Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

Putin Throws Assad Under the Bus

When you lose this guy, time's up.

On Thursday, President Putin said this about Syria and Assad:

"We are not concerned about the fate of al-Assad’s regime. We understand what is going on there and that the family has held power for 40 years. Undoubtedly, there is a call for changes.”

“We are worried about a different thing – what next? We simply don’t want the current opposition, having become the authorities, to start fighting the people who are the current authorities ... and [we don’t want] this to go on forever.”

During the past several months, the opposition forces have consolidated gains, holding most of the north and opening up new fronts in the south. After a year of scattered fighting and assaults, they have now carried out coordinated attacks that are stripping away territory from the Assad regime which is looking more and more like a well-armed militia than coherent national fighting force. Russia knows this and is likely planning its pull-back from the Middle East. Does Iran? Probably.

But, there is a grain of truth in President Putin's remarks yesterday.  The Arab Spring has resulted in an upsurge of hard line Islamists, such as the Salafists in Egypt and similar groups in Syria.  The conventional wisdom was that if the Assad regime fell, those who peacefully demonstrated for fundamental rights a year ago would be able to consolidate and reconstruct a largely secular Syria but one that included Islamic principles.  That is unlikely to happen, and we can see from Iraq and Egypt, that those who wanted democracy are likely to end up with a new government that is neither liberal or democratic.  

President Putin is also correct in his concern that the fighting could go on forever.  Syria's opposition is united by only one thing - to remove the Assad regime. Once that is accomplished, what then?  One merely has to look at Egypt and its looming governance crisis.

Then there are the Kurds who have been largely disconnected from the fighting but not the opposition. Will they have a role to play within a new government or will they reflect on their wider interests with their government in northern Iraq?  If fighting erupts in northern Iraq between the Baghdad government and the Kurdish autonomous region - an increasingly likely scenario given the possibility of no Kurdish representation in the Iraq government - will it spread to engulf Syria?  Ankara is also likely looking at that possibility.

So, the complexity of the state of play in Syria is reflected in the entire region at this point while the US and Europe seem to be trying to find a way to engage in the regime change process so as to have influence in the new Syria.  Hence the labelling of the Ansar al-Jebhat al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham (Supporters of the Front for Victory of the People of Syria) or simply Jebhat al-Nusra (Support Front) by Washington as a terrorist organization in an attempt to sift out extremist.

As the end game approaches, the complexity will increase as Iran, seeing an ally swept from power, struggles to reset its relationship with Syria, while Turkey moves to create a stable transition that does not involve a Kurdish uprising that could spill over into its territory and the West maneuvers to prevent extremist elements from coming to power.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fathoming China's Foreign Policy

What on earth is China doing?  While smiling and proclaiming it wants good relations with its neighbors, China has embarked on a foreign policy frolic that lays claim to the entire South China Sea, has intercepted Malaysian seismic study vessels in Malaysian waters claimed by China, aggressively challenged Japan over islands lying within its self-declared maritime borders,  instigates a nationalistic fervor resulting in smashed windows and destruction of Japanese car dealerships in China and deliberately provokes other countries – the Philippines being a prime example – with its legally absurd sovereignty claims (considering it is a signatory to the Law of the Sea Treaty). 

One can only assume that the People’s Liberation Army has acquired a tad too much influence and control over the government policies.  Backlash is in the air - and water.
Every country in the region, as far away as India, now wants the US to increase its presence. The  newly elected Japanese government, while not actively hostile, is discussing rearmament and vows to take a more forceful stance toward China (not good considering the history involved).  The only exceptions for China are Pakistan and North Korea, not exactly the best group of friends.
This could not possibly be the result desired by Beijing.  It is exactly a case of “not what I say, but what I do” and what China is doing is irritating everyone – from Japan to South East Asia to India.

Mursi - Mistakes and the Road to Istability

The Egyptian constitution passed its first hurdle of two with 56%.  This is not good.  The constitution was written by a Muslim Brotherhood drafting committee devoid of women and from which most liberals, moderates and secularists resigned.  Salafists, a dangerously extreme group of Islamists, have attacked opposition offices.  Dr. Mursi’s rush to judgment to hold a referendum with virtually no time for intelligent study of the document by Egyptian voters and the manner of its alarmingly sudden creation by the drafting committee with no legal scholars should worry him. 

This is a critical document.  The constitution will form the foundation of every other future piece of legislation. A very large section of Egyptian society is against it and against the anti-liberal sentiments of the Muslim Brotherhood and certainly those of the extremist Salafists to whom they are allied.  Rather than provide the stability that Egypt desperately needs, the process that Mursi – and it seems the Muslim Brotherhood to whom he is clearly kneeling and which has never kept its word on any matter – is pursuing could very well have the unintended consequence of mimicking Nouri al-Maliki’s problems in Iraq, together with the attendant violence.

Where religious extremists seek to impose their will on all others there is an ultimate backlash.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

What is Mursi Up To?

What is Muhammad Mursi's plan?  It is difficult not to take him at his word - that the powers he seized under a set of decrees last Thursday which greatly enhanced his power and prevented the judiciary from challenging any action he might take - would be dropped when a constituion is finalized (now extended from the end of December to the end of February).  However, the make-up of the Constituant Assembly is heavily weighted toward the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Keep in mind that many secularist and Christian representatives have resigned from the Assembly which is drafting the new constitution. Despite Mursi's attitude of inclusiveness, which even if true is not what his party believes, the risk that a liberal, pluralist and inclusive society will not arise seems to be more likely than before. Consequently, the constitution may eventually be so non-inclusive and religiously oriented that almost 50% of the country will be subject to a loss of rights that it expects. 

In the meantime, the key decree, at least for me, is the one that says the president may take any steps he feels necessary to preserve the revolution, or national unity, or the country’s security. Coupled with the other decrees preventing the judiciary from questioning or dissolving the Islamist dominated Constituent Assembly or upper house of Parliament, these decrees are a recipe for a potential disaster between now and the end of February.

Mursi's margin of victory was slim, to say the least.  If half the country believes that the revolution is under threat and that the constitution is one-sided, under the circumstances of the Egyptian environment, the much wished for stability could rapidly circle the drain.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Monday, November 5, 2012

US Election Prediction

Time's up for Romney and his pack of racsist, knuckle dragging mouth breathers and his wealthy financiers.  I give Virginia and Florida to the racists but not Ohio, despite an Attorney General who believes in voter suppression.

