Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Posting about the Obvious

I’ve had a long break from posting while I thought of what topic was worth a comment.  None, really, was the conclusion.  

First, the anticipated speech by Obama on the troop drawdown in Afghanistan is not news any longer.  It stopped being news when the leaks began.  My judgment is that it is about time the US declared that the death of OBL and destruction of the al Qaeda operation in Afghanistan mooted the need for US and NATO troops.  Nation building was not why Bush went in – the mission morphed into that particularly perverse idea. Plus, Karzai is a bigger ass than previously thought and his increasingly strident remarks about NATO and the West – who are there protecting his ass – justify, in and of themselves, a complete withdrawal.  In any event, the wind-up of the 10 year war should be considered a success because, simply – the goals originally put forward for the invasion have been reached.  The unplanned for break in the relationship between the US and Pakistan is another matter. End of story.
Second, what more can be said about the IMF, Brussels and Greece other than the path taken at the insistence of Germany in particular won’t work in the long-term for the cohesion of the EU and may very well bring about the collapse of the euro zone.  The economies of the EU are badly out of balance and the major players are unwilling to change the dynamics. This is no longer breaking news.
Third, is anyone surprised at the time it is taking to get rid of Gadhafi?  Nothing new here except, again, everyone must re-learn the basic rules of warfare – airpower is never enough and boots on the ground win battles. Unfortunately, the anti-Gadhafi forces do not have the firepower or the money to successfully bring an end to the conflict. A NATO missile (if the Europeans have any left) will end up doing it.  Daily reports of casualties, mistakes and the continuing shock by Very Important Pundits that civilians are killed in wars make not a damn bit of difference.  The absurd debate in the US of the legalities of involvement in Libya is a side-show for intellectual ego massage and decisions over superficialities (something at which the US Congress excels) while the intellectually challenged Republican candidates for president indulge in posturing on who can be more Christian, white and right-wing than the other.
Syria.  Being in the neighborhood and the headquarters of al Jazeera, I get a full dose of the atrocities every day.  No one will do anything because no one can do anything.  The demonstrators are, well, on their own. End of story.
South China Sea.  The entire universe seems to claim overlapping parts of it.  Few are paying attention, but this zone is a legitimate flash point for a very dangerous military encounter.
South Sudan and no one mentions the oil.  Why is that?
So – being somewhat bored with all the above and not the hand-wringing type, I thought that it would be more interesting, at least for me, to write about the New Old World Order – abbreviated edition.  That will be the subject of the next few posts.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Eurozone Slow-motion Train Wreck

If anyone thinks that the Eurozone is under control, they need to take off the blinders. Greece is, to use a technical term, a mess. It does not have the political ability to effect the changes needed. It is not only insolvent, but illiquid. This is a fundamental, terminal problem. After Greece came Ireland, then Portugal. The elephant in the room is Spain and it may be next. The entire Eurozone is a slow-motion train wreck and that fact is beginning to sink in. If all the other reports of disintegration were not enough, this latest from Martin Wolf in the FT slams the door.

I just want to add a point from a political angle. If there was a component adding to the crises, it is the positions taken by Germany which, with the help of its elected officials, have demonized those countries unfortunate enough not to be German. The desperate political campaigns of Merkel and her party to channel and support arrogant and Germany-first attitudes have severely damaged the idea of Europe. The public statements of German government officials at the highest levels regarding Greece, for example, have damaged the integrity of the EU. 

The crisis is getting worse, not better.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sepp the Magnificent

Yes. I know. Football (soccer) is not international development or foreign policy.  But it reflects the dreams of many countries.  That's why the FIFA scandal is a foreign policy problem.  Sepp Blatter was re-elected to a another four year presidency of FIFA - arguably one of the most corrupt organizations in the world and run just like the Mafia, but without the efficiency.  Blatter organized an accurate replication of Soviet style elections - he was the only one running.

He promises reforms while silencing critics.  He has stood over the shambles of an organization that indulges is bribary on an international scale, involving individuals and countries.  He should have been expelled, not re-elected.  FIFA needs to be turned inside-out and flushed.

Libya, War Powers Act and International Law

My final post on Libya and the legality of the US actions under international law and the US Constitution – because I have read too much drivel lately from diletantes…

First, although the War Powers Act has forced US Presidents to consult with, and report to, Congress when U. S. armed forces are used in combat situations it has never significantly limited the President's practical power to commit the United States to use military force.  Furthermore, Congress likes the loose language in the Act because it allows them to punt.  They do not need to declare war – thereby putting their necks on the line.

Second, I have read numerous posts – usually in the comment sections, which interpret the legality of the US actions solely by quoting a specific provision of the War Powers Act without taking  into consideration either the US Constitution, treaty law or reality.  Rather, those opposed to any military action by the US unless Congress approves tend to grab and hold the following this provision from said Act:

“(c) Presidential executive power as Commander-in-Chief; limitation

The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”

Let’s just analyse the provision and see how the facile interpretation of a paragraph, in what might be argued as an unconstitutional law in any event, is wrong.

