Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

The last post of 2009.

Happy New Year
Heri ya Mwaka Mpya
С Новым 2010 годом!
Веселого Різдва і з Новим Роком

Iran on the Brink

Coat of arms of the Islamic Republic of Iran. ...Image via Wikipedia

Well. Not exactly. But the Western media would have you believe it is as they continue to portray the "opposition" as some sort of anti-clerical, anti-Islamic group (this does not apply to the protesters in the street who are likely very anti-clerical rule).

I recently received an email of an alternative view which seems to me much more reality based although I can't vouch for its accuracy. Essentially, the alternative view says this:

1. This is not about a conflict of ideology. It is about economics - those that affect the economic elites.

2. On one side is Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The other side is represented by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The former has been on the short end of the deal to Ahmadinejad lately and his businesses are not doing well. Remember, he is a very wealthy cleric.

3. Rafsanjani is basically shut down in Iran - he is no longer privy to the inner circle discussions or decisions.

4. The 30 year old sanctions have taken a toll and Rafsanjani developed a strong overseas network for trade. So, Rafsanjani's overseas network has come into play.

5. Ahmadinejad did not sit on his hands and has been developing his own overseas network. This has not worked out so well as Rafsanjani gave the names etc of people the President had been working with to the CIA and MI5 who have dutifully scotched the deals. In a tit for tat, Ahamdinejad closed his opponents out of the internal banking system. Bad if you need loans to run businesses.

6. If either side voiced this in public, the religious mantle they cover themselves with would vanish. Nothing but the political and economic hacks that they are.

7. The street protests are mostly those Iranians who are westernized. Not many, I'm afraid.

8. The growing pressure by security forces to put an end to the demonstrations is becoming intense. If they are unleashed, the bloodshed so far seen will be nothing.

9. Since Rafsanjani is out of the loop, anything he or his people say to the west must be considered unreliable.

10. Ahmadinejad will deal on the nuclear issue but the US has to simultaneously (or a nano-second before) drop sanctions so that he will come out looking like a savior.

11. The economic control war is playing out, but the regime is running thin on patience.

What is left unsaid above is what would happen if the US agreed, as a New Year gesture, to lift sanctions? Would the demonstrations stop - or be stopped?

As I said, take the above with a grain of salt. But it is entirely plausible under the circumstances and is consistent with other political power struggles - one only needs to look to the clan struggle going on now in Russia. It's all about the money.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Failed Plane Bombing - War in Yemen

The growing clamour from the usual suspects in the US to insert itself somehow into the Yemen as a result of the failed attack on the Delta plane over Detroit is very reminiscent of previous cries by the same cast of characters to invade Iraq and bomb Iran. Before succumbing to the mendacious arguments put forward by some of the dumbest members of the legislative community (I'm talking about you Hoekstra), a little bit of fact checking is in order.

First - Republicans (again I'm talking to you Hoekstra, and you Bachmann, and you Boehner)voted against appropriating the necessary funds for airport security which included explosive detection devises. And shame on you BBC, CNN et al for not reporting that and on the Obama administration for not shoving it in their collective faces. Oh. It was the Bush administration that released (presumably for lack of evidence) two Yemenis who were the alleged plotters behind this attempted bombing. So Cheney - STFU.

Second - The BBC revealed today that the CIA knew about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old (wealthy brat) Nigerian and failed to talk to anyone about it - thereby allowing his visa for the US to continue. No comment.
Third - Joe Lieberman (R-CT) said on Fox News Sunday that the US should launch a pre-emtive war against Yemen - quoting an anonymous administration source. Does this sound familiar? Yemen, Senator, has not attacked the US and, in fact, is cooperating with a key US ally in the region - Saudi Arabia - to disrupt and destroy what is known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Who does he want the US to pre-emtively attack?

The call for the US to significantly increase its presence in the conflict, which is partly a civil war, all as a result of a failed attack by a lone, pathetic rich kid from Nigeria, of whom the US was warned by his father, is bordering on the insane. However, it may be too late as CNN reported today that although there has been no deal on a US Special Forces helicopter-borne assault that puts boots on the ground, that the US would like the Yeminis to develop that capacity.

That Yemen is a mess, politically and economically is clear. It has been fighting an indigenous al Houthi insurgency in the north for years and a growing secessionist movement in the south. The al Houthi are the proxy now for Iran in its regional competition with Saudi Arabia and are not connected with al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) whose stated goal has been the overthrow of the Saudi government. The Saudi's can and have crushed al Houthi incursions on Saudi territory and have even launched effective airstrikes against their mountain strongholds in Yemen.

AQAP is the combination of the now destroyed Saudi al Qaeda group and its Yemeni counterpart. The group has been singularly ineffective in doing anything and has now lost its leadership as a result of a succession of air/ground attacks. AQAP is hardly the type of threat requiring any more attention from the US than is already being given. Politically, however, the US administration may not have a choice as the media and Republicans press for "action" and pre-emptive war.

The Lieberman crowd need to dial down the hysterics. Yemen is a fragile state posing absolutely no threat to the US or anyone else. The government can only push the jihadists so far without running into trouble with the various tribes in the area and it's own security units (sound familiar?) The government has to fight an al-Houthi insurgency and a secessionist movement in the south. Disintegration is a word that comes to mind. But, the prospect of another failed state in the region (Somalia is the other) does not appear to concern the neo-con element that is palpably tingling with anticipation for another war. Yemen is on the edge of the failed state slope and insertion of more US forces would push it over that edge.

The reality, Senator Lieberman, is that this matter is much more complex than you are leading people who watch Fox to believe. Furthermore, the US does not need to escalate any more than it already has, to wit:

December 17: Mohammed Saleh Mohammed Ali al-Kazemi, a senior leader of AQAP, and dozens of other AQAP militants, were killed in an air strike in the southern province of Abyan. The U.S. Navy carried out the strike. The strike was accompanied by coordinated ground raids by Yemeni forces to prevent escape. The use of US naval assets is already a dramatic escalation by the US.

