiate the deal and follow up on their promises indicates that they are highly organized.

February 18, 2014 Barricade line between interior troops and protestors image by Mstyslav Chernov of Unframe.com wikimedia commons

February 18, 2014
Barricade line between interior troops and protestors
image by Mstyslav Chernov of Unframe.com
wikimedia commons

February 18 – Police block protesters from marching on parliament to demand constitutional reform. Riots erupt. About twenty-five people are killed, including seven policemen, and hundreds are injured by brutal police attacks. The police fail to dislodge the protestors, and some of the protestors become more violent in response to the police aggression.

February 18, 2014 Kiev Protestors class with interior troop officers image by Mstyslav Chernov at Unframe.com wikimedia commons

February 18, 2014
Kiev Protestors class with interior troop officers
image by Mstyslav Chernov at Unframe.com
wikimedia commons

February 19 – The encamped protestors on Maidan remain defiant, though they are surrounded by riot police. Protesters retake some government buildings in Western Ukraine and reject Yanukovich’s authority. Yanukovich and the protestors agree to a truce.

Kiev protestors dismantling brickstone pavement to use for self-defense February 19, 2014 image by Mstyslov Chernov/Unframe/http://www.unframe.com.jpg wikimedia commons

Kiev protestors dismantling brickstone pavement to use for self-defense
February 19, 2014
image by Mstyslov Chernov at Unframe.com
wikimedia commons

February 20 – The truce dissolves. Violence increases in Kiev. The death toll in 48 hours of clashes rises to approximately 80 people. About 500 are wounded. Videos show uniformed snipers firing at protesters holding home-made shields. European Union foreign ministers fly in to try to broker a deal. Russia announces it is sending an envoy.

February 21 – President Yanukovych signs a truce agreement with opposition leaders that was negotiated by foreign ministers from France, Germany, and Poland – an attempt to form a new national unity government. The deal includes constitutional changes to return powers back to parliament and early elections to be held by December. Violence continues in Kiev. In Western Ukraine, protesters occupying government buildings remain defiant, refusing to recognize the Kiev authorities.

February 18, 2014 Protestors arming themselves with paving stones image by Mstyslav Chernov of Unframe.com wikimedia commons

February 18, 2014
Protestors arming themselves with paving stones
image by Mstyslav Chernov of Unframe.com
wikimedia commons

February 22 – Protesters take control of the presidential administration buildings. President Yanukovych leaves Kiev. He is reported to be in Kharkov in the northeast. Parliament votes to remove him from power and sets elections for May 25. Yanukovych appears on TV to insist that he is still President of Ukraine. His arch-rival and opposition leader, Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, is freed from prison and travels to Kiev. Many of the protest leaders hope that she will serve as a unifying pro-independence/pro-European figure for the various protest groups.

February 23 – Parliament names speaker Olexander Turchynov to be Interim President. Turchynov is a close associate of Tymoshenko. Turchynov tells the Ukrainian parliament that they have until Tuesday to form a new unity government.

February 24 – The Turchynov-led Ukrainian government issues an arrest warrant for Yanukovych.

February 26 – Members of the new Ukrainian government appear before the pro-democracy demonstrators. The Berkut Police Unit, which was responsible for deaths of protesters, is disbanded. Russia sponsors rival protests in the Crimea.

March 2, 2014, Simferopol, Crimea Soldiers without insignia guard buildings image by E. Arrott, Voice of America

March 2, 2014, Simferopol, Crimea
Soldiers without insignia guard buildings
image by E. Arrott, Voice of America

February 27 – Pro-Russian gunmen in uniforms without unit or national badges seize key buildings in the Crimean capital of Simferopol. Their equipment is clean and up-to-date. They lack the appearance of anything like a “home-grown militia.” Yanukovych issues a statement through Russian media saying he is still the legitimate President of Ukraine. Putin and some Russians believe that he is. Many non-Russian Ukrainians and international observers believe that the gunmen are Russian Special Forces and the precursor of a Russian military invasion of Ukraine.

February 28 – Soldiers in uniforms lacking unit and national identities take over Crimea’s main airports.  At his first news conference since escaping from Ukraine, Yanukovych, now in Russia, continues to pretend that he is President of Ukraine. Ukraine’s Central Bank limits daily foreign currency cash withdrawals to 1,000 Euros.

U.S. President Obama warns that there will be costs to the Russians for any military intervention in the Ukraine. The president does not explain what those costs will be.

