Nawaz Sharif to Boycott January Elections

This is just breaking news, I don't have a link yet, but here's what I have so far: Sharif says his party to boycott Jan. 8 election.

This could help him take the lead in Pakistani democracy movement by taking such a hardline, but it makes you wonder, who will take over on the political front? I see two viable candidates: Bhutto's husband, and one of Bhutto's political rivals that I still cannot remember the name of.

More importantly though, you can see why this complicates the U.S.'s anti-terrorism interests there. Sharif's boycott will totally undermine the elections unless a new, strong leader emerges from the PPP, Bhutto's party. Undermined elections = undermined Musharraf, and Musharraf will be weaker than ever.

On Benazir Bhutto's Assassination

The details are still emerging of this horrific event, but we can make some significant conclusions.

How will this effect the PPP, Bhutto's political party? They no longer have a leader. There are leaders within the party who could take over (their names escape me), but I don't know if they have international democratic recognition.

What about Nawaz Sharif, the other internationally recognized democracy activist and political candidate? This will certainly boost his popularity. Also, this is likely to fracture voters in Pakistan, who were mostly united behind Bhutto.

Will this boost the chance of democracy? Bhutto's been martyred, and is likely, at least for the short term, to boost the calls for reform in Pakistan

Then again, one could look at this the opposite way. The attack could give President Musharraf an excuse to call for martial law.

The other question to ask: Who carried out the assassination?
Was it Islamists?
Was it the Pakistani Intelligence Service?
Was it one of her political rivals?
Was it Musharraf?

We can definitely say this: This will complicate the U.S.'s work in the Middle East.

Bali: What was achieved?

On Wednesday we published an article, “What to Expect at Bali: Nothing, or Worse”. The good news is we weren’t wholly wrong in our predictions (you can still trust us). The better news is we were wrong in some of our predictions.

What wasn’t achieved
As we predicted, nothing on the scale of the Kyoto Protocol was produced. The European Union wanted a mandated 25%-40% carbon cut in developed nations, but the United States blocked any chance of that.

One ‘achievement’ that we predicted did not come into realization: a weak carbon mandate. We had predicted the possibility that the U.S could force the world into a weak, non-binding climate treaty, setting back the possibility of a real treaty probably more than a decade. Luckily, this type of treaty did not come into fruition. The U.S. had not even one country standing beside it by the end of the talks.

What was achieved
There still is a possibility for carbon caps. The deal sets a framework to create a subsidiary committee at the U.N. Views of the committee will be sought by April next year, and the deal commands a full carbon cap deal on the scale of the Kyoto Protocol be completed by the end of the 2009 U.N. Copenhagen summit.

This is the story the media is reporting, but they are missing the most important news to come out of this conference: the deforestation pact.

20% of anthropogenic emissions are from deforestation – it’s arguable the worst humanity has done for the planet. So when deforestation was barely mentioned in the Kyoto Protocol, many were surprised.

Delegates corrected that mistake this time around. A $300 million grant program was assigned to be created at the World Bank, to assist developing countries with planting new trees. The real achievement was REDD: reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries, a pay-and-preserve program.

"It is one of the substantial achievements of this conference,” said EU Environmental Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

It’s not one of the substantial achievements; it is the most substantial achievement of the conference.

You can probably see why it is a good thing we were wrong in saying nothing would be accomplished.

To infinity, and beyond?
The reason I’m quoting Buzz Lightyear (If you don’t understand the above quote, go out to Blockbuster right now and get Toy Story. Or order it on Netflix. I don’t care. Just do it. Now) is to ask, “Where do we go from here?”

Buzz Lightyear knows exactly where he is going, but do we?

The framework set out at Bali mandates a deal be completed by early 2009. For most of the short timeframe the Bali roadmap provides for a deal to be agreed upon, George W. Bush will be president of the U.S. He was willing to make concessions at this summit because essentially no countries stood at the United States sides. It showed that the U.S. is in fact vulnerable to international pressure

That means the real question is: will the pressure be maintained?

What to Expect at Bali: Nothing, Or Worse

Written in coalition with Thoughts on Global Warming, Environmental Graffiti, Thoughts on the World, and The International Relations Blog.

The Bali climate conference taking place right now is one of the most important climate conferences, if not the most important, since the conference at which the Kyoto Treaty was designed. This conference has a potential to achieve something, relative to other recent conventions.