December 24: A Yemeni assault on AQAP was backed by US air assets resulting in 30 killed, including the cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, Nasser al-Wuhayshi (al-Qaeda's regional leader) and his deputy, Said Ali al-Shihri. The cleric, by the way, had contact with three of the 9/11 hijackers and also exchanged e-mails with Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, killed 13 fellow soldiers at Fort Hood.

The bomber was trained and supplied in Yemen by AQAP. That much he has admitted. So what? His mentor in Yemen is probably dead. What is it about AQAP that has the media blasting headlines and demands for a pre-emptive war against the country that is, after all, fighting AQAP? For the US to go after AQAP any more than it currently is doing risks a full scale meltdown of the current government. That is an unpleasant prospect. US policy should be to coordinate and support, as it is doing, the Saudi and Yemeni government efforts, not make this a US war.

AQAP began in Saudi Arabia with the express purpose of destabilizing the regime. It was destroyed and kicked south. Now it is isolated, surrounded, under assault and incapable of producing any serious threat to anyone as it is gradually worn down and its leadership killed. The desire for a grand fireworks display to assuage Lieberman's and Hoekstra's delusions of manhood is both foolish and counterproductive.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Washington Post - Bad for Mental Health

I admit I have abandoned reading most US newspapers. However, at times I am compelled to seek out stupid. So I read the Washington Post.

The latest Hiatt editorial regarding Hillary Clinton's recent speech is stupendously moronic, but typical of the AIPAC and neo-con mentality that appears to have hijacked a formerly great newspaper.

There is this, for instance:

She offered an innovation: The Obama administration, she said, would "see human rights in a broad context," in which "oppression of want -- want of food, want of health, want of education, and want of equality in law and in fact" -- would be addressed alongside the oppression of tyranny and torture. "That is why," Ms. Clinton said, "the cornerstones of our 21st-century human rights agenda" would be "supporting democracy" and "fostering development."

This is indeed an important change in U.S. human rights policy -- but the idea behind it is pure 20th century.

First of all - he might have just as well characterized this as "soooo 20th century", dismissing freedom from want as some sort of passing phase. This is the conservative equivalent of "let them eat cake". The point made by the Secretary of State is that human rights must encompass freedom from hunger, disease, and access to education as well as supporting democracy. This is not a new policy Freddy and is fundamental to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which the US is a signatory.

...and this:

Ms. Clinton said that in adding "human development" to human rights and democracy, "we have to tackle all three simultaneously." But there are two dangers in her approach. One is that non-democratic regimes will seize on the economic aspect of her policy as an substitute for political reform -- as dictators have been doing for decades. Another is that the Obama administration will itself, in working with friendly but unfree countries, choose the easy route of focusing on development, while downplaying democracy.

Hiatt is amazingly transparent here while also conveniently ignoring those parts of the speech that don't fit his view of the universe. He and his fellow travellers believe that dictators are interested in economic development in a vacuum and indulge in assuring their population are adequately housed and fed only in order to please Washington. Simultaneously, he clearly has no problem with that so long as US corporate investments (China leaps to mind) get their cut, while ignoring the non-democratic aspects of the government.

Kazakhstan Takes Up the OSCE

In 2010, the Republic of Kazakhstan will assume the chair of the OSCE. Is this a cause for concern or is it possible that the government in Astana will become more democratic as a result?

I don't really think the chairmanship will turn into the possible debacle that has been portrayed by organizations like Human Rights Watch. Neither will it produce the deep changes in Kazakhstan's human rights record precisely because in order to alter attitudes within the country, laws restricting basic human rights such as freedom of expression and religion, will need to be amended so as to remove the vagueness surrounding, for example, what can be written in the press without charges of affecting the welfare of the state. Unfortunately, Astana is a totally top-down government. Nothing happens unless lower level officials receive explicit instructions from the Presidential Administration and then often it must come from the president himself.

In the meantime, perhaps the first test of the chairmanship will be monitoring the elections in Ukraine in January. Considering that after the Orange Revolution even mentioning the events in Ukraine was met by cold stares from government officials, to have Astana judging a much more robust democratic expression (despite its flaws) in Ukraine is worrying. Astana will need to approve of an election process in Ukraine (and it will) that is in stark contrast to its own.

Astana is in a position to gain considerable prestige from its chairmanship, but it will also focus attention upon its own, considerable, failings. Will the attention prove too much for the government to tolerate? Perhaps by 2011, they will be glad to have done with it. Kazakhstan is a tribal society with a ruler not accustomed or tolerant of dissent. The people were appalled by the Orange Revolution and are repelled by the apparent chaos that it represented. Stability is highly valued, just like it is in China. Holding the reins of the OSCE for a year will not change that perception and although legislation may be enacted to assuage the sensibilities of OSCE members and organizations like Human Rights Watch, implementation will unlikely be pushed very hard.

This is not to say that pressure to change will be entirely unsuccessful or should be abandoned. But more will be needed than simply appealing to Astana's sense of justice and respect for human rights. After all, they are much more interested in economic development as the newest pipeline to China indicates or recent energy deals with France.

Economic strength is a priority for the government and the general population and attitudinal changes only come after people feel economically secure. The misconception peddled by donor agencies that civil society programs alone have a significant impact in societies such as in Central Asia (or in any of the former Soviet Union for that matter)is simply a waste of money in the absence of economic stability. To put it simply, a family does not care about what happens to journalists, who owns the media or the lack of government transparency when there is no job and no food on the table. More, not less, economic development and investment will be needed to establish a foundation for systemic change while at the same time keeping the pressure on for an end to human rights abuses.

Finally, what damage can Kazakhstan possibly do to the reputation of the OSCE? Silvio Berlusconi was President of the EU for a year and the universe did not collapse.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Back from the Tanzania Bush

Returned from an amazing trip to Ruaha National Park - no crowds, no cars, no cell phones and solar power only - with close-up, non-enclosed viewing of lions - very, very close. Bumped into an elephant outside my banda as well - and retreated in a hurry. People need to do this at least once.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukka from Tanzania

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 20: A giraffe re...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I won't be posting for a week. I'm off on safari to Ruaha National Park for three days, four nights in a tent camp where hopefully there will be lion, giraffe, hippo and wild dogs. A 2+ hour flight on a small plane to central Tanzania. Back on Christmas day. Incidentally, it is over 40c during the day here lately. Almost the same at night.

So - Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah to all.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, December 18, 2009

Yegor Gaidar - RIP

Yegor Gaidar, former Russian minister of finances.Image via Wikipedia

At 53, one of the leaders of economic reforms in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union has died. Many Russians despise him, but they are wrong and frankly, never understood the economic and political situation that the country faced in 1993.

Like many in his position had and continue to learn, the immense problems created by a corrupt, venal and criminal political and economic system are then blamed on the successor as the reforms that are necessary take form and are implemented. (The Republicans and the Bush administration somehow come to mind). As Rome's leaders learned, the "mob" easily forgets - but is just as easily bought off by whomever has the money, the slogans and the simplistic solutions.

I only had the chance to meet with Gaidar once together with Anatoly Chubais, when I first arrived in Russia during the latter part of 2004. The meeting was brief and I was not alone, but I remember clearly how relaxed and logical he was in describing what he felt needed to be done. It was a perilous time, but one that held enormous hope. Unlike Russia today, the chaos was a democratic kind and numerous parties were maneuvering, compromising and arriving at less than satisfactory deals in order to move forward.

Russians used to say that everything was free in the Soviet Union. I remember a town meeting outside of Moscow in 1995 when one person after another voiced similar sentiments. Except it was palpably false. Nothing was free. The speaker, a member of the Duma, then asked if they would prefer the old economy where they had jobs but nothing to buy or one where the shelves were full and choices wide. The difference, of course, was clear. They would have to work to earn what they needed. In the USSR (and I went to school for a short time in Leningrad) prices were cheap - paid for by poor salaries. Nothing is for free.

Yegor Gaidar's choices were stark and, like Robert Frost, he took the road less travelled by - and it made all the difference. Russians can thank him for saving their country regardless of the mistakes - and they were huge. But Russia survived because of him, Chubais and even - yes even - Yeltsin.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Russia Strikes it BIG

Russia has succeeded in convincing the guano capital of the planet, if not the galaxy, to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. It only cost Russia's treasury a paltry $50 Million USD to the island nation of Nauru for it to cave in to the tidal wave of support for the two Russian created regions.

It is unknown what the nation's 11,320 citizens think of this monumental decision by their country which will soon be ratified by Nauru's parliament. Lavrov must have really worked hard to achieve this diplomatic coup right under the nose of the West. I'm sure that the Kremlin will now put the unlimited supply of bird droppings their money has purchased to good use.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Peace Prize, US and Iran

In reading President Obama's Nobel Prize acceptance speech, I was struck by certain sections which are indicators of what may come. Here are the 'graphs:

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naive -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms.

...I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower.

But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions -- not just treaties and declarations -- that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms....

If I were making a bet, then this part of the speech means that if Iran keeps thumbing its nose at the international community, refuses the proposals of Russia, Turkey and others, then the US is going to act militarily. I make no judgement of whether this is smart or not, but even Moscow seems to be frustrated. Iran's leadership need to pay attention.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, December 11, 2009

Short Answers to Dumb Questions

Speaking to President Obama's speech in Oslo accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Rude Pundit had these questions:

"To put it simply, Barack Obama wasn't talking to you. He wasn't even talking to Europe, really. No, he was speaking to history, offering a philosophical and not dispassionate assertion of American leadership in the world, a reasoning behind his war policies, a defense of the "just war" doctrine, and a plan for future peace. It wasn't a stemwinder, a breathtaking oratory cum sermon. It was a speech, from an intellectual president to intellectuals, and it was so fucking smart. Have we gone so far down the dumbing-down highway that we can no longer see the importance of hearing a rational man grapple with the conflict between realism and idealism? Have we been so numbed by the cowboy presidency of George W. Bush, along with a steady diet of reality-TV hysterics and high-fructose corn syrup-infused food products, that we're no longer capable of understanding anything except in relation to how it makes us feel?"

Answer to all the above regarding the American Publicus Idiotus: Yes.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Off Topic - Wingnuts in the US

It is only by exercising enormous restraint that I refrain from posting on the loathsome, lowlife, uneducated morons in the US who oppose science and choice: in health (insurance) reform, for women, for lifestyle, for climate change and of religious (or no religious) beliefs. What I think should happen to them is largely unprintable. Oh - and screw Stupak and his allies.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Afghanistan Surge

The Obama plan is not what I would have hoped for since other than the July 2011 date to begin withdrawal there is no exit strategy. Perhaps there is one, but the strategy was not announced. To my mind, this was a necessary step in explaining the entire plan to the public. Now, however, and despite statements to the contrary, the withdrawal must really begin in the summer of 2011.

General McChrystal largely got what he wanted. The media, as usual, reported that the approved 30,000 was short of the troop surge that he had requested. He has more. The media conveniently forgot the 21,000 sent earlier this year. So, the US has committed another 51,000 and not 30,000. So be it and I really hope the general is correct in his assessment because he has 18 months to prove it.

If the troop withdrawal does not start in July 2011 then the surge will convert to an occupation in the eyes of the Afghans, something I would hope the US had learned to avoid from its ongoing experience in Iraq. This would be a mistake of enormous proportions because it would be seen that the US is supporting a corrupt regime in the face of an indigenous Pashtun uprising with an army made up of minority Tajiks.

Furthermore, Obama has stated that this is not a war of choice, but of necessity. Maybe - but I still wonder who we are fighting. That the Taliban are a despicable throw-back to twelfth century beliefs does not make them the enemy. Distasteful, oppressive and dangerous internally to Afghans - particularly women - they may be. But, the US cannot wage war on those grounds everywhere. So is the Mugabe regime, not to mention the proposed legislation in Uganda calling for the death penalty for homosexuals (supported, by the way, by the US homegrown Taliban known as the far right christian fundamentalists and their Republican allies).

If the purpose of the surge is to protect areas long enough to solidify opposition to the Taliban, then who is going to do that after the withdrawal? The Afghan army is composed largely of Tajiks who will have serious trouble operating in Pashtun majority areas. Indeed, it has taken 8 years to train 100,000 Afghan troops. Is the plan to train an equal number in 18 months even remotely feasible?

