Mumbai, Pakistan, Pakistan, and Pakistan

CNN: Mumbai: Hostages freed as PM blames 'outsiders'

I don't know why everyone is getting so worked up about this. Attacks like this have occurred many times over the past couple of years in India - this one just involves Westerners. This wikipedia article has a nice list of attacks since 2001. I count 24, with 8 attacks with over 50 deaths (not casualties, deaths).

Now, the fact that this specifically targeted Westerners is an important development. But the fact that this was so coordinated, yet likely not al-Qaeda, leads me personally to suspect Pakistani, or more likely ISI involvement.

P.S. Sorry for my (severe) lack of articles. I hope to be back now.
Image credit:d ha rm e sh on flickr

Abu Kamal, Syria Raid by US SpecOps

In case you haven't heard about the strike in Syria...

Credit: Wikipedia

Any thoughts?

My thinking goes like this: Israeli-Syrian negotiations are actually going somewhere (for once) and we should work with the two parties to get a satisfactory deal, however, this was a necessary raid.
(a) It is still likely Syria will make a deal.
(b) As Obama has pointed out, crossing borders for high value targets is most definitely a smart thing to do.
(c) It sends a signal to regional countries, not the least of which is Iran, that we aren't f*cking around, to put it simply.

Blog Action Day 2008 Post: Poverty - Why Does Poverty Matter?

Long time no see. I'm back (semi-permanently) to write about poverty for Blog Action Day 2008. The problem is: what to write about?

I'm sure there's thousands of other political blogs out there profiling Obama and McCain's respective positions on poverty. That would be boring.

I could write about the millions of things you could do to help fight poverty. Once again, I'm sure hundreds of other blogs are doing the same thing.

How about this: why does poverty matter? From a humanitarian position, of course it's terrible. But what about from a realist political position? Who gives a sh!t about the poor, homeless, and starving of the Earth?

There are plenty of reasons.

  • Poverty spreads disease, greatly undermining the effectiveness of local governments.
  • Poverty causes violence, also undermining the effectiveness of local governments.
  • People living in poverty are more vulnerable to extremist political persuasion, and feel less loyalty to a state unable to deliver basic services.
  • States with high rates of poverty are more likely to have malevolent dictatorships, threatening regional stability.

For these reasons conditions of poverty increase the risk of political violence, terrorism, war and genocide, and make those living in poverty vulnerable to human trafficking, internal displacement and exile as refugees. Countries suffering widespread poverty may experience loss of population, particularly in high-skilled professions, which may further undermine their ability to improve their situation.

Poverty is not just worry for "lefty commies"; it's a geopolitical concern for governments everywhere.

On Force and Diplomacy

You make one fatal assumption, however. You believe that the North Koreans would believe that we would actually attack them. There's no way we would, right now. Maybe 10 years ago they would have believed us capable, when we weren't involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there's no way now.

I am not against diplomacy backed up by force (you do need carrots to go along with those sticks, though). The worry by you conservatives would be, of course, you have to be willing to actually use that force when push comes to shove. I might have said some contradictory things before, but I do believe that force is sometimes necessary. You just have to know when to limit it. I believe that the invasion of Grenada, the invasion of Panama, the first Gulf War, and Clinton's Operation Desert Fox were all necessary and carried out well. We did not occupy for five years and we only took down the government when we knew what we were getting into - we knew our limits.

I hate to sound like that liberal that always goes back to blaming Bush, but: Bush did not know his limits. He unnecessarily invaded Iraq, which took away press, money, supplies, troops, and most importantly public attention away from Afghanistan. Maybe we could have launched airstrikes in Iraq. Maybe that would have been acceptable; however, overthrowing the Hussein regime took it to far. And Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Co. didn't even do it well! The occupation of Iraq was a failure.

Anyway, I'm getting a little side tracked. My point is this: negotiations carried out with the threat of force are always great, as long as you know your limits.

So: how about in 10 years, when we're out of Iraq and Afghanistan (I can't wait), we settle down and talk to those Russians. Tell them, hey, you invade Germany from your newly established bases in conquered Poland - we'll kick your ass.

Rationality Wins in Israel

BBC: Livni claims victory in Israeli vote

This is great. Livni, by far, seems like the smartest, most rational of the candidates presented to Kadima voters. However, the fight is not yet over: early parliamentary elections could mean far right leader Benjamin Netanyahu could take power. This would be disastrous. Netanyahu has a record of being a hardliner not willing to make compromises.

I'll try to elaborate tomorrow.

North Korean Policy After Kim Jong Il

AP: Officials: N Korea's Kim Possibly Ill
LA Times: North Korea's Kim Jong Il may have had a stroke: U.S. intelligence officials

Kim Jong-Il, the eccentric dictator of North Korea, has suffered a stroke, according to information leaked to the AP from American intelligence officials. Now, let’s keep in mind some context: negotiations on the North’s nuclear weapon program were beginning to get rocky: North Korea had begun to stall on its end of the deal. Could this be a political move? And if not, how will this affect the denuclearization process?

Watching the military
North Korea does not have a succession mechanism in place. Kim was the obvious pick after his father died, but there is no obvious heir for succeeding Kim. His death could lead to the collapse of his regime.

It is more likely, however, that with the death of Kim, the military will take power. That’s bad new for the West: the North Korean military is strongly against giving up its nuclear program.

What can the U.S. do
It is always possible (and maybe likely) Kim is still alive. Our current policy run by Christopher Hill should continue until death is confirmed or denied. With any new leaders, a wait-and-see approach should be adopted: will they be reformers?

All we can do is wait.

BRIEF: Israel-Syria Talks, North Korea Nuclear Restart, Libyan Diplomacy, Crisis in Thailand

CNN: Syria floats direct talks with Israel

After bumps in negotiations with Syria asking Russia for military aid, things look like they could get back on track. Lookin’ good.

Reuters: Regional powers try to stop North's nuclear restart

Despite my optimistic last article, the situation in North Korea’s not looking good. However, there is good news: “U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they viewed North Korea's moves more as a negotiating tactic than a genuine effort to rebuild Yongbyon”. As well, financial sanctions imposed on the dictatorship will make it hard for North Korea to get the parts it needs to rebuild.

Reuters: Gaddafi takes kitchen diplomacy approach with Rice

Libya has come a long way from the almost-nuclear power it was in 2003, but it has a long way to go. It’s still a dictatorship.

BBC: Thai PM plans crisis referendum

Thailand could be facing another coup to take out essentially the same politicians. Not much to say here.

AP: US probe finds fewer Afghan deaths than UN claimed

Once again, airstrikes in Afghanistan has become a concern after a group of civilians was killed. These things are cyclical. The anger will die off, only to reemerge later.

What to do about North Korea: A Conundrum

Reuters: North Korea to suspend nuclear disarmament

After months of progress in North Korea, the totalitarian regime in Pyongyang has decided to take a step backwards and is suspending the disablement of its nuclear program. North Korea wants the United States to take it off of the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror, and the U.S. has said it will – once it verifies NK is disarming.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that Washington is in contact with North Korea trying to resolve this issue.

What North Korea is doing
Kim Jong-Il is trying to delay as much as possible. Pyongyang’s nuclear program is its most powerful negotiating card. He is reluctant to give it up. As well, his government is trying to get more out of the disarmament deal – namely, getting off the terror blacklist before full verifications are made.

Walking a fine line
Dealing with North Korea is a balancing act between being assertive enough without provoking a negotiations-ruining response and being acquiescent enough to get a deal done.

This conundrum makes it hard to tell what to do next.

A mechanism for verifying Pyongyang’s disarmament still needs to be set up: this should be the primary goal. During this crucial time, we must be careful not to needlessly provoke North Korea. However, that does not mean we should be weak.

