Archive for September, 2012

New evangelisation

30/09/2012

Donald Cardinal Wuerl, archbishop of Washington D.C., relator general of the Synod on the New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith discusses the central plank of the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.

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Execution not expected

30/09/2012

Previous reports that former party boss, Bo Xilai, would be tried in “court” have come to fruition. The piece mentions that “a comprehensive statement on Xinhua, the official news service, ended seven months of speculation about Mr Bo’s fate, ripping his once spectacular political career to shreds in just a few paragraphs. Investigators, it said, had found evidence that the 63-year-old Politburo member and former Commerce minister had taken ‘huge bribes’ throughout his career, had ‘significant responsibility’ for the murder of Neil Heywood, and had ‘maintained improper sexual relations with many women’. Communist party officials are forbidden from having affairs”.

Things are complicated however by the fact that if the CCP goes too heavily on Bo for what is certain corruption, then, nearly the entire party would have heavy jail terms imposed on them. Yet, it is interesting to note that the party are even allowing the trail to take place at all as it would do the party, especially at this delicate time of a slowing economy and troubles with Japan. So rather than hush up the incident they have decided to have a brief “trial”, perhaps to give the whole affair some finality.

Not surprisingly “the Party also announced that its 18th National Congress, the moment when a new president and premier will be unveiled, will take place on November 8, ten years to the day when the last leadership transition got under way. Xi Jinping is expected to be named as China’s next paramount leader, with Li Keqiang as premier”. The piece goes on to mention that “The date is slightly later than anticipated, in part because of a split within the Communist leadership over how to deal with Mr Bo, who remains popular with the people and has strong supporters in both the Party and the People’s Liberation Army”. This just goes to show how rattled the party has become with the events surrounding Bo and his now jailed wife.

The report lends creedence to this theory that the party officialdom has been seriously rattled when it mentions that “At an ill-tempered meeting of China’s top leaders at the beginning of August at the seaside resort of Beidaihe, Xi Jinping proposed dealing with Mr Bo through the courts, according to the former editor of a state-run Chinese media outlet. Qin Shuo, editor in chief of China Business News, laid out the dilemma facing China’s leaders in a tweet yesterday: ‘Do not investigate and everything looks heroic. Investigate and everything looks criminal. To investigate or not investigate, that is the question.’ Professor Steve Tsang, director of the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute, said the severity of the charges meant China’s leaders had decided Mr Bo needed to be ‘locked away and forgotten’.

The report concludes that “Tsang said that, as a former Politburo member, he did not expect Mr Bo to be executed but anticipated a very severe punishment. He said a trial could occur before the Party Congress, but Liu Xiaoyuan, a human rights lawyer who has represented the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, said it would take ‘more than a month to go through the normal judicial procedures.’ In a move that would seem to bury Mr Bo, Xinhua suggested that he had committed decades worth of crimes, some of which may still yet come to light”.

Where this will leave the CCP amidst the change in leadership and tensions with Japan is uncertain but what is definate is that the new president and premier will either have to assert their authority quickly, in which case those still allied to Hu and Wen could feel angered, or alternatively, the new leaders will have to consolidate their power slowly with the potential of a power vacuum. Either way America should not be cowed by this fragile power.

Options for how to deal with Iran

29/09/2012

After the piece on how Iran could be forced to give up its nuclear weapons, former Bush administration NSA, Stephen Hadley argues that there are eight ways to deal with the Iran issue; get a “stop the clock” agreement, secondly the “United States and the international community would seek to negotiate an interim agreement that requires greater concessions from both sides but still stops short of a final agreement — and still does not force either side to concede on the core issue of Iran’s right to enrich”, thirdly, get a final deal that solves the issue completely, fourthly, “accept the status quo,” fifthly, “long term isolation and pressure”, sixthly, “covert military strike”, seventh “major overt strike”, lastly, accept a nuclear Iran.

“How it would cope with a genuine crisis”

29/09/2012

After the recent post on the expanding crisis in Asia between China and Japan an article in the Economist gives a summary of the events and the consequences of what may happen at its worst.

It mentions “there were more anti-Japanese riots in cities across China because of a dispute over a group of uninhabited islands known to the Japanese as the Senkakus and to the Chinese as the Diaoyus”. It does however reveal that Chinese attitude when it notes that “Amid heated rhetoric on both sides, one Chinese newspaper has helpfully suggested skipping the pointless diplomacy and moving straight to the main course by serving up Japan with an atom bomb”.

It goes on to set the background, “the government in Beijing is belatedly trying to play down the dispute, aware of the economic interests in keeping the peace. Which all sounds very rational, until you consider history—especially the parallel between China’s rise and that of imperial Germany over a century ago. Back then nobody in Europe had an economic interest in conflict; but Germany felt that the world was too slow to accommodate its growing power, and crude, irrational passions like nationalism took hold. China is re-emerging after what it sees as 150 years of humiliation, surrounded by anxious neighbours”.

The writer argues that “Optimists point out that the latest scuffle is mainly a piece of political theatre—the product of elections in Japan and a leadership transition in China”, yet this does not mean that something more serious could not break out. While this context is certainly an important frame for the current dispute, tensions remain high on both sides, with neither Japan, but especially China doing much to calm the situation down.

The article adds “Asia is too busy making money to have time for making war. China is now Japan’s biggest trading partner. Chinese tourists flock to Tokyo to snap up bags and designer dresses on display in the shop windows on Omotesando. China is not interested in territorial expansion. Anyway, the Chinese government has enough problems at home: why would it look for trouble abroad?”, yet as the article itself says “Growing nationalism in Asia, especially China, aggravates the threat (see article)”, coupled with the fact that trading in no way excludes all threat of conflict. Importantly it adds “China’s leaders now face vitriolic criticism if they do not fight their country’s corner. A recent poll suggested that just over half of China’s citizens thought the next few years would see a #military dispute’ with Japan”.

Importantly he writes ” China fears that if it fails to press its case, America and others will conclude that they are free to scheme against it”. This reveals what has long been known, that America is seen as aggressive and is treated with suspicion by the Chinese government, yet at the same time is needed to by Chinese goods. Equally, it must not be seen as too American/Japanese or else it will lose the legitimacy of the ultra-nationalist PLA and its hardline supporters inside the CCP.

He goes on to mention the interesting point that “Asia’s inability to deal with the islands raises doubts about how it would cope with a genuine crisis, on the Korean peninsula, say, or across the Strait of Taiwan. China’s growing taste for throwing its weight around feeds deep-seated insecurities about the way it will behave as a dominant power. And the tendency for the slightest tiff to escalate into a full-blown row presents problems for America, which both aims to reassure China that it welcomes its rise, and also uses the threat of military force to guarantee that the Pacific is worthy of the name”.  While there is some debate as to whether North Korea is opening up, or not,  what is certain is that China still bankrolls the regime and if the Chinese wish the country to reform then it will be almost impossible for the new regime of Kim Jong un not to do as China says, whatever the objects of North Korea’s own military establishment.

The article mentions in simplistic tones that “China needs reassuring that, rather than seeking to contain it as Britain did 19th-century Germany, America wants a responsible China to realise its potential as a world power”. However, China has shown no desire to act in a responsible way toward its neighbours, picking fights within the last few months alone with Cambodia and then the Philippines. Thus, to say that China needs reassuring totally misses the point, instead, America is its allies need reassuring of Chinese behaviour in the region, and beyond.

It ends that “A second safeguard is to rediscover ways to shelve disputes over sovereignty, without prejudice. The incoming President Xi should look at the success of his predecessor, Hu Jintao, who put the ‘Taiwan issue’ to one side”, yet as long as the Chinese Communist Party uses the issue to further its own domestic political ends the issue will keep opening.

LIBOR fixed

29/09/2012

After the LIBOR scandal a report by the UK Financial Services Authority has found that “the system is broken and suggests its complete overhaul, including criminal prosecutions for those who try to manipulate it”, among the recommendations are that there be “criminal sanctions for those who attempt to manipulate it”, “encouraging banks not part of the current group of 20 rate-setters to submit rates to Libor to make it more representative”, and “basing Libor calculations on actual rates being used, rather than estimates currently provided by banks”. Other reports mention that “Wheatley will recommend that responsibility for Libor is stripped from the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) and given to the new Financial Conduct Authority”.

Where does leave it America?

29/09/2012

In a piece in the New York Times on the exit of America from Iraq argues that “Obama asked Mr. Talabani, a consummate political survivor, to give up his post. It was Nov. 4, 2010, and the plan was for Ayad Allawi to take Mr. Talabani’s place”. It adds later that “Allawi, a secular Shiite and the leader of a bloc with broad Sunni support, the Obama administration calculated, Iraq would have a more inclusive government and would check the worrisome drift toward authoritarianism under Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki”. The article goes on to tersely note that President Obama was not successful.

The author goes on to write that with all US troops out of Iraq the hard work begins. He argues that “the American goal has been to leave a stable and representative government, avoid a power vacuum that neighboring states and terrorists could exploit and maintain sufficient influence so that Iraq would be a partner or, at a minimum, not an opponent in the Middle East. But the Obama administration has fallen frustratingly short of some of those objectives”. This is putting it mildly. However, it would be unfair to soely blame President Obama for falling short of these goals.

He goes on to argue that “The attempt by Mr. Obama and his senior aides to fashion an extraordinary power-sharing arrangement between Mr. Maliki and Mr. Allawi never materialized. Neither did an agreement that would have kept a small American force in Iraq to train the Iraqi military and patrol the country’s skies. A plan to use American civilians to train the Iraqi police has been severely cut back. The result is an Iraq that is less stable domestically and less reliable internationally than the United States had envisioned”. Yet, this is not the entire story. Maliki, as has been noted here before has been centralising power in his hands and the hands of his closest (Shia) associates. The result of this has been to heighten resentment between the (large) minority Sunni, and Kurds. The Kurds in particular have taken advantage of Maliki’s overly harsh terms with Western oil companies to offer better terms which has been accepted by a growing number, despite sanctions from Baghdad.

He goes on to argue that candidate Obama “vowed to remove all American combat brigades within 16 months”, but once elected “he adjusted the withdrawal schedule, keeping American brigades in place longer but making their primary mission to advise Iraqi forces”. The piece goes on to note “All American forces were to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, the departure date set in an agreement signed by President George W. Bush and Mr. Maliki in 2008”.

Things grew even more complicated when he mentions that US troop levels after the main drawdown Mike Mullen, the article claims pushed for 16,000 troops to remain to train Iraqi army recruits but this figure was lowered to 10,000 by the White House and again. Evenutally, “Obama settled the matter in a conference call in which he ruled out the 10,000 troop option and a smaller 7,000 variant. The talks would proceed but the size of the force the United States might keep was shrunk: the new goal would be a continuous presence of about 3,500 troops, a rotating force of up to 1,500 and half a dozen F-16’s. But there was no agreement. Some experts say that given the Iraqis’ concerns about sovereignty, and Iranian pressure, the politicians in Baghdad were simply not prepared to make the hard decisions that were needed to secure parliamentary approval. Others say the Iraqis sensed the Americans’ ambivalence and were being asked to make unpopular political decisions for a modest military benefit”.

This was a great blow to US interests in the region with the hope of moving all troops out of neighbouring Saudi Arabia into Iraq vanishing into thin air. Now it seems that the Iraqis have decided that no US troops would be stationed in the country at all. He concludes tellingly, “Without American forces to train and assist Iraqi commandos, the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq is still active in Iraq and is increasingly involved in Syria. With no American aircraft to patrol Iraqi airspace, Iraq has become a corridor for Iranian flights of military supplies to Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, American officials say. It is also a potential avenue for an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear installations, something the White House is laboring to avoid”.

