Annapolis: What if the Conference DOES Succeed

Yes, then Israelis and Palestiians appear to be finally making some progress. But it is hard to be optimistic. Beyond the Cusp (a fantastic blog/blogger) takes a cold, hard look at reality. What happens if Annapolis does succeed? He goes on to make 3 main points:

1. Implementation of the agreement would be extremely difficult
2. Once Israel withdraws from the Palestinian territories (which will be certainly part of the agreement), Hamas will take power from Fatah and declare any agreement invalid.
3. If the agreement appears unsuccessful, Iran and/or Syria could take advantage of the situation and could possibly invade Israel, leading to a regional war.

Hits the nail on the head.

Australian Elections: The Deciding Factor

Today, Australians went to the polls and voted for a new direction. They voted out the incumbent, John Howard, and voted in Kevin Rudd.

The opinion is held wisely that Howard was voted out because of his failing economic policies – wait, excuse me, I’m being handed a note by my producer. It appears that – no! Howard’s economic policies were hugely successful! High economic growth, low unemployment, relatively low interest rates, tax reform, a more flexible workplace, zero Government debt, excellent international credit rating, strong investment in defense force funding, the list continues. This is strange…

Why was Howard voted out? Because of global warming. Australia is the only major industrialized country other than the U.S. not to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Howard was the staunchest backer of the Bush administration’s environmental policy. Australians seem to be very displeased not with the economic direction of their country, but the environmental direction.

Why? One report suggests that Australia, because of its geographic position and natural climate, will be hit hard by global warming.

Okay. Maybe there were one or two other policies the Aussies didn’t like. Like his support of the Iraq war, and his decision to send troops there.

But it is pretty safe to say that one of the major issues this election was global warming. Hopefully, the environment will be just as important in other elections.

Garry Kasparov Arrested by Russian Police

Russian police detain opposition leader at protest

This comes days after a Russian parliamentary candidate was shot, and is in critical condition at a hospital.

Nawaz Sharif to Return to Pakistan Sunday - Will Musharraf Let Him?

Nawaz Sharif has announced that he will return to Pakistan on Sunday, begging the question: will General Musharraf allow him to stay?

Last time Sharif attempted to return, he was promptly shipped back out. Then, Musharraf had not declared martial law, was on good terms with Benazir Bhutto, and was not politically isolated.

Does that make Musharraf more likely to kick out Sharif once again? On one hand, Musharraf seems increasingly desperate to hold onto power. On the other hand, the General needs to placate the West in order to continue receiving our support. What will Musharraf do?

Decisions, decisions…

Russian Opposition Presidential Candidate Shot

Russia gets worse by the day. Coming out today: Russian opposition candidate shot.

Farid Babayev, who will lead the regional list for the liberal anti-Kremlin Yabloko party was in a serious condition in hospital, RIA novosti news agency reported after an unidentified gunman fired on him in the regional capital Makhachkala.

This comes as Putin continues his maneuverings that will essentially allow him to stay in power indefinitely. He has dissolved parliament recently, and appointed a close ally prime minister. He has promised to take part in parliamentary elections, with victory assured. He will be elected prime minister. From there, Putin will either sap powers from the presidency making the prime minister’s office the most important one (which has no term limits, by the way), or will manipulate the lame-duck president from the shadows.

Kosovo Sets Precedent for Other European Break Away Regions

Yesterday I wrote that “Kosovo declaring independence would be bad, because it would anger Russia, who the U.S. needs to help sanction Iran at the Security Council.”

One thing I didn’t mention at all throughout the article is another reason some are concerned about Kosovo declaring independence. Countries of the E.U. are worried that, should Kosovo break away, it will set a precedent for break away regions in their own countries. Specifically:
• Catalonia (Spain)
• Basque (Spain)
• Ossetia (Georgia)
• Abkhazia (Georgia)
• Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan)
• Transnistria (Moldova)

Not mentioned on this list, but making many more headlines than these regions, is Kurdistan. Though the countries which Kurdistan has ‘citizens’ in are not part of the European Union, the Kurds will be affected just as strongly by a declaration of independence.

What's the Big Deal?

Kosovo partial official results confirm Thaci win

This is very interesting. Hashim Thaci, besides being the newly elected prime minister of Kosovo, is the president of the political party PDK, Democratic Party of Kosovo. But what is even more interesting is that he headed an ethnic-Albanian guerilla group, the Kosovo Liberation Army, which fought for independence from Yugoslavia and Serbia in 1990’s. In other words, he is very much an Albanian nationalist. Kosovo has said it will declare formal independence in December if a deal cannot be reached.

