Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Russia Makes its Moves

A decision by the Kremlin to pay a naval visit to Syria as reported in Izvestia spells trouble.  Russia is clearly ramping up its position regarding what it sees as encirclement redux by the West.  Sending its flagship aircraft carrier the "Admiral Kuznetsov" along with a patrol ship, an anti-submarine craft and other vessels is a signal to NATO that Russia is willing to irritate the West - such as threatening to shut down the supply line to Afghanistan as well - to assert its resurgent foreign policy. 

Aside from the natural position of any country to protect its interests, the move to send a naval contingent to Syria is curious because the blow-back to Russian economic interests in Syria could be serious in long run.  Assad is going down and it is unlikely that the new government will recall the support given to him by the visiting ships with any fondness.  It may have been pre-planned, but it was not cancelled, and under the circumstances is a supremely stupid move by Moscow. Defending one's interests is one thing - supporting a bloody murderer is another. Not that the Russians don't have a history of supporting people like Assad - just look to Serbia. 

The other somewhat provocative move is the recent threat to cut off the supply route to NATO troops in Afghanistan.  Coupled with this weeks border closure by Pakistan, this could spell real trouble.  NATO is withdrawing anyway and the logic of the threat speaks more to the perceived and somewhat real containment of Russia by the US in Eastern Europe.  But, again, such a threat, if implemented, would affect real NATO interests and lives.  This would be a profoundly dumb move by the Kremlin unless it actually desires a return to the cold war - one it did not win. 

The timing of the threats from another standpoint is also curious. The US is Russia's greatest competitor. It is withdrawing from Afghanistan and has largely completed its withdrawal from Iraq.  Russian ability to reign-in its near-abroad depended on the window of opportunity provided by the distraction caused by those two wars.  The window is almost shut and the US will have more opportunity to shift its foreign policy focus away from these wars, much to the detriment of Russian foreign policy should it continue on this course. 

It is difficult to understand the choices that are made by those in power in Russia regarding how they protect their interests.  They certainly have other leverage points but appear to be deliberately choosing those that maximize the chance of long-term damage in relations with the West - a partner they desperately need.  The imminent re-assumption of power by Vladimir Putin coupled with militaristic muscle flexing does not auger well for future.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Future US Republican Foreign Policy

OK.  Resistance is futile. I must comment on the current foreign policy pornography espoused by the presidential candidates in the Republican Party.

Let’s get to it:

Huntsman:  He said “Iranians have already decided to go nuclear”.  There is no proof and repeating it over and over does not make it true.  Sort of like the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over while believing there will be a different result. In fairness, he’s not alone in this.

Perry:  Monroe Doctrine redux – to stop Hezbollah and Hamas from interfering in South America and joining in on the drug trade in Mexico.  The legality of the original doctrine is questionable.  This is just stupid.  Not a lot of Hezbollah and Hamas members in South America to stir up, plus it is unlikely that either group would survive a street fight with Mexican drug cartels. 

Santorum:  “Africa is a country on the brink”.  No comment. 

Bachmann:  Iran wants to attack Israel – and the US – with nuclear weapons.  The first policy has never been announced although may be true and the second involving the USwas never stated by anyone. Anywhere. Anytime. 

Bachmann: “We know that they [Iran] already have a nuclear capability.”  We is the unidentified bird whispering in her ear.

Cain: Iran is very mountainous and therefore a security threat to the US.  Watch out Switzerland.

Cain:  China is a threat to US security and is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Beijing is astonished and starts counting its stockpile of warheads. 

Santorum:  “Obviously, Muslims should be people we look out…”  Yup all those darker skinned people look alike and must be Muslim terrorists. Unless, of course, they happen to be Mexican. 

Romney:   He said: “there is "no price that is too expensive to stop an Iranian nuclear weapon."  Really?  

Romney AND Perry:  Zero out foreign aid and start negotiating.  The government of Israel started to pay attention with that line.  Aside from the thundering economic and political stupidity of the proposal, that’s not how foreign aid works. 