A List of Former Soviet Breakaway Regions and How We Can Prevent the Next South Ossetia

BBC: Russian recognizes Georgian rebels
Reuters: Russia warns Moldova against Georgian mistake

A list of former Warsaw Pact breakaway regions
It is easy to forget, with the way the mainstream media acts, that Kosovo, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia are not the only regions trying to gain independence in the former Soviet Union (FSU) and its regional allies – the countries of the Warsaw Pact. Almost all of these regions have received backing from Russia. Without further ado, the list:

Movements supported by Russia
• South Ossetia (Georgia)
• Abkhazia (Georgia)
• Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan)
• Nakhchivan (Armenia)
• Crimea (Ukraine)
• Transnistria (Moldova)

Movements not supported by Russia
• Chechnya (Russia)
• Kosovo (formerly in Serbia)

The next war
Where is Russia most likely to provoke war in next? Crimea in the Ukraine has been widely seen as the next target. The Ukraine almost received NATO membership this year, and is becoming a closer ally of the United States. Russia has begun handing out citizenship to those living in Crimea – exactly what it did in Georgia, and Russia’s main excuse for war.

However, Crimea has not been a flashpoint for violence, unlike South Ossetia and Abkhazia. As well, Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko is not as nationalistic or as hotheaded as Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili.

Preventive measures
As I’ve argued before, we must include Georgia and the Ukraine in NATO as soon as possible. One, to deter Russian aggression and to ensure any attack by Russia could be properly responded to. Two, to isolate Russia. The policy of containment worked during the Cold War. There’s no reason it shouldn’t work now.

Deal Would Have the US Out of Iraq by 2012 - A Good Plan

NYT: Draft Accord With Iraq Sets Goal of 2011 Pullout


I cannot fully write about this yet because of the fact that the agreement has not been released, and I don’t know if the full treaty will every fully be released. However: details will continue to come in, and as they do, I will write new articles.

A good plan
United States and Iraqi negotiators have been haggling over a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) for several months now. Up until now, the international military presence in Iraq has been legitimized by United Nations Security Council Resolutions. This new agreement will last three years and its main points are this:

1. U.S. troops must move outside of cities by June 30, 2009
2. Withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces by the end of December 31, 2011
3. No immunity for private contractors
4. Some immunity for American soldiers (immunity if on base or on duty)
5. A failsafe in case Iraq collapses

This plan is much better than either plan submitted by the two presidential contenders: McCain would stay too long (forever), Obama too short (16 months). This plan does not have the drawbacks of either.

Michael Cohen over at Democracy Arsenal and in the WSJ today argues that no immunity for private contractors will impede on their ability to do their duty properly in Iraq. That is not true for at least two reasons:
1. Any private contractors put on trial that didn’t really do anything wrong will not be convicted; U.S. pressure will assure to that.
2. Because the Iraqi government was so strong about putting this resolution in the agreement, the government gains legitimacy among the Iraqi people. Maliki, in particular, looks extra-nationalist and therefore extra popular.

On Iran

I’ve noticed a lack of discussion about Iran on this. I’m waiting to see Iran’s reaction to this (and consequently the reaction of Muqtada al-Sadr). I'll keep y'all posted.

On the Sunni Awakening
The NYT is also reporting that the Shiite-led Iraqi government is refusing to incorporate the 100,000 strong Sunni Awakening – Sunnis paid by the U.S. to take up arms against Al-Qaeda and other insurgents. It is vital that the al-Maliki government incorporates the Sunnis into the government. It is impossible to state the importance of this enough. If they are not incorporated, I fear a resumption of the civil war and a strengthening of the insurgency.

Why Iran Doesn't Back Down

Graeme Davies over at e-International Relations has an interesting article on why Iran isn't backing down over its nuclear program.

Check it out.

What Musharraf's Resignation Means for India

IHT: Musharraf quits as Pakistan’s president

I wrote last week about what a resignation by Musharraf would mean for the U.S. and our Afghanistan policy. This week, from a different perspective: the perspective of India.

India has recently seen an upturn in the amount of violence in Jammu and Kashmir. The territory is disputed between Pakistan and India – three wars have been fought over it, as well as both sides gaining nuclear weapons in the 60 year conflict. Some in the India-administered Kashmir would like to secede from India and join Pakistan, and vice versa. Recently, Muslims in Indian administrated Kashmir have increased protests. During some of these protests, a handful of protestors have been killed by Indian police. The protests rage on today.

A power vacuum

India worries that with the resignation of Musharraf, there will be a power vacuum in Pakistan. That is very legitimate concern. It is likely the next elected president will be weak, at least temporarily if not permanently, and the Pakistani parliament is likely to break down into its feuding factions: the PPP (the party of Benazir Bhutto), the PML-N (the party of Nawaz Sharif), the Islamists, and everyone else.

None of these parties is particularly competent; most all are corrupt. Corruption, however, is not India’s worry. India’s worry in the executive and legislative branch is Islamic fundamentalists. They could very much endanger stability and the peace process. As well, India has no one to talk to that would be in complete control.

Yet, there is one larger worry: the powerful army and the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI. The army helped fund militants in Kashmir that sparked the 1998 almost-all-out war between Pakistan and India. The ISI has always trained militants as well, and is believed to have been involved in the recent bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

The last comment I have is this: the U.S. and India still have ongoing talks about a nuclear power deal for India.

Musharraf Impeached: A New U.S. Policy for Pakistan

Note: this article was written semi-in a rush, because of the fact that in the middle of writing the article, news of war in South Ossetia broke out

Reuters: Pakistan coalition to move to impeach Musharraf

Pakistan is split between four factions:
1. The ISI (the Pakistani CIA)
2. The army/President Musharraf
3. The PPP (the party of Benazir Bhutto)
4. The PML-N (the party of Nawaz Sharif)

The army, the PPP, and the PML-N have all been in control at one time or another in the past 20 years. All have been relatively ineffective and corrupt. The current alliance is the populist PPP and PML-N in the parliament against the U.S. supported President Musharraf. The parliament made a truce with terrorists who live in the largely unregulated North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). The truce was what the majority of Pakistanis wanted, but neither the U.S. nor Musharraf supported it. The truce has since broken down almost completely.

Now, the PPP and the PML-N in parliament is trying to impeach Musharraf.


The first, most obvious consequence of the impeachment will be further destabilization of the region. With the situation in Afghanistan at the point that it is, the impeachment should be of grave concern to the West, and America especially. Furthermore, the destabilization will not be limited to just Pakistan and Afghanistan: it will affect the Middle East as well.

Other than destabilization, the other (more) serious consequence of the impeachment is the affect on the War on Terror. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban already operate out of the NWFP in Afghanistan at will. If Musharraf is taken out of office, it can be assured that the new president will be softer on terror, which is exactly what we DON’T need right now.

Luckily, it is unlikely the impeachment will be successful. However, Musharraf has said before that he would step down if impeached. Hopefully he will not follow through with that statement.

U.S. policy
None of this should have happened. We should never have relied so heavily on an ineffective dictatorship. This is the price we have to pay. Lessoned learned: don’t cozy up with dictatorships.

The good news is that this could be helpful in the long term. It could stop a lot of potential terrorists from becoming terrorists by (a) defusing anti-American sentiment and (b) having the potential terrorists feel like they have a say in their government. Alternatively, it could not. The brief spike in terrorist activity could outlast the long term effects mentioned above.

Non-military aid
So, what should U.S. policy be? No matter who is in power, there is one simple effective step that can be taken: reorganizing aid to Pakistan. Islamabad has squandered billions in military aid. Over $7 billion in aid has been ineffectively used in the fight against terrorists and the rest has been spent on buying next-gen fighter planes for use against India.

