For those not familiar with it, The Great Game is most definitely NOT a game you want to play…
Original caption, per the wiki:
A cartoon from the English satirical magazine Punch, or The London Charivari. With the Russian Bear sitting on the tail of the Persian Cat while the British Lion looks on, it represents a phase of The Great Game. The caption reads: “AS BETWEEN FRIENDS. British Lion (to Russian Bear). ‘IF WE HADN’T SUCH A THOROUGH UNDERSTANDING I MIGHT ALMOST BE TEMPTED TO ASK WHAT YOU’RE DOING THERE WITH OUR LITTLE PLAYFELLOW.'”
But worse, it looks like the USA is doing exactly that, but with little clue that it’s even IN The New Great Game. Though, per the wiki on it, even Prince Andrew knows it (and said so in one of the wikileaks cables):
In a leaked US Embassy cable released by WikiLeaks, it was reported that Prince Andrew, Duke of York, supports the concept of a New Great Game:
Addressing the Ambassador directly, Prince Andrew then turned to regional politics. He stated baldly that “the United Kingdom, Western Europe (and by extension you Americans too)” were now back in the thick of playing the Great Game. More animated than ever, he stated cockily: “And this time we aim to win!”
The reference given is to “Wikileaks files: US ambassador criticised Prince Andrew”. BBC. November 30, 2010.
The story is in the context of some fraud investigations of dealings between British Aerospace industries and Saudi buyers. But along the way, rails about the free press and is a bit ‘loose lipped’ about just how the “Royals” see things in Central Asia ( Think Persia / Iran to Afghanistan to Pakistan). A larger quote from that link to give a bit more depth to it:
30 November 2010 Last updated at 04:10 ET
Wikileaks files: US ambassador criticised Prince Andrew
A US ambassador wrote in a secret cable that the Duke of York spoke “cockily” during an official engagement, leading a discussion that “verged on the rude”.
The remarks by Tatiana Gfoeller, Washington’s ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, are revealed by the website Wikileaks.
She said Prince Andrew, a UK special representative on trade, criticised the Serious Fraud Office probe of an arms deal between BAE and Saudi Arabia.
Buckingham Palace has not responded to the reports about the prince.
In the cable, written in October 2008 and published on the Guardian newspaper’s website, Ms Gfoeller recounts details of a brunch in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek with British and Canadian business people.
Summing the event up, she writes: “Astonishingly candid, the discussion at times verged on the rude (from the British side).”
Under the sub-heading “Rude language a la British”, she wrote that “[Prince Andrew] railed at British anti-corruption investigators, who had had the ‘idiocy’ of almost scuttling the Al-Yamama deal with Saudi Arabia”.
She said the prince also criticised Guardian journalists – “who poke their noses everywhere” – for investigating the deal.
Ms Gfoeller said Prince Andrew told her that the UK, Western Europe and the US were now “back in the thick of playing the Great Game” – a reference to the 19th Century struggle between the British and Russian Empires for control of Central Asia.
OK, some things to ponder. This is a diplomatic cable that we know has some validity as the USA is trying to nail the leaker and a load of folks have corroborated that the leaked stuff is real.
The exchange happens in Kyrgyzstan, in the heart of where The Great Game had been played. This Great Game had gone on for over 100 years. Had sucked Britain into 3 crappy wars in Afghanistan. Had cost untold thousands of lives and great treasure (though, to be sure, Britain had sucked more net treasure out of India and the other spoils…) and generally been the cause of generations of misery in Central Asia. And here we have a Royal crowing that the game is afoot, again. And we’re sucked into it this time (we being the USA). So what does the BBC article stress? Why: the ‘rude’ language…
OK, I’ve heard the term, but never thought about it much. Vague memories of an old Rudyard Kipling reading assignment in High School, Kim… or maybe grammar school… At the time I’d not really made the connection that it was about history, about real lives and not some fictionalized Empire. I knew The British Empire had been real enough, but it was long gone to ancient history. At least, to a young kid. Besides, an author would likely have made up something of a fancy name, like “The Great Game”…
But, no, it really was called that.