Throughout late 2006 and early 2007, global warming was high on the public’s mind, especially in the U.S. Global warming was an easy target; it could be blamed for just about any weather related disaster. And after the hurricanes of 2005 and skyrocketing oil and gas prices, the public needed something to blame. Not only that, but Inconvenient Truth was bring the real science of global warming into the eyes of the public. Al Gore was riding high. Many Floridians, who hurricanes had hit the hardest, were probably regretting a vote or two from a couple of years back.

This climaxed in early 2007, when negotiators from developing and developed countries announced the current climate convention in Bali, Indonesia.

So what can we expect at this year’s climate conference: nothing, or worse. That is my prediction – and give me a chance to back it up.

After May of this year, things started to cool down a little bit. Although oil prices skyrocketed in September and haven't come down, and sea ice hit a record low in August, there have been some disappointments. Number one: hurricanes.

Just as a disclaimer, I don’t live in Florida or down south (though I have at one point). Hurricanes are just such a huge natural disaster it can’t help but be noticed when an abnormally large amount of super storms hit. And people noticed in 2005 and 2006. But then this year, an uncharacteristically high number of intense storms were predicted, but they never showed. That’s only case number one. I’m sure I could find other examples, like ski resorts doing very good business this year, but I think I get my message across.

Let me say something else: though this has weakened public resolve to fight global warming, that doesn’t mean every environmentalist caught the plague. Public support for a climate solution is still stronger than it was 10 or even 5 years ago. But relative to a year and a half ago, global warming has fallen to the edge of the radar. It’s still there, but not as obvious.

This leads me to another point: the economy. The economy in the U.S., and therefore China, the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, is slowing down. Emissions cuts APPEAR to be hard enough to achieve in good times, but in bad economic times, there is less public (let alone political) support for emissions cuts. This is a much bigger issue than my first point, even if it is a shorter read – in other words, this is more important and don’t forget it!

This is evidence for my assertion that ‘nothing’ will be achieved at the climate conference, but you probably wonder what I mean when I say ‘or worse.’

Well, given the fact that the U.S. and China would like to get out of binding carbon caps for as long as they can, the governments could collaborate to produce a very weak climate framework. This framework would theoretically set unenforceable benchmarks for emissions. Once this framework would be in place, it would be unlikely to be replaced for several years. And during these several years, President Bush will be replaced, meaning that there is a possibility that the U.S. could soon have a totally different environmental policy during the lifespan of the framework. Not to attack the president over the top, but it would give him a legacy many would remember happily – until they see the effects of global warming really get going.

Cash Money

Days after I publish my analysis concluding the U.S. will use the NIE to work with Iran over Iraq... Well what do you know... More U.S., Iran talks next week

Iran and the NIE: Where We Go From Here

We’ve talked a lot about the recent National Intelligence Estimate, and rightly so. It is having a tremendous impact on U.S. foreign policy on the foreign policy of any great power. What we have not yet discussed is where we go from here.

In Iraq
As I’ve pointed out before, the NIE can be and most likely will be exploited as a tool to solve the crisis in Iraq. To summarize, the U.S. needs Iran on board to have a politically stable Iraq, and Iran needs the U.S. to allow Iran to influence events in Iraq in Iran’s favor. You might want to read that sentence twice. The biggest obstacle since negotiations have begun stopping the U.S. from getting what it wants has been Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons program. Iran has been using its nuclear program as a bargaining chip; if they surrender on the nuclear issue, they would expect to see concessions from the U.S. on the Iraq issue.

Now, the U.S. has a real chance to turn Iraq into a stable, democratic country that can be a model for the whole region. The U.S. could possibly even imagine achieving the goal of the Iraq invasion: a safe, friendly, democratic country in the Middle East. This possibility can only come into fruition if we continue negotiations with Iran over Iraq, and take advantage of the fact that now Iran has lost its biggest bargaining chip.

At the U.N.
Though the threat of Iran has appeared to diminish, the need for global political pressure is still necessary. Iran still has the capability, though no longer the intentions, to restart its weapons program and to build nuclear weapons. Therefore, the need for continuing pressure and sanctions is twofold: one, to ensure Iran does not restart its weapons program and two, to possibly coerce Iran into giving up its civilian nuclear program.

The need to guarantee Iran’s weapons program is never resurrected is self explanatory. We need to continue sanctions at the U.N. until Iran allows full open inspections of its facilities. Until then, there is always the possibility that Iran could restart its weapons program, and we cannot allow that to happen.

