Archive for July, 2013

Iranian-Syrian deal

31/07/2013

Iran has agreed to supply Damascus with $3.6bn in oil in exchange for the right to invest in the country, Syria’s state news agency SANA has said. ‘An agreement was signed [on Monday] in Tehran by the Iranian and Syrian central banks, granting Syria a credit line worth $3.6bn,’ the agency reported on Tuesday. The deal stipulates that Syria will pay back the cost of the oil loan ‘through Iranian investments of various kinds in Syria,’ said SANA. It did not elaborate on what kind of investments Tehran would make”.

“Classic free riders”

31/07/2013

Following the announcement of peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis on an ambitious nine month timetable Daniel Altman examines how Asia and Europe is increasingly involved in the outcome of the talks and the entire Middle East itself.

He writes that “Monthly imports of crude oil and other petroleum products from the Persian Gulf peaked at 96.7 million barrels in April 2001. This year, they’ve been hovering around 50 million to 60 million barrels. Natural gas imports from the Middle East are also much smaller today than they were in 2000, but they’ve always been dwarfed by pipeline imports from Canada. Even American imports of liquefied natural gas — a major export for Qatar and Yemen — come primarily from Trinidad and Tobago. And overall, imports of natural gas have been falling since 2007. Petroleum imports from the Middle East aren’t as important as they used to be for the European Union, either. In 2001, about 25 percent of the EU’s imports came from the Middle East. Last year, the share was just 15 percent; Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union supply far more of Europe’s oil. So where is all the Middle East’s oil going? Countries in East Asia depend on it. China, for example, got about half its crude from the Middle East in 2011″.

Of course China is now the world’s largest importer of oil after the United States. Others have written that US energy independence may not automatically mean an America that should turn its back on the world.

Altman makes the point that “As a whole, the European Union received about 4.4 percent of its merchandise imports from Gulf countries in 2012. Adding Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey brought the total to 8.3 percent. Both of these shares have been increasing in recent years. Meanwhile, China’s total trade with the Middle East has been growing steadily, too; imports from the region tripled between 2007 and 2011″.

He ends the article, “So where are the Europeans, Chinese, and Japanese? They may be active behind the scenes, but in public they look like classic free riders. Perhaps they see little to gain by involving themselves in conflicts whose economic consequences have been largely contained. They may also, as a general rule, have less of an interventionist attitude than the United States. Still, in economic terms their people arguably have more at stake in the Middle East than Americans do, and the gap between those interests is likely to increase. If Washington’s latest effort to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together fails, it may be a long time before an American president takes the initiative in the Middle East again. War and frustration have taken their toll, and the economic imperative is far from clear. To fill the vacuum, China, Japan, and the European Union could form a new coalition of partners for peace. It may seem like a stretch to imagine these three heavyweights working together on Egypt, Syria, or Jerusalem. But can they afford not to?”

Nine months?

31/07/2013

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will aim to reach a ‘final status’ agreement over the next nine months to end their long conflict, the US secretary of state has said. John Kerry said another meeting between the two sides would be held in either Israel or the Palestinian territories in the next two weeks. This, he said, would begin the process of formal negotiations. Mr Kerry said ‘all issues’ would be on the table for discussion. ‘They are on the table with one simple goal: a view to ending the conflict, ending the claims.’ Mr Kerry said the parties were committed to ‘sustained, continuous and substantive negotiations on the core issues’ that divided them”.

Manning sentenced

31/07/2013

The verdict of Bradley Manning was announced yesterday. The military court ruled that he was guilt of espionage.

Reports in the Washington Post notes that “An Army judge on Tuesday acquitted Pfc. Bradley Manning of aiding the enemy by disclosing a trove of secret U.S. government documents but found him guilty of espionage, a mixed verdict that dealt a rebuke to military prosecutors who sought to prove that the largest leak in U.S. history had assisted al-Qaeda”.

The report goes on to mention that “The judge, Col. Denise Lind, found Manning guilty of most of the more than 20 crimes he was charged with, including several violations of the Espionage Act. He could face a maximum of 136 years in prison”.

The article continues, “In charging Manning with aiding the enemy, government prosecutors argued that the former intelligence analyst’s decision to release diplomatic cables and battlefield reports amounted to the highest form of treason. Lind did not buy that argument. But her verdict, which marked the first major espionage conviction during the Obama administration, is certain to set markers in the debate over government secrecy and whistleblower protections. Manning’s attorney, David E. Coombs, said he was pleased by the verdict, but he signaled that the decisive moment will come during the sentencing phase of the court-martial, which opens Wednesday and could last several weeks”.

Manning should rightly face a lifetime prison sentance but should not be executed as it would undermine America’s narrative of a just judicial system. It is correct that he should face such a long prison senatence however given the nature of the information he disclosed as well as the oath he took to protect the United States. Both of these have naturally been broken as a result of his actions. There is a discussion about the extent of his naivety about his actions but it would be hard to argue that he was unaware of the gravity of what he was doing and the reaction it would bring.

The piece adds, “Lind also acquitted Manning, 25, of one count of violating the Espionage Act that stemmed from his leak of a video that depicted a deadly U.S. military airstrike in Afghanistan’s Farah province. Military prosecutors did not speak publicly after the verdict. Some lawmakers said the case served as a reminder that the government must do more to prevent the disclosure of classified information, citing the disclosures about U.S. surveillance programs by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden”.

Interestingly it mentions, “Had Manning been convicted of aiding the enemy, he would have faced a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors were relying on a Civil War-era conviction to bolster their case. They argued that Manning should have known that terrorist organisations would have an interest in, and potentially benefit from, the disclosures. Civil libertarians feared that a conviction on that charge would have set a dangerous precedent”.

Not only that but other reports mention that Julian Assange, is likely to face charges as a direct result of the Manning case. An article discusses that “The conviction of Army private Bradley Manning on espionage charges Tuesday makes it increasingly likely that the United States will prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as a co-conspirator, according to his attorney and civil liberties groups”.

The piece goes on to note that “Military prosecutors in the court-martial portrayed Assange as an ‘information anarchist’ who encouraged Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents. And they insisted that the anti-secrecy group cannot be considered a media organization that published the leaked information in the public interest”.

To describe Assange as an anarchist is only one, albeit accurate label. He has no understand of the need for secrecy in some instances, especially in relation to international relations, and is either unable or unwilling to understand this. His belief in absolute openness is both worrying and easily dismissed partly as a result in his refusal to discuss his private life and answer rape charges in Sweden.

A separate piece mentions, “Like Manning, Snowden argues that his decision to put classified documents in the public domain was done out of a desire to expose wrongdoing at the highest level of the government. But as Tuesday’s verdict in the Manning trial illustrates, that argument is no defense in the face of espionage charges, which the Obama administration has relied on heavily in its efforts to crack down on national security leaks. For the administration’s critics, the idea that providing information to journalists amounts to espionage is ludicrous on its face. But as the Manning verdict shows, it’s a line of reasoning that holds up well in a court room. The Manning verdict also comes as a setback for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who became a household name using the documents and videos supplied by Manning and slammed the court decision in a statement: ‘Throughout the proceedings there has been a conspicuous absence: the absence of any victim. The prosecution did not present evidence that — or even claim that — a single person came to harm as a result of Bradley Manning’s disclosures. The government never claimed Mr. Manning was working for a foreign power.’ If Assange’s statement reads as surprisingly defensive, it shouldn’t — after all, the WikiLeaks founder sees himself as the real target of the Manning trial”.

Work of the ISI?

31/07/2013

Pakistani lawmakers elected a textiles magnate Tuesday to be the next president of a country plagued by Islamic extremism, only hours after Taliban militants launched a mass prison break freeing hundreds of inmates. The attack highlighted one of the major challenges that Mamnoon Hussain will face once he takes over the largely ceremonial post of president. Security forces appeared totally unprepared for the raid in the northwest, despite senior prison officials having received intelligence indicating an attack was likely”.

Military vs Brotherhood showdown

31/07/2013

An article argues that Egypt, after the ousting of Morsi the country now faces into a spiral. Some have already suggested that Egypt could become the new Sudan but in this piece the blame is, perhaps unfairly apportioned to both Brotherhood and military.

The writer begins noting a military “assault would cost at least 80 Muslim Brothers their lives — most of the dead were killed by bullet wounds to the head, throat, and chest”. The writer notes “Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief and defense minister, called for Friday’s rallies so that the people could give him the mandate to ‘crush terrorism,’ as he put it. The call amounted to tacit orders to break up the pro-Morsy sit-ins”.

The aims of the army are laudable but mass demonstrations from the people in support of the army are not enough in the long term to stabilise Egypt. The country must have order and economic growth, in that sequence. If this is successful then the Brotherhood and the Salafis will return to what they should be, an irrelevance.

He goes on to mention that “After Saturday’s massacre, Madi acknowledged that the Brotherhood is outnumbered, and that popular sentiment is on the side of the generals. He sees Egypt re-embracing its authoritarian past and the security state it had rejected”. In some ways a military regime should be welcomed as it may then dawn on Salafis and the Brotherhood that then cannot have the state they want and must learn to compromise with the secularists and Christians.

He continues in the same vein, “Supporters of Morsi’s ouster argued it was not a coup, but their position is looking increasing indefensible as the ascendency of the security apparatus becomes increasingly visible. On Saturday, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim announced he was reviving the hated state police departments that monitored political and religious groups before Mubarak’s fall. In response, the interim government’s liberal and secular participants — who themselves once railed against Mubarak’s oppressive state — were conspicuously silent”.

This view however ignores the fact that Morsi did little to undo the security state he inherited and at the same time was as bad, if not worse than Mubarak. All the while he jailed journalists and did little to send conciliatory signals to the rest of Egypt.

He goes on to make the point that “The high-pitched rhetoric has led both sides to fear for the worst. Ayman Salama, a retired brigadier general and professor of international affairs at Cairo University, says the state could engage in a prolonged conflict against the Islamists. “I don’t exempt civil war. It is foreseeable,” he said. Many educated Egyptians indicate they are ready for tough actions against the Brotherhood, and have no qualms about sacrificing freedom for stability. If some of them supported the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak, their experience with Islamist governance has led them to trust the army more than the ballot box”.

He ends the piece “The showdown between the new military-guided state and the Brotherhood is yet another challenge for civil society activists who spearheaded the 2011 revolt against Mubarak, and who have held on tightly to their political independence. Many are convinced that once the Brotherhood is driven underground, the military will then target liberal and secular groups that do not bow to its will. Last Friday, even as rival demonstrations massed in support of the Brotherhood and the military, about 50 activists gathered beneath a Cairo highway underpass crying, “Down with Morsy! Down with Sisi!” Bystanders thought they were crazy — but for the activists, it was a matter of survival”.

60 killed

31/07/2013

Car bombs ripped through busy streets and markets in Iraq on Monday, killing at least 60 people in predominantly Shi’ite areas in some of the deadliest violence since Sunni insurgents stepped up attacks this year. The 17 blasts, which appeared to be coordinated, were concentrated on towns and cities in Iraq’s mainly Shi’ite south, and districts of the capital where Shi’ites live. Militant groups including al Qaeda have increased attacks in recent months in an insurgency against the Shi’ite-led government as a civil war in neighbouring Syria heightens sectarian tensions”.

Finding reasons to fight

29/07/2013

An article in Foreign Affairs, “Soldierless Jihad” argues that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan will undermine the position of the Taliban when US troops withdraw.

It opens noting “On May 24, a group of Taliban fighters attacked an Afghan police and army post in the Syed Karam district of Paktia province, near the border with Pakistan’s tribal areas. The soldiers inside resisted, aided by air support. By the end of the battle, four Taliban fighters were dead: yet more casualties in the escalating violence that has rocked Afghanistan this year as efforts to start negotiations between the Taliban and the government of Hamid Karzai continue, and as the NATO withdrawal looms. According to the United Nations, over 3,000 civilians were killed in the first five months of 2013 — nearly a quarter rise over the past year”.

It goes on to mention that “After twelve years of war, the Taliban has no credible strategy to end its conflict with Western forces and the Afghan government — only an ideology to sustain a seemingly endless fight. This clash between the Taliban’s war aims and doctrine was on full display in the funerals of the four fighters killed in Syed Karam. After the attack, fellow Taliban comrades retrieved their four bodies and transported them to their home district of Zurmat, also in Paktia. They all received quiet burials in their native villages”.

While this point is technically correct the “logic” of the Taliban is really nothing of the sort. They will always find a reason to fight. Whenever US troops leave they will be immune from argument that says they should lay down their arms. They will then change tack and say they should be the “new” government of Afghansitan so as to protect the country’s Islamic heritage.