March 1 – Russia’s parliament approves President Vladimir Putin’s request to use Russian forces in Ukraine. Ukraine’s Acting President Olexander Turchynov puts his army on full alert.

Pro-Russian rallies take place in several Ukrainian cities outside Crimea. Western countries express alarm over the Russian deployment. U.S. President Barack Obama holds a 90-minute telephone conversation with Putin, urging him to pull forces back to bases in Crimea. Putin says Moscow reserves the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers in Ukraine.

Putin seems to be using the same playbook with the same propaganda campaign that Adolf Hitler used to occupy Eastern Czechoslovakia in 1938. Nazi Germany subsequently invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia. Let us hope that Vladimir Putin doesn’t prove to be quite as maniacal a dictator as Adolf Hitler was.

March 2, 2014 Protestors against Russian invasion: "Crimea is Ukraine." image by BO CBo6ona, wikimedia commons

March 2, 2014
Protestors against Russian invasion: “Crimea is Ukraine.”
image by BO CBo6ona, wikimedia commons

March 2 – Russian forces continue to deploy in combat kit and surround Ukrainian military facilities in the Crimean peninsula. Russian Secret Police attempt to coerce and blackmail Ukrainian leaders in the Crimea to shift their allegiance away from their central government to Russian-backed elements in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Naval Chief announces that he has transferred his allegiance to Russia.

Critical events continue to occur at a rapid pace. In Part Three, we will look at the complex dynamic of the forces at play in Ukraine and what Putin’s invasion means to the West.

*Special Thanks to photographer Mstyslav Chernov of Unframe Photographers for permission to use his amazing photographs that he made available at Wikimedia Commons. Please visit the Unframe Photographers site at Unframe.com and Mstyslav Chernov’s site at MstyslavChernov.com for more outstanding documentary photos.

To join in comments, come to

Bayard & Holmes

Timeline of Ukrainian Conquests: Part Two

It Didn’t Start Last Week–Timeline of Ukrainian Conquest

By Jay Holmes

This week, the Western media has, in a fashion, been covering the political crisis in Ukraine with growing interest. While the storm over the steppes has been brewing since November 2013, it has grown to crisis proportions during recent weeks. The growth and severity of the crisis has been sudden, but it has in no way been accidental.

Critical events are occurring at such a rapid pace as to render any published analysis out of date by the time even the speediest editors can post it. Nonetheless, the outcome of the conflict in the Ukrainian Republic will have far reaching consequences for Ukrainians and for much of the Eurasian continent. To a lesser, but still significant degree, secondary political and economic consequences will be felt across the world.

Though the media reporting usually presents the Ukraine in its own vacuum, outside factors have heavily influenced the present situation. One of the most influential outside factors has been Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, a.k.a. Stalin 2.0.

Vladimir Putin image by premier.gov.ru

Vladimir Putin
image by premier.gov.ru

As complicated as that may sound, the reality is even more complicated. To better understand the present conflict in Ukraine, we need to consider the long and complex history of the region. While the current situation is violent and threatens to become more violent at any moment, the previous centuries in the region were even more violent. For the sake of brevity, let us look at a timeline of the critical events in Ukrainian history that are shaping today’s conflict.

Ukrainian Timeline:

Circa 900 A.D.

A Ukrainian ethnic identity becomes evident in what we now refer to as Ukraine.

907 A.D.

Ukrainians found the city of Chernihiv.

While the Ukrainians see themselves as distinct, their Russian neighbors see Ukraine as a Russian hinterland. This particular hinterland is huge, has a Black Sea coast, and has better climates for agriculture than areas further north.

This particular geographic dynamic will shape the relationship between Ukrainians and Russians for the next millennia.

1256 A.D.

Danylo, King of Rus, founds the city of Lviv.

1651 A.D.

The Polish kingdom to the northwest has grown more powerful. At the Battle of Berestechko, the Poles defeat the Ukrainians.

1653 A.D.

A Russian army seizes Smolensk, Ukraine, and initiates a bloody Thirteen Years War between Russia and Poland over Ukrainian rule. In a larger sense, the Thirteen Years War does not quite end until 1670, after a long series of battles and negotiations that include Russian, Cossack (Ukrainian), Tartar, Polish, Swedish, and Turkish armies.

1654 A.D.

Poland cedes Kiev, Smolensk, and Eastern Ukraine to Russia in the Treaty of Andrusovo. The Poles and Russians rule their respective occupied areas with iron fists.

