DEYAN RANKO BRASHICH was born in Belgrade, former Yugoslavia, and is an Op-Ed columnist for Connecticut's Litchfield County Times.  He writes the monthly Letter From America column for Romania’s Scrisul Romanesc, a literary magazine and is a Contributing Editor for  The Country and Abroad, another literary/art magazine where he authors the Dispatch from Abroad column. He is a frequent contributor to Pecat, the Belgrade, Serbia weekly news magazine, Britić, a magazine published in the United Kingdom and Passport, a lifestyle quarterly. He resides in New York City and Washington, Connecticut.

 

Media
Thursday
Apr232015

THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF A DIPLOMATIC FRAUD

In December, 2010 I thought that Richard Holbrooke was dead with a stake through his treacherous heart, never to be resurrected or rehabilitated. I was wrong. The New York Times reports that “The Diplomat”, a documentary, premieres today [April 23] at the Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary directed by his son David documents his father’s plan “to strike a bargain with the Taliban and Afghanistan’s meddlesome neighbors, including Iran and Pakistan” contrary to the Obama Administration’s stated policy. What a perfidious bastard, even in death.

Upon his death Holbrooke, a founding member of the Grateful Dead Diplomats Society, was promptly canonized by the Establishment with the media even suggesting a posthumous Nobel Peace Prize. The eulogies were full of hyperbole calling his role on the world stage “larger than life”. The pomp and circumstance surrounding his death made him a messianic, bold, courageous envoy of peace and stability. What pure and unadulterated bullshit. “Much Ado About Nothing”, say I, except his role was in the world’s tragedies, not in Shakespeare’s comedy.

Holbrooke’s legacy is the false bright and shining beacon of America’s failed diplomatic and economic disasters. His life was nothing but “A Bright Shining Lie” starting with his service in Vietnam in 1962. He went on to Lyndon Johnson’s White House were he wrote a volume of the Pentagon Papers, but didn’t do a damn thing about the lies, deception and corruption they detailed.

Do not forget that the man’s public service career and his short stints in the private sector spanning 50 years involved him with America’s every conflict and subsequent defeat and humiliation. He participated in every failed attempt at diplomacy from Vietnam to Afghanistan, with stops in Bosnia, Kosovo and Cyprus along the way. His diplomatic efforts lacked a moral compass. He saw no shame in dealing with dictators, despots and corrupt politicians and actively supported their financing at the tax payers’ expense. He expressed outrage only after the corrupt official was of no longer use in his Machiavellian intrigues.

Holbrooke denied having made a deal with Bosnia’s Radovan Karadzic to withdraw from politics in return for a “get out of jail free card” and no prosecution. But his denial was flatly refuted by Bosnia’s Muslim Foreign Minister, Karadzic’s arch enemy, Muhamed Sacirbey. His denial had been flatly refuted as well by Momcilo Krajisnik, Republica Srpska’s Parliamentary President as well as others.

He, along with that other unprincipled eminence grise, Zbigniew Brezinski, facilitated the delivery of arms to Indonesia and supported Suharto’s brutal counterinsurgency which resulted in tens of thousands of deaths of East Timor dissidents. Likewise he supported Croatia’s “Operation Storm” which resulted in 250,000 Serb refugees, destined to be strangers in a strange land, far greater than Kosovo’s Albanians who returned to their homes - all this in direct contravention of United Nations’ sanctions and embargoes and in violation of US criminal laws; so much for abiding by international law. Holbrooke did so only when it suited his purposes.

His performance while in the private sector was far from stellar. The financial institutions he was associated with skirted and openly flaunted the law. He was not passive but a proactive participant. He started as Senior Advisor, then Managing Director of Lehman Brothers, the financial behemoth that ultimately made the largest bankruptcy filing in US history in 2008. Lehman was the firm embroiled in the sub prime mortgage mess and one of the firms that settled with the SEC and New York’ Attorney General for $1.4 Billion in 2005. From 2001 to 2008 he was on the Board of Directors of American International Group [“AIG”] the failed and flawed insurance giant that during his watch engaged in wildly speculative credit default insurance schemes that precipitated the financial crisis. Those schemes have cost the American taxpayers millions if not billions of dollars to date. And, lest we forget, he was Vice Chairman of Credit Suisse First Boston which reached a settlement with the Government for violations of sanctions regulations for financial transactions with Iran and paid a $536 million fine in 2009; so much for his financial rectitude.

The least said about his three marriages and his adulterous liaisons with Diane Sawyer amongst others, the better; so much for his moral compass.  

