“Assailants widely suspected of being members of Al Qaeda carried out a two-pronged attack on Yemen’s heavily guarded Defense Ministry headquarters here on Thursday, blowing open an entrance to the compound with a car full of explosives and gunning down civilians at a hospital inside, witnesses said. The attack killed 52 people, including soldiers, doctors, patients and a number of foreigners. More than 160 others were wounded. The daylight assault on one of the government’s most important security facilities appeared to mark a new low in Yemen’s descent into chaos and instability since its longtime president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was forced from power after a popular uprising in 2011″.
The piece goes on to metion that “a Treasury analysis said Scots face £1,000 tax rises if they vote for independence thanks to Scotland’s more rapidly ageing population and declining oil revenues. With support for independence languishing at around 30 per cent in the opinion polls, the SNP is counting on the White Paper producing a ‘bounce’ in support”.
Interestingly the article notes “Alistair Darling, the former Labour Chancellor and leader of the pro-UK Better Together campaign, told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme this morning that the bid to share the sterling is a “non-starter” a that could turn into a “legal straightjacket” limiting the economic powers”.
The report goes on to metion that “The Institute for Fiscal Studies calculated last week that an extra £3 billion of savings would have to be found from 2021 even if Mr Salmond’s most optimistic predictions about North Sea oil revenues come true. A Treasury analysis published today said this was equivalent to an eight percentage point increase in the base rate of income tax, which would mean the average Scot paying an extra £1,000 per year”.
The article concludes “According to the Treasury’s calculations, basic rate taxpayers in Scotland currently contribute an average of £2,517 each to the public purse. However, increasing the basic rate of income tax from 20p to 28p in the pound would lead mean this contribution rising to £3,523. Mr Salmond’s plan to make good the £3 billion without tax rises or spending cuts would only be possible if Scotland’s annual economic growth rate increased to 4.4 per cent, the Treasury said. This compares with the IFS’s projection for Scotland of two per cent and for the UK of 2.4 per cent”.
In a related comment article the White Paper presented by Salmond is described as blurry, “Perhaps deliberately, Scotland’s First Minister was unusually low-key in his rhetoric. No one expected the language of Braveheart; but where was the vision, the ambition, the confidence or the drama that such a day warranted? If anything, a slimmed-down Mr Salmond appeared a little embarrassed by the situation in which he now finds himself, trying to put the flesh of reality on the bones of a dream”.
The writer continues, “The 670-page White Paper was supposed to answer many of the outstanding questions about what an independent Scotland would look like: how its economy would function, what its political structures would be and how its international links would be maintained. Yet so much is dependent upon the outcome of negotiations that will only begin if the Scottish people vote for separation in next September’s referendum, that it is impossible to produce a clear picture of life after the Union. The overriding assumption that runs through the document like a tartan thread, as Mr Salmond put it, is that the outcome of such talks will always redound to Scotland’s advantage. In the words of Alistair Darling, the leader of the Better Together campaign, the Scottish National Party wants to give the impression that under independence, everything will change, yet everything will remain the same. The Queen would stay as head of state; the currency would be the pound sterling; the BBC would still be shown (would Scots contribute to the licence fee?); and Scotland would stay in the EU, but not join the euro or the Schengen area”.
He goes on to make the intersting point that “For all its length, yesterday’s White Paper was more an election manifesto than an objective assessment of how independence would work – and to that extent, it was a dishonest document. It also relied heavily on other institutions, such as the UK government, the European Union, Nato and others, accepting the rationale behind the SNP’s case. For instance, it insists that it must be in everyone’s interest for Scotland to remain within a sterling currency union (an outcome, incidentally, that is incompatible with EU membership, with its insistence on joining the euro). But why should England, Wales and Northern Ireland underwrite the currency and banking system of an independent Scotland, especially if there are no fiscal controls that can be exercised from the centre? Equally perplexing is why the first act of a newly independent nation would be to hand over its monetary policy to another country”.
He concludes with a valid warning that Scots “deserved better than a White Paper that left so many questions unanswered”.
“The meetings of the Council of Cardinals continued, as planned, yesterday afternoon with the participation of the Holy Father. “The work of the Council took place in an environment of great serenity, with an open and cordial exchange between all participants”,communicated the director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. “As mentioned yesterday morning, the new secretary of State Archbishop Pietro Parolin was invited to the afternoon session to greet the members who wished him well in his new role, and in to establish contract in the hope of fruitful collaboration in the service of the Holy Father for the governance of the Church. “This morning the Holy Father was not present due to the regular Wednesday general audience, but work continued as usual. The council considered the various dicasteries of the Roman Curia in turn (for example, the Causes of Saints, Catholic Education, Evangelisation of Peoples and so on). “It is possible that during the meetings scheduled for these days, a first round of considerations on the Congregations may be completed, to be followed by an examination of the Pontifical Councils and the other dicasteries”. Rorate notes that the meeting will end on 5 December. Their third meeting will be in February 2014.
The piece opens “the Pope said his vision for the Church was one that should be “bruised, hurting and dirty” because of its work on the streets. But despite previously expressing more tolerance on social issues, he ruled out any doctrinal change on abortion, same-sex marriage and women in the priesthood. The “slum Pope”, as Francis has been nicknamed for his work in the shanty towns of his native Argentina, also attacked global capitalism, saying that rising levels of inequality and poverty could “explode” into conflict unless addressed by world leaders”.
The piece goes on to write that Francis “called for power to be decentralised away from Rome and towards bishops and priests working in Catholic dioceses around the world. “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” the Jesuit Pope wrote in the document”.
Most notably he writes that “Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization. Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding ‘a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation’.We have made little progress in this regard”.
What this will mean in pratice however is unclear. John Paul II, for all his image was deeply conservative on doctrinal matters, none more so than the papacy whose powers he guarded zealously. If want Francis envisions is something along with lines of an Orthodox or Eastern Catholic structure of governance than serious questions will be raised. Indeed he has already signaled a greater role for local episcopal conferences and has castigated the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, telling people to ignore letters from it if they get in trouble or if theological questions are raised.
If this is the way Francis is moving then there will almost certainly be a crack in the Church and Catholicism in Poland will become Polish Catholicism, and Catholicism in America will become American Catholicism.
John Allen writes that “Francis opens with a dream. ‘I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ ’ Francis writes, ‘that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world, rather than for her self-preservation.’ In particular, Francis calls for a church marked by a special passion for the poor and for peace. The theme of change permeates the document”.
Allen goes on to add “that bishops’ conferences ought to be given ‘a juridical status … including genuine doctrinal authority.’ In effect, that would amount to a reversal of a 1998 Vatican ruling under John Paul II that only individual bishops in concert with the pope, and not episcopal conferences, have such authority”.
Allen later adds that “Francis says the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,’ insisting that ‘the doors of the sacraments’ must not ‘be closed for simply any reason.’ His language could have implications not only for divorced and remarried Catholics, but also calls for refusing the Eucharist to politicians or others who do not uphold church teaching on some matters”.
Indeed, Cardinal Marx of Munich and Archbishop Muller have already clashed on this. Allen continues, that Francis “cautions against ‘ostentatious preoccupation’ for liturgy and doctrine as opposed to ensuring that the Gospel has ‘a real impact’ on people and engages ‘the concrete needs of the present time.’”
This is made very clear when Francis writes, “There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself “the door”: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak”.
This last issue is worrying. While it would be wrong to say anything at this stage, it does not bode well for Pope Benedict’s project to inject more reverence into the liturgy, through Latin and Gregorian chant, among other elements.
“The top United Nations human rights official linked President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to war crimes and crimes against humanity for the first time on Monday, citing evidence collected by her panel of investigators over the course of the 33-month-old conflict in that country. The four-member panel investigating human rights offenses in Syria has produced “massive evidence” of the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the official, Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, told reporters here in Geneva. She went on: “They point to the fact that the evidence indicates responsibility at the highest level of government, including the head of state.” The panel, which has not been allowed to enter Syria, has gathered information from Syrian refugees and other sources. The panel has compiled lists of names of individuals, military units and intelligence agencies implicated in the human rights abuses committed on a wide scale since the conflict began in March 2011, with a view to ensuring that those responsible are eventually brought to justice”.
A piece discusses the implications of the temporary agreement between Iran and the Western powers.
It opens interestingly, “Pundits and policymakers are missing the big worry about the Obama administration’s Iranian nuclear deal: its greatest impact is not ensuring that Iran doesn’t get the bomb, but that the Saudis will. Indeed, the risk of arms race in the Middle East — on a nuclear hair trigger — just went up rather dramatically. And it increasingly looks like the coming Sunni-Shiite war will be nuclearised”.
Of course, some reports have already stated that Saudi is already a nulear armed state with the delivery of weapons to Saudi Arabia.
He goes on to write that “Two aspects of the agreement, in particular, will consolidate Saudi fears that an Iranian bomb is now almost certainly coming to a theater near them. First, the pre-emptive concession that the comprehensive solution still to be negotiated will leave Iran with a permanent capability to enrich uranium — the key component of any program to develop nuclear weapons. In the blink of an eye, and without adequate notice or explanation to key allies who believe their national existence hangs in the balance, the United States appears to have fatally compromised the long-standing, legally-binding requirements of at least five United Nations Security Council resolutions. If the Saudis needed any confirmation that last month’s rejection of a Security Council seat was merited — on grounds that U.S. retrenchment has rendered the organization not just irrelevant, but increasingly dangerous to the kingdom’s core interests — they just got it, in spades”.
There was little else that America could do in this situation. The deal that was agreed has been widely hailed as Iran giving America far more than America gave Iran, the harsh inspection regime being the most obvious example.
The writer goes on to mention that “the agreement suggests that even the comprehensive solution will be time-limited. In other words, whatever restrictions are eventually imposed on Iran’s nuclear program won’t be permanent. The implication is quite clear: At a point in time still to be negotiated (three years, five, ten?) and long after the international sanctions regime has been dismantled, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program will be left unshackled, free to enjoy the same rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty as any other member in good standing. That looks an awful lot like a license to one day build an industrial-size nuclear program, if Iran so chooses, with largely unlimited ability to enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium”.
This is part of the fundmantal problem between the Saudis and America. The US sees a chance for a real deal with Iran that could fundamentally change their relationship and with it the entire Middle East, potentially. Secondly, it has to be said that under these conditions the Saudis may never be happy with any deal that America does with Iran.
He then makes the valid argument that “Saudi concerns extend well beyond the four corners of last week’s agreement. For Riyadh, Iran’s march toward the bomb is only the most dangerous element — the coup de gracein its expanding arsenal, if you will — of an ongoing, region-wide campaign to overturn the Middle East’s existing order in favor of one dominated by Tehran. The destabilization and weakening of Saudi Arabia is absolutely central to that project, and in Saudi eyes has been manifested in a systematic effort by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to extend its influence and tentacles near and far, by sowing violence, sabotage, terror, and insurrection — in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and most destructively of all, in the IRGC’s massive intervention to abet the slaughter in Syria”.
Indeed this is a point that cannot be reasonably contested. If President Obama had acted sooner on Syria, armed the rebels and he said he would then the Saudis would have less to complain about and may have been willing to let the deal with Iran work out. Obama’s dithering and lack of a real response coupled with Kerry’s (un)intentional slip gave Russia and Iran an opportunity they could seize.
He goes on to make the point “The crisis of confidence in the reliability, purposes, and competence of American power has reached an all-time high. The Saudis have taken due note of National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s declaration that “there’s a whole world out there” beyond the Middle East that needs attention, and her predecessor’s lament that the United States had “over-invested” in the region. The kingdom has become increasingly convinced that there’s a method to Obama’s madness, a systematic effort to reduce America’s exposure and involvement in the region’s conflicts, to downsize Washington’s role”. Whether this is a sustained effort over many decades, which would amount to a real change in US policy, or simply a temporary refocusing on what can be achieved, is natually unclear.
He adds “on Aug. 31, the Saudis turned on CNN, expecting to watch President Obama announce the imminent enforcement of his red-line — only to see him flinch by handing the decision off to Congress. The Saudis were enraged, dumbfounded, and convinced that Kerry had deliberately deceived and misled them. Told that Kerry himself had been caught largely unaware by Obama’s decision, the Saudis were hardly mollified. A liar or an irrelevancy? Either one was disastrous from their perspective”.
