Archive for January, 2013

Unmasking the Brotherhood

31/01/2013

A long article goes through the Muslim Brotherhood point by point and attempts to paint a better picture of what is undoubtedly a complex organisation.

The article asks if the Brotherhood are democrats, “Long before the Jan. 25 revolution that ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, many academics and policymakers argued that his main adversary — the Muslim Brotherhood — had made its peace with democracy. This was based on the assumption that, since the Muslim Brotherhood participated in virtually every election under Mubarak, it was committed to the rule of the people as a matter of principle”. He goes on to add that “since the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Morsi, was elected president in June, the exact opposite has been true. The Brotherhood’s only real ‘consultation’ has been with the Egyptian military, which the Brotherhood persuaded to leave power by ceding substantial autonomy to it under the new constitution. Among other undemocratic provisions, this backroom deal yielded constitutional protection for the military’s separate court system, under which civilians can be prosecuted for the vague crime of ‘damaging the armed forces.’ Meanwhile, the Brotherhood has embraced many of the Mubarak regime’s autocratic excesses: Editors who are critical of the Brotherhood have lost their jobs, and more journalists have been prosecuted for insulting the president during Morsy’s six months in office than during Mubarak’s 30-year reign”. He goes on to cite Morsi’s decree grabbing power to the worry of the region and beyond.

He goes on to make the point “While it is certainly true that Muslim Brothers, like America’s Christian evangelicals, are religious people, the Brotherhood’s religiosity isn’t its most salient feature. Whereas Christian evangelicals (as well as devout Catholics, orthodox Jews, committed Hindus, and so on) are primarily defined by their piety, the Muslim Brotherhood is first and foremost a political organisation”. He adds that “The Brotherhood achieves this internal uniformity by subjecting its members to a rigorous five- to eight-year process of internal promotion, during which time a rising Muslim Brother ascends through four membership ranks before finally becoming a full-fledged “active brother.” At each level, Brothers are tested on their completion of a standardized Brotherhood curriculum, which emphasizes rote memorization of the Quran as well as the teachings of Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and radical Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb”. It was Qutb who influenced a young Egyptian cleric and medical doctor, Ayman al-Zawahiri who himself became a collaborator of bin Laden.

He adds later in the section that “By channeling deeply committed members through an institutionalized chain of command, the Brotherhood has discovered the key ingredients for winning elections in a country where practically everyone else is deeply divided. For this reason, it is extremely protective of its internal unity: Its current leaders have largely dodged ideological questions — such as explaining what ‘instituting the sharia [Islamic law]’ means in practice — to prevent fissures from emerging”.

The author then rejects, in some detail, the the Brotherhood are capitalists. There is concrete evidence to this, notably Morsi’s power grab and constitutional “tinkering” while at the same time doing nothing to fix the ailing Egyptian economy or welcome much needed tourist money into the country.

He ends the piece arguing that the Brotherhood reject the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty, noting “the Muslim Brotherhood does aim to scrap the treaty, which simply cannot be reconciled with the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred in which every Muslim Brother is thoroughly indoctrinated. This vitriol was perhaps most apparent in Morsy’s now-infamous 2010 remarks, in which he called Jews ‘the descendants of apes and pigs.’ Even as president, Morsy’s blatant bigotry remains irrepressible: In a meeting with a U.S. Senate delegation in Cairo, Morsi implied that the U.S. media was controlled by the Jews. And while the Brotherhood’s apologists claim that these are idle words on which the movement won’t act, its leaders have repeatedly signaled the opposite. In recent months, the Brotherhood’s political party drafted legislation to unilaterally amend the treaty, a Brotherhood foreign policy official told a private salon that Morsy was working to ‘gradually’ end normalization with Israel, and Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie has twice called for Muslims to wage a ‘holy jihad’ to retake Jerusalem”.

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“Every major point”

31/01/2013

In his opening statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chuck Hagel will address every major point of criticism leveled at him this winter, from Israel to Iran to gays in the military. Hagel’s confirmation hearing, Thursday morning, has drawn an overflow crowd to hear one of the most outspoken and nonpartisan candidates face his former colleagues”.

A new economic team

31/01/2013

After the confirmation of John Kerry as secretary of State and the eventual confirmation of Chuck Hagel as secretary of Defence, President Obama has nominated Jack Lew as secretary of the Treasury. An article lauds Obama but questions what appointments he will make in the future.

Rothkopf writes “a large part of the reason the Obama team has focused heavily on domestic economic concerns is the crisis the president inherited — one that was, in fact, the most pressing international economic issue of its day. But as the crisis was brought under control, the administration’s approach grew more balanced. In fact, the Obama team has achieved more internationally than most observers have noted. Among the most important contributions of outgoing Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, a Clinton-era veteran who grew greatly throughout his tenure in Alexander Hamilton’s old job, was his willingness to candidly and actively participate in discussions surrounding the euro crisis”.

He adds that Obama must fill Geithner’s job, with the aforementioned Lew, as well as the U.S. Trade Representative as well as Labour Secretary Hilda Solis coupled with “the longstanding opening atop the Commerce Department, and the expected departure of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, the president faces in the next few weeks a series of personnel decisions that will say a great deal about the role international economics will play over the next four years”.

He goes on to argue “The nomination of outgoing White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to succeed Geithner sends an early signal that the president will continue to prioritize domestic economic issues, including fiscal questions. Lew, a former head of the Office of Management and Budget, is widely respected but is seen by those who have worked with him in Washington as a pick calculated to help work issues with Capitol Hill more than on the international economic stage. That said, the decision to replace Lew with Denis McDonough, the former deputy national security advisor, will place someone with acute awareness of the importance of international economic issues (especially in places where national security concerns are in play, such as the Middle East) in an even more prominent spot. Which is saying something, considering how influential the effective and smart McDonough was during the first term”.

The article then goes on to pose a number of questions, such as will the Trade Representative “remain a backwater, as it has been for much of the past four years, or will it perhaps take the lead in pursuing a more activist trade agenda”. He goes on to ask will the Department of Commerce be the focus “of the long-promised reorganization proposed by the president and championed by acting-OMB director Jeff Zients, one of Obama’s most talented advisors and someone who also happens to be one of the few senior officials with real business experience?”

He goes on to question “Will the administration continue to champion commercial interests overseas and the economic ties that are our most important link to most countries? Will it be able to put together international aid packages that can make a difference in stabilizing Egypt and other vital and fragile states?”

He makes the point “in addition to the likes of Lew, McDonough, and Zients, the president has a very talented team already on board and capable of stepping into many of the open roles. Michael Froman, a friend of Obama from his law school days but also a former top aide to Bob Rubin, has been the president’s international economic quarterback and, although behind the scenes, is recognized in capitals around the world and in business headquarters as the man to see on their most important issues”.

He goes on to mention Froman saying that if he rejects the USTR post, “current Treasury Under Secretary Lael Brainard and current Commerce Under Secretary Francisco Sánchez are reportedly in line for the USTR job. Both would bring needed diversity to the cabinet. But more importantly, both have been extremely valuable players — Brainard running Treasury’s entire international portfolio and the well-liked Sánchez, now one of the administration’s top ranking Latino officials”. While diversity is important, no organisation should go to extreme lengths to meet seemingly never ending diversity requirements.

Morsi’s talks

31/01/2013

As Egyptians defied a curfew, President Morsi calls for “crisis talks” amid the emergency. Reports indicate that “Egypt’s Minister of Defence General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, who is also head of the armed forces, said the current political crisis ‘could lead to a collapse of the state‘ which could ‘threaten future generations.’ His comments were posted on the military’s Facebook page after five days of protests and violence have killed an estimated 52 people. Most of the violence has been in Port Said, Ismailia, and Suez”. Whether this is a ploy by Morsi to co-opt the people or a genuine attempt at conciliation will be discovered soon enough.

Not Afghanistan

31/01/2013

An article rebukes those who incorrectly compare Mali to Afghanistan. The author opens noting the background to the current situation in Mali, “some background on how we got here. By April 2012, the collapse of state authority in northern Mali had allowed a separatist rebel movement, the MNLA (the French acronym for National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), to take over the north’s major cities and to declare the independence of their long-dreamed-of state of Azawad. The dream of Azawad lasted less than two months, when MNLA fighters were pushed out of power by three Islamist groups, Ansar Dine, MUJAO (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa), and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). These movements attempted to erect governance structures and systems based on a strict interpretation of sharia in the areas they controlled, going so far as to impose such penalties as cutting off hands for accusations of theft, requiring women to wear hijab in public, and segregating boys and girls at school. Despite displacing over 100,000 people, the 2012 turmoil in northern Mali did not provoke much international response beyond pro forma condemnations. It took the Security Council until late December to approve a plan to retake northern Mali via the deployment of a 3,300-person West African force.  That plan involved extensive training for West African troops, and no sort of invasion was expected before late 2013 at the earliest”.

She goes on to make the point that “False claims based on limited contextual knowledge have since abounded, including onewidely repeated claim that this crisis is largely a result of the Libya intervention (it’s not; this happened due to domestic political crises in Mali). Among the most egregious — and inaccurate — claims about the crisis to emerge is the idea that Mali could become France’s Afghanistan. Apparently based on the understanding that engaging in war against Muslim extremists on difficult terrain in a fragile state, reporters and politicos across the ideological spectrum have embraced the comparison, warning of the possibility of mission creep and/or other dire consequences“.

Indeed, Mali has had a history of tolerance as expressed in the form of Islam they practice.  Not only that but the terrorists destruction of the art, shrines and ancient historical documents only alienates native Malians from what little support they had/have. This explains why the French are so welcomed by Malians. Therefore talk of neo-colonialism is completely inaccurate as not only are French troops welcomed warmly, having driven out the “Muslims”, they are protecting the Malians and not only that have not intention to stay, due to the fact that one French minister put it, France is bankrupt.

She goes on to mention that “While there are comparisons to be made (e.g., both countries are struggling to combat the presence of Islamist extremists), the two situations are so different that defining them as near-equivalents only serves to muddle clear thinking about Mali’s current and future prospects. Remember all those comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam? The historical analogy had only very limited utility because the former’s history and context had almost nothing in common with the latter’s”. She continues, arguing that “Mali, by contrast, has a longer history of at least some centralized rule. The Mali Empire, which governed a huge swath of West Africa from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries, included the renowned city of scholarship in Timbuktu. Mali’s colonization by France in 1892 was largely peaceful, and the country has never engaged in a serious war until now”.

She adds making the fundamental point that “Mali is not Afghanistan because there are no Pashtuns. While the MNLA separatists are comprised of some members of the Tuareg ethic group, outside of that dynamic, ethnicity in Mali is much less a basis of contention than it is in Afghanistan. Indeed, the most interesting social dynamic in Mali may be the relationship between competing forms of Islamic devotion, not ethnic groups. Likewise, Mali lacks an equivalent to Pakistan — there is no neighboring state or individuals in that state who share militants’ ethnicity and have the backing of elements of a hostile spy agency. The Islamists who do operate in northern Mali are a disparate group with diffuse goals, as thisseries of posts by Sahel expert Andrew Lebovich make clear”.

What is needed now is the end of the Islamist insurgency and the re-establishment of proper rule coupled with Mali’s neighbours guiding the country back to stability, if nothing else.

Defeating the purpose

29/01/2013

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands has decided to abdicate on 30 April, thus defeating the whole point of monarchy. She seemed to refuse to consider a regency under her son which is the best option.

Not that simple

27/01/2013

An article  by Marc Lynch argues that only when America deals with its relations with Saudi Arabia can it deal effectively with the Arab revolutions.

He mentions that “I heard sharp disagreements from Saudis on Bahrain, which they for the most part saw not as a peaceful uprising but as an Iranian-backed campaign of violent subversion that had to be put down to restore order. Perhaps a few agreed, at least privately, on the unjustifiable nature of the campaign of repression that followed — even if the protesters had sympathies with Iran, could that justify their torture and indefinite detention? — and the dim prospects for stability without a serious new political initiative. But that rarely extended to an acceptance of the authenticity or legitimacy of the Bahraini protest movement. The yawning gap in our views of Bahrain reflected a more general disconnect between Washington and Riyadh on regional order”.