EV - Obama between 290 and 303. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Republican and Mitt's Geography Lesson of the Day

Since this is a foreign policy blog, I won’t deal with the misogynistic proclivities of the Republican Party and its slimy politicians. What is interesting is their complete lack of depth in international affairs (at least ever since their Christianista Misogynist in Chief, Richard Mourdock won the primary against Senator Lugar in Indiana).

Aside from the astoundingly cluelessness of Mitt Romney in general at the final debate with President Obama, there was a remarkable moment when he floated the notion that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could be indicted for his inflammatory statements against Israel. The Iranian President was once quoted saying that Israel “must be wiped off the map,” though the translation was later revealed to be just a tad wrong.
“I’d make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation,” Romney said.
That was followed quickly by one of Romney’s advisors, Eric Fehrnstrom, suggesting that the World Court could arrest Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

First of all, can someone please supply the world with the address of the “World Court”?

I didn’t think so. And for a political cult party that, along with its tea-bag followers, finds international agreements and institutions loathsome, appealing to one, even though it doesn’t exist, strikes me as a bit of a stretch, even for these buffoons.
In case these moth-brained neo-cons haven’t noticed, their cartoon compatriot Ahmadinejad is going to be out of a job pretty soon; so, unless they act quickly to get the "World Court" to issue an indictment and provide the "World Police" with a warrant to parachute into Iran, snatch their suspect and whisk him away to the "World Jail" where he can await trial by the "World Court" as soon as a "World Prosecutor" can be found they will miss the moment.
On more thing. Republicans, like a good number of their disciples, couldn't find Iran with a map and a flashlight. Hence, this statement by Mitt at the debate:
"Secondly, Syria’s an opportunity for us because Syria plays an important role in the Middle East, particularly right now. Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea."
Uhm. Well. No.
According to the CIA fact book, Iran's coastline consists of pretty nice beachfront on the Persian Gulf leading out to the Gulf of Oman which is connected (get the map Republican boys and girls) to the Indian Ocean. That's 1,520 miles of sipping pina-coladas and sunbathing by the sea while watching its excuse for a navy go by. If that's not enough, then they can float some toy ships on the Caspian as well - anywhere along 460 miles of shoreline.
Oh, yeah. Iran doesn't border Syria, although thanks to the last American president they were gifted Iraq, so I guess that's something

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Rocks and Hard Places - Turkish Edition

I’ve just returned from Turkey and unless you’ve been living on Pluto, the four days of shelling by Syrian forces of Turkish towns, killing civilians, and counter-fire by the Turkish army is big news.  Turkey has warned that it is very close to war and the al-Assad regime must cease its attacks – or else.   The “or else” should be of concern to everyone because it is very clear that the Syrian regime is engaging in desperate measures to stay alive and attempting to provoke a war with Turkey in the hopes of destabilizing Turkey with the help of the PKK in the southeastern part of the country.

Turkey should not take the bait.
The Syrian army, consisting of little more than small units in the region and having lost control of large swathes of territory and border crossings, is in no condition to resist a Turkish assault.  It could be swept from the border area and would likely end up in a burning heap along the roads leading to Damascus.  That is not in the interests of Turkey for several reasons.

The first is that the Turkish economy is growing at 7% and has been doing so for a good part of the last decade.  A war puts the economy at serious risk of losing momentum, if not stopping growth altogether.  The towns along the Syrian border and the southeast in general had been booming until the Assad regime’s struggle for survival brought trade crashing to the ground.
Second, the PKK is under extraordinary pressure both militarily and politically. Turkey maintains military bases inside Iraq (much to Baghdad’s ineffective vocal objections) to counter PKK activities while at the same time Ankara has pursued a policy of inclusion for the Kurds within its borders.  A war puts political stability inside Turkey at risk, would energize the PKK and cause turmoil in large parts of eastern Turkey.

Third, Ankara is clearly aware of the geo-political problems in the region.  The Assad regime is allied with Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Iran has invested considerable money and reputation into the fight – money it can ill afford to lose, not to mention losing the political advantages it has gained since the Iraq war.  Without Russian support, the Assad regime could not continue its policy of slaughter. Russia is a major trading partner of Turkey and furthermore, controls the politics of Armenia which impacts Turkey’s resource rich ally, Azerbaijan.
Fourth, Turkey cannot count on NATO for support.  Although it has the right under international law to defend itself, invoking Article 5 to bring in all of NATO is likely to go nowhere.  The US and Europe, with the probable exception of France, have no stomach for war in the region.  Syria is not Libya and military intervention by NATO – which is the default military organization – would trigger large asymmetrical responses by Iran and its surrogate Hezbollah that would affect Israel and the Gulf.  Turkey would be on its own.

A full scale border crossing, no doubt inflicting what would be crushing losses on the Syrian military, would have economic, social and political repercussions that cannot be predicted, but all of which can be described charitably as not good for Turkey.
The Turkish Parliament has voted in favour of a motion permitting the government to engage in cross-border raids on Syria and in the past few days, the Turkish military has moved additional tanks and mechanized units to the region hoping to send a message.  Prime Minister Erdoğan said yesterday “I am calling once more on the al-Assad regime and its supporters: Don’t dare to test Turkey’s patience,” adding that testing Turkey’s capacity for deterrence would be “a fatal mistake.”  The motion authorizing raids is not a blank check, however; more importantly, It was on the agenda in any event to renew the authorization for the Iraq bases targeting the PKK.  The timing is coincidental. Hopefully, Damascus will get the message.

Russian and Iranian support will not save al-Assad or his regime as rebels continue to seize territory and have failed to be dislodged from Homs, Aleppo or villages along the border with Turkey.  I don’t doubt that Turkey will launch cross-border missions to clear out Syrian military positions  if necessary – but they can be pushed back out of range without doing so and provide leverage so that  the rebel units in the area could take control. 
At the end of the day Turkey needs to show restraint – difficult under the type of provocation pursued by Damascus.  They are trapped between national interest and national honour.  But, Turkey has more to lose than gain if it unleashes its army.   

The Syrian civil war, now a sectarian one as well, will be a swamp which, once sucked into, will be difficult to escape.  Unfortunately, NATO and the West are tired of nation building and the UN is paralyzed by Russian pretensions of being a major power and Chinese fundamental principle of non-interference. Turkey is left with little choice but to deal with the situation that involves a civil war along hundreds of miles of its border and more than 100,000 refugees.  The rest of world will let Turkey sort this out and it does not have a lot of choices for maneuver.  One choice however – massive military intervention – should be avoided.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For...

Iran, hosting the non-aligned conference this week in Tehran, launched a strenuous effort to get Mohamed Mursi, the new Egyptian president, to attend.  They were successful and really, really happy. 