He ends the article warning of intense Saudi mistrust of America, “Unfortunately, the routine has repeated itself several times since — on one issue after another considered critical to Saudi interests. Hence: Riyadh learned about the U.S.-Russia deal on Syria’s chemical weapons from CNN. Riyadh learned about Obama’s decision to suspend large chunks of military assistance to Egypt from CNN. And two weeks ago, Riyadh learned that the P5+1 was on the verge of signing an initial (and from its perspective, very bad) deal with Iran from CNN — even though Kerry had just been in Saudi Arabia earlier that week in an effort to contain at least some of the fallout from the Syria fiasco. Instead, he ended up doubling down on the breach”.
He concludes “An atmosphere this poisonous is dangerous, to say the least. The incentive for the Saudis to engage in all kinds of self-help that Washington would find less than beneficial, even destructive, is significant and rising. Driven into a corner, feeling largely abandoned by their traditional superpower patron, no one should doubt that the Saudis will do what they believe is necessary to ensure their survival. It would be a mistake to underestimate their capacity to deliver some very unpleasant surprises: from the groups they feel compelled to support in their escalating proxy war with Iran, to the priceof oil, to their sponsorship (and bankrolling) of a much expanded regional role for Russia and China at America’s expense. Convincing ourselves that the Saudis will bitch and moan, but in the end prove powerless to act in ways that harm key U.S. interests would be a very risky strategy”.
The piece closes, “the Obama administration should try. I think the place to start, and rapidly, is with the Saudi national security advisor and intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Formerly Riyadh’s ambassador to Washington, Bandar is now clearly the tip of the spear in King Abdullah’s efforts to combat the Iranian threat around the region — not to mention the principal point of contact in the kingdom’s thick relationship with Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment. He’s been in virtually every major international capital in recent months — with the notable exception of Washington. That alone speaks volumes of how much the situation has deteriorated. President Obama personally needs to get Bandar in the Oval Office as quickly as possible for a very frank discussion about the strategic situation in all its complexities — and what the United States and Saudi Arabia, together, can do about it. At this point, no one else but the commander-in-chief stands a chance of convincing the Saudis that more desperate measures are not called for. Exactly what Obama would have to say to make the sale is another matter. On the nuclear deal, he’d have to be able to guarantee that any follow-on agreement would, at a minimum, see Iran compelled to accept a massive roll-back of its existing capabilities — as close to zero as possible — as well as a specially-designed, highly-intrusive verification regime. And should Iran reject that bottom-line, the president would have to be equally convincing that he’s prepared to walk away from a bad deal and use force decisively to dismantle the most dangerous elements of the Iranian program”.
“The Muslim Brotherhood has rejected Egypt’s new draft constitution. The group said “abusive coupists” were trying to “distort Egypt’s legitimate constitution”, adopted under ousted President Mohammed Morsi last year. The draft, approved by a constituent assembly late on Sunday, preserves some of the military’s wide-ranging powers and would allow a presidential election to be held before parliamentary polls. It must be approved in a referendum this month or in January. The vote is the first stage in the “democratic transition” promised by the interim government after Mr Morsi was deposed by the military in July”.
An article appears in the excellent New Liturgical Movement blog that discusses the liturgical teaching of Pope Benedict in relation to Pope Francis. The piece seems to pit Pope Francis, who the article argues agrees with Pope Benedict’s famous 22 December 2005 speech to the Roman Curia, against some professional liturgists who seem to be twisting words to suit their incorrect interpretation of the Second Vatican Council.
The piece opens “In the much-discussed (indeed, perhaps too much discussed) interview of Pope Francis with the Jesuit journals, there was passage that received considerable attention due to its praise for the post-conciliar liturgical reform and its apparent dismissal of the love of the pre-conciliar liturgy as a certain “sensitivity” some people happen to have”. In the interview, Francis clearly discusses, and uses, the phraseology of Pope Benedict, “there are hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity”.
The piece goes on to say, “first of all, that Pope Francis speaks, without batting an eye, of ‘hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity.’ He is aware of what Pope Emeritus Benedict has taught, he accepts it—accented, it is true, by a slight romanticisation of the Council’s modern impetus and élan—and he is content to use, without hemming or hawing, the quite simple terminology quoted above, which, in any case, is already quite commonplace in the Church today”.
Importantly the author goes on to write that “In recent days we have also seen the publication of letters that Pope Francis wrote to Archbishop Marchetto and Cardinal Brandmüller. In each letter, there is a decisive nod to Benedict XVI. The Pope praises Marchetto’s interpretation (or hermeneutic) of Vatican II, which is precisely one of continuity, against the Bologna school of rupture. And, in reference to the Council of Trent, the Pope expressly cites the December 22, 2005 address in which Pope Benedict momentously introduced the discourse on competing and incompatible hermeneutics. Professor Andrea Grillo of the Pontifical Athaneum of San Anselmo must be eating his hat. Prior to the release of these letters, Grillo had the temerity to opine that Pope Francis had “immediately put in second place that diatribe over ‘continuity’ and ‘discontinuity’ which had long prejudiced—and often completely paralyzed—any effective hermeneutic of Vatican II.” So much for reading the signs of the times”.
He then says that many who have been following the debate over the hermeneutic of Vatican II “have noticed a tendency on the part of the old guard to base their arguments precisely on the fact that Pope Benedict did not use the phrase ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ in his famous speech to the Roman Curia of December 22, 2005, but rather ‘hermeneutic of reform, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us’—as if this latter phrase meant something other than, and possibly contrary to, a hermeneutic of continuity with Tradition”.
The writer then quotes a passage from a Canadian liturgist, “What has often been remembered from the treatment is that the pope opposed to the hermeneutic of rupture a hermeneutic of continuity. Now, an attentive reading of the text leads to another conclusion. … What Benedict XVI has opposed to the hermeneutic of rupture is ‘a hermeneutic of reform in the continuity of the one subject-Church.’ … Benedict XVI’s proposal of a hermeneutic of reform—because it is precisely this that he puts at the forefront, and not the hermeneutic of continuity, as is often said—deserves to be taken seriously”.
The author continues, “In short, it is becoming fashionable among anti-traditionalists to say that Pope Benedict XVI did not intend to teach us a “hermeneutic of continuity” but rather a “hermeneutic of reform,” which, in the end, deliberately refuses to establish a true and full connection between the preconciliar and the conciliar”.
He ends the piece “To return to our point of departure, it is hardly surprising that Pope Francis, a man who prizes simplicity, spoke simply of two hermeneutics—one of continuity, the other of discontinuity. His were not the subtle doubts of Routhier and Rhonheimer, nor the temerarious dismissal of Grillo. We are dealing here with a fundamental teaching of Pope Benedict XVI that time will not efface, that faithful Catholics have already embraced as a method of discernment, and that the future will vindicate more and more”.
It is up to Pope Francis to re-enforce the view of Pope Benedict in as clear a way as possible that these additions to Pope Benedict’s teaching not only change but fundamentally distort what he said in his 2005 speech. Francis could make a clear, bold gesture once and for all that would, if not silence then quieten these people who twist the words of Benedict to espouse this theory of rupture that has done so much damage to the Church.
“Rick Perry (R) is accelerating efforts to explore another bid for the presidency. But few Republicans, including some past supporters, are excited at the prospect of him launching a second White House campaign. Perry is making all the moves of a traditional candidate, with multiple visits to Iowa, an upcoming trip to South Carolina and a flurry of recent appearances on cable news networks. But following his disappointing 2012 campaign, and heading into an election where the GOP field appears to be much stronger, few strategists think he would stand a real chance of winning the 2016 nomination. The Texas governor’s biggest hurdles, say strategists, are overcoming voters’ memory of his infamous “oops” moment in a 2011 GOP debate, and convincing the big donors who fueled his campaign last time to stick with him over other contenders”.
An excellent blog post by Peter Feaver at the Shadow Government site argues that there are far more similarities between President Bush and President Obama.
Feaver writes “The eerie parallels between the way the politics of President Obama’s first year of his second term played out and the political dynamics of President Bush’s first year of his second term are what prompted me to make the Katrina analogy in a recent discussion with a New York Times reporter (which I gather produced “an email and Twitter explosion” — my apologies to the intrepid reporter at the center of the explosion). Of course, I am hardly the only or the first to see the Katrina-Obamacare parallels (see another careful discussion here), but it is one that is particularly vivid for me because I lived through that crucial period in the Bush administration”.
He goes on to add “The parallel just got a bit more apt: According to the most recent CBS poll, Obama’s approval rating at this point in his tenure is right where Bush’s rating (in the separate Gallup poll) was at the same point. Of course, the mix of issues that brought each president to this political point is not an exact repeat, but the mixes sure rhyme: questions of competence, questions of candor, questions of how a White House could take its eye off the ball on an issue it had identified as central, etc. This last parallel points to the Iraq comparative, which I think is an even more apt one than Katrina. I wonder if there are additional insights to be gleaned from the parallel. President Bush’s approval rating recovered a bit a few weeks after it hit this low, following on a major communications push the White House undertook. The push included the release of the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq and a series of major speeches outlining the president’s strategy in Iraq. (Full disclosure: At the time, I got more credit than I deserved for this initiative.)”
He continues somewhat controversially disucssing Obamacare, “the Obama White House believes it has a communications problem, not a policy problem. Yes, the White House acknowledges that the website is a problem, but mainly because it is making it hard for people to get the full benefit of the policy. So while the president tinkers around the edges of the policy, his effort has mainly been in the area of communications: selling harder the original policy. And if the administration couples the communications push with some improvement in the form of getting the website up and running — or if intense spinningdesigned to make the Iranian nuclear deal seem better than it really is gives the administration a tactical success that offers a respite from the drumbeat of criticism — it could reverse the public approval slide much the way President Bush’s big push on Iraq reversed his slide in late 2005. But if the critics are right and the real problem with Obamacare is the policy, specifically the internal contradictions of the policy and the intrinsic unpopularity of a massively complex redistributionist policy, then Obama might experience only a short-lived respite on the political front”.
He ends the piece “As the Iraq surge proved, even a politically strapped president still can do some very consequential things, particularly on foreign policy. So it is too soon to write Obama’s obituary. It is entirely possible that one or more of his most important policy decisions will be made in the months and years to come. In other words, perhaps President Obama has in him another “surge,” defined as the pursuit of a controversial but consequential foreign policy gambit. We may even be seeing the outlines of that now with the Iran nuclear issue — whether it yields a lasting diplomatic solution, failed negotiations leading to war, or failed negotiations leading to an Iranian nuclear arsenal”.
He opens noting “some Persian Gulf governments are beginning to express another concern: that the ongoing negotiations will give Tehran a free hand to expand its support for Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad and other American adversaries throughout the region”.
He continues, “Some Arab governments who are broadly concerned about Iran’s nuclear program privately concede that the Geneva accord isn’t nearly as bad as they feared. But they worry that the administration’s promise to spend the next six months locked in a full-on diplomatic push to find a permanent agreement with Tehran means the White House will be willing to look the other way if Iran ramps up its support for Assad, Hezbollah, and the increasingly sectarian and authoritarian Shiite government of Iraq”.
He goes on to write “U.S. officials also worry that Iran’s close ties to the Shiite government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have helped destabilise the country by fueling his increasingly sectarian tendencies. Maliki’s visit to Washington earlier this month was marred by a public dispute with lawmakers who believe Iraq’s soaring violence has come, in part, because Maliki has failed to give enough power or oil money to the country’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities. Thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed in suicide bombings and other attacks in recent months, with Sunni militants claiming responsibility for the vast majority of the killings. Maliki, in turn, has issued arrest warrants for prominent Sunni politicians and had his security forces violently crack down on Sunni protests. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the current talks with Iran have focused solely on its nuclear program, but said the U.S. remains committed to “pushing back” against Iran’s support for terrorism and other efforts to spread its influence across the region”.
He ends the piece noting that “Still, concerns and actions don’t always line up, and it’s not at all clear that the White House will want to risk upsetting the delicate nuclear talks with Tehran by taking a hardline on other regional issues. ‘Iran will have a lot greater leeway,’ said Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. ‘The Syrian chemical weapons talks prioritised getting rid of the chemical weapons, not changing the military balance inside Syria. I expect the Iranian talks to similarly prioritise the nuclear issue and not the other items on the Iranian-U.S. agenda. They’ll get a pass on those, at least for now.’”
However, it has been mentioned elsewhere that if talks go well in the future and a more comprehensive deal is reached with Iran then Syria could be used as a bargining chip to help sweeten the deal. Equally, if Iran becomes more intransigent at the talks America and others could use threaten enhanced support for those that are against Iranian interests.
