Saturday, March 26, 2011

Germany - Stupidity has Consequences

Just how useless and irrelevant to NATO and the European idea can Germany become?  Apparently quite useless.

Deutsche-Presse reported last week that because NATO is taking over the UN mandated no-fly zone over Libya, and that NATO naval forces will patrol the coast as part of the arms embargo, Germany has withdrawn its ships from NATO command because it may be forced to fire a gun. If they are not going to use their military when requested, why don’t they just get rid of it? That would be the logical conclusion and would certainly save the German public significantly in the budget.

I know that Merkel is facing some tough elections – but this is just profoundly stupid on the part of Germany and reveals how rapidly useless they are to NATO or to their place in the West. Even the Green Party has criticized the move. What is more astounding is that Foreign Minister Westerwelle had wanted to vote against UN Security Council Resolution 1973 before Chancellor Merkel managed to convince him that an abstention was a better idea.
German politicians have been remarkably arrogant and not a little obtuse during the past year or two – from their muscle flexing over Greece to the extent suggesting that some Greek islands could be sold to pay for the economic mess and being as unhelpful as conceivably possible regarding the financial crises in the EU to slobbering over Russia and simultaneously irritating Poland and the Baltics. They want to run the EU in their (or Merkel's) image.  This latest bit of arrogance should remind Poland, France, Spain and Italy just how contemptuous their neighbor can be of anything proposed by someone else.

To the extent that Sarkozy needs an election lift, comparing French initiatives in foreign affairs to those of the eternally cringing Germans can’t hurt his chances. It also indicates that perhaps other EU members take a hard look at German export centric policy and its foreign policy to the extent it affects its neighbors.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

European Coalition Cracking?

Europe is showing the cracks over the UNSC no-fly zone implementation as the US withdraws from its “leadership” position. Despite the hysterical, and in the case of Dennis Kucinich in the US, downright stupid, comments from US critics of the UNSC mission, the US has performed its stated policy perfectly and will vanish from the news as it has fired its last cruise missile. Now comes the interesting part in Europe.

France wants to continue to lead the charge in Libya and really is aiming to remove Qaddafi, one way or another. It does not want NATO involved as the operational structure of NATO would restrict French military activities – which are bent on regime change. Although a NATO lead would provide significant organizational assets, it would be a political mistake as that would make this purely a Western intervention despite the Security Council resolution. Italy wants NATO because it knows this will slow the regime change meme and result in a stalemate so it could continue to deal with Qaddafi. No one has asked how Qatari or other Arab forces would operate under NATO, whether wise or not, or if they would even agree to that arrangement.

So the maneuvering begins. Germany, as ever, is showing its inability to take part in anything with a combat role – making it more useless to NATO than ever except for base facilities. The German government will be suitably shocked at Qaddafi’s staged atrocities (something al Jazeera has already revealed as fake but credulity - deliberate or not - in some quarters rules). Like Italy, but for different reasons, it would support the lead role for NATO - if for nothing else than putting the brakes on France. As yet, it is unclear what positions Norway, Canada and the Arab League have on who should control the campaign, although in the case of the latter, getting rid of Qaddafi is high on the “to do” list.

Although I think that delivering the command and control to NATO is a bad idea on any number of levels, the decision of who will run the continuing campaign will be decided in a week or so – hopefully giving the French additional time to complete their agenda. If they are unable to take out the regime, and with the Libyan armor and artillery pretty much decimated, the regime will likely revert to an insurgency campaign involving urban terror campaigns and exhibits, when possible, of Western atrocities suitably staged with moveable military bodies dressed as civilians. This would mean a long haul campaign for which many (but not all) Europeans have never had any stomach and which will require a different approach.