Cain:  We should assist the opposition in Iran to overthrow the regime.  That is otherwise more commonly known as a declaration of war.  Go home and sell more crappy pizza. 

Gingrich: It’s absolutely unacceptable for Iran to fully develop a nuclear weapon.. And if China continues to resist joining the world in tough sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program, then a U.S. trade boycott of China would quickly persuade Beijing,  He is now the newest “anyone but Mitt Romney” candidate so I guess advocating a trade boycott with the second largest economy in the world and  one on which the US also is dependent economically makes perfect sense.  I bet it would be a resounding success. Like invading Iraq and seeing into Putin’s soul.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The International Fickle Finger of Fate Award

To celebrate the end of 9 days of rain, I want to end the week with the people that deserve the old “Fickle Finger of Fate” award (Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh-In” for those old enough to remember).  The list is limited to the top seven, one for every day of the week.

George Papandreou, PM Greece:  For no obvious reason, creates world-wide consternation when, following months of negotiations in the EU (otherwise known as Germany) to deal with debt crises in general and with problem Greece in particular, by first agreeing to terms of a financial rescue package (which would not have solved the problem and makes the lives of ordinary Greeks worse than they are already, but whatever…) and then turning 180 to everyone’s surprise, including his own Finance Minister, announcing that he would hold a public referendum to let the Greek people decide.  His job is now on the line. Aside from dumbfounded surprise, Sarkozy and Merkel were enraged. Key Greek cabinet members ask him to resign and the Greek government is about to form a coalition government.  Good job for the week and for letting the cat out of the bag – national sovereignty trumps everything and threatens the EU (otherwise known as Germany).

Bashar al-Assad, Fearless Leader and (hopefully temporary) President, Syria:  After allowing his brother to unleash the army and security forces for months so they could arrest, torture and/or kill demonstrators while being condemned by most of the planet (except Iran, which needs him), Fearless Leader and former optometrist from northern London Assad resisted Arab League demands to stop the violence. This week he changed his mind and said he agreed to the plan, which called for calling off his tanks and security forces, allow foreign and domestic journalists free access, release political prisoners and enter into negotiations with the opposition. Except he really didn’t and within a day his tanks had killed additional dozens of people.  Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, the prime minister of Qatar who developed the deal, is not happy.  Assad should remember that Qatar was in the lead calling for a no-fly zone in Libya, sent fighter aircraft to take part in the campaign and put hundreds of boots on the ground to help pull down Gadhafi. He also should keep in mind those Syrian military units that have promised a civil war if he does not keep to the deal.
Ilena Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and chair of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee:  During the week, this Republican member of Congress (there’s a pattern to this) marked up a bill and pushed through an amendment that criminalizes diplomacy with Iran. This is unconstitutional, but that little legalistic problem doesn't concern most Republicans when it comes to securing power.  She represents the jingoistic and power hungry elected official (aka Republican) who will “do whatever  possible to hurt Obama regardless of the interests of the country”. If they are continued to be elected, it will make the US a threat to world peace.  Oh – and remember those hikers that were imprisoned in Iran as spies? They’d still be there if Ilena of the galactically stupid had her way.

