Saturday, April 30, 2011

It Can't Happen Here...

Famous last :words. The foreign policy of the US will take a Nazi like turn if any Republican supported by their core is elected President.  The latest from The Donald regarding China: "Listen you mother f***ers we're going to tax you 25 percent,"...

For the record, The Donald has a clothing line that is made in China. He is a buffoon. A hypocrite. A dangerous loose cannon who thinks the US can act alone in the world.  Just like the white, Christian Taliban of Santorum, Palin and Huckabee. Watch out world, here they come, guns and bigotry blazing.

Six White Rabbits for Titus Pullo

Titus Pullo (Rome character)Image via Wikipedia
In Bishkek,  parliamentarians sacrificed six sheep to drive out the demons promoting dissention in the parliament. OK.  Whatever works. After all, the governor of Texas asked people to pray for rain. He probably should have asked native Americans to perform a ceremony to produce rain (except American religious bigots don't like other belief systems).  Sacrifices, even promises of future ones, worked for Titus Pullo who swore to sacrifice white rabbits to escape execution for striking a senior officer. At least in Bishkek they ate the sheep and distributed some to the poor - something that would never happen in Texas. 
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Syria Unravels

About three weeks ago I asked a friend in Damascus whether anything serious was beginning in Syria.  Only minor demonstrations in the south were then taking place, but given the upheavals elsewhere, I thought it would be interesting to get a local perspective.  The answer was short – and I expect deliberately so – “not much happening…all is quiet, really”.   No longer and he is heading to Canada on other business hoping that everything will settle down when he returns in a month.  The problem is that Syrian demonstrations are likely to get worse this weekend and particularly on May 1st and May 6th, both of which are national holidays, with the latter being the “day of martyrs”. 

From what I can gather, this did not start as a political movement aimed at removing Bashar al-Asad.  Rather, it was almost purely the result of economic issues and calls for lifting the emergency laws in force for about 40 years.  Now, however, so many people have been killed by the regime that every relative of every person killed is out for blood.  Tribal traditions are rising to the top and although Asad himself was never the original target, that is rapidly changing.  People are angry.

Given the severity of the crackdown by the government it is unlikely, but not impossible,  for the government to fall.  Should that happen, the politics of the region would be shaken, not stirred.  Syria is an important player whose instability or change in government would have a profound affect.  Syria is a key transit point for Iranian support of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.  Loss of the transit would seriously and adversely impact Iranian plans for the Levant.  Israel also needs to be concerned since, although a front-line state and hardly in a talking mood with Israel, it was at least stable. The Turkish policy of a peaceful neighborhood, not to mention an vibrant economic zone with Turkey reestablishing its presence in the Levant at the expense of Iran would rapidly disintegrate.  Iran may feel it necessary to become more overt in its take-over of Iraq, leading to trouble in the Kurdish north.  In other words, an unstable Syria would create a mess.

Syria has also pushed Bahrain to below-the-fold status as the GCC continues to crush the rebellion there.  Many have characterized this as a sectarian revolt of Shiite against Sunni.  That’s convenient, but not entirely accurate, until now.  It may have morphed into sectarianism, but the Shiite majority suffers from severe economic and political discrimination.  A less discriminatory environment and more economic opportunities for Shiites might have avoided the entire revolt.  However, the loud sectarian voices emanating from Iran have solidified the Shiite-Sunni divide.  Active interference – hinted at the other day by the commander of the Revolutionary Guard in Iran – would result in a war with Saudi Arabia and, since the US 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain, with US forces taking part.  It is no secret that Iran really, really wants the US Fleet out of the Arabian Gulf.  One can only hope that the civilian government in Tehran can keep the Republican Guard on a short leash because the consequences of an Iranian attack in Bahrain would have huge economic, political and military repercussions.  It would also be a gift to the neo-cons and Netanyahu as the US would be forced into action against Iran’s formidable conventional army.