A better use for aid would be in infrastructure: building roads, schools, hospitals, electrical lines and water lines. Of course, military aid would still most definitely be necessary. However, American aid to Pakistan needs to be more for the people of Pakistan, rather than the Pakistani military.

A Victory for Democracy

Reuters: Turkish court rules against closing AK Party


The Justice and Development Party of Turkey, the AKP, was re-elected last year with 47% of the vote. Secularists, mostly in the military, have since repeatedly charged the party and its members of having an Islamist agenda and of trying to introducing Sharia law. The AKP, for obvious reasons, has consistently denied that charge. More recently, a group of secular Turks were arrested for planning a coup to overthrow the AK government.

A good decision

The model of secularism and democracy in the Middle East, Ataturk’s Turkey, was almost dealt a huge blow today. Thankfully, Turkey’s Constitutional Court made the right decision today by not banning the AK Party.

In contrast to what one might expect, the less secular AKP is more democratic and liberal than the most secular parties of Turkey. In fact, the AKP has decreased censorship, expanded women’s rights, and reached out to minorities.

The fight is not over

The fight is not over. The case today was won by only one vote (6 to 5, 7 votes were needed) – 8 of the court’s 11 justices are secularists. As well, the court did agree to impose financial restrictions on the AKP (state funding for the party was cut in half).

And don’t think the secularists have given up. Military intervention is always a possibility, but what are more likely are attempts by secularists to slowly remove the AKP’s influence from public society.

And as Howard Eissenstat points out, “If liberalization and parliamentary democracy cannot deliver on basic issues, Turkey’s devout, like its military, may opt for a harder path.”

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China, Iran, and the Denuclearization of North Korea

IHT: U.S. to remove North Korea from terror list

As part of a denuclearization deal, North Korea today handed over 60 pages of information on its nuclear power and nuclear weapons program. The move was an important step in the process of the dismantlement of the North’s nuclear program. In return, President Bush announced that his administration would remove the country from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and end some sanctions ‘symbolically’.

As said above, this action was only a part of a major denuclearization deal. The agreement came as a result of direct negotiations with North Korea in early 2007 under a new policy from the Bush Administration. The previous policy had limited engagement with North Korea, and stressed isolation and sanctions. However, in 2006, the President defied hawks in his administration and enacted a new policy towards the North, launching full fledged talks with North Korea: 6 party negotiations between North Korea, the host China, the U.S., Japan, South Korea, and Russia. North Korea was slow with following through on its promises, but it eventually came through with today’s declaration of plutonium capabilities, which will be verified by the United States in the coming weeks.

Information not yet disclosed

Significantly, the North's declaration is not expected to disclose details on three critical points: the nuclear bombs the North has already produced; its alleged attempts to produce nuclear arms by secretly enriching uranium, which brought on the current crisis in 2002; and accusations that the North had helped Syria build a nuclear plant.

These details need to be disclosed as the next step in the denuclearization process. The information, especially on Syria, is vital

The role of China
From everything I’ve read, China has played a big role in getting Kim Jong-Il to agree to the denuclearization process. Some analysts have gone as far as to say that North Korea would not even have agreed to disarm if weren’t for Beijing. Let’s take a look at China’s motives for a second. Why would they be interested in getting rid of a key piece of leverage they could use against the United States? It comes down to regional stability. China is experiencing rapid economic growth, and it doesn’t want anything to slow it down. As well, Beijing doesn’t want anything to ruin its ‘coming out party’ at the Olympics in August. This has been seen even this week when China allowed a Japanese naval vessel to dock at its ports for the first time since WWII.

Moral of the story: one major reason denuclearization in North Korea has been possible is because of China.

The problem with denuclearization in Iran
North Korea shows us two problems with American policy towards Iran. One, we are not negotiating with the Iranian regime. Two, we have no partner in the region that has significant leverage over Tehran. Some might say, hey, Saudi Arabia could pressure Iran. But why would Riyadh want to? Sure, the country wants to prevent any new wars in the region that might disrupt their oil shipments. But besides that, tensions in the region are only good for Saudi Arabia. U.S.-Iranian tensions have only helped send oil prices to new highs.

So, why does it matter?
Well, it doesn’t really. I just wanted to point that out. But there is one significant lesson we can take from the North Korean denuclearization: negotiations work.

Prisoner Swap with Hezbollah, Truce in Gaza - Rumblings in the Middle East

CNN: Israeli Cabinet to consider swap with Hezbollah
BBC: Rockets ‘violated Gaza ceasefire’
Reuters: More indirect Israel, Syria talks in July


Israel has been negotiating on two and a half fronts recently. The first front is in the Palestinian territories, but specifically with Hamas in Gaza. The second and a half negotiations were with Hezbollah/Lebanon along with Syria.

Negotiations with Hamas have been ongoing since the 2006 abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and after the 2007 coup in which Hamas ousted its rival Fatah and took over the Gaza Strip. The eventual result was a ceasefire for Gaza which began Thursday. No one expected the truce to last long, however. That assertion was only confirmed today when Islamic Jihad militants launched rockets into southern Israel in retaliation for an Israeli air strike in the West Bank, which, if you don’t remember, is not part of the truce.

The second front has been much more interesting, not to mention more peaceful (albeit just for now, but we’ll get into that later). Israel and Syria have finally gotten around to having negotiations over the disputed Golan Heights that Israel captured in the 6 Day War. The talks, which are being mediated by the Turks, have not been completely endorsed by the U.S., which has complicated things, and even led one Israeli general to declare that there will be no deal with Syria until George Bush is out of office.

On the other half of that negotiating front is Lebanon and Hezbollah – Israel has opened up negotiations with both. Why include Lebanon/Hezbollah and Syria together? There can be no peace between Israel and Syria without involving Lebanon and Hezbollah, and there can be no peace between Israel and Hezbollah without involving Syria. Besides, Syria still has de facto control over many parts of the country. This is for many political, religious, and economic reasons, but it is also because Syria has a big hand in the actions of Hezbollah. Well, it appears Syria has given the go ahead for some peace between Israel and Hezbollah: a prisoner swap. Two soldiers captured in 2006 by Hezbollah would be traded for a rumored five Hezbollah guerrillas.

So, to sum up an unnecessarily long background:
- Israel is negotiating with Hamas for peace in Gaza and the return of a captured soldier
- Israel is negotiating with Syria over a peace agreement on the Golan Heights
- Israel is negotiating with Hezbollah, which is supported by Syria, for the return of two captured Israeli soldiers

Peace in Gaza

One thing not mentioned above was the almost imminent incursion that would have surely taken place if it hadn’t been for the ceasefire. Rocket fire had gone on for far too long without the Israeli government truly responding for most Israelis tastes. Therefore, Israel should take this truce as an opportunity to do three things: (a) prepare its military, if necessary, for an incursion; (b) bolster Fatah in the West Bank; (c) open up final peace negotiations with Hamas. If those negotiations failed, and rocket attacks resumed, options a and b would be ready for retaliation against Hamas

Peace in Lebanon

The prisoner swap should go through, and the United States needs to endorse a peace deal between Syria and Israel. Peace is in the interests of all the above countries – Israel would like peace and its ruling politicians any victories; a deal on the Golan Heights has been said to be the ‘number one foreign policy issue’ for Syria; and a peace deal between Israel and Syria would undermine American archenemy Iran.

Political turmoil in Israel
The ruling coalition in Israel has been hit by a number of corruption scandals. Early elections seem likely. However, early elections could put more extreme parties, including the Likud party of right wing hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu. Any successes in Lebanon, Syria, or the Palestinian territories would greatly bolster the current, moderate administration. That would be in our best interests.