“President Obama requested Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu take a “breather” from his harsh criticism of the U.S. strategy regarding Iran during a call between the two leaders, The Washington Post reported on Thursday. The request came as the administration girds up for a push in the next six months to reach a final settlement on Iran’s nuclear program. The president reportedly urged Netanyahu to tone down his rhetoric for the sake of diplomacy and urged him to dispatch officials to Washington who could help negotiate a resolution agreeable to both countries. The president called Netanyahu Sunday, promising to keep the Israeli leader up-to-date regarding the progress of negotiations for a final settlement. He also reaffirmed that the two countries share the same goal of a nuclear-free Iran”.
As part of a special series on America in the current issue of the Economist, a piece discusses how President Obama can
The article opens, arguing that the power of the president “is not the veto pen or the ability to launch missiles. It is the bully pulpit. When a president speaks, the world listens. That is why Barack Obama’s credibility matters. If people do not believe what he says, his power to shape events withers. And recent events have seriously shaken people’s belief in Mr Obama. At home, the chaos of his health reform has made it harder for him to get anything else done. Abroad, he is seen as weak and disengaged, to the frustration of America’s allies. Not all the barbs aimed at Mr Obama are fair. Our special report this week on American foreign policy notes that he inherited two miserable wars. He began his first term during the worst recession in 80 years. And the Republicans who shut down parts of the federal government last month and flirted recklessly with default bear much of the blame for Washington’s disarray. But the excuse that it is all someone else’s fault is wearing thin. Under Mr Obama, America seems rudderless and its power is being squandered”.
The piece goes onto add “The debacle of Obamacare has gravely weakened the president (see article). In the days before October 1st, when the online health-insurance exchange opened, he seemed blithely unaware that anything was amiss. Using it would be “real simple”, he told voters in Maryland on September 26th; it would work the “same way you shop for a TV on Amazon”. Alas, it did not. Millions tried to log on; few succeeded. The website was never properly tested, it transpires. Although this was Mr Obama’s most important domestic reform, no one was really in charge. Crucial specifications were changed at the last moment. Contractors warned that the website was not ready, but the message never reached the Oval Office”.
The writer makes a fair point, “The longer it takes to fix the website, the greater the chance that Obamacare will fail. Insurers have set their premiums on the assumption that lots of young, healthy people would be compelled to buy their policies. But if it takes dozens of attempts to sign up, the people who do so will be disproportionately the sick and desperate. Insurers could be stuck with a far more expensive pool of customers than they were expecting, and could have no choice but to raise prices next year. That would make Obamacare even less attractive to the young “invincibles” it needs to stay afloat. To make matters worse, this sorry saga has caused American voters to doubt Mr Obama’s honesty. Time after time, when selling his reform, he told voters that if they liked their health insurance, they could “keep that insurance. Period. End of story.” Policy wonks knew this was untrue. Mr Obama’s number-crunchers quietly predicted that up to two-thirds of people with individual policies would be forced to change them, since the law would make many bare-bones plans illegal. But ordinary Americans took their president at his word; many were furious to learn last month that their old policies would be cancelled”.
The piece then, unfairly discusses President Obama’s lack of building relationships, “he gives great speeches but fails to build relationships. Abroad, he has cool relations with foreign heads of government. The leaders of allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia scorn him. Europeans grumble that they are ignored when they want to be heard and spied on when they want to be left alone. Latin Americans feel neglected. Mr Obama’s “pivot” to Asia has made China feel threatened, without reassuring other Asians that America will be there in a crisis. Many doubt Mr Obama’s word—remember his “red line” over the use of chemical weapons in Syria?—and lament his inability to get things done”.
This is a little unfair, Syria aside, where he if he wanted to avoid Syria completely he should have defined it in such terms that no US entry would be possible. Instead his red lines as the article fairly points out have been a disaster. Other then that however it is a little hard on him. It notes that leaders scorn him but certainly with regard to the current Prime Minister of Israel and President Obama there is obvious friction. This however has more to do with “Bibi” that Barack who intervened in the 2012 election in favour of Mitt Romney only for the voters to re-elect the incumbent. The issue with Saudi Arabia is more complex but that is not to say it is beyond repair permanently which would be patently false.
The writer then turns to domestic politics, “At home, he seldom schmoozes with his political opponents—or even with his own side. Past presidents put in far more effort to charm and bully lawmakers, business moguls and anyone who could help them. Lyndon Johnson was famous for blackmailing congressmen to do the right thing, which is a hard art to practise if you barely know them. Mr Obama remains aloof—he has no regular breakfast or lunch even with the main Democrats in Congress. You cannot slap backs and twist arms if you are not in the same room”.
The point about the Democrats is well made and Obama should have understood long ago that any domestic agenda he has relies on contact and comunication. The article seems to dismiss the GOP who have from the very beginning obstructed and continue to obstruct Obama’s policies and nominees. So whatever hope Obama and the GOP had of working together is vanishing ahead of the 2014 mid terms.
The piece then suggests how President Obama can return some of his credibility, “the priority is simply to get his health exchange fixed. His announcement last week that people who have lost their old insurance will be allowed to get it back is a sham: he has given insurers neither the time nor the incentive to recreate the policies he previously ordered them to ditch. He should stop making empty promises, get rid of the aides who filter out bad news and roll up his sleeves. Can he get any more done? Immigration reform is still just possible. He now says he is open to tackling it piecemeal, rather than in a comprehensive bill, which raises the chance that it will happen. An even bigger prize would be a long-term fix for America’s finances, with Republicans accepting some tax rises and Democrats tolerating cuts to entitlements. He has little to lose: at present he will go down in history, alongside George W. Bush, as a skipper who ignored the looming fiscal iceberg”.
The piece goes on to note that ”Fixing those problems would require Mr Obama to discover both Clintonian skills of triangulation and some Republicans who don’t hate him. As with other second-term presidents, foreign policy may offer more opportunity. The Obama brand is less tarnished abroad. And American power is sold short by a lot of people—including, sometimes, Mr Obama. With its matchless armed forces, a web of alliances and omnipresent soft power, the United States is still the world’s indispensable nation—as it has shown in the rescue efforts in the Philippines (see Banyan)”.
Yet this view is somewhat over optomistic. Obama is ultimatly a pragmatic president and not an ideologue as some would paint him as. The other point is that finding “some Republicans who don’t hate him” is virtually impossible. That is not to say that there are none, but the loudmouth Tea Party have done nothing to lead the GOP and Dems to work together. Speaker Boehner, instead of ignoring them, has pandered to them giving them air instead of suffocating them.
The piece ends, “Obama may not be able to walk on water. That is now painfully clear, perhaps even to him. But America’s first black president still has it in his power to leave the Oval Office famous for what he did, not just what he was”.
“It should also be noted that the Iran negotiations, coming as they do at the same time as the Syria negotiations, contain other risks that cut both ways for the United States, Iran, and the other parties to both sets of negotiations. If Iran appears to be acting in bad faith or if this deal goes sour, the international community will have the option of punishing Iran’s leaders by withdrawing support for their desired outcome in the Syria talks — either keeping their long-term ally, President Bashar al-Assad, in place or accepting a successor regime that preserves their interests and influence in that country. On the other hand, if Iran actually makes real progress on the nuclear deal, the country may be rewarded at the Syria negotiating table. Of course, none of this will be explicit or even discussed. But it is the nature of diplomacy to link such things if they are proceeding in parallel”.
She notes that the next problem facing President Obama is the US Congress. Worse still Obama cannot even count on the support of his own party on thie matter with Harry Reid mistakenly calling for even more sanctions along with those other highly respected Senators, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.
She writes, “We don’t get to choose between an Iran with nuclear weapons capabilities and an Iran without nuclear weapons capabilities. The choice we truly face is less appealing: Do we want a bellicose Iran that has the ability to produce nuclear weapons within a matter of months and is unremittingly hostile to U.S. interests? Or do we want an Iran that has the ability to produce nuclear weapons within a matter of months, but is no longer as unremittingly hostile to U.S. interests? I’ll take the latter, thanks very much”.
She goes on to make the point that “negotiators in Geneva recognized this, and they got the best deal they could, given our remarkably limited bargaining power. In fact, they got a deal that’s substantiallybetter than most Iran watchers expected: Under the terms of the Geneva agreement, Iran will freeze further work on key nuclear facilities, neutralize all uranium enriched to 20 percent, and permit daily international inspection of sensitive sites, all in exchange for limited and temporary sanctions relief. Every permanent member of the U.N. Security Council is on board, even Russia and China, and the deal doesn’t lock anyone in permanently: It endures for six months, long enough to give negotiators time to assess each other’s good faith and see if a final agreement can be reached. It’s not great, but it’s not chopped liver, either. After a decade of impasse and insults on both sides, it’s a small but genuine breakthrough. If all goes well in the next six months, we might even get to some bigger breakthroughs. But that depends on President Obama’s willingness to stand firm in the face of congressional bluster”.
Brooks notes that Congress is bipartisan in its shortsightedness, “Congress has shown a distinct bipartisan disinclination to engage in reality-based thinking. Sen. Bob Menendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, complains that the Geneva deal ‘did not proportionately reduce Iran’s nuclear program.’ Sen. John McCain has called the deal a ‘dangerous step that degrades our pressure on the Iranian regime.’ Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, objects that the deal does not ‘require Iran to completely halt its enrichment efforts or dismantle its centrifuges.’ Sen. Marco Rubio agrees, insisting that there should be no sanctions relief until ‘Iran completely abandons its enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.’”
She goes on to make the excellent point that has been stated here before that Congress has no role in these matters, “Congressional hawks should stop bloviating and help the president make this deal work. It’s funny: Just a few months ago, many of the very same hawkish legislators who are now threatening to destroy the Iran deal by imposing new sanctions were insisting on the importance of executive-legislative unity when bargaining with adversarial foreign states. Remember Syria? When President Obama declared his intention to ask Congress to authorize military action against President Bashar al-Assad, Sen. McCain declared, “A vote against that resolution by Congress I think would be catastrophic. It would undermine the credibility of the United States of America and the president of the United States. None of us want that.”
If “none of us want that,” it’s hard to see why it’s important for Congress to back the president when it comes to threats to use military force, but fine for Congress to undermine the president when he tries to use diplomacy so we can avoid resorting to military force. President Obama needs to make it clear that it’s his job, not Congress’s, to broker deals with foreign powers. That’s not just a policy preference: It’s the way the U.S. Constitution divvies up authority between the executive and legislative branches. As the Supreme Court declared in U.S. v Curtiss Wright.”
Not only that but being a lawyer she goes further saying that Congress has, thankfully, little options if it wants to halt the deal with Iran going through, “it’s an open constitutional question whether Congress can impose mandatory sanctions on a foreign state over the president’s strong objection. Congress has the power to regulate foreign commerce, but the president is vested with executive power and is the sole representative of the United Statesvis-a-vis foreign states. Just as the congressional power to declare war does not prevent the president from using military force in what he views as emergencies — whether Congress likes it or not — the congressional power to regulate foreign commerce can’t force the president to implement sanctions that would undermine a time-sensitive executive agreement if doing so, in the president’s view, would jeopardize vital national-security interests. Any congressional efforts to completely eliminate the president’s foreign-affairs discretion could lead to a constitutional showdown, which Congress would almost certainly lose. If Congress passed new sanctions legislation that the president believed would undermine the deal with Iran, he could veto it; if Congress mustered up the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a veto, the president could simply refuse to implement the sanctions. The courts would be unlikely to side with Congress because, traditionally, they have viewed such disputes as “political questions” best resolved through the ballot box”.
She ends the piece, “President Obama holds the cards — but if he wants to win, he has to be willing call Congress’s bluff. He shouldn’t be defensive, and he shouldn’t mince words: He should tell congressional hawks straight out that if they manage to pass any new sanctions legislation that would prevent him from keeping the promises made in Geneva, he would regard that as an unconstitutional infringement upon his powers to negotiate on behalf of the United States and protect vital national-security interests. He should make itcrystal clear that he would veto any such legislation — and that even if Congress pushed it through over his veto, he would not implement it. There’s political risk in standing firm, but at this point, the president has far more to lose if he wavers. What’s more, public opinion is firmly on his side”
“Pakistan’s prime minister chose the brother of a dead war hero to be the next army chief Wednesday, a crucial decision that fills arguably the most powerful position in the country. Gen. Raheel Sharif faces a vicious Taliban insurgency at home, which has killed thousands of security forces and civilians in recent years. Washington also will look to the 57-year-old infantry officer for support to battle al-Qaida militants and negotiate an end to the war in neighboring Afghanistan. It was a sensitive decision for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif since he was toppled in a military coup in 1999 by the last army chief he selected, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. But retired army officers said the new chief, who is not related to the prime minister, largely will continue the policies of his predecessor, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani — including avoiding overt interference in politics. Kayani, who is stepping down after completing his second three-year term, launched scores of operations against the Pakistani Taliban in their sanctuaries in the northwestern tribal region. But he refused repeated U.S. demands to make a push into the North Waziristan tribal area, which is a launching pad for militants to stage cross-border attacks against American troops in Afghanistan”.