Fortunately, very, very soon, the US will be out of the picture. Then little, if anything will be covered in the US because limited activities of logistical support to its allies is not exciting or controversial – unless critics on the left and right feel that support to US allies is not in its foreign policy interests. President Obama’s policy will have worked and other events will receive more play. Faux News can then go back to covering those nasty union people and any other pet anti-democratic project Murdoch and the Koch brothers have on their minds while CNN (in the US, not Europe or Asia) will simply get bored and go back to its normal useless news coverage of the latest flower shows. I suggest that people start viewing al Jazeera for continuing coverage if they so desire.

US Republicans, Galactic Stupidity, Dangerous Future

If anyone needed more evidence of how the US will decline in power and influence (not a bad thing, actually) need only to look at the caliber of intellect in positions of power within the Republican party – which, sadly to say, will sooner or later be in control again. Some opinions of the galactically stupid:

First batter, Representative Alan West (Fl): "But let me close by saying this. The world is going to hell. And I don't know any other way to say it. When you look at what's happening in Libya, I don't care what anyone says; you can't win away from 30,000 feet. I've been on the battle field before. I don't know why we're shooting $567,000 a piece Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya. You know, back two or three weeks ago, we could have taken care of this situation if we had done the exact same thing that Ronald Reagan did back in the early 80's to Muammar Gaddafi, when he dropped the bomb in his back yard. Muammar Gaddafi didn't say a word for the next 30 years."

I won’t go into his military record – abusing prisoners for a start. But, what is he talking about? Reagan launched targeted attacks in response to a terrorist bombing by Libya. I remember the targeting camera film back in 1986 – it shifted from the tent where Qadaffi was sleeping (later confirmed) to the immediate adjacent building. We missed because he changed his location. He did not stay quiet. Lockerbie was two years later (among other things). Strike one.

Second batter, Representative Steven King (NY): "We think that a sovereign nation should have no border incursions. If we have a border incursion, and it's someone who is lined up next to someone else, lined up next to someone else, and they're carrying weapons and uniforms, that's called an invasion. Whether they're wearing uniforms or carrying weapons, or whether they're coming across in orderly ranks, or whether they're coming across at a rate of perhaps as many as 11,000 a night — and that's some data that came before the House Immigration Committee under sworn testimony — you take the annual illegal border crossings and you divide it by 365, and some of that data, under oath, calculates out to be 11,000 illegal border crossings in a 24-hour period, a lot of that taking place at night. When you think of 11,000 a night, and so I ask the question, what was the size of Santa Ana's army? About half that. That, Mr. Speaker, is the magnitude of the illegal border crossings that we're seeing."

Santa Ana’s army was a force of about 4,000 – invading a rebel held territory of Mexico. The same as Mexican immigrants “invading” ? How many – 11 thousand a night??? Illegal immigration (total – not just Mexican) is actually about 500,000 a year. Old , tired and stupid white men – largely Republican – want to run foreign policy for the US and will in the future. Strike 2.

Third batter, Mike Huckabee (presidential wannabe in Israel February): He said that the Israeli established policy - the idea of Israel giving land to Palestinians in exchange for peace is an "unrealistic, unworkable, and unreachable goal." “There are vast amounts of territory that are in the hands of Muslims, in the hands of Arabs. Maybe the international community can come together and accommodate.”

So – move them all to Muslim countries. Transfer them, like rabbi Meir Kahane wanted (even he was banned from serving in the Knesset because of his racism). Mike wants a population transfer and even forcible deportation of all Arabs from Israel, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But then none of the Geneva Conventions or international law make a difference to Republicans. Strike three.

The problem is that a substantial number of Americans go along with or believe all the above. Banana Republic anyone?

Yemen on the Brink

Yemen’s political crisis is rapidly escalating. President Ali Abdullah Saleh continues to resist stepping down at a defiant press conference today. But the tone has changed and he is probably severely weakened by defections

The question of what happens in Yemen now that Brig. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, Saleh’s half-brother, has defected to the opposition lies in the hands of the Saudi’s. Mohsen is commander the northwestern military zone, has significant influence in Yemen’s old guard and has deployed an armored formation to protect the protester. His armor is surrounding the presidential palace, where Republican Guard units under the command of Saleh’s son, Ahmed, have taken up defensive positions. This could get very messy, quickly and much depends on whether the Saudi’s support Saleh (who has requested their help) is firm or if they decide to throw him under the bus. I’m betting that the Saudi’s will find a way for Saleh to depart the political stage.