BRIEF: Shiites Blamed for Bombing of Other Shiites - Iran?

Reuters: U.S. blames Shi'ite group ... for bombing and killing of 63 Shiites

Sure, it's easy to see they're trying to stir up sectarian violence. But if your sect is that important, why not blow up some Sunnis instead of your own Shiites? 3 possibilities:

1. It was accident.
2. Religion isn't as important in Iraq as it's made out to be. Or maybe the situation has evolved to that state.
3. The special Shiite cell was from Iran and didn't care so much for Iraqi Shiites.

Option 3 seems the most likely, for several reasons. See: Europe announces new Iranian sanctions during Bush visit

Good News Around the World

Reuters: Donors pledge around $20 billion for Afghanistan

BBC: Major Guantanamo setback for Bush

Sorry for the lame post, but not much to say here but: good.

Court Annuls Turkish Scarf Reform and the Trial of the AKP

BBC: Court annuls Turkish scarf reform


1918: The Ottoman Empire had crumbled. In its place was a much smaller, much weaker, much poorer state called ‘Turkey’. The nation was in chaos. Soon, a strong leader emerged: Ataturk. Cut through the crap and you will find Ataturk pushed through many reforms that westernized Turkey and made the country probably the most successful in the region, but most importantly for us, took Islam out of public life. The caliphate was ended, women were given more rights, and Ataturk even moved the Muslim holy day from Friday to Sunday.

In recent years, there has been a burst of political Islam in Turkey. The ruling AK Party is relatively conservative and religious, but no where near the extent as seen in Saudi Arabia, Iran or Iraq. One of the more controversial laws passed under the AK Party was a law that eased the ban on headscarves being worn by women at universities. The government argued that a headscarf ban stops many girls being educated; it is apparent, however, the Constitutional Court disagreed.

In a separate court case, a special prosecutor has challenged the secularism and therefore the legality of the existence of the AK Party. If the AK Party is banned, Turkey could be sent in to turmoil, as the party controls over 340 of the 550 Turkish parliamentary seats and controls the prime ministership and the presidency.

Secularism and the AKP
The overturn of the law is a victory for secularism in Turkey; however, the case against the AK Party is ludicrous. The disbandment of the AKP would empower the army, which is not the institution of freedom, especially in Turkey, to say the least. The AKP has pursued liberal policies, often times more liberal than those of the more secular parties. In fact, between 1996 and 2007, the Turkish public's desire for Sharia law went from 19% to 8%. As well, the end of the AK Party would mean chaos for Ankara. With a loss of such a huge number of in-office experienced officials could be permanently devastating.

It will suffice to say that the Constitutional Court of Turkey would be making a grave mistake if they were to ban the AK Party.

Another North-South Sudanese Conflict?

BBC: Armies ‘head for central Sudan’

Sudan has been a nation of conflict ever since it gained independence from Great Britain. First, it was the north versus the south. The south, which is mostly Christian and animistic, fought two incredibly bloody civil wars to gain autonomy from the government-controlling, Sharia law-imposing, Muslim and ‘more Arab’ north. The conflict finally ended in 2005 after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed, giving the South more autonomy and the possibility of secession after a referendum in 2011. However, more recently, genocide backed by Khartoum in the western region of Sudan, Darfur, has received much more media attention. That does not mean the conflict between the North and South did not continue – far from it.

Recent escalations have occurred after new fighting in Abyei, an oil rich region. Control over the region has been a major point of conflict between the North and the South since the peace agreement was signed.

What can be done?
Well, not a lot, sadly. Buy a hybrid!

Syria to Allow IAEA Inspectors

Reuters: Syria to let in U.N. nuclear investigators: ElBaradei

This comes, in case one doesn’t remember, after last year’s mysterious bombing by Israel of an even more mysterious Syrian facility, which some in the West, including the United States, believe was a nuclear facility. Of course, Syria denies this charge. Another interesting point that should be known is that this comes in the middle of Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

Good idea
The Reuters article reports that officials from the IAEA (the U.N. nuclear watchdog) will be visiting not only the site that was bombed, but also 2 or three other sites. Interesting…

Anyway, this can only be a good thing, as long as the IAEA does its job thoroughly.

Earthquake in China Has Stoked Nationalism and Freed the Olympics from Criticism

I asked a couple of weeks ago what the effect of the Sichuan earthquake would be. The main focus of the article was a possible rise in nationalism. As TIME Magazine points out in an article linked below, that forecast definitely was realized. But there was another geopolitical consequence: sympathy for China from the rest of the world after weeks of China-bashing. The earthquake, in the long run, probably came at the best of times for the government in Beijing.

Time: China: Roused by Disaster

"We Chinese people are growing closer and closer together," says Wu Xiangping, 28, who took a leave from his job at a Beijing advertising firm to join the relief effort. "And because of that, the country's morality is rising too.


But from a monstrous humanitarian crisis has come a new self-awareness, a recognition of the Chinese people's sympathy and generosity of spirit.


In turn, some of China's most xenophobic bloggers have expressed astonishment at the sympathy shown for China by the rest of the world, the donations of cash and goods and the dispatch of foreign search-and-rescue teams, doctors and other personnel. The outpouring of international goodwill "has changed everything," says a senior Western diplomat based in Beijing. "Now many people will be cheering for the Chinese and hoping they pull off a good show at the Olympics. That will be pivotal for China's self-confidence and its perception of its place in the world."

BRIEF: IAEA: Iran Withholding Nuclear Details

BBC: Iran ‘withholding nuclear details’

I thought this report was pretty interesting, especially coming from the IAEA whose head, Mohamed ElBaradei is pretty critical of reports of Iranian nuclear weapons.

U.S, Iran, Neighbors Meet Over Iraq

Reuters: U.S., Iran and Arab neighbors to meet on Iraq

This will be the first time Iranian and American negotiators will (publicly) be in the same room since talks over Iraqi security have been suspended. The U.S. should take this chance to publicly say:
1. That a peaceful Iraq will not be possible without Iran
2. Iran should stop arming Shiite militias
3. A stable Iraq is in the interests of Iran and the Sunni countries of the region

A Comment on the U.S.'s Nuclear Deal with Saudi Arabia

I left this comment over at Hanlon's Razor on a post that criticized America's nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia:

To be fair, Bush is NOT allowing the Saudis to enrich their own uranium. Washington is selling it to them. That makes the process much safer, because uranium for nuclear bombs requires uranium that is enriched much more than the uranium we'd be selling them.

Now, the arms we're selling them the Al Jazeera article mentions, that's what I'd be worried about.

Will the Earthquake in China Stoke Nationalism? How can the West use it?

chinese earthquake

CNN: Quake kills thousands, traps hundreds

This year’s Beijing Olympics, as any good wonks knows, was supposed to be a coming out party for the new China. To say it isn’t going well is an understatement. First came the Darfur activists. Darfur activists, in particular Amnesty International, had been preparing massive protests and boycotts for the 2008 Olympics because of China’s support for the government of Sudan. That was before protests in Tibet. Protests in Lhasa and the harsh crackdown that followed inspired a new group of protesters that wanted greater autonomy and freedom, if not independence, for Tibet. Even more recently, there have been calls for China to disassociate itself from the government in Myanmar after the disastrous cyclone there.

These protests have created a backlash in China and around the world. Chinese nationalism has been stoked. But as The Economist warns in the previously linked article, new nationalism is also a danger to the current Chinese regime. “Popular anger, once roused, can easily switch targets,” the magazine editors write. “[P]rotests at perceived slights against China's dignity could turn against a government accused of not doing enough to safeguard it.”