Dem wish list

29/09/2012

With the presidential and Congressional elections still more than a month away the Democrats have drawn up a wishlist for a second Obama term.

Nothing more to discuss

29/09/2012

Following on from the recent post about the “demands”  of the Society of Saint Pius X to be allowed to openly deny the legitimacy of the Second Vatican Council, in order to reconcile with the rest of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI has made an interesting decision.

A recent report notes that in an interview conducted with “Bishop” Bernard Tissier de Mallerais that “on June 30, 2012, the Pope wrote with his own hand a letter to our Superior General, Bp. [Bernard] Fellay, signed personally: ‘I confirm to you in fact [that], in order [for you] to be truly reintegrated into the Church  [Tissier says:] (let us move beyond this expression), it is necessary to truly accept the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar Magisterium.'” 

The article goes on to note that “In Gianluigi Nuzzi’s book filled with Vatican leaks published earlier this year, Sua Santità, a specific chapter was devoted to the 2009 “Williamson crisis”, and, in it, mention was made of the note of the Secretariat of State made public by L’Osservatore Romano on February 4, 2009“.

It adds later that the “entire phrase ‘the Holy Father does not intend to leave aside an indispensable condition’ [in the Secretariat of State’s draft] was cancelled by Benedict XVI and replaced with, [in his own handwriting], ‘For a future recognition of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X, the full acknowledgment of the Second Vatican Council and of the Magisterium of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, and of the same Benedict XVI is an indispensable condition.'”

The blog post concludes that “It is unclear if this same content was merely mentioned by Pope Benedict XVI with a reference to the 2009 note in the June 30, 2012”. The consequences this phrase of Pope Benedict is that well known. The SSPX has repeatedly refused to accept the validity of the key element of the Council and despite their hollow protestations of loyalty to the Pope they refuse to see what is right.

The result of this is very clear, the Doctrinal Preamble will now not be accepted by the SSPX and the de-excommunications and subsequent discussions set up by Pope Benedict have all come to naught. This is not so much for Benedict’s lack of trying but the SSPX refusal to accept the will of the Sovereign Pontiff.

A real lead?

29/09/2012

President Obama has stretched his lead over Mitt Romney to 6 percentage points nationally, according to the Gallup daily tracking poll released Wednesday. Obama takes 50 percent support over Romney’s 44 percent”. It adds “Obama’s approval rating has also jumped in recent weeks, and sits at 51 positive and 43 negative”.

An unrealistic solution

28/09/2012

As the row between Japan and China continues Dr Stephen Walt proposes a novel idea. Walt gives the basic background, “Japan seized control of the islands following a war with China in 1895. The United States administered them from 1945 to the early 1970s. Japan regained control in 1972, when ownership was reacquired by a private family”. He goes on to add that ” the right-wing mayor of Tokyo said the city government was going to buy the islands to ensure that they remained in Japanese hands. (Had he gone ahead and done so, they would have become the most distant metropolitan suburb in the history of the world). To forestall this step, the Japanese national government bought the islands instead, a step that has provoked some ugly demonstrations in China and raised the possibility of a military confrontation”. There were protests in China, the highlight of which was a 1,000 ship flotilla.

Walt argues that “This issue is a tricky problem for the United States, because we’ll be expected to support our Japanese ally if the dispute escalates. The U.S. position on the whole issue isn’t clear, however, and is further complicated by the fact that Taiwan agrees with the PRC and regards the islands (the largest of which is only some 4 square kilometers and is home to moles, birds, and sheep), as part of its territory too”. Yet, this is perhaps an oversimplification of the issue. The position of America is clear, this is a dispute between the two nations but there is the unstated position that Japan is an American ally and the United States will not tolerant China’s bullying behaviour.

Walt asks and answers his own question “If the Japanese government can pay roughly $2 billion to buy the islands from a private family, why can’t China pay the same amount (or whatever the market will bear) to obtain them from Japan? After all, the PRC is pretty flush with cash these days, and Japan could use some extra money”, he adds later that “The main obstacle to this obvious solution is nationalism. China regards the islands as Chinese territory, so why should they pay Japan in order to get something they think is rightfully theirs? Similarly, some Japanese might regard selling the islands as an affront to their own national pride, or something like that, even though nobody in Japan is likely to live there or even get anywhere near the remote little rocks”.

Yet, despite this Walt goes on to argue that “Nonetheless, it would be smart move for Tokyo to offer to sell the islands at roughly the same price they just paid. Think of it this way: Suppose you and a wealthy neighbor disagreed over the boundary line between your property, and suppose further that the municipal records where you lived weren’t clear. Both parties think the other’s position is unfair, but you might be willing to forego your claim if your wealthy neighbor offered you enough”. However, the analogy is flawed, Japan and China are not just neighbour’s but historical enemies, holding superior views of their own country. To equate such a dispute to a mere squabble over a misplaced garden fence is unhelpful and inaccurate and ignores he gravity of the situation.

He concludes “Tokyo should offer to sell for another reason. If China refused, it would look like Beijing was spoiling for a fight, and unwilling to solve the matter in a reasonable way. That outcome would be a victory for Japan, because it is in their interest to be seen as the reasonable party in this dispute. Why? Because if China’s power continues to rise, a key feature of East Asian diplomacy will be how different actors inside and outside the region perceive the intentions of the various players”.  He ends his piece ” I’m betting that none of these things will happen: Japan won’t offer to sell and if it does, China will refuse to buy. Which is one of the many reasons why I believe security competition in East Asia will continue to increase.”

Yet, in a similar article, some have said that the dispute could expand, to Okinotorishima,  “This singularly unimpressive coral atoll barely remains above the waves at high tide — and only does so thanks to human help. Japan has spent $600 million taking measures to defend Okinotorishima from the sea by encasing parts of the islets in concrete and steel. Several years ago it sent fishery officials to plant extra coral around them in an attempt to beef them up and protect them from erosion”. She goes on to write that ” this fight differs from the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute in that China does not want Okinotorishima”.

She ends her article “Japan hasn’t forgotten about Okinotorishima: earlier this year, the Cabinet approved legislation that gave the Coast Guard new law enforcement powers in some of the country’s disputed territorial waters. The Diaoyu/Senkaku islands were on the list; so was Okinotorishima”.

Improving Somalia?

28/09/2012

Things getting better in Somalia?

Pushing too hard

28/09/2012

After the intervention by Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations, the consequences of Netanyahu’s speech but also his general comments over recent months in the US elections have rightly angered many Americans.

In an interesting article, the question posed is has Netanyahu done himself and his “cause” more harm than good by being so vociferous. It begins “this [Jewish] New Year has begun auspiciously even for skeptics like me — because it has been ushered in by a fierce debate that may finally have done in one of the most pernicious and enduring myths of our time: that of the existence of an all-powerful Israel Lobby. Neatly, providing just enough irony to offer the honey sweetening we Jews look for to start off each year, the myth has been done in by the most unlikely of perpetrators: Benjamin Netanyahu”.

He mentions that “we see the perils of believing your own hype — apparently Bibi and friends actually believed the idea of the all-powerful Israel Lobby. Whether through Romney’s bald-faced pandering to that perceived lobby with his ugly comments about the cultural inferiority of Palestinians or, more shockingly, through Netanyahu’s decision to take sides in the 2012 presidential campaign, they seem to think that if they can portray Obama as ‘weak on Israel’ they will materially advance their own causes”. As has been stated here before, the notion that President Obama has been “weak” on Israel bears no relation to the fact, vetoing UN resolutions criticising it  as well as a slew of other actions.

As he the writer argues “Romney, the approach only works if it undermines Obama in key states, notably Florida. For Netanyahu, it would work if the fear of losing Jewish support pushed Obama to get visibly tougher on Iran, to accept, for example, the Israeli leader’s call for clearly demarked and more aggressive ‘red lines’ with Iran”, yet this is exactly what Obama has done with regard to Iran by drawing red lines, and still Netanyahu is not happy.

Crucially he adds that “Netanyahu, who dug in deeper this weekend with a high-profile showing on Meet the Press, seems to have swallowed the myth of the power of the Jewish Lobby so completely that he has bet his reputation and his country’s future relationship with its most important ally on it. But here’s the problem: Whatever lobby exists for Israel, it neither lives up to its press clippings nor to what it may have been in the past”. He goes on to describe two events that count heavily against Netanyahu the first being “the Obama administration bravely kicked off last week with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s outright rejection of the idea of red lines, a strong message that they would not be bullied, even in an election year, regardless of the political consequences”, the second was that “Since Romney and Netanyahu first started making their play to harness the power of ‘the lobby,’ their standing in the polls has slipped. In Florida, Obama has gained ground since this effort started and is up by as much as 5 points in the most recent NBC News poll for that state”.

He concludes that “The Israel Lobby is just another boogie monster cooked up to serve the nasty agenda of people all too eager to sacrifice the truth on the altar of their prejudices”. Having said that, thanks to Netanyahu many now see that Israel’s interests are not always the same as America’s.

The current situation

27/09/2012

“Father” Andreas Steiner, spokesman of the German District of the Society of Saint Pius X on the current situation of affairs between Rome and the SSPX, and on the relationship with Archbishop Muller. It notes that Steiner “remarks that there are three points which must be demanded from the authorities if a visible union with Rome will be established. These are: firstly, that the SSPX will be given the freedom to expose the errors of Vatican II; secondly, that the SSPX will be allowed to only use the liturgical books of 1962; and thirdly, that there must always be a bishop in the Fraternity from within its own ranks”. The notion that the SSPX is in a position to “demand” anything should have scuppered any dealings with them years ago, let alone getting them to the current position.

A sinking ship?

27/09/2012

Reports note that amid Romney’s attempt to move the focus away from his gaffes and poor poll numbers that the campaign itself “suffered yet another setback as his campaign co-chairman announced he was quitting, sparking accusations that he was ‘deserting a sinking ship.'” It is important to highlight that these words are not those of the now ex-chairman, Tim Pawlenty, but they seem to be accurate in describing Pawlenty’s actions.

The article goes on to mention Pawlenty “left his post to become the chief lobbyist for America’s banking industry. The news came during the Republican hopeful’s worst campaign week so far and coincided with an attempt to restyle himself as a champion of the poor”. The piece goes on to say that Pwlenty “did not explain why he needed to leave the election campaign immediately. He is due to take up his new role on November 1 and is expected to be paid about $1.8 million (£1.1 million) a year. ‘Tim Pawlenty jumps the sinking S.S. Romney,’ declared Vanity Fair magazine. Jeffrey Sachs, the economist and Columbia University professor, accused Mr Pawlenty of ‘bailing ship’ and said his move ‘exposes the systemic corruption’ between politics and big business”. Of course Sachs is right but the implication is that only the GOP have this relationship between politics and big business, the Democrats are just as bad.

However, it seems hard to say how else to describe Pawlenty leaving the campaign at this late stage other than a sign of no confidence in Romney. The piece adds “A spokesman for Mr Pawlenty told The Daily Telegraph: ‘If what you are suggesting is that he thinks Governor Romney is going to lose, well, he does not think that'”, however such a blunt statement only fuels speculation that this is indeed the real reason behind Pawlenty leaving and perhaps tacitly preparing his own attempt at a GOP nomination in 2016.