The piece goes on to note that at a funeral, “Speakers also outlined what they believe is wrong in Afghanistan and what the Taliban seeks to change. Like other Islamist militants, they invoked the specter of Islam in danger. The United States invaded Afghanistan, they held, because it could not tolerate the Taliban’s sincere application of Islamic law. Furthermore, they explained, the presence of foreign troops is an unjust occupation. ‘The invaders have taken our land and we must fight to free it,’ a speaker insisted — a sentiment repeated by several others. They described the oppression inherent in the foreigners’ occupation — arbitrary arrests, killings, harassment by the foreigners and their local Afghan allies alike. With a degree of relish, the speakers singled out the third grievance, describing the moral corruption that is supposedly prevalent in Kabul and ”infidel-influenced’ Afghanistan”.

He makes the valid point that the “rhetoric was characteristically heavy on ideology and light on strategy. The speakers stressed the legitimacy of the armed struggle, but they avoided any concrete war aims or a scenario in which the war might end. When faced with difficult dilemmas, the Taliban tend to fall back on following their leaders, no matter the course. Throughout Sebghatullah’s service, there was no free debate, nor was it possible to gauge accurately the response to the fiery rhetoric or the lack of real strategy”.

Importantly he argues “The funeral rhetoric constructed a case for war that depended on an exaggerated depiction of the situation in Afghanistan, which the Taliban uses to recruit young men along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Such embellishments rely not only on speeches but on propaganda, in the form of the Lahya (literally, rulebook), which provides instruction on appropriate behavior for mujahideen. Produced by the Taliban’s Cultural Commission, the latest edition of the rulebook briefed commanders on the fight ahead in 2013. The commanders handed the book to fighters such as Sebghatullah for guidance”.

He continues, “the Taliban’s leadership is telling its fighters that they are on the winning side, even on the brink of victory, and so should be ready to receive mass defections. Yet only a trickle of Afghan government personnel is actually going over to the Taliban. The Lahya also maintains the illegitimacy of its enemy by making multiple references to the “infidel forces” of American and NATO troops and the “slave regime” of Hamid Karzai in Kabul. It casts the restoration of the Islamic Emirate as a real and legitimate goal, whose command chain, stretching up to the imam or supreme leader, must be obeyed, and whose rules have the force of law. It parrots familiar Taliban rhetoric for the Islamic Emirate as the only legitimate state authority in Afghanistan”.

They point to his argument is that “the impending disappearance of foreign military forces from the battlefield will make it increasingly difficult for the Taliban to persuade supporters that they are freeing the land from foreign occupiers”.

He rightly acklowdges that the “only Taliban argument that could ostensibly outlive the NATO withdrawal is its singular claim to restore the Islamic Emirate. But this most improbable goal has its own challenges. In the first place, pursuit of an emirate implies giving absolute power to the leader of the Taliban, which precludes any compromise with other Afghan groups. Such rhetoric risks consolidating anti-Taliban forces across a broad swath of Afghan society that is inimically opposed to a return to the Taliban rule of the late 1990s. Restoring the emirate might also compel the Taliban to bring its emir, Mullah Omar, out of hiding to assume his place atop the military command chain that is laid out in the Lahya”.

He writes that the  Taliban “could claim to be fighting the Americans even after international forces have disengaged, or to be fighting for an Islamic Emirate with no sign of its emir. The leadership could issue communiqués in his name and give assurances that he is safe. The leadership would pin its hopes on military gains, such as capturing remote districts or blocking highways. The impression of momentum might boost morale and compensate for any declining appeal of its ideological narrative. Alternatively, Taliban fighters could develop a new and divisive rhetoric more adapted to a civil war. That would entail identifying other Afghan groups as enemies of Islam. They could employ sectarian rhetoric against the Shia Hazaras and revert to a version of their old epithet for the northerners — “sharaf fasad,” or spreaders of corruption. In either case, the Taliban’s militarised religious leaders, who owe their prestige (and thus their arms and resources) to their reputation as defenders of Islam, can be expected to continue to articulate core arguments of jihad as a sacred duty, irrespective of the current enemy or grievance”.

Interestingly he makes the point that “a civil war could be just the thing to tip the balance against the Taliban. Like the skeptics at Sebghatullah’s funeral, many Afghans criticise the Taliban for dragging them into a civil war, even if they remain many broadly sympathetic to the notion of sacred jihad. Afghan public opinion sternly judges anyone culpable of fomenting intra-Afghan factional strife. Taliban propaganda aside, popular Afghan narratives distinguish between the legitimate anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s and the illegitimate factional fighting of the 1990s. As the conflict transforms into one pitting Afghan against Afghan, the critical voices will get louder”.

The piece concludes, “the most militant leaders of the Taliban have the upper hand. But by holding back from any form of political accommodation before 2014, the Taliban may once again find itself overtaken by politics and blamed for unnecessarily prolonging a conflict that has lost its logic”.

“Who am I to judge”

29/07/2013

Striking a breathtakingly conciliatory approach to a hot-button issue that has divided Catholics, Pope Francis on Monday said that he would not judge priests for their sexual orientation. ‘If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?’ Francis said, according to media reports. His comments came in an unprecedented 80-minute news conference with reporters on his plane returning from a papal visit to Brazil for World Youth Day, in which he spoke openly about everything from the troubled Vatican Bank to the greater role that he believed women should have in the Catholic Church”.

The Salafi saviours?

27/07/2013

A blog post from Foreign Policy notes that when the head of the Nour Party was asked how to stop the violence in Egpyt the writer notes his answer, “‘It’s a very difficult question,’ he said eventually. ‘We understand that nobody can attack the military and they will stand without any reaction. But we don’t want excessive reaction — you should have the necessary emotional stability in front of civilians…At the same time, for the civilians who want to struggle against the military, we are trying to convince them that this will not lead to anything but more blood.’ The message sums up the balancing act the Nour Party, the second-largest political movement only to the Brotherhood, is trying to achieve: It signed on to the ‘roadmap’ that ousted Morsi, providing valuable Islamist cover for the coup, but has since been at odds with the new government and critical of the military crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood. They have taken the lead in pushing for a reconciliation with the Brotherhood — but could gain the most if the Islamist movement is excluded from the political process.

The piece goes on to write “With protests swelling in Egypt again today in response to army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sissi’s call for demonstrations in favor of ‘confronting’ the Brotherhood, Bakkar’s job is about to get a lot tougher. The Nour Party rejected Sissi’s call for protests, saying that popular mobilisation on both sides ‘foreshadows civil war.’ For the Muslim Brotherhood, the Nour Party’s actions amount to a historic betrayal — an abandonment of Egypt’s first Islamist government for short-term political gain. “They are very naïve, they don’t have much experience playing politics,” said senior Brotherhood official Amr Darrag. ‘Politically, they are our main opponents. So they thought this was a good time to put us aside, or weaken our position, or get rid of us, so that they can take charge as the leading party in the political life.’ Bakkar, on the other hand, paints a picture of how the Morsy administration ignored the Nour Party’s advice to defuse the political crisis for half a year, systematically antagonising every Egyptian political player. ‘Facts are facts: The military decided to be with the people, so it was a matter of deciding whether to lose everything for the Islamic stream, or to keep a share in the next round,’ he said. ‘Especially when we are not convinced in [the Brotherhood’s] way of governing, especially when we can see that normal people are against them.’ During Hosni Mubarak’s reign, the ultra-conservative Salafists, who strive to emulate the practices of the earliest Muslims, were the boogeymen of Egyptian politics. They did not form political parties, some supported the violent overthrow of the state, and their beliefs were seen as irreconcilable with democracy – a contrast to the Brotherhood’s ‘moderate‘ Islamist views”.

It ends, “Some have argued that the Salafists were always better suited than the Brotherhood to Egyptian politics. Yasmine Moataz Ahmed, a PhD candidate in social anthropology at Cambridge University who conducted field research in Egypt’s rural areas, found that many of her interview subjects views the Salafists as “religiously less strict” than the Brotherhood. The problem was the Brotherhood’s top-down structure: While Brothers in every corner of Egypt had to respond to the dictates of their hierarchy, Salafists had no such structure and could more freely adapt to the circumstances of their area. “[M]any of those who voted for Salafis did so not out of religious adherence to the Salafi orthodoxy, but because they did not want to support the [Brotherhood],” Ahmed wrote. With the military seemingly poised to choose force over reconciliation with the Brotherhood, the Nour Party is seemingly poised to scoop up the movement’s voters in the next election. The party has positioned itself as the opposition to the array of secular politicians that also supported the military takeover, sharply criticizing the makeup of the new government”.

Importantly he concludes, “The question, however, is whether the military intends on allowing the Salafists a place in the new political order. Recent signs have been disturbing for the Nour Party: The military has ignored its pleas to reconcile with the Brotherhood, seemingly opting for a policy of confrontation, while an army spokesman even said that the Sissi would be eligible to run for president if he resigned from the military”.

Odds rising

27/07/2013

The odds of a government shutdown this autumn are increasing, with the White House and congressional leaders both digging in. On Capitol Hill, partisans on both sides of the aisle are demanding that the next federal budget include provisions their political opponents will find objectionable. Twelve Republican senators — including likely 2016 presidential candidates Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — have said they will not sign off on any spending bill that includes funding for the president’s signature health care law. And as of Friday, at least 69 House Republicans had signed on to a yet-to-be-sent letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) demanding that a continuing resolution defund ObamaCare in its entirety”.

Dempsey gives the options

27/07/2013

In light of the decision by President Obama to arm the rebels, as well as some of the legal and other difficulties of arming the rebels an article in the New York Times reports the options given by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey,

It begins, “The Pentagon has provided Congress with its first detailed list of military options to stem the bloody civil war in Syria, suggesting that a campaign to tilt the balance from President Bashar al-Assad to the opposition would be a vast undertaking, costing billions of dollars, and could backfire on the United States. The list of options — laid out in a letter from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin of Michigan — was the first time the military has explicitly described what it sees as the formidable challenge of intervening in the war. It came as the White House, which has limited its military involvement to supplying the rebels with small arms and other weaponry, has begun implicitly acknowledging that Mr. Assad may not be forced out of power anytime soon”.

The piece goes on to mention, “The options, which range from training opposition troops to conducting airstrikes and enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria, are not new. But General Dempsey provided details about the logistics and the costs of each. He noted that long-range strikes on the Syrian government’s military targets would require ‘hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines and other enablers,’ and cost ‘in the billions.’ General Dempsey, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, provided the unclassified, three-page letter at the request of Mr. Levin, a Democrat, after testifying last week that he believed it was likely that Mr. Assad would be in power a year from now. On that day, the White House began publicly hedging its bets about Mr. Assad. After saying for nearly two years that Mr. Assad’s days were numbered, the press secretary, Jay Carney, said, ‘While there are shifts in momentum on the battlefield, Bashar al-Assad, in our view, will never rule all of Syria again.’ Those last four words represent a subtle but significant shift in the White House’s wording: an implicit acknowledgment that after recent gains by the government’s forces against an increasingly chaotic opposition, Mr. Assad now seems likely to cling to power for the foreseeable future, if only over a rump portion of a divided Syria”.

It adds, “If ordered by the president, General Dempsey wrote, the military is ready to carry out options that include efforts to train, advise and assist the opposition; conduct limited missile strikes; set up a no-fly zone; establish buffer zones, most likely across the borders with Turkey or Jordan; and take control of Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile”.

However, in all likelihood given what President Obama has said already, his changing position about the regime’s use of chemical weapons and the cost,  it is almost impossible that Obama would decide to send in troops to secure the NBC stockpile.

The article goes on to mention that “In his letter, General Dempsey assessed the risks and benefits of different military options. But his tone was cautionary, suggesting that the Pentagon views all of these options with trepidation. Training, advising and assisting opposition troops, he wrote, could require anywhere from several hundred to several thousand troops, and cost about $500 million a year. An offensive of limited long-range strikes against Syrian military targets would require hundreds of aircraft and warships and could cost billions of dollars over time. Imposing a no-fly zone would require shooting down government warplanes and destroying airfields and hangars. It would also require hundreds of aircraft. The cost could reach $1 billion a month”.

Links with Hamas?

27/07/2013

Ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is being held over allegations of links with Palestinian militants Hamas and plotting attacks on jails in the 2011 uprising, it has been announced.He is to be questioned for an initial 15-day period, a judicial order said. Tens of thousands of people are attending rallies for and against Mr Morsi in different parts of Cairo. Clashes broke out both in the capital and between rival protesters in the country’s second city, Alexandria”.

“Many of the same mistakes”

25/07/2013

An article argues that Iraq is, once again disintegrating. The writer says that the resulting mess is there for President Obama to resolve. He opens “Iraq is a basket case these days, and none of its problems came out of the blue. In the latest bout of sectarian and ethnic bloodletting, coordinated bomb attacks ripped through Shiite neighbourhoods in Baghdad and also northern Iraq, killing more than 30 people. The spasm of violence followed clashes between the Iraqi army and Sunni protesters and insurgents last month, where the federal government temporarily lost control of some town centers and urban neighborhoods in Kirkuk, Nineveh, and Diyala provinces.