China has again made the pressure in Asia worse but its belligerance and territorial greed. Instead of accepting peaceful negotianions, which it knows it would not only have to back down on but would also probably lose any claim to the vast swathes of sea it claims.
Now, reports note that “China just upped the ante over a territorial dispute with Japan. But in doing so, it seems to be sending a message to the United States as it pivots east: Stay out of our way. China’s announcement Saturday [23 November] that it had created an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) coupled with a demand that any non-commercial air traffic would have to submit flight plans prior to entering the area, represented by all accounts a significant provocation. China is attempting to assert its authority over a group of uninhabited islands south of Japan and just east of the Chinese mainland in the East China Sea. But the creation of the new zone is probably less about the islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus by China, as it is China’s desire to flex its muscles in its own backyard as the U.S. rebalances its own strategy east. China’s decision will complicate relations as the United States seeks to build a more trusting relationship with the Asian giant and develop diplomatic efforts on a number of fronts. And it will pose a challenge to Vice President Joe Biden, who is expected to make a stop in China on a trip through Asia next month. White House National Security spokesperson Caitlin Hayden wouldn’t say if the development would affect Biden’s trip”.
He goes on to write that “The area China has created isn’t so much a no-fly zone as it is a yellow flag area. If the United States or another country’s military flies inside the area without seeking permission first, China could respond with military force. Many countries, including the United States, have the same kind of zone around their borders. But China’s move essentially puts any non-commercial flight through that area on equal footing with a flight over its own airspace. That makes it virtually impossible for the United States or anyone else operating in the region to ignore China’s claim over the area. But it’s not clear how far China will really go. The United States has already said it will continue its own military operations in the zone without asking permission.”
America must let China know in no uncertain terms that it cannot simply declare most of the East China Sea its airspace and it has effectively done with this aggressive move. He does write that “that doesn’t mean there will be another war in the Pacific. China could choose to ignore any U.S. aircraft in the region, or it might respond by scrambling fighter jets to escort them through the zone. All of this could pose an enormous risk, either through escalation or by accident. In April 2001, there was a mid-air collision between a U.S. Navy EP-3 spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet, forcing the American plane to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island about 100 miles from China. The 24-member crew was detained and questioned for about 10 days before being released”.
Yet, by taking this aggressive and hostile act China has not only increased the tension but has done little to appease the fears of its neighbours in Asia that it means them no harm. This has hurt whatever soft power China claims to have and at the same time made the United States all the more important for the rest of Asia. As a result, America should not halt or slow the pivot but in effect do the opposite, speed it up.
In an effort to test the Chinese resolve it was reported just days ago that America overflew the Chinese air defence identification zone (ADIZ). The piece mentions that “sent a clear message to China yesterday not to over-step its territorial ambitions in the East China Sea by flying a pair of B-52 nuclear bombers through air-space disputed by Japan and China. The flights by the two unarmed aircraft came three days after Beijing unilaterally declared an aerial identification zone over a large area that includes the Senkaku islands – known as Diayou in China – that are the subject of a bitter territorial feud with Japan. The two US aircraft did not identify themselves as they entered China’s self-declared Air Defence Identification Zone, a Pentagon spokesman said on Tuesday, who pointedly referred to the disputed islands by their Japanese name. ‘We have continued to follow our normal procedures, which include not filing flight plans, not radioing ahead and not registering our frequencies,’ said Col Steve Warren. The White House spelled out the significance of the B-52 flights, publicly rejecting the Chinese zone and urging Beijing to focus on diplomatic means to resolve the dispute”.
The article contiunes, “The bombers flew out of the US territory of Guam on Monday. US officials insisted the flights were long-planned and not in direct reaction to China’s latest declaration. The Chinese announcement of the zone was immediately disputed at the weekend by South Korea as well as Japan which summoned Chinese diplomats to protest. Tokyo ordered two of its biggest airlines, ANA and Japan Airlines, to stop filing flight plans with the Chinese as a demonstration of Japan’s disapproval. China did not respond publicly to the US flights, however the Chinese defence ministry said it had lodged protests with the US and Japanese embassies in Beijing over the criticism from Washington and Tokyo of the zone. In a move likely to raise concerns about Chinese aggression, Beijing sent its sole aircraft carrier for its first training mission into the South China Sea on Tuesday, amid maritime disputes with the Philippines and other neighbours”.
However it is clear that the flights by the US bombers were a clear signal that China should take note of its actions, not only with regard to Japan but also any aggresive posture with towards the United States will not be tolerated. The danger with the US action is that Japan, or some other nation, may think that China will not respond if it too seeks to send China a message that it will not be bullied by flying into its ADIZ. China could react and hostilities could easily follow.
America must therefore co-ordinate with the rest of Asia that it will not tolerate Chinese aggression in the region but at the same time the Chinese should not be intentionally provoked. This is simply the current dual deterrance policy between China and Taiwan writ large across Asia. It is however on a different scale and with seemingly endless provocations from China hard to enforce completely.
“Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) left the door open to another presidential run during a Monday panel in New Hampshire. Asked whether he ever thinks about running again — Huntsman dropped out of the 2012 Republican primary after finishing third in New Hampshire — he suggested he hadn’t ruled out the option. He closed a long response to the question, posed at Saint Anselm College, by saying: “Which is a long way of saying that I love public service. I’ll always be committed to public service. And as an itinerant public servant, from time to time, it’s hard to know where you’re gonna wind up. But I’m not here as a candidate tonight, that’s for sure.” Huntsman’s statements were first reported in The Washington Post. He had previously seemed to rule out another bid, saying earlier this year he wanted to return to private life”.
He argues that “Throughout the talks, Iran continued to assert its “inalienable right” under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to enrich uranium. As Secretary of State John Kerry made clear, however, the United States does not recognize such an inherent right for any country. (This includes non-nuclear weapons states like Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands that currently enrich uranium but are nevertheless seen by the United States as compliant with the NPT). On this issue, the P5+1 did not make an exception for Iran. Instead, the preamble to the Geneva agreement finesses the dispute. It states that in a final, comprehensive accord, Iran will “fully enjoy its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under the relevant articles of the NPT in conformity with its obligations therein.” It then states that, if a comprehensive agreement is later reached, that “[t]his comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment programme with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the programme.” In other words, it recognizes the likely fact of limited Iranian enrichment in a final deal down the road, without conceding an explicit right to such activities in the NPT. This compromise seems to have been good enough for Tehran”.
He goes on to make the valid point that “Although the Geneva deal does not fully resolve the Iranian nuclear challenge, it represents a critical first step. It effectively freezes Iran’s program in place and rolls back some of its most dangerous dimensions. It buys at least six months — the period of the agreement — for the parties to negotiate a more comprehensive framework to ensure that Iran’s nuclear capabilities cannot be used to produce atomic weapons. And, crucially, by halting additional nuclear progress, it precludes Iran from using further talks to creep closer to a bomb. Not everyone is convinced, however. Israeli officials have been particularly critical. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the accord as a ‘historic mistake’ that produces only ‘cosmetic Iranian concessions that can be canceled in weeks.’ Israel”.
He adds that Israel’s concerns are not valid, “a close examination of the Geneva accord reveals that it will put Iran further away from a nuclear bomb than it is today — and, crucially, Tehran will be much further away than it would otherwise be six months from now in the absence of such an agreement”.
He argues that there are four reasons for this, “the agreement would lengthen Iran’s nuclear “breakout” timeline (the time required to produce weapons-grade uranium). The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) estimates it would currently take as little as 1.3 to 2.3 months for Iran to produce one bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium (WGU) using a combination of its 3.5 percent and 20 percent uranium stockpile if Iran used its 10,000 currently operating centrifuges; if it used all 18,000 installed (but not currently operating) centrifuges, it could do so in 1 to 1.6 months. However, according to ISIS’s David Albright, if Iran stops 20 percent enrichment and neutralizes its 20 percent stockpile, this would lengthen the breakout time for WGU using 10,000 centrifuges to 3.1 to 3.5 months; if all 18,000 centrifuges were used, the breakout time would be 1.9 to 2.2 months. Under either set of calculations, the time for breakout effectively doubles as a result of the agreement. In contrast, in the absence of the deal, Iran may be able to shorten its breakout timeline over the next six months to as little as two weeks”.
The second point he makes is that “the Geneva deal would dramatically shrink detection timelines, making a nuclear breakout at declared facilities almost inconceivable. Currently, IAEA inspectors visit Natanz and Fordow every one-to-two weeks — under the deal, they will visit every day. Even with the compressed breakout timelines for WGU discussed above, there would be no way for Iran to divert its stockpile of LEU, reconfigure its centrifuges to produce weapons-grade material, and race to a bomb at declared facilities without getting caught in ample time for the United States, Israel, or other countries to react to interdict the process”.
He goes on to write thirdly that the deal is worthwhile “the deal puts the breaks on the plutonium track. Although the Arak HWR is unlikely to be completed for at least a year, once it is it could potentially produce one to two bombs’ worth of plutonium each year. Moreover, some worry that Tehran may rush to make Arak operational by loading fuel into the reactor, effectively making it immune from military attack, and thereby providing an unstoppable plutonium pathway to a nuke. The Geneva agreement, however, prevents Iran from constructing any more fuel assemblies for Arak, prohibits it from loading the fuel it already has, and stops it from transferring heavy water to the reactor. These measures will further delay construction of Arak and ensure that Iran cannot make it operational so long as the agreement remains in place”.
The piece ends with Kahl noting, “the Geneva deal makes it much more difficult for Iran to construct a parallel, covert nuclear infrastructure. Although most analysts focus on breakout scenarios relying on overt, declared facilities, another danger is the construction of clandestine sites to produce weapons-grade material. (Indeed, Iran’s two existing enrichment facilities, Natanz and Fordow, were initially built in secret). Under the Geneva agreement, however, it would be much more difficult for Iran to build a covert program without getting caught since it requires early notification of nuclear facilities and greatly expands inspector access to centrifuge production and assembly facilities, as well as uranium mines and mills. Keeping close tabs on these foundational capabilities would make it much more difficult — relative to today — for Iran to divert technology and materials to secret labs. Limiting centrifuge production to the sole purpose of repairing existing installed machines — another element of the current deal — puts further constraints on diversion. For all these reasons, the agreement is a positive first step toward the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons”.
He closes discussing the sanctions, “some critics believe that the sanctions relief agreed to in Geneva risks undermining the psychology of fear that currently drives investors and companies away from Iran. The net result, these critics argue, could be an economic “windfall” for Tehran and a substantial weakening of sanctions efficacy, reducing P5+1 leverage going into talks on a final accord. But the $6 to 7 billion in relief offered at Geneva is a fraction of the overall economic burden imposed by crippling international sanctions currently targeting (and motivating) Iran, estimated to total $120 billion. Most importantly, nothing about the agreement dismantles the financial and oil sanctions doing the most damage to the Iranian economy”.
After President Hamad Karzi of Afghanistan wanted to wait until after the presidential elections in April to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement. Yet after the BSA was endorsed by the Loya Jirga Karzi still refused to sign it, now, “Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a security deal with the United States, the White House said, opening up the prospect of a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from the strife-torn nation next year. Karzai told U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Kabul on Monday that the United States must put an immediate end to military raids on Afghan homes and demonstrate its commitment to peace talks before he would sign a bilateral security pact, Karzai’s spokesman said. The White House said Karzai had outlined new conditions in the meeting with Rice and “indicated he is not prepared to sign the promptly”. “Without a prompt signature, the U.S. would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan,” a White House statement quoted Rice as saying. The complete withdrawal, called the “zero option”, would be similar to the pull-out of U.S. troops from Iraq two years ago”.
It begins, “The historic nuclear pact with Iran that was signed shortly before dawn Sunday was a personal and professional triumph for Secretary of State John Kerry, who invested enormous amounts of his political capital in the on-again, off-again talks with Tehran. But the bigger winner may be a low-profile British diplomat who shuns the press and had long been derided as a lightweight. Lady Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top diplomat, spent the past few days locked in round-the-clock negotiations with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. When the two sides finally agreed to a deal, it was Ashton and Zarif who met at Geneva’s Palais des Nations to formally sign the pact. Ashton, who has long been wary of the media, insisted that the event be closed to all but a handful of reporters and took no questions. That was very much in character for Ashton, an unassuming former member of the British House of Lords who got her job four years ago because of a byzantine political dispute involving former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Here in Geneva, though, she’s been on center stage. The foreign ministers of the so-called P5+1 countries — the U.S., Russia, Germany, China, France and Britain — held brief meetings with Zarif this weekend, but Ashton led the talks and was Zarif’s primary counterpart. Most of the time, she was the only one in the room with him as the deal slowly came together”.