The article concludes that “Pawlenty’s move to head the Financial Services Roundtable makes him a public face for the industry roundly blamed for the 2008 financial crisis that prompted America’s crippling recession, which has left 23 million people jobless or seeking more work four years later” it adds tellingly “Romney trails Barack Obama by an average of 3.1 points nationally, according to RealClearPolitics, which also rates the Republican challenger as behind in all 10 of the likeliest battleground states”.

 

 

Self inflicted harm

27/09/2012

It has been reported that “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to deliver a fiery address to the United Nations Thursday calling on the international community to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The speech, aimed as much at the Obama administration as the Israeli public, is expected to lay down for the first time in detail the ‘red lines’ that Israel will not allow Iran to cross, the Israeli newspaper Maariv reported”. Yet, if an attack were to be lauched, Israel would demand that America be the main participant.

Never again?

27/09/2012

An article sounds a word of caution on the future of terrorism and security more generally. It opens noting “none has so animated the way we think about, and organize around, America’s security than the two words uttered by President George W. Bush as early as Sept. 14, 2001, and repeated to defend policies as far ranging as the war in Iraq to the establishment of the NYPD’s massive counterterrorism unit: Never Again”.

More importantly she goes on to say that “‘Never again.’ It is as simplistic as it is absurd. It is as vague as it is damaging. No two words have provided so little meaning or context; no catchphrase has so warped policy discussions that it has permanently confused the public’s understanding of homeland security. It convinced us that invulnerability was a possibility”. There is no such thing as perfect security and while every effort should, and is, being made to secure America from violent terrorist attacks not every plan will be foiled.

She goes on to write “The notion that policies should focus almost exclusively on preventing the next attack has also masked an ideological battle within homeland-security policy circles between ‘never again’ and its antithesis, commonly referred to as ‘shit happens’ but in polite company known as ‘resiliency’.” Interestingly she goes on to discuss that “Homeland security has rested on four key activities: prevention, protection, response, and recovery. And while the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — created in 2003 out of some 40 agencies — is part of the national security apparatus, it is as much about the ‘homeland’ as it is about ‘security.'”

She argues cogently that “There is little acknowledgment of the almost impossible balance that homeland security seeks to maintain every day. A country like the United States — a federal structure with 50 governors all kings unto themselves, hundreds of cities with transit systems that only function when on time, commercial activity across borders that makes Amazon.com so successful and gas so plentiful, respect (sometimes nodding) for civil rights and civil liberties, the flow of people and goods taken as a God-given right, and, oh yes, public money in an economic downturn that must be distributed to not only security efforts but schools, health care, transportation, and every other issue that people care about — was never going to succeed at ‘never again'”. Yet the only way to improve the odds that a terrorist attack would not be successful is a massive centralisation and strengthening of power in the hands of the executive, in true Hamiltonian style. This would at the very least have the simple consequence of standardising anti-terrorist policies in the smallest county.

She correctly notes the folly of some of the policies of the Federal Government, “The die had been set; the way we talked about homeland security no longer was some attempt to balance security needs with everything else or to prepare the public for the inevitable harm and the need to be resilient. Instead, over the past 10 years, the United States has spent nearly $640 billion on homeland security throughout almost every federal agency”. She goes on to give an example of this at its worst, “Perhaps the worst legacy of this exclusive focus on prevention was that it bred a nearly unstoppable institutional inertia. It made changes, modifications, reassessments, even total abandonment almost impossible to discuss, let alone enforce. What should have been an easy example — the vilified color-coded system that had been publicly rejected by former Secretaries of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge — took DHS over a year to amend”.

She goes on to write that “For political leadership, the fear that the antiquated policy or unsuccessful program that is defunded or rejected ends up being the one policy or program that would have stopped the terrorists”, adding how local and state government used their first response to any crisis as a ploy for more money and powers.

She finishes arguing that the United States is “built to be vulnerable”. One way it could be less vulerable is centralisation with standardisation and all the logic that follows from this.

“Peaceful political transition”

27/09/2012

The emir of Qatar, has “urged Arab nations in a General Assembly speech to form a political and military coalition to intervene in Syria to stop the bloodshed, as a first step towards guaranteeing a peaceful political transition”.

A new European nation?

27/09/2012

The subject of nationalism has been discussed here often, and especially in relation to the never ending euro crisis. Now it has entered another dimension.

An article in the Economist notes that a march was held in Barcelona, titular capital of the Spanish region of Catalonia, it notes “After a huge, peaceful march with flags and banners through the city on September 11th brought together an estimated 8% of the region’s 7.5m population, a once-exotic idea has suddenly come to life”.

The piece goes on to mention “Artur Mas, the Catalan nationalist leader of the regional government, publicly backed the marchers. ‘This cannot be ignored,’ he said. ‘Catalonia needs a state.’ In one recent opinion poll, 51% of Catalans say they would vote yes to independence. Even some non-separatists now believe a referendum is needed. Yet Spain’s constitution does not allow splits and that is setting the country and its wealthiest region on a collision course”. If there were not a constitutional provision then Spain would have ceased to exist as a single entity years ago. It goes on to mention that Mas “was already due to meet Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, on September 20th to demand a long-term tax rebate. Mr Rajoy, more worried by a recession that has left a quarter of Spaniards out of work, had been expected to hoof the idea into the long grass. Independence gets even shorter shrift. ‘The reply is in the constitution and our laws,’ said Mr Rajoy”.

The situation becomes more complicated by the fact that “a no to his tax demands now would boost separatist sentiment further, Mr Mas warns. If snubbed, he may call elections, which would become a vote on independence. Separatists are excited, though the polls are misleading. Whereas one-third of Catalans are convinced separatists, many others are simply enraged by their tax money propping up poorer regions. Eight percent of Catalan GDP, or €16 billion ($21 billion) a year, is siphoned off, they claim”.

A similar situation occurs in Italy, Germany and Belgium, to name but two countries, where a rich region gives vast amounts of money to poorer, less developed region. Aside from nationalist mutters in Belgium, there is little real chance that any of these countries will split. As the article admits, “No one now doubts that Mr Mas’s once-ambiguous Democratic Catalan Convergence party seeks independence in the long term, but it tends to negotiate incremental advances. Its middle-class voters instinctively hate confrontation”. A large reason behind this is history, “Memories of a civil war in the 1930s, in which separatism loomed large, are too painful”.

The piece explains that “In the short-term Mr Mas demands a radical, but initially financially neutral, change to the tax system—allowing his government to collect taxes and send them to Madrid, rather than the other way around. Catalonia could later cut its contribution. For nationalists, this would be another step towards independence”, yet if this were to occur, then the region would be de facto independent as the whole dynamic would have shifted. To control the money in a province or region, especially in Europe, is extremely significant. That is why Scotland is so hopeful that if it does not gain independence, it will gain powers to tax instead.

The article concludes that local socialists have  “a new federation in which Catalans would negotiate a special bilateral relationship with other Spaniards. Some 28% of Catalans prefer that. A ‘no’ vote at referendum would take much, but not all, of the sting out of Catalan complaints”. The article does not discuss how such a federation would work or what powers such a new federation would have over other local governments.  It notes “The direct causes of Catalonia’s economic woes are recession and ruinous administration by previous regional governments”.

Unless the people of Europe and Germany can come to some arrangement the very forces that Germany tried to negate will come back with a vengeance.

A new frugality

27/09/2012

“Reuters reported that demand for Chinese luxury brands — down of late — is unlikely to rebound after Beijing imposed a ‘frugal working style’ on government employees in an effort to curb conspicuous consumption (read conspicuous corruption.) Now the Financial Times is reporting (behind the paywall) that the number of US dollar billionaires in China fell last year for the first time in seven years”.

More problems than it’s worth?

25/09/2012

There has been much discussion of late about cyber security and cyber warfare. Indeed, America already has its Tenth Fleet to do exclusively with it. An article argues that cyber warfare is a good thing. It argues that “Senior officials such as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warn that the “next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber attack.” But what if cyberwarfare is not such a bad thing after all, though? What if it saves lives? The evidence so far actually suggests that cyberwarfare costs fewer lives compared with traditional types of warfare. The prevailing view, however, holds that cyberwar is a terrifying prospect”. Part of the reason for this is due to the fact that everything must be constantly updated and if it is not, then enormous military and civil consequences would befall that nation that failed to “update”. It goes on to mention that “potential future cyberattacks that could involve cutting millions of people off the electrical grid or, worse, as in the case of an attack on aviation control or a nuclear power plant, cost thousands of lives”.

The article goes on to argue that “Yet the evidence of cyberwarfare, so far, reveals a very different picture. The cyberattack on Estonia in 2007 was the first to make major international headlines. But its damage was limited: The Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack overburdened servers in Estonia and brought down several websites. Something similar happened in Georgia during the war in 2008. Such attacks could theoretically cost lives if they shut down emergency hotlines, for example. But they’re not the sort of thing that should keep us up at night. The Stuxnet virus, on the other hand, was a very different animal. It infected computer systems and altered code in a way that made it too risky to run centrifuges used in Iran’s nuclear facilities. Some experts estimate that Stuxnet pushed back Iran’s nuclear development by several months, possibly years, and what’s wrong with that? This particular cyberattack may have actually saved rather than cost lives”. Yet, this is an interesting view, partly because this warfare is quite new and its full force is surely many years away. Therefore, to welcome it seems shortsighted. Also, America’s enemies could use to quiet cheaply to bring down the entire world system, but in American hands it would be “safe” yet this assumes that no-one else has, or would acquire the technology to develop should systems.

He concludes mentioning the three conditions that where “cyberware a better alternative to traditional war”, by which he means, that it will “reduce the human costs of war”. The first of these he says, ” If critical civilian infrastructures such as hospitals, nuclear power plants, and transportation control systems can be better protected”, secondly ” norms governing the use of cyberwarfare. Will states, for instance, retaliate against a cyberattack with kinetic warfare? If a country responds with conventional weapons to, say, an adversary taking down its electrical grid, then all bets are off”, and lastly, “My argument focuses only on interstate war excluding violent conflict with non-state actors such as terrorists. At present, though, this threat is considered to be minimal because of the resources and expertise needed to mount a sophisticated cyber attack like Stuxnet”.

A separate piece gives a European/British perspective. A different article argues that the US Congress is not doing enough. It notes that “The U.S. Congress has been considering two significant cybersecurity bills, the Revised Cybersecurity Act of 2012, which failed a procedural vote in the Senate on Thursday, and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) in the House of Representatives. Their significance comes from their shortcomings: Both bills have fallen prey to the limits of the current American political climate, where special interests and disputes over the appropriate role of government have combined to harm national security — and, as a result, neither will do much to protect the United States from cyberthreats”. He adds that “Congress knows that weak cybersecurity endangers the country — and that America is dangerously unprepared — but it cannot muster a majority to support serious defensive measures. The same forces that have kept Capitol Hill in gridlock on many important issues have also blocked effective cybersecurity legislation. That said, Congress does not want to be in the position, after the inevitable cyberdisruption, of having to say it knew but did nothing”.

Lastly, and more worryingly, a piece argues that “The world’s leading cyberpower is … North Korea. This is the considered opinion of Richard Clarke”, adding “How does the United States fare in Clarke’s analysis? Despite fielding the world’s best computer worms and viruses, America rates only a fourth-place position — Russia comes in second and China third. The United States gets dragged down by its pitifully poor defenses, coupled with very high cyberdependence. At the Aspen Security Forum this summer, the head of Cyber Command, Gen. Keith Alexander, went so far as to give a grade of “3” to U.S. defenses on a scale of 1 to 10. He observed that cybersnooping is now so rampant that the theft of intellectual property constituted the “greatest transfer of wealth in history.'”