The Saudi’s will have enormous leverage to form a new government. From a political standpoint, general Mohsen might not be the Saudi’s first choice, despite his conservative credentials. He was instrumental in defeating the far more secular south during the civil war, something that pleased the Saudi’s, but as a conservative Islamist might not follow Riyadh’s lead. However, he and his tribe have strong ties to some members of the Saudi royal family. So does Saleh.

This is not Bahrain – with an easy land bridge to cross – so sending troops to Saana, if that is the decision in Riyadh, is likely not an option. Furthermore, the army is split, has tribal loyalties and should not be compared to the Egyptian military. The Saudi’s need to tread carefully since a bad outcome would destabilize the southern border – and stability is what Riyadh is all about.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Discussion Rules

I find this extremely useful – and something that should be the basis of comments on blogs (particularly the comments that appear on Washington Note which are mostly inane, illogical and break the first three rules in this chart all of the time).

H/T to zenpundit for this:

Someone Please Rid Europe of Lukashenko

President of Belarus Alexander LukashenkoImage via Wikipedia
In what can only be described as bizarre, President for Life Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus has said that all oppositoin candidates should flee abroad. Perhaps a little revolution is in order?  Isn't it time that the last dictator of Europe be ousted by any means necessary?  Just sayin'...
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Libya's Civil War - What Happens Next?

LIBYA/Image by شبكة برق | B.R.Q via Flickr
Well, that was fast. Now the Arab League is upset that bombs are dropping. They cannot be serious - I am assuming that the statement from the Secretary General of the Arab League was made with political intent since he is also interested in running for president in Egypt. However, even he has stepped back from criticism as he pointed to the prohibition against foreign troops and occupation.

Al Jazeera (which has the absolutely best coverage) reports that the “Arab Street” is not protesting and doesn’t really care. It is Qadaffi, after all – and he is hardly anyone’s favourite dictator in this region. They are outraged, for example, of the slaughter of protesters in Yemen last Friday where over 40 were killed by snipers firing into a crowd. But, they also know that Qadaffi has killed thousands and that his tanks, once inside a city, indiscriminately fire on civilians, apartment buildings and generally cause massive destruction and death. There is no comparison.

Not to beat a dead horse, but now that the initial assault is over and the Libyan air force, air defence and its command and control centers have been obliterated in 36 hours – something only, by the way, the US could do – now what? Assuming that the US now fades into the background and hands the intervention over to Europe, what is Europe going to do since one outcome may be that Qadaffi stays in power?

Although the European nations contributing to the effort include Denmark, Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, Greece, Norway and the UK, it is clear that future control will be handed to either France or the UK. The contributions of Qatar (which makes me a little nervous since I am sitting here) and the UAE are important, but the European coalition needs to engage and bring in Egypt, at the least, Algeria and perhaps Turkey (although its economic interests and Erdogan’s instincts about military intervention may make Turkey’s involvement problematic). This will become even more critical if, as may very well happen, talks are opened with Qadaffi. In that case, under no circumstances should Europe (much less the US) be seen as removing him from power.

Qadaffi may be removed by his own military at some point for self-preservation. That still leaves a divided country with a self-proclaimed government in the east which, without European firepower, would probably have been decimated this past weekend. It still has no military resources or organizational capability to cross the desert and take Sirte, much less Tripoli, so the prospect of some sort of game changer – removal of Qadaffi by supporters – is important to prevent the prolongation of what is really a civil war. If that does not happen, then Europe must enlist the Arabs into more substantial support.