The writer seems to be arguing that because Ashton and Dr Zarif signed the deal she bears much of the responsibility for its success. This seems odd given her previous actions. Famously Belgium admonished her while others have rightly lambasted her policy of extreme political correctness.
Not only that but the writer seems to bat away her appointment as “byzantine” when it is clear that she was chosen because of her gender and not because of any foreign policy training or experience. Therefore, to say that she has gone from someone wholly incompentent in the realm of foreign policy to someone who can pull off a deal with Iran, almost singlehandedly, must surely raise questions. The writer also ignores the role played by Wendy Sherman who is equally low key and unassuming.
He does admit that “Ashton had some early stumbles, including failing to visit Haiti in the immediate aftermath of its devastating 2010 earthquake and giving a speech in 2012 that infuriated the Israeli government by appearing to equate a deadly shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse with the suffering of Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip. Ashton insisted that her comments had been taken out of context, but Ehud Barak, Israel’s then-defense minister, said her comments were ‘outrageous and had absolutely no grounding in reality.’ In recent years, though, Ashton has seemed to settle into her job. In April, she brokered a deal that led Serbia to relinquish its de facto control over northern Kosovo, easing tensions between the two longtime adversaries. More recently, she traveled to Cairo and became the first Western diplomat to visit deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Michael Mann, Ashton’s spokesman, said ‘its fair to say that her many successes have shown that the early skepticism was completely misplaced.’ When her appointment was announced in 2009, Ashton told her critics that she would eventually win them over”.
To credit Ashton with a deal that involved a host of other people, to say nothing of her own inexperience seems, at best bizarre, if not downright foolish and unfair.
“An assembly of Afghan elders endorsed a crucial security deal [Bilateral Security Agreement, BSA] on Sunday to enable U.S. troops to operate in the country beyond next year, but President Hamid Karzai left the matter up in the air by refusing to say whether he would sign it into law. The gathering, known as the Loya Jirga, had been convened by the president to debate the pact which outlines the legal terms of continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. It voted in favour and advised Karzai sign it promptly. But Karzai, in his final remarks to the four-day meeting, said he would not sign it until after a presidential election due next April”.
An article examines how Harry Reid (D-NV) managed to get enough votes in the Senate to change the way the filibuster is used. Much of this stems from GOP intransigence, the latest row being over judicial nominees.
The piece notes that “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did not know if he had the votes to trigger the nuclear option at the start of last week. A Democratic leadership aide said he had not yet conducted a whip count and an outside liberal group that worked closely with him to advocate for filibuster reform said he was short of the 50 votes needed. Reid never told his colleagues when he surpassed the mark. He simply called for a vote on the floor. That’s when Democrats knew they were about to enact one of the biggest Senate rules changes in decades. “I just assumed he would never take it to the floor unless he had the votes. He’s too shrewd a vote counter. He really knows the Senate,” said a Democratic senator. Several Republican senators tried to patch together a deal in the final hours to avoid the nuclear option.”
The article goes on to add that “Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a well-respected centrist, said Republicans could agree to confirm one of President Obama’s nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals if Democrats agreed to let the other two languish and dropped the threat of the nuclear option, according to a source familiar with the talks. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the Senate GOP’s principal deal-maker this Congress, urged Reid to consider it and other proposals instead of a rules change. In the end, Reid said he would accept nothing less than confirmation of all three of Obama’s nominees to the D.C. Circuit, the second most powerful court in the nation, which has primary jurisdiction over the Affordable Care Act. Outside groups had worked for months to persuade Reid to curb the minority party’s power to filibuster nominees. But in the end, Reid worked largely alone. His decision to trigger the nuclear option — so dubbed because it’s viewed as a dramatic escalation of partisan tactics — caught them by surprise. Two members of the Fix the Senate Now coalition predicted earlier this week that Reid would not try to eliminate the power to filibuster executive and sub-Supreme Court judicial nominees before the end of the year”.
Interestingly it goes on to note “He opened the meeting with a passionate speech announcing his decision to move ahead with a unilateral change of the filibuster rule. His plan was to overturn a ruling of the presiding chair with a simple majority vote, an aggressive tactic that several senior members of his caucus had long opposed. After months of Republican obstruction, which culminated in the shutdown of the federal government in October, even longtime skeptics of a sudden rules change were finally ready to curb the minority party’s power to delay. “Harry made an impassioned plea,” said a Democratic lawmaker, who described Reid’s remarks as similar to what he delivered on the Senate floor Thursday. “He said this is where we’re headed.” Speaking on the floor shortly before the momentous vote, Reid declared Thursday: “The American people believe Congress is broken. The American people believe the Senate is broken. And I believe the American people are right.” Reid, without mentioning the colleague’s name, told his caucus that one of its senior members who had long opposed filibuster reform, recently had a change of mind and privately urged him to trigger the controversial tactic. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) then rose before the room full of Democrats and identified herself as the recent convert”.
As has been mentioned here before many times, what Reid is doing is not ideal. However, unless the GOP can change their tone and work with the Democrats where there is agreement between the two parties America will slide further into a morass and America will then start its long decline. Otherwise Reid has little choice.
In an exclusive article in Foreign Policy, talks are being held on the future of Syria. It opens, “The United States, Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia and others held secret and informal discussions on Thursday to devise a strategy for improving the U.N.’s stalled relief effort in Syria, according to diplomatic sources familiar with the effort. The meeting — which was held at the French mission to the United Nations in Geneva — was convened to lay the ground work for a more formal meeting scheduled for November 26 on the future of international relief efforts in Syria. The participation of American and Iranian officials provides further evidence that the decades-long diplomatic freeze between the two countries is beginning to thaw, offering new areas beyond the ongoing round of nuclear diplomacy where the long-time enemies can cooperate”.
What is notable, aside from the US and Iranian participation is the fact that both the US and Saudis are there also. This flies in the face of repeated comment by some that the relationship between the two is permenantly fractured despite obvious Saudi opposition to a US deal with Iran.
The piece goes on to add that “The U.N.’s emergency relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, organized the session to bring together regional and outside powers with influence on the warring parties. The goal: get both sides to allow international relief workers into the country, so they can help hundreds of thousands of civilians cut off from humanitarian aid. The United Nations is straining to deliver life-saving essentials, including food and medicine, to more than 2.5 million people, including more than 300,000 civilians who live in towns under siege by the Syrian army, some of them forced to survive on a diet of leaves”.
It continues, “Their plight has been worsened by Syrian government policies that impede the delivery of assistance to civilians in opposition strongholds; the Assad regime has routinely denied deliveries of medicine and thrown up bureaucratic hurdles when relief workers have filed for visas. Extremist opposition groups have also targeted Syrian and international relief workers, and laid siege to towns near the city of Aleppo. On October 2, the U.N. Security Council issued a statement that condemns “all cases of denial of humanitarian access” and calls for the facilitation of the “safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance in the whole country.” But the situation has improved little in the six weeks since. Frustrated at the lack of progress, Australia and Luxembourg last month began drafting a more formal provisional Security Council resolution aimed at stepping up pressure on the parties to comply. But Russia fiercely opposed the measure, and Amos subsequently persuaded Australia and Luxembourg that that it would be better to hold off, and pursue a diplomatic route by organising a group of influential countries to press the case. The governments of the U.S., Britain, China, France Russia, Kuwait ,Qatar, Australia and Luxembourg have all formally accepted the U.N.’s invitation to meet in Geneva on Tuesday. Diplomats from Saudi Arabia told their counterparts in Geneva Thursday that the delegation was awaiting a formal decision from the capital. Diplomats have provided conflicting accounts as to whether Iran has accepted the invitation. On Friday, Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations, was non-committal, but suggested Tehran looked favourably on Amos’s effort”.
It concludes, “Diplomats familiar with the talks said that France has insisted that Syria’s neighbor, Turkey, be allowed to participate in Tuesday’s talks, while Russia proposed that most of Syria’s neighbors, including Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, be invited. Israel has not been invited. ‘The group is getting bigger and bigger. What was supposed to be a small is now becoming a monster,’ said one diplomat, raising concern that Tuesday’s session would degenerate into an oversized gathering of diplomats delivering political speeches. It’s not clear, the official, said that this is ‘something workable.’ The diplomat said that while the plan to put the Security Council resolution is “on ice” the council could quickly press for the adoption of the Australia and Luxembourg resolution if the Geneva talks fail to yield progress. Saudi Arabia has also been circulated language for a Security Council resolution on humanitarian access. Amos is scheduled to brief the 15-nation Security Council the first week of December, the official noted. If she says the government is not cooperating, the ‘resolution will come back to the table very quickly.’”
“Francis named Mariano Crociata, formerly the secretary of the Italian bishops’ conference (CEI), as the new bishop of the diocese of Latina. It raised eyebrows in church circles because the last four secretaries of CEI were all named to major archdioceses that put them in line to become princes of the church and heavy-hitters of the first order — Cardinals Camillo Ruini, Dionigi Tettamanzi, Ennio Antonelli and Giuseppe Betori. (If you don’t know those names, you haven’t been paying attention.) Francis also has made it clear he’d like to change the statutes for CEI to allow the bishops to choose their own president and secretary rather than being the only conference in the world where those jobs are assigned directly by the pope. Taken together, these are moves away from careerism — with Crociata, Francis has signaled that serving as secretary of a bishops’ conference is no guarantee of a cardinal’s red hat — and toward greater collegiality”. He could have easily taken either Palermo or Bolonga, or had he been left in the job longer, Naples, the fact that none of these senarios worked out says much.
He notes “ it is much too early to declare victory. Indeed, the Iranian nuclear crisis might still very well end in President Obama making a fateful choice between Iran with the bomb or bombing Iran. The interim pact is a step in the right direction. It puts strict ceilings on all aspects of Iran’s program, including: centrifuge production, number and types of operating centrifuges, stockpiles of low- and medium-enriched uranium, numbers of enrichment facilities, and the start-up of the Arak reactor. In addition, these measures are to be verified by more intrusive inspections. In exchange, the United States offered relatively modest sanctions relief to the tune of roughly $7 billion. The deal will leave the most important aspects of the sanctions regime in place and, if Tehran honors its end of the bargain, prevent Iran from inching ever closer to a nuclear weapons breakout capability while negotiations continue. But we are not out of the woods yet”.
He goes on to write that “There remains a chasm between the two sides on fundamental issues, including Iran’s erroneous claim to a “right to enrich,” Tehran’s unwillingness to come clean on its past nuclear weaponization activities, whether Iran will be allowed to continue to enrich at the deeply buried Fordow facility (or to enrich at all), the final status of the Arak reactor, and many other matters. For the next six months, therefore, we will replay the tape we have been watching since President Rouhani assumed power in August. The Iranians and the P5+1 will attempt to negotiate an accord while a worldwide chorus chimes in on the contours of an acceptable deal and otherwise seeks to influence the outcome”.
He argues that there are three possibilities, “First, the two sides might successfully negotiate a comprehensive deal that succeeds in dismantling the Iranian nuclear threat. This would be the best possible outcome, but, given the outstanding differences mentioned above, it is also the least likely”.
He continues that “The second possibility is that the six-month interim deal expires without an accord and the two sides agree to extend the terms of the interim deal. Over time, therefore, there is the danger that the interim deal becomes permanent. (Also in this category would be the possibility that we reach a weak “comprehensive” pact that does not go much beyond the interim arrangement). This outcome should be avoided. As long as such an arrangement is strictly enforced, it would at least prevent Iran from making the final dash to a nuclear weapon, but it would leave far too much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place for comfort, amount to a de facto recognition of Iran’s right to enrich, and set a dangerous precedent for nonproliferation policy. Moreover, the tough sanctions regime now in place cannot hold forever, and over time the pressure on Iran to uphold its end of the bargain will dissipate. Finally, and at least as likely as the others, is the possibility that the interim deal begins to unravel after six months, or perhaps even before, and Iran resumes its steady march toward nuclear weapons. In this event, Congress must pass the tough sanctions bill it is currently marking up and the international community must prepare to take military action”.
He ends the piece “at least as likely as the others, is the possibility that the interim deal begins to unravel after six months, or perhaps even before, and Iran resumes its steady march toward nuclear weapons. In this event, Congress must pass the tough sanctions bill it is currently marking up and the international community must prepare to take military action”.