Negative indicators abound: Armed civilian militias are reactivating, tit-for-tat bombings are targeting Sunni and Shiite mosques, and some Iraqi military forces are breaking down into ethnic-sectarian components or suffering from chronic absenteeism. Numerous segments of Iraq’s body politic — Kurdish, Sunni Arab, and Shia — are exasperated over the government’s inability to address political or economic inequities, and are talking seriously about partition”.

He goes on to argue that “The resurgence of violence since 2010 is shown very clearly in the metrics used to gauge the strength of the insurgency. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Iraq Violence Database has tracked violence since 2004, drawing on both open-source and privileged information provided by security forces in Iraq. In the first quarter of 2011, monthly attacks bottomed out at an average of 358 reported incidents — the lowest quarterly average since 2004. By the first quarter of 2012, the average monthly attacks had risen to 539. By the first quarter of 2013, it was 804. These figures not only provide evidence an increasingly active insurgency, but one that has more than replaced anti-U.S. targeting with Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence”.

Yet, while it is not in doubt that Iraq is hard to govern there is much to say that could have been improved on. The governance of Iraq is obviously very poor and in drastic need of amelioration. Nuri al Malaki has done nothing to appease the group with the most to gain from the break up of Iraq, the Kurds. Indeed as has been noted here, in some ways he has actively assisted the process.  Secondly he has, by virtue of his office alienated the Sunni minority greatly at the expense of his own Shia.

As the author admits, “The Iraqi government is now making many of the same mistakes the United States made back then: It is alienating the Sunnis and occupying their communities with a heavy-handed, military-led approach that doesn’t differentiate between diehard militants and the mass of peaceable civilians”.

He goes on to write importantly that “the real driver of violence in Iraq is arguably Baghdad’s over-centralization of power, which came too soon and was infused with sectarian paranoia. The United States was initially wary of this danger: The formula of all-inclusive power sharing — muhasa in Arabic — was a cornerstone of U.S.-led policy in Iraq until 2008, and the United States also made sure that the principle of administrative decentralization was baked into the Iraqi Constitution. This policy reflected a powerful truth — that post-Saddam Iraq was not ready for a political system with absolute winners and absolute losers. But starting in 2008, Maliki re-centralized power, leaning on an increasingly narrow circle of Shia opponents of the previous dictatorship. And like all successful revolutionaries, this clique is paranoid about counterrevolution and has set about rebuilding a version of the authoritarian system it sought for decades to overthrow. Maliki’s inner circle dominates the selection of military commanders down to brigade level, controls the federal court, and has seized control of the central bank. The executive branch is rapidly eclipsing all checks and balances that were put in place to guarantee a new autocracy did not emerge”.

He ends the piece “The United States laid the foundations for these democratic traditions, and can still be a powerful voice in getting Iraq back on track. There are some encouraging signs on this front. Secretary of State John Kerry has begun engaging directly and firmly with Maliki, and puts Iraq in the top tier of challenges to be addressed. Washington has been active in bringing Iraqi and Turkish officials together to discuss their long-term energy interests, encapsulated in the prospect of a strategic pipeline corridor that could see more Iraqi oil flowing through Turkey and less through the chokepoint of the Strait of Hormuz close to Iran. Facing Sunni militancy and growing internal challenges from within his own Shiite community — as shown by unimpressive provincial election results — Maliki may be unusually open to taking conciliatory steps to mend his relations with the Kurds, the Sunni Arabs, and the Turks.vViolence in Iraq is likely to continue to worsen as long as the recentralisation of power is taken to extremes. The Sunni Arab and Kurdish communities now need a compelling reason to stay inside the unraveling framework that is today’s Iraq. The 2014 national elections offer a potential restart button for this nation-building process”.

Competence and luck

25/07/2013

the new government has something that its predecessor did not have: $12 billion from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, who delivered a mountain of cash (and promises of oil) as a reward to Egypt for getting rid of the Muslim Brotherhood. This lavish gift will sow yet more bitterness among the Brothers, but it also averts a crisis that has been looming ever since Egypt’s foreign currency reserves began dwindling towards zero. Egypt will not default on its foreign debt and will not suffer a run on its currency — either of which would wreak havoc on the economy and make foreign investors head for the hills. The cash infusion also ends, for the moment, Egypt’s exhausting stand-off with the International Monetary Fund. The Morsi government, desperate for cash, had tried, and failed, to carry out the painful fiscal reforms the fund had demanded in exchange for a $4.8 billion loan. This ongoing melodrama had the effect of shrinking a very complicated discussion about economic reform into the very narrow confines of the IMF’s terms. Ahmed Galal, the new finance minister, has said that while an IMF loan is “part of the solution” for Egypt — it would be a powerful signal for foreign investors — it can be laid aside for now. This seems, on balance, like a good thing”.

Reinventing itself

25/07/2013

An article from the Economist from almost exactly a year ago argues that the American economy is once again reinventing itself.

The author notes that “Led by its inventive private sector, the economy is remaking itself (see article). Old weaknesses are being remedied and new strengths discovered, with an agility that has much to teach stagnant Europe and dirigiste Asia”.

The writer goes on to mention that America has gotten through the worst of the crisis far faster than the EU, still mired in the euro mess, “America’s sluggishness stems above all from pre-crisis excesses and the misshapen economy they created. Until 2008 growth relied too heavily on consumer spending and house-buying, both of them financed by foreign savings channelled through an undercapitalised financial system. Household debt, already nearly 100% of income in 2000, reached 133% in 2007. Recoveries from debt-driven busts always take years, as households and banks repair their balance-sheets. Nonetheless, in the past three years that repair has proceeded fast. America’s houses are now among the world’s most undervalued: 19% below fair value, according to our house-price index. And because the Treasury and other regulators, unlike their euro-zone counterparts, chose to confront the rot in their financial system quickly, American banks have had to write off debts and raise equity faster than their peers. (Citigroup alone has flushed through some $143 billion of loan losses; no euro-zone bank has set aside more than $30 billion.) American capital ratios are among the world’s highest. And consumers have cut back, too”.

He goes on to add to the optomism, “One is a more dynamic export sector. The weaker dollar helps explain why the trade deficit has shrunk from 6% of GDP in 2006 to about 4% today. But other, more permanent, shifts—especially the growth of a consuming class in emerging markets—augur well. On the campaign trail, both parties attack China as a currency-fiddling, rule-breaking supplier of cheap imports (see Lexington). But a richer China has become the third-largest market for America’s exports, up 53% since 2007. And American exporters are changing. Some of the products—Boeing jets, Microsoft software and Hollywood films—are familiar. But there is a boom, too, in high-value services (architecture, engineering and finance) and a growing “app economy”, nurtured by Facebook, Apple and Google, which employs more than 300,000 people; its games, virtual merchandise and so on sell effortlessly across borders”.

Indeed, for all of its size China and other other countries touted as successors to America have not been as innovative or successful in adapting to new economic trends. Indeed, China is know almost exclusively for its vast experience in copying genuine innovation. Something its political system does not encourage.

The piece adds another advantage to the US economy, “what was once an Achilles heel is becoming a competitive advantage. America has paid dearly for its addiction to imported oil. Whenever West Texas Intermediate climbs above $100 per barrel (as it did in 2008, last year and again this year), growth suffers. But high prices have had an effect, restraining demand and stimulating supply. Net imports of oil this year are on track to be the lowest since 1995, and America should eventually become a net exporter of gas. Many countries have shale gas, but, as it did with the internet revolution, America leads in exploiting it (see our special report this week). Federal money helped finance development of the “fracking” technology that makes shale gas accessible, just as it paid for the internet’s precursors. However its use was commercialised by a Texas wildcatter called George Mitchell, the sort of risk-taker America has in abundance”.

However, as has been mentioned by others there is some doubt as to whether this energy independence will actually mean a disengaged US presence in places like the Middle East. Naturally the benefits are not all positive, as a result of the companies “the companies leading the process are so productive, they pay high wages but do not employ many people. They may thus do little to reduce unemployment, while aggravating inequality. Yet this is still a more balanced and sustainable basis for growth than what America had before—and a far better platform for prosperity than unreformed, elderly Europe”.

The piece ends with some simple suggestions, “Even the most productive start-ups cannot help an economy held back by dilapidated roads, the world’s most expensive health system, underachieving union-dominated schools and a Byzantine immigration system that deprives companies of the world’s best talent. Focus on those things, Mr Obama and Mr Romney, and you will be surprised what America’s private sector can do for itself”.

“Delaying a sale”

25/07/2013

The Obama administration said Wednesday it was delaying a sale of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt, the first sign the U.S. is rethinking its decision not to withhold military aid after the July 3 coup that ousted the Egyptians’  first democratically elected president. The decision was made by President Obama and his top national security advisors after they concluded that allowing the sale to go forward would signal that Washington was maintaining a business-as-usual relationship with Cairo despite the removal of President Mohamed Morsi and growing unrest in Egyptian cities”.

What competition? – Part XI

25/07/2013

As part of the series on the “rise” of the challengers to America an article from last year notes that the BRICS hace done nothing to stem the bloodshed in Syria.

It opens “As global power has shifted away from the West, the emerging order has come to be identified with the BRICS — an unofficial geopolitical bloc consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. But the BRICS are equally divided between autocratic and democratic states. The growing reach of powerful autocracies is nothing to celebrate, but the rise of stable and increasingly prosperous democracies in the developing world — India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, and Indonesia, among others — has been the single most encouraging phenomenon in the world over the last generation. Those first three countries, in fact, have established an informal bloc known as IBSA. This, too, should be a profoundly welcome development. But it hasn’t been, at least in Western capitals. In global affairs, it turns out, emerging democracies often behave a lot like Third World autocracies. And IBSA is turning out to be not so very different from the BRICS”.

He adds “all three IBSA countries served on the United Nations Security Council in 2011; India and South Africa remain on the council this year. All three were thus forced to take a position during the hugely contentious debates on military intervention in Libya and political intervention in Syria. The result has not been edifying, at least from the viewpoint of Arab and Western publics. India and Brazil abstained from Resolution 1973 authorizing the NATO operation in Libya, and all three refused to vote for a draft resolution last October condemning the “grave and systematic human rights violations” committed by Syrian security forces against civilians. India and South Africa did, however, vote for a similar resolution this February, which Russia and China — the other BRICS members on the council this year — vetoed. This week, I met with Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s ambassador to the United Nations. For those who knew his predecessor, Nirupam Sen, a hard-left Bengali Brahmin prone to delivering windy and condescending lectures before gumming up the works of the day’s debate, Puri, a blunt and hard-headed Sikh, constitutes a very welcome change in the diplomatic weather. But diplomats and human rights experts say that, throughout 2011, India sought to block efforts by the United States, France, and Britain to raise Syria’s growing assault on civilians in the Security Council, provoking some very ill will. “They were,” says a diplomat from one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, ‘obstructive and not helpful.’ When I asked Puri why he had declined to endorse the resolution last October, he pointed out that as president of the Security Council a few months earlier, he had written a “presidential statement” with almost identical language. He was making an active effort to stop the violence, he said. But the October resolution was unacceptable because it referred to Article 41 of the U.N. Charter, which authorizes the use of sanctions and other coercive measures. It sounded like a flimsy rationale because the measure made only passing reference to Article 41. More to the point, India, like Russia, took the position that the council had no business trying to coerce Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by any means at all to stop the killing”.

He goes on to paint a depressing picture of inactivity, “It’s precisely because the IBSA countries are respectable democracies that they can prove so useful to the less respectable. Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. director for Human Rights Watch, says, ‘For months, they enabled Russia and China to use their veto and block any Security Council action.’ It was far easier for the veto-bearing countries to claim that they were acting out of principle when they had India and others on their side. Of course, Russia and China wielded their vetoes again last month when India and South Africa shifted their votes, but it’s striking that, since that time, both Moscow and Beijing have sought to distance themselves from Damascus. They’ve lost their cover. India’s behaviour served the cynicism of others, but it was not, itself, altogether cynical. Unlike Russia, India has no real political or economic interests in Syria (or Libya). What is has are ideological reflexes left over from the era of the “Non-Aligned Movement,” of which it was a founder. C. Raja Mohan, a leading Indian foreign-policy commentator, recently ascribed India’s Syria policy to its long-standing preoccupation with “the anti-colonial theme” and to “solidarity” with the Arabs against Israel. Countries like India that long chafed under imperial dominion tend to see the West’s moral activism as a new species of colonialism”.