Is the goal to destroy al Qaida? It wouldn't seem necessary to employ 55,000 troops to go after a shattered organization which has not mounted a serious attack in 5 years. In any case, destroying the terrorist organization should not be the goal in Afghanistan not merely because its total destruction is likely impossible, but because the goal should be to deny it a base. Again, that does not take 55,000 troops.

The US has indulged in nation building in Iraq and is dangerously close to that goal in Afghanistan. This is the worst mistake since it is not a nation and only can be dealt with - if that's the phrase - as a collection of tribes and clans. The US cannot afford to stay in Afghanistan to cobble together a unified nation and certainly not with Karzai, the mayor of Kabul.

My take on this strategy is that there are too many points where it can fail ranging from the perception of occupation by foreigners to a corrupt, ineffective government that has lost legitimacy but which will attempt to keep the US in the game well beyond the 2011 withdrawal phase.

Beyond the borders of Afghanistan, the US and the surge will produce additional tensions between India and Pakistan. The latter have no desire to see Afghan Taliban, supported by the Pakistan government, pushed into Pakistan only to be followed in hot pursuit by troops or an increase in drone attacks. Pakistan is also concerned by Indian influence in Afghanistan and, paranoid or not, feels that India is encircling it.

Then there is Iran which seems to be involved in a slow motion drain circling dance internally but which also appears to be deliberately provoking the West. With troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, a belligerent Israel and an independent minded Turkey, how does Obama deal with a sudden Iran crisis? More importantly, how does he deal with the massive unemployment in the US while funding these military interventions.

I hope McChrystal is right and the Obama strategy works - at least to a certain extent - so that the US can declare it has done what it can do for Afghanistan, eliminated a base for al Qaida to operate within to train and launch attacks, and then leave.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Work in Tanzania

Ok. I now have a little time to post again. The long break was due to the shocking fact that those who pay me actually like to see reports and deliverables.

I'll be back today. Watch this space.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Development Aid Agency Bid Procedures

There has been an alarming trend in the development aid business when it comes to requests for proposals issued by some agencies. Apparently, those who put together the various requests for proposals or similar bid packages have little practical experience in the field or understanding how companies are run.

A recent example that I came across involved a request for proposal that tied payments to the contractor to events beyond the control of the contractor - specifically, passage of legislation by a foreign government. The culprit in this idiotic requirement will not be mentioned but it is clear that the author of the RFP does not know what he/she is doing and likely is someone with no business or practical development experience. Now, this is not a matter of a simple failure of understanding. It is profoundly stupid. No business in its right mind would agree to tie payments to any event that is outside of its control.

Another example of this out of control agency behavior is the weighting of proposals among technical and cost points. To use an 80/20 split is absurd. Again - the result of inexperienced staff and the academic composition of some agencies which results in programs that fail to take into consideration anything practical or reality based. Developing programs founded on theory rather than the existing environment is worse than ineffective. It is why many authorities in Africa, for example, think aid agencies are part of the problem and why, during a recent debate in the Economist, the consensus was that the private sector was better at delivering results than government aid agencies.

Development contractors are not in the charity business and the sooner aid agencies figure that out the better.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Afghanistan Surge

The rumours of President Obama's decision on the next steps in Afghanistan for the United States all seem to indicate the insertion of about 34,000 more troops as part of a "surge" advocated by the Pentagon. This is less than demanded by General McChrystal. The number itself is meaningless without context and the parsing of the rumours serves no useful purpose until President Obama explains, as he has promised, the plan.

Any explanation will have to address what the Afghan government must do in the short and medium term and an exit strategy (though not necessarily characterized as such). Perhaps, too, President Obama will explain the objective and, hopefully unlike the military and their allies, it won't be to "win". Until then, I'm reserving comment.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, November 20, 2009

World Cup - France Cheats to Get In

There is not much that can be done about it (and the suggestion for a replay is a non-starter since the teams won't release their players to do so) but the French win over Ireland is forever tainted by this clear, deliberate hand-ball. If France wins the Cup - unlikely but possible - a notation should be added on how they arrived. Too bad.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tanzanian Corruption & African Fragmentation

Well, this is not good. A considerable fall from 2008. Ranked now at 126 (102 in 2008), Tanzania is only marginally better than most of Africa. However, for the sake of perspective, Somalia is dead last at 180. I guess that's something. Botswana is the best at 37 - only two points below Puerto Rico and 5 below Israel. Maybe I need to work there.

This ranking was published by Transparency International just prior to the speech in Dar es Salaam on November 14 given by Mo Ibriham where "the British-Sudanese mobile phone billionaire said bad leadership, and the fragmentation of the continent into small and economically isolated countries meant that Africa could not survive as it was".

Mo Ibrihim's conclusion, by the way, applies to ethnic separatists in Europe and Asia. Their desire for an independent state - driven by a demonstrable inability to tolerate others based on differences of religion, race, hair style, shoe size or a false sense of superiority or other less palatable reasons on the part of the locally dominant species of ethnic culprits who are equally at fault - leads to economically unsustainable "nations" dependent on the charity of others. Their position of "separate but equal" is more aptly called "separate but poor and stupid".

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, November 16, 2009

Consultants to the World - Condi and Hadley - Oh My

I just noticed this from last week.

Who on earth would hire the same people who brought on the foreign policy disasters of the Bush adminstration? Their potential and actual client list would be useful and tell us more about the relative intellegence of the clients than what we already know to be true about the judgement of these two foreign affairs experts.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Japan & Russia to End Word War II

In a little reported event on Sunday, the Russian and new Japanese governments have agreed to sign a peace treaty ending the last vestige of World War II.

Japan agreed to the peace treaty with no strings attached - a significant departure from previous negotiations. The fact that the issue of the South Kuril islands will not be linked to the treaty may stir up some political trouble in Japan; but, it seems that Japan is pushing the issue to back burner in order to concentrate on its economic position with China and re-entering South East Asia. Russia may also want to resolve any remaining issues with Japan precisely because Japan would be a counter to China. Russia is not particularly formidable in its eastern regions and a settlement with Japan would allow Russia to concentrate its efforts in the west.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Rains Came

Summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.Image via Wikipedia

Actually, four days of heavy rain in drought striken East Africa. It's probably not much interest for those who are not here; but I am, so tough.