1670 A.D.

Ukraine establishes autonomy from Russia and Poland. While exerting military pressure on its neighbors, it remains under constant military threat from those same neighbors on all sides.

1744 A.D.

A measure of economic prosperity allows for the construction of the magnificent St. George Cathedral in Lviv.

St. George Cathedral in Lviv image by Robin & Bazylek

St. George Cathedral in Lviv
image by Robin & Bazylek

1746 A.D.

The Ukrainian city of Vilkovo is founded. It becomes a cosmoploitan trade center with foreign residents and a vast network of canals. It can be considered the “Venice of the Crimea.”

1783 A.D.

The Ukrainians have lost much of their territory to the growing Russian Empire. Catherine the Great orders the construction of the fortress of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula and the founding of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea headquarters.

1834 A.D.

The University of Lviv is founded.

1863 A.D.

Russia outlaws the Ukrainian language.

1890 A.D.

The first Ukrainian political party, Halytska, is formed. Its platform is essentialy Ukranian nationalism.

1905 A.D.

The ban on the Ukrainian language in Russian-occupied Ukraine is lifted.

1917 A.D.

Ukrainians establish a central parliament, the Rada, in Kiev following the collapse of the Russian Empire during World War I.

1918 A.D.

Ukraine declares independence, and the Ukrainian People’s Republic is established.

1921 A.D.

The Soviet Army gains control of Ukraine and establishes a puppet state, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine.

Red Army in Kiev 1920 image public domain

Red Army in Kiev 1920
image public domain

1932 A.D.

As part of Stalin’s genocidal campaign against Ukrainians, seven million peasants are starved to death in a Soviet-engineered famine. This holocaust is not well known outside of Ukraine, but it heavily influences Ukrainian thinking today.

1937 A.D.

The Soviets carry out mass executions and deportations in Ukraine as part of Stalin’s systematic purges against intellectuals.

1941 A.D.

Nazi Germany invades Ukraine. At first, many Ukrainians view the Germans as liberators and volunteer to fight against their Soviet oppressors. Hitler misses a golden opportunity in his war against the U.S.S.R., and rather than accepting Ukrainian help against Stalin, he installs a brutal occupation in Ukraine. The Nazis murder most of Ukraine’s 1.5 million Jews between 1941 and 1944. About five million Ukrainians die fighting against Nazi Germany, both in Ukraine and in the ensuing Soviet counter-invasion of Germany.

1945 A.D.

The World War II allied victory leads to Soviet annexation of Western Ukraine lands. Fifty thousand Cossacks that had fought on the German side against the U.S.S.R. are forcibly repatriated from Western Europe to the U.S.S.R., where they are executed.

1954 A.D.

The brutal Soviet occupation of the Ukraine stirs resistance. With the help of Soviet spies in Western governments, the Soviets defeat the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

1985 A.D.

The Soviet police state begins to collapse after decades of economic ruin.

1986 A.D.

Despite the remarkable courage of firefighters, a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine explodes and sends a radioactive cloud across parts of Europe and Asia. The area remains heavily contaminated to this day.

Chernobyl 2013 image by Antanana 2013 Ukrainian Wikiexpedition to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Chernobyl 2013
image by Antanana
2013 Ukrainian Wikiexpedition to the
Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

1989 A.D.

The Ukrainian People’s Movement, the Rukh, is founded by writers and intellectuals. Their basic platform is Ukrainian independence and human rights.

1990 A.D.

The Rukh organizes a Human chain protest for Ukrainian independence, and they proclaim Ukrainian sovereignty from the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union files for political bankruptcy.

Vladimir Putin is an officer in the KGB. Ever the capable and ambitious pragmatist, he resigns his KGB position and openly goes to work for the Leningrad city government as a political adviser on international affairs. Not one to wait for the car to sink too deeply into that famous Russian mud, Putin has in fact been working for the mayor of Leningrad since the spring of 1990, while still a KGB officer. Score one for Vlady’s foresight.

1991 A.D.

Ukrainians vote overwhelmingly for independence from the Soviet Union in a referendum. Leaders of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine sign an agreement, The Commonwealth of Independent States, to end Soviet rule in the region.

In December of this year, the Soviet Union officially completes its dissolution process. Fifteen separate countries are formed. At this time, Vladimir Putin is working in the Foreign Intelligence Directory.