The piece concludes, “All three IBSA countries are candidates for permanent membership in the Security Council. Puri says that he is confident — it’s not clear why — that India, at least, will gain that status soon. He is not troubled, he says, by the thought that giving aid and comfort to Russia and China will harm India’s candidacy with the United States, Britain, and France, which could block it. One of the fundamental questions about the post-Western world we are moving toward is whether countries like India will be ‘socialised’ to Western norms or whether things will work the other way around. The legatees of that system, above all in the United States, will feel a great deal more comfortable about the prospect of sharing power if the newcomers accept the obligations understood to come with that power”.

“A baby boy”

23/07/2013

“The Duchess of Cambridge has given birth to a baby boy, Kensington Palace has announced. The baby was delivered at 16:24 BST at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, west London, weighing 8lb 6oz. The Duke of Cambridge said in a statement the couple ‘could not be happier’. He and the duchess will remain in the hospital overnight. The news has been displayed on an easel in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace in line with tradition”. This will mean that the prince, who will in all likelihood be king will continue the reign of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg that will begin when his grandfather becomes king.

Another Sudan?

23/07/2013

Following the ousting of Morsi, some have argued that Egpyt could be moving in a similar direction to that of Sudan.

He argues “however, another, far uglier precedent for Egypt’s political trajectory: that of its poverty-stricken, authoritarian southern neighbor, Sudan. Egypt’s recent history — from the overthrow of Mubarak to the election of Morsy to this month’s military putsch — parallels the developments in Sudan in the mid-1980s with remarkable accuracy. Sudan’s story from this period, moreover, serves as a potent reminder that coups almost always represent a detour, not a shortcut, toward stable, durable democracy. On May 25, 1969, Gaafar Nimeiry, a young colonel inspired by the Arab nationalist ideology of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, seized power in Khartoum, the capital, in a military coup. For the next 16 years, he ruled Sudan in much the same way as Mubarak ruled Egypt beginning in 1981 — heavy-handed but secular, and accommodating to his Western backers. And just as such tendencies pitted Mubarak against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Nimeiry faced openly hostile relations with Sudan’s Islamist Umma Party. (Those tensions came to a head in 1970 when Nimeiry ordered an attack — with air support from Egyptian bombers coordinated by Mubarak, an air force officer at the time — that killed some 12,000 Umma militants and supporters at the party’s spiritual base on Aba Island.)”

He goes on to argue “By 1979, Sudan’s GDP was contracting by more than 5 percent annually. As it finally started growing again a few years later, crippling inflation took hold, reaching roughly 40 percent in 1985. When in March of that year Nimeiry announced a rollback of food and oil subsidies in order to repay foreign lenders, including the IMF, protests erupted in Khartoum shortly thereafter. A broad cross-section of Sudanese society — including doctors, university students, laborers, and union activists — took to the streets demanding Nimeiry’s ouster. It was precisely this sort of economic malaise that drove the Egyptian protests in 2011. By the time of Mubarak’s ouster, 80 percent of Egyptians rated their economic condition as “bad.” Poverty was on the rise, with one in four Egyptians living under the poverty line, according to the World Bank. Inflation peaked at 18 percent in 2008 and remained in double-digits through 2010, helping to push up the price of basic goods — particularly wheat — despite multibillion-dollar government subsidies. The bleak economic situation hit young Egyptians the hardest. By 2011, Egyptians under age 24 comprised more than half the population, and a whopping 87 percent of the country’s unemployed, making it unsurprising that this demographic dominated the ranks of the protesters who overthrew Mubarak”.

He continues, “Sudan’s post-coup elections in April 1986 ushered Nimeiry’s former foe, the Islamist Umma Party, into power. But the coalition government led by Umma’s Sadiq al-Mahdi thoroughly botched its stewardship of the economy, devaluing the Sudanese pound to roughly 10 percent of its mid-1970s value and allowing the price of basic commodities to skyrocket. In response, the Sudanese flooded back into the streets to protest, setting the stage for a June 1989 coup. This time, it was Omar Hassan al-Bashir, then an army colonel, who led the military back into the political arena. Like al-Mahdi and his Umma Party, Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood failed to reverse Egypt’s faltering economy. Since Mubarak’s ouster, GDP growth has slowed to roughly 2 percent, the unemployment rate has risen to 13 percent, and Standard & Poor’s downgraded Egypt’s long-term debt rating from BB+ to CCC+. Egypt’s foreign currency reserves have also dwindled to $16 billion, half of what they were under Mubarak. While Egyptians chafed at Morsy’s creeping authoritarianism, a majority rated having a strong economy as more important than living in a strong democracy in a May public opinion poll. That Morsy could not meet Egyptian expectations for a better economy provided at least part of the impetus for this month’s mass demonstrations and coup. This is where the stories of Sudan and Egypt hopefully diverge. There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic: Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the armed forces, has not undertaken a wholesale power grab like Bashir”.

Using their “influence”

23/07/2013

“Karzai’s chief of staff Abdul Karim Khurram aired suspicions last week that the Taliban ‘political office’ in Doha was part of a plot by either the United States or Pakistan aimed at ‘breaking up Afghanistan’. “The main support of the Taliban is from Pakistan,” Khurram said. On Sunday, Aziz said Pakistan had supported travel to Qatar by Taliban representatives at the request of the Afghan High Peace Council. ‘We have some influence and contacts with (the Taliban in) Afghanistan. But we do not control them,’ Aziz said. ‘It is for Afghans themselves to decide what system and what kind of post 2014 arrangement they would like to have.’ Aziz referred to the release of 26 Taliban detainees at the High Peace Council’s request and said Pakistan also facilitated their passage. ‘If requested again in future, we can play the same role but at an appropriate time and in consultation with other interested parties,’ he added”. Pakistan has long had close ties with the Afghan Taliban through the ISI and has used terrorist groups to project power in Afghanistan. It is uncertain whether the ISI and Taliban will agree to Pakistan’s supposedly new policy.

“Broad-based alliance with non-Islamists”

23/07/2013

An article has been published that argues that the Muslim Brotherhood are attempting to broaden their political base and return to power in Egypt.

It begins noting that a former minister does not want to be accused of violence. It mentions that  “clashes broke out near Tahrir Square between supporters of Mohammed Morsi and the deposed president’s opponents. The violence started with the two sides hurling stones at each other, and degenerated into an exchange of Molotov cocktails and gunfire. The bloodshed illustrates the bind that the Brotherhood finds itself in: If it doesn’t take to the streets aggressively, it dooms itself to irrelevance in the new political game. But if it pushes too hard, it risks being blamed for the sort of violence Egypt witnessed today. So, how can the Brotherhood reverse the setbacks it has suffered over the past three weeks? Paradoxically, Darrag laid out a plan that focuses on winning over the very people Brotherhood supporters are clashing with in Tahrir. This involves reconstituting a broad-based alliance with non-Islamists against Egypt’s military rulers, transforming the national debate from Morsy’s performance to how to preserve democracy, and raising the possibility of another massive uprising similar to the one that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011″.

The piece adds that “The Brotherhood has good reason not to make this about Morsy. At the time of his ouster, he was broadly unpopular: According to one poll, he enjoyed the support of only 28 percent of Egyptians. Brotherhood officials have tried to get around this conundrum by floating the possibility that Morsy, upon being reinstated, could immediately make concessions to the non-Islamist opposition. ‘We do realise that a lot of people are not in favor of the president or in favor of us being there,’ Darrag said. ‘We can work on some sort of reconciliation to come up with anything that is satisfactory to most of the Egyptians…Including that the president goes, or calls for [early] elections, or appoints someone on his behalf until elections.’ In addition to making plans about the future, the Brotherhood is trying to patch up past disagreements with non-Islamist groups. Many of the Brotherhood’s opponents, for example, accuse the Islamist movement of maintaining a cosy relationship with the military junta that ruled Egypt after Mubarak’s fall — ordering its cadres to stay home even when the non-Islamist revolutionaries were engaged in bloody clashes with the security forces at Mohammed Mahmoud St. and Maspero during winter 2011. Darrag attributed the Brotherhood’s inaction to “information” that the movement had received that the military was planning a ‘big massacre,’ which would be used as proof that the Brotherhood was a violent movement”.

Thankfully the odds are for now, stacked against the Brotherhood, “The Brotherhood not only needs to get its message right — it needs to reach the millions of Egyptians who are also listening to the narrative of the military and its allies. It’s no easy task: Anti-Morsy protesters hold Tahrir Square, Islamist TV channels have been shut down, and major stations sympathetic to the military’s narrative have plastered a tagline on their broadcast: ‘Against Terrorism’ — a reference to the Brotherhood”.

He ends the piece “Nobody, not even the Brotherhood, can be sure whether this strategy will work”.

The one thing the interim government can do in the meantime is to begin to repair the battered economy and improve the lives of the millions of Egyptians. This, if successful will turn the Brothers into a political irrelevance.

Finally blacklisted

23/07/2013

The military wing of Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese Shiite group, was blacklisted by European Union ministers as a terrorist organisation on Monday in a policy shift that reflected their concern about Hezbollah’s suspected involvement in Europe-based bombings and its growing role in the Syria war. The blacklisting designation was welcomed by the United States and Israel, which have long regarded Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. Hezbollah and Iran, the group’s biggest ally, denounced the designation as a capitulation to United States and Israeli pressure. ‘It appears that the decision was written with an American hand in Zionist ink,’ Hezbollah said in a statement from Beirut”.

What competition? – Part X

21/07/2013

The term BRICs is over ten years old and now, with some distance it has been written that “the anniversary aside, it’s been a week of surprisingly bad press for the four countries, though commentators don’t seem quite united on just which emerging economy is the most overhyped. Following India’s decision to delay long-awaited reforms to its retail sector to allow greater foreign investment, O’Neill pronounced India the greatest disappointment of the four”.

The piece goes on to mention how “‘All four countries have become bigger (economies) than I said they were going to be, even Russia. However there are important structural issues about all four and as we go into the 10-year anniversary, in some ways India is the most disappointing,” said O’Neill who oversees almost a trillion dollars in assets at Goldman.[…] ‘India has the risk of … if they’re not careful, a balance of payments crisis. They shouldn’t raise people’s hopes of FDI and then in a week say, ‘we’re only joking’,’ O’Neill said. ‘India’s inability to raise its share of global FDI is very disappointing,’ he said. United Nations data shows that India received less than $20 billion in FDI in the first six months of 2011, compared to more than $60 billion in China while Brazil and Russia took in $23 billion and $33 billion respectively”.

The article adds “Brazil’s economy has indeed been growing at a ferocious pace – when measured in nominal, dollar terms. Since the global financial crisis first erupted in 2008, Brazilian nominal GDP has increased by an astonishing 52 per cent. In real inflation-adjusted terms, however, the performance is more modest: Brazil has grown just 10 per cent. Go back further, say to 1990, and the difference is more dramatic. In nominal dollar terms, Brazil’s economy is now five times bigger. But in real terms, it has “just” doubled since then. Why does this difference matter? The short answer is because Brazil’s apparently fantastic growth rate hinges on its exchange rate. This has been pumped up by two factors. First, because of the startling climb in commodity prices, which has produced some real improvements in the economy. And second, because of capital inflows, which have produced some nominal improvements. Again, the difference matters. As Andrew Hunt economics points out, Brazilian nominal GDP has doubled since 2000 but employment has only grown by 10 per cent. Queer, no?”

It concludes, “The situation in rapidly aging, still hydrocarbon-dependent Russia, Goldstone argues, is even more grim, an argument that seems borne out by the latest news from Moscow. Goldstone is still bullish on Brazil and India, based on demographic and political trends, but argues they should more appropriately be put in the company of Turkey, Mexico, and Indonesia: the TIMBIs. It’s hard to be too downbeat on recent trends in BRIC-world, compared with the latest from Europe and the United States. But whether or not it’s reflected in economic reality, the adulatory coverage may be coming to an end”.

“No American troops on the ground”

21/07/2013

There would be no American troops on the ground in Afghanistan post 2014 without the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) being signed, a top US general said on Thursday. BSA negotiations suspended by President Hamid Karzai after the United States announced the opening of the Taliban’s political office in Doha and plans for direct talks between the two sides. “That’s right, sir,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told Senate Armed Services Committee members, when Senator Carl Levin said any US presence after 2014 was dependent on working out a bilateral agreement with the Afghans. “I hope President Karzai is listening to that answer,” Levin said. But Dempsey, who is travelling to Afghanistan later this week, exuded confidence the BSA would be reached in time.

Power’s project

19/07/2013

An article notes that a day after the confirmation hearings of Samantha Power as US ambassador to the United Nations, “one of her signature projects from her tenure at the National Security Staff: the Atrocities Prevention Board”.