In the same way 9/11 increased patriotism in America, so will these quakes in China. That much is certain. What is questionable is which route this patriotism will take: will it be let out on the Communist government, or on foreign countries?

It depends on how the governments of the world respond. Will Hu Jintao’s administration fail miserably at natural disaster response, or will it shine? Will they cover up the extent of the disaster? How will Western media portray the disaster? Will Western governments send disaster relief? How much? These questions will only be answered by time.

How we can respond
Of course, instability in the world’s largest production factory is not what any Western politician wants right now. Therefore, suggesting backing for Chinese dissidents (for example) may not be politically feasible.

We’ve also got to keep in mind: this is a humanitarian catastrophe, not just an event to be used politically. We definitely can and should send aid.

However, that does not mean we can’t leverage the Chinese government for whatever we can get.


That sums up my feelings of this story.

Will Israel Trade the Golan Heights for Peace with Syria?

BBC: Israel ready to return Golan Heights to Syria

The Golan Heights is an a mountainous region in north east Israel that the Jewish state captured in the 1967 Six Day War from Syria and successfully defended in the 1973 Yom Kippur war. A portion of the land was returned to Syria in later years.

There has long been talk of eventual Israeli return of the land to Syrian control in exchange for peace. Indirect talks mediated by Turkey have picked up pace recently.

Recent events
There have been several recent events that are very interesting.
1. The bombing of Syria’s supposed nuclear reactor
2. North Korean nuclear progress
3. Congressional briefing on possible Syrian-North Korean nuclear ties
4. Syrian military on alert
5. Israeli military on alert
6. The assassination of Imad Mughniyeh

Last September, Israeli jets bombed a building in Syria. The event was completely surrounded in mystery, with many leaks and sources pointing to the conclusion that the building was a nuclear facility. Other facts indicated Syria got this technology from North Korea. A select group of Congressional officials is being briefed on that possibility today, with all leaks saying the answer was yes.

Months later, Imad Mughniyeh, a top ranking Hezbollah official, was assassinated. The likely culprit: Israel. Then, even more recently, both the Israeli and Syrian militaries were put on alert. Some analysts believed Israel was watching for a Hezbollah assassination, and Syria was just being careful. More interestingly, rumors swirled about another Israel-Syria war.

Was this Israel’s attempt at preventing a conflict? Prime Minister Olmert already suffered through one unpopular war in Lebanon in 2006; it’s unlikely he’d survive another war.

Anyway, where does Syria’s nuclear reactor fit in? Well, the timing of the briefing and of Israel’s extension of the olive branch cannot be any coincidence. Syria could be forgiven for its nuclear crime as part of the deal.

What should we do now?
Israeli return of the Golan Heights for peace does not sound like a bad idea for either side. If Israel can juice the thing for everything its worth, I’m sure we could convince Syria to disassociate itself with Iran, or to some degree.

Terrorists (pic)

Click for full size
Based on: darkmonkey

Bush Climate Plan Too Little Too Late, No Specifics

President Bush, several months after the Bali climate conference, has announced the United States of America’s new climate policy: he wants our emissions to stop growing by the year 2025. That’s right, he wants them to stop growing. Not to go down, but to stop growing. Make sure you understand that part.

Also note, the president announced little (if any) plans that would actually stop emissions from growing.

Now, there are principally three reasons for this:
1. To pressure China, India and other developing countries to start thinking about climate change
2. To speed up talks on a new international emissions treaty

Also, the initiative builds on the Administration’s new willingness to take a chance with an international treaty.

More needs to be done
This proposal obviously lacks any substance. First of all, only stopping emissions from growing by 2025 is too little, too late. The other problem, of course, is that Bush didn’t actually give any ideas on how to actually reduce emissions.

Putin Has Only Isolated Russia Further

Eftychis has an interesting post over at New School Politics on Putin's inability to alter the international system. He has many great points, but there's one in particular I thought was very interesting:

Russia under Putin has in fact moved backwards from the proactive involvement of Yeltsin in the 1990’s. Yeltsin gained Russia G8 membership and even tried to move it closer to NATO, whereas Putin has attempted to juxtapose Russia as a competitor to NATO. Putin’s practices have only increased the isolation of Russia, had he not embarked in seven years of extreme nationalistic policies, it is likely that rising oil prices and globalization would have carried Russia much further than where it is today.

North Korea Tests Short Range Missiles; North Korean Negotiating Strategy

ABC News: North Korea Tests Short Range Missiles

Summary and analysis

North Korea test launched several short range missiles yesterday, in a not-so-veiled response to South Korean Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong’s comments. The North Koreans also kicked out South Korean diplomats. The South Korean government downplayed the missile launch, in their own not-so-veiled attempt at not provoking the North Koreans any further.

North Korea’s attempt at attention
Kim Jong-Il controls NK almost like a child would. Ever since the Soviet Union fell, he has resorted to provoking the U.S., South Korea, Japan, and China, in order to create divisions among the four so it can achieve its primary goal: regime survival. The promising nuclear deal appeared last year to signal the end to one of Kim’s regime’s strongest cards: the nuclear one. Now, it seems not so much (for several reasons; one of which is the fact that some in Washington believe North Korea sent nuclear technology to Syria).

South Korea and the U.S. must proceed carefully
South Korea and the U.S. must proceed carefully in order not to provoke North Korea. Seoul and Washington cannot afford to miss the chance of Kim giving up his nuclear program.

France Pledges More Soldiers for Afghanistan; More Still Needed

Reuters: Sarkozy pledges more troops for Afghanistan

Afghanistan, “The Forgotten War”, has been in dire need of more, unhindered NATO troops. The remaining troops in Afghanistan from most European countries have been under strict restrictions from their government to prevent casualties. Unfortunately, this has hampered progress in Afghanistan. The U.S. has been calling for more, new troops for months.

In a speech to the British parliament, French president Nicolas Sarkozy pledged more French troops for the war, and called on Britain to send more as well.

Setting a precedent
Hopefully, these new troops will encourage other NATO countries, such as the U.K. and Germany to send more soldiers.

More troops are still needed

Other NATO allies, including Britain and Germany (mentioned above), Canada, Turkey and Spain still need to send more troops. A stable, safe Afghanistan will benefit all of them.

Retaliation for Imad Mughniyah Assassination Soon?

Reuters: Hezbollah commander hailed as a martyr


Imad Mughniyah was Hezbollah’s military commander that was the mastermind of several of Hezbollah’s most successful operations starting in the 1980s. He was on the most wanted list in both the U.S. and Israel. February 12 he was assassinated via car bomb. No one has claimed responsibility, though Hezbollah blames Israel’s Mossad, the equivalent of the Israeli CIA. A 40 day mourning period then began, and is set to end tomorrow, when Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is expected to address thousands of followers at the event in Beirut's southern suburbs.

Will Hezbollah retaliate for the killing?
It is quite possible Hezbollah will retaliate. In 1992, after the Israeli assassination of Hezbollah leader Sayed Abbas al-Musawi, Hezbollah attacked the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Now that the 40 day mourning period is over, and Hezbollah cells have had time to collect information and to prepare for an attack, an incident is very likely.

Another all out Lebanon war?

Unlikely. The war conducted in the summer of 2006 was a huge failure for Israel. They are not likely to make the same mistake twice. Consider, as well, that they are bogged down fighting Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Anything the U.S. or Israel can do?
Stay alert, number one. Number two, don’t overreact. We don’t need another war in Lebanon.

Taiwan Pro-Independence Party Loses Election, Referendum

BBC: Opposition’s Ma wins Taiwan poll

Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintag party won Taiwan presidential elections, 16% higher than his nearest rival, Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. A referendum on whether Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, should join the United Nations under the name of Taiwan was conducted along with the presidential vote. The referendum failed because enough voters did participate, although a clear majority of those who voted were in favor. The opposition boycotted the referendum, and the United States did not support the referendum.