From the reports of al Jazeera, it is has become abundantly clear that there are rivalries within the rebel camp that are maneuvering for power. Europe also needs to tread carefully here since Libya is tribal by nature and a slight of one group could lead to increased violence. Again, it will be necessary to draw in Libya’s neighbors to avoid internecine fights in whatever new government is formed.

Assuming Qadaffi and his family do not go down with the ship, what happens to them? Does anyone have a strategy for the improbable?
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End Game in Yemen

Ali Abdullah SalehImage via Wikipedia
Yemen is about to change.

The commanders of the north-western and eastern military zones as well as the air force commanders have moved to the side of the protesters and pledge to protect them. Tanks and other armoured  vehicles have moved in to Sanaa for that purpose. Sound familiar?  Yemen's ambassadors to Jordan, Syria and Kuwait have resigned and the governor of Aden quit in support.  The protests in Sanaa are now in full bloom. President Ali Abdullah Saleh is on his way out.
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Sunday, March 20, 2011

The War for Libya

While watching the reports coming out of Libya last night and this morning I still have this question – “what next?” As the expanded no-fly zone advances to include a no-drive, no mortar, no heavy artillery zone (entirely legal under the wording of the Security Council resolution) what is the coalition going to do if the Colonel decides to back-off and cease military operations? Although highly improbably given his recent bellicose and defiant statements, it is not impossible.

At a press conference last night, Hillary Clinton said that the purpose of the UN resolution was to protect civilians, not regime change. Really? Although it was the politically correct answer, this is not the goal. It is certainly not the goal of the Arab coalition partners and the frequent statements from virtually every European leader as well as President Obama, is that the regime must stand down and leave. This leaves the thorny issue of who is going to effectuate the regime change. Fortunately, the US has taken the position that it will not be the pointiest stick in the bundle for once and will leave the air assault to the French and British. But, unless the regime is decapitated by an air-to-ground missile or an assassination or rebel bullet, who is going to pull Qadaffi and his sons off the thrown?

If a European ground force enters the fray it will surely win but would not look good on TV. Egypt, of course, has an effective, professional army that could, with probably one or two tank brigades, slice through to Tripoli. Given the past enmity between the two countries, that might not be the best of plans. Hillary Clinton also hinted at defections within the Qadaffi camp – a not so subtle reminder that his vaunted, all- female bodyguards may not be particularly effective when the chips are down.

But, aside from the stray missile or bullet (or not so stray), what will happen if he says he wants to talk? The first splits will come with a call by Russia, China and their all too frequent ally, Germany, to stop the air assault and sit and talk. Again, then what? With whom does one talk? The leader that everyone said had to go? His (now) equally barbaric son, Saif? The most absurd statement comes from Sarkozy who said today that once the fighting stops, France was ready to talk. France has already recognized the rebels in Benghazi as the legitimate government of Libya – why would they talk with Qadaffi? The UK does not need to talk to anyone and one wonders what deals they made when their S.A.S. were in Benghazi a few weeks ago.

From the European standpoint – and this is their war until the Arabs come in with something – the best outcome would be continued defiance. France is busily turning the regime’s tanks into scrap and their retreat from the outskirts of Benghazi to Sirte takes them across the desert with nowhere to hide. Expect to see officers and men abandon vehicles, join the rebellion or melt away rather than be target practice for a French Rafale or Mirage. The rebels could be armed and trained a little, and sent off to the west to take Tripoli. France and England could continue to pulverize the tanks and artillery from the air with a few cruise missiles thrown in. But, at this point, aside from the immediate tactical goals, I don’t see a strategy.

One hopes, of course, that the Libyan military will simply say “enough” and quit, thus ending the 42 year old regime and handing the government over to the rebel leaders in Benghazi.