1994 A.D.

U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin sign the Kremlin Accords, which provide for the dismantling of the nuclear arsenal in Ukraine. Leonid Kuchma succeeds Leonid Kravchuk in Ukrainian presidential elections. Ukraine signs a treaty of cooperation with NATO that provides for training assistance and joint training between Ukrainian and NATO forces.

Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton image by www.kremlin.ru

Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton
image by http://www.kremlin.ru

1996 A.D.

Ukraine adopts a democratic constitution and a new currency, the hryvnia.

1997 A.D.

Ukraine and Russia sign a friendship treaty. They reach an agreement that Russia will operate a headquarters base in Sevastopol for the Russian Black Sea fleet. Ukraine has its own Black Sea fleet separate from Russia.

1999 A.D.

On March 25, Ukrainian nationalist hero and presidential candidate Vyacheslav Chornovil dies in a car crash. Ukrainian nationalists believe that the crash is a well-designed assassination carried out by ethnic Russians in the Ukraine with the assistance of Russian state security forces. In spite of recent declines in popularity due to his pursuit of closer ties with Russia, Ukrainian President Kuchma is re-elected with strong support from ethnic Russians. Many Ukrainians today remain certain that his re-election was rigged with Russian help.

In August, President Yeltsin appoints Vladimir Putin as one of Russia’s three deputy prime ministers. Later that same month, Putin obtains the office of Prime Minister. He wastes no time. In a climate of political chaos, he orchestrates an effective crackdown on the separatist rebels in Chechnya in Central Russia. He also conducts a loud and well-filmed campaign against corruption that is likely more drama than substance. The giant public relations scheme is effective.

Boris Yeltsin and his family come under investigation for corruption charges in the winter of 1999. In December, the ailing Yeltsin steps down, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin becomes the Acting President of Russia.

2000 A.D.

Vladimir Putin is confirmed as the new President of Russia.

In Part Two, we will look at how the entanglements between Russia and Ukraine intensify when Putin struggles to keep the Ukraine from building strong relations with Europe and becoming part of the West, and we analyze the basis of the current situation and what it means to Western nations.

Tunisia–Bellweather of Democracy and Equality in the Muslim World

By Jay Holmes

On January 26, 2014 a Constituent Assembly in Tunisia approved a new national constitution. Any nation that undergoes a revolution and gets a representative assembly to agree on a new constitution can expect congratulations from Western governments. In the case of Tunisia, the usual diplomatic congratulations were accompanied by effusive praise. French President François Hollande went as far as announcing that Tunisia’s new constitution could serve as a model for other recent revolutions. So precisely why are Western governments responding to Tunisia’s new constitution with glee, and what are the probable impacts?

Tunisian Constituent Assembly signs new constitution image by Ennahda, wikimedia commons

Tunisian Constituent Assembly signs new constitution
image by Ennahda, wikimedia commons

A glance at Tunisia’s recent past might help lend some perspective. In 1987, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali managed a bloodless coup and took control of Tunisia. Two years later, Tunisia held presidential elections. Ben Ali used government assets to drown out opposition prior to the elections, and many foreign observers believed the elections were at least partially rigged. To no one’s surprise, Ben Ali won.

He managed to win re-election two more times in single-party affairs. According to the 1959 Constitution of Tunisia, Ben Ali should not have been able to run for a fourth term. However, in 2002 after his third election, Ben Ali amended the Tunisian Constitution to allow himself to run a fourth time in 2004. Miraculously, and with government squelching of opposition parties and tight control of vote counters, he received 94% of the vote.

In 2006, we saw a hint of change. The main opposition party—the Progressive Democratic Party—elected May Eljeribi as their party leader. Even in Western nations, it is still newsworthy when a female holds a high political position. As recently as 1979, Lady Margaret Thatcher’s selection as Prime Minister was considered a revolutionary event by the Western political establishment. In 2006, for a largely Islamic nation like Tunisia to have a woman running the principal opposition party was highly significant news. Ben Ali’s spokesmen had constantly portrayed his opposition as Maoist radicals and Islamic terrorists. Eljeribi’s election belied this and clearly indicated there was a strong current of political democratic secularism in Tunisian society.

By 2007, Al Qaeda and many loosely associated affiliate terrorist groups were trying to co-opt the growing discontent in Tunisia. Ben-Ali had been unpopular through most of his tenure due to his incompetence as a leader and his ruthlessness toward any opposition. From Al-Qaeda’s point of view, the time was ripe for replacing the ruthless independent dictator with a radical Islamic dictator. Ben Ali’s police state was able to ward off an Al-Qaeda model revolution, but his other opposition continued to grow more vocal.