Mursi, on the other hand, revealed a level of independence that no one – NO ONE – anticipated as he condemned the Syrian government and urged the Syrian rebels to unify and turn out President Assad.  No doubt somewhat shocked, the Syrian delegation walked out.  More importantly, the Iranian government likely had a collective heart attack as Mursi, a conservative from the Muslim Brotherhood (feared and loathed by the Americans and Israelis) basically told Iran that he supported the rebels whom the West want to see take down Assad, putting him on the same side as Turkey, Western Europe and the US and against Russia, Iran and the current Syrian government. I leave China out because their veto of the UN resolutions, where they joined Russia, were  based on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of another country (not liking the idea that it could be applied to them) rather than the vaporization of an ally and major arms purchaser.  
As if to rub salt into the wound, Mursi then went on to compare the rebel cause in Syria to the plight of the Palestinians.  Just to be clear – the Palestinian cause is sacred to Egypt and a frequent, convenient rallying point for Iranian propaganda.  Mursi has effectively put Iran in the shoes of Israel vis a vis the Syrian rebels. Sting much? 
This speech is clearly not what Iran wanted and ups their cost as they will now have to deal with an increasingly annoyed Turkish government, the vast wealth of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and now a moral opponent in the leading Arab state of Egypt supposedly being run by one of their own. This is clearly not the optimum outcome from the point of view of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor will Hezbollah be celebrating in the streets of Beirut.  Hezbollah leadership is likely re-calibrating everything at this point.
Multiple  factors seem to be in play. Aside from the fact that President Mursi is a creation of the Egyptian revolution and likely feels a good deal of sympathy for the similar revolt in Syria which began peacefully and was met by violent responses from the Assad family,  Mursi is Sunni in a largely Sunni country.  Turkey is Sunni as well.  The Sunni minority in Iraq has been sidelined from power, with the Sunni Vice President forced to flee to Istanbul.  Iran has the upper hand in Iraq (thanks Bush Jr.) and Egypt wants Western, Qatari and Saudi money and investment.  Qatar and Saudi Arabia are, like Egypt and Syria, Arab.  Iran is decidedly not Arab or Sunni and, to make matters worse is flexing its muscle in the direction of the Gulf Arab states.
So, now the game becomes more complex.  Moscow is sweating and Iran is probably not in the best of moods.  An interesting sidelight to this is the American displeasure that the non-aligned movement held its conference in Tehran.  They actively tried to convince the UN Secretary General not to attend (any place, except Iran).  The Republican Party railed against the meeting and the UN – largely because they prefer killing to peace - and thought a dictator like Hosni Mubarak was their kinda guy.  Who’s laughing now?
Assad said the army was “cleansing” society and needed some time to finish the job.  Not the best choice of words.  Once ground-to-air missiles and some anti-armour weapons begin to make their impact through the largess of Qatar and the Saudi’s, Moscow should start to fixture a nice dacha for him.

Friday, August 17, 2012

For Assange - What now? What now?

Now that the Ecuadorian government has granted political asylum to Julian Assange (for those living on Pluto, the Wikileaks founder) to escape extradition to Sweden on sexual abuse allegations resulting in - ultimately - a snatch to the US, what now?  He is confined within the walls of the Ecuadorian London embassy.  For his purposes, not very optimal.

Leaving aside the arguments of whether publishing communications of limited value, aside from some amusing and embarrassing anecdotes and to which literally millions had access anyway, is some sort of crime - the granting of asylum could hardly have been a surprise to anyone with half a brain.  The current government in Ecuador is not especially supportive of the US and its foreign policy, for one thing.  It also sees the UK as in the pocket of the US.

However, even if there was a chance that Ecuador would reject the plea for asylum, the UK foreign office certainly slammed the door on that possibility by announcing that, under UK law, it could legally strip the embassy of its status, storm in and arrest poor Julian and ship him off to Stockholm.  Simply pointing our the law was a threat.  Have the people in the UK government been standing too long in the hot sun?  Were they running a high fever?  What ever made them think that floating the idea was a good plan?  If anything was going to guarantee a decision to grant asylum, that certainly was going to do it, while simultaneously enraging the government of Ecuador.  Furthermore, such an action would create a precedent of unaccountable proportions.  It doesn't need to be spelt out.

Why not have the Swedish government fly over a bunch of their crack prosecution team with the witness making the claims (who, apparently has not even been questioned) and conduct an interview inside the Ecuadorian embassy to determine if a case really exists?  If it is shown that the allegations are for real and that enough evidence exists to support an arrest (he has not been arrested) and criminal trial, it is likely that the Ecuadorian government will be placed in an awkward position and request his departure. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Mitt's European Adventure

Forever trying to solidify the Republican base, composed of red-neck conservative know (and don't want to) nothing bigots, Mitt decided to show his foreign policy credentials by taking a sojourn to that place he and his knuckle dragging followers couldn't find on a map with a flashlight - Europe. 

Not any old Europe (and certainly not France with its leftish new president) but Poland and England. Between the two, he sandwiched in Israel so he could show solidarity with the increasingly marginalized government by vowing to do something about Iranian nuclear ambitions. 

Fortunately for Mitt, most Americans - and certainly not his followers - don't much care about foreign affairs these days (not realizing that Europe's economic problems deeply affect the US).  Otherwise, they might find it astonishing that he questioned London's ability to host the Olympic games, drawing the ridicule of its outspoken mayor who is not known for his liberal tendencies and then went to Israel where he said of Palestinians (probably one of the most highly educated peoples in the Middle East) that they were intellectually and culturally inferior to Israelis.  Being treated as third class citizens and being suppressed while having their land stolen obviously points to Israeli intellectual superiority.  Oh. Yeah. Note to drooling troll Mittster supporters: he praised the Israeli health care system (single payer, price controls).

Then, to get closer to Russia (his number one geopolitical enemy) he landed in Warsaw.  There, he proceeded to glorify Poland's economy.  Great. Poland's economy has been remarkably resilient for a number of reasons.  Good for him.  Note to the knuckle-dragging Mittster supporters (I think those are the ones who can read): Poland has a larger government spending program than the US and - wait for it --------------
universal health care and a strong labour union system.