Syria is important to watch as the government moves in with tanks to snuff out the revolt.  But political change is coming in Damascus whether Asad prevails or not and the Iranians are understandably concerned that their policies in the region could rapidly unravel – and not to their benefit. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

One if by land...two if by sea - The British are Coming

The British are putting advisors into Benghazi and the CIA has long been in the field. There is no turning back now and no one can argue that NATO and the GCC have not taken the side of the rebels against Colonel Qadaffi, sons and supporters. This is regime change time and the only reason NATO and others are in it up to their air intakes is that the revolution against the regime was failing. Revolutions fail all the time but since no one really liked Qadaffi and the rebels were getting their collective asses kicked by tribes not favourably disposed toward them, Europe’s military stepped into the breach.

I have repeatedly asked “what now?” from the beginning of the implementation of UNR 1973. I reject the arguments that the resolution did not authorize attacks on ground targets. Those arguments are either politically motivated (Russia, China) or ignorant (some anti-war-no-matter-what innocents, and the African Union as a whole). The resolution clearly said that all necessary measures could be taken and anyone who thinks a “no-fly” zone does not involve ground attacks is, frankly, a moron.

Nevertheless, here’s the question again. What now? What we are seeing is a British decision to send British advisors to help the rebels win. Downing Street may have advised NATO and sought what amounts to a ‘no objection’, but the insertion of military officers was a national decision, taken outside of NATO. It is, despite denials, boots on the ground and it is just the beginning if they want to truly defeat Qadaffi.

Clearly, the rebels cannot beat Qadaffi’s military on the ground at this point or in the near future. NATO airstrikes can only accomplish what airpower historically has always accomplished with absolute control of the sky – establish the conditions for the boots on the ground to crush any defense. But, NATO is not going in with troops – or at least not those from Germany, a supremely unreliable Western ally. The British, however, may have opened the door for the French because something has to be done about the reduction of Misrata sooner rather than later. Qadaffi’s army will likely abandon the use of tanks, which have become nothing if not moving coffins, and hit the ground. Qadaffi is fighting for survival now that he knows most everyone is out to get him. What now? NATO is stuck to the fly-paper. Expect the intervention to escalate rapidly because the revolution, gentlemen, has failed, and negotiations which premise Qadaffi remaining in power are a non-starter.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Donald Trump's Foreign Policy and Standard & Poor's Conspiracy

Since I’ve been somewhat occupied, my postings have been few lately. Fortunately, as far as the foreign policy  mustings of the Donald Trumpster type, Dan Drezner writes so I don’t have to. The thundering idiocy of The Donald is so bad as to be comic. I hope he gets the Republican nomination if only to make Rove’s head explode.

Speaking of idiocy – will someone investigate if Standard & Poor's is being pressured/paid by the banks and Republicans to issue stupid comments like reducing the US rating because of the deficit in the US? S&P blew it completely in the lead-up to the 2008 crash by continuing to issue gold plated ratings to all the banks and hedge funds until the roof caved-in. They should be jailed for that.

Oh – one minor thing – the US cannot default on debt denominated in its own currency. Econ 101. Your welcome.

Out of Africa...Again

The Nile Rising from Lake Victoria - Uganda
I am almost out of Uganda after four previous attempts in the last two weeks.  Actually, I found Kampala can be very pleasant once out of the downtown area – lots of green and flowers and not far from a resort on Lake Victoria – built and operated by an Indian – that screams money.  The photo is of the source of the White Nile, which merges with the Blue in Sudan and heads to the Med. 
The economic dichotomy here between the “haves” and “have-nots” is, to say the least, wide – but equally interesting is the level of economic activity by everyone.  If there is a vacant piece of dirt along a busy road someone has established a shop.  Furniture, chickens, tiny grocery shops, iron mongers, car washes – anything that anyone needs.  Local roads are unpaved and look like the surface of the moon – but passable.  Hawkers walk among the truly dreadful traffic jams (usually caused when the traffic police take control) selling electric mosquito swatters the size of small tennis rackets, food, maps – everything.  Everyone is almost too polite.   
This then is a country ruled by one person essentially for more than 25 years.  Rising fuel and food prices have last week resulted in demonstrations which have not ended well for the demonstrators.  The leading opposition politician was shot in the arm while leading a “walk to work” protest and then whisked away.  I don’t know and certainly have not been here long enough to make any judgment on how this may end. 
With the unpaved roads, poor housing in many areas and high food prices, it is obscene that the government is paying Russia over $1.5 billion for top-of-the-line fighter jets to combat terrorists from Somalia.  Terrorists are not fought with an air-force – more could be spent on police and border patrols not to mention paving every road in the country.  And one bombing last year does not make a terrorist campaign. 
Anyway, I’m leaving for Qatar on Thursday and will miss the place a little. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Domestic Politics Does Affect Foreign Policy