One last question: Is there a bigger buffoon leading a country these days than Hugo Chavez who just came out against the UN authorized attack?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

France, Libya and a Call to Arms

This is becoming tiresome, but when France quickly recognized the Libyan rebels as the legitimate government in the country, my first point was “what next?” Now it is clear that the “next” was the military involvement of the US in the form of providing the logistics, communications and, last but not least, military aircraft to not only impose a no-fly zone over Libya, but to bomb airfields and who knows what else. As much as I hate to agree with Saif Qadaffi – has Sarkozy gone crazy?

The Washington Post reported today that “France’s foreign minister, Alain Juppe, said Wednesday that there was still time for military intervention to turn the tide against embattled leader Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. All the United States and other major powers had to do, he suggested, was follow France’s lead to pass a quick Security Council resolution and then send warplanes to neutralize Qaddafi’s air force.”

Well, that’s nice. This is a civil war. Intervening on one side against the other is not likely to produce good results for the intervener. Although not on the same scale, the Vietnam War was a massive interference by a foreign power in what was essentially a civil war. How did that turn out? Libya is certainly not the same scale, but the idea is the same. The no-fly zones in Iraq and Kosovo did not work, but were intended to protect non-combatants (otherwise known as civilians) from being pounded from the air by their respective governments. What France and the UK are suggesting, however, now goes well beyond a no-fly zone and is expressly stated – to “turn the tide against…Muammar Qadhafi…”

The French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, took it a step further. He said that “Only the threat of use of force can stop Qadhafi. The Libyan dictator has upset the battlefield balance by bombing his opponents’ positions with the several dozen airplanes and helicopters at his disposal. We can neutralize his air capacities by targeted strikes. That is what France and Britain have been proposing for two weeks.”

Upset the battlefield balance? Is that serious? First of all, that is what one battlefield commander is supposed to do to the other. It’s called winning. Second, what Juppe is suggesting is an act of war.

Look, the rebels seem like the good guys – and compared to the current regime probably are marginally better. But does anyone really know? Doesn’t the experience in Afghanistan and Iraq with supporting “the good guys” trigger some hesitation? The final point is that sometimes rebellions fail and sometimes those who are the good guys at that moment in time, lose. No one intervened in Sudan. I don’t see anyone rushing to intervene in Cotê d’Ivoire or the Congo or Burma (France made noises there as well) all of which are arguably more important than the results in Libya where the West was happy with the regime until a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Failed Revolutions - Bahrain and Libya

This is the view from my window as I sit here in quiet Qatar next door to Bahrain; speculation is rampant on what will happen next in Bahrain – important from a Saudi, US, Iranian and European foreign policy and geo-political perspective – and Libya (not so important except, perhaps, to Europe). While two weeks ago the predictions for Libya were that the regime would fall, those were clearly premature as it struck back with efficient force from a loyal army and put the rebellion on its heels with astonishing rapidity. Today, the last stronghold before Benghazi has been taken and Qaddafi has vowed to crush the rebels, whom he characterized last night as traitors and several forms of vermin. Read bloodbath. The collapse of the rebellion will not be pretty.

A resolution has been tabled in the UN to impose a no-fly zone. That will do nothing to change the momentum on the ground. It didn’t in Kosovo until NATO began to target ground units and the capital, Belgrade and time is vanishing for the rebel government as Europe – divided as ever – freezes in its tracks. Despite the Lieberman-McCain tired, old song of unilateral US intervention whether it is a good idea or not, that sort of adventure has not worked out so well. It would be profoundly stupid for the US to intervene. Perhaps if the US sent a neo-con/neo-Nazi tea-bagger delegation to Tripoli it could convince Qaddafi to stop or else be subject to a massive hissy fit of tired, old white men.