His last post, as President Obama’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was another moral debacle. He allowed the flawed elections of Hamid Karzai to stand, while other more principled diplomats were given the sack for denouncing them. He allowed graft, corruption and a flourishing narcotic state to flourish all in the name of nation building. Damn the torpedoes, the millions of dollars and American lives lost, full speed ahead.

Now even that story line is proven false. He was planning to double cross President Obama, his boss, and sabotage the Administration’s Afghanistan policy and recorded his intent to do so in a secret audio diary now made public. He publicly supported the flawed and morally compromised General David Petraeus and his counterinsurgency policy while privately recording “Frankly, I just don’t believe him”. Duplicity, thy name is Holbrooke.   

History is about to be re-written resurrecting and rehabilitating Richard Holbrooke as an “honorable man”. Back in 2010 I welcomed his passing comforted by the fact that there was one less malignant diplomatic fraud running amuck, feathering his financial nest, wreaking havoc on the world. Today I damn his posthumous return and resurrection.

 

 

 

 

Thursday
Apr092015

VOJA IN WONDERLAND

Vojislav Šešelj, “Voja” to his friends, has been on trial charged with war crimes before the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague for over 11 years. That sets an international record beating the United States’ [the McMartin Preschool child abuse trial in 1987] by 8 years 7 months and the United Kingdom’s [the Angry Brigade trial in 1972] by 10 years 5 months giving a new meaning to the Queen of Heart’s command “Sentence first – Verdict later”.   

Lewis Carroll took the familiar fairy tale to a new level with his portrayal of an illogical universe in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass fables. He amped up those farfetched tales with nonsense poems Jabberwocky and The Hunting of the Snark. His visions like fairy tales all end well; it’s what leads up to the happy ending that leaves you baffled and perplexed. Why does “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, and the Mome raths outgrabe” make you want to twist and shout “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” His imaginary universe just doesn’t make sense.

Now Šešelj ain’t no blushing virgin, an innocent lamb led to slaughter. On the contrary he is one mean, unpleasant son of a bitch, and an unprincipled political infighter known to switch alliances at the drop of a hat. Well educated with a doctorate in law, he possesses a malevolent intelligence calling himself the “greatest living legal Serb mind”. He is vulgar, opinionated and known to hurl colorful expletives at his foes. He has pretensions of grandeur reveling in the dubious title of Vojvoda [“duke”] and advocating the restoration of a valid monarchy [House of Karageorge] as well as one fronted by a charlatan [Prince Alexis Romanov Dolgorokov]. Go figure.     

By now you realize that I do not hold Šešelj in high esteem or like him much. In fact I despise him. That being said his treatment by the ICTY is shameful and to be deplored. He is after all a member in good standing of the genus homo sapiens, a sentient human being, deserving the protection of due process. All charges lodged against him should be dismissed with prejudice on statute of limitations grounds alone.

After being indicted Šešelj surrendered on February 23, 2003 fully protected by the presumption of innocence pending trial. His voluntary surrender was proof positive that provisional release was warranted. Yet the Tribunal saw fit to keep him jailed for these 11+ years. If we consider the Tribunals own precedents a high ranking politician charged with a “joint criminal enterprise” war crime, a crime manufactured out of thin air, an appropriate sentence is 11 years, the sentence imposed on Biljana Plavšić, the former President of the Republika Srpska.

Notwithstanding the presumption of innocence Šešelj served hard jail time far in excess of the 6 years 7 months that Plavšić spent in a minimum security women’s prison in Sweden. Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts would be proud – sentence served even before sentence imposed or a guilty verdict rendered – a real “off with his head” moment.

“Curiouser and curiouser!” would be Alice’s comment upon reading the Šešelj indictment. He is accused of individually committing war crimes. But the word “committing” does not mean “doing” explains the Tribunal’s Case Information Sheet. “Committing” means participating in a nebulous joint criminal enterprise making “inflammatory speeches instigat[ing] Serb forces to commit crimes, encourage[ing] the creation of a homogenous "Greater Serbia" by violence, and thereby participat[ing] in war propaganda and incitement of hatred towards non-Serb people”.

Another Alice in Wonderland quote is appropriate at this point – “Not the same thing a bit!” said the [Mad like in crazy] Hatter, “Why, you might as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see!’” It seems that in The Hague “commit” does not mean “commit”.