The article mentions that “A little more than a year ago, President Barack Obama announced the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board during an address at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, saying that this initiative would make the deterrence of genocide and mass atrocities ‘a core national security interest and core moral responsibility.’ Both the president and Power seemed acutely aware of the challenges and risks of trying to develop an inter-agency atrocities prevention mechanism while the humanitarian tragedy continued to unfold in Syria — a conflict into which this administration has been reluctant to wade. Indeed, in many ways, the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board, or APB, has felt a bit like trying to build a fire department in the middle of a three-alarm fire. The roots of the APB come from a bipartisan belief that the United States, in places like Rwanda and Bosnia, simply did not do enough to counter genocides and mass atrocities as they gathered force. The 2008 report from the Genocide Prevention Task Force, co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, recommended the creation of a new high-level interagency body — what they called an Atrocities Prevention Committee — to improve U.S. government crisis-response systems and better equip Washington to mount coherent preventive responses”.

The piece continues, “So what does the APB actually do? And what does the situation in Syria say about its work? The APB consists of high-ranking representatives, all originally hand-picked by Power, from 11 agencies, including State, Defense, Treasury, Justice, the CIA and others. The board has essentially split its functions between looking at long-term structural issues — such as sanctions regimes and how government personnel are trained — and a geographic focus on countries at risk of mass atrocities, usually over the medium term”.

He writes that the successes of the APB are thus, “the APB presents an annual report on its activities and successes to the president in January of each year. Somewhat bafflingly, the APB has no signature public product, such as the State Department’s annual human rights report, and one of the most justified knocks on the board’s work to date has been the fact that it has been almost invisible from public view — a strategic decision within the administration that has one almost has to conclude has been driven by the situation in Syria. As a result of its lack of outreach, support for the APB remains very thin, particularly in Congress. As one congressional staffer told me, its activities to date are a ‘complete black hole.’ Perhaps the board’s most notable successes have come in getting agencies that have traditionally paid little attention to atrocity prevention, such as the departments of Treasury and Justice, to develop new tools to pursue major human rights abusers. Directly as a result of the APB’s work, the Department of Treasury has managed to place sanctions on suspected human rights abusers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Iran, and Myanmar, and notably on 41 entities or individuals in Syria or with ties to the embattled Assad regime. The Department of Justice now has prosecutors working on human-rights abuse cases”.

It concludes, “Lanny Breuer, who represented the Justice Department on the APB until recently, argued that it was ‘unrealistic for a new entity that has no real authority to galvanise the government on Syria,’ and added, ‘But what it can do is to raise awareness.’ Breuer’s comments may be accurate, but if so, the administration surely oversold the APB’s potential when it was rolled out. On background, those affiliated with the APB argue that it has functioned largely as it should during the crisis. They point out that the APB was created to push decisionmaking and policymaking on mass atrocities to the highest levels in government, and that the decisions on how to respond to the situation in Syria have been rigorously debated by the president and his core national security team. No board can force a president’s hand, and most agree that the policy choices in Syria run the gamut from bad to awful. Perhaps the APB is better positioned to deal with crises that are over the horizon or for which there are warning signs rather than ones that are directly unfolding. But, all that said, the APB was created with the express intent to prevent the next Rwanda or Bosnia, and Syria is looking an awful lot like one of those tragedies for which the phrase ‘never again‘ keeps getting repeated”.

“Has reportedly been killed”

19/07/2013

Said al-Shihri, the second-in-command of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has reportedly been killed. But unlike previous (and premature) reports of his death — and there have been many — this time the news came straight from the source, in an announcement by AQAP. Maybe this time Shihri will actually stay dead. Shihri, who also went by the kunya Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, was a veteran jihadist who had operated in Afghanistan and Chechnya by the time he was captured by U.S. forces in December 2001. He was held for several years at Guantánamo Bay, but was released after attending a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia. Four months after his release, Shihri appeared in a video announcing the formation of AQAP, with him as deputy emir to former Osama bin Laden aide Nasir al-Wuhayshi. He is believed to have helped plan AQAP’s 2009 assassination attempt against Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, and has been an aggressive fundraiser for the organization, sometimes to the chagrin of bin Laden and al Qaeda’s core leadership. Documents recovered from bin Laden’s Abbottabad safehouse included a letter criticizing Shihri’s efforts and requesting that AQAP start clearing its press releases with other al Qaeda leaders”.

Another letter

19/07/2013

Pope Francis has issued another letter establishing the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organisation of the economic-administrative structure of the Holy See. This follows on from the commission of  eight cardinals he established as well as the other letter he wrote to establish a group to deal with the “Vatican Bank”/Institute for Works of Religion.

The latest letter, John Allen reports that “Francis announced a new pontifical commission dealing with the Vatican’s economic and administrative structures. The aim, according to a legal document with which Francis created the body, is to draft reforms promoting ‘simplification and rationalization’ and ‘more careful planning of economic activities,’ as well as to ‘favour transparency’ and ‘ever greater prudence in the area of finances.’ The eight-member commission is composed almost entirely of laypeople, led by Joseph F.X. Zahra of Malta, an economist and businessman who has also served as a board member of the Vatican-based Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice Foundation and on the International Audit Committee of the Holy See and the Vatican State.  While waiting for the dust to settle on how accurate the specific claims against Ricca may be, two preliminary observations suggest themselves”.

Allen goes onto note that “First, it confirms how much the Institute for the Works of Religion, popularly known as the Vatican bank, has become a primary acid test and battleground for the larger question of Vatican reform. In the last 14 months:One bank president has been fired for alleged incompetence and erratic behavior while insisting he was trying to promote transparency; His successor, tapped by Benedict XVI as one of his last acts, faced a mini-tempest at the beginning because of his ties to a German firm that manufacturers warships; The bank’s top two managers resigned while facing an Italian probe into alleged money-laundering; and A new commission was created to investigate the bank at roughly the same time a former Vatican accountant was charged, among other things, with illicit use of his bank accounts. Now, the bank prelate finds himself in the eye of the storm”.

Allen adds later that “the [Msgr] Ricca affair also illustrates how Francis himself is still viewed positively by almost everyone because the one thing everyone appears to agree on is that Francis is not to blame. Friday’s story by veteran journalist Sandro Magister claims that Ricca, now 57, had a live-in lover when he served as a papal diplomat in Uruguay in the late 1990s and early 2000s, that he cruised gay bars and once got beaten up, and that another time he brought a young man back to the papal embassy and ended up trapped in an elevator with him overnight before being freed by the local fire department. It should be noted there’s no suggestion in the story that Ricca was guilty of criminal conduct or sexual abuse and no suggestion he ever faced civil charges. Battista later returned to Rome and ended up as the director of the Casa Santa Marta, the residence on Vatican grounds where Francis now lives, earning the pope’s trust and being tapped to become his ‘prelate,’ or delegate, at the bank. (Technically, the prelate is appointed by a body of cardinals that supervises the bank, but it’s widely believed they acted on Francis’ wishes.)”

A cordial discussion

19/07/2013

Pope Francis visited Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI this afternoon to ask the former Pontiff to ‘spiritually accompany him in prayer’ during his visit to Brazil for World Youth Day next week. The Vatican said the Holy Father called in on the Pope Emeritus shortly after 4pm and brought with him a booklet covering the program of the trip so that Benedict can participate spiritually and follow the transmission of the events. Benedict XVI, who was originally scheduled to go to Rio until he announced his retirement in February, ‘assured him of his prayers, recalling the intense and wonderful experiences of his past world meetings with young people in Cologne, Sydney and Madrid.’ The Vatican said the meeting started ‘with a moment of prayer’ in the chapel, followed by a ‘cordial conversation’ that lasted half an hour”.

“Poised to replace”

19/07/2013

An article posits that a new group that is worse than the Muslin Brotherhood is in Egypt and are the new power brokers.

It begins arguing “In one of the many bizarre twists of Egypt’s recent political convulsion, hardline Salafi parties look poised to replace the Muslim Brotherhood as the most important Islamist players in the political process. It’s a situation ripe with irony: For years, the Brotherhood represented the “good guys” of the Islamist world — a movement that other parties could deal with — while the Salafis were irreconcilable zealots bent on establishing an Islamist state by any means necessary. But with former “bad guys” redeeming themselves by siding with the opposition in the weeks preceding President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster, they now have a shot at becoming the standard-bearers for Islamist politics in the Arab world’s largest nation”.

She goes on to argue “The Nour Party, the largest Islamist organisation, joined in the opposition’s call for Morsy to step down, claiming that he and the Muslim Brotherhood were attempting to monopolise power. But it did not participate officially in the street protests against the Brotherhood, and has been sitting on the fence ever since, criticising the military’s transition roadmap and its constitutional proclamation, and declaring that their members would neither join the transitional government nor oppose it. Salafist participation, however, will come at a price — and there’s no guarantee that Egypt’s new rulers will want to pay it. The military officers that deposed Morsy — along with the parties and personalities now trying to ride their coattails into power — are facing a difficult choice: Should they include Islamists in the new system? Or should they seek to push them resolutely to the margins, as Hosni Mubarak and a succession of previous governments did? It’s not clear that this decision has been made yet”.

Such is the tension that in Egypt that “At the same time, the new leadership has made a huge concession to Salafis by including in its July 8 constitutional proclamation some of the most controversial clauses of the suspended 2012 constitution. Article 1 of the proclamation proclaims Islam to be the religion of the state and the principles of sharia the main source of legislation. It was the Salafis, particularly members of the Nour Party, who insisted on including these stipulations in the constitution. There is no guarantee, however, that the Salafi parties can coexist in the long term with their new secular allies. Tamarod, the “rebel” movement that spearheaded the June 30 demonstrations, was incensed by references to sharia in the constitutional proclamation and is opposed to Islamist participation in the new government. Many of the so-called liberals in the National Salvation Front and in the business community also call, at least privately, for the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) — and do not hide their desire to see a ban on all parties with a religious orientation in the new constitution”.

She goes on to mention that “Because the Salafis’ rise was so sudden, it was not accompanied by a corresponding ideological transformation. Salafi parties had few discussions about the implications of participating in a pluralistic political system — they simply decided that the goal of building an Islamic state, previously set aside as premature, was worth pursuing right away”.

She ends the piece noting that if democracy is to work in Egpyt the Islamists must be included. However, it may not come to that. Either the military will suppress these movements and safeguard the religious minorities, or alternatively these groups may work together and could fight against the regime. They would surely lose this fight in military terms but the danger is that if they lose it, they may end up winning it with their fellow Salafis joining forces from other countries with them.

“Amid signs of progress”

19/07/2013

Secretary of State John Kerry has prolonged his Middle East visit, an official said Thursday, amid signs of progress in his efforts to kickstart direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. ‘Secretary Kerry will remain in Amman on Thursday night to determine if there is additional work that requires his presence before he returns to the United States,’ the State Department official said. In a further sign of a possible breakthrough in Kerry’s intense diplomatic efforts to get the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table after a three-year break, Israeli army radio said Thursday the military is preparing to lift some restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank”.

“Inept or duplicitous”

17/07/2013

After the death of Osama bin Laden a commission was set up by the Pakistani authorities to answer the multiplicity of questions after bin Laden was found just a few miles from a Pakistani army base.

A piece discusses the commission report. It opens “‘Everyone, including the United States, thought Osama bin Laden was no longer alive.’ That was the explanation senior Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officials gave when asked how the world’s most-wanted man had eluded them for a decade. But members of a Pakistani government commission charged with investigating the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden didn’t buy it, and they said so in a remarkably candid 336-page report published by Al Jazeera this week. The report, written by a four-man panel that included a retired supreme court judge and general, paints an alarming picture of Pakistan’s storied spy agency — one that hints strongly that ISI is either shockingly inept or duplicitous, or both. The members of the commission were given sweeping authority, and they seem to have used it in a refreshingly thorough manner, summoning more than two hundred witnesses, including Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of ISI and one of the most powerful men in Pakistan. The report — which took nine months to produce and another 15 to be leaked — goes well beyond examining bin Laden’s presence in the country, questioning the wisdom of delegating Pakistan’s entire counterterrorism effort to a single, secret, military agency that is too proud to share its burden with anyone else”.

Interestingly the article notes “At a time when much of the domestic outrage over the raid centers around the Pakistani military’s inability to defend against the American incursion, the commission turned the question on its head, saying the best defense would have been capturing al Qaeda’s leader a long time ago”.

It continues, “The lesson from the bin Laden saga, the commission concludes, is that police and other civilian institutions should be given the resources and space to do their jobs. The survivors of the bin Laden raid, the report says, should have been handed over to the police, which should have tracked down what kind of support network they had in Pakistan. The report laments the fact that the Bin Laden raid investigation, like every other major terrorism case in Pakistan, was handled by the ISI, instead of civilian institutions that are readily accountable to others”.