He goes on to write that “Saudi Arabia’s hostility toward the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and its coordinated efforts to block change in the Gulf and in allied monarchies across the region, works directly against the stated American goal of promoting reform”. While America does of course wish for the Middle East to be democratic and peaceful it also understands that this process takes time and when the region does sometimes vote democratically the result is rarely in the best interests of the United States. He adds that Saudi Arabia, “support for the crushing of the Bahraini protest movement and rehabilitation of an unrepentant regime left a gaping hole in American credibility”. Yet, the US Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain and America is in a delicate position. It must urge King Hamad to reform but at the same time the Fleet could be in danger if it remained there and did nothing. If it were to leave, or even threaten to leave, it would be a blow to King Hamad and could be used as a leverage. However, it would be hard to see where the Fleet would go if it were to leave, Iraq? Another suggestion would be to base the fleet in Qatar, but the power of that small nation would only be enhanced if the move were to happen. Another possibility could be Kuwait, although it may be some time before facilities could be built to house the fleet.

The piece adds that “America’s alliance with Saudi Arabia remains the greatest contradiction inherent in its attempt to align itself with popular aspirations for change in the region. A Saudi exception certainly makes things such as coordinating the containment of Iran easier for diplomats on a daily basis. But it sustains and perpetuates a regional order which over the long term is costly to sustain and clearly at odds with American normative preferences. Some American analysts, notably Toby Jones, have therefore called repeatedly for a wholesale rethinking of the U.S.-Saudi alliance”. He goes on to argue that America “should be much more forthright in pushing for reforms and supporting universal human rights in all of its allies. This is the time for Washington to be actively thinking about how to use its very real strategic imperative of reducing its military commitments to the region as leverage over those allies to reform. Putting those together, along with sustained dialogue with Saudis from the royal family down through all sectors of the public, could help to create a greater coherence in America’s regional strategy”.

He adds later in the article that “Riyadh’s crackdown on its own reformists and massive domestic spending boom mirrored the support it offered for beleaguered monarchies in the Gulf, Jordan and Morocco”, indeed he is broadly right, yet, American foreign policy is a mixture between realism and idealism. This is why it has been so successful. So Lynch is correct to say that in order to “guide” (no simple task itself) the Arab revolutions the US-Saudi relationship must change but at the same time America needs the GCC and its largest member as a trusted counterweight to the dictator that is Morsi in Egypt, to say nothing of Iran.

McDonough replaces Lew

27/01/2013

As previously commented on, “Obama on Friday tapped Denis McDonough as his new chief of staff, replacing Jack Lew, whom Obama nominated to be Treasury secretary earlier this month. McDonough’s appointment as chief of staff brings a trusted adviser from Obama’s inner circle to the second-most powerful job in the administration. It also puts a national-security focus at the chief of staff position after three chiefs whose backgrounds were more focused on domestic issues”.

No drones in Algeria

27/01/2013

The drone expert, Micah Zenko has written an article on the potential use of drones in Algeria. He opens he piece quoting some journalists as to why drones where not used in the Algerian hostage crisis. He then writes “Neither the Bush nor Obama administrations received blanket permission to transit Algerian airspace with surveillance planes or drones; instead, they received authorization only on a case-by-case basis and with advance notice”.

He adds that “even if the United States received flyover rights for armed drones, it has been unable to secure a base in southern Europe or northern Africa from which it would be permitted to conduct drone strikes; and presently, U.S. armed drones cannot be launched and recovered from naval platforms”.

He goes on to mention that “The Obama administration’s lack of a military response in Algeria reflects how sovereign states routinely constrain U.S. intelligence and military activities. As the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Air Force Operations and the Law guidebook states: ‘The unauthorized or improper entry of foreign aircraft into a state’s national airspace is a violation of that state’s sovereignty…. Except for overflight of international straits and archipelagic sea lanes, all nations have complete discretion in regulating or prohibiting flights within their national airspace.’ Though not sexy and little reported, deploying CIA drones or special operations forces requires constant behind-the-scenes diplomacy: with very rare exceptions”.

It is right that the United States adheres to these requirements in its national law and elsewhere as not to do so would go against the very order that America is trying to both create and uphold. Naturally, as Zenko says, there are some exceptions in cases of dire emergency or on issues of vital national security interests. Otherwise America is happy to abide by the rules. As Zenko writes, “For example, basing rights agreements can limit the number of civilian, military, and contractor personnel at an airbase or post; what access they have to the electromagnetic spectrum; what types of aircraft they can fly; how many sorties they can conduct per day; when those sorties can occur and how long they can last; whether the aircraft can drop bombs on another country and what sort of bombs; and whether they can use lethal force in self-defense. When the United States led the enforcement of the northern no-fly zone over Iraq from the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey from 1991 to 2003, a Turkish military official at the rank of lieutenant colonel or higher was always on board U.S. Air Force AWACS planes, monitoring the airspace to assure that the United States did not violate its highly restrictive basing agreement”.

He ends the piece “Setting aside the essential question of whether that tactic can achieve the intended political or military objectives, the state that the United States must fly from, or fly over, could simply forbid it. That’s their sovereign right. The White House can choose to act — in Algeria or elsewhere — without a state’s permission, and deal with the political consequences and likely reduction in diplomatic and intelligence cooperation if U.S. involvement is exposed. Given that 94 percent of the Earth’s land mass is not U.S. territory, the sovereign right to say “no” is one that advocates of using military force must keep in mind”.

Yet, despite all of this America should rightly, ignore these otherwise sound rules when the need arises.

Squeezing China out

27/01/2013

After the recent post on the challenges being placed in the way of Burma by China it has been reported that “After weeks of intense fighting near the border with China, the Myanmar government on Friday announced what appeared to be a unilateral cease-fire in its offensive against ethnic Kachin rebels. The government also said it would pursue peace talks, but it was unclear how the rebels would react to the government’s overtures. The announcement of a cease-fire, to start Saturday, was made during the main evening newscast and came only hours after Parliament approved a resolution calling for an end to a year and a half of fighting. Myanmar’s actions have come under increased scrutiny by an international community fearful that the country, an emerging democracy, will backslide”.

Dolan’s report

27/01/2013

As part of the Apostolic Visitation to Ireland that concluded last year Timothy Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York was the visitor to seminaries both in Ireland itself and abroad, most obviously, the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.

Cardinal Dolan’s report to the Congregation for Catholic Education was leaked to The Irish Times which then reported on it. The report of the paper mentions that the report given to Pope Benedict “which expressed concern about ‘the atmosphere, structure, staffing and guiding philosophy’ of the Irish College in Rome, contained ‘significant errors of fact’, Ireland’s four Catholic archbishops have said”.

The report by the Times goes on to note “It has called for ‘substantial reform’ at the college. The four archbishops, who were the college’s trustees, were criticised in the report as seeming to be ‘disengaged from college governance, with meetings, minutes, agenda and direct supervision irregular . . . The general rule of governance is ‘Let’s keep doing what we have been for the last 35 years’,’ it said. The Irish archbishops say they ‘made a detailed and considered response to the Holy See’.

The article by the newspaper goes on to say “The visitation report said ‘a disturbingly significant number of seminarians gave a negative assessment of the atmosphere of the house’. Staff, it added, were ‘critical about any emphasis on Rome, tradition, the magisterium, piety or assertive orthodoxy, while the students are enthusiastic about these features’. A change in the staff was recommended. Elsewhere the report said: ‘The apostolic visitor noted, and heard from students, an ‘anti-ecclesial bias’ in theological formation.’ The Irish Times established contact with four seminary staff mentioned in the report, but none availed of the opportunity to comment. Cardinal Dolan’s report said ‘the college suffers from the reputation of being ‘gay friendly’, however unjust such a reputation might be’. He said he was ‘eager to underline that he did not find any evidence of rampant immorality or a homosexual subculture, and that the overwhelming majority of the seminarians are committed to a faithful, chaste lifestyle'”.

The concept of Cardinal Dolan accusing the Irish College of an “anti-ecclesial” bias is extremely serious and should not be dismissed lightly. The personnel of the Irish College has been changed with separate reports have noted that a new rector of was Irish College was appointed in September 2011. What Dolan’s report effectively says is that while most of the seminarians at the College, follow Church teachings, Dolan openly lays the blame for the culture and supposed lapses in the teaching of the Church on the governing and teaching staff of the College. Dolan again implicitly blames the board of governors of the College which are the four Irish metropolitan archbishops. However, this is unfair of Cardinal Dolan to blame them for what is supposedly going on at the College while the archbishops are running their dioceses at the same time.

The newsreport goes on to mention “The report concludes that if the college is ‘to prepare men as leaders for the renewal of the church in Ireland, which the Holy Father is confident will come, the staff of the college must inspire trust and its programme of formation must engender a vibrant fidelity to Jesus and the teaching and tradition of His church with the fostering of a durable interior life, and a humble, confident sense of priestly identity and mission. Such is now lacking.’ However, Cardinal Dolan left the college ‘filled with affection and admiration for the students and, notwithstanding his criticisms, appreciation for the sincerity and hard work of the staff'”.

Gaining momentum

27/01/2013

Reports note that major immigration reform is gaining momentum, “Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is voicing confidence in the prospects for immigration reform in the House, saying that a bipartisan group of lawmakers “basically [has] an agreement” after more than three years of secret talks. The Speaker made the previously unreported comments during a question-and-answer session on Tuesday at the Ripon Society, a Republican advocacy group. Obama is preparing to launch a major push for comprehensive immigration reform with a speech in Las Vegas next week. Much of the spotlight has focused on the Senate, where a bipartisan group is reportedly close to announcing an agreement on basic principles for an overhaul of the system. That group now includes Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a potential presidential contender who laid out his principles for reform in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. Another potential White House aspirant, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), quickly signed on to Rubio’s outline”.

A wasted decade?

27/01/2013

In light of the withdrawal of the vast majority of US forces from Afghanistan, an interesting piece by Drs Frederick and Kimberly Kagan in the Wall Street Journal entitled provocatively How to Waste a Decade in Afghanistan, has argued that “Administration officials are already leaking that the U.S. presence will be smaller than that requested by Gen. John Allen. The U.S. commander in the region has said that a force of 6,000 to 20,000 troops is needed. The White House has floated that 3,000 to 4,000 may be sufficient. The divergence mirrors a more general disjunction in U.S. policy and perceptions regarding Afghanistan. Americans think the war is going badly, and many think it is hopelessly lost. But the Obama administration says that the process of ‘transitioning’ responsibility for security to the Afghan military is going well enough to justify dramatic reductions in American forces this year and after 2014”.

The report goes on to mention “Success in Afghanistan has always meant driving al Qaeda out and preventing it from returning. The U.S. cleared al Qaeda from the country in 2001-02 quickly, and with few forces. American efforts have since aimed at creating conditions in which Afghanistan will be able to keep al Qaeda out with limited international assistance. This part of the task has always been the most difficult. Yet it remains as vital today as it was in 2001. Failing at it means letting al Qaeda regain its footing in the land from which it launched the most devastating terror attack against the U.S. in history. It might be comforting to imagine that killing Osama bin Laden and other key leaders has neutralized al Qaeda, or that the terror group is no longer seeking to return to Afghanistan when other theaters of jihad are available. But Ayman al Zawahiri has solidly replaced bin Laden at the helm, and other lieutenants have filled vacancies in the organization”.

They go on to argue quite correctly that the border regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan is still, even after all America has done, rife with terrorists. As they argue forcefully, “Pakistan does not effectively govern, police or control a large area on its side of the border—and Afghan and international forces have been fighting hard to gain control of a larger area on the Afghan side that is also historically difficult for Kabul to control. The very concentration of terrorist groups in this area is itself a reason for them to remain there”.

Yet the question that President Obama has obviously answered in the negative is that, is it worth spending another five or ten years in the region, at such expense, with so little results when neither the Pakistani or Afghani governments are willing to work with America on any significant issue.

The authors go on to write ” One aim of America’s efforts in Afghanistan has been to reduce the size of this terrorist-friendly area while making it difficult for terrorists to operate in what remains. The U.S. has pursued that aim by building an Afghan National Security Force tied both to a minimally functional Afghan government and to international forces over the long term”.

While what the authors write is admirable and should be the ultimate goal of US policy in the region, to pretend that the 1,600 mile (2,600km) border is only a few miles and can be easily patrolled is unrealistic to say the least. Added to this fact that neither the Afghans or Pakistani’s are willing to work with America on the issue of cross border terrorism to any significant degree. Thus, while the aim of the writers is commendable the reality is another matter entirely.