Tunisian protests for sexual equality March 4, 2009 image by Magharebia, wikimedia commons

Tunisian protests for sexual equality
March 4, 2009
image by Magharebia, wikimedia commons

What journalists refer to as the “Arab Spring” started in Tunisia in 2010. Public protests grew and gained attention from Western media outlets.

Then, in January 2011, aided by cell phones and the Internet, the protestors gained so much popularity and momentum that the despised Ben-Ali family was forced to escape into exile. Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced an interim national unity government.

However, the protestors were not completely satisfied. In February of 2011, Ghannouchi resigned.  The following month, the interim government announced that elections would be held in July for a democratic constitutional convention.

That’s when the work really began for the Tunisian people. Throwing the Ben Ali gang out of Tunisia was difficult enough. Forming a constitution and government that would satisfy the will of the Tunisian people rather than the will of a well-armed Islamic radical minority was a daunting task.

In the midst of this turmoil, things became even more difficult when the bloody Libyan revolution next door spilled over into eastern Tunisia. Islamic extremists were doing all they could to bully their way to power in Tunisia.

The Ennahda Islamist Political party, with economic assistance from foreign sources and the support of al-Qaeda and various al-Qaeda clones, cast a wide net over Islamic supporters and became the largest single political party in Tunisia, winning the parliamentary elections in October of 2011. However, because their wide net caught up so many moderates, the radical Islamists within Ennahda could not gain a clear consensus among their own ranks to move their own members toward implementation of Sharia law. Naturally, the radicals resorted to violence. Assassination and intimidation campaigns grew in the fertile chaos of Tunisia.

When the Ennahda-led government tried to introduce a reduction in civil rights for women in 2012, protests swelled again across Tunisia. Ennahda backed away from the proposed “reforms.”

By late 2013, it appeared that Tunisians would have difficulty asserting their own political will to produce a constitution.  Western observers were not optimistic about the future of freedom and democracy there. Fortunately, the Tunisians were more optimistic and did not yield to radical Islamic terrorism and political coercion.

Tunisian Constituent Assembly image by Ennahda, wikimedia commons

Tunisian Constituent Assembly
image by Ennahda, wikimedia commons

On January 26, 2014, after two years of long and heated debates, two assassinations of major opposition members, and intense campaigns of coercion, a 146-article draft constitution won approval with a 200-12 vote by the Constituent Assembly. Interim President Moncef Marzouki announced “With the birth of this text, we confirm our victory over dictatorship”, and signed it into law the following day.

The new constitution in Tunisia matters for several reasons. It was a victory of democracy over despotism. If we look at the provisions in the constitution, we see the hand print of the Islamist minority, but it is not the constitution that they wanted. While the document mentions an “Arabic” and “Islamic” identity of the Tunisian people, it does not incorporate Sharia law as its standard. Islamic radicals, while not removed from the political landscape in Tunisia, did not force their will over the non-radical majority of the Tunisian people.

The new constitution contains strong safeguards for democratic representation, and that, in itself, is a major victory for democracy. It also clearly states that women have equal rights.

Many observers are claiming that this is the “first time” that an Islamic nation has granted equal rights to women. Not so. Tunisia’s first constitution in 1959 also included women’s equality. So in reality, the constitutional provision represents a return to longstanding cultural traditions in that country. It is a valuable clue that Tunisians had an identity long before the Ottoman Empire colonized them. They are an “Islamic” population, and, for lack of a more accurate ethnic term, they are an “Arab” country, but they have a society that is based on a culture that is all their own.

For now, it appears that Tunisia will hold national elections within a year. The jihadi types will not give up easily. They will continue their campaign of terror against freedom in Tunisia, but they will do so with decreasing prospects and no popular support. Reason has outweighed radicalism among Tunisians.

First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln Painting by Francis Bicknell Carpenter

First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation
by Abraham Lincoln
Painting by Francis Bicknell Carpenter

Tunisia’s prosperity, security, and social equality will not happen overnight, but Tunisia now has a constitution that will allow positive growth to occur. For comparison sake, we might consider U.S. Republican President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.  It wasn’t until two years later that the U.S. Constitution was amended to abolish slavery. And while slaves in the U.S. were freed in fact in 1865, it was not until 1963 that black Americans were allowed to attend University of Alabama, and that required the assistance of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. In the age of cell phones and internet communications, perhaps positive changes can occur more rapidly in Tunisia, and will hopefully not require any effort on the part of the U.S. Army.