The Kuomintag party (KMT, translated as Chinese Nationalist Party), is part of the Pan-Blue coalition of Taiwanese political parties that supports eventual reunification with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). KMT has been forced to tone down their rhetoric, and has been advocating the status quo: the People’s Republic of China being the official internationally recognized China, while Taiwan still maintains de facto relations.

What will China-Taiwan-U.S. relations be like?
The KMT and Ma have called for closer political and economic relations with the PRC, hoping to take advantage of China’s economic (super)boom. It is unlikely, however, the two nations will unify or Taiwan will declare independence.

The failure of the referendum and the KMT’s election will provide a much needed respite for the U.S. If the referendum had passed, and Taiwan had attempted entered the United Nations under the name Taiwan, there would be serious China-U.S. relations repercussions. Namely, Washington has promised to protect Taiwan from any Chinese military actions.

How the U.S. should proceed

The United States needs to proceed with caution and cannot afford to provoke either country. Washington should not advocate neither the reunification nor official separation. Any sudden move could upset the whole region. The economy is in a bad enough shape already, and an upset China could prove to devastate us only more. The status quo is fine.

Will Russia Recognize the Georgia Breakaway Regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia? - NATO/U.S. Policy in Eastern Europe

Reuters: Russia MPs urge recognition of Georgia separatists

Georgia, a former Soviet colony, has two de facto independent states within it: South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Neither region is recognized by any country internationally. Both regions have strong economic and political connections with Russia, and Russia has peacekeeping troops in both regions. In other words, Russia has a lot of leverage in these two areas.

Russian MPs voted unanimously yesterday to urge the Kremlin to recognize the two regions as independent if Georgia succeeds in its goal to join NATO. Russia has already decided to send more peacekeepers to both breakaway states.

Why is Russia being provocative?
There are four main reasons Russia flaunting its influence and being confrontational:
• Possible NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine
Kosovar independence
• American approval of new shipments of arms to Kosovo
• The European missile shield

The first impetus for Russia’s actions is the same impetus for the measure passed by Russia’s parliament. The NATO head of state summit in Bucharest, Romania, is going to take place on April 2. There, several former Soviet states will apply for NATO membership. Three of them – Macedonia, Albania, and Croatia – will be ignored by Russia. Two of applications – Georgia and Ukraine’s – Russia seriously opposes. And on Wednesday, President Bush endorsed one of the country’s applications: Georgia’s.

The second force driving Russia to possibly recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia is Kosovar independence from Serbia and the international recognition that followed. Russia was one of a handful of countries that did not recognize the new Balkan country. Russia supported Serbia in its goal of holding onto Kosovo; they failed miserably. Russia was trying to assert itself in its former sphere of influence. Consequently, when it failed, the Kremlin looked very weak. Russia didn’t respond immediately, other than cutting off some energy from Eastern Europe. I warned at that time that we could expect Russia to either (a) cut off energy from Europe, (b) cause the U.S. problems at the United Nations Security Council or (b) recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It looks like options (a) and (c) could be realized.

Thirdly, President Bush yesterday announced the authorization of supplying Kosovo weapons. This was just another action that is brazenly against the Kremlin’s wishes.

Finally, the U.S. and Russia had conducted high level negotiations last week over the planned missile shield to be built by America in Poland and the Czech Republic, and, well, they were a total disappointment. There was nothing the Russian government was prepared to do to convince Washington to change their mind; there were no concessions Washington was willing to make to please Russia. The negotiations ended in a stalemate.

How Washington should proceed
There are two arguments that can be made here. One, that Georgia is a vital American and European ally and needs to be protected and included in NATO. Alternatively, one could argue, tensions with Russia are strained enough already and either concessions need to be made so Georgia can be included in NATO or Georgia shouldn’t be allowed to join NATO at all.

What would be best for humanity as a whole? The second option: Concessions from both sides. Russia agrees to tolerate Georgia’s NATO membership bid, and the United States consents to make compromises over the Europe missile shield program. Either the program would be given up completely or toned down.

Really, in this scenario, it would be the United States that wins. America and her interests are not protected nearly as much as one might believe because of the planned shield (although, it is important to note, Russia is not hampered in the slightest by this missile shield as well). Therefore, it is not vital for Washington to continue the shield. In return, Moscow would allow Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO.

In fact, it is unlikely the next president (of the United States) would continue the shield anyway. Meaning, America would lose next to nothing, keep Russia happy, and gain Georgia’s acceptance into NATO.

Will the Arming of Sunni Militias in Iraq Pressure Iran?

Daniel Graeber has an interesting article in UPI (h/t) on the long term consequences of arming Sunni militias in Iraq.

But as the Sons of Iraq increasingly shed blood for the country, they are growing increasingly disenfranchised with the political rewards. Iraqis, including the Awakening Councils, want peace and stability, but as in any form of participatory government, they also want power. In Diyala province recently, members of the Sons of Iraq abandoned their checkpoints in protest of the Iraqi central government’s choice for police chief, who happened to be Shiite. That’s just one minor example of the swelling tide of political discontent emerging from the Awakening Councils, as many simply see no purpose in continuing the fight as the Awakening came with few rewards. Adding to the complexity is the tenuous cease-fire by the fighters loyal to the Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, who many of the Sawha forces fear.

I had Graeber's way of thinking until last week. Then I had a realization: what if the danger of arming the Sunnis was intentional? Why would anyone in their right mind do that, you may (rightfully) ask. Well, who is the United State's number one rival in the Middle East right now? Shiite Iran. Emphasis on the whole Shiite part.

Armed Sunni militias would make Iran's goal of puppeteering Iraq much, much harder for obvious reasons.

Not only that, but Iran really, really, really does not want to see the Sunnis rise up again in Iraq. The Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s resulted in the deaths of up to a million of the youngest and brightest Iranian men. Now, I'm not suggesting that Iraq would enter another conflict with Iraq, but this is still scary stuff for Iran.

Was this the Bush Administration’s intention? I have no way to know. All I know is that this is one of the consequences that we are going to have to deal with in the coming years.

Of course, there are still the many dangerous consequences Graeber mentions. For example, he and I both noticed the frightening similarities between our arming of Sunni militias now and our arming of the Afghani mujahedin during the Cold War.

Nominating a New CENTCOM Chief

It has just been announced that the commander of CENTCOM, the command that overseas the Middle East, Admiral Fallon, has resigned. This comes a week after a story was published in Esquire that portrayed Fallon as the only person stopping the President from going to war with Iran. In a press conference today, Robert Gates denied that those perceptions are true, but of course, you can't believe that for certain.

Choosing a new chief
Congress needs to quickly approve or deny any nomination President Bush puts forward based on a couple of their key beliefs: their position on Iraq policy, Iran policy and how diplomatic they would be. Congress must nominate a moderate who can, on occasion, stand up to the Bush Administration and their sometimes radical policy.

Gallup 6 Year Poll: 93% of Muslims are Moderates

Gallup poll: 93% of Muslims are moderates

The study was conducted from 2001 to 2007, and was very extensive.

About 93 percent of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims are moderates and only seven percent are politically radical, according to the poll, based on more than 50,000 interviews. In majority Muslim countries, overwhelming majorities said religion was a very important part of their lives -- 99 percent in Indonesia, 98 percent in Egypt, 95 percent in Pakistan.