They go on to argue cogently, “We cannot conduct effective counterterrorism operations without having bases near the targets. The American military will rightly not send its forces to fight beyond the range of medevac and rapid reinforcement, and the commander in chief should never ask the military to do so. Afghanistan’s miserable terrain, with localized weather patterns that frequently block access through critical passes, requires a dispersed footprint with helicopters and fixed-wing air support as well as necessary medical and logistics facilities. At the force level the administration has suggested, the U.S. would be able to keep only two bases in Afghanistan, most likely for logistical reasons at Bagram and either Kabul or Kandahar. They are not close enough to support counterterrorism operations where most needed—in the eastern provinces of Kunar, Nuristan, Khost and Paktika. Neither would there be enough U.S. forces to assist the Afghan army. There would be no more American soldiers fighting alongside Afghans, as in the past, and not even embedded U.S. trainers in their units. The Afghans would not be able to call in U.S. air, artillery or medical support”.

They end the article “the Afghan army would be immobilized on its bases and unwilling to patrol. That fact by itself would expand the ungoverned area of Afghanistan more than enough to allow al Qaeda to re-establish itself in many areas”. Unless a miracle happens in the intervening years a another civil war is a very real possibility.

Modest reforms passed

27/01/2013

After a recent post a news article mentions that “The Senate enacted modest reforms to its filibuster rules with votes Thursday evening that kept bipartisan relations intact but left disappointed liberal groups fuming. The reforms are the biggest changes to the Senate’s filibuster rules in decades but fell well short of drastic reforms demanded by labor unions and liberal-leaning advocacy groups. The deal negotiated between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) provoked an outcry from liberal groups”.

The permanent war?

25/01/2013

After the recent posts about the self imposed restrictions that the Obama administration is to place on itself in the operation of drones albeit with one temporary exemption for the CIA, Rosa Brooks writes that President Obama is lying about the end of war. She writes legalistically that “officially, the president and the rest of the U.S. government still have no comment on the question of whether or not we might be using or not using drone strikes in certain unspecified countries. You know: covert is covert, even when it’s sort of overt. So President Obama didn’t say a word about drones in Monday’s inaugural address. Instead, he alluded to our 2011 withdrawal from Iraq and our planned 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan, assuring us that ‘A decade of war is now ending'”.

Brooks goes on to “argue” that, “With drones, we can pretend to have peace while actually having perpetual war. We can bring the soldiers home, something the public is manifestly eager to do, but still make trouble happen in places a long way off. And we will. Don’t let the president’s peculiar evocation of Neville Chamberlain fool you: we may withdraw from Afghanistan next year as planned, but we’re about as likely to have ‘peace in our time‘ as the British were in 1938″.

What Brooks and others like her who are unfairly accusing President Obama of waging a “permanent war” fail to accept, or perhaps understand, is that the nature of warfare has changed fundamentally, in both the enemy America faces and the way modern warfare is increasingly being conducted. This is despite the obvious fact that while there will never be a substutite for troops on the ground in a major conflict, drones are rightly a vital part in keeping America, and by extentsion the rest of the world, safe while at the same time keeping costs low, which thus enables America to continue doing what no other country can, or wants to do. Therefore, in the narrow legalistic sense it is a certainly an onoging war, but due to the ADD suffered by America, and other democracies, when troops are involved over more than a short space of time, drones are needed to square the circle to keep America and its allies safe without involving troops. The real question Brooks and others like her should be answering is how to overcome this democratic ADD when ground troops are used.

She goes on to write that “That’s because even as our ground wars have wound down, our covert drone wars have been ratcheting up. We’ve used drones in conventional ‘hot battlefields’ (Afghanistan, Libya) and this is relatively uncontroversial, but we’ve also relied on drones to go after targets in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. There have been unsubstantiated allegations of U.S. drone use in Mali and the Philippines as well. Since most to this drone activity remains covert, it’s hard to know how extensive the U.S. use of drone strikes has become. Best estimates place the number of drone strikes outside conventional battlefields in the hundreds, and the number of deaths well over 3,000″.

The nub of her arguement is that “The trouble with drones is that they make it a little too tempting to use force. When you have a nifty tool that allows you to deniably knock off potential bad guys with no risk, why wouldn’t you use it more and more? Thus, we’ve seen drone strikes evolve in the last decade, from a tool used in limited circumstances to go after specifically identified high-ranking al Qaeda officials to a tool relied on in an increasing number of countries to go after an eternally lengthening list of putative bad guys, some identified by name, others targeted on the basis of suspicious behaviour patterns, with an increasingly tenuous link to grave or imminent threats to the United States”.

The argument that Brooks seems to be making is that drones are too effective and too easy to use and therefore they should not be used. Yet, again she misunderstands the terrorist threat which can adapt easily and slip away without a trace. Therefore any chance America has to weaken these terrorist networks, irrespective of the seniority of the targets is undeniably a good thing.

Positioning himself

25/01/2013

Bobby Jindal will deliver a forceful denunciation of his party’s  Washington-centric focus in a speech to the Republican National Committee on Thursday evening, arguing that the GOP is fighting the wrong fight as it seeks to rebuild from losses at the ballot box last November”. The piece goes on to say that “Jindal’s speech — and his call to ‘recalibrate the compass of conservatism’ — is the latest shred of a growing amount of evidence that the Louisiana governor is positioning himself to not only run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 but do so in direct (or close to it) opposition to his party in the nation’s capital. In the speech, Jindal will repeatedly caution that Republicans in Washington have fallen into the ‘sideshow trap’ of debating with Democrats over the proper size of the federal government”.

Reforming the programme

25/01/2013

The director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair USN has called for the drone programme to be reformed and control given the Department of Defence.

The report notes “The blurred line between military and civilian control of armed aerial drones  has entangled the Obama administration into ‘all kinds of legal knots’ over how  and when the United States uses the controversial counterterrorism tactic, Blair  told reporters during a conference call on U.S. drone policy sponsored by the  Council on Foreign Relations”.

Interestingly it goes on to mention “To clear up that confusion, Blair suggested that ‘the great majority’ of U.S.  drone strikes be controlled and carried out by the Pentagon. Currently CIA and  special operations forces inside the Department of Defense conduct their own  drone campaigns in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere. Under Pentagon control, U.S. officials would be able to streamline drone  operations ‘under normal procedures in the law of war’ and side step a number of  the sticky legal situations stemming from the CIA program.

What is worthy of comment is the fact that Admiral Blair implied that some control over drone strikes remain within the executive. The most obvious way of interpreting this is that control would rest with the president as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces, however, his wording does leave room that some strikes could be “carried out” by the White House, or the CIA. There is an argument however that have an operation carried out by both the CIA and the Armed Forces, as is currently the case, breeds confusion and potentially duplication.

The piece goes on to note “Use of drone strikes under Pentagon oversight, according to Blair, would be no  different the more traditional weapons and tactics used by American forces in  ongoing counterterrorism operations, such as they type of special operations  forces raids used to kill al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden last May”.

It ends, “U.S. drone policy became even murkier this week, when the administration  announced the CIA-led arm of the operation would be exempt from a new, stringent  slate of regulations governing U.S. counterterrorism operations being drafted by  the White House. The exemption will allow CIA-led drone strikes in Pakistan to continue  unfettered, while the new White House regulations will guide how the  administration proceeds with its armed drone campaign, according to the Washington  Post“.

Death in AQAP

25/01/2013

Said al-Shihri is dead again, maybe this time for good. As the deputy emir of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, he is the highest ranking official in AQAP to be killed since the organization emerged in January 2009. He’s had some near misses since then, and sources in the Yemeni military have been known to jump the gun in claiming his death. This time the news has been issued by the Yemeni government and its state news agency, and been confirmed by Mohammed Albasha, a spokesman for the Yemeni embassy in Washington”.

The revolutions assessed thus far

25/01/2013

Following on from a previous post marking the second anniversary in Egypt an article has appeared in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs, The Mirage of the Arab Spring, which examines the Arab revolutions two years after the fall of Mubarak.

Jones opens the long article noting, “As popular demonstrations swept across the Arab world in 2011, many U.S. policymakers and analysts were hopeful that the movements would usher in a new era for the region. That May, President Barack Obama described the uprisings as ‘a historic opportunity’ for the United States ‘to pursue the world as it should be.’ Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed these comments, expressing confidence that the transformations would allow Washington to advance ‘security, stability, peace, and democracy’ in the Middle East”. He goes on to remind his readers importantly that “Some saw the changes as heralding a long-awaited end to the Middle East’s immunity to previous waves of global democratization; others proclaimed that al Qaeda and other radicals had finally lost the war of ideas”.

Jones continues “The prospects for further democratization, however, have dimmed. Most countries in the Arab world have not jumped political tracks, and those that did begin to liberalise are now struggling to maintain order”. The most obvious of these countries is of course Libya that struggles with the flood of weapons after the war and the ever looming possibility of warlordism.

He rightly injects a note of realism into the debate by, “even after all the changes, the region comprising the Middle East and North Africa remains the least free in the world, with Freedom House estimating that 72 percent of the countries and 85 percent of the people there still lack basic political rights and civil liberties”. He then gives a brief overview of what has occured thus far, “Syria has descended into a bloody civil war along sectarian lines. Iraq and Yemen, already unstable beforehand, remain deeply fractured and violent. Libya’s fragile central government has failed to disarm the warlords and militias that control many of the country’s rural areas. Even in Egypt, the poster child for regional political reform, the Muslim Brotherhood-led government has attempted to solidify its control and silence the media using tactics reminiscent of the Mubarak era. Meanwhile, as the riots that spread across the region in September illustrated, anti-American sentiment shows no signs of abating. Terrorism continues to be a major problem, too, with al Qaeda and its affiliates trying to fill the vacuums in Libya, Syria, and other unstable countries”.

Jones goes on to write congently that “The demise of Middle Eastern authoritarianism may come eventually. But there is little reason to think that day is near, and even less reason to think that the United States can significantly increase its chances of happening”. This is not quite true as Jones tends to underestimate the power of the United States in pushing these countries in certian directions, although his broad point is correct, there is little America can do beyond influence matters, as he elobrates “Any effort by Washington to bring democracy to the region will fail if local social and economic conditions are not ripe and if vested interests in the countries oppose political reforms. Indeed, outside powers such as the United States have historically had only a marginal impact, at best, on whether a country democratises”.

He gives a number of concrete examples, “In Saudi Arabia, the monarchy has kept a firm grip on power and has used its might to prop up neighboring autocratic regimes. In February 2011, Riyadh ordered tanks into Bahrain to help put down a popular uprising that Saudi and Bahraini leaders portrayed as sectarian agitation. What the Saudis and the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council really feared, however, was the protesters’ demands that Bahrain become a constitutional monarchy. The Gulf monarchies, as uncomfortable with the Arab Spring as they were with Arab nationalism half a century earlier, have once again taken up the mantle of counterrevolution. A telltale sign came in May 2011, when the GCC offered membership to the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco, neither of which are located in the Gulf region. Coupled with the financing that the GCC provided to Egypt in order to gain leverage over its new government, these overtures demonstrated that the Arab monarchies intend to consolidate their power and spread their influence across the Middle East”.

He describes Yemen as “a mess” and notes that after Saleh left office and “agreed in November of that year to transfer power to his vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. But in the subsequent presidential election, Hadi was the only candidate on the ballot” His weak government is now grappling with a Shiite rebellion in the north, a secessionist movement and an al Qaeda insurgency in the south, and powerful militias and tribes that control substantial swaths of territory. All signs indicate that violence will persist and the economy will remain in the doldrums”.

He goes through Egypt noting that Morsi “has wrested substantial political and military control from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Like Mubarak before him, he has tried to vest himself with enormous power; he currently holds significant executive, legislative, and judicial authority, and he has attempted to silence the media“. Jones worryingly goes on to mention that that “one of the strongest political challenges to the Brotherhood comes not from liberals but from al Nour, a Salafi party that supports strict implementation of sharia”.

He goes on to bring up the notion of monarchical exceptionalism, “Some governments in the region, especially in the Gulf, derive the majority of their revenue from energy exports and foreign aid. Relying heavily on such income streams allows these regimes to avoid taxing their populations significantly, removing a central source of popular demand for political participation”. He mentions, quite fairly, that “Energy wealth also allows autocrats to fund their security forces lavishly and buy the loyalty of key domestic constituencies. In March 2011, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia blunted calls for reform by announcing a staggering $130 billion benefits package that improved wages and job opportunities for a population of less than 30 million. The benefits mostly went to the young and the poor, the groups that had been at the forefront of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia”. He makes the point that has been made elsewhere that “Where the ruler retains a special bond with the people, either by claiming descent from the Prophet Muhammad (as in Morocco) or by serving as a unifying force for different ethnic groups in the country (as in Jordan), protesters have been more likely to accept legislative change and have not demanded a wholesale abandonment of the monarchy”.