The reasoning behind compelling Iran to give up its civilian nuclear program is not as simple. The logic behind this requires an understanding of the broader Middle East and its countries. When it became public that Iran had worked on a nuclear weapons program at one time, the neighboring countries, especially those with majority Sunni populations, reacted with fear. The possibility of a regional arms race quickly became clear. This hit a high point in late 2006 when several regional countries, including Saudi Arabia, expressed ‘interest’ in nuclear power.

A world where the highly volatile region of the Middle East constantly has nuclear missiles pointing at each other would be unacceptable. As unacceptable as that would be to us westerners, Saudi Arabians would find a nuclear Iran even more unacceptable. Not only that, but it is unlikely Saudi Arabia, or any other Middle Eastern country, would find an Iran with civilian nuclear power any more bearable than an Iran with a nuclear weapon. A country often can claim it is developing civilian nuclear power, when in actuality, it is developing nuclear weapons, hidden from the eyes of U.N. and U.S. weapons inspectors.

And if there were to be a regional arms race?

If you thought a single country going nuclear was bad…

On My NIE Analysis
The Significance of the NIE
Why The NIE Should Be Trusted
How Will the NIE be Used?

On My NIE Analysis

I would just like to say, as a disclaimer, that I have no experience in government intelligence or at think tanks or anything like that. Although, I do feel I have read enough news reports and enough news analysis so that I think I have a good feel for what's going on in the world.

Shane has questioned the basic thesis of my analysis: that the NIE report will be used in negotiations over Iraq. Let me say this: This isn't why the intelligence was produced, but how it will be used.

Also, the thesis makes perfect sense. The government could have hushed up the report and never had it released. Or, they could have had it released, but criticized and attacked it and ripped it to shreds. But they haven't.

More on the NIE:

On My NIE Analysis
The Significance of the NIE
Why The NIE Should Be Trusted
How Will the NIE be Used?

The Significance of the NIE

I left this out of the first post on this topic, so I'll include it now.

The significance of this report is not that we can stop pressuring Iran, but 2 different points:
1. Going to war with Iran would be pointless and dumb.
2. Iran is guided by 'cost-benefit analysis'. They're vulnerable to international economic and political pressure.

On My NIE Analysis
The Significance of the NIE
Why The NIE Should Be Trusted
How Will the NIE be Used?

Why The NIE Should Be Trusted

I'm willing to trust the report for two reasons:
1. It was approved by the DNI, who in turn was appointed by the President
2. It doesn't make sense that Iran would have a nuclear program

I will elaborate more on the second. As I've argued before, as did the NIE, Iran is guided by 'cost-benefit analysis'. In an attempt to build a nuclear weapon, they would have to recognize, before it was completed, the program would be attacked and most likely destroyed bye either the U.S. or Israel. And Iran, guided by 'cost-benefit analysis' would realize it does not have the military might to stop an attack.

From this, one can draw the logical conclusion that Iran would only build a nuclear weapons program because it wants the U.S. or Israel to attack. One reason could be is that they need a reason to strike at Israel. This argument cannot stand because, first of all, Iran would not be able to carry out the attack. The U.S. and/or Israel would first take out major military installations so that Iran cannot retaliate. And even if Iran could retaliate, it would spell doom. A U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear weapons would only take out nuclear and military installations. Iran - if they could - in retaliation,would be sure to strike civilian centers. The U.S. and/or Israel would then wipe Iran 'off the map'. And if Iran is basing its decisions off of 'cost-benefit analysis', they would realize this, and would never retaliate.

The only other reason Iran would build a nuclear weapons program, other than looking for a fight (which we just proved makes no sense), is that they would be looking for a North Korea-like deal. They would expect some economic or geopolitical aid in return for the shutdown of weapons.

Iran is different from North Korea. In North Korea, they had already spent a huge amount of money developing their weapons program. Iran hasn't. North Korea wasn't planning from the beginning to ask for economic aid in return for its weapons program. It was planning to use its weapons program as a threat against South Korea. Also, North Korea is ruled by a crackpot dictator who loves attention. If Iran is basing its work on 'cost-benefit' analysis, the cost is much different from North Korea's cost. The benefit would not outweigh the cost in Iran's case, unlike in North Korea's case.

Iran could be looking for 'geopolitical aid' in return for the shutdown of its weapons program. But once again, the benefits do not outweigh the costs. The 'geopolitical aid' Iran would receive from the U.S. would almost definitely be in Iraq. Iran would be given more influence there. But the geopolitical cost of even having a nuclear weapons program would be huge.