The problem is that after a two year drought, heavy - and you really need to see it to understand the difference when we say heavy rain in Africa - can do a great deal of damage. The land is parched and in the northern districts around Kilimanjaro here in Tanzania it is particularly so. So the rain took down the side of a mountain and killed at least 20 people in their homes.

The rainy season begins this month and so the devastation in East Africa (Tanzania has not been hit as hard)caused by two years of drought is likely to be supplanted by devastation caused by downpours in partnership with the el Nino affect and climate change. Although huge efforts to feed people have been undertaken by Oxfam, the respective East Africa governments and other aid agencies, there is something missing from an aid perspective at this point.

Starvation caused by drought, inefficiencies in distribution, climate change and land development are all connected and simply providing food aid is not a long term solution. The focus on sustainable food production requires increasing funding to programs that actually have a demonstrable affect on the ground in a very short term.

I've seen how many aid agencies work. I'm not optimistic.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Pirates Have Lawyers Too

Spain's Defence Minister is pushing the EU to blockade three Somali ports. I won't discuss the utility of this since I don't know the naval deployment capabilities of the EU outside of NATO. But, I found this remark amazing:

--- Chacon also said the pirate gangs "have ties to sophisticated law firms in London," and she called for the international community to do more to track ransoms given to pirates to release hostages. ---


Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Comment Control Back On

Sorry. Because of a spam attack, I've had to turn comment moderation and coding back on in full. Open ID will work but, if you want to leave a comment, you'll need to be able to type in the letters shown for verification. These people know who they are and just make it difficult for everyone else.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Title Registration in Africa - a Bust?

{{Potd/2005-06-24 (en)}}Image via Wikipedia

As an agent-of-virtue (but without the giant white land rover) currently working in Africa, I would love to know if the land registration systems foisted on the continent by the West for the past 15 years work...anywhere? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

More on this later.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

A Propos of Nothing in Particular

WattoImage via Wikipedia

I see that Lou Dobbs of CNN fame (I rarely watch it - BBC is far superior) has quit. The mother ship from the Vega star system has arrived and is bringing him home. Great.

Now if only the ship from planet Zorg would come and snatch Rupert Murdoch (pictured here), the stench of bigotry, hate and stupidity on the planet would measurably drop.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, November 9, 2009

Afghan Rumours

McClatchy reports that the Obama adminstration is hinting at the deployment of 34,000 more troops to Afghanistan - very close to the number requested by General McChrystal as a minimum and which I thought was delusional.

If this is true, then I believe it is a huge mistake. The Biden approach is much more doable than spending a huge amount of funds on a questionable deployment to support a corrupt government of a non-nation which has shown no signs of reforming. The final decision won't come until after the President finishes with his Asia trip, but a plan has yet to be articulated.

I despise people like the Taliban - but are they a threat to US interests within Afghanistan (they are different than the Pakistanian version)? Why isn't it possible to maintain a force that can surgically target threats? What is the US goal? Is there an exit strategy?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Ukraine and Russia Leadership Classic

No. It's not golf. It's caption writing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Fresh Air in Tehran

This was interesting. The fact that the student Mahmoud Vahidnia, has not been, to this point, the target of retribution (his statements and questions were really posed with respect), is refreshing. It is a bit of fresh air juxtaposed with the tear gassing of protesters the other day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Chancellor Merkel's Moment

OK. I withdraw 40% - well maybe 45% - of my criticism of German foreign policy following the Chancellor's speech in front of a joint session of Congress. Although Chancellor from the larger political party, I do wonder what effect her coalition partner's foreign policy views had on the rather forceful remarks regarding Iran. Nevertheless, the follow-up actions vis a vis Russia are what will count.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, November 2, 2009

Afghan Post - Headline: Karzai Bounces Back - Wins by Landslide

070822-A-6849A-667 -- Scouts from 2nd Battalio...Image via Wikipedia

The US is now stuck. First, the administration tried to distance itself from Karzai as well as signal it was looking for someone new. With Karzai cozying up to every warlord in Afghanistan, turning a blind eye to corruption (particularly his own), the US had burned the ships on the beach - as history has shown, a very unwise tactic. Now what? A congratulatory message from the US embassy in Kabul. "Looking forward to working with you", "victory for democracy" sniff, sniff sort of stuff.

Whatever happens next, the US needs to start rebuilding those burnt hulks and develop a strategy to get out. Karzai is unlikely to feel generous just now and attempts to pursue governance, anti-corruption and "civil society" reforms will slide off the mountains like so much melting snow.

As I said earlier, I suspect that the Obama administration will send between 10-14,000 more troops. McChrystal is certifiable if he thinks more will come. Obama will lean more toward the Biden plan of CI warfare than that of taking and holding territory. I hope.

Afghanistan is not a country and cannot be governed through a central authority. Some semblance of a deal needs to be made with the warlords. It would be nice if the Taliban can suffer severe losses and be marginalized because I believe that people who treat others, especially women, in a manner that might even be found obnoxious in 12th century, need to be boxed up somewhere so they don't do any more harm. However, it is likely the best that can happen now is a successful Biden approach. Any legitimacy in Kabul that a real election may have engendered is up in smoke.

The other element ofthe Afghanistan war is the impact on the foreign policy of the US and NATO members as a whole. NATO is now becoming less and less of a unified force. The US is tied down in Afghanistan and still has 120,000 troops in Iraq. In the meantime, Iran is proving to be its normal self, expert at outwardly reasonable delay and obfuscation while risking that Israel may suddenly tire of the game and throw its weight around. This could drag the US into another Asian land war and would undoubtadly set of a naval conflict in the Arabian Gulf. Something it cannot afford either militarily or financially. Something Russia knows very well.

The mess that the previous administration of Cheney/Bush dumped on the future is now pretty clear. Bush looked into Putin's eyes and "saw his soul". Really. How sweet. Jerk.