But only seven percent of the billion Muslims surveyed -- the radicals -- condoned the attacks on the United States in 2001, the poll showed. Moderate Muslims interviewed for the poll condemned the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington because innocent lives were lost and civilians killed. (AFP)

To be fair, 7% of 1.3 billion is 91 million. Of course, percentage wise, this number isn't as significant.

Any thoughts?

BRIEF: War Unlikely in South America, Spike in Oil Likely

Reuters: Tension in Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela

The greatest consequence of this action is probably the spike in oil prices; they hit an all time high about an hour ago according to the AP. War is unlikely, IMHO; neither side has anything to gain.

Russia Toughens Stance on Iran - Why?

Reuters: Russia warns Iran over nuclear program

This is a strange move of sorts from Russia. The Kremlin has always been reluctant to impose sanctions on Iran, and have been only more reluctant since the infamous National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear capabilities came out at the end of last year. Why the change in the position?

Recent events
Did any recent events provoke Russi into making this move?
Kosovo independence (and Russia’s inability to prevent it)?
• Upcoming Russian elections?
• The recently released IAEA Iran report (which eased some pressure on Iran)?

None of these events seem a likely impetus for Russia’s actions, for mostly obvious reasons:
• Why would Russia want another geopolitical loss after Kosovo?
• Putin is expected to stay in power in elections anyway.
• The IAEA report made Iran look like the good guy.

Another possibility
It is quite possible the White House made a deal with Russia and Putin to move forward with sanctions. The details such a compromise would entail can only be guessed at.

Russia looking to provoke Iran?
Though this is more of a conspiracy theory like idea, it cannot be ruled out. The U.S. and Iran have been engaged in talks for a while now, and could be nearing a deal. By threatening to agree to new sanctions, the former superpower could turn up the heat on Iran, which could aggravate Iran, causing Tehran to cancel any deal it might have worked out with the U.S.

What should the U.S. do?
The U.S. has a fairly easy decision to make, from my point of view. If talks with Iran are producing results, sanctions should be delayed. If talks are going no where, hat tip Moscow and pursue further sanctions.

Layout Change

The layout here at IRB has been changed. As much as I liked the last template, I like this one even more.

If you're reading this in a feedreader, come check it out at int-relations.blogspot.com.

Russia to Cut Off Energy to Europe?

One possible Russian response to Kosovo independence that I completely left out of my analysis yesterday was the possibility that Russia could cut off energy to Europe. This strategy has been employed before and is shown to be effective.

Putin might decide against this response because of the possible repercussions.

Kosovo Independence: Russia-Serbia Relations and Russian Reaction

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Sunday, ending months of waiting. The U.S. and most other NATO nations already have or will to recognize the nation as a sovereign state. This has all been expected for months, but there are multiple variables that could change, all depending on the reaction of one country: Russia.

Background – Putin’s interest in the region

The Russian government has let the world know that it does not approve of an independent Kosovo. But why does Russia even have an interest in the region? To understand we need to travel back to rough times in Russia.

Vladimir Putin took over the Russian Federation just before the turn of the twentieth century, after the economically devastating rule of President Gorbachev. Russia was weak, and the citizens of Russia didn’t like it. They had been the strongest nation on Earth, in power with the United States, for 50 years. And they wanted that prestige and influence back. Russia was sliding down a nasty slope.

So along comes Putin. The former KGB agent is ‘elected’, and takes hold of the Russian Bear, stops it, and swings it around in the opposite direction. Well, that is what he would have you think. It will suffice to say that during Putin’s reign, life for the average Russian improved. With the improvement of the everyday Russian’s life, so came improvements for Russia’s power abroad. The country is once again strong, and still getting stronger.

The Russian bear has once again gained enormous influence over its satellites. It has gained much of this power by promising to protect its satellites and their interests better than the West can. This strategy has been the central doctrine of Moscow’s regional policy since Putin took power.

Along comes Serbia. Although never part of the U.S.S.R., Serbia, deep in Eastern Europe, has always fallen under Russian influence. Essentially, Russia wants Serbia to look to Russia for help rather than the West. This is why Russia has been against Kosovoan independence. If the Russians can successfully stop the West from allowing Kosovo to secede from Serbia, Russia looks stronger than the West.

In other words, Vladimir is proving himself (and Russia) to Serbia. But Russia is not only demonstrating its recently regained influence to Serbia; Putin has staked a great deal of his political reputation on stopping Kosovo from gaining independence. He is proving Russia’s power to the rest of the world.

Russia’s reaction
100 hours have passed since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. So far, we have seen a limited reaction from Russia; nothing more than more diplomatic protests than usual. Russia doesn’t have a wide range of choices. Military action is an unlikely possibility because of geographic problems and for geopolitical reasons. A trade embargo would seem to be likely, but would be totally ineffective. Of course, Moscow could declare a trade embargo anyways, in a largely symbolic move. But other than that, Putin has three moves.

Two breakaway regions in Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, could be recognized as independent or even absorbed by Russia. The two nation’s desire for independence has long been backed by Moscow, and Georgia has always been a thorn right on the border of Russia. Half of the country swallowed up by another would surely cause disruption. Russia would point to this action and say, hey, if you can change borders, so can you.

A second strategy might involve disrupting the West’s interests. In retaliation for the recognition of Kosovo, Russia could create problems at the United Nations Security Council. A potential target could be the third round of sanctions for Iran. This is the most likely Russian response.

This third approach is the most bizarre: do nothing. Putin has known the independence would come, and there’s not a lot he can do about it. If he were to stand back and watch the United States and the European Union control the situation, it would be very, very bad geopolitically for Moscow. They would look horrendously weak in front of the former Soviet Union, the West, and the rest of the world.

What should the U.S. do?
Now that Kosovo has been recognized, the United States no problems besides Russia. If Russia’s actions can be successfully contained, this whole Kosovo incident can be a good memory for everyone. Well, except for the Russians of course.

The United States has the most worry at the U.N.; that is where the most damage would be taken, and Russia’s most likely reaction. How can the U.S. prevent this damage from being taken? The Bush Administration will have to make concessions in other areas if they wish for the Iranian sanctions to pass.

A smarter strategy might have been adopted before Kosovo declared independence: pass sanctions before Kosovo declared independence.

It doesn’t matter now. It is time to look forward, and to develop a new strategy for dealing with the Russians in Eastern Europe.

Good News: Sadr to Extend Ceasefire?

Sources tell Reuters that "powerful Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is expected to extend a six-month ceasefire by his Mehdi Army militia."

This is great news. Moqtada al-Sadr's peacefire has been one of the reasons the surge has had such military success.

If he doesn't extend the ceasefire
If Sadr decides to end the ceasefire, contrary to Reuter's anonymous source's beliefs, the effect could be devastating.

Shiite on Shiite violence would flare up, as would Shiite on Sunni. New chaos would only slow the already snail-paced political action.

But why would Sadr want to reextend the truce?
A couple of reasons:
1. The U.S.
The United States has kept up pressure militarily and politically to hold Sadr down. The surge was one of the key reasons the Shiite cleric called for the ceasefire; once it began winding down, Sadr could have expected to be able to end his truce and not have to worry about too many Americans. There was a change: Defense secretary Robert Gates came out last month and said troop withdrawals could stop in the spring. This has probably given Sadr a lot to think about.
2. The Iraqi government
The Iraqi government has also kept up the pressure on al Sadr.
3. The Iraqi people
Let’s give the guy the benefit of the doubt: he’s looking for a peaceful solution without having too many casualties.
4. Iran
This, in my opinion, is the most interesting force possibly pushing al-Sadr to continue the cessation of hostilities. The U.S. and Iran have been having talks over Iraq for quite a while now, but no news has made it out of the talks. Have the two countries struck some sort of a deal? Even if they haven’t, is Iran looking to make a deal and holding al-Sadr back so one can be made?