The Statute of the Tribunal guaranteed Šešelj a “fair and expeditious” trial “with full respect to the rights of the accused.” The “expeditious” has been proven a lie by a show trial lasting more than a decade. The “fair” has been likewise compromised time and again. After presiding for years in Šešelj’s trial one of the judges had to be removed by his co-judges for expressing bias and prejudice in a widely disseminated public statement. A replacement judge was appointed who had at that point missed 175 trial days, 81 witnesses, 1,380 exhibits and 18,000 pages of trial testimony. It doesn’t seem fair to have a defendant present while the judge is absent.

Then there is the issue of the suborning of perjury and intimidation of witnesses. After admitting on cross examination that they, the witnesses had been “blackmailed, pressured [30 to 50 telephone calls a day], or suborned to give false evidence against [Šešelj] under the direction of the prosecutor” the Judges ordered an investigation by an “amicus curiae”, a “friend of the court” not an independent prosecutor, of the alleged crimes and violations of Šešelj’s due process rights. The “friend of the court”, whose identity is a closely held secret, obliged by filing under seal a white-wash report never fully made public, finding the violations de minimus bringing to mind the comment “A secret, kept from all the rest, Between Yourself and me”.

Like Lewis Carroll’s Walrus Šešelj spoke at times “of many things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings, and why the Sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings” but it was just talk - sometimes stupid, mean, vicious and offensive but still just talk. To prosecute him for inciting violence and ethnic persecution for his political statements is to deprive him of his legally protected right to free speech.  

So to Voja Šešelj, “my beamish boy” I say “O Frabjous Day! Callooh! Callay!” Tell those crimson robbed judges “Belay!” If you can’t judge me without delay you can’t force me back for not even one day. And Serbia do the right thing this time, remember Tammy Wynette’s plea to “just stand by your man” - don’t let him go down that Alice in Wonderland rabbit-hole in The Hague – just tell the Tribunal, as Šešelj has, to just “Fuck Off”.

A versions of this article was published in Britić “Voja in Wonderland” April 9, 2015 and Pecat “Voja in Wonderland" April 9, 2015

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday
Mar252015

SERBIA’S NEGLECTED 5TH AVENUE MISSION TO THE UN

Though far from wealthy, I live on New York’s Fifth Avenue. I am a winner in that uniquely New York lottery - buying an apartment in the right place at the wrong time – a time when New York was on the verge of bankruptcy. Today Fifth Avenue is unaffordable for the likes of you and me; nonetheless I have a vested interest in Fifth Avenue.

Every morning I take the bus down Fifth Avenue, also known as “The Museum Mile”, passing the palaces of yesterday and today. On the first block I go by the Straight mansion once owned by the Chairman of US Steel and now the $125 million home of a hedge fund prince. The Jewish Museum is next, once the philanthropist Felix M. Warburg’s mansion, followed by the Otto Kahn mansion now a private girl’s school; then the Carnegie mansion, once home of the owner of US Steel, now the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian, the Guggenheim Museum, the Neue Gallery, a Louis XIII/Beaux-Arts gem of a building, the Metropolitan Museum and the Frick Collection and its block long palace and garden.

Block after block Fifth Avenue has diplomatic, cultural and philanthropic institutions housed in splendid buildings. The French have two and even the Ukrainians have one. You are bowled over by New York University’s Duke Mansion and the Commonwealth Fund’s Stillman-Harkness House. Then you hit a shabby, sadly neglected relic of the past, the Beeckman Mansion [1905] at 67th Street, home to Serbia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

The place has quite a history. It’s a designated landmark, never to altered or torn down. № 854, designed by Warren & Wetmore, also responsible for Grand Central Station, the New York Yacht Club and Washington’s Mayflower Hotel, was built for R. Livingston Beeckman, “the [very wealthy] well-known polo player and society man” who went on to become the Governor of Rhodes Island. It was later occupied by the Thaws, cousins of Harry Thaw – the cuckolded husband who “got away with murder” - shooting the architect Sanford White dead over his mistress Evelyn Nesbit, “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing” - found “innocent” by reason of insanity.   

It was bought in 1946 by the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – ironically, socialism buying capitalism – and now inherited by Serbia. Now that both Nikola Kavaja and Boško Radonjić are dead and gone I am free to violate the attorney-client privilege. They made plans to assassinate Josip Broz Tito during his visit to New York in 1963 either at the Mission, with a sniper shot from Central Park across the street, or up close and personal at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Failing in that effort my former clients in a fit of political stupidity bombed the place in 1975. Luckily they did little damage, though blast scars remain.  

