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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