He concludes that piece “Unless there is a profound change in perspective, the market will continue to fail, with manufacturers focusing on speedy, attractive tech products instead of secure ones. Unless a fresh mindset emerges among the public, the fear of Big Brother will prevent legislative action, even though the data-mining about individuals and consumer habits conducted by marketers and social networking sites — a lot of Little Brothers — already dwarfs what the government knows”.

“Indictment of intolerance”

25/09/2012

President Obama condemned the violent protests that have swept through the Muslim world in an address Tuesday to the United Nations General Assembly. Obama’s address served as an election-year defense of free speech and indictment of intolerance to a body of international leaders whose applause was often tepid at best”. Others have noted that “he left behind one of his most affecting speeches on America’s relations with the Arab world since Cairo — and it was targeted directly at the world leaders sitting in the U.N. General Assembly audience.   ‘Understand that America will never retreat from the world,’ he said, noting that the flurry of anti-American protests that followed the circulation of a video mocking the Prophet Mohammed would not drive the United States from the Middle East”.

A poor distraction

25/09/2012

Mitt Romney, chose to re-enforce his wealth among the general populace, in an attempt to get away from the innumerable gaffes and sluggish poll numbers has, in an attempt to move the debate on has finally released his tax returns.

The Washington Post reports that “Mitt Romney paid $1.9 million in taxes on $13.69 million in income in 2011, most of it from his investments, for an effective rate of 14.1 percent”. The report goes on to note that Romney “could have paid less in taxes, but he engineered his 2011 returns to overpay the government to ensure that his effective tax rate would ‘conform’ with his statement last month that he had paid at least 13 percent, according to his trustee, R. Bradford Malt”. It could be easily argued that this was only done in the knowledge that these figures would have to be released eventually and that to pay less than 14% would be politically damaging.

The article goes on to write that “In their joint return, he and his wife, Ann, listed $4.02 million in donations to charity last year — nearly 30 percent of their income — which substantially reduced their tax obligation. They claimed a deduction for only $2.25 million of those contributions. Had the Romneys deducted all of their charitable donations, they would have paid about $467,000 less in taxes for an effective rate of 10.55 percent”. It is certainly laudable to give to charity but this does not change how Romney made his vast wealth. It continues that “If the Romneys had not taken any charitable deductions, their rate would have been 18.8 percent”.

Later on in the article mentions that “Romney’s 379-page 2011 returns show that he earned $6.8 million from capital gains and $3.6 million in interest. Romney earned about $190,000 in author and speaking fees, as well as $260,390 for sitting on the board of Marriott International. None of his income was from wages. Capital gains are taxed at a flat rate of 15 percent, substantially lower than the 35 percent rate typically levied on the wages of those with the highest incomes”. The article goes on to mention that “Romney also released a summary of his effective tax rates between 1990 and 2009, reporting that his average annual rate was 20.2 percent and that he never paid less than 13.66 percent. But the summary does not detail the size of Romney’s income and the amount of taxes during those years”.

There is however a general point to be made here. Romney’s actual, and nominal tax rate, be in 14% or 20% is far too low. The notion that those who play, and win, on the stock market, should pay a lower rate of tax then many middle class workers is a great shame. It is not only a shame but not in America’s long term economic interests to have such a tax system.

Asian economic consequences

25/09/2012

If Japanese manufacturers cannot sell to the Chinese, there is little reason to keep their factories in China. Vietnam as well as several other ASEAN members are already courting Japanese manufacturers, offering attractive leases, well-educated employees, and modest wage scales. Things are bad, but economically, both China and Japan have other options”.

Stalling?

23/09/2012

An article argues that the revolution in the Arab world’s most promising country, Tunisia, is faltering. This theme has been mentioned here before briefly.

The article argues “Tunisia has made international headlines again with the recent storming of the U.S. Embassy by ultraconservative Islamists. Observers and commentators have tried to explain the events and the rage behind them, the attackers’ high level of organization, and the government’s inadequate security response and late condemnation”.

Depressingly he goes on to note that “polls show that Tunisians believe their elected officials have accomplished nothing. Promises to develop Tunisia’s long-neglected interior have seen half-hearted implementation, and unemployment is higher now than it was prior to the revolution. Promises to clean up corruption have proven to be empty as the government’s transitional justice minister claims he is not responsible for the problem. Opposition parties charge that efforts to create a Temporary Judicial Commission are merely an attempt by the governing Islamist Ennahdha party to exert undue political control over the judicial system. Though the worst forms of police abuse were stopped following the revolution, promises to reform the security forces have fallen short as old tactics and old figures re-emerge”.

While all polls should be treated with a degree of caution, but unless obviously rigged, they indicate a general feeling. Therefore, polls that indicate that little has changed especially with corruption and a lack of attention to less developed regions.

He goes on to describe “The constituent assembly, tasked with writing a new constitution, has not published minutes of any meetings in either committee or plenary sessions. In addition, voting records and attendance have not been revealed, although observers note that only five or ten of the 20-member drafting commissions attended regularly. Absenteeism has been particularly prevalent amongst opposition parties, partly because some do not take their jobs seriously and partly because some want to see Ennahdha fail, according to several observers who are closely watching the process”. He explains this with the rather woolly concept of “cultural legacy”. Yet, surely this cultural legacy was negated, or at least reversed, by the fact that President Ben Ali were overthrown? He re-enforces this point when he says “This lack of transparency has led Al Bawsala, an NGO that has created a website dedicated to publishing leaked minutes and tracking voting records, to file a lawsuit against the assembly”.

Worse still he writes that “the government suffers from a lack of focus and crippling partisanship that has fostered dysfunction. Polling both by local and international research groups show that while employment and economic reform remain their highest concern, Tunisians believe that their government does not share their priorities”. This lack of “focus”, or executive power, is an understandable result of the Ben Ali era. Many countries have learned their lesson too well and have turned from one extreme to the other. Italy is another example, as well as the United States.

He concludes that the Constituent Assembly is drafting a new constitution “despite the fact that many Tunisians agree that there is very little wrong with the substance of the previous constitution, which predated the era of former dictator Ben Ali”. However such an argument is quite suspect and should be treated as such. He goes on to add that “the constitutional process has sparked debate on important structural issues — including the differences between a presidential system versus a parliamentary system, the formation of an independent judiciary commission, and the regulation of the Tunisian media — the executive branch of the government, headed by Ennahda, has diverted attention by making a priority of social issues, such as the role of women and laws against blasphemy. Instead of writing a constitution that outlines freedoms, the delegates have written draft laws that address social values, which essentially define limitations rather than freedoms. This has acted as a lightning rod, derailing efforts to address pressing economic issues or hold substantive debate on the more tedious issues of constitutional reform”.

His conclusion is best “With political failure palpable, ultraconservative Islamist thuggery on the rise, and elections expected to be held this spring, Tunisia’s first democratically elected officials would be wise to revisit the causes of the revolution before they put themselves at the mercy of the voters”.

Playing into the hands of the Islamists

332 to 206

23/09/2012

Prediction that Obama will be re-elected by a wide margin in the Electoral College.

The Chinese education system

23/09/2012

As the trouble in Asia continues, some have gone on to discuss the deeper trends that have laid the foundations for one of the most dangerous arguments in the world, the Chinese education system.

The article notes that “textbooks, feigning innocence, asked us if freedom and democracy in capitalist countries could really be what they proclaimed it to be. Then there would be all kinds of strange logic and unsourced examples, but because I always counted silently to myself in those classes instead of paying attention, the government’s project was basically wasted on me. By secondary school and college, my mind was unusually hard to brainwash”. The author goes on to admit, honestly, that “Even so, during my college years, I still hated Japan. I felt that the Japanese had killed so many of my countrymen, the vast majority of them civilians, that it wasn’t enough that they had eventually surrendered”.

He goes on to write that ” It was only after studying Japanese and reading additional historical materials that I gradually understood the true face of history: When the Japanese army invaded China in 1931, Mao Zedong, in those days still a guerrilla fighter, turned and ran. Chiang Kai-shek, China’s nominal president at the time, stayed behind to fight the Japanese in his wartime capital of Chongqing”. Thus the CCP’s aims to bend history to their own ends was wasted on him. He adds, “unlike my generation, whose hatred of Japan remained at the verbal level, they have taken the streets to demonstrate. Even though China’s constitution permits demonstrationsthe government prohibits them except in special circumstances. Anyone familiar with Chinese history knows that when Chinese law says one thing, it might mean the opposite”. It should be noted that if the government/CCP did not allow any protest they would not have lasted the sixty years they have so far. The forces would have just overwhelmed them, it is especially understandable for them to allow the people to protest on a topic as sensitive as this.

He describes the modern scene thus,”Chinese young people today ought to thank the Japanese government, for if it hadn’t purchasedthe Diaoyu Islands, the Chinese government wouldn’t have opened the net a little, allowing them to take to the streets last week. The demonstrators chanted monotonous and boring slogans, like telling the Japanese to get the hell out of the Diaoyu Islands; plainclothes cops intermingled with the marchers, keeping in nervous contact through their earpieces”.

He goes on to describe how the CCP have kept power for so long “For a red regime to stand so long, to match Western countries in capitalistic indulgence, it needs to surpass the crude Soviet model. And sure enough, after the smashing and burning, the propaganda machine flung out the slogan “rational patriotism“: It’s the same old follow-the-party’s-instructions, but it’s a different era and the party must be hidden, which means that it must emphasize the fashionable word “rational.” The Communist Party and its Propaganda Ministry have always kept pace with the times”, concluding later that “In this delicately authoritarian society, “rational patriotism” means respecting the rules set up by the totalitarians. This sort of rationality, and this sort of patriotism, would be familiar to Joseph Goebbels. Yet the brainwashed patriotic youth of the mainland don’t understand this. The Hong Kongers who protested the “patriotic education” imposed by the mainland government really know how to protest — unlike on the mainland, their demonstrations were truly spontaneous and did not have government support. No wonder domestic news outlets did not report on them”.

This is the crutch that keeps the CCP in power, but someday it too will fail.

More peaceful, and more dangerous

23/09/2012

Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey has said, “Although geopolitical trends are ushering in greater levels of peace and stability worldwide, destructive technologies are available to a wider and more disparate pool of adversaries…. What truly concerns me as chairman is that these lethal and destructive technologies are proliferating in two directions. They’re proliferating horizontally across advanced militaries in the world, and they’re proliferating vertically, down to non-state actors, especially insurgents, terrorist groups and even transnational organized crime. As a result, more people have the ability to harm us or deny us the ability to act than at any point in my life. And that’s the security paradox”.

Electoral status quo?

23/09/2012

After yet another Romney gaffe upsets Americans, and many others, the political ramifications continue. An article mentions that, “Senate Republican leaders on Wednesday didn’t answer questions in front of TV cameras about Mitt Romney’s controversial ’47 percent’ remarks. After their weekly caucus lunch, the GOP lawmakers faced the Capitol Hill media for the first time since the GOP presidential nominee’s comments were leaked earlier this week. In a departure from standard operating procedure, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made brief remarks about inaction in the upper chamber and then departed without taking questions from the press”. A different piece mentions that Romney’s gaffes could cost the Republicans the Senate.