Over at Dan Drezner’s site there was an interesting discussion concerning what, if any, impact domestic politics, in the context of a US government shutdown over the budget, has on foreign policy. It is not as narrow as the post suggests. The budget issue in the US is only one political piece of the puzzle – a big one, but in general it forms only one component over the struggle for political dominance in the US. The question posed is thus what effect do domestic political decisions have on foreign policy in any country. In the context of the budget issues in the US, the professor takes the position that it has no effect.

I can’t agree. In the US, this battle is only one skirmish in the larger war being waged by Republicans on behalf of their contributors and right wing core supporters. It has implications for the wider war and domestic politics almost always impacts foreign policy because it affects the players even if the policy does not extend beyond the borders.

Take a look at France. France has often intervened in its former African colonies – in Chad against Qadaffi’s invasion, in Gabon (twice) and the Central African Republic (an incredible 5 times, the last in 2006). They have been in Cote d”Ivoire since 2003 – so the current cooperation with the UN peacekeeping forces to remove Gbagbo from power after his defeat in the election is simply a continuation of their involvement. However, the aggressive stance recently taken by Nicolas Sarkozy in Africa in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire may also be seen as a result of his low standing in the polls. It can’t hurt since the rise of the French right poses a serious threat to his incumbency. Sarkozy, despite being correct about Libya, is clearly attempting to boost France’s (aka, his image) to increase his standings for the elections next year.

Chancellor Merkel’s policies toward Russia are clearly influenced by domestic affairs. Like keeping the lights on and supporting domestic manufacturing. The German economy is heavily dependent on Russia and Russian energy. A faltering economy costs her politically.

Does anyone need a reminder about China’s internal monetary policies and their international impact?

In the US, domestic politics has a clear impact on foreign policy – and sometimes results in positions that are against US interests. One need look no further than Israel where any sign of slipping support draws the instant wrath of the evangelicals. The power of evangelicals over Republicans is clearly effective and has helped isolate the US while, in the case of the Middle East, actually act against its interests Fortunately they do not have overwhelming power, but should they ever succeed in taking over the domestic political reins completely, then US foreign policy will become a threat to peace.

One need only look at the positions that someone like Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), arguably the dumbest person in the Senate courtesy of the people of Oklahoma. He was on the floor of the Senate backing Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to step down after losing an internationally certified election in November in Cote d’Ivoire. Inhofe condemned the intervention of French and UN forces to install the internationally recognized elected president Alassane Ouattara. Want to know why? Domestic politics.

Can you say “C Street” the halfway house for fallen politico Christians, especially evangelical types who have been caught attending brothels, gaming houses etc? Right wing Christians support Gbagbo because he is Christian. Ouattara is Moslem. For evangelicals Muslim = bad, Christian = Good. That is, except if the Muslim is a dictator who supports and/or supplies oil to the US. The “C Street” gang and their nationwide followers support Gbagbo who has been on the US Christian right gravy train for a long time. Both he and his wife are evangelical Christians. They have attended the annual National Prayer Breakfast run by the Christian group called the Family. Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting supports him. Domestic politics can drive foreign policy.

Dig deeper and you find that the Christian right supported Charles Taylor and Michelle Bachmann was against the ouster of Mubarak. Christian evangelicals applauded the death penalty for gays in Uganda. The Christian right has never met a brutal Christian they didn’t like.