And remember, MOST IMPORTANTLY, the U.S. never has to give Iran any aid at all. The U.S. could just say, "Nope, we're not giving you anything," and give Israel the go ahead to blow up Natanz and other nuclear facilities. That would mean Iran gets a negative return. They spend all their resources building facilities, and in return, get their infrastructure destroyed.

Is it worth the cost? No.

On My NIE Analysis
The Significance of the NIE
Why The NIE Should Be Trusted
How Will the NIE be Used?

Commenter of the Week - Shane

I command my army of invisible blogreaders to go to Shane's multiple blogs, because he was the first to comment here at IRB

Shane's blogs:
Vindication Media
Political Vindication
Political Vindication Radio

How Will the NIE be Used?

About time I wrote about this. Iran nuclear weapons report finally released, and says Iran has suspended its nuclear weapons program, etc., here comes the analysis.

It is important to consider the use of this report by the Bush Administration. Far lefties *cough* DAILY KOS *cough* have been milking this for all it’s worth. It’s a big dent in the Administration’s policy towards Iran, and the far right isn’t going to get a war with Iran. It’s huge. But in fact, I’d say this helps Bush more than it hurts him. Are you skeptic? You should be. But I won’t need a National Intelligence Estimate to convince you.

Uses by the Administration

1. To discredit Hillary Clinton based on her vote to classify the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as terrorists - HIGHLY UNLIKELY
2. To pass the problem of a nuclear Iran on to the next administration - UNLIKELY BUT POSSIBLE
3. As an excuse for NOT going to war with Iran - LIKELY
4. To take away Iran’s biggest bargaining chip - HIGHLY LIKELY

Iran’s biggest bargaining chip
As you can probably tell, numbers three and four are the most important. Number one I’d reserve for hardcore Clinton supporter conspiracy theorists.

We’ll start with use number four. To understand this, we have to take Iraq into the equation. Iraq is the President’s biggest concern right now. He may not show it in public, but it’s his biggest worry. It’s his legacy. He’s not going to be remembered for denuclearizing North Korea, or an attempt at Israeli-Palestinian peace. He’s going to be remembered for the invasions of both Afghanistan and the disastrous invasion of Iraq. And with little more than a year left in his presidency, it’s more on his mind than ever.

Consequently, he’s been working hard in order to improve the image of how successful the coalition of the willing has been in Iraq. He’s hired General Petraeus, a counterinsurgency expert, and has willfully engaged in talks with Middle Eastern states over the situation in Iraq. One of those states has been Iran.

Iran is crucial to the stabilization of Iraq. They have influence over much of the Shiite population, their leaders, and their weapons. It will be impossible to have even semi-stable state in Iraq without the support of Iran. The good news, Iran would love to see a friendly, stable Iraq under Shiite control. To get a friendly, stable, Shiite Iraq, Iran needs the U.S.

It may sound like a win-win situation, but like everything geopolitical, it’s not that simple in any way. It’s complicated by bad U.S.-Iran relations and uncooperative presidents on both sides. Iran wants a more Shiite dominated, Iranian influenced Iraq than the U.S. would care to give them. But Iran has had one huge bargaining chip the U.S. hasn’t been able to ignore: its nuclear weapons program.

Up until a few months ago, when the current NIE was being finalized, it appeared Iran had a weapons program (the last NIE thought the same). Iran didn’t mind; it gave them a huge bargaining chip. So, behind back doors, it played along.

But now Iran has lost this influence, because of this report. The U.S. could have the upper hand in Iraq negotiations, and Bush could receive a more favorable view from historians than even appeared possible six months ago.

Use number three, “an excuse for not going to war with Iran,” has just as much to do with Bush’s legacy as use number three. A third war on the president’s report card would be given an ‘F’ by historians, and could possibly an expulsion (read: impeachment) by the school administrators even before that.

Of course, this is a very oversimplified version of the situation. There are many more players involved: Russia, Saudi Arabia, etc.

Now that we’re done with all that, it’s probably a pretty good idea to see the consequences of the report. These, compared to the reasoning for the report, are simple.

1. Repercussions at U.S.-Iran discussions over Iraq (as discussed above)
2. Allies less likely to pursue sanctions at the U.N. (specifically Russia and China)
3. Virtually no chance of war with Iran
4. Cheney very disappointed (just kidding)

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the months ahead.

On My NIE Analysis
The Significance of the NIE
Why The NIE Should Be Trusted
How Will the NIE be Used?