There is nothing more pathetic than pandering made worse with stupidity coupled with arrogance.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

End of the Beginning in Syria

Unraveling is the word that pops to mind as events progress in Syria.  The civil war may take a sudden turn toward an end game.
Confirmed dead from the rebel assault on the security offices in Damascus are Assef Shawkat, Assad's brother-in-law and the deputy head of the armed forces and Assad’s his closest security adviser, Dawoud Rajha, the Minister of Defence and the government’s senior Christian official and Hassan Turkmani, the crisis management chief.  Other senior officials were wounded and now rumours are out and about that Assad also was wounded and is in Latakia – a convenient spot if Russia wants to pick him up by boat.  His wife, Asma al-Assad, is rumoured to be in Russia already.
If Assad’s wife has indeed fled to Russia, the Kremlin is going to need to re-calibrate its foreign policy fast for once.  The Kremlin is notorious for its reactive foreign affairs - which does not function well in situations like this.  Thinking ahead and incorporating possible black swans in its plans has never been a strong point in Moscow.
Of course, all the reports may well be wrong. Assad may hold on. But the vehemence with which the Syrian Information Minister Umran al-Zuabi, vowed that those behind the attack would be held accountable even if they were outside the country tends to support the rumours.  Of course, by adding that the bombing was orchestrated by combined Turkish, Qatari, Saudi Arabian and Israeli intelligence, removes a good deal of credibility from his remarks if only because this would be the strangest cast of conspirators in the long, bloody history of the Middle East.

One interesting question is what did the Hamas leadership see months ago when they hastily vacated Damascus and Syria? This is, of course, the region where historically “writing on the wall” originated. Then there is Hezbollah in Lebanon who will be in a difficult position, to say the least, as they lose both their arms depot in Syria and the arms route to Iran if Assad heads for a village in Russia with the added annoyance now of having to deal with Salafists within Lebanon who are fiercely (an understatement) conservative, destructive and dangerous.
Finally, will Russia go to Plan C soon (see previous post).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Syria, Russia and Slow Train Wrecks

English: President Bashar al-Assad, Aleppo, Ab...English: President Bashar al-Assad, Aleppo, Abbarah square (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
To steal from Churchill, the now almost daily fighting inside Damascus, including the destruction of a major barracks and the attack on the State Security building, is not the beginning of the end, it is simply the end of the beginning.  The downfall of the Assad regime won’t come from the streets, however; it will only come when his own people determine that the status quo has changed and turn on him as they did on Qadaffi’s regime.  Stay tuned though because the military can still field thousands of tanks and artillery– all of whom are Alawite led and loyal so far.  This is not Egypt, Tunisia or Libya (where the military was essentially incinerated by NATO).  And if you think it can’t get much worse than it already is, consider that the government has begun to shift some of its chemical weapons.  If they are sent to fire units of any type, this could be very ominous, to say the least.  One hopes they are simply  being moved to more secure locations – itself an indication that the Syrian government is nervous.

Meanwhile, it is likely that the Kremlin is moving rapidly to a Plan C.  Plan A which amounted to unqualified support for the Assad regime, was modified a few weeks ago to Plan B when they announced that their purpose was not to sustain Assad in power but to bring about a negotiated settlement with no external intervention.  Like the Egyptian military who simply took advantage of the massive unrest to remove a threat to the regime itself (Mubarak and more to the point his son),  Russia is now saying that Assad is not the point.  But the optics are bad for them as they are seeming to support a regime because 1) they want to keep their wharf on the Med; 2) they want to be able to keep all the arms contracts; and, 3) they want to prevent an alternative route for oil to Europe that would open up with a change in government in Syria.  None of this has played well in the rest of the Arab world. And they, not to mention many Syrian’s who are likely to come to power, will not forget.
Nor should they.
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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Kick the Can Eurozone Style

Shorter Jörg Asmussen, Member of the Executive Board of the ECB:  Stop giving advice if you don't agree with us.....

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Eurozone Redux

I’ve been absent for two good reasons.  The first is that political events are unfolding at too rapid a rate to make any sensible comment that would last more than a few hours.  Reading other blogs which vainly attempt to prognosticate, let alone to analyze, the collapse of the Euro, Syria’s seemingly unending nightmare, fear mongering, obstructionist Republicans in the US, the mess that is Egypt, Turkey’s coming of age, Russia’s desperate struggle to keep old ties afloat while deliberately alienating the West, etc. etc., I decided the task was not only fruitless, but rather stupid.  So I’ve watched al Jazeera and waited.  The second reason is that I’m busy.
Nevertheless, with yet another “final” Euro summit underway the time seems appropriate to re-address the unraveling of the Eurozone. 
At the crux, of course, is Greece.  The election of the centrist coalition solved nothing,  If the left had won, Germany’s bluff would have been called. But, unfortunately now that particular scenario has been delayed.  In the lottery for the dubious honour of becoming Greece’s Finance Minister so that the Germans could kick him and solutions down the road, Yannis Stournaras won.  He was there in 1994 to negotiate Greece’s entry into the Eurozone.  He may well be there on its exit.
Minister Stournaras only has a couple of moves before disintegration.  Will they happen and will Germany accede?  No.  But, anyway, official time for Europe has expired and we’re now in the first overtime.  Yannis Stournaris must resist the pressure to buy more time by extending the bailout, which will only produce more debt which will be paid to German banks in the end.  Don’t extend the bankruptcy. Call the German bluff.  Get a deal from Europe.
Keep in mind that all the bailout funds masterminded by the Germans are nothing more than payments to the banks, not to the Greek people.  Furthermore, much of the bailout goes to allow Greek banks pay German and other European banks for loans that should never have been made.  Greece’s sovereign debt problem is not being addressed and won’t be until Germany is forced into a position where it can no longer dictate its austerity program for others while maintaining its competitive advantages that were deliberately structured into the Eurozone system.  Money that re-capitalized Greek banks should not be part of the national debt – that releases a bunch of Euro’s, by the way.  Let the European Financial Stability Facility own the banks and do with them what they need to do. 
Everyone, including the Germans, are now talking about a growth strategy.  Well, let’s say growth returns in one or two years.  Until that time there should be no payments required on the loans.  After growth begins to appear, payments can be resumed with a ratio pegged to growth. 
To be clear, I don’t think any of this will happen as Germany, and Germans, seem to forget that their growth is dependent on buyers and as usual are forgetting that their economic strength lies only in exports. Losing buyers in Europe by sticking to an inane austerity policy is just plain stupid.  What they are doing is saving the banks and abandoning the people.
What Germans and the German government refuse to admit is that the Euro ship and its economies are sinking fast and, like the Titanic, it will take down the wealthy and the poor, those who are industrious and those who are not.  Their attitude and solutions are Hooveresque without the quaintness. He and his government, in response to a rapidly disintegrating economy in the US, moved rapidly to reduce government expenditure, and cut wages. He was an idiot then and Merkel and company are the idiots today.
Finally, and what makes the Eurozone almost problematic at this point, is that Chancellor Merkel wants to create a German Europe; every nation should  live, work and apply its governance according to German rulebooks.
Merkel and many (if not most) Germans have an annoying tendency to patronize the southern tier, telling them to “do their homework” for example, so that they can all become good little Germans.  This is nothing more than a tool to bring all of Europe under German leadership.  The word “rule” might be too harsh. Maybe.  However, this makes Germany a threat to the Eurozone and Europe – not Greece, Italy, Spain or Ireland.  So everyone else in Europe needs to decide if they want to live under German leadership or resist.
Merkel keeps saying that she and Germany will do whatever it takes to save the euro; except that every plan presented by others has been vetoed to satisfy German voters, German banks and the German press. Oh, and yes, national interests.