The place is a shambles inside and out. The roof leaks, the back façade has threatened to collapse for years. The electrical system has not been upgraded since before World War II. There ain’t a proper HVAC system in the place. The interior is a jury rigged warren of rooms unsuited for the Mission’s mission. The kitchen [?] and bathrooms should be relegated to a museum or demolished.

The building is architecturally significant: “[a] dignified Beaux Arts palace on a small scale. Only two windows wide, it rises three stories to an impressive two-story mansard roof with dormers and projecting bulls eye windows … the second story windows, with picturesque stone balconies, were surmounted by classical pediments; their grand size becoming the focal point of the façade.” It deserves to be saved.

One of the wealthy Koch brothers just made a $65 million donation to renovate the plaza in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art even though he no longer lives across the street. Now Serbia has its share of wealthy men, Milan Janković a/k/a Philip Zepter, Miroslav Miśković and Stanko Subotić, to name but three. You would think that one of these worthies would step up and pay for the renovation of the Mission and make us proud. 

The donor would probably get a tax deduction, not that it matters since income is seldom declared in Serbia. He would get naming and bragging rights having a building named in his honor. He would get favorable press which in Misković’s case is sorely needed. He would get a brass plaque recognizing his contribution on a landmarked building on Fifth Avenue.  As for me I would get to drive by Serbia’s Mission to the United Nations with pride in my heart.  

 

Wednesday
Mar112015

KOSOVO - BE CAREFUL OF WHAT YOU WISH FOR

  Published as opinion article "Kosovo - Be Careful Of What You Wish For”, Britić, March 10, 2015 

In seeking independence Kosovo’s Albanians failed to heed the “be careful of what you for wish for” rule - the unforeseen and unpleasant result of independence; today that economic reality has come home to roost with a vengeance. Kosovo is now a place to flee, to abandon. Thousands have done so.

This Sunday [March 8, 2015] The New York Times lead article “Kosovars Who Fought for Land Are Now Eager to Leave” culminates two months of reporting on a mass Kosovar migration, a flood of refugees, northward through Serbia and on to Western Europe. “Once, Kosovars were laying down their lives to stay here. Now … we have come to a situation where we leave of our own free will” writes the Times. It then goes on to document political infighting, rampant corruption, crime and non-existent economy – all earmarks of a failed state.  

The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal have reported their take on the crisis complete with depressing photographs of the refugees’ plight. It is not a situation that anyone would welcome, but a state of affairs I had anticipated.

Everyone loves, me included, the “I told you so” moment proves your prescience, your intelligence, your standing above all the other animals in the human herd - as Jackie Gleason in his Reggie Van Gleason III mode would say with a knowing smirk “How sweet it is”, when it does happen.

I have never lived in ex-Yugoslavia full time, having only spent the first five years of my life there. All of my information on Yugoslavia and its peoples were third, or at best second hand - conversations, articles, books and the like except for a number of visits. My alienation and distance from the real thing gave me objectivity and perspective, a trait sadly lacking in Serbia and Kosovo.

At dinner one night in 1999 at the Klub Književnika on Francuska Street in Belgrade during the Kosovo War I went head to head with my Serb friends over Kosovo. The argument grew heated, so much so that had there been another glass or two consumed we might have come to blows. Buda, the venerable head waiter came over to our table and with a disapproving frown asked us to keep it down.

The argument, you ask? I said the best way to deal with Kosovo was to partition it, then dump it. Annex the predominantly Serb dominated north around Mitrovica, like Putin and the Crimea, have UNESCO declare Kosovo Polje, the 26 Orthodox monasteries and whatever else strikes your national pride UN protected World Heritage Sites and tell the rest to fuck off, good riddance and goodbye. My reasoning – you will never reverse Albanian demographics and for decades Kosovo had been an unproductive economic drain on ex-Yugoslavia, and now Serbia, a losing proposition.

I later wrote “Serbia could shrug off the burden of financially propping up a failing state and pass it on to the international community thus avoid dealing with a bellicose minority”.

The Serb emotional response was defiant “Kosovo shall remain a part of Serbia forever” ignoring reality with a heartfelt cry that “the Battle of Kosovo defines Serbs and Serbia” with numerous allusions to Kraljević Marko, Miloš Obelić and others that I did not readily recognize – pure sentiment, not a cold rational evaluation of Kosovo’s then economic and ethnic state.  

Kosovo’s Albanians were then just as emotional, delusional and irrational. They wanted independence, their own state, self determination at any cost ignoring that their very existence had been predicated on the largess of the other Republics of ex-Yugoslavia.    