He makes the broad and commendably realist point that “A central goal remains counterbalancing Iran — not only preventing it from acquiring nuclear weapons but also checking its long-term regional ambitions. Iran views the United States as its main ideological and geopolitical enemy, and it is seeking to become the preeminent power in the Middle East and to promote its revolutionary ideology”, he adds crucially “Even though many of the countries that the United States will rely on to help counter Iran, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, are not democratic, their cooperation is too important for Washington to forsake”.

In the same vein he writes that “Another crucial goal is maintaining the free flow of energy resources at reasonable prices. The United States imports about 23 percent of its crude oil and related products from the Arab world, particularly from Saudi Arabia (1.2 million barrels per day in August 2012), Iraq (550,000 barrels), Algeria (303,000 barrels), and Kuwait (301,000 barrels). Several of these countries are — not coincidentally given their immense oil wealth — undemocratic. This means that for the foreseeable future, the United States must continue to work with authoritarian states to preserve its energy security”. Though it would a mistake to assume that this reliance will continue to the same extent that it has in the past.

He concludes coldly, “The uprisings of the last two years have represented a significant challenge to authoritarian rule in the Arab world. But structural conditions appear to be preventing broader political liberalization in the region, and war, corruption, and economic stagnation could undermine further progress”.

Morsi on Jews

25/01/2013

Reports note that “seven U.S. senators had a highly contentious meeting with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi during which the Muslim Brotherhood leader implied that he was the victim of an American media run by the Jews. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) led a delegation last week to Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and Afghanistan that included Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Kirsten Gilibrand (D-NY). Their stop in Cairo included a 90-minute meeting with Morsy that devolved into an uncomfortable set of exchanges as the senators pressed the Egyptian president to explain his 2010 comments describing Jews as ‘bloodsuckers who attack Palestinians’ as well as ‘the descendants of apes and pigs.’ After the meeting, McCain issued a statement saying that the senators ‘voiced our strong disapproval of the statement’ and that the senators and Morsy ‘had a constructive discussion on this subject.’ Morsy’s spokesman issued a statement after the meeting saying that Morsy believed in religious freedom and ‘the need to distinguish between the Jewish religion, and those who belong to it, and violent actions against defenseless Palestinians.'”

“A temporary exemption”

25/01/2013

In the ongoing debate about the future of drones, an article in the Washington Post mentions that the CIA has had more powers granted to them, although the article frames this is a negative context.

The article mentions, “The Obama administration is nearing completion of a detailed counterterrorism manual that is designed to establish clear rules for targeted-killing operations but leaves open a major exemption for the CIA’s campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan, U.S. officials said. The carve-out would allow the CIA to continue pounding al-Qaeda and Taliban targets for a year or more before the agency is forced to comply with more stringent rules spelled out in a classified document that officials have described as a counterterrorism ‘playbook.'”

Miller goes on to write “The document, which is expected to be submitted to President Obama for final approval within weeks, marks the culmination of a year-long effort by the White House to codify its counterterrorism policies and create a guide for lethal operations through Obama’s second term”. He adds “officials said the effort to draft the playbook was nearly derailed late last year by disagreements among the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon on the criteria for lethal strikes and other issues. Granting the CIA a temporary exemption for its Pakistan operations was described as a compromise that allowed officials to move forward with other parts of the playbook. The decision to allow the CIA strikes to continue was driven in part by concern that the window for weakening al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan is beginning to close, with plans to pull most U.S. troops out of neighboring Afghanistan over the next two years. CIA drones are flown out of bases in Afghanistan”.

The headline for the article is therefore unwarrented and alarmist to many readers when it is in fact, only temporary. Miller seems to make more of this temporary exemption than he should, as drones have been hugely effective, though not perfect, in fighting a determined and violent enemy that seeks nothing but chaos for America and its allies.

The piece goes on to mention “The CIA exception is expected to be in effect for ‘less than two years but more than one,’ the former official said, although he noted that any decision to  close the carve-out ‘will undoubtedly be predicated on facts on the ground.'” Miller goes on to write that the document will be reviewed before it comes to President Obama for his signature when it will enter into force, he continues “The outcome reflects the administration’s struggle to resolve a fundamental conflict in its counterterrorism approach. Senior administration officials have expressed unease with the scale and autonomy of the CIA’s lethal mission in Pakistan. But they have been reluctant to alter the rules because of the drone campaign’s results”.

Miller criticses the administration for giving the CIA an exception but then at the same time implies that the administration’s (self imposed) limits do not go far enough. He goes on to write “The effort to create a playbook was initially disclosed last year by The Washington Post. Brennan’s aim in developing it, officials said at the time, was to impose more consistent and rigorous controls on counterterrorism programs that were largely ad-hoc in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Critics see the manual as a symbol of the extent to which the targeted killing program has become institutionalized, part of an apparatus being assembled by the Obama administration to sustain a seemingly permanent war”.

Again Miller hypes the truth of the matter to more than reality. It is certainly true that the use of drones will continue for some time but to say that it will therefore be “permanent” is pushing it too far. It also underestimates the usefulness of drones and at the same time the enemy America faces and continues to face despite all the successes it has had. Miller adds “One of the main points of contention, they said, was the issue of ‘signature strikes.’ The term refers to the CIA’s practice of approving strikes in Pakistan based on patterns of suspicious behavior — moving stockpiles of weapons, for example — even when the agency does not have clear intelligence about the identities of the targets. CIA officials have credited the approach with decimating al-Qaeda’s upper ranks there, paradoxically accounting for the deaths of more senior terrorist operatives than in the strikes carried out when the agency knew the identity and location of a target in advance. Signature strikes contributed to a surge in the drone campaign in 2010, when the agency carried out a record 117 strikes in Pakistan. The pace tapered off over the past two years before quickening again in recent weeks”.

US airlift

25/01/2013

“After  days of wrestling over how it could legally support France in its bid against  Islamic extremism in Mali’s north – since the U.S. severed ties with Mali’s  government after its most recent coup –  U.S. military operations are now in full  swing. We’re told that there have been five C-17 sorties from France to Bamako,  moving more than 120 tons of equipment and supplies and more than 80 troops.  Pentagon officials expect 2-3 sorties or mission-trips, per day for the  duration of the U.S.-supported airlift”.

Cameron’s speech

23/01/2013

Amid the ongoing debate about the place of the UK in the European Union, British views to the EU have remained more or less against the EU with those who are less opposed to it merely a few points away from those who oppose it outright.

In light of this, David Cameron, faced with the rising support for the UK Independence Party, pressure from his own backbench MPs and the ever clearer notion that if the EU is to survive it must integrate further and faster than ever before, gave a speech today that has been anticipated for months and delayed at least once.

Reports have noted that “the Prime Minister said it is “time for the British people to have their say” amid growing public discontent about the power of Brussels. Mr Cameron pledged an in-out referendum in the first half of the next parliament, arguing that democratic consent for membership is currently ‘wafer thin’. ‘It is time to settle this European question in British politics,’ he said. ‘I say to the British people: this will be your decision.’ His decision to hold a poll was greeted with relief and praise from a wide range of Conservative MPs, but the reception across the Channel has already proved hostile in some quarters. A French minister branded the promise of a referendum ‘dangerous’ and a former senior German politician described the possibility of Britain’s exit as a ‘veritable disaster'”.

Leaving aside the Telegraph‘s opinion of the EU generally, to say nothing of France and Germany, the subtle point that the article is making is that the UK decision to hold a referendum on its membership would not be a clever idea in the eyes of France and Germany, speaks to a dangerous anti democratic idea that has had a clear historical thread in EU history since its very inception. This idea was borne of the German fear of democracy as a result of the rise of Hitler. However, the danger is that Germany will mirror the very problem that it is trying to avoid.

The report goes on to say “In a move likely to relieve pro-Europeans, Prime Minister promised that he will personally fight for Britain to stay in the EU, after re-negotiating a better deal and clawing back some powers from Brussels. But he also went further than calling simply for the UK to have a new relationship with the EU. Setting out a wider vision for reform, he made a pitch to other leaders for a more ‘flexible, adaptable and open’ relationship between all members, not just Britain”. It adds “Cameron acknowledged that some of his views about wholesale reform of the EU will be seen as ‘heretical’ by pro-Europeans. However, he warned there is a danger “that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit” if Brussels does not wake up to a growing gap between the leadership and its citizens”. The report adds that “One French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, also told France Info radio that the EU would be happy to ‘roll out the red carpet’ from Britain if it really wants to go”.

In what is seen as something of a victory for Cameron’s approach Merkel seemed to wish to compromise, “Merkel, the German Chancellor, said she wants to see a deal after David Cameron called for radical EU reforms and promised a public vote on Britain’s membership. ‘Germany, and I personally, want Britain to be an important part and an active member of the European Union,’ she said today. ‘We are prepared to talk about British wishes but we must always bear in mind that other countries have different wishes and we must find a fair compromise. We will talk intensively with Britain about its individual ideas but that has some time over the months ahead.'”

In a series of articles looks at it from domestic UK politics. One has written “Cameron did not want to give this speech. Since he became leader of his party in 2005, he’s tried to take Europe off the agenda, and when he can’t, to defer it. Even now, he’s deferring again: you have to wait until 2017, assuming a Tory victory in 2015. Arguably, he’s kicking the can again, but maybe the can is is finally going to come to rest: his promise of legislation and a vote in the first half of the next Parliament would be pretty hard to wriggle out of”.
Lastly two different articles take totally divergent views on the same topic. One argues ” it is significant because it creates problems for Ukip and Labour, and gives the Tories a chance of pulling together”. He adds later on in the article that the future of UKIP is bleak while Labour looks odd, “the Labour leader’s line is that Cameron’s promise is evidence of weakness. This is silly as it makes it difficult for Miliband if he later realises that he must copy him, in which case he will be adopting what he has called a “weak” policy. But does he really want Labour to take the risk of fighting the election in 2015 saying he will deny the British a vote on their future relationship with Europe? That will do wonders for Cameron, giving Euro-sceptics an incentive to vote and campaign for the Conservatives. Ukip celebrations are probably premature. In shifting, Cameron has proved that the insurgent party has great influence even if it has not a single MP. Still, it is hard to see this meaning anything other than the halting or reversal of the rise of Ukip”.
Finally, the last article by Peter Oborne takes the opposite view, “Until yesterday, David Cameron’s policy was both sensible and wise: to let sleeping dogs lie. He took heed of Mr Hague’s advice that shifting position on Europe was like moving an unexploded bomb, liable to go off at any moment, across a crowded room. Much better to leave alone. No wonder that the Prime Minister delayed any action for so long, and carried it out with such reluctance”. Oborne adds fancifully, “Cameron has pleased everybody, and that makes it less unlikely that the Conservative Party will win the next election. So much for the short-term consequences. In the longer term, the situation is much more interesting, and more dangerous. The Prime Minister has moved the bomb, but he has not defused it. It remains in the room, ticking away. It is simply in a different place, and the circumstances have changed: Mr Cameron, by committing the Tories to an in-out referendum, has greatly increased the likelihood that Britain will eventually leave the European Union, while a formal split within the Conservative Party over Europe now looks almost certain”

Welcoming France back

23/01/2013

When AQIM and its friends began advancing a fortnight ago, breaking into southern Mali and seizing towns like Diabaly, there was nothing to stop them from pressing on to the capital, Bamako, and taking over the entire country. Nothing, that is, except France’s swift intervention. With only 2,500 troops and a handful of jet fighters, France has stopped AQIM from swallowing Mali whole and changing the destiny of 15 million people. So foreign forces are not automatically resented: in Mali, they are more often seen as indispensable. It helps that many Malians are steeped in the language and culture of their old imperial power; indeed, their view of France is a standing challenge to the simple morality tale of colonialism as oppression and exploitation. If Western troops must be in their streets, they want them to be French

“Abe’s pragmatic side”

23/01/2013

In the aftermath of a new political scene and the hugely successful election of the LDP and Shinzo Abe many are wondering what the reaction of the new government will towards its hostile and provocative neighbour, China.