Friday, May 18, 2012

American Moron Romney

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 03:  Republican presiden...MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 03: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to supporters during his primary night gathering at The Grain Exchange on April 3, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Mitt Romney addressed supporters after winning primary elections in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
Mitt Romney on the campaign trail. You just can't make this crap up...

“I’m not familiar precisely with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said whatever it was.”

Would-be president Mittens. Would you buy a used company from this guy?

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Once More Into the Breach....

On July 1 the new European Stability Mechanism Fund comes into effect.  It is a more robust attempt to resolve the financial crises that has the Euro on the ropes.  But it is also a key date because in June, Greeks will go to the polls again and if they vote the same way, or even strengthen the anti-austerity parties to the extent they can form a government, then after July either the German led team of austerity believers will blink or Greece will set in motion the withdrawal from the Eurozone.   Because, austerity plans are now a social and economic disaster for Greece, Spain and Portugal.  Actually, austerity is not a plan at all – it is a knee-jerk reaction by the rich and powerful to retain that power at the expense of the periphery in Europe which requires a growth plan – not more austerity and unemployment that it brings.
Germany seems to think that threats are the order of the day.  They seem to forget that the Greek voter makes the choices – not Berlin.  Enough economists have said that the German led austerity program is bogus that perhaps Merkel and her ever diminishing circle of allies should sit down and come up with a compromise because by staying in the Euro, Greece will never recover economically because it will be forced to use a foreign currency within a group of wildly differing economies.  The system does not work.
Jean-Claude Juncker, who presides over the Euro-zone's finance ministers, criticized those who seem to think that threats against Greece were appropriate.  He said that Greek voters must be respected.  Mr. Juncker however, is leaving and thus can easily speak his own mind.  The problem is that the other ministers – Finland comes to mind – are fully supportive of the current policy and their tone to Greece is not diplomatic.  This is a gross mistake because people in general don’t respond well to threats and being treated like children. These same ministers praise Ireland and Portugal for keeping to the austerity route. The problem is that Ireland had no sovereign debt crises – it, like Spain is all private debt.  Frankly, anyone who thinks that Ireland is improving or stable is running a high fever. Spain’s banks are in trouble because of a housing bubble that burst in spectacular fashion and an unemployment rate over 25%.  Austerity is not the solution for Spain.
Coming back to Greece though, is the question of who will replace Juncker?  At the head of the pack is none other than Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister and someone heavily invested into austerity and maintaining German export superiority.  Freshly elected Hollande is unlikely to be enthusiastic about having a German in that spot as he campaigned promoting a growth, not contraction policy.  Putting Schäuble into the driver’s seat is likely to send Greece really over the edge.
In June, Europe will know which way Greece is going.  Withdrawal from the Euro will help Greece, hurt banks and embarrass the EU (read, Germany).  But frankly, it will give Greece the chance to become competitive again.  Hopefully, there is a semblance of a plan in place to deal with the exit.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Economic Denial

100,000 peaceful anti-austerity protesters in ...100,000 peaceful anti-austerity protesters in front of the parliament of Greece on 29 June 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Without question, things are getting a whole lot worse in the Eurozone and in Greece and Spain in particular. 

I’ve done a good deal of Germany and ECB bashing, all of it I believe well deserved.  The German solution to everything has been crushing austerity for everyone except the banks while forgetting that their own prosperity is derived from a fixed game where everyone else has to buy their stuff while simultaneously being unable to devalue because it’s impossible to devalue a foreign currency.  I think it is now pretty much settled that the ECB, by concentrating almost exclusively on inflation, has ignored fundamental economic equality and growth factors needed in Europe.  It is also pretty much settled everywhere outside of Berlin that austerity does not produce growth and without growth you get massive unemployment, poverty and social upheaval all of which might lead to the end of the European Experiment.
Angela Merkel is on the way down unless her party changes course. There are hints of that after the recent drubbing of her party in regional elections.  Even Germans are unhappy.  I would assume that someone has a contingency plan for Greek default, unwinding of the Euro in Greece (and perhaps elsewhere) and the cracking of the current economic structure. After all, even the US has a contingency plan for war with the UK.  But don’t count on it because it is very difficult to convince a buyer that he has bought a fake painting despite evidence to the contrary.
The meetings in Greece over the weekend in the desperate attempt to form a government and avoid another round of expensive elections have not gone as planned.  Curiously, what may result in a new election is the support for the moderates, as opposed to the radical left party, because Greeks actually seem to want to stay in the Eurozone.  This is strikingly similar to the former Greek government announcing that a referendum on the agreed upon austerity program would be held to approve or reject it which, at the time, came as a shock to both Sarkozy and Merkel.  That idea was shot down very quickly and publicly leading to the instant collapse of the Greek government.  Now, we are back to the same position, except Germany can hardly object to elections as opposed to an unscheduled referendum.
The austerity plans so far have resulted in extraordinary economic suffering for people who had little to do with the banking crises but who now are expected to pay for it.  The no-growth austerity policy is virtually impossible to implement and if a policy remains that unachievable (and it was from day one) then it is just a Panglossian academic exercise that is better suited for someone’s doctorate thesis rather than the real world.  So, as in war and sports – everyone has a plan until they’ve been hit. The Eurozone has been hit. The getting-up is up to them. 
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Friday, May 11, 2012

Shifting Sands for the Kurds

Flag of KurdistanFlag of Kurdistan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Once upon a time the Kurds were frequently shown a red-line by Turkey that they could never cross – independence. Even as late as 2010, the warning was in effect.  To fight the PKK, the Turkish army covers Kurdish regions in the east of Turkey and has intermittently thought nothing of crossing into Iraq, in force, to attack PKK home bases.  But the Kurdish government in Erbil is different. It is rich, peaceful and it is engaged in a cold-war with Baghdad. 