Well, that soul has now breached the borders of another country and remained; threatens Ukraine with a similar loss of Crimea (to which it has gleefully handed out Russian passports); cajoles Germany with the carrot of energy dependence to its view of Eastern Europe as within its sphere; crushes any degree of press and individual rights at home; revises its nuclear strategy to include a first strike; and, begins a diplomatic round of ally hunting in South America. All of this is within Russia's rights. Just like the Soviet Union (except for the first strike doctine) which it is more than a little beginning to resemble. None of these moves should go unanswered or uncountered because of Afghanistan. Understand, Russia wants the US tied down while it completes its circuit. The US, while it remains in that position, has very few alternatives.

If Russia were to turn on Iran today, there would be a deal. Iranians are not stupid and they know they have Russia at their back. China would veto sanctions as well - but the Russians will sell them military equipment. Obama will not succeed with Iran until he succeeds in beginning the disentaglement from Afghanistan and completes it in Iraq.

He will not succeed in moving anything forward between Israel and the Palestinians while Iraq and Afghanistan are lead weights on new policy development.

He will not be able to assist Pakistan deal with the terrorist wave of 12th century Luddite Taliban extremists that are tearing the Pakistan state to shreds.

The costs of these two wars has been and is draining the US treasury and making the dollar weaker every day - leaving the US open to a type of effective diplomacy at which the Chinese excel - and the US does not.

NATO is losing its center of gravity and a Germany that sees fit to sell the freedom of other countries for comfort and energy, can bring its operations to a halt.

There should be no mistake. The gross, self-centered, bloody arrogance and greed that engulfed the US for 8 years under the Republicans has been dumped on this new administration to come full circle both domestically and internationally. An exit strategy for Afghanistan based on the Biden plan will be a hit on US prestige. The right wing extremists that have now taken over the Republicans and give the Taliban a run for their money will howl because they are very willing to watch other people die but won't volunteer while there is still time to do so (unlike the Taliban). So what. They would howl either way because they only hate being out of power. The country means nothing.

So this administration now is forced to show the world that it knows how to deal with Afghanistan. The non-plan of the snarling Cheney world view of blood-letting has turned into a morass.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Afghanistan II 1/2

With the turn of events in the second round of elections in Afghanistan, I've postponed a post on the wider issues surrounding the US/Europe/Russia/Israel linkages that significantly tie the hands of US policy makers. There will be no second round - one person running does not an election make.

Let's not characterize this as anything other than it is - a disaster. Sorry Hillary - it changes everything. With the imminent dispatch of another 14,000 troops to Afghanistan, a policy must be articulated by the US administration and an exit strategy developed. Otherwise, there is no reason to be in Afghanistan supporting President Karzai - the Mayor of Kabul.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cuba Embargo

This is just plain stupid. And Obama knows it.

The US voted against a resolution condemning the embargo against Cuba. OK. It was a condemnation aimed at the US. But the Obama administration knows - knows (and everyone with a scintilla of intelligence knows) that the embargo is a joke and harms the interests of the US, not to mention the investments that private firms (hotels, etc.) could make there and reap the rewards.

Every US ally in the world voted against the US except Israel (which, incidentally, has investments in Cuba). Bears worth repeating - every ally voted against the US. Obama and Hillary should have voted: abstain.


Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Let the Games Begin - The Race for President in Ukraine

Well, it has begun. As reported in Hurriyet the campaign to take over the weak position of President of Ukraine has achieved lift-off. Yulia Tymoschenko held a large rally and lambasted Yuschenko.

I can't say I'm particularly interested in who wins - it won't be Yuschenko - but it would be a tragedy for the election to go to Yanukovich. So I guess I'm for Yulia.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, October 19, 2009

Afghanistan II - What's the Plan?

Militant Taliban on the road out of Kabul, Afg...Image by Carl Montgomery via Flickr

The decision to invade Afghanistan was aimed at the destruction of Al Qaida as an effective force able to stage complex and large scale terrorist activities, deny it a secure base and simultaneously to drive the Taliban from power. Al Qaida has since been marginalized and since the invasion has been unable to mount any form of coordinated, serious attack against the US. They are no longer a threat to the US and no longer have a base of operations in Afghanistan such as existed under the protection of the Taliban.

The Taliban were driven from power by US and allied forces. There was no effective follow-thru and soon, the Repblican administration abandoned the hunt for Osama bin Laden and allowed the rural areas to become havens for the Taliban. The US is now paying the price for the misjudgements of the Bush administration in Afghanistan and the choice to turn its eye, efforts and money on Iraq.

The Taliban are resurgent and effective. The country is dangerously corrupt. Karzai is more the mayor of Kabul than president. The recent election was shot thru with fraud and after a recount, a new election is likely. General McChrystal's solution is a major troop surge of at least 40,000 while NATO allies have had enough and will send no more. They want an exit strategy. What alternatives does the new Obama administration have after inheriting a shattered foreign policy, shattered economic policy at home and questionable support from NATO allies?

First, there is the McChrystal alternative. It is not surprising for the general in charge to see the effects of more than six years of indifference to the mission and ask for more troops. But will more boots on the ground really make a difference? That is highly unlikely. The Taliban know that the US will not be in place forever and they can afford to wait. The US treasury cannot continue to absorb endless wars, whether justified or not. And the US cannot continue to sacrifice its military on what very well may be an unwinable war in the conventional sense. Historically there would be no precedent for military victory.

However, putting an additional 40,000 troops into Afghanistan will smack of an occupation. More troops is not better. In fact, it will antagonize the Afghans and serve as a rallying cry for the Taliban. Far more effective would be highly trained special forces that are used to pinpoint targets and terrorist bases to disrupt and destroy Taliban operations. Coupled with an effort to make sure that aid is meaningful - rebuilding infrastructure for example - would go a long way to removing the attraction of the Taliban and deflate any propaganda characterizing the war as an occupation.

Second, the Obama administration has already dialed down the effort to eradicate opium poppy production. This was a misguided effort as all it did was drive poor farmers into the hands of the Taliban. Opium growing accounts for a third of the Afghan economy. No substitute was offered and destruction of the fields meant destruction of the family. It was a foolish policy and the Obama administraton should continue its targeted opium field destruction policy while significantly raising the level of effort to give farmers alternatives so they and their families don't have to choose between starvation and the Taliban.