A recent poll suggests that “President Obama leads with 49 percent support over Mitt Romney’s 44 percent — a 6-percentage-point swing from the same poll in August. President Obama has overtaken Mitt Romney in the 12 swing states that will be critical in determining the outcome of the 2012 election, according to a Purple Insights poll”. He goes on to write “The president is buoyed in the poll by his support among independents. Obama leads 48 to 43 percent, his first lead with the group since February”, he adds “Obama’s favorability isn’t great, but he’s above water, at 49 percent favorable and 46 percent unfavorable. Purple Insights broke out polling in six of the individual swing states, where the race remains close — Obama leads by 4 in Ohio, 3 in Colorado and Virginia, and 2 in North Carolina, while Romney leads by 1 in Florida. But perhaps most startling was the poll’s findings in Arizona, where Romney has a narrow 48 to 45 percent lead. Most analysts consider Arizona to be safely in Romney’s corner, and neither candidate has spent any significant time campaigning in the state”. In a  nod to the future he writes “Arizona has a growing Latino population, and many believe the shifting demographics will one day play in favor of Democrats. A Reason-Rupe poll released on Friday showed Obama with a 71 to 18 percent advantage over Romney among Hispanics”. Yet, it would be naive to assume that in a decade a state the size of Arizona will go over to the Democrats, but if it shifted gradually, it would be a significant victory for the Dems. Only the GOP has itself to blame for their anti-immigrant stance.

The piece goes on to note a separate poll by Gallup that “enthusiasm among all U.S. voters jumped from 43 to 55 percent, with Democrats outpacing Republicans by 9 percentage points nationwide. Democrats gained 19 points in enthusiasm, from 49 to 68 percent, compared to a 10-point gain for Republicans, from 52 to 62 percent. While the national polls remain tight, Obama seems to be sustaining his slight lead in the swing states across the board”.

In a different but related piece, it notes Obama has out fundraised Romney “Obama ended the month of August with $88.8 million, compared to just $50.4 million for the Romney campaign. The Romney figure includes $15 million in loans that must be repaid, meaning that the candidate actually entered the month with access to around $35.4 million — less than 40 percent of Obama’s total. Obama’s advantage comes thanks to a stronger fundraising month in August that saw the president bring in $84.7 million, outpacing Romney’s $66.6 million haul. In turn, Obama was able to spend more: the president had receipts totaling $83.7 million, versus around $66.4 million for the Romney campaign”. This will be vital for President Obama in the final weeks of the campaign, yet the GOP still have a slight advantage in this field.

Lastly, Tony Blair’s director of communications, Alistair Campbell has advice for Romney, two pieces argue that the House will remain in GOP hands while the Senate will similarly remain under the control of the Democrats.

US-Chinese nuclear weapons

21/09/2012

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has been in Beijing this week for a round of meetings with senior Chinese officials, including presumptive paramount leader Xi Jinping. One topic that will most likely not be on the Panetta-Xi agenda is nuclear weapons“.

Deaf on both sides

21/09/2012

As  the protests spread across the Middle East and beyond, an excellent piece discusses the underlying causes of the strife from those protesting, and those being protested against.

He writes that during a conversation between President Obama and President Morsi of Egypt, “Morsi offered his condolences over the Libya killings, but White House officials report that he also seized his chance to protest directly to Mr Obama about the amateur YouTube video, apparently made in California, that defames the Prophet Mohammed”.

Vitally, the author, writes that “In so doing, Mr Morsi betrayed the yawning gulf between the two sides. The West’s failure to understand the Muslim world has been analysed to the point of exhaustion – and no doubt many criticisms have been justified”, yet being quite fair, he adds that Morsi, “When he told Mr Obama how angry he was over the YouTube film, did he not realise that he was rebuking the wrong target? Mr Obama had already made clear his revulsion over the video. No one has seriously suggested that the US government had anything to do with this absurd production. The President of the United States cannot be held responsible for the thoughts, opinions and actions of 300 million Americans. Nor, in a free society, can he ban his citizens from expressing themselves, even if they sometimes do so in crass and offensive ways”.

He adds “Egypt’s government still chose to ask Mr Obama – and every other Western leader – for something they could not possibly deliver. Hisham Qandil, the country’s prime minister, told the BBC that Western nations should revise their domestic laws to ‘ensure that insulting 1.5 billion people, their belief in their Prophet, should not happen and if it happens, then people should pay for what they do’. In other words, Egypt not only wants to ban its own citizens from expressing views that Muslims deem insulting, but its government thinks this prohibition should go global”.

This is just the kind of misunderstanding of culture that leads to violence against the West and is used by terrorists for their own ends. Morsi’s ignorance is typical of many in the Muslim world, though there are exceptions, who have no comprehension of the impact of the French Revolution and “the Enlightenment” and the ensuing individualism that has shaped Europe and North America. Until these events are explained to them then this deafness will only grow and lead to further intolerance and violence. This is no way condones the excesses of modern individualism or its roots, but without knoweledge of these events there will be no dialogue.

Blair goes on to write about this month being the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Satanic Verses, “One possible conclusion is that nothing has changed since the appearance of The Satanic Verses: the visceral reaction to the YouTube video shows that Muslim nerves are as raw as ever and the opposition to genuine freedom of expression just as deeply felt. But this would be too sweeping. Despite everything, there are some reasons to believe that the gulf of understanding might eventually close”.

He concludes that the “protests might be taking place outside US embassies, but many have little to do with America, still less the principle of freedom of expression. All Muslim leaders quickly learn how to direct the anger of their people away from themselves and towards Washington. In Sudan, for example, President Omar al-Bashir is so unpopular that massive protests against his regime have taken place in Khartoum. The situation is reaching a point where he risks becoming the next victim of the Arab Spring. So no surprise that Sudanese mobs have attacked the German, British and US missions. Mr Bashir is conveniently allowing the crowds to vent their fury on these targets, instead of on him”.

He ends the piece “So the battles being fought outside Western embassies are also signals of a wider struggle within Islam itself”. In the last 11 years much has happened to confront Muslims into sincerely thinking about their peaceful religion and its relationship with the modern world. It should be hoped that out of great violence comes wisdom.

A lasting partnership?

21/09/2012

The Security Partnership Agreement signed in  Kabul this spring by Karzai and President Barack Obama laid out only broad  principles of agreement between the two countries but said nothing specific about  how many forces the U.S. would keep there, what would happen if they committed  any crimes or other issues. State officials insist that the U.S. will not  maintain any bases in Afghanistan; any American forces that remain there will  be presumably assigned to Afghan bases“.

Problems for democracy

21/09/2012

Amid the ongoing dispute between China and Japan, and China and the rest of Asia, the roots have been examined and commented on, here before. However, in an interesting piece Christian Caryl discusses the ramifications for democracy.

Caryl argues that “The volatility of the issue — compounded by the fact that the waters around the islands are rich in natural resources — is such that it’s hard to know what will happen next. But there’s one prediction that I would already dare to make. I don’t think that this lingering feud bodes well for the fate of liberal democracy in the region”. He continues to describe the state of the tensions between the two countries when he writes “The government in Beijing recently dispatched six surveillance ships into Japanese-claimed waters around the islands, prompting fears about a possible clash between the two antagonists. One Chinese newspaper even called for launching nuclear missiles at Japan if it doesn’t concede sovereignty”.

He notes that even if the dispute does not end in war, which a Chinese victory is not certain, than “the consequences are potentially devastating. Trade between the two countries is now worth some $345 billion a year. Some Japanese factories in China have already cut back on production due to the political instability. Chinese demonstrators have been calling for a boycott of Japanese goods. Anything that slows down the flow of goods and services between the two countries is a bad idea at a time when both are struggling to keep their economies chugging along”.

Caryl argues that the previous encounters between China and Japan and not the same as now due to Japanese “Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is struggling to break through political gridlock in order to realize his reform agenda, and he can’t afford to be outflanked by the conservative opposition. That’s why he recently instructed the government to purchase three of the islands from their private owners”, while in China matters are complicated by the fact that “economy is slowing. Discontent over blatant corruption and widening inequality continues. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is preparing for its biggest political transition in more than a decade — a transition has already been complicated by the scandal surrounding toppled Politburo member Bo Xilai and the recent mysterious disappearance of president-to-be Xi Jinping. There are plenty of rumors swirling around about the growing influence of hard-line nationalists in the military and elsewhere who are eager to impose their own agenda as a new generation of leaders prepares to assume power. If you’re a candidate for one of the top posts, this is not a good time to look like you’re kowtowing to the Japanese”.

He gets to the numb of his argument when he writes ” Unchecked nationalism has a way of rolling over liberal aspirations. That’s because the intense emotions of identity politics have a way of stifling the tolerance that is one of the most fundamental of democratic principles”. The obvious model for extreme nationalism in Nazi Germany but things are more complicated than that. Japan is a democracy in the sense that it has free(ish) speech and free assembly but its two main parties are extremely similar in ideological terms with little real difference offered to voters. Does that make Japan a democracy? On China Caryl argues correctly that “The government in Beijing knows this very well. The Communist Party has a long history of stifling the democratic aspirations of its own people with appeals to ‘patriotism.’ Posing as the guardian of Chinese national pride is the most obvious way for the CCP to bolster its own legitimacy”.

He mentions an interesting juxtaposition with many in Hong Kong who fight for free speech but defend China’s position in the row with Japan. He writes ” will Beijing use the Diaoyu issue to drive a wedge into Hong Kong’s already fractious democrats? And what does that mean for the future of dissidents on the mainland?”.

He concludes “There’s ample evidence that Beijing has been trying to control and channel the anti-Japanese demonstrations to its own ends, a dangerous balancing act that could easily slide out of control”, adding later that the crisis could push Japanese politics much further to the right. However, if China missteps, which is a possibility, then Japan will have one less enemy to worry about.

Cardinal Baldelli dies

21/09/2012

Fortunato Cardinal Baldelli,  major penitentiary emeritus of the Apostolic Penitentiary has died.  He is the first in the 2010 consistory to die, having been the second to retire. After the death of Cardinal Baldelli, the members of the College of Cardinals are 205. The cardinal electors are now 116. This means that the consistory next year will have an extra elector’s slot to fill bringing it to 17.

“Entirely different landscape”

21/09/2012

The evidence for China’s downward economic spiral is mounting quickly. Now the government is trying to prop up the economy in China in the hope of a peaceful transition in the coming weeks.

Reports mention a massive stimulus, at least the second since 2008.  He writes “Caixin magazine reports – with disbelief – that the wish-list for industrial parks and mega-projects unveiled by all echelons of the Chinese system has reached 15 trillion yuan by some estimates. This is over $2.3 trillion or nearly four times the blitz of extra spending after the Lehman crisis in 2008, a policy that pushed investment to a world record 49pc of GDP and is now deemed to have been a mistake. But as Caixin also reports, the authorities are running out of easy money. Land transfer fees for the 300 largest cities have fallen 38pc over the last year”.

He goes on to mention “The central government’s tax revenues have grown 8pc, but spending has risen 37pc. ‘The good days of overflowing government coffers are over,’ it said. Mark Williams from Capital Economics said the fiscal blitz is a mirage. Most of the road and urban rail plans were already in the pipeline. Spending will be spread over years. ‘We can see no sign of a fresh stimulus. The project approvals are interesting solely because the government chose to publicise them,’ he said”.

