Archive for June, 2011

“Bin Laden’s killing was an exception that proved this rule”

29/06/2011

Lynch on bin Laden – he gets it right, again.

Dream ticket?

29/06/2011

People are, unsurprisingly, not happy with the current batch of Republican candidates for the presidential nomination next year. President Obama the UK Economist says is beatable but only if they nominate the right man.

Simply put, Obama “has a huge war-chest, his own party firmly behind him and a rare capacity to inspire. Yet he is vulnerable”. The economy of course is the weak link. This election is perhaps more crucial than most as the choices that the next president will face will decide the future direction of the US for the next decade, perhaps two. As a result “the best thing for America—is to force voters to confront the hard choices their country has to make. ”

 The article mentions two senarios; firstly with his approval ratings above Bill Clinton’s when he won re-election in 1996 against a similarly unsuprising GOP field, Obama has a good chance of winning a second term. However equally important to bear in mind is that fact that  George H W Bush “was coasting towards re-election; by November 1992 the president was toast—and the main reason was a sluggish economy. This recovery, in the wake of the worst financial shock since 1929, is even slower. Growth in the first quarter was a feeble 1.8%. The unemployment rate actually rose, to 9.1%, in May”.

Obama will have to dodge arguments from both his left base and the centrists, “What happened to his promises to do something about the environment or immigration or Guantánamo? Why should any businessman support a chief executive who has let his friends in the labour movement run amok and who let his health-care bill be written by Democrats in Congress?”

The GOP on the otherhand if they want to get elected have to answer serious two policy questions, “how to get more people back to work, and how to fix the deficit.” In stinging and largely deserved criticism “When it comes to encouraging jobs, the Republican failure is largely one of inventiveness. They focus merely on tax cuts and slashing red tape”. Not only that but the article makes the point, long made before but no less relevant now that the GOP “seems to understand the difference between good spending and bad. Investment in roads and education, for instance, ought not to be lumped in with costly and unreformed entitlements, like Social Security and Medicare”.

One such commentator who thinks that he’s found his dream ticket is Juan Williams. He notes that as many as 45% think that the GOP doesn’t have the right candidates.  As an interesting point of comparison “the current split is a long way from the same point in 2008 when 72 percent of Republicans said they were pleased with candidates running for the nomination”.  He notes that the field is basically set with Jon Hunstman due to enter imminently. He says the none of the current candidates will beat Obama.

 Yet, he argues that former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, “and [Senator Rob] Portman would be a great bet to carry the 47 electoral votes from Florida and Ohio, so creating a huge problem for Obama’s effort to win the 270 electoral votes it takes to claim the presidency”. On the supposedly controversial Bush family name he argues that “any backlash against the idea of a third President Bush is not going to be big enough to turn any red state into a blue state. On the other hand, Bush’s brand name, intellect and stable personality could win back some key states for the GOP such as Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana”. He also notes Governor Bush’s ability to bring in Hispanics with genuine, and much needed border reform. 

Finally, as has been mentioned here before, “Portman, the former U.S. Trade Representative and President George W. Bush’s budget director can seriously campaign as Mr. Fix-It for the economy”. If they were to team up it would give the Obama campaign serious headaches as well as starting a proper national debate between two distinct ideologies, with agonism guaranteed.

Openly agressive

27/06/2011

In an openly aggressive posture, China sent a “civilian maritime patrol ships into the South China Sea to protect its ‘rights and sovereignty,'”.  

It seems that the vessel “will head for Singapore, passing near the Paracel and Spratly island groups at the heart of disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines and other governments. Chinese news reports were plain about the intent of the trip and the news drew concern from the Philippines.” It would appear the one nation that is raising tensions the most is China itself. The vessel once it reaches its destination intends to “monitor shipping, carry out surveying, inspect oil wells and ‘protect maritime security,'”.

The highly antagonistic move comes just “weeks of trading accusations with Vietnam and the Philippines over what each government sees as intrusions and illegitimate claims over territorial waters by the other in a stretch of ocean spanned by key shipping lanes”.

This aggression has been commented on by Sen James Inhofe (R-OK). Senator Inhofe notes that China essentially claims the entire South China Sea as it’s own, a claim widely disputed by neighbouring nations. He argues that China has “threatened the other countries (nine in all) of the region who have overlapping claims to the 1.35 million square miles of water.”