So I disagree. Domestic politics can have, and has had, a serious and sometimes adverse effect on foreign policy in the US at least. The budget debates in the US are only a small part of the struggle for control which, depending on the winner, will ultimately impact foreign policy. So, for all you progressives out there in the US who sat on your collective assess and pouted like 6 year olds in the last election, this is what will come to pass if you do it again. Inhofe, Michelle “I promise only one term, maybe” Bachmann, Huckabee and all their compatriots will be in control of domestic and foreign policy. Domestically, science will disappear and affect US international competiveness as children are taught the planet is around 5,000 years old and dinosaurs lived with humans; social programs for the poor and elderly will vanish; foreign policy will revert to military intervention first, middle and last and the income gap will only become worse.

Monday, April 11, 2011

African Union Damaging Interference

As mentioned in the sidebar, we normally don't take sides unless provoked.  Consider me provoked.

I have little time to spare from my day job, but watching al Jazeera here in Kampala, where there is a Qaddafi Mosque and the president has said he would accept him in exile, I can’t help but be appalled, again, by the antics of the vaunted African Union in its attempt to promote negotiations between Qaddafi and the rebel movements.

The delegation led by President Jacob Zuma of South Africa is a joke. They have presented a clearly absurd plan, benefiting only Qaddafi (naturally immediately accepted by him) and are now bouncing along the road to Benghazi with Qadhafi’s approval to tell the rebel leadership that the murderer and dictator should be reasoned with. How convenient. Qaddafi funds about 15% of the AU’s budget and their hands are in his pockets so they don't care that his soldiers are firing deliberately at civilians and into their neighborhood.  They don't care the UN voted to protect rebelious civilians and that neither Russia nor China chose to oppose the resolution.  They know what's best for Africa. How's that working out?

They did nothing when he invaded Chad, brutally occupying the north and initiating the beginning of the Darfur crises back in the late 1980s following up with full support to Khartoum – Muslims against black Christians and animists. They said nothing when he indulged in the vilification of black Africans in Libya, making them targets of his followers. They said nothing as he supported Charles Taylor, among others of similar ilk. Both the South African government and the African Union are, quite simply, a useless bunch of prevaricators intent on preserving the status quo. They have done so with a dictator and murderer in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, simply because prior to his slippage into senility, depravity, racism and lust for power, he was a heroic front liner. They have done damn little in Somalia, nothing in Mozambique and taken little action in the DRC. Now sub-Sahara Africa wants to end a revolution in Muslim, Arab North Africa which could care less about below-the-equator states except as a market. What buffoons.

The rebels in Benghazi should treat Zuma and his camp followers as the ludicrous coterie of paid-for sycophants they are and send them packing. Zuma can deal with the pressing issues of South Africa in Pretoria.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Criminal Stupidity on the American Right

I listened to Obama’s speech last week on CNN here in Doha. While not agreeing with all of it, it was a well-reasoned statement of intent and limitations of actions for US foreign policy. Something that was located in some black hole when Bush was in power. It spoke to working with allies and rule of law – not the go-it-alone crap spewed by the neo-cons and religious right allies for eight horrendous years, stupendous human cost and which broke the financial stability of the US.

The Republican and Donald Trump response was predictable as well as displaying, yet again, their leadership’s gross, criminal ignorance. Some examples:

Michelle Bachmann. What more can be said of her deep level of dumb? Does she even know where Libya is without some ten-year old telling her? This is what she said:

“I have been very reluctant to see the United States to go into Libya. For one thing, we haven’t identified yet who the opposition even is to Qaddafi. We don’t know if this is led by Hamas, Hezbollah, or possibly al Qaeda of North Africa. Are we really better off, are United States, our interests better off, if let’s say Al-Qaeda of North Africa now runs Libya?”

As Juan Cole has pointed out, Hamas is a Palestinian organization with no affiliates or subsidiary groups. Al Qaeda of North Africa is a joke. Hezbollah is Shiite – there are none in North Africa. None, Michelle, are involved in Libya. They either have no interest or would not be welcome. Please, Michelle, STFU, go crawl under a rock and let adults run things.

Donald Trump. Donald. Stick to real estate and co-authoring self-improvement business books. Because you know nothing about international affairs and it shows. His claim that Iran might be involved is so incredible that it ignores Iranian political reality. Aside from being Shiite they condemned the no-fly zone and foreign interference. They are likely more concerned about Bahrain (Shiite majority) and Yemen (in the backyard of their enemy Saudi Arabia) but they have no dog in the Libyan fight. They are not on the side of the rebels.