From a Western point of view, the Tunisian constitution matters because it is a clear indication that democracy can happen in an Arab Islamic nation, even when terrorists are doing their best to prevent it. It is proof to the Tunisians and to anyone else in the world that their voices can matter, and that none of us should give up when the loud screams of radicals seem to drown out more reasonable voices.

Join in the comments at

Bayard & Holmes

Tunisia–Bellweather of Democracy in the Islamic World

Life in the Cold

By Piper Bayard

Independence Day was not the end of our fight for freedom, but only the beginning. Most of the men who signed our Declaration of Independence lost their fortunes and their lives in the battle. It is a battle that has been fought by each generation since 1776, as freedom is a great responsibility that we must continually earn, and not something bought and paid for once in the past that we can now take for granted.

My generation is the Cold War generation. This Independence Day, I would honor those of the intelligence community who served quietly, often giving everything to protect us from the threat of nuclear annihilation.

The following is an excerpt from “From Inside the Cold War,” written by my writing partner, “Jay Holmes,” who is a veteran of that conflict. A conflict which, in spite of the wishful thinking and historical ignorance of younger politicians, continues in a very real way to this day. In it, he gives us a window into his world and what it is like for him and his compatriots to walk through ours.

Anonymous Man Canstock

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

From the end of World War II in 1945 until the fall of the Soviet government in Russia in 1991, Western nations faced off with the Soviet Union and its allies and captive satellite states in what became known as the “Cold War.” Basically, the Soviet Union, led by the ruthless Joseph Stalin, felt that it was its duty to spread communism throughout the world, while Western nations governed by democracies felt it was their responsibility to keep the entire world from falling under Soviet domination. . . .

Most Western citizens think of the Cold War as being without casualties, except during the proxy wars in Korea and Viet Nam. Few Westerners will even remember that the allied nations fought a war against Soviet-backed communists in Greece from 1946 -1949, or that the United Kingdom struggled with a communist guerrilla war in Malaysia until 1960. Beyond the publicly acknowledged battle fields in Korea, South East Asia, Lebanon, Grenada, and Panama, the United States thus far acknowledges 382 American servicemen killed in combat against communist forces between 1945 and 1991. This figure does not include the officially acknowledged civilian losses of the CIA and other civilian personnel, nor does it include the deaths of “denied” personnel working under “deep cover.”

I believe the figure of 382 to be wildly low and a long, smoldering debate is currently underway in DOD and CIA circles concerning casualty figures during the Cold War. It is unclear how they should be counted and how much information should be released. After a lifetime of living in a necessary state of denial, “old hands” have well-founded fears about releasing too much information. For one thing, releasing dates and locations of deaths will assist belligerent parties in identifying and killing those who assisted US efforts. Our word was given that our friends would never be exposed, and they never should be.

For nearly four decades, the deaths of American Cold War combatants were explained away as accidents and sudden acute illnesses. Wives and mothers buried their husbands and sons without ever knowing what happened. The battlefield deaths of most of America’s Cold War combatants will likely remain unrecognized for years to come in order to protect the living. Some day, if a future generation gets around to dealing with the information, it will likely seem too distant for anyone to pay much attention to it. This is a natural consequence of the type of battles fought.

If it seems sad, we should remember that it is far less sad than the alternatives would have been. Armageddon was avoided. Freedom was not lost. That matters, at least to me and to those who have gone before me. My brothers paid a price. I knew none who were unwilling to pay that price quietly. None can now regain their lives by being identified.

When we review espionage activities from the Cold War, it is easy to take an academic view. If the seriousness of some of the participants seems almost comical from our current perspective, they seemed far less humorous at the time that they occurred. The events seem distant now, and the causes may have been forgotten by many, and never understood by some. I point out the issue of casualties in an attempt to describe an important aspect of clandestine activities during the Cold War. The contestants on all sides played for keeps.

Between the bright lights of international diplomacy and the dark cloud of the threat of nuclear war, life in the shadows in between was a bit different. Some of us feel as though we have lived in a parallel world far away from this one. We walked through this world every day, careful not to leave too many footprints here on our way to somewhere else. That other world became our home. This world where we trust our neighbors and love our children, is the world that we desperately wanted to see remain intact. But in a sense, we will always be visitors here in this world that we hold so dear. For some of us, our home remains somewhere else, far away.

~ Jay Holmes

Two Worlds Canstock

 *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
From our world to your world, Holmes, thank you.