So Kosovo might gain independence. What’s the big deal? The region of Kosovo exists in Serbia, which Russia supports extensively. Russia is very much pro-Serbian, and has made its position very clear to both the E.U. and U.S. The U.S. Russia has given special attention to because the U.S. has a large amount of influence over Albanians.

Once again, so the Russians care. What’s the big deal? Well, it’s kind of a big deal that the Russians control a permanent veto-wielding seat on the U.N. Security Council.

The United States needs the United Nations, specifically the Security Council, to impose sanctions on Iran, so Iran can be isolated (once again, coming back to that in a couple of weeks). The sanctions will only be effective if the United States can prove international unity on the issue, which right now it has not, primarily because of Russia and China.

Let’s recap. Kosovo declaring independence would be bad, because it would anger Russia, who the U.S. needs to help sanction Iran at the Security Council.

Expect to see Russia flexing its muscles for two reasons in the coming days and weeks. One, to send a message Mr. Thaci and the rest of Kosovo. Two, to publicly remind the U.S. Kosovo declaring independence would not help the American cause at the U.N.

Want more on Russian influence? Check out last week's post Russian Chess in the Middle East.

Does ANYONE Agree With Me?

On Friday, I wrote that the current situation in Pakistan is a Bhutto-Musharraf power play. More famous pundits have not been discussing this theory as much, but there is a growing number of blogs that are stating the fact that Bhutto isn't the democratic savior she is made out to be.

The Boston Globe, as well, essentially agrees with the theory I described, as does fellow blogger Frank Hagan.

Pakistan State of Emergency -- A Bhutto-Musharraf Power Play

While Pervez Musharraf attempts to calm Pakistan after his declaration of emergency rule (effectively a declaration of martial law), Benazir Bhutto waits eagerly and the U.S. waits nervously.

That just about sums up Pakistan’s most recent conflict. But we need more detail.

If you aren’t living under a rock, you know that this is at its most basic level an attempt to hold on to power by President Musharraf.

Musharraf has been in a continuous power struggle with the Pakistani judiciary ever since the 1999 coup which brought him into power. The issue at the forefront of the confrontation has been the fact that Musharraf holds both the office of President and of Chief of the Army, constitutionally illegal. This struggle escalated this year, with the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry being suspended, reinstated, and suspended again during the current crisis.

The motive of the suspension was widely (if not universally) seen as a move to hold on to power by Musharraf. Elections were coming up in October, and it was essentially assured that the Supreme Court would not allow the Pakistani President to hold on to both his military and political posts.

The elections in October overwhelming went to Musharraf, though the election has yet to be certified by the Supreme Court. That decision was expected to come Monday, and was also projected to not be in favor of the President.

This led Musharraf to make the decision to declare martial law.

Benazir Bhutto has been cast as the democratic savior of Pakistan by hopeful analysts in the U.S. and hopeful citizens in Pakistan. But Bhutto is still a politician, and a corrupt one at that. She presided over two administrations overflowing with corruption and human rights abuses.

She is hoping to gain a third term as Prime Minister in the recently delayed parliamentary elections, though laws created by Musharraf block her and other former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from seeking third terms. This forced Bhutto to try to cut a power sharing deal with Musharraf to secure her position as prime minister, which appears to have been successful.

While the full details have yet to emerge, a consensus among analysts has emerged: the deal has hurt Bhutto’s image as a democratic leader and threatened her credibility.

This was the setting for the current power play. Rumors were swirling that Bhutto was aware of Musharraf’s emergency plans, and this was only the next step in their plan. They are both losing power and popularity, and know it. They had to take this step in order to have a chance at staying in power.

In fact, Bhutto knew well enough last week that there was a possibility of martial law being declared. But she left for Dubai anyway, after ‘delaying’ her trip temporarily.

Yes, Bhutto has been leading protests. But that is all to put on her democratic public face. Though she leads protests, she is still in league with the General.

Expect to see Bhutto in power next year, alongside Musharraf.

The U.S.
This is a military and diplomatic nightmare for the U.S. After months of diplomatic pressure, in Pakistan, a nuclear armed state teeming with Islamic terrorists, the President effectively declares martial law solely in order to hold on to power. Anything elections Musharraf’s government holds, any attempt to reconcile with political opponents, the sincerity of anything he does will be questioned.

Nevertheless, the U.S. must continue to rely on Musharraf. Even if Pakistan was not the hiding place of Osama bin Laden, withdrawing the support of General Musharraf would send the country and its multiple nuclear missiles into total anarchy.