The Great Game & The New Great Game
Original Image in an article that describes how Pakistan wanted to play in The Great Game a couple of years back too…
A thumbnail sketch of it is that Russia was spreading south into central Asia. Collecting all the -ickystans that eventually would be part of the old USSR while Britain and Russian were picking apart bits of the old Persian Empire and making sure China was firmly boxed in. At the same time, The British Empire was picking up bits of other old empires. (Old Empires never really die, they just get turned into “Empire Helper” and mixed with the excess Ego of the next batch of megalomaniacs; the bits get eaten up, to be later extruded into more fertilizer of Empire Builders… in an endless cycle.) So the Empire of Alexander The Great was just having a bit of a ‘recycle’, just like the Persian Empire… and both Britain and Russia wanted the middle Asian bits… Such is the stuff of 100 years of warfare…
A rather nice set of notes on history is found in this articlehttp://www.uncp.edu/home/rwb/lecture_ancient_civ.htm that includes the above map.
The wiki has some interesting summaries in it. Russia pushes here, Britain takes a snip or two there. They swap Afghanistan on and off… Kind of like the rather excellent board game of Risk, where the designers tuned it ‘just so’ and as nobody with a brain will ever let another player hold all of Asia (as the 7 “continent points” rack up fast early in the game), poor Afghanistan often ends up being ‘swapped’ between Empire builders in Europe, Africa, and the rest of Asia…
The Great Game or Tournament of Shadows (Russian: Турниры теней, Turniry Teney) in Russia, were terms for the strategic rivalry and conflict between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for supremacy in Central Asia. The classic Great Game period is generally regarded as running approximately from the Russo-Persian Treaty of 1813 to the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907. A second, less intensive phase followed the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The Great Game dwindled after the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union became Allies during World War II.
The term “The Great Game” is usually attributed to Arthur Conolly (1807–1842), an intelligence officer of the British East India Company’s Sixth Bengal Light Cavalry.
From the British perspective, the Russian Empire’s expansion into Central Asia threatened to destroy the “jewel in the crown” of the British Empire, India. The British feared that Afghanistan would become a staging post for a Russian invasion of India, after the Tsar’s troops would subdue the Central Asian khanates (Khiva, Bokhara, Khokand) one after another.
It was with these thoughts in mind that in 1838 the British launched the First Anglo-Afghan War and attempted to impose a puppet regime on Afghanistan under Shuja Shah. The regime was short lived and proved unsustainable without British military support. By 1842, mobs were attacking the British on the streets of Kabul and the British garrison was forced to abandon the city due to constant civilian attacks.
So when we look at current events, with Russia making unhappy noises about our involvement in the area, and about the presence of US “provocations” with anti-missle systems and aircraft carriers, perhaps we ought to allow for them, just maybe, having a bit of education about The Great Game and about 100 years of warfare in the region as Anglo intruders gave them military grief…
Nuke carrier leads US strike force into Syrian waters
Published: 25 November, 2011, 18:34
Edited: 25 November, 2011, 22:34
Rumors about the no-fly zone over Syria came in the wake of Tuesday’s United Nations General Assembly resolution which condemned human rights abuses by the Syrian regime, including the killing, arbitrary imprisonment and torture of civilians.
Meanwhile, an Arab League deadline for Syria to allow an observer mission into the country or suffer crippling sanctions passed on Friday without a response from Damascus, a League source told AFP.
“Until now, there has been no response from the Syrian government,” the source said after the 1 pm (1100 GMT) deadline. Damascus has been given until the end of the day to respond, if it is to avoid sanctions.
Earlier this month Russia, the most powerful opponent of the West’s push for “international intervention,” also anchored its warships in the Syrian port of Tartus. According to unconfirmed reports, the warships were carrying technical advisors who will help Syria set up and run advanced S-300 missiles supplied by Russia. However, there is no official confirmation that the S-300 missiles have actually been delivered to Syria by any side.
Meanwhile, Moscow has announced it opposes a military scenario for resolving the Syrian problem and the use of a human rights argument as an excuse for foreign intervention in the affairs of a sovereign state. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said that “under no circumstances must human rights issues be used as a pretext for interfering in the internal affairs of a state.”
Patrick Henningsen, a political analyst from the US-based Infowars.Com online magazine, believes that the escalation of tensions over Syria between the world’s major powers may lead to a new chilling in world politics.
“I think we are going to see a new Cold War emerge in the next two years, and we are seeing the initial steps of that new Cold War right now,” he told RT.