It has been reported that Harry Reid (D-NV) is considering more sanctions on Iran, “the Senate might pursue stronger sanctions against Iran, after lawmakers criticized a nuclear accord that would ease sanctions. Reid called the pact negotiated between six world powers and Iran an “important first step,” but expressed uncertainty whether it would be good enough”.
The piece goes on to note “Reid said Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) would study, and could hold hearings on, the pact. “If we need to do stronger sanctions, I’m sure we will do that,” he said. “We’ll move forward appropriately.” Reid acknowledged President Obama could veto stronger sanctions passed by Congress if he believed they ran counter to his foreign policy agenda”.
Either Reid is pulling a stunt, thereby endangering the talks, or he is knowingly wasting everyone’s time, including President Obama’s with his threat of more sanctions that could and should be vetoed if they are voted on.
“President Hamid Karzai triggered uncertainty about a vital security pact with the United States on Thursday by saying it should not be signed until after Afghanistan’s presidential election next April, prompting the White House to insist on a year-end deadline. Karzai’s surprise move, which came just a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the pact’s language had been agreed upon, suddenly threw its future into question and seemed certain to reignite tensions with Washington. The Afghan leader spoke to about 2,500 tribal elders and political leaders from across Afghanistan gathered in the capital for a Loya Jirga, or grand council, to debate whether to allow U.S. troops to stay after the planned 2014 drawdown of foreign forces. Without an accord on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), the United States says it could pull out all its troops at the end of 2014 and leave Afghan forces to fight the Taliban insurgency on their own. In a statement certain to irritate the United States, which is eager to clinch the deal as soon as possible, Karzai told the assembly any agreement on the status of U.S. forces would have to wait until after a presidential election in April”.
A short term deal was agreed. The terms of the deal state that Iran will, halt enrichment of uranium above 5% purity. (Uranium enriched to 3.5-5% can be used for nuclear power reactors, 20% for nuclear medicines and 90% for a nuclear bomb.), “Neutralise” its stockpile of near-20%-enriched uranium, either by diluting it to less than 5% or converting it to a form which cannot be further enriched, Not install any more centrifuges (the machines used to enrich uranium), leave half to three-quarters of centrifuges installed in Natanz and Fordo enrichment facilities inoperable, not build any more enrichment facilities, not increase its stockpile of 3.5% low-enriched uranium, halt work on the construction of its heavy-water reactor at Arak, not attempt to produce plutonium there and provide daily access to Natanz and Fordo sites to IAEA inspectors and access to other facilities, mines and mills. As part of the deal no further sanctions will be applied if Iran complies and there will also be relief from sanctions.
The deal with Iran was reached yesterday in Geneva. Reports mention that “historic nuclear deal Iran signed with the United States and five other world powers early Sunday morning represents the biggest gamble of President Barack Obama’s presidency, and the success or failure of that bet will have serious repercussions for the administration’s standing on Capitol Hill, Washington’s relationships with Israel and other Middle Eastern allies, and the national security of the United States itself. The deal painstakingly assembled during four days of marathon negotiations at a luxury hotel here calls for Iran to halt most of its uranium enrichment efforts, eliminate its stockpiles of uranium already purified to near weapons grade quality, open its facilities to daily monitoring by international inspectors and significantly slow the construction of the Arak plutonium reactor. Nuclear weapons can be assembled using either enriched uranium or plutonium, and the new pact is designed to make it difficult, if not impossible, for Iran to gain enough of either material for a bomb”.
The piece notes that “Iran would gain some relief from the punishing economic sanctions that had been leveled by Washington and its allies in recent years, freeing up roughly $6 billion. Tehran also won a commitment that the so-called P5+1 nations – the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain – wouldn’t impose any new sanctions for the next six months. That was an important win for the Iranians since the existing measures have cut its oil exports in half and driven the price of its currency down to a historic low”.
It goes on to add that “President Obama, speaking from the White House, said the deal “halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program” and “cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb.” He also stressed that the agreement was an interim measure designed to give negotiators from both sides six months to work towards a broader, permanent nuclear agreement. If a deal couldn’t be reached – or if the United States found evidence that Iran was trying to secretly continue work on its nuclear weapons program – Obama promised to restore the sanctions that had been lifted and impose harsh new ones. The White House moved quickly to try to preempt criticism that the deal gave Iran too much. A senior administration official in Washington said the primary U.S. sanctions against Iran’s oil and banking sectors would remain fully intact, which means that Iran would lose roughly $30 billion in oil revenue over the next six months, far more than it stands to gain as part of the agreement. “Iran will actually be worse off at the end of this six month deal than it is today,” the official said”.
However, he writes that there are three problems. The first is Congress involving itself needlessly, “the White House has to persuade skeptical lawmakers to hold off on imposing new sanctions on Iran during the next six months. That may be a hard sell given the number of lawmakers from both parties who want to increase the sanctions on Iran rather than softening or relieving any of the existing measures”.
The second issue is Israel, “the administration faces the tough task of convincing Israel that the deal does enough to constrain Iran’s nuclear program that Israel should give the administration more time to work out a permanent pact with Tehran rather than resorting to unilateral military strikes. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was harshly critical of earlier iterations of the nuclear deal and has promised to do whatever is necessary to protect his country”.
As has been mentioned here before Israel is the country that has cried wolf too many times and should be ignored. Lastly he writes that “The third and final unknown is what the deal will ultimately mean for American national security. The agreement imposes an unprecedented number of new restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and, if fully implemented, would make it extraordinarily difficult for Tehran to obtain a bomb. Still, the deal doesn’t require Iran to disassemble any of its roughly 19,000 centrifuges or to destroy all of its uranium enrichment equipment. Netanyahu and other critics argue that leaving the core infrastructure of Iran’s nuclear program intact means that Tehran could restart its weapons push anytime it wants, particularly if it senses that the West has lost its appetite for further sanctions or the potential use of military force”.
However evidence that a more long term deal will be difficult, though not impossible to accomplish is made clear when Dr Mohammad Javad Zarif flew to Iran ”from Geneva to a welcoming crowd, a reflection of the relief felt by many Iranians exhausted by isolation and sanctions that have been particularly punishing in the last two years. Zarif said in an interview broadcast on state television that Iran would move quickly to start implementing the agreement and it was ready to begin talks on a final accord. “In the coming weeks – by the end of the Christian year – we will begin the program for the first phase. At the same time, we are prepared to begin negotiations for a final resolution as of tomorrow,” Zarif said. Illustrating the delicate dance that looms, he and Kerry differed in their public descriptions of the part of the agreement regarding Iran’s right to enrich uranium. Sunday’s agreement said Iran and the major powers aimed to reach a final deal that would “involve a mutually defined enrichment program with mutually agreed parameters consistent with practical needs, with agreed limits on scope and level of enrichment activities.” Before heading to Geneva, Zarif had a crucial meeting with Khamenei in the presence of Rouhani, a senior member of the Iranian delegation said.
“Prices of crude have fluctuated this week with the prospects of success in Geneva, where the United States is negotiating with Iran and five other countries about suspending some of the sanctions on the Iranian economy in exchange for Tehran curbing parts of its nuclear program. The price of crude oil fell in the middle of the week, but recovered to over $95 per barrel by Friday. Though oil sanctions aren’t necessarily on the table in Geneva, an interim deal could raise hopes in the market that they’ll be lifted in the future, which could in turn send prices lower. Yet that view could be optimistic, Sternoff said. ‘Even under an interim deal, it’s not like we’re going to see a huge rush of Iranian oil back on the market.’ At it’s peak, Iran produced close to 4 million barrels of oil per day, but sanctions have reduced that close to 2.5 million barrels per day. Amy Myers Jaffe, who studies fuel markets at the University of California Davis, said any drop in prices if there’s a deal this weekend wouldn’t necessarily be about ‘how much extra oil is going to come out from Iran.’ Instead, ‘the real impact is in changing the market psychology and that’s just much harder to predict,’ said Jaffe, who is the Executive Director of Energy and Sustainability at the University of California at Davis’s business school. Changing that psychology would require not just a deal with the United States, Jaffe added, but improved relations with Saudi Arabia and Israel as well”.
An article has appeared on the relationship between the US administration and the authorities in Egypt. The piece notes that “John Kerry can’t seem to find enough ways these days to express his acceptance of Egypt’s military coup regime. In a visit to Cairo, he waved away the hard-fought suspension of some U.S. aid as “not a punishment” and declined to raise the issue of the trial of former President Mohamed Morsi. He seems keen to pretend that Egypt is on the road to democracy, and even appears to believe that the fiercely anti-democratic United Arab Emirates is going to support a democratic transition. Most recently, he endorsed the regime’s narrative by claimingthat the Muslim Brotherhood “stole” the revolution — by winning free and fair elections, which Washington strongly supported”.
Yet this reading is both simplistic and naive. It is simplistic in that it tends to downplay all that the regime in Egypt has done thus far by way of instituting order, to say nothing of the upcoming elections. Secondly it should be remembered just how bad Morsi was and that while not perfect the current regime is far better for US interests and Egypt as well. Therefore not raising the trail of Morsi is simple realism, America has more important things to be worrying about in Egypt that the trail of an incompentent dictator. He is fair in reminding the reader that the elections were broadly free and fair but he is grossly naive in dismissing the way the Brotherhood behaved while in power and dismissing the revolt against Morsi’s rule. While it could not said to be exactly democratic, no one would claim that, it equally would be naive to say that such an action was only supported by a small clique of military officials. This would be patently false.
He goes on to write that “Why is Kerry making such a production of supporting Egypt’s military regime? Most likely, President Barack Obama’s administration simply has much bigger regional issues with which to grapple, and has decided that it can accomplish little in a hopelessly fractured Egypt. It (correctly) calculates that there is little it can do to influence the course of events in Cairo due to the pervasive hostility to Washington across the Egyptian political spectrum and the willingness of Gulf states to offset any American attempts to exercise leverage. It may be galling to many Egypt watchers and Egyptians who consider Cairo the center of the Middle East universe, but right now events there are barely a sideshow for Washington. Cairo has made it quite clear that it has little interest in American advice, and Washington has far more important issues on its plate. Both Iran’s nuclear program and the horrific war in Syria continue to take priority over Egypt on America’s regional agenda. Closing a deal with Iran would arguably be the single most impressive and important geostrategic accomplishment in the Middle East since the Camp David Accords”.
He then writes that the “coup” really was a coup and nothing else. He argues that “everything that has happened since July 3, without exception, has confirmed the coupness of Egypt’s coup. Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s military regime has done everything by the book — rounding up and brutalising supporters of the old regime, cultivating a cult of personality around the coup leader, tightly controlling the media, stage-managing a constitutional process designed to protect the military’s power and privileges, and even promising an eventual return to democracy. The more obvious the nature of Egypt’s coup has become, the faster Washington has tried to run away from the legal and political implications of acknowledging it. Kerry may choose to suck it up and pretend to believe that Egypt’s future is looking up, but I think this administration understands the reality is that the coup broke the country’s politics for the foreseeable future. The State Department certainly has no illusions that Egypt’s military regime has any answers for the country’s staggering economy, shattered political consensus, or crumbling institutions”.
While all of what he says is true this does not mean that the way al-Sisi got into power was a coup. It would be like arguing that the way Morsi acted was democratic just because he was elected. This is the mantra that the Brotherhood carry on repeating, blind to the fact that they had their chance to govern for all of Egypt and lost it, spectactularly.
He does correctly argue that “The United States will likely deem this hyper-caffeinated neo-Mubarakism good enough to justify restoring more openly cordial ties with Cairo. But Egypt’s problems aren’t going away: The next president will have to face the same political, economic, and cultural challenges that eventually brought down both Mubarak and Morsy. Fanning the flames of hatred for the Muslim Brothers, building a personality cult around Sisi, and shoveling Gulf cash into a furnace all buy time — but have little lasting effect. Ultimately, instability and popular protest will return”.
“The foreign policy chief of the European Union spent much of Thursday in detailed negotiations with Iranian officials over an agreement to temporarily freeze Tehran’s nuclear program. But the day ended without reports of a breakthrough and with a warning by a leading American lawmaker that he was prepared to introduce legislation next month that would impose new economic sanctions on Iran. The talks on Thursday between Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign policy official, and Dr Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, were described by a spokesman for Ms. Ashton as “intense” and “substantial.” Their negotiations were to continue Friday morning. Reports in the Iranian news media suggested that the talks might continue into the weekend and could end with the arrival of Secretary of State John Kerry and the foreign ministers of other world powers if a deal appeared close. But whether the remaining issues can be resolved was unclear”.