It adds “As the commission’s report points out, the ISI had sole custody of bin Laden’s surviving family members for five months before the commission questioned them. Yet the ISI failed to pursue any of these leads. It did not track down where bin Laden’s wives lived in Pakistan, who arranged for their stay and transportation or whether or not their stories were corroborated by other evidence. Bin Laden’s oldest — and reportedly his favorite — wife, Khairiah, lived in Iranian custody from 2002 until 2010. After the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, she fled there with other members of bin Laden’s family, including his son Saad bin Laden. How she got into Pakistan is still a major question. As the report points out, one possibility is that the Iranian government and al Qaeda arranged to exchange an Iranian diplomat for Khairiah. At any rate, Khairiah arrived in Pakistan in 2010 and travelled through Quetta to Waziristan. From there, she received a message from bin Laden inviting her to Abbottabad, where she arrived only three months before the raid that killed her husband”.

It concludes, “The commission blames the ISI for the fact that none of these leads were followed up on, saying civilians were unaware of Abbottabad’s connections to al Qaeda. The ISI, in contrast, was ‘well aware of their presence but unwilling to share information.’ The report also contains the extensive, candid testimony of Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the then head of the ISI (although one page is mysteriously missing from the leaked copy), It amounts to a damning illustration of why Pakistan’s counterterrorism policy has failed. Pakistan has lost 50,000 people — including thousands of soldiers that were answerable to men like Pasha — to terrorist attacks since 2004. Yet Pasha seemed to be stuck in another world when talking to the commission. He rightly pointed out that ISI was overburdened, but then blamed those who dared to criticize his agency’s role in securing Pakistan”.

It ends “If Pakistanis were looking for insight into the bin Laden saga from the ISI, they did not get any. In fact, the problem the commission uncovered was one that has been known to Pakistanis for some time now. The ISI, which ‘neither had constitutional or legal authority, nor the necessary expertise and competence,’ for counterterrorism, was taking up the responsibility of civilian institutions that were ‘even less competent,’ because they had no long-term experience running the country. ‘The premier intelligence institution’s religiosity replaced accountability at the expense of professional competence,’ the report concludes. In other words, Pakistanis cannot depend on agencies like the ISI — which either through incompetence or outright complicity failed to track down bin Laden — to defend its borders, whether the threat is coming from a U.S. raid, or a Taliban suicide bomber”.

“Riding a motorcycle”

17/07/2013

At least two people were killed Saturday [13th July]  in an American drone strike in a northwestern tribal region of Pakistan, according to intelligence officials. The drone strike took place at around 11:30 p.m. Saturday in Mosaki village, near Mir Ali, the second-largest town in North Waziristan tribal region, alongside the border with Afghanistan. North Waziristan is a stronghold of the Taliban and militants affiliated with Al Qaeda. The two victims, whom the authorities believed to be militants, were riding a motorcycle when they were targeted by the drone strike. Their identities were not immediately known”.

A slow start

17/07/2013

After the decision of President Obama to arm the rebels in Syria an article in the New York Times writes that the implementation of such a decision will be far more complex and slow.

The piece notes “A month ago Obama administration officials promised to deliver arms and ammunition to the Syrian rebels in the hope of reversing the tide of a war that had turned against an embattled opposition. But interviews with American, Western and Middle Eastern officials show that the administration’s plans are far more limited than it has indicated in public and private. In fact, the officials said, the administration’s plans to use the C.I.A. to covertly train and arm the rebels could take months to have any impact on a chaotic battlefield. Many officials believe the assistance is unlikely to bolster the rebellion enough to push President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to the negotiating table”.

The article continues, “The plans call for the C.I.A. to supply only small arms, and to only a limited segment of the opposition — the actual numbers are unclear. In addition, much of the training, which is to take place over months in Jordan and Turkey, has not yet started, partly because of Congressional objections. The cautious approach reflects the continued ambivalence and internal divisions of an administration that still has little appetite for intervention in Syria, but has been backed into a corner after American and European spy agencies concluded that Syrian government troops had used chemical weapons against the rebels. Mr. Obama had declared the use of chemical weapons to be a “red line” leading to American action. Many in the administration say they are still seeking to satisfy themselves that they have taken all precautions possible to prevent weapons from falling into the hands of Islamic extremists in Syria. To them, the plan carries echoes of previous American efforts to arm rebels in Angola, Nicaragua and elsewhere, many of which backfired. There is also fear at the White House that Mr. Obama will be dragged into another war in the Middle East”.

It adds “The Congressional impasse has exposed other shortcomings in the administration’s approach, lawmakers and independent Syria specialists said. The slow start to the arming effort has led to skepticism — particularly as Mr. Assad’s troops retake strategically important towns from rebel forces — that the C.I.A.’s plan can achieve what Mr. Obama has said is America’s ultimate goal: forcing Mr. Assad to step down. White House officials have made few public statements about the expanded military support to the rebels. It was not the president but Benjamin J. Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, who announced the policy shift on June 13 in a conference call with reporters, saying that the approach ‘aimed at strengthening both the cohesion of the opposition, but also the effectiveness’ of the rebels”.

Where this leaves the much needed weapons is in some legal limbo with the rebels that the administration is least troubled by short of weapons while Qatar, Hezbollah, Iran and a host of other countries have a stream of weapons already in Syria with more on the way. This is detrimental to US interests and should be resolved as quickly as possible all the while the Assad regime gains territory back from the various assortment of rebels.

The article ends, “It remains unclear when the C.I.A.-supplied small arms will arrive in Syria. Earlier this year, the administration pledged “nonlethal” assistance to General Idris’s command that took months to arrive in full”.

“Coming to an end”

17/07/2013

A prolonged hunger strike by more than 100 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, appeared to be coming to an end Friday after military officials reported that almost all had started eating again. The military said in a statement that 99 of the 102 inmates listed as being on hunger strike had eaten a hot meal in the previous 24 hours”.

More of the same in Burma?

15/07/2013

A counter-interutitve article has been published on the situation in Burma. It argues that the country is still under the control of the military.

It opens “Since ex-general Thein Sein assumed the presidency in March 2011, foreign observers have generally appeared optimistic that Burma is on its way toward some kind of liberal democracy. The only snag seems to be the ongoing conflict with ethnic rebels in Kachin, Burma’s northernmost state”.

He goes on to mention that “people question the president’s ability to control the military during the country’s democratic reform. Some foreign analysts have argued, however, that the outside world needs to support Thein Sein’s ‘reformist’ government against so-called ‘military hardliners.’  According to this narrative, neither Thein Sein nor the military are held responsible for the brutal suppression of the Kachins, which has not come to an end despite a tentative peace agreement reached in the state capital of Myitkyina in May 2013. In fact, the two sides only agreed to undertake efforts to achieve ‘de-escalation and cessation of hostilities’ and ‘to hold a political dialogue.’ No firm commitments were made concerning when and where such talks would take place. This decades-long civil war reached its height in January 2013 with the inclusion of massive artillery barrages supported by airstrikes from helicopter gunships and fighter jets. It defies logic that such a large-scale offensive could have been launched by some local commanders or, as the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies claims, that ‘a minority of the military’ is acting ‘as a spoiler’ to the democratisation process. This assessment reflects a lack of understanding of the Burmese military’s command structure as well as of its relationship with Thein Sein’s government”.

It has been noted here before that in order for the junta to truly show that things have changed in Burma for good, there needs to be a peaceful, long term resolution to the dispute in Kachin province.

Alarmingly he goes on to write that “At no stage in his career did Thein Sein display any political independence or initiative. He was a loyal soldier, hand-picked by then-SPDC chairman and prime minister, Than Shwe. Thein Sein always said and did what he was told. For instance, in the summer of 2010, while serving as prime minister, Thein Sein received a delegation from North Korea. He was quoted praising the military advancements of the Korean people under Kim Jong Il and advocating the strengthening of the countries’ friendship. In those days, Burma was not shy to admit its friendly relations with North Korea. The cooperation continues today, only in secret. A Burmese businessman who recently met Thein Sein in private described him as ‘indecisive, just repeating what’s been said in official announcements, saying what he has been told to say.'”

He lends further creedence to this idea when he argues “who is telling Thein Sein what to say? According to sources familiar with high-level Burmese military thinking, Thein Sein was selected because he had “no ambitions” and would not pose a threat to Than Shwe, who slipped from public view into supposed retirement. In June 2010, Than Shwe picked his trusted colleague, Min Aung Hlaing, to become head of the armed forces. Min Aung Hlaing was another soldier who could be trusted not to turn against his former mentor; he, too, is not known for being an independent thinker. Both President Thein Sein and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing owe their positions to Than Shwe. Than Shwe remains a powerful player behind the scenes and, according to military insiders, still has the final say in matters concerning security. Burma’s power structure with the military at its apex has not changed. It would therefore be incorrect to talk about a transitioning political system. It is more important now than ever to understand what is really happening in Burma and how change may or may not come about”.

What this does not answer is why the regime is liberalising at all. He goes on to cite shady election practices but does not address why the junta would allow only some power and reforms to take place and not others. It would not be hard to argue that reform begets reform. Similarly, why did the democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi elected along with a host of others in a series of by elections last year. Surely if the army wanted control they would have total control?

He does address this point noting, “According to the new constitution, cabinet members cannot both sit in the Parliament and be members of a political party. The NLD won 43 of the 44 seats the party contested. Aung San Suu Kyi became a member of parliament — but her party is in control of only 7 percent of all seats. Critics say her performance, and that of the NLD, has been entirely disappointing. They have not acted as an opposition, questioning official policies and presenting alternatives. Instead, they have trudged after the government, asked a few questions but offered nothing new. Khun Htun Oo, a prominent leader of the Shan people, one of Burma’s many ethnic minorities, said that Aung San Suu Kyi had been ‘neutralis0ed’ by the government, and as such, ‘can no longer speak for the people.’ Her silence over the war in Kachin has caused not only criticism but also widespread condemnation, especially from Kachin community groups who feel betrayed. To the satisfaction of Burma’s rulers, Aung San Suu Kyi has morphed from a once fiery opposition leader into an avid supporter of their new order. In her most recent praise for the military, speaking at the East-West Center in Honolulu in January 2013, Aung San Suu Kyi said: ‘I’ve often been criticised for saying that I’m fond of the Burmese Army, but I can’t help it, it’s the truth.’ Such statements have been widely perceived as insensitive and have cost Aung San Suu Kyi support among Burma’s ethnic minorities, many of which looked to her for inspiration during the darkest days of military rule. As Aung San Suu Kyi spoke in Hawaii, thousands of Kachins, mostly women and children, were hunkered down in newly dug bunkers near the Kachin rebel headquarters while the army and air force ramped up their indiscriminate bombardment. There is actually little Aung San Suu Kyi can do about the dominant role of the military. The first chapter of the 2008 constitution states that the “Defense Services” shall ‘be able to participate in the national political leadership role of the State.’ And it does so by holding 25 percent of all seats in the national parliament. The charter lays out complicated rules for constitutional amendments, which effectively give the military veto power over any proposed changes to the present power structure. Minor constitutional changes may be considered by if 20 percent of MPs submit a bill. However, a tangle of 104 clauses mean that major charter changes cannot be made without the prior approval of more than 75 percent of all MPs, after which a nationwide referendum must be held where more than half of all eligible voters cast ballots”.

The Taliban in Syria

15/07/2013

The Pakistani Taliban have set up camps and sent hundreds of men to Syria to fight alongside rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, militants said on Sunday, in a strategy aimed at cementing ties with al-Qaida’s central leadership. More than two years since the start of the anti-Assad rebellion, Syria has become a magnet for foreign Sunni fighters who have flocked to the Middle Eastern nation to join what they see as a holy war against Shi’ite oppressors. Operating alongside militant groups such as the al Nusra Front, described by the United States as a branch of al-Qaida, they mainly come from nearby countries such as Libya and Tunisia riven by similar conflict as a result of the Arab Spring”.

“This immense bluff must surely be called”

15/07/2013

The temporarily dormant euro crisis and supposed recovery is not occuring and according to some is about to explode again. Ambrose Evans Pritchard writes “Europe’s debt-crisis strategy is near collapse. The long-awaited recovery has failed to take wing. Debt ratios across southern Europe are rising at an accelerating pace. Political consent for extreme austerity is breaking down in almost every EMU crisis state. And now the US Federal Reserve has inflicted a full-blown credit shock for good measure”.

He goes on to write “None of Euroland’s key actors seems willing to admit that the current strategy is untenable. They hope to paper over the cracks until the German elections in September, as if that is going to make any difference. A leaked report from the European Commission confirms that Greece will miss its austerity targets yet again by a wide margin. It alleges that Greece lacks the “willingness and capacity” to collect taxes. In fact, Athens is missing targets because the economy is still in freefall and that is because of austerity overkill. The Greek think-tank IOBE expects GDP to fall 5pc this year. It has told journalists privately that the final figure may be -7pc. The Greek stabilisation is a mirage. Italy’s slow crisis is again flaring up. Its debt trajectory has punched through the danger line over the past two years. The country’s €2.1 trillion (£1.8 trillion) debt – 129pc of GDP – may already be beyond the point of no return for a country without its own currency. Standard & Poor’s did not say this outright when it downgraded the country to near-junk BBB on Tuesday. But if you read between the lines, it is close to saying the game is up for Italy”.