Israel's Syrian Target Was Nuclear: The One Theory That Answers All the Questions

After the September 6 Israeli strike on Syria, I concluded that my ‘bet [on the reason for the Israeli strike] is on destroying Syrian arms headed towards Hezbollah’. Although the majority of those polled agreed with me at the time that North Korea was not giving Syria nuclear technology, I might be forced to retract that view as I write this post.

After the strike, we were left with many questions that needed to be answered:
• What did Israel strike?
• Why isn’t Syria commenting on the attack?
• Why aren’t the U.S. and Israel commenting on the strike?
• Why aren’t other Middle Eastern states complaining?

After much analysis, I have come to a new conclusion: there is only one theory that answers all the questions in a suitable way. Syria was developing a nuclear reactor based on North Korean technology, most likely for weapons purposes.

To answer the questions:

What did Israel strike at?
Syria’s nuclear reactor, obviously.

Why isn’t Syria commenting on the attack?
Syria could be compared to small boy, caught in the act of cheating on the test. They don’t want to say anything to their friends because they’re embarrassed.

Why aren’t the U.S. and Israel commenting on the strike?
This is where it gets complicated. Normally, you’d think Israel and the U.S. would use this extensively as a P.R. tool against Syria, Iran, and basically all radical Middle Eastern countries in general. But they’re not.

This actually makes perfect sense if you think about it. North Korea’s image is a huge part of its foreign policy. This is semi-understandable if you think about Kim Jong-Il. He’s very concerned about his image, which makes sense, once you remember he’s a fat midget with a funny hairdo (not to offend any fat midgets with funny hairdos out there, of course!). Anyway, North Korea takes its image very seriously. Any offensive name calling by Japan is taken as a declaration of war. Just kidding. Writing about fat midgets puts me in a lame-geopolitical-joke mood.

Who cares if North Korea’s got self-image problems anyway, right? Well, right now, we care, a lot. Christopher Hill just pulled through with one of the greatest successes of the Bush administration and North Korea is disabling its nuclear program. Any announcement of a Syrian nuclear program, aided by North Korea, could seriously piss off North Korea.

Yes, it is true Kim Jong-Il knows what’s going on in Syria. But as long as the U.S. doesn’t make any public statements concerning the nuclear program, the midget stays happy.

Why aren’t other Middle Eastern states complaining?
This is pretty interesting as well. The other states of the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and probably even Shiite Iran don’t mind a rival nuclear program taken down by the Israelis. Of course Iran is taking this as a serious threat, but in some ways, this attack was not an unforgivable move by ‘The Great Satan’.

Other great Syria-Israel analysis:
Security Dilemmas
Foreign Policy Watch
Middle East Analysis
Beyond the Cusp
Attending the World

Yup, that is just an awesome picture for no reason.

Russian Chess in the Middle East

IHT: The United States is prepared to offer concessions to Russia to soften its position on Iran and Kosovo

This is much bigger than most news organizations seem to realize. Russia has gotten exactly what it wants. Is this bad? Actually, it could lead to an end of the Iranian nuclear program.

What Russia wants
If one is to make any analysis, geopolitical or not, you have to look at what both sides want. In our case, the two sides are Russia and, of course, the U.S.

Russia is primarily looking to expand its sphere of influence back to the borders of the Soviet Union. The Russians realize they have a short window of opportunity to regain influence while the U.S. is bogged down in the Middle East.

But there are two serious roadblocks to expansion: the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) and Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

The Russians want these treaties amended.

The only problem: this is not in America’s interest.

Consequently, Russia has had to use leverage to attempt to force America into signing amended treaties.

Russian leverage
Russia has used this leverage, essentially geopolitical blackmail, in two primary areas: Iran and Kosovo.

On Iran, it has blocked all but very weak sanctions at the U.N., supplied Iran with weapons and resources, and been a total irritation. As I plan to write about in more detail next week, the purpose of Iranian sanctions is to isolate Iran more than anything else. Therefore, with Russians blocking sanctions, Iran cannot be successfully isolated.

On Kosovo, Russia has appeared to even consider recognizing Kosovo. This has become more and more problematic and the deadline for a deal approaches (December).

And that brings us to today’s program.

So is Russia an ally?
Hell no. There’s still the INF treaty, which is Russia’s least favorite treaty. Moreover, there’s another treaty the Russians love, and would like to see extended.

But will Russia be more assisting in our efforts at the U.N.? Most likely.