An article Foreign Affairs, Japan Keeps Its Cool, argues that Japan will not fight with China. The authors open “outside observers have fretted about the country’s shift to the right. That trend seemed to be confirmed by the election of the conservative Shinzo Abe, who returned to office as prime minister last December, having previously served in that role in 2006-7. Given Abe’s hawkish statements on the campaign trail, some concluded that his return to power meant that Japan would suddenly turn the page on the pacifist strategy”.

The fears that Japan will heighten tensions are unfounded they argue, “This argument is based on several shaky pillars. First is the fear that Abe’s government is revising Japan’s treatment of its wartime history, signaling a newly confrontational posture”. They go on to write “Whether the perception is accurate or not, Yasukuni [Shrine] remains a symbol to South Korea and China that Japan is not interested in coming to grips with its expansionist past. Seoul and Beijing further fear that Abe will repudiate or amend the Murayama and Kono statements — official apologies that previous Japanese administrations made for the actions of the Japanese Imperial Army before and during World War II”.

They write that people expect to take a harder line on China due to the islands dispute, “During his election campaign, Abe assumed a firm stance on Japan’s territorial disputes with China, South Korea, and Russia. The tough talk has been given some teeth after Abe noted in early January that there is “no room for negotiation” over the status of the Senkaku Islands (known as the Diaoyu Islands in China), which both Tokyo and Beijing claim but Japan administers”. As they note, the Chinese are already patrolling around the waters of the Japanese islands with PLA Navy vessels – which is in itself and act of war – that can only work for America and its allies in balancing against China and its singular regional ally.

Fundamentally they say the reason why Japan will not act is “First, vocal opposition to China is hardly a new foreign policy doctrine for Tokyo. The previous prime minister and leader of the dovish Democratic Party of Japan, Yoshihiko Noda, staked out virtually the same position on the territorial disputes. Second, these sweeping judgments about Japan’s foreign policy focus only on Tokyo’s tumultuous relationships with Beijing and Seoul and overlook Japan’s broader diplomatic strategy of seeking to integrate with its region”.

These two points are undeniably true and much electoral hay can be made from the former yet, while that latter is also true, Japan, like every other nation has a breaking point after which some form of, probably minor action will have to take place in order to save national pride if nothing else.

The authors then go on to cite the usual reason why Japan and China will not go to war, “Abe has made clear that he considers Japan’s economic relationships with China and South Korea to be of the utmost importance. Japan continues to support a potential trilateral free trade agreement among the three countries — a massive undertaking that would combine the world’s second- and third-largest economies”.

This was the same scenario between the United Kingdom and the German Empire in 1913, coupled with the fact that George V and Wilhelm II were cousins. Neither of these however were enough to stop war between the two countries. They go on to argue “critics fail to notice Abe’s pragmatic side”, adding later on that “Abe may have made some bold remarks during the campaign, but since taking office, his policies have been moderate and sensible. Abe started his second term by sending signals to both Seoul and Beijing that he wanted to repair Japan’s strategic relationships”.

The piece rightly praises Abe, “Abe also made the prudent decision to shelve a plan to elevate Takeshima Day — a holiday in Shimane Prefecture that symbolizes Japan’s claim to a group of islets currently controlled by South Korea — to the status of a national government holiday”. The same cannot be said for China who late last year took the decision to allow the local government of Hainan Island to board ships with naval patrols.

They end the piece “According to a report from the Japan Research Institute, Japanese trade to China has fallen from 18.4 percent of its total exports in 2000 to 11.2 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, exports to the so-called ASEAN-6 — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam — climbed from 9.7 percent to 10.9 percent. In other words, Japan’s foreign policy cannot be understood simply by looking at its relationships with China and South Korea”.

Biden 2016?

23/01/2013

Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he is still on the fence on whether or not he’ll run for president in 2016, adding that there are ‘a whole lot of reasons why I wouldn’t run.’

Suspending the debt ceiling

21/01/2013

As President Obama is publicly inaugurated in Washington, politics continues as usual. With the fiscal cliff/sequestration debate only temporarily over the debt ceiling debate continues.

An article notes the Republicans in the House “unveiled legislation that will suspend the debt ceiling until May 19, setting the stage for a floor vote as soon as Wednesday. While past measures to address the debt limit have simply increased the borrowing cap, the House bill would actually suspend the debt limit for three months. Then, on May 19, the debt limit would be automatically increased from $16.4 trillion to accommodate whatever additional borrowing the Treasury had done during that time frame”.

While this measure, whatever about the details, is certainly welcome. Yet at the same time it fails to address the deep rooted problems that befall America. The article goes on to say “The House Rules Committee posted the text of legislation as Washington prepared for President Obama’s second inauguration. In addition to preventing default, the bill would withhold members’ pay if Congress fails to pass a budget by April 15. The Rules Committee will hold an emergency meeting to discuss the legislation Tuesday, setting up a vote as soon as Wednesday on the House floor”.

The piece ends “House Republican leaders have billed their measure as “no budget, no pay.” But the bill would not actually eliminate pay for members of Congress if there is no budget in place by April 15. Rather, if a chamber of Congress fails to pass a budget by April 15, all income earned by members of that chamber would be set aside. Members would receive that pay in full once a budget is passed, or on the final day of the 113th Congress at the end of 2014. This arrangement was struck as a way to avoid running afoul of the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, which states that no law varying the compensation of members of Congress can take effect until a new Congress is in place — members cannot vote to give themselves raises or pay cuts. The government actually reached its borrowing limit on Dec. 31, and the Treasury Department has been employing ‘extraordinary measures’ to keep the government current on its obligations since then. Those measures are expected to keep the government from defaulting until sometime between mid-February and the beginning of March”.

These measure fails to deal with the real problem that America taxes too little and spends too much. Unless a long term solution is agreed by both parties then constant temporary measures will only lead to poor governance and flowing from this, bad decisions.

220 years on

21/01/2013

Today marks the 220th anniversary of the murder of Louis XVI of France. The individualism and continued disruption of the common good live on.

The wrong Martin

19/01/2013

Sean Cardinal Brady, the untrustworthy and sinful archbishop of Armagh and primate of All Ireland has finally had his request for a coadjutor archbishop met. Cardinal Brady, who originally requested assistance in 2010 at the height of the crisis in his “leadership”, finally had his request granted.

Yesterday Pope Benedict announced that Msgr Eamon Martin, 51, the diocesan administrator of the Diocese of Derry would become Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh. Thus, as soon as Cardinal Brady turns 75, in August 2014, his resignation will be accepted and Archbishop Martin will take over.

Rocco notes that Msgr Martin is “Set to be the native ‘frontman’ for Rome’s intended reconstitution” of the Church in Ireland. However, as has been mentioned here before if Rome really wanted to appoint someone with real credibility the only bishop with real trust is Diarmuid Martin, archbishop of Dublin and primate of Ireland. Archbishop Martin of Dublin, 67, has consistently dragged his fellow Irish bishops into dealing properly with the crisis, that they, themselves created through their desire to protect the institution at all costs even though it meant destroying the lives of hundreds of children who were meant to be in their care.

It would be foolish however to think of Rome as a monoculture. Though it is impossible to know for sure, Archbishop Martin’s name must surely have been mentioned for the role in the meetings of the Congregation for Bishops. Yet, it is well known that some of the older prelates in the Roman Curia dislike Archbishop Martin’s forthrightness and actions during his time in Dublin thus far.

Earlier reports of someone from outside of Ireland getting the role quickly faded. Rocco goes on to mention “As a more modern sign of his clout, the Primate – almost invariably the holder of Ireland’s seat in the College of Cardinals for the last century and a half – serves ex officio as president of the Isle’s joint episcopal conference, whose operations Eamon Martin oversaw as general secretary from 2008 until returning to his home-diocese in 2010 as vicar-general”. Thus, the newly appointed Coadjutor Archbishop-elect Martin will become a cardinal, if present traditions hold, sometime around 2019 by which time he will be 58 or 59. Of course, Pope Benedict could expedite the process and give him the red earlier, though this would mean Ireland having two electors in a potential conclave, which is unlikely.

One of redeeming features is the young archbishop’s interest in sacred music which bodes will for the direction of the liturgy in the diocese. Rocco mentions that “two of the 26 dioceses stand vacant, with another three bishops serving well past the retirement age of 75″. Ireland is still waiting for the report from the Congregation for Bishops on which dioceses to suppress and merge for the small island of 4.5 million Catholics with 26 dioceses, as many as Germany. In the last few months Benedict named William Crean as bishop of Cloyne and more recently still, Brendan Leahy as bishop of Limerick.

It seems utterly bizarre to name bishops to dioceses that could be suppressed in a few months, or years. Admittedly, the bishops of Elphin, Kerry and Ardagh should all be retired and their dioceses dissolved altogether.

Rocco concludes the report, “Brady’s standing has come under heavy fire and loud calls for his departure amid revelations of his role in the Irish church’s long, brutal history of sexual abuse by clergy and religious, and the subsequent neglect of allegations by church officials”.

He ends noting Archbishop Martin of Dublin’s comments in July 2011 calling elements of the Vatican a “cabal” when it comes to child protection measures.

“Immense financial power”

19/01/2013

Daniel Drenzer has written an interesting and much welcome blog post, “Indeed, there are many reasons to be optimistic about America’s future, and there are many reasons to be skeptical about claims that China will be able to exercise leverage over the United States.  Now, one of the counterarguments to this thesis over the past five years has been the explosion of U.S. debt and Washington’s need for Beijing to continue to buy that debt to finance America’s current expenditures.  This was a running theme of financial writers in 2009.  Four years ago, there was a particular concern that “China is also trading long-term Treasuries for short-term notes.”  If the United States could only borrow overseas by issuing more short-term debt, that ostensibly gave China some kind of leverage as Washington needed to continually roll over those debt obligations”.

Too much, too young

19/01/2013

Reports indicate that President Obama is set to appoint his current Deputy National Security Advisor,  Denis McDonough as his Chief of Staff replacing Jacob Lew who was nominated as secretary of the Treasury.

Reports mention that “a final decision had not been made. A report from the New York Times said that White House aides say they expect an announcement early next week”. The piece goes on to note “McDonough, a Minnesota native, is a longtime ally of the president, having worked as a foreign policy adviser in Obama’s Senate office”.

It ends, “McDonough’s appointment is also an indication that the president is willing to tap another high-profile white male to a top staff position.  There has never been a female chief of staff, and the position was one of the few remaining for Obama to make history in his second term. The president has faced criticism, including from many in his Democratic base, who have questioned his commitment to a diverse Cabinet after the president tapped Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for State, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) for Defense and Lew to run Treasury”.

Talk of a woman Chief of Staff is totally irrelevant as is the “criticism” that President Obama’s Cabinet is too male and too white.

A different article notes “It would be a major promotion: The chief of staff acts as both a key advisor and the staffer with the most influence in carrying out the president’s agenda. The post has also frequently been a stepping-stone to cabinet-level — or higher — positions for such notables as Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney (under President Gerald Ford) James Baker (Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush) and Leon Panetta (Bill Clinton)”.

The article notes that McDonough has been in Washington all his life, “arrived in the nation’s capital in the mid-1990s to attend a master’s program at Georgetown University. He was mentored early in his career by CIA legend Cleveland Cram — a fellow St. John’s University alumnus who was by then the agency’s in-house historian. Getting his foot in the door on Capitol Hill as an intern for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, McDonough rose quickly, serving as committee staffer, advisor to committee chair Lee Hamilton, and then foreign-policy aide to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle”.

The article goes on to note that after the Senator Daschle lost his Senate seat he worked briefly for Ken Salazar and then moving onto the Centre for American Progress, the think thank where many Obama aides worked, as a foreign policy senior fellow.

After Daschle was defeated in 2005, McDonough worked for a short time for senator — and future interior secretary — Ken Salazar, then moved to the Center for American Progress, where he was a senior fellow focusing on foreign policy. Obama’s connections to Daschle paid off when McDonough went to work for then-Senator Obama. The article mentions that McDonough’s “worldview had been shaped more by the post-9/11 years than by the Vietnam war”.