Condi Rice, former worst US Secretary of State Ever:  To be fair, she was an expert on the Soviet Union and was thrown into a world without the Soviet Union. Bit of bad luck, that – but perhaps she should have adjusted.  Unfortunately she then went on to work on issues in which she had no grounding. That’s ok too – unless one ignores the learning curve. Like supporting the Iraq war which she recently defended as "worth it" (courtesy of ABC news where she promoted her recent book).  Why was the war worth it? Because -  “We also now know that it (the Middle East) was the cradle of al Qaeda and extremism”.  Apparently, "we" didn't know it then and assumed al Qaeda and religious extremism were from a different universe - the same one where US white supremacists and Timothy McVeigh were born.
The fact that there was no connection between al Qaeda and Iraq seems to have escaped her. The fact that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were enemies also appears to be beyond her capability to admit.  The fact that the core of al-Qaeda was Afghanistan (despite Osama’s birth in Saudi Arabia) where the US was (at the time) more or less successfully engaged until she and her boss took the eye off the target to indulge in a personal war , also seems to have vanished from her mind.
Her logic dictates that because the head of al Qaeda was born and raised to a wealthy family in Saudi Arabia, the US was justified in invading Iraq – which had nothing to do with 9/11 or al Qaeda.  She does assert that Iraq was a security threat. How? No one (other than the moth brained neo-cons and their followers) is sure.  She regretted the lives lost but that “nothing of any value is ever gained without sacrifice”.  What was the value gained?  Iran was gifted the region, so I guess that’s one to them but to no one else.  Value for sacrifice? Explain that to over 100,000 Iraqi civilian dead and almost 4,500 US soldiers killed (not to mention those maimed for life) when it was clear that al Qaeda in Iraq was as much of a  fabrication as were the claims of weapons of mass destruction.
Herman Cain, Pizza King and Wannabe POTUS:  Well – what can I say?  His foreign policy thoughts include killer electric fences on the Mexico border and maybe a moat with alligators. Pandering to the Israeli lobby and the Christian right, he now refers to the “so-called” Palestinian people. Beijing will be shocked to learn that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and is therefore a military threat. The Pizza King thinks he qualified to hold public office. Sarah set the bar really, really low. Bachmann and her followers dropped it through the floor. Who would have thought anyone could lower it further? Oh – and there are those sex harassment issues…
David Williams, Kentucky Gubernatorial Wannabe:  This loser (he’s behind by 30 points) decided to attack the Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, for participating in a Hindu prayer at a groundbreaking ceremony in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, for a new factory run by FlexFilm, a company based in India that makes materials for packaging, printing, insulation and other purposes. The plant represents a $180 million investment, and is expected to create 250 jobs in Kentucky. He said it was a ceremony of idolatry and prayers to false gods.  “He’s there participating with Hindu priests, participating in a religious ceremony…they can say what they want to. He’s sitting down there with his legs crossed, participating in Hindu prayers with a dot on his forehead with incense burning around him. I don’t know what the man was thinking.”
To be fair, Williams is a Republican (the pattern continues) and therefore, like his followers, entitled to some slack.  There’s no pill for stupidity and bigotry. Thankfully, he’s also not in charge, and won’t be. Otherwise insulting the religion of the second most populous democracy on the planet and a growing  power balance to a rising China (a helpful aspect for US foreign policy) might be taken the wrong way. 
And to finish this off –
Michael Bloomberg, Mayor (Independent, Rich Person), New York City:  “It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was plain and simple, Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp.”  Got that? This is not a joke. The Very Important People were forced to give bad loans (which they then sold forward and made money).  Sounds like German and French complaints about Greece:  The Greeks cheated to get in the Eurozone. They cooked the books. Shocking. Terrible. And we, the best and brightest in Brussels, surrounded by thousands of deep thinking analysts and auditors were completely fooled. Wow.  Just like all those banks in the US who were forced to loan money to people who they knew couldn’t pay it back.  Yeah. That's it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Russian Roulette - The Greek Way

After weeks of strained negotiations, pleading, insults and hammering of EU members, a deal was struck on Eurozone finance and Greece in particular.  Then this morning, the Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou spun the chamber and pointed the gun at the EU and Greece by announcing that the Greek people will decide on whether to accept the bailout wrung out by the big players in Brussels.

First, I am not so sure that the agreements reached in Brussels were so great in the first place - but they were something.  Second, politicians fall back on referendums when they can't or won't lead (witness the mess of California, a referendum happy state where the politicos run from the responsibilities they are given in elections). Third, this move was manifestly political to avoid early elections.

The referendum announcement sent the markets down. Way down.  The Greek public will likely vote against the deal.  This is not going to end well.