Saying that multilateral agreement between China and its neighbours have failed, that “China needs to receive a clear message that their continued harassment will no longer be tolerated.” Senator Inhofe notes the increasing number of Chinese acts of agression and says that “the freedom of navigation as well as the national security interests of the United States and its allies in the region,” is under threat and dialouge must return.

Not only are the Chinese being agressive regarding military matters they also ignore the Catholic Church and its world recognised role of appointing bishops. It was reported that “next ordination of a bishop not endorsed by Rome could come within a week” by the state endorsed Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association behind the move. This agresssion comes after relations had been improving before the current and long running crisis.   

All we can do now is wait and see.

Politics before security

26/06/2011

President Obama pulls 33,000 troops out of Afghanistan by next year, with the UK following Obama’s lead.

Polite agonism?

26/06/2011

Jon Huntsman has finally begun his presidential campaign for the Republican party nomination at the same time as fundraising staff leaves the Gingrich campaign.  

Huntsman, launching his campagin, “speaking with the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline as his backdrop in an effort to evoke Ronald Reagan, who held a campaign event from the same spot a generation ago, Huntsman said he would bring to the presidency a focus on substance and not on politics”. Whether this is true or not, it is refeshing to even hear it, when many demanding the GOP have no dealings with the Dems while at the same time maintaining the Congressional system that forces the two parties to work together. Huntsman added that “his campaign against the president for whom he’d served as ambassador would boil down to policy, not attacks on patriotism”, this is however his only real choice after taking an administration job he can’t turn around a attack President Obama who offered him a job which he accepted. This of course does not mean that there are not substantive ideological difference between Obama and Hunstman but these can’t be aired in an agonistic way without causing deliberate offence.  

His opening speech of his campaign rightly “focused primarily on the nation’s fiscal challenges, and he called for overhauls to entitlement programs and the tax code.” Huntsman does however have huge challenges with “a Gallup poll last month found only 1 percent of Republican primary voters would choose him”.

On a related point, Huntsman has refused to sign pledges “meant for candidates having to do with taxes and abortion rights”. This will cost Huntsman the Tea Party vote but that doesn’t lose him much sleep. Yet it does position him as a serious credible candidate in the GOP field with Mitt Romney as his main (perhaps only) real rival.

Huntsman will, if he continues on this track, bring reasoned debate to a crucial election with tough choices for whoever wins. Others think he’s setting himself up for a 2016 run and praise his “ambition and disicpline”.

The usual muddle

24/06/2011

For the Church of England over gay bishops.

Legacy of Gates

24/06/2011

In an article looking back on the outgoing DefSec, Bob Gates’ tenure, the authors are needlessly cirtical on what is undoubtedly one of that hardest jobs in Washington.

They describe Gates as a “competent executor and skilled promoter of bad policies: the continuation of the Iraq war, the expansion of the one in Afghanistan, the deification of counterinsurgency warfare, and the continued growth of the Pentagon’s bloated budget in service of an excess of global commitments”.

It is time once and for all these “arguments” were put to rest. Regarding Iraq, there was little President Obama could do except stay in the country until the troops could be drawn down responsibly. Secondly, the surge in Iraq was proven to work and using the same logic, Obama would have been foolish not to do the same in Afghanistan, it would have been interesting to see however want would have happened had he surged by 40,000 rather than 30,000 troops. To keep people like the authors (and much of the American electorate) happy the drawn down in that conflict will controversially begin this year.

Taking his last two points,  Gates has done more than most, perhaps all, before him to cut the fat from DoD and make it ready for fighting the conflicts that we will face in this century. Lastly, Dr Gates realises the vital role America plays in the world today. While there are many free riders who use American military power to trim their own defence budgets, without the risk of security implications, this is not always the case, most notably, and recently, in Liyba. The UK and France pushed hard to get the UN resolution passed and implimented it themselves, with minor US support.

They authors go on to say how Gates did little to bring disicpline to the Pentagon yet just after this, they note how Gates “fired the military and civilian chiefs of the Air Force in 2008 partly because they resisted his decisions about the F-22 and how to run the Predator drone program, and he subsequently put a non-fighter pilot in charge of the service for the first time in 25 years, reminding officers of their chain of command”.

They do grudingly admit that Gates did good work getting the Armed Forces to adapt to counter insurgancy. They say that “He did lean on the services to heighten their dedication to irregular warfare”. They then go on to claim that Dr Gates is a realist “only in comparison to the neocons”. We should all know how dangerous it is to use that phrase.