He adds “Standard & Poor’s did not say this outright when it downgraded the country to near-junk BBB on Tuesday [9 July]. But if you read between the lines, it is close to saying the game is up for Italy”. This just shows the severity, as if it were needed, things are faced.

The piece continues “The International Monetary Fund has just slashed its growth forecast for Italy this year to -1.8pc. The accumulated fall in Italian output since 2007 will reach 10pc. This is a depression. Yet how is the country supposed to get out of this trap with its currency overvalued by 20pc to 30pc within EMU? Spain’s crisis has a new twist. The ruling Partido Popular is caught in a slush-fund scandal of such gravity that it cannot plausibly brazen out the allegations any longer, let alone rally the nation behind another year of scorched-earth cuts. El Mundo says a ‘pre-revolutionary’ mood is taking hold. A magistrate has obtained the original ‘smoking gun’ alleging that Premier Mariano Rajoy accepted illegal payments as a minister. The Left is calling for his head but so are members of the Consejo General del Poder Judicial, the justice watchdog”.

Surely the article in El Mundo is exaggerating as there seems little coherence to what the people want apart from an end to spending cuts. They seem unaware of the consequences of not having spending cuts but at the same time are complaining about the EU, the “institution” that is so far keeping the banks open in most of the continent. However, the criticism of German inaction is wholly valid and has been noted here before but  at the same time Europe has not managed to square the circle of national leaders doing what is best for their own countries before the EU. This was seen clearly in Luxembourg recently with the resignation of fervent European Jean Claude Juncker, who resigned  partly due to the fact that he was not paying close enough attention to domestic matters over European affairs. Similarly, Europe, and the euro crisis must wait until the German elections are over before any more action is taken to “remedy” the problem.

He goes on to add “Portugal is slipping away. Professor João Ferreira do Amaral’s book – Why We Should Leave The Euro – has been a bestseller for months. He accuses Brussels of serving as an enforcer for Germany and the creditor powers. Like Greece before it, Portugal is chasing its tail in a downward spiral. Economic contraction of 3pc a year is eroding the tax base, causing Lisbon to miss deficit targets. A new working paper by the Bank of Portugal explains why it has gone wrong. The fiscal multiplier is “twice as large as normal”, or 2.0, in small open economies during crisis times. What is new is that Vitor Gaspar, the high priest of Portugal’s shock therapy, has thrown in the towel. He blames the fainthearted for refusing to slash with greater vigour. Needless to say, he still refuses to accept that a strategy of wage cuts and deflation in a country with total debt of 370pc of GDP was always likely to fail”.

He then mentions “The Portuguese press is already reporting that the European Commission is working secretly on a second bail-out, an admission that the wheels are coming off the original €78bn EU-IMF troika rescue. This is a political minefield. Any fresh rescue would require a vote in the German Bundestag, certain to demand ferocious conditions if this occurs before the elections. Europe’s leaders have given a solemn pledge that they will never repeat the error made in Greece of forcing an EMU state into default, with haircuts for banks and pension funds. If Portugal needs debt relief, these leaders will face an ugly choice. Do they violate this pledge, and shatter market confidence? Or do they admit for the first time that taxpayers will have to foot the bill for holding EMU together? All rescue packages have been loans so far. German, Dutch, Finnish and other creditor parliaments have never yet had to crystallize a single euro in losses. All this is happening just as tapering talk by the Fed sends shockwaves through credit markets, pushing up borrowing costs by 70 basis points across Europe. Spanish 10-year yields are back to 4.8pc. These are higher than they look, since Spain is already in deflation once tax distortions are stripped out. Real interest rates are soaring”.

He ends the piece “Markets have reacted insouciantly so far to these gestating crises across Club Med. They remain entranced by the “Draghi Put”, the ECB’s slowly fraying pledge to backstop Italian and Spanish debt, forgetting that the ECB can only act under strict conditions, triggered first by a vote in the Bundestag. These conditions can no longer be fulfilled. The politics have curdled everywhere. Sooner or later, this immense bluff must surely be called”.

Still planning delivery

15/07/2013

The United States still plans to go through with the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt in the coming weeks, U.S. defense officials told Reuters on Wednesday, even after the Egyptian military’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. The disclosure came as Washington treads a careful line, neither welcoming Mursi’s removal nor denouncing it as a “coup,” saying it needs time to weigh the situation. A U.S. decision to brand his overthrow a coup would, by U.S. law, require Washington to halt aid to the Egyptian military, which receives the lion’s share of the $1.5 billion in annual U.S. assistance to that country. The jets, which will likely be delivered in August and are built by Lockheed Martin Corp, are part of the annual aid package, a U.S. defense official said”.

“Would like to buy a new Mubarakism”

15/07/2013

After the ousting of Morsi in Egypt and the announcement of aid from Saudi Arabia and the UAE and now Kuwait to the country, some has speculated that the GCC monarchies are attempting to influence Egypt’s course, “Many Egyptians furiously contest whether the overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsy should be considered a revolution or a coup. But the fiercely anti-revolutionary monarchs of the Gulf have no such doubts. Within days of Morsy’s fall, three conservative Gulf Cooperation Council states pledged $12 billion in support to the new regime. It’s pretty clear what the counter-revolutionary Gulf monarchs expect for their generosity, and it’s not democracy. The conservative Gulf states would like to buy a new Mubarakism and a final end to all of this Arab uprising unpleasantness. But they are unlikely to succeed”.

The article goes on to note “This massive financial support follows on, and replaces, billions of dollars given by Qatar to the previous Muslim Brotherhood government. It is likely to prove equally ineffectual in delivering the desired payoffs, though. As Doha discovered to its dismay, money will buy only temporary love and symbolic returns. Whatever Gulf paymasters might hope, the new Egyptian government will be forced to respond to its own intensely turbulent, polarised, and dysfunctional domestic political arena. No outside player — not Washington, Riyadh, Doha, or Tehran — can really hope to effectively shape the new Egyptian politics for long”.

Interestingly he argues that “as anti-Muslim Brotherhood rage fades as a unifying force, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi may find themselves taking over Qatar’s role as the external force blamed for ongoing economic and political failure”. This however is far from certain. Firstly he assumes the want the Egyptian people want and want they get are the same thing. Secondly, those secularists and liberals who despite vast, and now obvious reservations, backed Morsi over Ahmed Safiq the “SCAF candidate” in the hope that it would usher in the supposedly tolerant, democratic Brotherhood that some supposedly proffered was the real organisation. Secondly he assumes that those secularists and liberals who backed the removal of Morsi will not welcome the army. Instead what is more likely to happen is that the secularists and liberals will simply see the army as the least worst option and give it tacit support.

He mentions the UAE’s hatred of the Brotherhood, something that has been noted here before, but goes on to discuss Saudi opposition, “Saudi hostility to the Brotherhood is driven not by any devotion to secularism, of course, but by the fierce competition between the Brotherhood and its own Salafi Islamist networks. Riyadh seeks leadership over Islamist political networks for both domestic and regional reasons. The Saudi regime worked for years to co-opt the Brotherhood-inclined ‘Sahwa’ Islamist networks that drove political dissent in the early 1990s — and it still fears their remobilisation (for example, the highly publicised open letter by Sahwa leader Salman al-Odeh warning the government against ignoring public discontent). Saudi support for the jihad in Syria is likely driven in part by the same concerns as its anti-Brotherhood campaign. Just as the Afghan jihad of the 1980s redirected Islamist energies away from home following the traumatic seizure of the Great Mosque of Mecca, the Syrian jihad focuses Islamist energies abroad, working with rather than against Riyadh’s leadership. In Egypt, as in Syria, the Saudis don’t oppose Islamism, just competing Islamists”.

He goes on to add that “The rivalry with Qatar also clearly drove the calculations of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The cooperation between these GCC states in the early days of the Arab uprising was always clearly the exception. Their rivalry and mutual disdain runs deep, and Doha’s rivals have moved rapidly and aggressively to take advantage of the departure of the Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim. What happened in Doha is clearly not staying in Doha. Morsi’s fall represents a serious setback for Qatar’s regional policy, but not the only one. Qatar’s men in the Syrian opposition have been sidelined, for now. Its leading Islamist figure, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, has capitulated to the Saudi anti-Shiite line, and now rumors are flying that he has been expelled from Doha. Meanwhile, the Saudis are moving to re-establish their traditional domination of the Arab media”.

He then discusses the goal of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in their dealings with Egypt, “Most broadly, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi saw the chance to finally put the nail in the coffin of the detested Arab uprisings by re-establishing the old order in the most important of the transitional states. They were horrified by Mubarak’s fall, by the demonstration effect across the region, and by America’s seeming embrace of the uprisings. From the start, they worked to divert, prevent, or control the Arab uprisings: helping to crush the uprising in Bahrain, sending massive financial assistance to less wealthy fellow monarchs in Oman, Jordan, and Morocco, and seeking to control the transition process in Yemen. Their media, in contrast to Al-Jazeera’s celebratory coverage, tended to emphasise the negative consequences of the Arab uprisings, the perfidy of Islamists, the carnage of Syria and Libya, and Egypt’s political chaos. A successful Egyptian democratic transition, with or without the Muslim Brotherhood, represented the greatest threat to this vision of conservative restoration. Such an Egypt would offer a powerful example of the possibility of democratic change through peaceful uprising”.

The piece concludes, “The Arab uprisings are not over, no matter how much the Gulf monarchies might wish that they were. A neo-Mubarakist restoration will no more bring stability to Egypt than did the pre-revolutionary Mubarak regime. There is no solution to Egypt’s problems without overcoming the country’s polarization and establishing meaningful democracy, neither of which are high on the agenda of Egypt’s new Gulf backers”.

$28 million dollars

15/07/2013

The United States provided $28.3 million in foreign assistance and funding programs to China via USAID and the State Department in 2012, according to a May report from the Congressional Research Service. It projects that number to decrease slightly in 2013, to $25.5 million. Roughly half of the U.S. funding is administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which focuses on four main areas in China: environmental protection, rule of law, HIV/AIDS, and sustainable development for Tibetans. ‘I believe that our foreign aid to China furthers U.S. interests,’ said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), who chairs the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommitttee of the Foreign Relations Committee, in a phone interview. But a USAID official, who asked to speak on background, took issue with calling the assistance to China “aid.” “We are using some assistance to do technical cooperation in a few key areas, which are narrow and defined in scope,” the official said. It’s “directed” assistance, the official added, noting that these programs were not controversial.

The majority out of wedlock

15/07/2013

In a somewhat unsurprising news article published recently, it was revealed that in the UK, the majority of children will be born out of wedlock within three years due to the falling marriage rates.

The piece notes that “The proportion of children born to unmarried mothers hit a record 47.5 per cent last year, according to the Office for National Statistics. The figure has risen from 25 per cent in 1988 and just 11 per cent in 1979. If the trend continues at the current rate, the majority of children will be born to parents who are not married by 2016. Conservative MPs and experts warned that the stark decline of marriage is likely to lead to more family breakdowns and damage children’s prospects. Tim Loughton, the former Children’s minister, called on the government to introduce tax breaks for married couples to help stop the decline. He said: ‘If people are prepared to make a public declaration to each other in front of their friends and family they are more likely to stay together. Without marriage people drift in and out of relationships very easily'”.

The article goes on to mention that “David Cameron has pledged to introduce legislation to give couples tax breaks worth £150 by the end of the year. The Prime Minister has been forced to put a timetable on government plans to recognise marriage in the tax system amid growing Conservative unrest over the failure to act. Last year a total of 346,595 babies were born outside marriage and civil partnerships in England and Wales, equivalent to 47.5 per cent. In 2002 the proportion was 40.6 per cent, and if the trend continues at the same rate more than half of children will be born out of wedlock by 2016. According to the 2011 Census, the number of people who are married in England and Wales has fallen from just over half of the population a decade ago to 45 per cent. The figures represented the first time since the Census was founded in 1801 that married couples have been in a minority. More than 11 million people in England and Wales are single, reflecting the growing number who have chosen not to marry, while more than 5 million unmarried people live with their partners”.

The piece adds later that “The official figures show that 729,674 children were born in 2012 and mothers now have an average of two children each, the highest fertility rate since the 1970s. The rise in the birth rates has been driven by immigration and women chosing to have children later in life. The number of women aged over 40 having children reached a record 29,994, up from just 6,519 in 2002. The average age of mothers has risen to 29.8 years in 2012, compared to 27 in 1982. The ONS said: ‘These trends reflect the increasing numbers of women delaying childbearing to later ages'”.