The article goes on to mention “McDonough had first joined the administration as head of strategic communications for the National Security Council (NSC). He again took Lippert’s place as the NSC’s chief of staff in 2009 when Lippert again returned to the Navy, and was named deputy national security advisor in 2010. According to Woodward, McDonough — along with Lippert and speechwriter Ben Rhodes — has been a key member of the campaign “tribe” within Obama’s team, competing with the “Hillary tribe” at the State Department and the “Chicago tribe” centered around political advisor David Axelrod”.

The piece goes on to mention “when staffers receive a directive from McDonough, they can generally assume it’s coming directly from the president. According to the  Helene Cooper of the New York Times, “When it comes to national security, Mr. Obama’s inner circle is so tight it largely consists of Mr. McDonough.” This has sometimes rubbed other staffers the wrong way, particularly Jones, who as national security advisor technically outranked McDonough but, according to Woodward’s account, never enjoyed the easy rapport or access to the president of his young deputy”.

It ends noting “McDonough was also an early and enthusiastic proponent of Obama’s Asia ‘pivot,’ telling Mann, ‘We are reorienting our focus to Asia’ nearly a year before Clinton officially announced the policy in an article for Foreign PolicyBut overall, McDonough seems to have been more enforcer than advisor, and his role in the second term is likely to be more about carrying out the president’s policies than shaping them”.

An article in the Washington Post makes the point that “McDonough, who is expected to be named in the next several days, sources close to him say, has had a far-broader portfolio that includes developing political strategy and playing enforcer for those who stray from White House talking points. More than any of Obama’s other chiefs of staff — Rahm Emanuel, William Daley and Jack Lew, who has been nominated to head the U.S. Treasury — McDonough is an Obama true believer who keeps an eye on burnishing his legacy, said those who have worked with him”. It goes on to say predictably, “at a time when the president is facing intense Republican opposition, McDonough’s rise to the cusp of one of the most powerful positions in Washington suggests that Obama is intent on surrounding himself with loyalists for a more confrontational second term. Emanuel, a former congressman, and Lew, a budget expert, were brought in to navigate Capitol Hill­­­­, and Daley was intended to be an ambassador to the business community. McDonough, by contrast, is expected to focus on the White House, ensuring that it is functioning in top form and speaking with one voice”.

The only problem is the McDonough, is only 43, and having no experience outside Washington. His temper will keep people in line but his lack of experience will be a serious problem if he needs to be anything other than an enforcer.

“Believed to be militants”

17/01/2013

A suspected U.S. drone strike killed 17 people and wounded three Sunday in Pakistan’s volatile tribal region, Pakistani intelligence officials said. The strike occurred in Babar Ziarat, which borders the Pakistani provinces of North and South Waziristan, near the Afghan border, the officials said. Those killed and injured in the strike were believed to be militants, the officials said”.

Brady Part II

17/01/2013

Yesterday President Obama said he would bring change to America’s gun laws. In a moment of history repeating itself Obama promised what President Clinton promised in the 1994 in what eventually became the Assault Weapons Ban and the equally famous Brady Act.

At a press conference Obama asked “Congress to approve new bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips in response to a string of deadly mass shootings”. The report mentions that he later added “the president unveiled an expansive plan that includes legislation and 23 ‘executive actions’ the White House said could be put into place immediately. Obama asked Congress to reinstate and strengthen the assault weapons ban and to impose a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines. He also called on Congress to require criminal background checks for all gun sales”.

The report goes on to note that President Obama “also asked Congress to approve a law against so-called ‘straw purchasing’ of guns, toughen gun trafficking laws, and authorize new funding for gun violence research, mental health efforts, and a program that would place mental health counselors and police officers in schools.  In total, the White House estimates that the president’s requests would total “in the neighbourhood  of $500 million in the coming fiscal year. The extensive proposals do not include any calls for restrictions on video games or violent films, which some have argued are a contributing factor, although the White House did designate some federal dollars for the study of violence in media. Much of Obama’s plan is expected to meet resistance on Capitol Hill — from both parties. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) suggested this week that he won’t bring an assault weapons ban to the floor”.

The fact that Harry Reid seems disinclined to do anything, even after all that has happened speaks volumes both to the influence of the NRA and the power of the gun and its associations on the American psyche.  The only moral thing to do is to bring in stringent checks and the outlawing of all weapons, with the exception of hunting weapons for civilians.

The report goes on to mention Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) cool reaction to the proposed legislation. It goes on to note “Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said his committee would begin holding hearings on gun proposals by Jan. 30. The Vermont Democrat singled out background checks, mental health policies and anti-trafficking measures as areas of particular interest”. Indeed, these checks seem the most reasonable reforms after what has happened, to say nothing of the common sense approach that mental health checks should be a federal requirement in all states, at the very least.

On this point at least it seems the NRA is willing to give some ground on this point, “A CBS News poll released Thursday shows 92 percent of voters favor background checks for all buyers, including 85 percent of those from an NRA household.  Keene said the group was opposed to new restrictions banning weapons, but was open to proposals that would help keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill”.

The poll in particular should be welcome for the administration in trying to push the gun control agenda as far as it can, but in all probably little lasting change will be accomplished in the long term.

Hagel’s confirmation

17/01/2013

By the numbers, then, it appears that Hagel will be in deep trouble should Republicans choose to mount sustained opposition to his nomination — a seeming surety. But this could be just the sort of confirmation fight that is needed to raise the level of public discourse about military and security affairs”.

Making progress?

17/01/2013

An article from the Economist discusses the economic situation of Ireland, the “best behaved  of all the euro zone countries that have been given a “bailout”.

The piece notes that “By the end of 2013 Ireland could leave its bail-out programme and stand on its own feet again”. The article goes on to mention “An Irish recovery would provide a boost for Europe and its de facto leader, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, as much as for Ireland and its prime minister, Enda Kenny. It would show that the controversial treatment of austerity and structural reforms imposed as the price of bail-outs can work”.

The article continues “It would reassure the electorates of core Europe, especially German voters who go to the polls in the autumn, that rescues do not condemn them to a never-ending call upon their taxes, as seems to be the case with Greece. And a sustained return by Ireland to the bond markets would boost confidence more generally, helping other bailed-out economies such as Portugal and Spain”. Yet, to equate Greece, to Ireland, Spain or Portugal is unfair as these nations are not sliding into the abyss as Greece seems to be doing with lots of help from Frau Merkel. What should also not come as a surprise, but is still worth noting, that (German) domestic politics seem to be key. How can EU “leaders” expect EU “citizens” will look to them and not their own national leaders when making decisions all the while hoping to create some kind of legitimacy for a body that is either loathed or treated with total indifference?

The writer goes on to say in an optimistic manner “Last year it dodged the euro zone’s wretched recession. Unit labour costs in the country have come down sharply, making the economy more competitive. That has enhanced Ireland’s allure for foreign companies, which continue to favour the country as a manufacturing and services hub for international markets, not least because of its low corporate-tax rate. These are useful advantages. If things go well in 2013, Ireland might be able to leave its programme without any further assistance”.

Thankfully he injects some realism into the picture ” Ireland’s very reliance on foreign firms creates both economic and fiscal vulnerabilities. If global growth falters this year, for example, Ireland will be hit hard because its exports are bigger than the economy. Any economic setback will make it more difficult to get the deficit down, as planned in yet another austerity budget (the sixth) late last year. Even if things go to plan, public debt, which amounted to only 25% of Ireland’s GDP in 2007, will exceed 120% in 2013; and once the large slice of GDP which goes to low-taxed foreign multinationals is taken into account, it will reach almost 140% (see article)”.

The discussion of recovery that is taking place is laughable, Ireland’s debt is actually rising, not falling and it will continue to rise for many years to come. The piece adds, “About a third of its public debt has been incurred bailing out its banks, an imposition which Irish taxpayers resent bitterly. The Irish government is largely to blame for that, because it issued blanket guarantees to bank creditors at the height of the financial crisis in 2008. But European leaders, scared about the repercussions of a default in the bond markets, later forced the Irish government to protect the banks’ senior bondholders”. Yet for all their resentment the Irish seem to do nothing about it being as passive as ever in the face of their country being, yet again humiliated but corrupt and incompetent politicians.

The article ends saying that Merkel could help Ireland and her own credibility by softening the “terms on the promissory notes—IOUs—which the Irish government used in 2010 to prop up its banks could be eased. A more effective measure would be to allow the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the euro area’s permanent rescue fund, to take stakes in the Irish banks that remain operational. That would help Ireland both by removing some of its sovereign debt and by insulating the government from any further calls on public funds as a result of more mishaps to Irish banks”.

The EU being as decisive as ever however are unsure about this option saying that “the ESM could be deployed in this way only in new rescues. It will be hard for Mrs Merkel to shift course again, especially in an election year”. It ends arguing that a successful Irish debt deal would not only be good for Ireland but also Germany and therefore the EU.

Chemical weapons used?

17/01/2013

Following on from previous reports about the usage of chemical weapons in Syria by the Assad regime, “The State Department’s head spokeswoman said Wednesday that the State Department cannot corroborate reports that the Syrian military used chemical weapons against its own people in the city of Homs last month. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland commented extensively at Wednesday’s briefing on The Cable‘s exclusive Tuesday report that a secret cable sent last week from the U.S. consulate in Istanbul had relayed evidence that chemical weapons were used in Homs on Dec. 23″

“Fight amongst the third generation”

17/01/2013

An unusual but interesting article in the context of the Arab revolutions and the internal politics of the House of Saud has been published.

The increasingly poor treatment of the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia has lead to to blame being put  internal security services and the long serving governor, Prince Muhammad bin Fahd but the article notes “on Monday, January 14, the Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz issued a decree relieving the governor of his duties after 28 years ‘upon his request’ and appointing Prince Saud bin Nayef bin Abdul Aziz as the new governor of the Eastern Province”.

The article charts the career of the now former governor of the Eastern Province, who was appointed “three years after his father had become king. Muhammad bin Fahd was initially installed to bring a new approach to the Eastern Province, and to open a new chapter with the Shiite minority”. The piece goes on to mention that “He met more regularly with Shiite notables than his predecessor and sought to win over some of the new Shiite elites and students”.

The piece adds that whatever hope there was for change from Muhammad bin Fahd soon vanished, “Under his rule, some areas of the Eastern Province were transformed into the economic powerhouses of the country, while others, usually rural areas inhabited by Shiites, were neglected”.

The author goes on to write that appointing Prince Saud bin Nayef “has to be seen in part as a response to the protests and the shootings of protesters in the Eastern Province. There are precedents: The governor of the Southern province of Najran was replaced in 2008 after he had cracked down too hard on the local Ismaili Muslims, who unlike the Shiites in the Eastern Province are also members of a powerful tribe. While the removal of Muhammad bin Fahd was a major demand of the protesters in the Eastern Province and should therefore ease tensions there, the problems with the Shiites and with demands for political change voiced by other Saudis are institutional rather than personal”.

The reasons for this discrimination is both domestic and international. The Whabbi Sunni’s regard all others as distorting Islam and essentially worshipping a different and inferior religion to the Sunni brand that predominant in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Secondly, the Shia are the majority in only a few countries, notably Iraq and Iran. It is this latter link that has the ruling family so worried.

He goes on to write “there are also other issues besides the Eastern Province troubles behind the reshuffles. At the same time as the replacement of Muhammad bin Fahd, Faisal bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz was named governor of Medina. This coincidence points to the importance of the quest for the throne after the passing of the current king”. Although the succession seems to have been arranged there is always a thirst for greater influence and the young Faisal bin Salman, son of the current Crown Prince Salman means that he is using his power within the family to have his relatives in key positions even before what is expected to be a short reign. Not only that but the son of King Abdullah, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah  has been the head of the Saudi National Guard since November 2010 and although he may not follow his father he could be in a position to demand further power given his control over a military force outside the normal military structure.

Similarly, he mentions “It now looks like the sons of the former Interior Minister Prince Nayef, who was known as a hardliner at home and was key in Saudi Arabia’s counter-revolutionary strategy in the Arab Spring, are putting themselves in good positions to become crown prince. Muhammad bin Nayef became Interior Minister on November 5, 2012, after a short interregnum by Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz, and his brother Saud bin Nayef is now governor of the strategically important Eastern Province. Saud bin Nayef had previously been ambassador to Spain and most recently headed the court of the crown prince, another important position”.

He goes on to write “It would be premature to read this as a defeat for Muhammad bin Fahd. Indeed, some argue that he will be appointed to another senior position and he is still a candidate to become crown prince in the future”. He ends the piece ” this reshuffle serves as a reminder that the fight amongst the third generation of Saudi royals has started in earnest”.