This clearly the last thing the government wants and partly explains its belligerence to Japan, among others, in an effort to distract the people from the mess it has made of he economy. Crucially he writes “China may have to muddle through the downturn after all with less extra juice than hoped. This will be sobering. The country’s cost advantage over America – and others – has vanished”. The fact that so much of China’s economic growth relied on manufacturing means that manufacturers will now have real reasons to move back to the United States. This of course says nothing about the high profit Western banking and services sectors that will remain for now, but there presence too is under question as the tensions in the country are significant and it is doubtful that they will remain safe for much longer.

He goes on to mention “PwC said the US has clawed back a cost advantage of 2pc in steel output against China, at least for the North American market. Its “heat map” gives the US the edge in chemicals, primary metals, electrical products, machinery, paper, transport equipment, and wood, in that order”. He continues in a similar vein mentioning that “Boston Consulting Group has been banging on this homecoming drum for some time, arguing that wage inflation of 16pc annually for a decade has eroded China’s lead. The gap in ‘productivity-adjusted wages’ was 22pc of US levels in 2005. It will be 43pc (61pc for the US South) by 2015. It issued a fresh report last week — ‘The End of Easy Growth’ — warning that the profit margin of China’s leading companies has been slipping behind since 2009. It fell to 11pc last year compared to 18pc for global peers”.

He concludes his report arguing “There are degrees of bearishness on China. My own view as a ‘soft bear’ — based more on anthropology than economics — is that the country will ultimately pull through and reclaim its rightful place as a global superpower. The dynamism is unstoppable, much like the US in the Roaring Twenties”. This view however is mistaken, as demographically, if nothing else, China will wither in the coming decades.

He adds later “that is the sweep of history. The ups and downs of economic cycles are another matter. The Politburo clearly misjudged the difficulty of deflating a property bubble after letting loans grow by almost 100pc of GDP in five years (IMF data), almost double the rate in Japan over the five years before the Nikkei bubble burst or in US before the sub-prime peak”.

He ends “A President Xi Jinping — if it be he — will face an entirely different landscape”.

“Appears set to prosecute”

21/09/2012

It has been reported that weeks after the wife of Bo Xilai faced her trail now Bo’s turn has come. Reports mention “China appears set to prosecute Bo Xilai, the disgraced former top Communist party leader, on criminal charges over Neil Heywood’s murder after publishing the fullest account yet of the days after the killing”.

The Chinese consumer

21/09/2012

In an interesting piece published some time ago in the Wall Street Journal, an author discusses the mindset of the consumer in China.

He opens the article noting ” From Nike to Buick to Siemens, Chinese consumers actively prefer Western brands over their domestic competitors. The rise of microbloggers, the popularity of rock bands with names like Hutong Fist and Catcher in the Rye, and even the newfound popularity of Christmas all seem to point toward a growing Westernization”.

He goes on to write importantly that “don’t be deceived by appearances. Consumers in China aren’t becoming ‘Western.’ They are increasingly modern and international, but they remain distinctly Chinese. If I’ve learned anything from my 20 years working as an advertising executive in China, it is that successful Western brands craft their message here to be ‘global,’ not ‘foreign’—so that they can become vessels of Chinese culture”. This shows much about the mindset of modern Chinese people. At the same time as being fiercely patroitic and nationalistic are almost in the same breath global and “modern”. They are brought up to despise the West and are happy to buy its products.

He adds “Though the country’s economy and society are evolving rapidly, the underlying cultural blueprint has remained more or less constant for thousands of years. China is a Confucian society, a quixotic combination of top-down patriarchy and bottom-up social mobility. Citizens are driven by an ever-present conflict between standing out and fitting in, between ambition and regimentation. In Chinese society, individuals have no identity apart from obligations to, and acknowledgment by, others. The clan and nation are the eternal pillars of identity. Western individualism—the idea of defining oneself independent of society—doesn’t exist”. He builds on this theme in China by mentioning that “self-expression is generally frowned upon, and societal acknowledgment is still tantamount to success. Liberal arts majors are considered inferior to graduates with engineering or accounting degrees. Few dare to see a psychologist for fear of losing ‘face’—the respect or deference of others—or being branded sick. Failure to have a child is a grave disappointment”. He adds that “Chinese at all socioeconomic levels try to “win”—that is, climb the ladder of success—while working within the system, not against it. In Chinese consumer culture, there is a constant tension between self-protection and displaying status. This struggle explains the existence of two seemingly conflicting lines of development. On the one hand, we see stratospheric savings rates, extreme price sensitivity and aversion to credit-card interest payments. On the other, there is the Chinese fixation with luxury goods and a willingness to pay as much as 120% of one’s yearly income for a car”. Yet, at the same time as all of this is happening, the very wealthiest Chinese are fleeing the country.

Yet these same societal traits that are so prevalent in China are at the same time under attack. The economic model the country has pursued is being challenged, albeit quietly, while at the same time the country bands together, having been fed on a diet of xenophobic ultra nationalism to bully most of its Asian neighbours.

He continues “First and most important, products that are consumed in public, directly or indirectly, command huge price premiums relative to goods used in private. The leading mobile phone brands are international. The leading household appliance brands, by contrast, are cheaply priced domestic makers such as TCL, Changhong and Little Swan. According to a study by the U.K.-based retailer B&Q, the average middle-class Chinese spends only $15,000 to fit out a completely bare 1,000-square-foot apartment”.

He gives a second example that “The second rule is that the benefits of a product should be external, not internal. Even for luxury goods, celebrating individualism—with familiar Western notions like “what I want” and “how I feel”—doesn’t work in China. Automobiles need to make a statement about a man on his way up. BMW, for example, has successfully fused its global slogan of the “ultimate driving machine” with a Chinese-style declaration of ambition”.

He concludes “Chinese crave ‘control’ of their own destiny and command over the vagaries of daily life. Material similarities between Chinese and Americans mask fundamentally different emotional impulses. If Western brands can learn to meet China’s worldview on its own terms, perhaps the West as a whole can too”. It is hoped that this urge for control does not extend to modern day control over the rest of Asia.

DADT fading

21/09/2012

A year after the military implemented the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the issue of having openly gay service members has plummeted as a hot political topic“.

Scathing

21/09/2012

scathing article on the role of President Obama, and the United States, generally in Afghanistan has been published and is worth examining in closer detail.

He opens “Girls, for the first time in years, headed to schools, and women — at least in Kabul — were able to move without the blue shuttlecock burqas that symbolized their bondage under the Taliban. So it is with great irony that this week, one of the worst ever for coalition forces in Afghanistan, foreigners were killed in Kabul by a suicide bomber who was neither male nor linked to the Taliban. The perpetrator was ayoung woman affiliated with the Hezb-i-Islami (HIG) militant group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a bitter foe of the Taliban and former U.S. proxy who on 9/11 was self-exiled in Iran”. While it is certainly ironic, the implication that most or the majority of women are against the US presence is wrong.

He goes on to write that “His role in the Sept. 18 bombing shows that the insurgents have the upper hand, their fight against the United States and Kabul government will continue, and Afghanistan is headed toward a messy, full-scale civil war”. In some ways this is a perfectly acceptable scenario for the United States and its allies. A civil war between the Pashtun in the south, where much of violence has been, and the tribes in the north. The excellent Ahmed Rashid has already hinted at such a possibility at a talk he gave in London. A civil war would engage the countries tribes into fighting each other rather than turning their weapons on Western allies. Yet, there is no certainty that Pakistan would stop intriguing in Afghanistan’s affairs to the detriment of Western interests. The country could ultimately be partitioned with the south being a satellite state of Pakistan. India’s response to this would not be positive, to say the least.

He goes on to write that “Hekmatyar is the ultimate hedger. During the 1990s, he was at one point taking cash from both Iran and Pakistan. Today, his group is allied with his former Taliban enemies and is back in cahoots with the Pakistanis — it continues to dominate Pakistan’s Shamshatoo refugee camp and operates freely in Peshawar — after having been dumped by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence for the Taliban in the mid-1990s. Yet, out of all the insurgent groups, HIG has been most inclined to negotiate with Kabul”. He continues “the jihad in South Asia continues despite the Obama campaign’s celebratory chants. Al Qaeda affiliates and partner groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan — including the Haqqani network and a variety of Pakistani Taliban groups — remain resilient. The region is on fire, and growing instability creates a potential habitat for groups that will challenge regional security and, perhaps down the road, past the current U.S. election cycle, the American homeland”. Yet he fails to acknowledge that the leader of the Haqqani faction is dead. While this is in no way diminishes the power of the organisation in the short term, surely its long term future is highly doubtful.

He argues that Obama is ” incorrect, if not disingenuous, when he says that the Taliban’s momentum has been “blunted.” The Taliban’s spear is sharp as ever. Last week, on Sept. 14, it cut through Camp Bastion, one of the most secure foreign bases in Afghanistan”. This argument is hard to negate, with the much vaunted peace talksa dismal failure and political expidency now the name of the game. He goes on to argue persuasively that the US surge is over but the “Taliban are responsible for a small, but probably growing number of these — are on the rise. The Taliban reintegration campaign — designed to bring low-level Taliban into the fold — is working, but in an unintended way, with the penetration of the Afghan security forces by Taliban infiltrators. The local militias raised by coalition forces and Kabul are a motley of opportunistic, quasi-jihadi criminals on temporary leave. The training program has been put on hold due to the rising green-on-blue attacks. The most crucial element of Obama’s Afghanistan strategy — the transition of control to Afghan security forces — has been effectively suspended with the pause in joint coalition-Afghan operations”.

He goes on to argue that “the Obama administration downgraded its goals for Afghanistan, abandoning the pretense of nation-building. By 2011, counterinsurgency was completely tossed out the window. Obama accelerated the pace of drone attacks in Pakistan, trying to win the war against al Qaeda on the cheap and without much consideration for the negative externalities of this phantom war. These unilateral attacks — combined with the Raymond Davis episode, the bin Laden raid, and the accidental attack on a Pakistani base in November 2011 — widened a rift with Pakistan”. Yet on the narrow point of America’s dealings with Pakistan it should not be blamed for failing to trust this crumbling state or its both dangerous and incompetent government.

He concludes noting that the head of the Pakistani army, “Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, recognizes the existential threat they [jihadists] pose and could be looking for a way out. In August, in his Independence Day address, Kayani condemned rising religious extremism and warned that jihadi militants could push Pakistan toward civil war. Therein lies the common ground. Pakistan needs a political settlement in Afghanistan to avert a civil war that will bleed into its territory and reignite ethnic tensions and jihadism. And that settlement can only be forged while U.S. forces are in Afghanistan. America, too, has little interest in seeing chaos spread in nuclear-armed Pakistan and the re-emergence of jihadi havens in Afghanistan”.

Hoping to have their voice heard

21/09/2012

A liberal Catholic group has said that it has a right to have its views heard on the successor to Francis Cardinal George of Chicago. However the group will not be listened to with Pope Benedict wishing to appoint another of his allies to the prestigious post.

“Cooperating from strength”

20/09/2012

Following on from the blog post by Dr Walt that says America should not be too concerned about China’s aims in Asia Patrick Cronin adds to the discussion with an article published some time ago.

He writes that “Far from acquiescing to America’s strategic pivot to Asia, China will seek to block what the Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily called the “U.S. ‘return’ to China,” alleging that the United States is reverting to Cold War policies”. He goes on to add that “Even as Chinese officials seek to dispel the notion that they desire hegemony, Beijing has taken advantage of America’s relatively light presence in the region over the past decade by expanding its economic, political, and military influence throughout the neighborhood. Over the past nine months, it has advanced the idea of a free trade zone among China, Japan, and South Korea; suggested that it should supplant the dollar as the sole global reserve currency; and floated bilateral maritime measures, like a hotline with Vietnam and a new conflict-prevention mechanism with Japan, to stave off the internationalization of local disputes. It has taunted America over its cautious thaw in relations with Myanmar and even questioned the U.S. decision to base Marines in Darwin, Australia, more than 3,600 miles from Beijing”.  Thankfully much of this is no a mere pipe dream that to Chinese actions elsewhere but the threat of China to regional peace should never be underestimated.