Kurdish Iraq has been part of the country in name only for at least a decade.  Having first been protected by the no-fly zone in effect against Saddam Hussein, it became de-facto independent after his army was pulverized in the first Iraq war and then systematically dismantled by the invasion in 2003.  Both wars were beneficial for the Kurds. (Please note – I am not defending the illegal, ill-conceived 2003 invasion and its badly handled aftermath). Erbil is now probably the richest city in Iraq as a result of oil, maintains a decent military, enjoys relative peace and can thumb its nose at the government in Baghdad.   It is also stable – something Ankara appreciates on its borders.
The former peace-in-the-neighborhood policy is changing to stark realism as Ankara understands that as a major regional power – perhaps the regional power – choices need to be made. Gradually, Kurds in Turkey are gaining their civil rights – a long road lies ahead in that respect – but Turkey knows that being friends with every neighbor is not a policy choice.  As a result, given the tension that exists between Shia controlled Iraq and Sunni Turkey, the Kurds may find that a deal with Ankara and future independence is not just a dream.
Iraq, Syria and Iran are upset with Turkey and Turkey has severed relations with the Assad regime while offering aid to Syrian refugees and has issued blunt warnings of military action to Damascus – not something Iran appreciates or wants to see.  The Kurds, however, have been welcomed. Not so long ago Masoud Barzani, the Kurdish Regional Government PM, paid a visit to Ankara where he was treated as a head-of-state.  Barzani’s government is increasingly tied to Turkey by both trade and the need for security against what the Kurds believe is a hostile government in Baghdad and a not so friendly Iran. This has resulted into a Kurdish policy of not irritating Ankara by showing any sort of support for the outlawed PKK.
In the past few days, the al-Maliki government in Baghdad has even more reason to be annoyed with Turkey. Ankara has said that the fugitive Vice President of Iraq, Tariq al-Hashemi (a Sunni) wanted for allegedly orchestrating death squads and attacking Shiites, is their guest and that the recently issued “red notice” by Interpol is not an arrest warrant and can be safely (if embarrassingly) ignored.  They are not going to do anything except treat him as a guest.  All these past and current events present the Kurds in Erbil with an opportunity for further de-facto independence, if not de-jure.
Some years ago, the suggestion was floated that Iraq should simply be divided in three, Shia south, Sunni west and Kurdish north.  The idea was derided as dangerous.  But it is playing out. If Erbil and Ankara reach a degree a comfort with each other, it would be beneficial to both. 
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Monday, May 7, 2012

Austerity and Germany Lose

The big loser on the week ending Sunday?  Germany.  They lost The Netherlands on the same day as the first round of voting in France was underway as its government vaporized because of austerity.  They lost Greece when the ruling coalition lost the elections Sunday.  They lost France – the big one – when Merkozy was fired.  And all because Herr Wolfgang Schauble, the German Finance Minister and Merkel believed in Hooverism for everyone else, except Germany.  Guess what?  German economic theory that put austerity at the top of the list of actions that needed to be taken, followed closely by….austerity in number two position closely followed by – wait for it – more austerity, has resulted in the implosion of the Dutch government, amazing suffering of ordinary Greeks resulting in social upheaval and  the rise of a true Nazi party (ok, named after a fantasy role playing game, but nevertheless…) and defeat for the parties that agreed to the German prattle and yesterday  the dumping of their partner in crime, Sarkozy.  And guess what guys, Spain is next.
Now – suddenly – as if struck by lightning, the Germans are talking about growth policy.  Get this: Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that France and Germany should "quickly get to work on adding a growth pact to the fiscal treaty to promote competitiveness". Then, the architect of the current mess, Wolfgang Schauble says that wages in Germany should rise, so increasing the demand for exports from the rest of the eurozone and raising economic growth. "By raising pay, Germany would help reduce economic imbalances in Europe", Mr Schauble said. It doesn’t get better than this. Now the Germans are warning Greece and everyone else that there will be no change to the fiscal stability pact.  Yes, that’s the position for Germany to take.  Very, very clever those threats.
Oh – and a word to Republican idiots in the US.  Hooverian austerity doesn’t work. Period.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Iran loses Turkey - and everything else

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey...Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey at Çanakkale Türkçe: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Başbakanı (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
After a prolonged absence from posting, I'm back.  I have frankly been immersed in legislative initiatives in Tajikistan and meetings in Kyiv and Istanbul for a major program in the Black Sea basin. 

Nevertheless, the dry spell should be over for the time being. 

The first item on the agenda is a quick post on the fluid dynamics in the Middle East brought on by the Syrian civil war and attrocities which have been committed by the al Assad regime.

The systematic murder of women, children and other civilians in order to crush the revolt represented largely by the Free Syrian Army, has been unresolved.  Kofi Annan says he is shocked by the massive bloodshed committed by Syrian regular army forces in the period leading up to the agreed upon cease fire and withdrawal of army units from cities and towns in Syria.  Why he is shocked is beyond comprehension.  There is nothing in the Baath regime's history that would have indicated other than brutal repression when their control was threatened.  Russia  claims to support the Annan mission - except that it is deliberately facilitating the murders as is China.

Now, the situation is changing because the civil war has become decidedly a geopolitical struggle between Iran and its not-so-friendly neighbors and the West.  The casualties are the civilians.  Nevertheless, Iran seems to have overplayed its hand and is now openly in a war of words with the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia extending to threats of punishment.  They have also slapped away the strongest power in the region, Turkey, by first calling Turkey and enemy of the Syrian people for hosting the Friends of Syria conference on April 1 and then questioning the location of new nuclear talks, advocating a change of venue from Istanbul to Damascus or Baghdad. 

The optics of a successful rising Iran have now changed. Ankara bent over backwards to mediate on the nuclear issue and a week ago Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with Ayatollah Khamanei to promote negations and avoid a military strike (however unlikely).  The meeting ended with a statement when Ayatollah Khameni said that  “building weapons of mass destruction amounts to a sin in our religion.”  Case closed. Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Davutoğlu went home.

Then Iran rejected Istanbul as venue and the situation began to unravel alarmingly. Clearly, Iran has learned nothing from following the personality of Erdoğan.  He has a tendency to take things personally. Very personally and very publicly.  Beware an Erdoğan scorned.  Now he accused Iran of evasion and self-isolation. Then he turned to the Syria problem and Iran's ally.

Iran has managed to piss-off the most powerful, and formerly neutral country in the Middle East. It has crossed the line and lost Turkey (an overwhelmingly Sunni nation with elections approaching). Tehran’s mendacity is evident not only its anti-Turkish ranting on Syria, where it itself is assisting in the slaughter, but also its astonishing disrespect to Turkey's efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis.