Carter to stay

17/01/2013

Reports have mentioned that “The Pentagon’s No. 2, Ash Carter, will stay on at  the Pentagon, Situation Report learns this morning. A senior defense official  tells us that Carter, who had been on a short list to lead the Pentagon – or  would go to lead Energy – was asked by President Barack Obama to stay on. “He’s  doing an outstanding job for Secretary Panetta and has been a friend of Senator  Hagel for years,” the senior defense official tells us. Naturally, Carter has  been integral to the transition that has begun this week in the building as  well as the confirmation hearing prep that is also taking place. Folks inside  the building tell us that Carter and his chief of staff, Wendy Anderson, who  has also known Hagel for some time, are both seen as critical elements in the  handover from Panetta to Hagel. Hagel’s pending confirmation is certainly  controversial but likely”. What is unclear is how long Carter will remain on after Hagel has been confirmed.

Turning West

17/01/2013

After the disastrous ASEAN summit last year in which one of China’s few regional allies, Cambodia, voted not to issue a communique for the first time in ASEAN’s history as a result of Chinese pressure another increasingly former ally, Burma, is being bullied in an attempt to bring it back into China’s area of influence. It is also a real test for Burma’s nascent democracy, as the still military junta governing the country can use the threat of separatists in the Kacin province to reverse the still tentative, albeit substantial reforms.

The article opens “The rapid changes in Myanmar [Burma] since President Thein Sein began democratic reforms in 2011 present China with a problem. For decades, China had a cosy relationship with its authoritarian neighbour, enjoying a near-monopoly on its natural resources and foreign policy. But now, Myanmar is a messy quasi-democracy, whose people resent Beijing for its past support of the junta and its economic exploitation of their country. And Myanmar’s still a threat to regional stability: China sent troops to the two countries’ border in early January because of fighting between the Myanmar government and rebel groups — if things get worse it could spill into Chinese territory”.

Naturally America has a great opportunity in Burma seeing as China has so obviously played its hand to the above cited exploitation of the country. It can leverage this to the advantage of both Burma and the United States as the latter can get a hopefully reliable ally in the region while the former can be enveloped in the safe and strong American security umbrella on condition that the reforms continue.

Reassuringly he goes on to mention that “China can no longer count on Myanmar as its strategic corridor into the Indian Ocean, or as a loyal supporter at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Naypyidaw (Myanmar’s new capital) has vastly improved its relations with Washington, increasing Beijing’s anxiety about the U.S. rebalancing to Asia. And things are getting worse for Beijing. Monks and villagers in central Myanmar have protested for months against the expansion of the Mongywa copper mine, the country’s largest, which is operated by a Chinese weapons company”. He re-enforces the point “In 2011, Sein suspended construction by a Chinese company of the $3.6 billion Myitsone Dam, saying it went against “the will of the people.” The protests against Mongywa have raised worries that all Chinese investments in Myanmar are in danger”.

He goes on to write “An increasingly loud section of China’s foreign policy community, including government analysts and Southeast Asia specialists, are now arguing that China should return to its old friends — the border ethnic groups that are waging small-scale rebellions against Naypyidaw — to enhance its leverage there. Liang Jinyun, a professor of political science at Yunnan Police College in southwest China, argued in an influential 2011 paper that these ethnic groups, if ‘used’ well, ‘will become China’s most loyal friend in the frontline of confrontation between the United States and China in Myanmar.'”

This is why both for geopolitical and domestic reasons the Burmese government must comes to terms Kachin rebels as “Naypyidaw reached a peace agreement with the Wa in September 2011″. This will show the government it really is on the stable path to internal peace and at the same time squeeze Chinese influence out of the country altogether. Worryingly the article goes on to note “treating Myanmar nicely, as Beijing feels it has done over the past few decades, has not brought the desired outcome. Therefore, China should ‘diversify’ its approach, said a Chinese government analyst at a private gathering in November”. The real concern is that the still powerful army will use Chinese harassment to undo the turn the the United States and its allies.

He mentions that some have suggested that China should place itself between Kachin and Burma “to remind Myanmar of Beijing’s influence and to facilitate the stabilization of the border area”. Yet this plan should be dismissed on the grounds that China is not a neutral arbiter and secondly that the dispute is in internal Burmese matter and should therefore be of no concern to China. Burma should approach the United Nations and ask at a mediator be appointed quickly to settle the issue between Kachin and Burma once and for all.

To take this step would not only be significant within Burma but would also be another loss for China regionally.

The right balance

17/01/2013

The extent of the Queen and Prince Charles’s secretive power of veto over new laws has been exposed after Downing Street lost its battle to keep information about its application secret. Whitehall papers prepared by Cabinet Office lawyers show that overall at least 39 bills have been subject to the most senior royals’ little-known power to consent to or block new laws. They also reveal the power has been used to torpedo proposed legislation relating to decisions about the country going to war. The internal Whitehall pamphlet was only released following a court order and shows ministers and civil servants are obliged to consult the Queen and Prince Charles in greater detail and over more areas of legislation than was previously understood. The new laws that were required to receive the seal of approval from the Queen or Prince Charles cover issues from higher education and paternity pay to identity cards and child maintenance”.

Egypt, two years on

17/01/2013

So, two years after the revolutions that swept the Arab world some articles have been published on Tunisia but also Egypt.

The article “Mubarak, pressured by millions in the streets and ultimately betrayed by his own top generals, resigned on February 11, 2011, a military-backed dictatorship that had ruled and largely abused Egypt for more than half a century came to an end. Most Egyptians were euphoric, and the world was transfixed by the unexpected power of the Tahrir Square freedom movement. However, in the two years since, the transition remains fragile, and Egypt’s politics remain dangerously polarised”.

This contention that the military backed dictatorship of Mubarak “abused” Egypt should be taken with some caution. While Mubark’s human rights record was less than ideal and he similarly lacked democratic credentials, he was an ally of America due, in large part to his lack of amnity with Israel and his religious toleration domestically, not to mention his suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The piece goes on to add “if Egypt has made halting steps toward democracy, worrying signs of illiberalism and poor governance are increasingly apparent. The outcome of the revolution in the Arab world’s most populous country remains uncertain, and the threat of violence looms large”.

He then goes on to examine where Egypt is now and where it might go, he argues convincingly “the Muslim Brotherhood — a secretive, rigorously disciplined and hierarchical organization — neither understands nor sees inherent value in democratic politics. Rather, the Muslim Brotherhood believes in a narrow majoritarianism and its leaders and supporters often confuse that with democracy. The Brotherhood believes that 50 percent + 1 equals a free hand to pursue its agenda”. The primary example he gives for this is the constitution which “was rammed through despite the staunch objections of non-Islamists”.

He then describes the civilian-military relationship “after President Mohamed Morsi was elected in June 2012 and dismissed the two top Mubarak era generals in August, Egypt’s Islamist dominated constituent assembly crafted a constitution that explicitly guarantees the military’s power and privileges. The Islamists learned that trying to bring the military under civilian control was a dangerous task, and the two entities now have a more collaborative relationship”. Turning to the benighted Christians in Egypt he mentions “Christians have thus far fared even worse in post-revolution Egypt. Churches have been burned, Christians have been attacked and prevented from voting, a Christian man’s ear was even cut off — and few perpetrators have been arrested, fostering a culture of impunity. In fact, Christian victims are often blamed for being attacked” adding shortly afterwards “hardline influential Muslim clerics have ratcheted up their sectarian invective against Christians. They are emboldened by the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood and their Salafi extremist junior partners believe in the primacy of Islamic principles over equal citizenship”.

After the constitution was passed with no real legitimacy some have implied that a silent majority opposes Morsi’s tyranny, however he writes that this too is a mistake “only 11 million voters approved the Islamist crafted constitution. This of course does not mean that the other 39 million voters reject it, but if the Brotherhood can only get one fifth of voters to make their way to a polling station to register their approval of such an important document, it means they can be beaten. The prevalence of undecided potential voters means that Egypt’s divided non-Islamists could make electoral progress if they successfully appeal to new voters beyond their own bloc of five to six million, mostly urban supporters. However, to date, Egypt’s non-Islamist movement remains incoherent”.

The article ends “Despite all the challenges that post-uprising Egypt faces, Egyptian politics are more alive than they have been in decades, and Egyptian democracy and pluralism are still good long term bets”. Yet there is a closing window of opportunity for the opposition to unify and act before Morsi’s Egypt becomes entrenched for decades to come.

Sliding away

17/01/2013

Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the prime minister on Tuesday on corruption allegations, ratcheting up pressure on a government that is also facing street protests led by a cleric who has a history of ties to the army. The combination of the arrest order and the mass protest in the capital, Islamabad, led by Muslim cleric Muhammad Tahirul Qadri, raised fears among politicians that the military was working with the judiciary to force out a civilian leader”.

Help for Mali

17/01/2013

The origins of the conflict in Mali have been dealt with here before but in light of UN Security Council resolution as well as the recent French intervention with some UK and US support. Some have noted that “Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday that the U.S. has ruled out putting any American troops on the ground in Mali, but officials are hoping the French will be able to succeed in establishing better security for the West African nation. Panetta spoke at a press conference in Lisbon with Portuguese Defense Minister Jose Aguiar Branco. The U.S. is providing intelligence-gathering assistance to the French in their assault on Islamist extremists in Mali, and officials would not rule out having American aircraft land in the West African nation as part of future efforts to lend airlift and logistical support. On Tuesday, Panetta said the U.S. is still working through the details of assistance it will provide France”.

An article deals with the importance of Mali, it opens  “the jihadists are back and so are the French — the two sides slugging it out over the same real estate they fought over 120 years ago. An alliance of jihadist groups, including Ansar Dine, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, have retaken Timbuktu and again threaten the area of the upper Niger and Senegal Rivers, where the French once built stone fortresses to fend off Umar’s attacks. The forts are still there, long abandoned and crumbling along the riverbanks. Over the past 10 months, jihadist forces have re-established the rule of Islamic law across northern Mali, which encompasses around 200,000 square miles or 60 percent of the country. This is a place where teenage couples risk death by stoning if they hold hands in public. If Mali feels somewhat far away or less than important, consider this: Northern Mali is currently the largest al Qaeda-controlled space in the world”.

To further stress the importance of the country he writes that “Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command, warned that al Qaeda was using northern Mali as a training center and base for recruiting across Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Jihadists operating in northern Mali have been linked to Boko Haram, the violent Islamist group based in northern Nigeria, and to Ansar al-Sharia, a group in Libya”. He explains that  the roots of the current crisis “a sudden jihadist advance into the south shattered the fragile equilibrium, drawing France into the fray”.

He adds “The French government has repeatedly said that the Malian government asked for its help after the fall of Konna. But there is also a less selfless reason for Paris’s urgency: fear that a growing al Qaeda presence in West Africa will make France itself more vulnerable to terrorist attack”, yet to pretend otherwise would be foolish. Naturally a country with a history like that of France is going to attempt to look after its interests as all realists do and should but this is one of those occasions where realism and morality align. By attacking the terrorists in Mali, France is not only making itself safer but also protecting Malians themselves who would otherwise have to live under the boot of radical Islamists who claim to be Muslims.

The article goes on to mention “the resolution provided no timetable for an invasion of the north and no way to pay for it or to equip and train the African troops. France and the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have been slowly securing help from Britain, Germany, [who are sending transport aircraft] and the United States for training and logistics help. But the fall of Konna and fresh worries about the vulnerability of the rest of Mali to jihadist takeover forced the hands of both France and ECOWAS”.

He makes the point that has been made here before that “France’s military action will test just how strong the jihadists are. According to French and U.S. officials, they are both well-trained and heavily armed, having captured equipment from the Malian army last spring and acquired additional weapons from Libya, itself awash in weapons after the fall of Muammar al-Gaddafi”.

The piece ends “France has promised to stay in Mali until the country is stable again, but Paris has said that it wants to position African troops to do the heavy work of dislodging the jihadists from the north. Still, France may be unable to avoid a long engagement with its own military forces right out front. A French armoured column has already rolled out of Bamako, headed for the north”.