While Gates certainly had his flaws he served at a time of huge stress and difficulty and everyone should be thankful that it wasn’t you or me.

Panetta confirmed

23/06/2011

Leon Panetta unanimously confirmed as new DefSec and consequences for Af-Pak

Time to stick the knife in

23/06/2011

A blog post at Open Europe, picked up something the UK Guardian went with but was seemingly ignored by nearly all other print media in the UK.

The unelected House of Lords have stifled the will of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition by blocking a major piece of legislation that would mean that any further powers the EU requires would trigger a referendum by the notoriously eurosceptic British.

Open Europe report that the Government “suffered its third and fourth defeats on the Bill in a week, with peers voting by 242 to 209, to modify the Bill’s ‘sovereignty clause’ and by 209 to 203 to introduce a ‘sunset clause’, which would see the entire Bill lapse at the end of this Parliament”. Not only that but the House of Lords recently voted “to restrict the issues on which referendums should be held to only three: joining the euro, the creation of a “single, integrated military force”, and changes to border control”.

This wilfully ignores the ongoing euro crisis and the long drawn out collapse of the euro, and perhaps even the EU itself. Either way the best thing the British Government can do now is stick the knife in and get this bill passed and bring about the collapse of this pathetic little enterprise.

How not to set up a currency

21/06/2011

With Greek default just around the corner, an piece in the Economist examines where it all began with the seeds of its destruction in the currency’s very DNA.

Speaking on when the euro was established “it was no surprise that the debt crisis started in Greece, which failed to join the euro area when it was set up in 1999 because it did not meet the economic or fiscal criteria for membership”. So right from the beginning the rules were relaxed for political expediency. The article notes that “if it [the euro] founders, this would be an extraordinary setback for the larger cause of European integration”. With a radical rethink demanded simply be circumstances of a Greek default.

It argues, correctly, that from the outset even the ECB was riddled with both politics and compromise. It “emerged from an old-fashioned Franco-German deal. The French wanted to fetter German power—in particular the dominance of the German central bank in European monetary policy” in addition to the fact that the Germans thought that “believed the ECB could be their Bundesbank writ large. Along with these political objectives, the single currency was expected to produce economic gains by eliminating the nuisance and cost of having to change money within Europe”. However, thinking that a whole continent of half a billion people can be run in the same manner as Germany with only a “nuisance” being avoided is not much of an argument for starting a currency.

Of course, the next logical step after the common market would be a common currency but just because something is logical does not necessarily mean that it should be followed through. However, a “stand-alone monetary union without the usual fiscal and political foundations was conceived at the momentous Maastricht summit in December 1991. The treaty set ‘convergence’ criteria, such as low enough inflation and long-term interest rates, to check whether countries were economically fit enough to join the single currency. These also included fiscal criteria, notably ceilings for budget deficits of 3% of GDP and for public debt of 60%.” Of course, when Germany couldn’t even keep this part of the deal itself yet not incur the relevant penalties people should have smelled a rat, if they hadn’t already. Even setting Germany aside, it notes that “Belgium and Italy were allowed to join the euro at the outset, even though their debt exceeded not 60% but 100% of GDP—because that debt was falling”.

Even Dr Merkel is coming in for, richly deserved, criticism, as a result of “the failure of Germany’s political class to discuss their country’s evolving role in a changing EU”. Apparently, “more than 50 per cent of Germans have little to no faith in the EU, according to a January poll by the Allensbach institute, while more than 70 per cent do not see Europe as the future of Germany”.

What is happening now however is the whole EU itself is in danger of unravelling. With a whole generation of politicians who grew up after the Second World War retiring and with them their commitment, however misguided, to the EU. It could be argued that the new generation of people who are taking their place are not as blinded by the ludicous fear of another Europe wide war and thus to the very cause of EU integration itself.

Blame the feminists

20/06/2011

A not unreasonable article with flawless logic, even worse they’ve been blamed for keeping the poor poor.

“China cannot rise peacefully”

20/06/2011

In an paper written some time ago, world renowned realist thinker, Dr John Mearsheimer sets out China’s agressive rise and the threat it poses to the United States and by extension world order itself.

Dr Mearsheimer says that those who believe the re-emergence of China on the world stage will be peaceful naively believe “that it will not use force to change the balance of power”. He states that states “cannot know with a high degree of certainty whether they are dealing with a revisionist state or a status quo power”.