He accurately predicts events writing, “China’s next generation of leadership, in preparation for their ascension this autumn, will likely push for the country to appear strong internationally to appease the nationalists and to distract from a possible economic slowdown”. Again he writes that “In 2010 and 2011, Vietnam and Indonesia (respectively) chaired the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and focused on countering China’s push in the resource-rich and strategically important South China Sea. Now that the chair has passed to Cambodia, a nation with no claim to the disputed waters and heavily dependent on China’s economy, Beijing will behave more assertively towards ASEAN”, which again proved true as China pressed Cambodia to do its will, thus ending a fractious ASEAN summit that lead to the present situation.

He goes on to write that China will use Kim Jong un for its own ends and, errily states “Beijing will aggressively contest Japan’s claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands”. He adds presciently that China has portrayed virtually every improvement in the defense capabilities of any regional power as part of a containment conspiracy. As Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan wrote on the website of the People’s Daily in December, ‘it is time for the U.S., as well as the other Asian countries, to give up the containment policies’ because ‘otherwise these countries may slip down on China’s list of potential partners once when [sic] China elbows its way to the top table.’ Such warnings presage more diplomatic brouhahas over future actions”. It should be obvious but these are all Chinese actions that are making the world turn against it, merely in reaction to how it is operating in its own region.

Nowhere is this more visible than when he mentions “China appears to assume that its power — rather than an inclusive, open, rules-based system — should dominate the core of an emerging regional system. An editorial in China’s state news agency Xinhua evaluated the situation at the start of 2012: ‘the United States’ high-profile ‘pivot’ to Asia strategy … has further complicated China’s neighborhood,'” He continues in the same vein when he mentions “Missing is any self-awareness of how Beijing’s neighbors will perceive its actions. As Indian statesman Jaswant Singh opined last month, ‘Chinese assertiveness, most of it currently focused on the country’s claims to the South China Sea, has been a wake-up call about the type of regional order that China would establish if it had the power.'”

Cronin  concludes saying  America “must move in the direction of the 346-ship fleet recommended by the bipartisan Quadrennial Defense Review independent panel or face the danger of slipping from the present 284 combatant ships to a fleet of just 250 warships”. While there is some disagreement about this general point, ie more ships does not always equal automatic victory, his final point is well made “If the United States wishes to perpetuate a liberal world order amid a rising China, it can best do so by cooperating from strength. That requires not just pivoting in and within Asia, but also parrying the inevitable Chinese attempts to obstruct and repulse American power”.

Armed Forces of Europe?

20/09/2012

They tried to have an all EU Olympic team but failed and now they’re trying for an all EU army. The “neutral” Irish won’t be pleased. If the proposal does ever go ahead the question must be asked what would it be for?

Still a player

20/09/2012

The correct analysis of the situation in the Middle East has been written and is worth mentioning. Cook argues that America is still the dominant power in the region and will remain so for years to come.

He writes, emotively that “As a result of that terrible Tuesday morning 11 years ago, Americans have spent a decade deeply intertwined in the affairs of the Arab and Muslim worlds. After watching Egyptians tear the Star and Stripes to shreds and Libyans carry Ambassador Christopher Stevens’s dead body, they can be forgiven for believing it is now time to come home”. However, to say that America has been “intertwined” in the Middle East for ten years is mistaken. Franklin Roosevelt met King Abdel-aziz of Saudi Arabia in the 1950s, US spies have aided the overthrow of governments in Iran in the 1950s and that is saying nothing of its even earlier involvement in the region.

He goes on to say “it was Vice President Joe Biden who thundered, ‘Don’t bet against the American people’ on the third night of the Democratic National Convention, a sentiment with which virtually all Republicans would reflexively agree. The concept of American exceptionalism is in danger of becoming a political cliché, but who would deny that the United States saved the world from fascism and communism”. He boldly continues “citizens of the United States have been told that the American Dream is dead, but it is clear that the rest of the world does not believe it. There is something to this idea of American exceptionalism: People do not swim to Brazil for a better future; authoritarian Russia is a model for no one. India and China are still very poor countries, and millions of their citizens want to build their futures in the United States. But it’s not American ideals alone that ensure its global role. The continuation of U.S. leadership has more to do with the structure of international politics and Washington’s capacities than the values Americans hold dear”.

He adds importantly that ” the United States will continue to be the region’s indispensable power. This may sound odd given everything that has happened in the region over the last 18 months”, yet to say that the US role will change simply because the leaders of some countries changed is quite absurd. America still gives huge amounts of military and civil aid to Egypt alone each year, to say nothing of its relations with the new Libyan and Tunisian governments. As he summarises succiently “new contenders for regional leadership all pose a challenge to Washington’s influence. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and a potentially rejuvenated Egypt all want to be influential players in the Middle East, but in the crosscutting conflicts of the region, only Washington can lead”. Indeed, the region could simply become more divided on religious grounds leading to an even more open Sunni/Shia rivalry, or even worse, Sunni dominance.

He goes on to argue, largely correctly, that ” Since the beginning of the Arab uprisings, the Saudis have been playing a more prominent regional role, but it has been almost entirely based on Riyadh’s efforts to ensure that unrest does not spread to the kingdom”, adding ” outside of Bahrain, the Saudis have not been successful in convincing other countries to support their view of what the region should look like. Moreover, Riyadh is tethered to Washington: It seeks American protection from Iran and looks to the United States to drive events in the region. The Saudis consistently ask the Americans to intercede with Beijing on Iran, for instance, not recognizing their own leverage with the Chinese in the form of 1 million barrels of Saudi crude that China imports daily”.

Turning to Qatar he writes that “Qataris have clearly distinguished themselves as a regional leader through, like the Saudis, their ability to spend liberally around the region, whether it is funding the flow of arms to the Free Syrian Army or pledging to invest $18 billion in the Egyptian economy in the next five years. There is also the Qatar-funded Al Jazeera, which endows Doha with influence well beyond its size. Yet even with all the leverage Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani has amassed, he has made Washington need him because he needs Washington”. Discussing Turkey he writes “despite praise for its financial wherewithal, cultural affinity, and political assets, Ankara’s ambitions appear greater than its capacity. Nowhere is this clearer than in Syria, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been unable to translate considerable political and personal investment in President Bashar al-Assad’s regime into influence”.

Speaking on Egypt he writes ” It’s also important to note that despite the strain in U.S.-Egypt relations over the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, President Mohamed Morsi bowed to U.S. demands that he work to bring the situation under control”.

He concludes “Americans may be tired of this volatile region. But don’t expect the United States to depart anytime soon. That is the price of indispensability — and exceptionalism too”.

Absence explained?

20/09/2012

The official explanation for the absence of Xi Jinping, who disappeared for two weeks and resurfaced is that he hurt his back swimming.

The first shots?

20/09/2012

Cyber technology has been used before in warfare in Estonia and Georgia by Russia. However, the Chinese, in their continuing spat with nearly all their regional neighbours, have used economic weapons in an attempt to bring their historical foe to heel.

Press reports note that a “senior advisor to the Chinese government has called for an attack on the Japanese bond market to precipitate a funding crisis and bring the country to its knees, unless Tokyo reverses its decision to nationalise the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea”. The author elaborates mentioning that “Jin Baisong from the Chinese Academy of International Trade – a branch of the commerce ministry – said China should use its power as Japan’s biggest creditor with $230bn (£141bn) of bonds to ‘impose sanctions on Japan in the most effective manner’ and bring Tokyo’s festering fiscal crisis to a head”.

Of course such an act by China would be seen as openly aggressive in such a climate. The fact that it might precipate a trade war between the two nations was dismissed by China. However, if China did bring on a funding crisis in Japan, war would actually be made easier between the two nations as the major block holding them from taking such a step would have been removed.

The article goes on to say that ” Separately, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported that China is drawing up plans to cut off Japan’s supplies of rare earth metals needed for hi-tech industry“. As ever, the ratings agencies, not content in destroying the Western capitalist system, seem happy to ignore any long term gain and make a confrontation even more likely has he mentions, “Fitch Ratings threatened to downgrade a clutch of Japanese exporters if the clash drags on. It warned that Nissan is heavily at risk with 26pc of its global car sales in China, followed by Honda with 20pc. Sharp and Panasonic both have major exposure”.

He goes on to mention that “Jin said China can afford to sacrifice its ‘low-value-added’ exports to Japan at a small cost. By contrast, Japan relies on Chinese demand to keep its economy afloat and stave off ‘irreversible’ decline. ‘It’s clear that China can deal a heavy blow to the Japanese economy without hurting itself too much,’ he said. It is unclear whether he was speaking with the full backing of the Politburo or whether sales of Japanese debt would do much damage. The Bank of Japan could counter the move with bond purchases”.

He adds later on in the article that “[Leon] Panetta said the US is neutral but this is a hard balancing act, given the US nuclear umbrella for Japan and its use of military bases on Japanese soil as an ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’. The ambiguity of the US role was glaring after a deal with Tokyo on Monday to build a new anti-missile radar shield – ostensibly against North Korea. Diplomats say China is calibrating the crisis to probe the strength of US ties with Japan, knowing that alliance fatigue in Washington and the clumsy handling of the dispute by Tokyo has created a rare opportunity”. This shows the usual Chinese desire to control the entire Pacific region but its clumsy moves could easily have the opposite effect, by strengthening US-Japanese ties.

He concludes the article noting ominously that “Markets are already starting to price in an arms race in Asia. Shares of China’s North Navigation Control Technology, which makes missile systems, have jumped 30pc in recent days. China is becoming self-sufficient in defence. It was the world’s biggest net importer of weapons six years ago. It fell to fourth place last year. Japan is at the other extreme. An official report this year – ‘A Strategy for Survival’ – said Japan’s spending on its ‘Self-Defence Force’ had shrunk by 4pc in 10 years. It called for ‘urgent’ action to rebuild the country’s military”.

Obama changes his mind

19/09/2012

Obama supports people of faith.

Twice as dangerous

19/09/2012

As Xi Jinping’s returns from his two week unexpected absence, Japanese ambassador to China dies suddenly  tensions continue to increase between the two historic foes over islands in the waters around them.

Some have argued that “The wave of anti-Japanese protests that swept across dozens of cities in China this weekend, prompted by Tokyo’s purchase of three disputed islands, has obscured a potentially more worrying development that risks drawing the two countries into a larger conflict: China’s adoption of a legal framework empowering it to expel foreign vessels in disputed waters in the East China Sea”.

She goes on to write that “Japan announced that it was finalizing the purchase of three of five uninhabited East China Sea islands — which Japan calls the Senkakus and China calls the Diaoyus. While the move was intended to prevent the hard-line, nationalist Tokyo governor from purchasing them himself, that distinction was apparently lost on Beijing, and Tokyo’s timing couldn’t have been worse”. She mentions that “Politburo members strongly denouncing Japan to Prime Minister Wen Jiabao vowing to ‘never yield an inch’ to threats of economic retaliation to announcements of joint combat drills by China’s navy, air force and strategic missile corps, including landing exercises in the Yellow Sea and the Gobi Desert”. These maximalist positions being taken, mostly by China, are deeply unhelpful to the process and will only hinder the cooling of tensions. Both sides now have more and more to lose by making statements such as these.