Note that RT is Russia Today. The folks in Russia think this is a big deal… In the US Press it’s hardly getting a mention. Here we are on the edge of starting a new Cold War, involved in Afghanistan, have Pakistan kicking us out for killing a couple of dozen of their border guards, getting Russia all worked up with anti-missile systems on their doorstep, with Egypt in a renewed melt down and new riots, and with the UK Cheering us on (‘Always glad to hold yer coat, Yank!’…) and as near as I can tell, Obama has no clue he’s even IN The New Great Game, nor that he’s screwing up the moves, and certainly is clueless that he’s on the verge of a Bay Of Pigs kind of moment with the Russians over THEIR sense of ownership of Central Asia / Persian Empire going back a few hundred years… But at least the Royals know it, even if they are just a bit too gleeful over it…
The Syrian crisis assumed a big power dimension this week with the build-up of rival United States and Russia naval air carrier armadas in Syrian waters, debkafile’s military sources report.
The USS George H.W. Bush arrived Wednesday, Nov. 23, in the wake of the three Russian warships anchored earlier opposite Tartus which established a command post in the Syrian port. They will be augmented by Russia’s only air carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov, which is due in mid-week.
By deploying 70 ship-borne fighter-bombers plus three heavy guided missile cruisers and five guided missile destroyers opposite Syria, Washington has laid down military support for any intervention the Arab League in conjunction with Turkey may decide on.
So we’ve got one really big powder keg building up there, and the UN is determined to light the match…
Oh, and that Pakistan thing…
Pakistan orders U.S. to vacate base, shuts border
Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Islamabad — Allegations that a NATO attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border Saturday dealt a serious blow to already tense relations between the United States and Pakistan
In response, Pakistan shut down crucial border crossings used by convoys delivering supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan and gave the United States 15 days to vacate an air base in southern Pakistan that in the past had been suspected as a launch site for CIA drone attacks.
Local officials said the incursion occurred at about 2 a.m. Saturday at two Pakistani army posts in Salala, a border village in the restive northwestern tribal region of Mohmand.
Pakistani officials at the Torkham checkpoint at the Khyber Pass said Saturday that they had suspended all movement of NATO tankers and supply trucks heading into Afghanistan. A second border crossing in the southern town of Chaman also was shut down.
Roughly 40 percent of NATO’s nonlethal supplies bound for Afghanistan move by truck from the Pakistani port city of Karachi to either the northwest border crossing at Torkham or the southern crossing at Chaman.
So we’ve got at least 40% of supplies cut off, and many of the air routes cross Pakistan as well. Nothing like having an army stranded in Afghanistan to get you used to The Great Game…
I wonder if anyone else had had an experience like that. One from history that we could learn from, perhaps:
The retreating British army consisted of approximately 4,500 troops (of which only 690 were European) and 12,000 camp followers. During a series of attacks by Afghan warriors, all Europeans but one, William Brydon, were killed on the march back to India; a few Indian soldiers survived also and crossed into India later. The British curbed their ambitions in Afghanistan following this humiliating retreat from Kabul.
After the Indian rebellion of 1857, successive British governments saw Afghanistan as a buffer state. The Russians, led by Konstantin Kaufman, Mikhail Skobelev, and Mikhail Chernyayev, continued to advance steadily southward through Central Asia towards Afghanistan, and by 1865 Tashkent had been formally annexed.
Samarkand became part of the Russian Empire in 1868, and the independence of Bukhara was virtually stripped away in a peace treaty the same year. Russian control now extended as far as the northern bank of the Amu Darya river.
In a letter to Queen Victoria, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli proposed “to clear Central Asia of Muscovites and drive them into the Caspian”. He introduced the Royal Titles Act 1876, which added to Victoria’s titles that of Empress of India, putting her at the same level as the Russian Emperor.
How many times must we learn the same lessons of History? Adventures in Afghanistan are a bad idea. Let Russia and the United Kingdom (or even all of the EU) take turns swapping it. Put our “continent points” at our edges and try mending things with South America as an integrated economic zone. Don’t these guys ever play Risk? ;-)
Love this picture, BTW:
Per the wiki, the caption was “Political cartoon depicting the Afghan Emir Sher Ali with his “friends” the Russian Bear and British Lion (1878)”
So from a Russian Perspective (and Prince Andrew’s) we’ve got bases in the “-ickystans” and an army in Afghanistan. We’ve supplied via (or, rather, we WERE supplied via…) the old British Colony of Greater India, and now we’re looking at a naval blockade of the other end of the old Persian Empire… but don’t worry, WE have no ambitions about Central Asia… Heck, we didn’t even know it was ‘in play’…
But even old rivals can call a brief truce if some new kid wants to horn in on the act. So it was in the lead up to W.W.I (and you thought it was only a bomb in Serbia…)
In the run-up to World War I, both empires were alarmed by Germany’s increasing activity in the Middle East, notably the German project of the Baghdad Railway, which would open up Mesopotamia and Persia to German trade and technology. The ministers Alexander Izvolsky and Edward Grey agreed to resolve their long-standing conflicts in Asia in order to make an effective stand against the German advance into the region. The Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 brought a close to the classic period of the Great Game.