Third, and most importantly, it is clear that somewhere in 2005 - 2006 the US slowly slipped into a nation-building mission. This was a huge error and needs to be rapidly reversed.

Afghanistan has never been a nation - so there is nothing to rebuild - and the US should not be in that business. Nation building requires the assent of the population and they must do it themselves. The Bush administration indulged in an alarming tendency to lecture other nations and peoples. How has that worked out? It is absurd to believe that anything the US does can result in a viable, cohesive Afghanistan when its entire history is one of tribal rivalry which only seems to come together when a foreign presence descends on Herat or Kabul be it Persia, the Mongols, England, Russia or the US. It is truly the 'graveyard of empires'. None have succeeded. None.

The choices facing the Obama administration are stark and not of its making. Eight years of mismanagement and myth building will not be fixed quickly. President Obama must ignore the conventional wisdom that permeates the Washington village. It has been consistently and deadly wrong for eight years - and not just in Afghanistan.

Everyone wants success but is unable to define it. Richard Holbrook defined success as "knowing it when we see it". Really? What are the goals? Who exactly, is the enemy? I respect Ambassador Holbrook enormously, but I certainly hope that "we'll know it when we see it" is not the definition of success being adopted by this administration. The US needs an exit strategy - an end game - and not one for a long-term engagement with significant military forces.

The internal political problems that the Obama administration faces regarding Afghanistan are one of "damned if you do and damned if you don't". It is abundantly clear that the Republican opposition is not interested in engagement and debate and is simply going to try and tear down, obstruct and damage this administration in any way possible, including fear, obfuscation and outright lies. They will need to be steamrolled. Period.

Granting General McChrystal the troops he claims is necessary for victory - or at least to stabilize the situation - is not necessarilly what is needed. Again, a significantly larger military footpring will achieve the opposite effect with the population. Additional troops of this magnitude will make it impossible to disangage and will be used to justify more troops and money. It has happened before and is a disease that seems to infect American foreign policy.

Fewer troops with a narrow mission of containing and destroying Al Qaida is much more practical than a massive ground war against the Taliban. At the same time,the United States should increase international assistance to Afghanistan under UN supervision. The aid should target the creation of sustainable development, particularly in rural areas. Furthermore, continuing to target opium producers directly tied to the Taliban is a viable policy while providing income-producing alternatives to all the rest would reduce the growing antipathy toward the US.

The Obama administration needs to brush aside the wise old men who pontificate every Sunday on television and in the rapidly shrinking print media who suggest that if only the US had enough troops and enough time, we could build a nation. The US could stay in Afghanistan for a thousand years and it would not achieve its definition of success if the definition is the creation of some sort of Jeffersonian democracy.

Next, I want to discuss the larger picture. Iran, Russia, Europe and Israel.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Accidents Happen

Su-24 FencerImage by Deutscher Friedensstifter via Flickr

This could ruin your whole day.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Ukraine and the US BMD System

Sarych headland near Foros, Ukraine.Image via Wikipedia

Apparently, the US and Ukraine really are talking about a BMD radar placement. That should annoy Russia, but it is really impractical and can only mean that the US is playing with the Kremlin's mind. Would upgrading and the use of an existing base in Crimea make sense? Sure. It faces southeast. Will Ukraine do it? Probably - except for that minor problem of the government changing to a more pro-Russian stance in January. But it is a hint of the Obama velvetglovebutstillinyourfaceRussia foreign policy. More on that later.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Afghanistan I

The pass of Salang, approximately 3800 meters ...Image via Wikipedia

US involvement in Afghanistan recently passed its eighth anniversary. As President Obama has said, this was not a war of choice for the US. The question is, what has it become and where is the US going.

Briefly, in 2001 when the US invasion began, the goal was to destroy safe havens for terrorists which were under the protection of the ruling Taliban. The Taliban were targeted too since their rule had facilitated al Qaida training camps and they refused to turn over Osama bin Laden claiming he was a guest. The Bush administration publicly made the mission one of destroying the Taliban and capturing or killing bin Laden. Neither goal, obviously was met while the mission drifted until the Bush administration clearly abandoned the search for the man behind the death of 3,000 American, British, Iranian, French and other nationalities at the World Trade Center.

The Taliban collapsed outwardly rather quickly, being unable to challenge US and US supported troops in the field. Having utter control in the air, the US and its Afghan allies rapidly rolled up territory and simply drove into Kabul. What happened next was a series of misplaced priorities and actions.

First, US strategy relied on high altitude bombing which resulted in high civilian casualty counts. Not the way to win over the population to the cause. Small scale anti-terrorist operations may have been more effective and resulted in fewer civilian deaths while offering a better chance of capturing or killing the most wanted criminal - up to that point - for the US. The Bush administration then handed over power to the military warlords and Islamisists who had support the US campaign.

Even when Karzai came to power and tried to curb the power of the warlords, the US continued its support because of the perceived necessity of using them to root out al Qaida and Taliban elements. Unfortunately as well, the US did not seek to internationalize the effort by asking for European - and especially troops from Muslim countries - to join as part of a coalition at that time.

Without an effort to build security beyond Kabul, the stage was set for a Taliban resurgence - which began three years ago as the effects of the war of choice in Iraq sucked down US troops, attention and treasury. By 2005 the US poured in half a trillion dollars into Iraq and during the previous two years slashed reconstruction aid to the Karzai government by 30%. By 2005, even the aid provided was not going to the Afghan people (and those of us in the development business know exactly how US foreign aid operates). Action Aid estimated at the time that only 14% of all aid goes to real development project. I know some of the people who were in Afghanistan - the 50% of development aid funding that went to these dubiously qualified consultants to be spent on questionable US products was a joke. At that time Karzai was justified in his harsh criticism of all foreign aid - and especially that from the US. Karzai was fiercely critical of the Bush policies even in 2005. Indeed, the US spent more on bombing Afghanistan than rebuilding it.