David Kenner writes that the one group that might benefit from the deal between the P5 + 1 and Iran.
Kenner writes, “one surprising party has come out in favour of a diplomatic solution: America’s foe, the Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah. ‘If an understanding is reached between Iran and the West over the nuclear program, our side will be stronger locally, regionally, and internationally,’ said Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in a speech in Beirut’s southern suburbs last week on the occasion of Ashura, one of the most important holidays of the year for Shiites. ‘If things go for war, the other camp should be worried.’ There is limited but mounting evidence that a U.S.-Iranian agreement over Tehran’s nuclear program could help improve the two countries’ collaboration on other issues. Washington and Tehran, for example, will likely both participate in a U.N.-sponsored effort to improve the humanitarian situation in Syria. But if Hezbollah’s vocal support for a deal is any indication, one issue that will remain unresolved is the role of the militant group, which U.S. officials have condemned in years past as “the A Team of terrorists” – and more recently castigated for lending military support to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. In other words, the “Party of God” isn’t afraid that a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement would harm its close political and military ties to Tehran”.
Kenner goes on to add “It helps, of course, that the war in nearby Syria is increasingly tilting in the direction of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, a staunch ally of both Hezbollah and Iran. The Syrian military — aided by fighters from Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite militias — has recently seized territory back in the Aleppo and Damascus suburbs.”
He continues, “Hezbollah sees a chance to rebuild the ties between Hamas and the Assad regime, which were severed after senior Hamas officials left Damascus as the revolt gained pace in early 2012. Iran, which has maintained ties with Hamas even as it disapproved of its stance on Syria, is crucial to that effort – a fact that is unlikely to change with or without a nuclear deal. ‘[Hezbollah] is confident that they can re-strengthen the Axis of Resistance to the way it was before the Syrian revolt,’ Qassir said. Other observers see Hezbollah’s public support for a deal in Geneva as an extension of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s orders to Iran’s internal factions that they say nothing that could undermine the talks. Iranian diplomats ‘have a difficult mission and no one must weaken an official who is busy with work,’ Khamenei saidearlier this month. The negotiators, he added, ‘are children of the revolution.’”
He concludes, “Whatever Nasrallah’s reasons for supporting the talks, however, the Hezbollah chief did not neglect to use the moment to contrast what he described as America’s wavering support for its allies to the firm support of Hezbollah’s patrons. ‘We have two allies – Iran and Syria,’ he said. ‘We are sure of that alliance.’”
While any potential deal with Iran will affect Hezbollah, the deal should in no way be seen to legitimise Hezbollah or its activities. However, America, acting realistically knows that a deal with Iran is not going to be perfect but that it will gain far more by dealing with Iran and accepting that it will have to deal with Hezbollah later.
“Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Wednesday that the United States and Afghanistan had finalised the wording of a bilateral security agreement that would allow for a lasting American troop presence through 2024 and set the stage for billions of dollars of international assistance to keep flowing to the government in Kabul. The deal, which will now be presented for approval by an Afghan grand council of elders starting on Thursday, came after days of brinkmanship by Afghan officials and two direct calls from Mr. Kerry to President Hamid Karzai, including one on Wednesday before the announcement.Just the day before, a senior aide to Mr. Karzai had said the Afghan leader would not approve an agreement unless President Obama sent a letter acknowledging American military mistakes during the 12-year war. But on Wednesday, Mr. Kerry emphatically insisted that a deal was reached with no American apology forthcoming”.
An interesting article has appeared in Foreign Affairs discussing the internal weaknesses of al-Qaeda due to infighting and other tensions.
The piece opens “Like any sprawling organization, al Qaeda has seen its fair share of bureaucratic infighting. But the squabbling has reached fever pitch since Ayman al-Zawahiri began his tenure as head of the organization two years ago. Two of al Qaeda’s four main affiliates, al Shabaab and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), are bitterly, and sometimes violently, feuding for supremacy in North and West Africa. Another affiliate, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), has openly defied Zawahiri’s will in Syria. If Zawahiri wants to assign blame for the lack of order, he should look no further than himself: the squabbling is largely a result of his decision to expand al Qaeda too broadly. Paradoxically, one major reason that al Qaeda affiliates are not getting along is the great many opportunities before them. The turmoil in the Arab world has created security vacuums that Zawahiri has sought to exploit by calling on his local affiliates to set up shop. As they move in, they often disagree about who should be in charge”.
He gives the example of Syria, “On April 9, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir of the Islamic State of Iraq, a front group for AQI, declared that his group was changing its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS), indicating his desire to play a greater role in the Syrian civil war. (“Al Sham” refers to Syria and its surrounding area.) The emir also claimed that AQI had already been fighting in Syria in the form of the Nusra Front, which he said was subordinate to him. Yet Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, the Nusra Front’s leader, refused to acknowledge Baghdadi as his leader; instead he pledged a direct oath of allegiance to Zawahiri. In response to the spat, Zawahiri sent a private message ruling that both men had erred”.
He adds that the dispute did not end, instead, “Baghdadi, however, had other plans. In a public message to Zawahiri after receiving the memo, he rejected Zawahiri’s message on religious and methodological grounds, saying that he had “chosen the command of my Lord over the command in the letter that contradicts it.” In the 25-year history of al Qaeda, no affiliate had ever publicly disagreed with the boss so brazenly. The dispute between the Nusra Front and ISIS is not just about bureaucratic power; it is also about strategy and the future of al Qaeda’s global jihad. The Nusra Front, which wants to maintain its popular support among the Syrian people, has tried to make nice with the other opposition groups in the country. By contrast, ISIS has attacked fellow rebels — including the Nusra Front — and implemented draconian Islamic law in the towns that it has captured, both of which have alienated Syrians”.
Things were complicated when he goes on to write that “Zawahiri could be excused for failing to anticipate the organisational disputes that would arise from his call for jihad in the Arab countries undergoing violent transitions. But he should have known better than to publicly acknowledge al Qaeda’s merger with the badly run al Shabaab organisation in Somalia. When the merger was announced in early 2012, it looked good on paper, because al Shabaab controlled most of Somalia. It also stood out among al Qaeda affiliates for attracting Western fighters who could be sent on missions into Europe. But Zawahiri should have heeded the warnings of his predecessor, bin Laden. In 2010, bin Laden made clear that he thought it would be a mistake to publicly announce a merger with al Shabaab because its leaders were bad at governing and because they harshly implemented Islamic law in the territory they controlled, which did them no favours with the local Somali population. Bin Laden did not want to own the mistakes of his subordinates. Zawahiri urged his boss to reconsider — to no avail — and tried to blunt the advice that bin Laden received from other lieutenants who wanted to limit the size of al Qaeda, lest it get out of control. Zawahiri ultimately got his way: nine months after bin Laden’s death, al Qaeda publicly accepted a pledge of loyalty from Ahmed Abdi Godane, al Shabaab’s leader”.
He adds that the result of this merger between the two organisations was further infighting when al-Shabaab lost large sections of Somalia. He goes on to make the interesting point that “
“As the political scientist Jacob Shapiro observes in his new book, The Terrorist’s Dilemma, all terrorist groups suffer from infighting for one basic reason. If they want to achieve their goals and to avoid being captured or killed, leaders of secretive violent organisations have to give their commanders in the field some measure of autonomy. When the field commanders become too independent, the leadership attempts to rein them in through various bureaucratic measures.
Without a doubt, Zawahiri is trying to rein in his unruly affiliates. What is striking is that Zawahiri created much of the problem himself by trying to expand al Qaeda too broadly”. He mentions that where AQAP did not expand too quickly there is a lack of infighting.
He concludes the piece, “Zawahiri’s knack for creating factions and his unwillingness to part with them when they misbehave could help al Qaeda’s opponents blame the entire organization for the atrocities committed in its name. Over time, perhaps the bloody collage will dampen enthusiasm for joining al Qaeda and even horrify its members. But in the near term, Zawahiri’s poor management is not necessarily a boon to the United States and its allies. The various factions of a once-unified al Qaeda could compete with one another over which group can mount the biggest attack on the West. Whatever the case may be, Zawahiri’s inability to manage al Qaeda’s sprawling organisation offers a preview of the infighting to come after his inevitable death”.
“Pope Francis could be at risk from the ‘Ndrangheta organized crime organization, according to a leading anti-mob prosecutor who has himself been the target of threats from the mafia. Nicola Gratteri, 55, a state prosecutor in the southern Italian region of Calabria, where the ‘Ndrangheta is most active, said the pope’s effort to reform the church is making the ‘Ndrangheta “very nervous.” The organization is considered by experts in Italy to be the most dangerous, most unified and most difficult to penetrate mafia-type organization in the country”.
After the storm hit the Philippines many rushed to give money and aid to the stricken country. America sent an entire carrier battle group to produce fresh water and give medical aid. China however has missed not only an opportunity to enhance whatever little soft power it has in the region but at the same time calm the nerves of many of its Asian neighbours.
The piece opens, “international aid is flowing to the Philippines. The United Nations released$25 million from an emergency fund and the United States pledged$20 million in immediate relief. But, for the moment at least, precious little assistance is coming from the region’s behemoth. The Chinese authorities announceda paltry $100,000 in humanitarian aid (along with another $100,000 via the Red Cross Society of China). Beijing’s cold shoulder fits with a broader diplomatic isolation of Manila, which China has shepherded. In recent months, China’s foreign minister hasmet with all 10 counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) member-states — except the Philippines. A key point of friction has been the Philippines’ willingness to challenge Beijing’s maritime claims”.
He adds that “The most dangerous flashpoint came in the spring of 2012, when vessels from the Philippines and China engaged in a weeks-long standoffover waters near the Scarborough Shoal, a rocky formation little more than 100 miles from the Philippines’ Subic Bay, the once (and perhaps future) home of a U.S. Navy base. The incident began when Filipino sailors boarded a Chinese vessel fishing in what the Philippines considers its own maritime economic zone. After an unnerving naval escalation, the confrontation ended a few months later with China in effective control of the disputed waters. The incident revealed just how badly the Philippines is outmatched at sea. Partly in response, the Philippines wants to upgrade its military cooperation with the United States. “We stand ready to tap every resource, to call on every alliance to do what is necessary to defend what is ours,” Filipino Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario said in August. The government is also snapping up second-hand vessels to bolster its own fleet. But these moves won’t change the archipelago’s lack of wherewithal to challenge China’s claims. Beijingboasts an expanding and modernising naval fleet”.
Yet as he writes, raw power may not be enough to save China’s claims, “if on the high seas Manila is at a profound disadvantage, the courtroom may level the playing field. In the realm of international law, the power balance is often less tilted, and that is where the Philippines has turned. In January, the Philippines foreign minister informedChina’s ambassador that the country was filing suit against China. Beijing angrily rejected the claim and has vowed not to participate in the case, insisting on its “indisputable sovereignty” in the area. But the case is moving forward nonetheless, and every state with an interest in Asia’s troubled waters is watching closely. For all Beijing’s bluster, the Philippines stands a good chance of denting China’s maritime claims. The Chinese claims in the South China Sea are embodied in the now notorious “nine-dash line” that China first formally presented internationally in 2009. The gigantic U-shape marks what China views as its maritime entitlements in the area. It encompasses nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea”.
The bad news keeps on coming for China however when he notes that “Through its legal case, the Philippines aims to expose the gap between these venerable claims and the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which provides rules for what states can claim as territorial seas (which extend 12 miles from shore) and as “exclusive economic zones” (which normally extend 200 miles). China might simply insist that UNCLOS doesn’t apply, but for the inconvenient fact that China (unlike the United States) has ratifiedthe treaty. Even less convenient from Beijing’s perspective, joining UNCLOS committed China to an international arbitration process for disputes related to the agreement. With its January filing, the Philippines set that process in motion, and a group of experienced arbitrators has assembled to review the case. It’s no surprise the Philippines was the only aggrieved state willing to sue the Asian behemoth: it is by far the most assertive of the smaller countries with an interest in the South China Sea. In 2012 it pushed hard for a statement by ASEAN on the maritime disputes, leading to the group’s embarrassing failure to release a joint statement at the conclusion of that year’s summit — and plenty of hard feelings on all sides”.
The writer continues, “China’s political and economic weight accounts for the diplomatic reticence, but the complexity of the legal issues may also be discouraging states from rallying to Manila’s side. Chinese officials — and some independent maritime law scholars — argue that the international arbitrators have no jurisdiction. They point in particular to a set of restrictions on arbitration that China announced in 2006. These restrictions, which China is within its legal rights to assert, preclude arbitrations related to maritime “delimitation,” military activities, certain types of historical claims, and questions of sovereignty over territory. At first glance, those restrictions poke several holes in the Filipino case”.