The Russians accepted that the politics of Afghanistan were solely under British control as long as the British guaranteed not to change the regime. Russia agreed to conduct all political relations with Afghanistan through the British. The British agreed that they would maintain the current borders and actively discourage any attempt by Afghanistan to encroach on Russian territory. Persia was divided into three zones: a British zone in the south, a Russian zone in the north, and a narrow neutral zone serving as buffer in between.
In regards to Tibet, both powers agreed to maintain territorial integrity of this buffer state and “to deal with Lhasa only through China, the suzerain power”.
And we wonder why Persia / Iran might be just a tiny bit nervous about it’s neighborhood and folks wanting to help it ‘modernize’… Oh, and I do hope we in the USA are not seen as a New Kid like Germany was, trying to horn in on the local shake down turf…
BTW, that word suzerain, is an interesting one. It means that while you are nominally your own country, some other country controls all your external affairs. Fancy term for “puppet state”, IMHO. But here we see, too the involvement of China in Tibet with boots on throats. Some things never change…
Especially in The Great Game, where even the transition from a Czar to a Communist Paradise did not derail the play:
The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 nullified existing treaties and a second phase of the Great Game began. The Third Anglo-Afghan War of 1919 was precipitated by the assassination of the then ruler Habibullah Khan. His son and successor Amanullah declared full independence and attacked British India’s northern frontier. Although little was gained militarily, the stalemate was resolved with the Rawalpindi Agreement of 1919. Afghanistan re-established its self-determination in foreign affairs.
In May 1921, Afghanistan and the Russian Soviet Republic signed a Treaty of Friendship. The Soviets provided Amanullah with aid in the form of cash, technology, and military equipment. British influence in Afghanistan waned, but relations between Afghanistan and the Russians remained equivocal, with many Afghans desiring to regain control of Merv and Panjdeh. The Soviets, for their part, desired to extract more from the friendship treaty than Amanullah was willing to give.
I think we all know how that turned out, and the OTHER Soviet Afghan War…
However, I’m sure that this time, with Putin and a democratic republic, I’m sure “This Time Is Different” and they will have not claims on Afghanistan… and I’m sure we won’t get stuck there… /sarcoff>
With the advent of World War II came the temporary alignment of British and Soviet interests: in 1940, both governments pressured Afghanistan for the expulsion of a large German non-diplomatic contingent, which both governments believed to be engaging in espionage. Afghanistan complied in 1941. With this period of cooperation between the USSR and the UK, the Great Game between the two powers came to an end.
When everyone is dead, the Great Game is finished. Not before.
Even so, there is a New Great Game defined:
Recently there has been some use of the expression “the Great Game” to describe relations between the United States, Russia, the People’s Republic of China and other nations such as Pakistan and Turkey, over influence with the Central Asian republics and access to energy resources and military bases.[…]
While energy resources and military bases are mentioned as part of The Great Game, so is the continuing jostling for strategic advantage between great powers and between the regional powers in mountainous border regions in the Himalayas.