He goes on to argue that “Beijing can signal that it is a status quo power by denying itself the capability to use force to alter the balance of power. After all, a country that has hardly any offensive capability cannot be a revisionist state, because it does not have the means to act aggressively”. Yet evidence for this is slim, as has been seen both in hard power with the aircraft carrier as well as the cyber attacks that originated in the PRC. He makes the point that “as the Chinese navy grows in size and capability, none of China’s neighbors, including Australia, will consider it to be defensively oriented”.

He questions those that say China’s behaviour to its neighbour’s has so far been good and that this is a guide to how China will treat it’s neighbour’s in the future. Mearsheimer argues simply that “past behavior is usually not a reliable indicator of future”.

He then discusses the role of America and says that the US does not want a great power rival that will challenge its power. On the US Armed Forces he notes that “China cannot help but see that the United States has formidable military forces in its neighborhood that are designed in good part for offensive purposes behavior”.

He does mention the other possibility. That China simply seeks regional hegemonic power. The result of this he says would be a “much more powerful China [which] can also be expected to try to push the United States out of the Asia-Pacific region”. It would not be hard to imagine that US interests might be threatened by this, though US reaction to this is impossible to predict at this stage. He says that “Beijing should want a militarily weak Japan and Russia as its neighbors, just as the United States prefers a militarily weak Canada and Mexico on its borders”. Want he doesn’t mention however is India, which is itself “rising” and becoming increasingly uneasy about China’s power pojection capabilities.

Finally, he strikes a chilling, but necessary tone, when he notes “the United States can be expected to go to great lengths to contain China and ultimately weaken it to the point where it is no longer a threat to rule the roost in Asia”.

GOP acting immorally, again

17/06/2011

And people wonder why the GOP has problems, “the same Republicans who vote for tax cuts for the rich have tried to choke off long- term unemployment benefits and deny aid to tornado victims”.

Parting words

14/06/2011

Robert Gates in his last speech to NATO before he retires from DoD on 30 June was a justly warranted rebuke to the members that, yet again they are not doing enough.

Dr Gates prefaced his speech noting that the views he expresses are “in the spirit of solidarity and friendship, with the understanding that true friends occasionally must speak bluntly with one another for the sake of those greater interests and values that bind us together”.

He goes on to examine how after NATO took over formal operational control in Afghanistan, he criticises the “inability of many allies to meet agreed upon commitments and, in some cases, wildly disparate contributions from different member states.” He does soften these words slightly with some praise yet in a pointed statement to those listening and thinking of prematurely withdrawing their troops he said the “vast majority of the surge forces that arrived over the past two years will remain through the summer fighting season.  We will also reassign many troops from areas transferred to Afghan control into less-secure provinces and districts”. Dr Gates mentioned how little the non US allies have done in Afghanistan. Turning to the conflict in Libya he bluntly says that “many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t.  The military capabilities simply aren’t there”.

Crucially he says, “In the past, I’ve worried openly about NATO turning into a two-tiered alliance: Between members who specialize in ’soft’ humanitarian, development, peacekeeping and talking tasks, and those conducting the ‘hard’ combat missions. Between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership – be they security guarantees or headquarters billets – but don’t want to share the risks and the costs. This is no longer a hypothetical worry. We are there today. And it is unacceptable. The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress – and in the American body politic writ large – to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense. Nations apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets. Indeed, if current trends in the decline of European defense capabilities are not halted and reversed, future U.S. political leaders – those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me – may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost”

Gates again says that just five of the 28 NATO members (U.S., U.K., France, Greece and Albania) spend the required 2% of GDP on defence. It is painfully clear that the conclusion that must be drawn is the NATO is unwieldy with too many members not willing to contribute.

To make clear the scale of the problem the U.S. only spends 5% of GDP on defence, but even the much feted BRICS only spend between 1.6% and 4%, with the NATO average of 1.7%. This means that as America tries to reduce its vast deficit, Europe will somehow have to pick up the slack against a China that poses a threat both to its own people and others in the region. Doing this however at a time when most countries face a mountain of debt will be politically disastrous.

To ignore Dr Gates’ words will save NATO members money now but cost them dearly in the long term.

Goodbye Gingrich 2012

12/06/2011

Gingrich campaign collapses just as it starts.

Not worth the paper it’s written on

09/06/2011

A report on the causes of abuse by the US Catholic Church has been published. The document rightly states that there is no single cause for the abuse crisis that has destroyed the power of the Church in much of the United States and Europe, being especially bad in Ireland.