But then there is Europe. French recognition (as well as the Arab League’s) of the rebel government may come back to haunt it. Will France have the nerve to go it alone? Will they risk a terror campaign in France by Libya? What were they thinking at the time they recognized the rebellion as the legitimate government? Was there even a plan for the next steps – or even a first step? The problem with all the hand wringing in Europe over the fate of the rebels is that they are prepared to do nothing unless the US handles it, which will get no credit and all the blame. Germany doesn’t even like the idea of a no-fly zone – an expected reaction from a nation that has become a little too fat and comfortable at the expense of its fellow EU members. But Libya is ultimately a European issue – as I have said before. Strategically it is meaningless to US interests and the blow-back from even a scintilla of US for intervention with what it has remaining available in military assets will be huge. For the US, assisting Egypt is far a key to any Middle East strategy, including the job of reigning in a vengeful Qaddafi & Son.

If Europe does nothing in time or at all (par for the course – just look at the Balkans) then Qadaffi’s tanks will roll into Benghazi and rout the rebellion. Even if they put down their arms, Qaddafi is not the forgiving type and his Western educated MBA son has shown his true colors. If there is a bloodbath, what will Europe and the US do about it? Because at that point it is likely that all will remain of the rebel opposition will be an underground movement. Not exactly the type of internal support needed if NATO chose to attack. Of course, Qaddafi or an over-zealous officer could take the disastrous step (for Qaddafi) of launching a missile at a European ship or, more to the point, a US warship. We all know what would follow and the question of a no-fly zone or Qaddafi military victory over the rebels would evaporate. Highly improbable, but not impossible.

There are so many variables regarding actions to be taken regarding Libya – including variables that no one has thought about – that the consequences of even imposing a no-fly zone are unknown and make no mistake that a no-fly zone is the equivalent of a declaration of war – for which Europe has no stomach.

Bahrain. No one should be surprised at Saudi intervention. Unfortunately for the Shiite majority, this is not about Bahrain or democracy. It is about Iran. It is about control of the Arabian Gulf (it is not called the Persian Gulf here). It is about destabilization on the Arabian Peninsula and Iranian dominance in the region. It is about oil and gas. The legitimate grievances of Shiites in Bahrain are, for the Saudi’s, completely irrelevant at this point. It is likely that some reforms will take place sometime in the future, but not until Saudi Arabia is assured that any Iranian plan has been derailed. So what will happen next?

As of today, the police in Bahrain are dispersing demonstrations and some violence with two killed has taken place. Films of a few protesters attacking police are being used by Saudi Arabia to show that the demonstrations are not peaceful. The government of the ruling minority Sunni has offered to hold talks but the two opposition Shiite groups are divided – one wanting to talk but fearful it will be labeled a pawn of the regime and the other not willing to negotiate until its demands for reform in the government (including the reduction of the ruling family to figurehead status) is met. With Saudi military intervention, it is unlikely that the second Shiite group will prevail – thereby flushing any hopes by Tehran for toppling the government. For the Shiites, the use of tanks, helicopters and live ammunition against them will be effective as will the 3 month state of emergency. But not forever.

Iran could intervene directly like the Saudi’s. Similar to an attack on a US or NATO ship off the Libyan coast, the result would be catastrophic for Iran as the US fleet is sitting in its backyard. Although a remote possibility, if it were to occur, then the Iranian coast would become a very dangerous place to be – for the Iranians. The excuse would be handed to the US to cripple Iranian sea and shore defense military capabilities and who knows what else. Oil prices would head to $200 and the economic ripple effects would likely be severe. Internally, the clerical dictatorship would become worse and Iranian strategy in the region, which has so far worked remarkably well, would be in shambles. Improbable? Yes. Impossible? No.

Iran could also create a diversion – either with Israel through Hezbollah or in Iraq. Neither of those scenarios is good for Iran as it is not clear that Hezbollah wants another confrontation with Israel at this time which would involve, by default, Syria, which itself wants control of Lebanon. Action by Iran in Iraq would stop – if not reverse – the US withdrawal. Neither diversion would do anything to help its plans for dominance of the region in general or for Bahrain in particular and both are unlikely; but they remain possibilities and an idea of how to deal with them needs to be considered.