(And this doesn’t even mention the tensions between China, India, and Pakistan over Kashmir. All three, nuclear powers)
The wiki on The New Great Game has some useful bits, too:
Noopolitik in the New Great Game
Even a new word to learn. Noopolitik, whatever that is and however you pronounce it… Higher levels of indirection, leveraged play with more technology and attempts to cause a pivot in history with a small technical ploy… Shifting the balance without being the fulcrum, nor even having a direct grab of the lever, just a smaller lever prying at it…
After Halford Mackinder, in The Grand Chessboard Zbigniew Brzezinski had emphasized the unparalleled value Central Asia had among US geostrategic imperatives. Yet in his later book, “The Choice: Global dominance or Global Leadership” Brzezinski notably argued the USA should resort to more Soft Power in attempting to politically command The Geographical Pivot of History. Similarily, Idriss Aberkane claimed Noopolitik was playing a more central role than ever in the balance of power of the New Great Game, as innovation was the simplest way for Great Gamers to alter the complex status quo and regional balance of power. Among such military innovations capable of altering the regional balance of power in a non linear way had already been the VA-111 “Shkval” supercavitation torpedo technology and the Caspian Sea Monster ground effect vehicle deployed by the Soviet Navy. On the Soft Power side James Glanz and John Markoff reporting for the International Herald Tribune wrote in June 12th 2012 that the Obama Administration was deploying shadow connection networks to provide political allies in the New Great Game with direct access to the internet and bypass local censorship, thus granting them access to direct network-centric resistance.
“The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy “shadow” Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.”
Aberkane therefore argued that the projection of development and Confidence building measures was gaining momentum as a means to leverage political intercourses by other means in Central Asia, and that such was a novel feature of the New Great Game as opposed to the Great Game
Well, while I’m glad to hear that the Obama Admin at least realizes that shadow nets, set up with ersatz means, can get past the shutdowns, I’m a bit worried that they might actually think they have a clue how to play The New Great Game.
Dear Obama: The British Empire used a bunch of colonial forces in Afghanistan, not many of their own guys. So ask yourself: “Who has their boots on the ground in Afghanistan?” Then ask: “Who is the colonial lackey here and who is calling the tune?”… Who is standing with a tiny lever moving the big lever on the pivot point of history, and who IS the big lever?
Similarity with the Great Game
“The Graveyard of Empires”
Afghanistan expert Seth Jones published a book analyzing its popular name as “The Graveyard of Empires”: In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan. That Afghanistan is a position of the Great Game that is impossible to hold over a protracted period seemed to have remained an invariant of the New Great Game
Might I suggest that history has pretty much shown that when an Empire thinks it can take and hold Afghanistan, it’s nearer to its end than to its beginning? Hold it too long, the other players start nibbling away at your country points in other places, maybe even try taking down some of your continent points… ( I really DO suggest playing a few rounds of Risk before you decide you know how to play it in the real world… It’s a lot easier to tell the lozenge army that it is dead than to tell real mothers and fathers they have no sons and daughters…)
So think on this: About now, Madam Hillary will have been sent over to explain again about the $Few Billion Checkbook and how we expect folks to stay bought, even if we have invaded their country, killed their people without telling them, bombed a couple of their border outposts killing their soldiers, and generally been acting like an Empire and their suzerain power… And about now, a bunch of pissed off Muslim Men will be wondering what That Woman thinks she is; to be bossing them around in their own country. So what would happen if just about then, they got a nice little phone call from their old buddy Putin asking if they would like a couple of spare $Billion in oil dollars he has laying about… in exchange for, oh, I donno… maybe a nice little newly vacated air base and a couple of closed border crossings? Oh, and maybe they could send a nuke over to Syria with a nice little missile attached, just let the Russian Ships know when to get out of the way…
How much of $200 / bbl oil would flow to Russia with Iran shut down and the USA going bat shit in the region? With a nuclear fallout cloud drifting toward Saudi and Israel getting ready to decapitate anything that goes ‘whoosh’ in the night? With the Egyptian Military looking for a reason to stay in power and Israel Right There just one provocation away from nuking Iran and having the whole Arab League go open loop.
I’m pretty sure then it would be more than a couple of $Billion… And more than $200 / bbl. With China paying that much for oil, would they be willing to loan us a another $Trillion to pick a fight with Russia? Or would they rather use that $Trillion buying up some nice countries closer to Kashmir?
Wonder what Putin and Medvedev think?
This is exactly the kind of “Foreign Military Adventure” that our founders warned about, wrote a constitution to prevent, and that generally we ought to be avoiding at all turns. It sucks a country dry of treasure and willpower. It reduces empires to dust, and it consumes more than can ever be gained. Yet stupid blind ambition continues to play the same old Games, hoping this time the outcome will be different.
But who knows, maybe this time it WILL be different. We’ve not yet had a war with multiple nuclear participants all fighting over the same pivot point of history… May I suggest a motto or ‘toast’? “To new beginnings! May your bootstraps be strong!”
You’re gonna need them for pulling yourself back up out of the Post Nuclear Empire mud…