The influence of Biden

16/01/2013

An article shows just how influential Biden has become, “The veep has thus far taken the point role in the two most important initiatives of this year for the Obama administration: the fiscal cliff battle and gun control. He is perhaps the president’s single most influential foreign policy advisor. Obama’s incoming national security team is Biden’s favourite players from his days as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John Kerry and Chuck Hagel are seen as far closer to him than to the president. Tom Donilon, the president’s national security advisor, is also seen as close to the vice president, which should come as a surprise to no one since his wife, Catherine Russell, is the vice president’s current chief of staff. Biden’s previous chief of staff, Ron Klain, is one of two men considered likely to replace Jack Lew as Obama’s chief of staff. Biden’s top national security advisor, Tony Blinken, is seen as heading for a promotion (if moving away from this particular vice president could be seen as a step up), either stepping in for U.S. U.N. ambassador Susan Rice should she someday become national security advisor or moving over to a top job in Kerry’s State Department”.

Chemical weapons used

16/01/2013

A secret State Department cable has concluded that the Syrian military likely used chemical weapons against its own people in a deadly attack last month, The Cable has learned.  United States diplomats in Turkey conducted a previously undisclosed, intensive investigation into claims that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, and made what an Obama administration official who reviewed the cable called a “compelling case” that Assad’s military forces had used a deadly form of poison gas.  The cable, signed by the U.S. consul general in Istanbul, Scott Frederic Kilner, and sent to State Department headquarters in Washington last week, outlined the results of the consulate’s investigation into reports from inside Syria that chemical weapons had been used in the city of Homs on Dec. 23″.

Withdrawing?

16/01/2013

As part of the continuing coverage on the nominations of Hagel and Kerry some have argued that these men will, under President Obama remove parts of the long standing US foreign policy tradition.

He writes “Obama’s choices for secretary of state and defense, respectively, Kerry and Hagel are both veterans of the Vietnam war, and although one became a liberal Democrat and the other a conservative Republican, both were defined by their Vietnam experience. Both developed a willingness to challenge conventional military wisdom and a desire to avoid more Vietnams in the future.  For Hagel, this ultimately meant breaking with his own party when he saw America’s involvement in Iraq heading in a dangerous direction”. However, while it is true that Hagel “broke with his own party” he was also among the vast majority in the Senate that voted for the war in the first place. Hagel’s change of mind seemed to have come just before the public turned against the war.

He goes on to write that “Obama, whose political bar mitzvah, or coming of age if you will, took place in the America of Vietnam, his career has been largely shaped by the liberal traditions that arose in response to and in the wake of that war”, yet Obama is not quite as liberal as Rothkopf makes out, he did after all increase the number of troops in Afghanistan, to say nothing of his use of drones in the previous years. So while Obama was shaped in that era, he was also shaped in the era of McGovern and Carter, neither seen as a great success.

Rothkopf goes on to admit the exact points and then asks “The big question surrounding Obama and his second-term national security cabinet is whether the new team will reveal which of the seemingly contradictory impulses displayed by the president in his first term will ultimately be seen as his legacy”. He continues, writing “Picking liberal Kerry and conservative Hagel, who had a lifetime Senate rating of 85 from the American Conservative Union, might suggest that Obama is at his heart as balanced as his first-term policies seemed to be. Picking two military veterans plus close counterterrorism advisor and 25-year CIA professional John Brennan, architect of the administration’s drone wars, suggests that perhaps the seemingly liberal president is actually a bit of a closet hawk”. Obama is neither a “hawk” or “dove” but instead is part of the mainstream of American foreign policy.

Then, most astoundingly, he writes “the reality is that for all the differences among the members of this national security team — East Coast liberal Kerry, heartland Republican Hagel, career CIA Brennan, tough, shoot-from-the-lip Susan Rice, strategy-sensitive, process master Donilon — there is one thing that links them all. It is not engagement. It is disengagement”. This is of course, wrong. He cites as evidence for this theory that “Hagel, Kerry, and other members of the Obama team have all been actively working for the past few years to reduce America’s military involvement in the Middle East to its bare minimum”. This has nothing to do with the ebb and flow of America’s involvement in the region and everything to do with Obama, supposedly. This is despite the fact that America is preparing for involvement, however, minimal, in Mali.

He goes on to write “disengagement is only a problem if it does not come simultaneously with new forms of engagement. The void created by withdrawing American hard power from the Middle East and other global trouble spots will collapse on us and cause great unrest if it is not filled with something else” in this he is correct but is overall point that Obama has disengaged with the Middle East and elsewhere is utterly false and counter-intuitive. The argument also does not accept the obvious complexities of the region and the fact that the administration could be working covertly.

To further counter this argument, an article in the Washington Post opens “Obama is assembling a national security team designed for an era of downsized but enduring conflict, a team that will be asked to preside over the return of exhausted American troops and wield power through the targeted use of sanctions, Special Operations forces and drone strikes”. it adds importantly, that Hagel and Brennan “are known for their strong personalities and strongly held views. Still, associates described them as comfortable fits for an administration that favours covert action — including Predator drone strikes on al-Qaeda targets and cyber-sabotage of Iran’s nuclear plants — over conventional force”.

It goes on to mention that Kerry, Hagel and Brennan “share Obama’s basic view of the world and the United States’ place in it, a view that favours multilateral alliances and a reliance on intelligence and lethal technology, holding war as a last resort””.

Obama has not nominated people who favour disengaging or withdrawing, instead he has nominated people who accept the need for smart warfare in a time of tight finances but people who believe in the American mission to provide peace and security for the world.

Another schism?

15/01/2013

After the expulsion of Richard Williamson from the SSPX there has been talk that “Bishop” Williamson intends to go to America “in a couple of weeks to consecrate a bishop. Rorate independently contacted one of the priests said to be organizing the consecration ceremony. Although we asked repeatedly, the priest refused to deny the consecration would be taking place”.

2013 risks

15/01/2013

As part of a number of articles about the new year, from war in Asia, to the year in Europe, to possible worldwide conflicts, another article attempts to predict the risks that will be most prevalent this year, he writes “The Call presents our top risks for 2013. Click HERE for Eurasia Group’s complete report”.

He argues that emerging markets will begin to slow. He goes on to mention “As the United States and Europe slowly regain their economic footing, the political risk focus will return to the emerging market world, where differences among the largest players will become more obvious. Slower growth and rising expectations from larger and more demanding middle classes will create public pressure on governments, meaning that emerging markets — including the increasingly suspect BRICs — should no longer be treated as an asset class for outsized growth”.

While the American economy is improving, very slowly, the euro zone crisis drags on, despite what some have said the crisis is still very much alive largely due to the fact that no fundamental change has occurred and whatever little change has been agreed on. Although he does not state specifically, China is certainly within this category. As the Chinese economy debt raises there will be a chain reaction that means that whatever little domestic consumption there is in the Chinese economy will shrink further as well as the all important demand for Chinese goods continuing to remain flat, especially in Europe. Other “rising” economies are also expected to slow further.

He moves onto the next topic which he says will be the Chinese government’s attempts to slow/halt the spread of information in the country, he says “China’s new leadership faces many challenges in 2013, most importantly the state’s growing inability to control the flow of ideas and information across borders and within the country”. This was seen earlier this month when protesters demanded more press freedom. He makes the crucial point “every corruption scandal and example of official malfeasance makes the next event more difficult to navigate, and the risk is that a broad-based social movement for change will gain momentum in China in 2013, distracting the government from its domestic and foreign policy priorities and potentially weakening investor confidence in the stability of the mainland market”. These risks have been mentioned here before from picking fights with Japan and the rest of Asia to the obvious problems of its economy coupled with much needed, and radical domestic reform that is needed but may not come.

He goes on to discuss the Arab revolutions noting, “we are approaching an Arab Summer, whereby the region will witness radicalized movements — both sectarian and Islamist — playing a much more important role”, this too has been noted as the region is becoming increasingly Islamist in its tone which will lead only to further instability. Bremmer adds that in light of these trends “the structural losers of these trends are the JIBs (Japan, Israel and Britain): countries influenced most directly and problematically by changes now underway in the geopolitical order. All three countries are now in a similar position for three reasons: their special relationships with the United States are no longer quite as important”.  Of Europe he notes “The eurozone is headed for neither breakup nor resolution, and in 2013”.

 

French airstrikes

13/01/2013

“French airstrikes overnight in Mali pushed back Islamist rebels from a key village and destroyed a rebel command centre,France said Saturday, as West African nations authorized what they said would be a fast deployment of troops to Mali in support of the weak government there. France intervened Friday, dropping bombs and firing rockets from helicopter gunships and jet fighters after the Islamist rebels who already control the north of Mali pressed southward, overrunning the village of Konna. The French, who had earlier said they would not intervene militarily but only help African troops, took action in response to an appeal by the Malian president”.

“Sooner than projected”

13/01/2013

President Obama and President Hamid Karzi have met. Reports have noted “announced that the U.S. military would begin a scaled-back role in Afghanistan in mid-2013, sooner than initially projected”.

The report notes “‘Starting this spring our troops will have a different mission — training, advising and assisting Afghan forces,’ Obama said in a joint press conference with Karzai in the East Room of the White House. ‘By the end of next year — 2014 — the transition will be complete,’ he continued. ‘This war will come to a responsible end.’ Obama said he’d be taking recommendations from commanders on the ground to determine how many — or if any — troops would stay in the country after 2014. In a statement released just moments before the press conference, the White House said the two governments hoped to soon finalize an agreement on residual U.S. troops”.

The piece goes on to mention “Obama and Karzai met privately in the Oval Office earlier in the day, where the two ‘discussed the possibility of a post-2014 U.S. presence that is sustainable, that supports a capable and effective Afghan National Security Force, and that continues to pressure the remnants of al-Qaeda and its affiliates,’ according to a statement from the White House, which said the ‘scope and nature’ would be hammered out in a Bilateral Security Agreement ‘as soon as possible.’ At the press conference Friday, Obama said he would announce the next phase of the drawdown in ‘coming months.’ The White House and Afghan lawmakers have publicly clashed recently over a planned U.S. troop drawdown in 2014, when NATO troops will hand off security to the Afghan forces”. The report adds importantly, “Obama and Karzai signed an agreement last year that could allow the U.S. to maintain an unspecified number of troops in the country for special operations and training purposes through 2024“.

A different piece notes the consequences of this decision, “The Obama of 2013 is prepared to overrule the recommendation of his current commander, Gen. John Allen, and leave few — if any — troops behind after U.S. combat units pull out at the end of 2014. That’s what’s known as a learning curve”. Traub goes on to write “Obama never caught the bug, as Bush had. He tasked his vice president, Joe Biden, with punching holes in the optimistic counterinsurgency narrative. Over time, according to Bob Woodward inObama’s Wars, the president grew increasingly skeptical that the U.S. could remake Afghanistan in the few short years during which American troops would remain there, or even that it needed to. He wondered why the United States had to worry about the Taliban taking over Afghanistan when the real threat was al Qaeda”.

While Traub is technically correct to say that the real concern was, and is, al-Qaeda and its affiliates he misses the larger point that it was the Taliban that gave al-Qaeda the base they needed to plan their attacks. He goes on to write ” One recent study found that in the country’s most fiercely contested provinces aid is negatively correlated with both stability and popular perceptions of the international presence”.

He does rightly demolish the idealism of much of Obama’s plans “Over the last year, as public support for the war effort has dropped as low as 23 percent, Obama has abandoned one piece after another of the strategy he once envisioned. A new “partnership” with Pakistan involving development assistance, security coordination, and regional diplomacy was to persuade Islamabad to close up the sanctuaries where insurgents trained and organized, and took refuge from U.S. forces. That, too, has turned out to be a pipe dream; it’s a good day when Islamabad and Washington are even speaking to one another”.

Traub writes “The exit strategy from Afghanistan increasingly looks like: exit, minus strategy. General Allen has been constantly ratcheting down the number of U.S. troops needed to remain after 2014 to carry out counterterror missions and continue training Afghan forces — from 20,000 to 15,000 to three options at 3,000, 6,000, or 9,000 troops. But that still may be too much: Earlier this week, Benjamin Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor, said that the president may leave no troops behind at all. That was a message to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who’s now in Washington trying to make case for a larger residual U.S. presence”. This far too rapid drawdown may have some positive consequences in that it might get Karzai to at least become less corrupt/incompetent with the US drawdown fast approaching, while at the same time it may give the US government a bargaining tool in negotiating basing rights in the future. Though this latter option may not be likely.

Traub ends with an emotive, though unfair comparison, “If Afghanistan really is the Vietnam of our time, then Barack Obama, like Richard Nixon, has decided to cut his losses”.