She goes on to argue that on 10 September China’s Foreign Ministry “announced baselines to formally demarcate its territorial waters in the area. In Beijing’s eyes, this move legally places the disputed islands under Chinese administration in a direct challenge to Japan’s administration of the islands over the last four decades. Since the islands reverted to Japanese government control in 1972, they have been administered by Japan. This move is a departure from China’s previous policy of seeking joint exploitation of resources with Japan through negotiation, and also differs from China’s approach to the South China Sea, where it has maintained calculated ambiguity with regard to its claims by not fully clarifying how much of the area China actually claims as its own”. Again China’s aggression is plain to see, allowing some flexibility only in certain places but more than willing to ramp up the pressure against themselves.

Crucially she goes on to add that “after the new baselines were declared, China sent six Chinese Maritime Ocean Surveillance vessels into disputed waters on what the Foreign Ministry said was a ‘rights defense law enforcement action.’ Not to be outdone, China’s second-largest maritime law enforcement agency, the Fisheries Administration, announced plans to patrol the disputed waters, starting with protection of 1,000 Chinese fishing boats that have just left for the area”. She adds realistically that “Many Chinese analysts suspect a deliberate attempt by Japan to disrupt the imminent transfer of leadership and destabilize it during a moment of vulnerability”. Then the question must be asked, why does China take the bait? Part of the answer is history, a lack of legitimacy and public pressure, but there are steps China could take to end this tension, if it so wished.

Yet as she masterfully explains “With growing domestic dissatisfaction with the widening wealth gap, widespread corruption, rising inflation, and housing prices, combined with rampant rumors about disunity in the leadership, Beijing feels it can’t be seen to be betraying national interests in the face of its historical nemesis”. She concludes ominously “a skirmish between official law enforcement vessels in the current context could prove irresolvable”.

In a separate but related piece, Bonnie Glaser argues regarding the US turn to Asia that “if U.S. policy toward this strategically important region is to be successful, it must take into account a paradox: China’s neighbors seek greater U.S. economic, diplomatic and military involvement in the region as a counterbalance to China’s growing power — but at the same time, every country in the region also desires a close relationship with Beijing”. She adds “Southeast Asian nations periodically urge Washington to help them stand up to Chinese pressure to accept Beijing’s expansive claims there — but when Washington acts to prevent China from running roughshod over the region, its partners’ concerns about U.S.-China tensions spike and they implore the United States to step back”. However, this paradox, will fade, or at least lessen if China’s behaviour continues that way it has been.

She goes on to mention that the South China Sea is disputed by all the nations but she adds importantly, “while no country is blameless in this standoff, China is clearly the most egregious aggressor. It is currently following a deliberate policy of bullying and intimidating its smaller neighbors into recognizing its sovereignty over large swathes of the sea”. She notes that the tensions are mounting with the most recent example being the row over the Scarborough Shoal.

She argues that ” Beijing has agreed to eventually enter into negotiations to reach a code of conduct for the South China Sea, Chinese officials have recently stated that discussions can only take place ‘when conditions are ripe’ — which, evidently, is not now”, the position of the United States is somewhat weakened in this matter as well. Worryingly she goes on to add that ” Beijing deliberately refused to abide by its verbal agreement with Manila to withdraw all its ships from the lagoon and the area around Scarborough Shoal, establishing a new status quo that favors Chinese interests. China is maintaining regular patrols and preventing Filipino fisherman from fishing in those waters. No country — including the United States — has publicly condemned this action. This has set a dangerous precedent for future negotiations”. If this is true, then on this point at least, America will have failed to assert itself by not standing up to China.

She goes on to write how China is using its (short lived) economic might to bully neighbours and others to do its bidding. She argues that “China’s rejection of a rules-based framework that would restrain the actions of all parties should be a cause for concern. Beijing calculates that time is on its side — why should it sign binding agreements now, when its leverage is only poised to grow? In the future, China will not only be a major economic power, but also a major political and military power”. The first point that China rejects the rules based framework is correct and rightly disagrees with some, notably, Liberal Leviathan written by John Ikenberry. Secondly, China future economic, political and military power, as has been discussed here before will wane over the next two decades, if not sooner.

She concludes arguing that China’s incoming leaders will decide how the country acts. However, it may not have much choice if forced into war by an angry populace and an illegitimate government. To the dismay of China’s neighbours she posits the theory that Xi Jinping “is widely believed to have a high degree of self-confidence” adding later that he thinks “that China is rising quickly. Confident in the belief that the gap between United States and Chinese power is narrowing, Xi is likely to stand up for Chinese interests in the international arena”.

If this is the case and Xi is really as assertive as she thinks then the next decade could be very violent indeed.

The other four percent

19/09/2012

He insulted the BritishPalestinians, and now Mitt Romney has “said ’47 percent’ of Americans are ‘dependent upon government.’ Romney said these voters are with Obama and believe they are victims. He also said his job was not to worry about them and to instead focus on Independent voters who could swing the election. ‘There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,’ Romney is shown saying. ‘All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.'”  Romney’s gaffe is not only ignorant but by getting caught he ignores the four percent, or more, that may take serious offence at it and vote for Obama in November.

Downward?

17/09/2012

An article in Foreign Policy argues that the situation is far worse in Libya than previously thought.

He argues “Just prior to the Benghazi assault, on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released an Internet video in which, according to CNN, he said that al-Libi’s  ‘blood is calling, urging and inciting you to fight and kill the crusaders.’ Even if the deaths were not linked to al Qaeda or its dangerous North African affiliates, the event is still a maj or threat to Libya’s chances of successful transition to stability, and could be a watershed of the worst kind. The nightmare scenario that Libya could go the way of Iraq in 2004 is still not likely, but no longer seems implausible”. He continues “the attacks should force the country’s leaders to take a much more active approach to ensuring safety and security and pushing ahead with other state-building measures.

If these attacks do not galvanize momentum for progress, they could undermine it entirely. Instability in Libya could, in turn, undermine progress elsewhere in a region where transitions are still fragile after the Arab uprisings”.

He reinforces this point by discussing the role America and ” its allies, and partners that helped free Libya from Qaddafi’s rule have a responsibility to do their utmost — providing intelligence, technical advice, and, where necessary, military support — to ensure the situation does not spiral out of control”.

The point that he only hints at, but should be elaborated on, is that of the EU. If the EU is so concerned about being a global power it should act like one and use its vast monies to back up the Libyan state and protect its own interests and doing that, the interests of the world by blocking terrorists and warlords gaining control of what is a fragile state.

He goes on to argue that “Were the United States and its allies naïve about the dangers in post-intervention Libya? The attacks come on the heels of a gradual deterioration of the country’s security in recent months. Last year’s uprising began in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, where Tuesday’s attacks occurred. Qaddafi claimed the revolt was the work of terrorists, long native to Eastern Libya, and warned that if it were not crushed, the country could become the Somalia of the Mediterranean”.

However, this argument is mistaken on a number of fronts. Firstly, it ignores the Libyan election that elected a, mostly, moderate Islamic government willing to work with America and the EU. Secondly, he cannot claim that just because an otherwise insignificant group murdered US ambassador and some of his staff that America, the UK and France were naive about supporting the rebels. As he himself notes “the vast majority of the revolutionaries had no ties whatsoever to al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, and when Qaddafi moved to raze Benghazi with tanks and aircraft, the Arab League and United Nations condemned him”.

He goes on to write “Initial efforts to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate these militias into a centralized Libyan army under the authority of Libya’s leadership were quickly abandoned when it appeared that doing so might spark violence and undermine Libya’s tenuous stability. Subsequent efforts to do so by international actors met with further resistance and even suspicion from Libyan authorities”.

He futher argues that the violence has become much worse as a result of three factors, “attacks against Libyan government officials and buildings, both in Benghazi and in Tripoli”, this, added to the “more aggressive actions by radical Islamist militias, who recently destroyed a number of Sufi shrines charging that Sufi practices are un-Islamic” and lastly “attacks against diplomats, including an attack against a U.S. diplomatic vehicle in Tripoli and an attack on the British ambassador’s car in Benghazi. Until this week, these attacks looked like isolated incidents. Now they appear in a different light”.

He concludes noting that “groups in eastern Libya that have had ties to al Qaeda are involved. Concerns about groups such as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which played an important role in Libya’s liberation, are long-standing. Knowledge of such groups initially made several U.S. officials wary of intervention. Even if the LIFG appears now to support the new Libyan state, such concerns have not gone away. The eastern town of Derna is well known as a hotbed of radicalism and source of recruits for the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. This summer, the Libyan authorities, reportedly arrested 20 suspected AQIM members on Libyan soil”.

Libya is still a long way from being a terrorist hotbed, but lack of action could easily wish countries were longing for a return of Gaddaffi.

Bolstering his base

17/09/2012

President Obama “filed a trade case Monday against China, which it says has provided auto and auto parts companies with at least $1 billion in illegal export subsidies. The suit at the World Trade Organization comes as Obama faces attacks from Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who argues the president has been too weak with China on trade”. It also supports any wavering support from his base in the final weeks of the campaign.

50 days and counting

17/09/2012

With the US elections only 50 days away The Hill has examined the state of play.

The article mentions “President Obama has a small, but clear lead over Mitt Romney. Obama is ahead of Romney by a narrow margin in most national polls, and has a slightly wider lead in most swing states, giving Romney almost no room for error”. It goes on to mention that “Obama continues to lead Romney in personal likability”.

He goes on to write that “Republicans are hopeful their big spending advantage will help Romney claw his way back into the lead, though Democrats have the edge in the ground game”. He argues that the recent turmoil in the Middle East will benefit President Obama due to his long recognised long policy advantage.

He adds that “Romney’s best chance at reframing the race will come with the three presidential debates — the first of which will take place on Oct. 3 in Denver — which he tacitly acknowledged by already spending three days devoted to debate preparation with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) earlier this month. Advisers for Romney, including his wife, have already begun to downplay expectations for his performance”. It says much that Romney has to downplay expectations against Obama. However, Obama does not have things all his own way as the article fairly notes that he “hasn’t engaged in a debate since 2008”.

The article goes on to mention that “Romney needs to win more than two-thirds of the electoral votes up for grabs to become president, a tall order because he’s narrowly trailing in polls of most of those states”, this, in addition to the aforementioned demography in Obama’s favour could swing the election in his favour.

The piece goes on to mention the Senate. He writes that the “Democrats’ chances of keeping control of the Senate have gradually improved over the past year, with the latest fiasco in Missouri making it much more likely they’ll be able to narrowly retain control of the chamber”. He “While their prospects of winning Wisconsin improved greatly with former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s (R) primary win, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) seems to have a narrow edge in Nevada and Linda McMahon (R) is running a surprisingly strong campaign in Connecticut”. He ends the section on the Senate arguing “Republicans need to win a net of four seats for control of the chamber if Obama wins reelection, and it looks like they will fall just short of that mark”.

He ends the piece discussing the House. He argues that the Democrat hope of gaining back control “is unlikely” that “they will come anywhere close to winning the net of 25 seats they need for control of the chamber”. Closing the piece he writes “Republicans were able to shore up a number of their members in redistricting, and a few recruitment failures have hurt Democrats this cycle. They’ll likely pick up seats still, but the expected range is closer to 10 than 25”.