The failures that were self-evident in 2005 and widely discussed, except as is ever the case to ardent supporters of Bush and Cheney and the neo-con leadership, were largely the result of the diversion of resources to Iraq. An Afghanistan policy review took place in 2005 and progress there was widely praised by the Bush administration. Yet, the Afghanistan operation remained an unfinished effort, faded from the ever vigilant US media. The focus in Afghanistan was completely lost after the Tora Bora operation that failed to capture or kill the primary target of the US, Osama bin Laden. Then, specialized elements of the US Army assigned to track him down were withdrawn in 2002 for the preparations against Iraq.

The Obama administration has said that it has completed its deliberations on a policy direction for the US in Afghanistan which will also determine the number of "surge" troops demanded by General McChrystal. Where and how the US directs its efforts at this point is critical. This administration needs to get it right and not follow the knee jerk crazies in the Republican Limbaugh Party - who, by the way, don't serve in any capacity in Afghanistan but who are very willing and eager to watch other peoples' children die.

The next post will discuss some myths that prevail about Afghanistan and posit a way forward - if the administration does not make the post moot. I will also review the larger picture of the changed foreign policy strategy of the Obama administration and the effect on Afghanistan, Central Asia and Iran.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Work Break Over - Afghanistan Next Post

A view of the Dar es Salaam SkylineImage via Wikipedia

OK. I know the post below suggested an immediate start to a couple of entries on Afghanistan. I was completely sidetracked. By work. Hey - it happens.

So the next posts will begin shortly. I need to go sailing first off the coast here in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to recover from reports and presentations to government officials.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Afghanistan Fast Forward

For the past eight years, the US has been fighting in and supplying technical assistance to Afghanistan.

The focus of the current debate is whether to send significantly more troops - General McChrystal wants 40,000 - as the only alternative to "win" the war. President Obama, the Pentagon and the State Department, among others, are slowly developing a plan - something that has been lacking - regarding the way forward. But, before determining the size of the military presence, President Obama needs to explain the goal.

The goal used to be the destruction of al-Qaida and the capture of Osama bin Laden. Then the focus changed, particularly with the preparations for the war-of-choice of the Bush-Cheney administration to invade Iraq which had no connection whatsoever to the attacks by al-Qaidi in New York and Washington. The preparatioins for the Iraq war can be directly linked to the failures in Afghanistan which were well documented by 2005 and with which the US must deal with in expanded form now.

In subsequent posts I want to examine where we have been and where we may be going in Afghanistan and some of the assumtions that underlie many policies undertaken by the US that may well be very wrong.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Well Put

I think the vision is perfect and reflects the general deep, ingrained ingorance of the right wing leadership and its followers in the US:

Reactionaries playing checkers - Prez playing chess.

Credit for the phrase where it is due. However, the remainder of the post is a little light - particularly the world government meme. Ignore it. The phrase is worth it.

US, Ukraine, Georgia, Iran and Russia

A few days ago Alexander Vershbow, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, reportedly suggested that Ukraine would be an appropriate location for radar sites such as had recently been scraped for the Czech Republic as part of the ill-conceived BMD system of Bush that involved placing BMD missiles in Poland. Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs was taken by surprise, to say the least, as was Ukraine.

What appears to have happened is that Vershbow was referring to existing radar systems in Ukraine and not the prospect of placing US BMD systems in their place or even in addition.

The Assistant Secretary of Defense is also visiting Moscow and will be in Georgia starting on October 19 where defence discussions will be on the agenda. These discussions will likely review and revise the military training support provided by the US to the Georgian army. What is unclear is whether the training will now be ratcheted up and include offensive capabilities.

Both the comment regarding Ukraine's inclusion in the future BMD shield (and after all, the land based system will not be implemented until 2015)and the meetings in Georgia are likely to raise hackles in Moscow, more regarding Georgia than Ukraine. Ukraine will have a new, more Russia centric president in January, so any US or NATO hopes for retaining Ukraine as a potential balance to Russia is circling the drain. Implementing a policy such as suggested by Vershbow - even using existing Ukrainian radar bases - would be rapidly unwound by the new government. It's a waste of energy and an empty threat.

Georgia, on the other hand, is a completely different matter to Russia. They have made it clear that Sakaashvili is not high on their list of favorite leaders. They have effectively seized portions of Georgia and declared their independence. As far as Russia was concerned, they virtually had the Caucuses wrapped up. So an increase in the US presence in Georgia would be a set-back for Russia's planning.

The international dance playing out by the US and Russia largely has to do with Iran. Russia wants to continue to reassert itself in the near-abroad and to do so, it holds out its leverage with Iran. The US is refusing to back away from maintaining and increasing its influence in Russia's backyard. The statements regarding Ukraine are meaningless. Georgia, however, is a different matter. US boots on the ground in Georgia become a trip-wire just as Russian troops are on the territories it seized. It would close out full control of the Caucuses for Russia.

As time goes on, however, it is becoming increasing clear that Iran is not going to walk back its uranium enrichment program, a key issue for Israel. If that is the case, then Russia will gradually lose its influence in Iran as well.

Once Russia is perceived as not being able or willing to deliver anything regarding Iran, its leverage will dissipate. Georgia can likely expect increasing support from the US while the US will encourage Turkey to reach diplomatic deals with Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia's game plan for the entire Caucuses could unravel.

I think by the end of the year the geo-political landscape will be significantly changed in the region while at the same time making it more dangerous. Everyone should re-read "The Guns of August".

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Armenia and Turkey Take the Next Step

The protocol that will be signed on Saturday will be historic as it brings the southern Caucuses closer to stability and an end to the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan (only a ceasefire is in place). A second protocol will expand on the normalization of relations and lead to a vote for ratification in Ankara and Yerevan after which the borders will be open.

The risk, of course, is that the nationalists in both Turkey and Armenia will do everything possible to assure the protocols are not ratified. This is the chosen role of nationalist parties world-wide - a single minded effort to undermine cross-border cooperation largely based on historical affronts by the other side.

Everything must be done in the case between Armenia and Turkey to push the nationalists to the side in the name of the substantial economic and political improvements to both countries.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]