It’s possible.

Hizbollah to Retaliate for Assassination at Israeli Embassies?

Reuters: Hizbollah threatens Israel at slain commander funeral

Retaliation at embassies or Jewish centers? Quite possible.

Another full scale war in Lebanon? Highly unlikely. Israel is still recovering from the last war. PM Olmert doesn't have enough popularity to support another incursion into Lebanon, let alone a full scale operation.

Who Killed Imad Mughniyeh?

A quick list of possibilities:
1. The Mossad
Motive: Revenge; to stop him from carrying out any more attacks.

2. The CIA
Motive: Revenge; to stop him from carrying out any more attacks.

3. A rival Hizbollah member
Motive: To move up on the Hizbollah political ladder.

Stay tuned for more.

Hoping That Arab Governments Are Blamed

On Wednesday I wrote “Hoping Hamas is Blamed.” It’s pretty obvious now, just as it was then, that Hamas isn’t going to be blamed and Israel’s plan will not succeed. Luckily, a new possible scapegoat has joined the herd – other Arab governments.

The predicament
Egypt’s been left with quite a problem; Hamas will not allow the Egyptian government to shutdown the border peacefully. That leaves them with essentially two options.

Option number one of the Egyptians is to shut their border with Gaza down by force. The problem with this, in their view, is that it (a) possibly destabilizes the region (b) infuriates relatives of Palestinians in Egypt.

Option number two is allowing continued free passage between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. This would upset Israel and the U.S. As well, it could draw the ire of many Egyptians if Gazans become perceived as unwelcome guests.

A new scapegoat

Unless Gazans point their fingers at Hamas in retaliation for their poor situation, there is another group they blame: the Arab League.

The Arab League held an emergency meeting yesterday to try to solve the current crisis. If the group of states publicly pushes for a closing, there is a chance (albeit a small one) that the League will be blamed.

It’s unlikely
Don’t get your hopes up. Going on current sentiment towards the West in the region, and looking at past experiences, it is almost certain Israel and the U.S. will take most of the Gazans anger.

Moving forward

And more anger is not what we need. Anger will only sponsor more terror, not help fight it. We need to come up with a plan that will get the support of the Palestinian people. Only then will Hamas lose popular mandate, and will a solution be found.

Romano Who?

BBC: Italian PM Romano Prodi Resigns

It’s too bad that nobody cares.

Italy has lost all of its geopolitical influence to corruption and organized crime. It withdrew its soldiers from Afghanistan in 2006; it’s not involved in Iraq.

Hoping That Hamas Is Blamed

Reuters: Palestinians blow up border wall, flood into Egypt

Well, it had to happen sometimes. And its too late to change course.

Israel’s strategy
Israel has been attempting to isolate Hamas and make their government in Gaza look like a failure. Israel, the U.S., and other western powers have been bolstering Mahmoud Abbas’s (semi-)democratic government in the West Bank to solidify this image.

The mistake of the strategy – or not?
Israel has been making life in Gaza miserable for Gazans, and life will only become exponentially worse in the following weeks and months.

By increasing poverty, unemployment, and general dissatisfaction in Gaza, the West is creating the perfect situation for terrorism to grow. Terrorism is like a disease: it grows on dissatisfaction. Israel and the United States will be blamed for the bad conditions.

Unless, of course Israel and the West aren’t blamed, and instead, the Hamas government is. That is the Ehud Olmert’s hope, at least.

It’s too late now
This blockade and isolation has been going on for months, and it is too late for a quick reversal. The only thing we can hope is that Prime Minister Olmert is right, and the Hamas government is blamed instead of the West, because truly, in reality, it is Hamas’s fault.

Does the U.S. Have a Moral Obligation in Iraq?

Let's pretend the U.S. pulled out of Iraq in the coming months because the President had a huge change of heart. 90% of our troops are gone, by, let's say July 2009.

What happens then?

Let's say, for the sake of discussion, all out civil war breaks out in Iraq, but is limited to that country.

Hundreds and thousands of Iraqis are dying every day, every week, every month. Does the U.S. have a moral obligation to step in and try to resolve the fighting?

Or instead, do we sit back and watch, and wait for the rest of the region to potentially join in?

What do New Iranian Sanctions Mean?

BBC: Iran sanctions accord 'imminent'

These would be the first sanctions after the last National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear activities, and the first after the infamous Strait of Hormuz incident.

The chance of sanctions be successfully applied will depend on China and Russia’s willingness to press Iran further after the NIE.

U.S. intentions
These sanctions are intended to pressure Iran to answer vital questions about its nuclear program. Iran has promised to do this, but one can expect the usual responses.

Iranian response

Will this provoke Iran or will this further compel the Islamic state to give up its program? If sanctions are passed, this will most definitely pressure Iran by showing the world’s unity against its nuclear program, especially understanding that the sanctions would come after the NIE.

Effect on Iranian elections
Legislative elections are coming in March. Will this have an effect? I don’t know enough about Iranian politics to make a very well informed prediction.

Being Proactive in Pakistan - A Plan for Pakistan

Our troops are sitting on the Afghan-Pakistan border, staring across from the Afghan side. They can practically see Taliban strongholds. Why don’t they attack?

That was my opinion only yesterday. The only other option, as I saw it, was to sit back and watch.

Sitting back and watching isn't the only option other than attacking: we can be proactive. We can build alliances with tribal leaders, help the average Pakistani, promote democracy, etc.

Going into Pakistan and targeting high value targets might seem smart in the short run, but in the long run, the consequences would be disastrous. Number one, we might not even get the target; number two, we would enrage local leaders, who would distrust us for years to come; and three, we would create new terrorists by giving current terrorists easy propaganda.

On the other hand, we could make alliances with local leaders, promote democracy, or in other words, gain the support of the Pakistani people. With the Pakistani people supporting us, support for the terrorists would ebb. Over many years, we could successfully defeat the terrorists ideologically – and that is the true goal.

"Patience is a virtue". Though this could take years, in the long run, it will be worth. Politicians in the U.S. must look past their careers and do what is best for the U.S., for Pakistan, and for the region as a whole.

A 'Mini-Surge' in Afghanistan

U.S. sending 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan

This is very smart move by the U.S. government – though there are some complications.

A brief background
Afghanistan has been off the radar here in the U.S.; nearly all policy discussions have been over Iraq. That is, until recently, when the possibility of this ‘Afghanistan surge’ came up.

Afghanistan has needed the equivalent of a small surge for a while; growing drug problems (no pun intended), a Taliban comeback in the south, and a destabilized Pakistan to the east have all complicated NATO’s mission in Afghanistan.

Even still, NATO allies have been reluctant to send more troops, even after repeated requests by the U.S.

A good idea
Not only does this ‘mini surge’ have the potential to solve many stability issues in Afghanistan, it also could encourage other countries to send more troops to Afghanistan. Or, in the case of Canada, influence their decision of whether or not to pull out all of their troops.

But back to the surge’s potential: Afghanistan has different problems, though similar, than Iraq. This is what makes the surge different in Afghanistan than the Iraqi surge. This ‘mini-surge’ will help solve some of these Afghani problems. For example, the Taliban is expected to launch another spring offensive in a couple of months. The extra troops will get there just in time to help combat this offensive.

Military stretched thin
The biggest issue most have with sending more troops to Afghanistan is the same many had with sending more to Iraq: our military is stretched. Its resources depleted, its manpower tired and overused, it will take some time for the military to fix itself up after these wars.

Luckily, the military made a smart decision (Robert Gates not looking so bad after all, eh?). A force of 3,200 Marines isn’t too many to stretch the military, but it’s just enough to make a difference.