Now, Erdoğan  says the country will wait "patiently" to see if Syria abides by a cease-fire deadline on Tuesday, but may take certain "steps" if the violence does not stop after that. Nearly 700 Syrian escaped to Turkey last Friday.  During a 36 hour period last eek about 2,800 crossed the to escape a helicopter-backed assault by Syrian troops.  No one can expect Turkey to continue to accept more refugees.  It already host 24,000.

What "certain steps" means is unknown - but the Turkish army can control the border from the Syrian side without too much worry about Syrian army units. Assad is on his way out.  Iran is going to lose this gambit and at the same time has lost the help of important players in the region, furthering its isolation.  Rarely has any country misplayed its hand in such a way.
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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Time to Go - Afghan Edition

The Fat Lady has risen and is now limbering up her vocal cords for a rendition of “Impossible”.  Afghanistan is over and the distrust and dislike are fully out in the open.  Since the entire COIN theory rests basically on trust, there is nothing left to salvage from a war that was won on the ground almost a decade ago and the goal of which died in a lightning raid in Pakistan last year.  The US indulged in nation building after 2003 and no one remembers why.  Nation building in a place like Afghanistan, where local villagers do not even know why foreign troops were everywhere because they never heard of 9/11, is building on foundation of sand.  The coalition has lost the hearts and minds battle. 

Let’s understand one thing – there is no trust on either side.  The latest killing spree by a veteran US sergeant where 16 people – 9 of them children – died is only a degree of difference from the death of civilians around the country by accidental fire and collateral damage.  The accidental burning of the Quran – considered the literal word of God – and videos of US soldiers urinating on the bodies of Taliban are only the most obvious of the incidents that have made the coalition presence problematic.

Three weeks ago an Afghan gunman killed two senior US officers inside the Interior Ministry’s headquarters.  This was on the heels of the Quran burning. A couple of days before the incident inside the Interior Ministry coalition helicopters flying in eastern Afghanistan fired on a group of civilians, killing four and injuring three.
And guess what.  Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall and Karzai can’t put him back together again.  Why? Because he is not respected and is aptly called the Mayor of Kabul.  And even if he could, he cannot because he cannot be seen to be supporting a coalition that has lost all trust.
Finally, all those foreign aid workers might soon find themselves protected by Afghan security because the Afghan government looks like it is going to enforce the banning of private security firms.  It is hard enough for various international aid agencies to get qualified people to go to Afghanistan.  Being protected by those in whom you have no trust will make it impossible.
The fact is that at this point any possible gains made in Afghanistan by the coalition are now gone.  President Obama has assured Karzai that NATO will “stay the course”.  There is no course.  It is time to cut the losses and go – because frankly, what purports to be a country but in reality is just a loose combination of regions that sometimes fight each other is not worth it.  Afghanistan is irrelevant and can be dealt with from a distance.
Withdrawal will likely make Pakistan more peaceful and stable. Donor funds, Russian and US security efforts and other aid interventions are pouring into neighboring Tajikistan.  Afghanistan is not bordered by friends and internally is divided.  Take away the foreign troops and it is not hard to envision the results.  We should not care.   It is not worth another 18 months of further bloodshed.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Romney's Iran - Different Fact Galaxy

This op-ed by Mitt Romney is simply so bad, it is impossible to know where to begin.  But I'll try.

First - he offers no evidence of any of his conclusions.  Iran has a “nuclear-bomb program”?  There is absolutely no evidence of that and both the CIA and IAEA have stated as much.
Second - what evidence exists that the Islamic Republic is “racing to build a nuclear bomb.”?  None.
 He wants to permanently station aircraft carrier groups in the the Eastern Med and Gulf?  To do what? And one is already stationed in the Gulf with periodic visits by another or two into the Med.
He wants the US to increase naval shipbuilding to 15 ships a year so that it is unchallenged?  It already is unchallenged, in case he hadn't noticed. There is no navy on the planet that the US navy could not push aside with ease.
Romney is making matters worse by ignoring facts and pandering to those who want to strike out at Iran regardless of the adverse consequences to the US, its allies in the region and the spike in oil prices every time he opens his mouth with calls for yet another war in the Middle East and Iran responds to those threats with its own.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What is Wrong with Germany

The Russian elections are over with no surprises.  Everything proceeded as planned.  Russia will now concentrate on further intimidation of its former colonies - a natural geopolitical reality which is in its interests.  Despite the fact that even if Russia permitted a free media and truly competitive elections which allows for opposition candidates that have not been hand-picked by the Kremlin, Putin would have won. But not by much.

But it is telling that the energy ties-that- bind running from Moscow to Berlin are firm and colours the question of Germany's dependability as a Western ally and member of NATO.  The majority of European countries were silent about the elections and the results.  Putin received few congratulatory phone calls from any European country, with France remaining significantly quiet.

But, Angela Merkel immediately called Putin to congratulate him and amazingly offered a "strategic partnership".  The Foreign Minister of Poland, Radoslaw Sikorski, provided the proper response by calling the elections undemocratic. Poland has seen the results of a strategic partnership between Moscow and Berlin before.

German ties with Russia are understandable given the prostrate energy position of Berlin.  At the same time, coupled with German positions on Libya, it's attitude toward Greece and the southern tier of EU member states and its positioning to control the EU at the expense of everyone else, Germany must be looked on differently and its foreign policy with suspicion.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lies and the Liars Who Tell Them - AIPAC

First question of the day:  Why is not AIPAC a registered foreign agent in the US?

Second question of the day (or maybe decade):  Why is it that US foreign policy in the Middle East must comply with someone elses so-called vital interests (see question one) instead of its own?

Related to the second question: Under what insane scheme does an apartheid government which openly steals land from another people get the right to push an entire region into a war with Iran based on no evidence whatsoever of nuclear weapon development?  And please note, the religious authorities in Iran have said that they consider nuclear weapons a sin - but that statement was never broadcast or printed in the US media whether once chooses to believe it or not.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Time for Change in Ukraine - Revolution redux?

I have not written about Ukraine in a long while, precisely because any semblance of democracy is being systematically dismantled by Victor Yanukovich and his mafia thugs.  But perhaps it is time for people in Ukraine to start thinking about an alternative to getting rid of the current government which is making sure it effectively rigs the next election.
This week, Yuriy Lutsenko, the Interior Minister under Yulia Tymoshenko, was sentenced to four years in jail and a three year ban from public office.  Since Yulia Tymoshenko is already there for seven years, Yanukovich and his oligarchs are effectively destroying any attempt by the opposition to contest the next election in 2015. This latest outrage has brought the usual "serious concern" response from the diplomats in the EU and the US.
This is not enough.  A little of the pictured spirit would do fine.