Thankfully he goes on to say that “The government signed up a veteran litigator of maritime disputes to fashion the complaint and argue their case. Washington D.C.-based lawyer Paul Reichlerhas previously represented Nicaragua, Bangladesh, Mauritius, Guyana, and Croatia in disputes involving maritime issues. When I spoke to him recently, he walked me through Manila’s case and explained why none of China’s restrictions on jurisdiction should prevent the arbitrators from ruling on the case. He dealt first with the question of whether China’s alleged historical rights in the South China Sea will prevent the arbitrators from considering the case, insisting that the UNCLOS notion of “historic title” has a very narrow meaning. “States can’t claim historical title in the open ocean,” he says. “The concept applies only to waters very close to the coast that have historically been regarded as a State’s internal waters.” Reichler also maintains that the case is not about delimitation of maritime boundaries, which is excluded from arbitration, but about the distinct process of determining what China’s and the Philippines’ entitlements in the South China Sea are under UNCLOS”.
The article ends, “There are practical reasons the arbitrators might seek to avoid ruling on the dispute. China’s refusal to participate sends an important signal about its intentions, and the arbitrators might balk at putting Beijing on a collision course with UNCLOS. But if the panel does rule in favour of the Philippines, the dispute will change. The nine-dash line won’t merely be exorbitant — it will be legally dubious. Beijing might shift tack and adopt a more conciliatory approach. Indeed, the arbitration process is slow, and there’s plenty of time left for diplomacy. But China’s cold response to the tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan doesn’t provide much ground for optimism”.
“The euro zone is looking healthier than it has in some time, but that is not saying much. The long-suffering economy pulled out of recession earlier this year, unemployment is levelling off, and crisis worries continue to ebb along with government borrowing costs. Yet growth may struggle to top 1% next year, which in turn is generating fear of deflation. European firms and households remain stuck under piles of debt. Earlier this month, amid signs of new economic weakness, the European Central Bank (ECB) cut its benchmark interest rate to 0.25%. From late 2009 to mid-2012 the euro weakened as Europe’s debt crisis deepened. But since July of last year the euro has been on a tear, and it is now back to 2007 levels. After half a decade of financial gyrations, investors seem as eager to hold euros as ever. If the European economy is still shaky, why is the euro so strong?
In a sign of growing anger over GOP tactics at holding up not only administration appointments but judical nominees, reports mention that “Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced Tuesday that he is considering changing Senate rules to prevent Republicans from filibustering President Obama’s judicial nominees. “I’m at the point where we need to do something to allow government to function,” Reid said when asked if he would consider using the nuclear option, a controversial procedural tactic for changing Senate rules. The proposed rules change would not affect Supreme Court nominees, said Democratic sources. The tactic would allow Democrats to change the Senate’s rules with a simple-majority vote”.
The article goes on to add that “Reid said he will insist that Republicans allow up-or-down votes on all three of Obama’s nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals: Patricia Millet, an appellate litigator; Cornelia Pillard, a professor at Georgetown Law School; and Robert Wilkins, a district court judge for the District of Columbia. On Monday, Reid fell six votes short of ending debate on Wilkins’s nomination. He was the third nominee to the court blocked by a filibuster in recent weeks. He vigorously defended all three nominees’ qualifications; “Look at their educational background, look at their experience in the law, look at their moral integrity,” he said. “Why should we agree to something less than the law of the country?” There are three vacancies currently on the 11-seat D.C. Circuit Court, which is considered the nation’s second most powerful court because of its broad jurisdiction over regulatory matters, including the Affordable Care Act. Its eight judges are divided evenly between Republican and Democratic appointees. Democrats argue, however, the court has a conservative tilt because five of its six semi-retired senior judges, who handle overflow work, are GOP appointees”.
The danger is that, if it has not already occured, is that the law will be seen to be openly partisan, favouring one party/ideology over another. This can not only lead to a mistaken sense of justice or injustice, depending on the judgement but it can have grave implications for the rest of society as a whole. The whole legal framework itself would come into question by the people.
It goes on to mention that “Advocacy groups supporting filibuster reform said earlier that they did not expect Reid to attempt a vote before the end of the year. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) acknowledged Tuesday that Reid could change the rules with a simple majority vote. But he characterised the controversial tactic as flying in the face of Senate comity. “We know full well the majority could decide to break the rules to change the rules if they so chose,” he said. McConnell argued that Republicans are well within their right to reject Obama’s picks to the D.C. Circuit Court because the court’s workload is too light to warrant additional judges. Senate Democrats and Republicans find themselves in reversed roles, compared to eight years ago, when then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) threatened to go nuclear over President George W. Bush’s stalled judicial nominees. Democrats warned that changing the Senate’s practices through a ruling of the chair sustained by a simple majority vote would destroy the institution”.
In some ways this is the worst possible solution to the current problems in Congress as it will only further entrench the problems of hyper-partisanship where both should work together. However, at the same time there is little else Reid can do but accept the situation that is before him and alter the system accordingly.
“Militia fighters blamed for the worst unrest in Tripoli since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi pulled out of the capital on Monday with Libyan army units taking up positions around the city. More than 40 people were killed in street battles between rival militias in Tripoli last week, highlighting Libya’s struggle to curb fighters and hardline Islamists who refuse to disarm two years after ousting Gaddafi. The latest bloodshed has increased popular anger against militias in Tripoli, where rival groups have often clashed violently over territory or in personal feuds. The withdrawal of one powerful set of fighters, though, may leave Libya’s fragile government to face more competition among the militia groups that remain in the city. Western powers, worried about anarchy in a major oil producer and further insecurity in the region, are promising more expertise to build up Libya’s army”.
He writes that “The West is not in decline, at least not in its entirety. Rather, the financial crisis has created a two-speed West. Four large countries — Germany, South Korea, Turkey, and the United States — are actually increasing their international influence, while the others are stuck in a rut. Ironically, America’s obituary as a great power has repeatedly been written over the past three years even as it has grown stronger on multiple fronts. U.S. influence in Asia has risen at a rapid clip since 2008, driven largely by regional anxiety about Chinese assertiveness. The United States deepened its traditional alliances with Australia, Japan, and South Korea. It developed strategic partnerships, including with the Philippines, Vietnam, and others in ways that were previously unthinkable. Paradoxically, Chinese economic growth has weakened its own geopolitical position and benefited the United States. Such are the ways of world politics”.
He goes on to argue that “The United States is rising in other areas too. On national security, the U.S. position is also stronger than it has been in many years. The U.S. military and intelligence services have shown impressive dynamism in bringing al Qaeda to the brink of total defeat, something many analysts believed unlikely only a few years ago. The Pentagon has been at the forefront of the drone and robotics revolution, which may give it an edge in 21st-century conflicts. Meanwhile, U.S. diplomats have developed innovative new means of international cooperation, notably with the Nuclear Security Summit and the Open Government Partnership. America’s greatest vulnerability remains its weak economy. Significant challenges lie ahead, but it is worth noting that the United States has significantly outperformed the eurozone and has better prospects for growth than most other Western states. It remains a hub of innovation: Just consider the rise of social media and the technology-driven exploration for shale gas. Over the long term, the fiscal challenges confronting the United States must be weighed against the very real — and very underestimated — internal strains on the Chinese and Indian economies”.
He turns to Germany, “Germany stands apart as a rising power amidst a weakened Europe. Its unemployment rate is at a post-Cold War low and its timely market reforms have allowed it to export its way out of the recession. The euro crisis is Germany’s greatest challenge but, ironically, it has also made Germany the continent’s preeminent diplomatic and geoeconomic power: For better or worse, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has won argument after argument about the future direction of the EU, often despite deep reservations from other member states. Francois Hollande’s election in France will complicate but not erode Merkel’s position”. Yet while all this may be true, Germany faces severe problems as well as a vast banking debt that will not only hobble growth but cause huge problems in the context of the euro zone and resolving the long term problems for what remains a half currency.
The piece then turns to South Korea, “South Korea’s strong economic performance since the financial crisis led some analysts to argue it should be added to the BRICs, but as one of America’s oldest and most reliable allies, it belongs in the West’s column. It has become a powerhouse of high-end manufacturing and is on course to become richer than Japan in per capita terms within the next five years. Internationally, South Korea responded robustly and responsibly to North Korea’s aggression by strengthening the alliance with the United States and embarking upon controversial defense cooperation with its old enemy, Japan. It has also taken an active role in upholding the international order, hosting the G-20 summit in 2010 and the nuclear security summit in March “.
The writers conclude the piece “The rising West is a force to be reckoned with. It is no coincidence that U.S. President Barack Obama has been closer to the leaders of his fellow rising Western states than to the leaders of the rest; he named South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and Erdogan as two of his closest international allies. (He appears not to be as close personally to Merkel but Germany’s centrality in the euro crisis means he is in constant contact with her.) So don’t write off the West yet. The rising powers in the developed world will not always agree, but when they do they will be hard to resist. And they will be important interlocutors for the BRICS as they engage the Western order. Unfortunately, Friday’s G-8 summit is unlikely to harness their power — Turkey and South Korea’s leaders are at home”.
“Egypt declared an end to its state of emergency Tuesday, nearly three months after it was imposed in the midst of nationwide protests that followed the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. The government announcement came after an Egyptian court ruled that the emergency decree issued Aug. 14 had expired. The government had previously announced that it would end two days later, on Thursday. The state of emergency was declared in the midst of a violent crackdown on two protest camps that were demanding Morsi’s reinstatement as president. Hundreds died and thousands more were injured as the military-backed government routed the protests”.
He adds that “The aim is to break reliance on state-driven investment in heavy industry and shift towards a modern consumer society, with a bigger role for private companies that are much more agile and creative. President Xi vowed that China would make the leap to a new model in time to avert the sort of ‘middle income trap’ that has ensnared countless states over the past half century that clung too long to an exhausted structure”.
He mentions that research has said that future growth relies on “free-thinking society, and an end to top-down rule. It remains far from clear whether Xi Jinping will take that risk. The clampdown on the internet has become more intense since he took charge. Xu Yaotong, from Beijing’s academy of political science, said President Xi’s crackdown has been a tactical move to ensure stability and secure the support of Politburo hard-liners for his free-market drive”.
“This week, the Internet lit up with an annotated video, above, of what appears to be China’s latest (or at least most recently unveiled) drone design. The body resembles the United States’ Global Hawk, although perhaps a bit smaller. Its standout external features, though, are its joined wings — a sort of diamond shape formed by forward-swept wings mounted in the rear and backward-swept wings mounted in the front. This concept offers some advantages over a traditional wing, including less drag, increased strength and the potential for greater maneuverability. These advantages, however, are often minimal and may be offset by the cost and difficulty of manufacturing this type of wing. A notation in the video suggests that the large bulge on top of the drone’s back houses satellite uplink equipment, while a synthetic aperture radar is mounted below. The aircraft’s size implies that it is designed for long-range, “high endurance” missions that involve staying in a target area for many hours”.
An article in the Economist writes that Russia is facing hard times with its economy.
It begins noting Russia’s recent history of stagnation, and adds, “with year-on-year GDP growth at just 1.2% last quarter and growth in investment and industrial production nearing zero, stagnation seems to be the most apt description of the Russian economy. Speaking at an investment forum last month, Alexei Ulyukayev, the economic-development minister, paraphrased an old joke: “Practically, there is no economic development,” he said, “but the economic-development minister is here in front of you!” Throughout the 2000s, the Kremlin funnelled profits from oil and gas into the rest of the economy, largely through state-led investment projects and increases in wages and pensions. Consumption soared. Spare industrial capacity left over from the Soviet era meant that firms did not have to invest to produce more. They could simply unlock capacity that had been sitting unused”.
The piece warns however that this “model is now outdated. According to the World Bank, the Russian economy “could be running very close to its maximum capacity”. Manufacturing is slowing and private consumption is also starting to cool, despite higher levels of household credit, unemployment of only around 5% and wage growth. High prices for hydrocarbons will not solve this, because the economy has now “adapted” to expensive oil, says Natalia Akindinova of the Higher School of Economics. Future growth will require investment in new technology as well as gains in efficiency and labour productivity”.
“The former prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy has told a traditionalist group that Pope Francis has no intention of restricting access to the Extraordinary Form of the Latin liturgy. “I met Pope Francis very recently and he told me that he has no problem with the old rite, and neither does he have any problem with lay groups and associations like yours that promote it,” Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos told members of Una Voce International (FIUV), who were in Rome for a general assembly”.