Controversially the report argues that abuse was part of a “Social and cultural changes in the 1960s and 1970s manifested in increased levels of deviant behavior in the general society and also among priests of the Catholic Church in the United States”. The report states that “Organizational, psychological, and situational factors contributed to the vulnerability of individual priests in this period of normative change” and to support this the authors write that there was a “sharp decline” from 1985 on.

It states that “priests who engaged in abuse of minors were not found, on the basis of their developmental histories or their psychological characteristics, to be statistically distinguishable from other priests who did not have allegations of sexual abuse against minors”, leading to questions about seminary formation that the report simply does not address.

The report then reaffirms its belief that the “increase in abusive behavior is consistent with the rise in other types of “deviant” behavior, such as drug use and crime, as well as changes in social behavior, such as an increase in premarital sexual behavior and divorce”.

This so called “blame the hippies” defence has itself been examined by the Washington Post which makes the vaild point that “While it is true that sex among hippies was freer and more pervasive than among their young counterparts of the 1960s establishment, equally true is that it was not so much about reckless abandon and hedonism for its own sake, but rather about liberation from what was seen as dogmatic and repressive restrictions placed on perfectly natural functions”.

The article notes how “the same year in which Dr. [Alfred] Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Female was published, Hugh Hefner released the very first issue of Playboy magazine. Twelve years later, by 1965, when the hippie experience actually came into existence, the monthly circulation of Playboy was around three million copies”. It crucially states “culture of burgeoning sexuality and pornography was one into which most hippies were born, not one they created”.

It is a pathetic excuse when instead of facing up to the sins they committed they look to a obsucure fact that was going on. Even if one does accept that the culture has a part, they dismiss seminary formation, role of the bishops in the moving of priests to different parishes and clerical celibacy as well as a slew of other factors.

Clarity at last

07/06/2011

Clear, rational reasons as to why Palin won’t run in 2012. While Santorum announces he will.

Diplomatic or foolish

05/06/2011

It has been reported that outgoing Defence Secretary, Dr Robert Gates said recently that the United States is “not trying to hold China down”.

It seems that the comments come in advance of Gates’ meeting “with his Chinese counterpart, Liang Guanglie, on Friday, ahead of the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security meeting in Singapore. The two men are expected to discuss how to advance a strategic dialogue on security issues, including cyber warfare and nuclear weapons, as well as efforts to rebuild military-to-military ties”.

Either this is for Chinese consumption and is diplomatic or else the US DoD is still unsure what to do with China, especially after the accusation of the “evil intentioned” attack on the Gmail email network. Interestingly however, Dr Gates is “expected to deliver a speech at the security forum emphasizing that the U.S. intends to keep a robust presence in Asia, even in a time of growing fiscal austerity”. Not only that but the public weak spot in US-China relations, Taiwan ,is set to strain  “recent improvements in military cooperation [which] would likely be rolled back should the U.S. sell a new package of arms to Taiwan. The Chinese have repeatedly cut back on military cooperation after the U.S. has sold arms to Taipei. And there are growing calls in Congress for the U.S. to sell Taiwan updated F-16 fighter planes”.

Tellingly however, “there is little sign the two sides have made any progress on the Taiwan issue”.

Another one declares

05/06/2011

Daniels decides he’s not in. Is anyone running?

Tired of waiting

03/06/2011

In an excellent piece written recently the euro crisis is discussed in the context of Greece. In a very apt description of the eurozone crisis he states that it has “entered a seeming state of permanent crisis.” How very fitting for a group of sovereign nations with many similarities but unable to commit to re-entering the anarchic world while at the same time unwilling to commit to their radical integrationist ideology and the Kantian paradise that is its logical conclusion.  

Warner notes how the eurocrats have essentially two options, “Either the richer countries carry on bailing out the poorer ones more or less indefinitely, rather in the manner that Germany subsidises its formerly communist East, or membership of the euro has to be reconstituted on a smaller and more sustainable basis”. He goes on to say how there are no other options, yet somehow the EU always manages to find a messy middle ground somehow.

With Greek default politically impossible and further bailouts also unlikely,  Greece “can neither reduce its debt burden through restructuring, nor will anyone lend it more money”, how very European. Warner suggests the only answer for Greece, and by implication those other nations in the same situation, is to “restructure its debts and leave the euro to become economically competitive again”.

Finally he ends noting how if Greece left the eurozone it could start a chain reaction which would be a disaster for the “euro project” itself, and we couldn’t have that could we?