Today Kosovo is a de facto if not yet de jure state – some question its recognized independent status. Since 1999 it has received over €4.5 billion [US$5.85 billion] in direct international aid with indirect costs paid for by the EU, UN and NATO yet to be calculated – the war cost ₤30.1 billion [US$49.6 billion] – yet poverty, deprivation, unemployment hovering at 35.1% [56% for those under 25] prevailing. Kosovo is a disaster waiting to take a turn for the worse.

Serbia may well adopt my smug and stupid “be careful of what you wish for” attitude and revel in the unforeseen and unpleasant consequences that have befallen Kosovo. But Serbia beware - the “be careful of what you wish for” rule is a double edged sword – does Serbia want a failed nation state full of ethnic hatred on its southern border? My advice – lend a hand, try to find a solution.

Wednesday
Mar042015

NET NEUTRALITY YES - CYBER WARS NO

Everyone including the editorial pages of the Washington Post, the New York Times and this newspaper are concerned with net neutrality and the future of the internet. Access to “the free flow of information and services” without limit and without undue financial cost, a present day equal protection safeguard, is a right worth fighting for and securing. Access to the internet has become a necessity much like the telephone, a service that has long been a public utility. That right is meaningless and hollow if the internet ceases to exist or is compromised.

Today’s debate is a purely domestic one over control by corporate and financial interests to access by consumers to the internet. As of yesterday February 26 the FCC has made internet access a public utility complete with regulatory oversight. What the debate ignores is the threat to the very existence of the internet by nation states waging cyberwars, some openly, some in secret.

Two years ago Secretary of Defense Panetta warned that America was facing a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” that could destroy our communications systems, power grids, financial networks, many functions of government, from military defense networks to emergency responders.

Forget the warning, cyber wars are here to stay, no longer make believe war games. In 2006 President Bush authorized Olympic Games, a cyber-weapons attack on Iran’s nuclear program. The cyber weapon, a “worm” dubbed “Stuxnet”, was a joint U.S-Israeli effort. Initially successful in 2010 the “worm” broke free “like a zoo animal that [had] found the keys to the cage” and began infecting computers worldwide rendering them useless. 

This was not an isolated incident. The US publicly accused China “of systematically stealing American high tech data” and was victim of Operation Aurora, another Chinese attack. Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s national oil company was attacked making “useless more than 30,000 computers”. Repeated denial of services attacks froze the operations of major United States financial institutions with the culprits yet to be identified but foreign states including North Korea are suspect.

Much of state sponsored cyber warfare is classified and only hinted at by “reliable government sources”. However a recently disclosed Edward Snowdon National Security document confirms and details the escalation of the Iran/United States cyberwar continued by the Obama administration notwithstanding ongoing negotiations to limiting proliferation.  

The mind set of governments in the cyber wars of today is: “If you fuck with us and our computers, we will fuck yours and just plain fuck you”.

Panetta got it right when he noted that “[a]n aggressor nation or extremist group could use these … cyber tools to gain control of critical switches. They could derail passenger trains… loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate water supply … or shut down the power grid…” He also was spot on in warning that we “won’t succeed in preventing a cyber attack through improved defenses alone”. 

Panetta’s solution, calling for enhanced defense capabilities and enabling legislation, while proper is downright shortsighted and stupid. He is correct that cyber security must be pursued, but that solution should be directed at the rogues, the terrorists, the criminals, the non-state actors, not sovereign states.

The international community must reach a consensus on a moratorium on state sponsored cyber wars, or at least agree upon limitations - much like arms control or nuclear non-proliferation treaties. A draft of proposed international standards has already been published,  the Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare [2013], which applies the principles jus ad bellum regulating the “use of force in international law, and jus in bello, govern[ing] conduct in armed conflict”. 

Absent consensus the world will spiral into a cold war with each state enhancing its cyber defenses while maximizing offensive capabilities. Each government will use its offensive capability to further its objective of the day, such as the destruction of Iran’s nuclear effort, justifying the attacks on national security grounds. Retaliation to such attacks will condemned as acts of terrorism by rogue states.

The world has experienced the expensive bankrupting race for larger and more destructive atom and hydrogen bombs. We have failed to outlaw nuclear devices and we continue to pay the price, always on the brink of a nuclear disaster. You would think the lesson learned would have us all agree to outlaw the use of cheap, ubiquitous computers as devastating weapons of war whose first victim would be the internet.