Let's get something straight.  Yanukovich is destroying the political freedom of Ukraine and doing so by blatantly charging opponents with his version of crimes.  Tymoshenko was condemned for negotiating a bad deal on gas with the Russians - something even Putin could not understand.  Lutsenko was convicted of giving an apartment to his attorney and other financial atrocities - like increasing his driver's pension.

So - when push comes to shove and Yanukovich (with a popularity of 15%)  is hopefully dragged out into the street by an angry mob - what should his punishment be (if he survives)?  For betraying the nascent democracy.  For handing Ukraine to the Kremlin. For putting table lamps in his new office that each cost $10,000 and fittings in his bathroom for 300,000 Euro while Ukraine's economy shrinks.  For jailing his opposition.

It is possible to kill a country in other ways than the methods now being undertaken by Assad of Syria.  The punishment , however, should be the same. And it should not wait until 2015.  Sometimes, talking is not enough.
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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In the Realm of the Galactically Stupid

There is a old phrase when confronted with jaw-dropping dumbness - "dumber than a bag of doorknobs". Breaking my rule about not commenting on US politics chiseled in granite only a few days ago, there is the story of a bill introduced in the Montana Wyoming state house which - among other things - in preparation for apocalypse or something similar, calls for the establishment of an army, navy, marines, air force, coinage system etc., etc., etc. Oh. Yes - and an aircraft carrier. Some of this costs money. It is probably better if you don't have the smallest (and dropping) populations in the country. You really need to read the whole article, here.

And - take a look at the map - where's the water for a carrier?    

UPDATE:  I stand corrected - not Montana, Wyoming.  Apologies to Montana.
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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Santorum or is it Saint Ricky? .

I know I need to resist the need to comment on the Republican presidential wannabe POTUS candidates - but it's is sort of like those old ads for a certain potato chip...

Anyway, it is becoming increasingly clear that Ricky Santorum and his little band of christotaliban followers are really, really, stupid.  Well, wait. That's an insult to stupid people. Actually, he and they are batshit crazy.  Saint Ricky is the only candidate that makes Sarah look like a Mensa. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

There was a place called Europe...

The Eurozone problems are getting uglier by the day.  While German politicians have consistently missed – to use Sarkozy’s phrase – multiple opportunities to shut up, Greece is actively engaged in reminding everyone of German bullying tendencies by bringing up events that took place some 80 years ago.  The latest comment from German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble might not have been taken quite so badly in Greece if it originated from a country with a less  unfortunate (for the rest of Europe) aggressive history.  Even Italy, which has implemented the same system Mr. Schäuble has suggested, would have been a better source. At least the Greeks could ignore an idea from Rome.
The suggestion to postpone elections and install a technocrat government is a distinction without a difference from the previous floating balloon out of Berlin that Greece give up its rights to manage its economy to someone in Brussels.  The fact that Brussels was complicit in allowing Greece to play fast and loose with  its economy so long as times were good doesn't bode well for the idea - but that's another story.  
However, the venomous recent exchanges show that there is no “Europe” in Europe.  Citizens in Germany, France, Italy and the other 24 EU members simply do not think of themselves as European first.  Which is why Greece will eventually default and leave the Eurozone – paving the way for the slow motion economic and political unraveling of the EU unless a new approach is taken very, very soon.  In addition, the concept of installing unelected technocrats to run, at a minimum, the economic policies of a nation has been tried before and didn’t go too well by the time it ended in 1991. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Russia's Fleet Returns

The Kuznetsov is the flagship of the Russian navy.  Although looks should never determine substance, I have to say that she looks pretty pathetic. Plus, she's making too much smoke - a sign the engines are not very efficient. The photo shows a Royal Navy frigate (a type about to be retired, I am told) shadowing the carrier as it passes through the English Channel on the way home from Syria.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Time to Cut the Egyptian Cord

Supreme Council of the Armed Forces accusing 6...Image via Wikipedia
I have refrained from commenting on the US-Egyptian relationship breakdown which accelerated with the crackdown by Egypt on NGOs (only two were direct US NGOs) since, frankly, I thought it would blow-over. Too much money involved, you see. Plus, I have never been comfortable with either NDI or their Republican counterpart, IRI.  Although they  both provide open-door training for any existing or nascent  political organization, many governments resent what they consider interference with internal politics.  This is particularly true for governments that are not particularly interested in teaching people how to organize – like Russia and Ukraine.  Also, I happen to know that in some countries both NDI and IRI tend to provide more support to the more liberal organizations over the ones in power.  This is a result of the nature of the situation and not necessarily a deliberate policy, but it is rarely viewed like that by the ones in power. Nevertheless, they were not the only ones to be closed down and had their staffs arrested by the Egyptian police.  Anyone seen as voicing an opinion against SCAF or receiving grants from foreign countries was targeted.

It is time to end the charade.  First, we know that the Minister of International Cooperation, Fayza Aboul Naga, has been and remains aggressively opposed to foreign aid – particularly American foreign aid.  She is against any type of NGO that does not support her opinions and party line.  The positions taken by these sorts have always been to characterize groups seen as challenging the government as promoting the overthrow of the state. To paraphrase Henry Kissinger, a country doesn’t need to stay where it is not wanted.  If a beneficiary decides that the relationship is not important enough to maintain, it is not in the interests of the US (or anyone else, for that matter) to insist otherwise. 
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces which controls Egypt has no intention of fulfilling the hopes of those in Tahrir Square.  They are genetically wired to prevent the type of freedom and democracy that thousands rallied for last year.  As I have said in previous posts, the Egyptian chapter of the Arab Spring did not produce regime change. It removed one man from power and only when the military felt it was necessary.
In payment for the peace treaty with Israel, the US gives Egypt $1.3 billion in military assistance alone.  Take it away and use it elsewhere.  The choices are pretty extensive – including Tunisia, Morocco and a good deal of sub-Sahara.  More than 70% of the Egyptian people don’t want any American aid largely because of the strings attached, like keeping Camp David peace treaty intact. But they are not going to war with Israel again – largely because 1) the military can’t afford it and 2) the military knows it would lose.  The US should not even try to change the direction of a cratered relationship which is getting worse by the day.  The US needs to get its people out and speak against the policies of the government against their indigenous NGOs; but it need not spend billions in assistance to buy friendship, especially when that friendship is not reciprocated.
Egypt no longer holds a leadership position for Arabs and Muslims in the region. That has fallen to Qatar and Turkey – both of which have strong economies, don’t need foreign aid and have shown the type of leadership that can only be dreamt of in Cairo.
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