The point is that trying to predict the future in Bahrain and Libya is pretty much just a guess as the remote possibilities or even events of which we are not even considering could take place. Prediction in these scenarios is impossible and intervention in Libya by NATO or any one or more European countries, not to mention the US which would be the case with NATO, simply multiplies the possible resulting scenarios.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Other Shoe

Muammar al-Gaddafi  Mouammar Kadhafi  _DDC6339Image by Abode of Chaos via Flickr
France has recognized the shadow government formed by the Libyan rebels in Benghazi.  Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado said today he had sent a message to Libyan leader Gadhafi through a Tripoli envoy saying: “The Gadhafi regime is over.".  On Friday in Brussels, it is very likely that a decision will be reached to support the rebellion in Libya.

Then what?

Will France send in its air force? Navy? Send arms to the rebels?  Unless the plan is already in place, all this will take time and it is beginning to look like Gadhafi's tanks have the upper hand.  Tanks without opposition can and do move very, very fast. No fly zones change nothing on the ground and it is there where the battle will be won or lost.

To a large degree, Libya is Europe's issue and very far from US interests which is in the grip of a McCarthy- like demonization of its own Muslim citizenry at the hands of neo-Nazi teabaggers.  The US will be doing nothing substantive.  It's probably a good idea considering Iraq and Afghanistan coupled with domestic witchhunts.

So, what will be next on the agenda  in Brussels or Paris or Rome?  Who will take the first step? And if a fig leaf of a no-fly zone is implemented, who will be piloting the fighters?
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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Libya in Flux

Libya is in total chaos with both sides behaving without coherence.  Qaddafi's speeches are even more rambling and devoid of reality than a week ago - if that's possible.  Just this afternoon three jets of his personal Falcon 900 jets took off in 3 different directions - apparently to Vienna, Cairo and Athens.  No one knows the purpose.  Now claiming that underage youth from Afganistan, Egypt and Palestine are behind the "minor" revolts and then blaming the UK, France and the US for the unrest, he is clearly nuts.

Then, there is the question of a no-fly zone.  Both Senators Lieberman (remember him?)and McCain are promoting the idea in an effort to seem relevant. Except for those who learned nothing from the US adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is a high risk proposal. Aside from the political consequences of Western powers taking sides or even moving militarily in Libya, there is the very likely chance that a stray missile or bullet will kill civilians.  One hit on the oil refinery at Ras Januf could cause an explosion that would wipe out everything for 15 kilometers. When that happens, the anger will be turned on the saviours. It is not as easy as it seems.

No one knows how the revolts in Libya will turn out.  Qaddafi's forces are striking back hard. This could go on for some time yet and rushing to do something could be worse - far worse - than doing nothing.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Trouble in Saudi Arabia

Protests in the Shia populated area of eastern Saudi Arabia - where most of the oil is - aimed at reforming the governing system to a constitutional monarchy may spread this Friday despite the handouts of money and jobs to the tune of $37 billion plus 15% increase in wages by the House of Saud and King Abdullah. Shia's make up about 10 - 15% of the population.

The government has and probably will increase the use of force.  After all, they recently told Bahrain that if the Shia revolt is not crushed by the current government, the Saudi's would do it for them.  What will happen on March 11 is anyone's guess.  However,  the House of Saudi's reactions to demands for reform in the past have been poor. Which is why the situation is now becoming serious and big financial gesures will not work.  They are not listening - it is not a matter of money. The whole system needs to change - availablility of jobs, quality healthcare, economic marginalization, and political reform.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Speaking of Stupid

Trenitalia ETR 500 Frecciarossa (red arrow) tr...Image via Wikipedia
Ok. I finally, eventually, get around to reading something about the US. Unfortunately, the first thing that hit me from the “internets” was this piece of undiluted ignorance posturing as intellectualism from someone, in my far off youth, I considered smart.

So why is America’s “win the future” administration so fixated on railroads, a technology that was the future two centuries ago? Because progressivism’s aim is the modification of (other people’s) behavior.

Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.
When did George Will become so stupid? Trains are much more efficient than planes or cars over certain distances and destinations. Go to Japan, or China, or Europe. Or maybe he hates the idea because VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE like him really don’t want to sit with the rest of us. And to try and stretch his dislike of those he considers beneath him, he assigns the desire to make transport better and more efficient for the user to some sort of plot by Progressives to control other peoples’ lives.

George, go back to writing about baseball.
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Thought for the Day

The European Central Bank’s not-so-subtle hint that it will increase interest rates to combat inflation due almost solely to the price rise in oil and commodities is plain stupid on any number of levels.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

China Missteps

Map of various countries occupying the Spratly...Image via Wikipedia
China’s foreign policy has been increasingly annoying to its neighbors over the past year or so and this year seems no different. In a report by AP, Chinese vessels made threatening maneuvers indicating an intention to ram a Philippine oil research ship near the Spratly Islands. Aside from the fact that ramming – as it has done against Japanese ships, seems to be an approved form of attack by China this area is Philippine territory, although also partially or wholly claimed by Vietnam, Brunei and China. It is also a vital shipping lane which the US considers in its national interests to maintain open – something China dislikes intensely since it claims sovereignty over the entire South China Sea.

The continuation of this sort of aggressive, bullying behavior is not a good sign and juxtaposed with the recent announcement by Beijing to increase its military budget by more than 12% tends to alarm its neighbors. Although tiny in comparison to the US military budget, the Chinese government attitude that, in the region, what’s theirs is theirs and what is anyone else’s is negotiable is not only counterproductive and against the ultimate interests of China, but could lead to an unfortunate and unnecessary confrontation.

It is difficult at the best of times to discern Chinese foreign policy intentions. The continuation of this type of bullying behavior would lead its neighbors – not to mention the US – to take the worst case view and do what is necessary to counter the actions. Of course, the behavior benefits the US as Japan and the South East Asian countries will want a strong US naval presence to remain, if not beefed up.

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Embarrassed in Libya

Flag of Libya between 1951-69Image via Wikipedia
Reports on al Jazeera say that 8 S.A.S. were captured by rebel forces near Bengazi. Amid a ‘no-comment’ by the UK foreign ministry was an admission that there was a diplomatic group in the area trying to make contact with the rebels.

OK. Well. Aside from the perception that this constitutes foreign interference – after all the S.A.S. are elite special forces – this would be a terrible embarrassment for the S.A.S. On the one hand, it is good that the UK is trying reach out; on the other, sending in S.A.S. without some sort of advance ground work might not have been the best idea. It’ll all probably work out for the best as it unfolds.

In other news out of Libya, the rebel troops have taken Ras Lanuf and its oil refinery. That refinery accounts for 60% of oil exports. That’s a blow to the Qaddafi. Sirte – Qaddafi’s birthplace – is the next target. If Qaddafi loses Sirte, that may be the tipping point on the military front and, if the rebels form a government, the West will need to make a hard decision – recognize or not. Not that anyone listens to me, but I would recommend a race to the microphone to announce recognition of the new government.

A word about the flag - it's the first flag of independence in 1951 and is the one you see the rebels waving on TV.
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On Prediction

Just to follow up on my apparently less than clear point regarding models and predictions I made last week, I want to point out that this should not prevent trying to plan for future events. It just means that past events should not be analyzed for cause and effect so as to be predictive. It’s nice to pretend through hindsight and applying effects to certain causes that we actually knew that what would happen did but were nevertheless caught flat footed. Doesn’t say much for expert analysis, does it? But, in the case of the Arab uprisings, it is critical to have some plan that takes into account not only scenarios that we can think of, but of the effects of the improbable.

In other words, if we stick to the old way of analysis, then I guarantee that the results will be completely different and the experts will be asked by the pundits – but why did this happen and shouldn’t we have known? The answer to that question from the again proven wrong and highly paid experts will be that it was unanticipated because they had never encountered it before. When, of course, they had.