The less said about the other Republican leaders, including that tired old white man, John McCain, and their concept of how US foreign policy should be conducted in general and in Libya in particular, the better. Last year, because of lies and bigotry as well as the petulant 2 year olds' on the American left, many Americans voted these morons into power and are now paying the price - and there is a price. One can only hope that the protests against the new Republican leadership in Wisconsin spread throughout the country, getting them out of positions of power sooner rather than later. It is frightening and a threat to the world that these pandering idiots will likely take power and continue the US decent into banana republic status.

The Trees of Kabul

This is a guest post by a long-time friend, Philip Clark who is based in Kabul -  I will be in Uganda for a week - so no posting.

Kabul, 27 March – On 7 March I watched Gen. Petraeus – whom I had just met and to whom I’d immediately made a joke – and Ambassador Eikenberry plant trees in a Kabul park during a snow storm. The show was heavy and very welcomed but it apparently was the last of the Kabul season, and, almost at once, the weather changed.

Day by day, we could see the snow diminish from nearby Television Hill, a former Taliban holdout where the local stations now have their towers. The grass – that which hadn’t been crushed to straw underfoot – turned immediately green. The scattered rose bushes sprouted leaves. Within two weeks, I spotted two dandelions and a daffodil in full bloom. From our car, we could see a cluster of cherry trees, safely sheltered behind a wall, in riotous pink flower. During the tree planting, municipal workers had shivered in their tunics – green for park workers, orange for sanitation crews -- but now we were in shirtsleeves as we dashed between the AID and State compounds.

The farther, higher peaks still are resplendent in their white coatings, glowing in the sun, and that’s good. Late-melting snow will provide water for irrigation over a longer stretch of the growing season than rain, not all at once, when much would be wasted or, even worse, cause flooding. Now the concern is the sudden switch from winter to spring will foment early thunderstorms. Thunderstorms can bring hail, which could destroy just-sprouted crops, when they are most vulnerable. Like farmers everywhere, Afghans have plenty to worry about, even without deliberate Taliban bombings and accidental NATO strikes.
The tree planting was a joint effort of USAID and the International Security Assistance Force the military coalition here. USAID is doing the bigger part but both the general and the ambassador made speeches, as did the mayor of Kabul and several Afghan government ministers.

My joke came when Gen. Petraeus arrived at his seat in the front row. We were in the second. He introduced himself first to the deputy director of the Office of Democracy and Governance – my bailiwick – Maria Barron, then to the chief and deputy of our implementing partner behind the tree project. (Implementing partners are the firms that actually do our work. We publish “request for proposals” for projects, then let contracts to implement them.) All three had identified themselves with the project, and Maria specifically said she was from AID but when Petraeus came to me, and I did the same, besides greeting me, as he had the others, he thanked me for buying the trees. Maybe he realized the implementers were hired guns, but why not thank Maria? Unconscious sexism, perhaps? I didn’t know, of course, but when he spoke to me, I replied, “General, I did it only because Maria told me to.” Petraeus was unfazed.

From the hill-top park, we had a nearly magnificent view of Kabul and the surrounding mountains. The panorama was diminished by cloud cover and mist but was still impressive. Unlike so much of our work, the tree-planting project provided instant gratification. We could see thousands of saplings ready to plant. The result of our investment was obvious. What will become of Afghan democracy, of women’s education and civil rights, of the Taliban and war lords remains to be seen but right now we could see a park full of trees because of us.

The dignitaries had been expected to plant a tree or two each but they threw themselves into the task with gusto. Perhaps they, too, enjoyed seeing an unambiguous, concrete result. As traditional musicians wandered from sapling to sapling, serenading each one, the ambassador, the general, the mayor and Afghan ministers planted tree after tree, while photographers – amateur and professional paparazzi -- swarmed around them, stampeding from each tree to get shots of the big shots wielding shovels. We had an official embassy photographer and television crews. The assistant mayor for technology recorded the event on his iPad, and dozens of embassy and city employees snapped pictures with their cell phones. It was fun, and that’s probably something neither the ambassador nor the general gets to say here very often.