First, and perhaps the weakest argument, is the question of national emergency. But, it very credible to argue that this was a national emergency, given the numerous US bases in the Middle East, and the fact that the US embassy in Libya was evacuated under threat of attack.  Perhaps not a strong position under (3), but credible nonetheless. But that is the least important point.

The more important concern is whether there existed unambiguous statutory authorization under (2). Frankly, the statutory authorization for taking action in Libya and involving US forces is clear - the UN Security Council resolution.

US law authorizes the President to negotiate a special agreement or agreements with the Security Council which is subject to the approval of Congress (22 U.S.C. § 287d). The agreement or agreements may provide for the numbers and types of armed forces, their degree of readiness and general location, and the nature of facilities and assistance, including rights of passage, to be made available to the Security Council on its call for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security in accordance with Article 43 of the Charter.  Under 22 U.S.C, the President is not required to seek or obtain Congressional authorization pursuant to such special agreement or agreements to make available to the Security Council the armed forces, facilities, or assistance provided on its call in order to take action under Article 42 of the Charter. 
Furthermore, Congress has specifically found that using forces under orders from the Security Council is a peacekeeping and enforcement activity rather than act of war; therefore, using US forces within the parameters and missions of those actions neither violate Congress' constitutional prerogative to declare war, nor require specific congressional authorization under the War Powers Act or otherwise.
Finally, under the supremacy clause of the US Constitution, international treaties are in and of themselves legally binding, and along with the body of the Constitution itself, become the supreme law of the land.
The UN Charter is an international treaty to which the US is bound pursuant to the Constitution.  The Security Council resolution was not an act of war – regardless of how opponents would like to characterize it for political purposes.
Then, of course let’s not forget the other applicable treaty: NATO.  For the sake of argument, even if we accept the legally incorrect interpretation that the War Powers Act applied to Libya at the time US forces first began enforcing the Security Council resolution, the fact remains that 8 or 9 days later, on 4 April, the whole operation was placed under the command of NATO.  U.S. involvement was restricted to background noise: support to the NATO-led operation with intelligence, logistical support, and search and rescue assistance and aircraft assisting with the suppression and destruction of air defences in support of the no-fly zone as well as (from 23 April), precision strikes by UMVs in support of the NATO efforts.  The notion that the War Powers Act supersedes yet another international treaty approved by Congress is so absurd as to reveal the true nature of anti-interventionists endless complaints – political points and a dislike of any type of military intervention – nothing more.

Furthermore, by pointing to the 60 day deadline under the War Powers Act, which is nevertheless overridden by the UN resolution and NATO treaty obligations, many critics conveniently ignore that the first notification to Congress establishing the date for running the clock on the 60 days is irrelevant or, at worst debatable in connection with the effectiveness of the War Powers Act provision since President Obama’s notification applied to a different action.  That mission ended before the 60 days expired and exactly at the point when it was turned over to NATO.  The US can choose or not, in these circumstances, to take part in the NATO operation (as Germany declined to do from a military standpoint).  But, that is a completely different and is a political, not legal, discussion.  In any event, from a legal standpoint the War Powers Act - even assuming it would apply - would have been automatically extended with Obama’ second notification to Congress. 
It is also legally questionable whether the War Powers Act can constitutionally restrict any and all orders the President issues to the military, no matter how limited.  Whether you like it or not, legally the President of the US has constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief and he has the only authority to conduct foreign policy – particularly under approved international treaties. 

Interpretation of international and domestic treaties and laws respectively in a vacuum is a dangerous proclivity best left to the media whose purpose is to simplify concepts so that they can be easily absorbed by a credulous public.

Financial Times Blows One - Or Benn Steil and Manuel Hinds Miss a Little Fact

I’m not an economist. Fortunately.  But, since I am involved in business I like reading the Financial Times because a) it gives a non-US centric view of the world; b) does not have the knuckle-dragging editorial policy of the WSJ; and, c) is printed on pink paper.

This is a truly an astonishing mistake (behind free subscription wall).  Benn Steil and Manuel Hinds claim that if the US Dollar were to lose its reserve currency status, then “the Federal Reserve would…be forced to operate under external constraints...[T]he US would no longer be able to cover its current account deficits just by conjuring dollars, it would also have to issue debt in euros...”

I expect this sort of idiocy from the moth-brained Republicans in the US and particularly from the insane right wing, but not from the FT.  Does the UK have this “constraint”?  How about any country in the Eurozone?  Since when does reserve currency status dictate whether or not debt could be covered with the national currency?
What colour is the sky on their planet?  And what was the FT thinking in letting this 1000% piece of inaccuracy go to press?