Much of the problem is down to a lack of marriage which hinges on the ever increasingly individualism in societies, and added to this the decline in belief in God as exemplified by attendance at an official church domination. However, the other problem is that relativistic belief that all forms of “partnership” are equally valid. This is not the case and indeed the concern is that marriage will become a thing of the past for the vast majority with only a few couples choosing to commit to what is by far the most stable form of union in society and therefore the best for children.

“Vowing to sustain”

13/07/2013

Tens of thousands of Islamists rallied Friday in cities across Egypt, vowing to sustain for months their campaign to restore deposed President Mohammed Morsi to power. Ten days after the military coup that toppled him, however, Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and its allies appear to have failed to bring a significantly wider segment of Egyptian society into the streets on their side. The new military-backed administration of interim President Mansour Adly, along with the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the most prominent Sunni Muslim institution, floated offers for ‘national reconciliation.’ Newly appointed Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi is reportedly promising to finish assembling his Cabinet by next week, a government official told Egypt’s state news agency. A presidential spokesman has said the Muslim Brotherhood will be offered posts”.

The case against drones

13/07/2013

As part of the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs, and in a  rebuttal to Daniel Byman’s article, a counter piece, Why Drones Fail, has been published.

It argues that “Like any other weapon, armed drones can be tactically useful. But are they helping advance the strategic goals of U.S. counterterrorism? Although terrorism is a tactic, it can succeed only on the strategic level, by leveraging a shocking event for political gain. To be effective, counterterrorism must itself respond with a coherent strategy. The problem for Washington today is that its drone program has taken on a life of its own, to the point where tactics are driving strategy rather than the other way around”.

While this point is generally valid, the drone programme has expanded, it has, through signature strikes, been hugely successful at decimnating the leadership of the terrorists, as Daniel Byman in his piece argued.

The piece goes on to write “The main goals of U.S. counterterrorism are threefold: the strategic defeat of al Qaeda and groups affiliated with it, the containment of local conflicts so that they do not breed new enemies, and the preservation of the security of the American people. Drones do not serve all these goals. Although they can protect the American people from attacks in the short term, they are not helping to defeat al Qaeda, and they may be creating sworn enemies out of a sea of local insurgents”.

The specific attack on the consequences of drone attacks have been discussed previously but the other point that has been mentioned here before is that the strikes are a necessary evil when the governments of countries had either knowingly or not, house terrorists, are unwilling or unable to defeat them of their own will.

The piece goes onto add that drones have dealt a tactical blow to al Qaeda but the piece then argues that “Despite the Obama administration’s recent calls for limits on drone strikes, Washington is still using them to try to defeat al Qaeda by killing off its leadership. But the terrorist groups that have been destroyed through decapitation looked nothing like al Qaeda: they were hierarchically structured, characterised by a cult of personality, and less than ten years old, and they lacked a clear succession plan. Al Qaeda, by contrast, is a resilient, 25-year-old organisation with a broad network of outposts”.

While this point is true it does not take away from the fact that those higher up the organisation have knowledge that when lost is gone forever, when these people are replaced they are often young inexperienced and oftentimes incompetent, though their resolve is surely still there.

The author goes on to argue that “Drones have inflicted real damage on the organization, of course. In Pakistan, the approximately 350 strikes since 2004 have cut the number of core al Qaeda members in the tribal areas by about 75 percent, to roughly 50–100, a powerful answer to the 2001 attacks they planned and orchestrated nearby. As al Qaeda’s center of gravity has shifted away from Pakistan to Yemen and North Africa, drone strikes have followed the terrorists. In September 2011, Michael Vickers, the U.S. undersecretary of defense for intelligence, estimated that there were maybe four key al Qaeda leaders remaining in Pakistan and about ten or 20 leaders overall in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen”.

The piece adds “there are many reasons to believe that drone strikes are undermining Washington’s goal of destroying al Qaeda. Targeted killings have not thwarted the group’s ability to replace dead leaders with new ones. Nor have they undermined its propaganda efforts or recruitment. Even if al Qaeda has become less lethal and efficient, its public relations campaigns still allow it to reach potential supporters, threaten potential victims, and project strength. If al Qaeda’s ability to perpetuate its message continues, then the killing of its members will not further the long-term goal of ending the group”.

She then writes that the drones are a source of propaganda but until these failed states are governed better with fair elections and a better economy there will always be terrorists, “Not only has al Qaeda’s propaganda continued uninterrupted by the drone strikes; it has been significantly enhanced by them. As Sahab (The Clouds), the propaganda branch of al Qaeda, has been able to attract recruits and resources by broadcasting footage of drone strikes, portraying them as indiscriminate violence against Muslims. Al Qaeda uses the strikes that result in civilian deaths”. The key desire is to make the organisation as weak as possible so that it only poses a minor or hopefully insignificant threat.

She argues that “A more effective way of defeating al Qaeda would be to publicly discredit it with a political strategy aimed at dividing its followers. Al Qaeda and its various affiliates do not together make up a strong, unified organisation. Different factions within the movement disagree about both long-term objectives and short-term tactics, including whether it is acceptable to carry out suicide attacks or kill other Muslims. And it is in Muslim-majority countries where jihadist violence has taken its worst toll. Around 85 percent of those killed by al Qaeda’s attacks have been Muslims, a fact that breeds revulsion among its potential followers. The United States should be capitalising on this backlash. In reality, there is no equivalence between al Qaeda’s violence and U.S. drone strikes — under the Obama administration, drones have avoided civilians about 86 percent of the time, whereas al Qaeda purposefully targets them. But the foolish secrecy of Washington’s drone program lets critics allege that the strikes are deadlier and less discriminating than they really are. Whatever the truth is, the United States is losing the war of perceptions, a key part of any counterterrorism campaign”.

Her point about driving a wedge between al Qaeda is valid but the only problem with that argument is that it just leads to further splintering which sometimes has the opposite effect, having smaller groups that are harder to track, monitor and control. Similarly, her point about this splintering leaving the organisation weaker is overplayed.

She then argues against signature strikes, “because the targets of such strikes are so loosely defined, it seems inevitable that they will kill some civilians. The June 2011 claim by John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser at the time, that there had not been a single collateral death from drone attacks in the previous year strained credulity — and badly undermined U.S. credibility. The drone campaign has morphed, in effect, into remote-control repression: the direct application of brute force by a state, rather than an attempt to deal a pivotal blow to a movement. Repression wiped out terrorist groups in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and tsarist Russia, but in each case, it sharply eroded the government’s legitimacy. Repression is costly, not just to the victims, and difficult for democracies to sustain over time. It works best in places where group members can be easily separated from the general population, which is not the case for most targets of U.S. drone strikes. Military repression also often results in violence spreading to neighboring countries or regions, which partially explains the expanding al Qaeda footprint in the Middle East and North Africa, not to mention the Caucasus”.

Her “argument” about the drone programme being “remote control repression” is laughable and ignores the fact that the world is overall a much safer place because of them. It is certainly only a short term fix but to go to this extreme undoes all the credibility she has laid out previously.

“Following 9/11, the U.S. war on terrorism was framed in the congressional authorisation to use force as a response to’“those nations, organisations, or persons” responsible for the attacks. The name ‘al Qaeda,’ which does not appear in the authorisation, has since become an ill-defined shorthand, loosely employed by terrorist leaders, counterterrorism officials, and Western pundits alike to describe a shifting movement. The vagueness of the U.S. terminology at the time was partly deliberate: the authorisation was worded to sidestep the long-standing problem of terrorist groups’ changing their names to evade U.S. sanctions. But Washington now finds itself in a permanent battle with an amorphous and geographically dispersed foe, one with an increasingly marginal connection to the original 9/11 plotters. In this endless contest, the United States risks multiplying its enemies and heightening their incentives toattack the country”.

The problem with this approach is that it is too narrow. It does not give the president the flexibility he needs in carrying out the operations that he sees fit in a rapidly changing and clever organisation that can adapt quickly. To name al Qaeda would be sound but it would not then allow the president to intervene in Somlia with al-Shabab. So if this were the case it would merely be a reactive rather than pro-active approach which makes little legal or operational sense.

She then resorts to polling, “Indeed, the situation in Pakistan demonstrates that drone attacks exact a clear price in growing animus toward the United States. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, only 17 percent of Pakistani respondents to a 2012 poll approved of American drone strikes against the leaders of extremist groups, even if they were jointly conducted with the government of Pakistan. Pakistanis aren’t the only disapproving ones: the vast majority of people polled internationally in 2012 indicated strong opposition to the U.S. drone campaign. The opposition was strongest in Muslim-majority countries, including traditional U.S. allies, such as Turkey (81 percent against), Jordan (85 percent against), and Egypt (89 percent against). Europeans are almost as unhappy: of those polled in a 2012 Pew survey, 51 percent of Poles, 59 percent of Germans, 63 percent of French, 76 percent of Spanish, and a full 90 percent of Greeks noted their disapproval of U.S. drone strikes. The only publics that even approach the positive attitudes of the United States — where 70 percent of respondents to a recent New York Times poll approved of drones and 20 percent disapproved — are in India and the United Kingdom, where public opinion is more or less evenly divided. Washington insiders commonly contend that these popular attitudes don’t matter, since government officials in all these countries privately envy American capabilities. But no counterterrorism strategy can succeed over time without public support”.

While polling is important it is often done with the public who have little or no knowledge of the situation and therefore they are merely saying what they feel rather than what they think. This is no way to run a foreign policy. Naturally, all polls should not be dismissed but in this particularly sensitive area they should be taken with extreme caution.

She writes “Given the shocking nature of terrorist attacks, U.S. counterterrorism policy depends not just on objective measures of effectiveness but also on public opinion. And the American public demands zero risk, especially of a terrorist attack at home. In this sense, drone strikes offer the ideal, poll-tested counterterrorism policy: cheap, apparently effective, and far away. At first glance, the U.S. government is coming close to meeting that demand: by virtually every quantifiable measure, Americans today are remarkably safe. In the decade following 9/11, the number of people who died in terrorist attacks in the United States plummeted to the lowest since such statistics began to be collected in 1970. The drop owes to both increased public vigilance and heightened defenses at home, but also to U.S. counterterrorism policy abroad, including targeted drone attacks. It is impossible to determine exactly what contribution drones have made to the outcome, but senior U.S. officials have every reason to believe that what they are doing is working. The near-miss terrorist attacks of the last several years, however, have had widespread effects even in failure. In May 2010, a CNN poll indicated that American fears of a terrorist attack had returned to 2002 levels. Fifty-five percent of those questioned said that an act of terrorism on U.S. soil was likely in the next few weeks, a 21 percent surge from August 2009. That effect has persisted: a 2011 Pew poll indicated that 61 percent of Americans felt that the ability of terrorists to launch another major attack on U.S. soil was the same or greater than in 2001. And a Pew poll in the wake of the Boston bombings showed that 75 percent of Americans now believe that occasional acts of terrorism will persist on U.S. soil, up from 64 percent last year”.

She does make the valid point however that “Another main problem with Washington’s overreliance on drones is that it destroys valuable evidence that could make U.S. counterterrorism smarter and more effective. Whenever the United States kills a suspected terrorist, it loses the chance to find out what he was planning, how, and with whom — or whether he was even a terrorist to begin with. Drone attacks eliminate the possibility of arresting and interrogating those whom they target, precluding one of the most effective means of undermining a terrorist group”.

She endsthe piece “There is nothing inherently wrong with replacing human pilots with remote-control operators or substituting highly selective aircraft for standoff missiles (which are launched from a great distance) and unguided bombs. Fewer innocent civilians may be killed as a result. The problem is that the guidelines for how Washington uses drones have fallen well behind the ease with which the United States relies on them, allowing short-term advantages to overshadow long-term risks. Drone strikes must be legally justified, transparent, and rare. Washington needs to better establish and follow a publicly explained legal and moral framework for the use of drones, making sure that they are part of a long-term political strategy that undermines the enemies of the United States. With the boundaries for drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen still unclear, the United States risks encouraging competitors such as China, Iran, and Russia to label their own enemies as terrorists and go after them across borders. If that happens — if counterterrorism by drone strikes ends up leading to globally destabilizing interstate wars — then al Qaeda will be the least of the United States’ worries”.

“No regrets over leaking details”

13/07/2013

Edward Snowden said Friday that he has no regrets over leaking details about U.S. electronic spying networks and is seeking temporary asylum in Russia until he can reach one of the Latin American countries that has offered to take him in. ‘That moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects all of us has been costly, but it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets,’ he told a group of human rights activists and other public officials at a meeting at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, where he has taken refuge since June 23. The 30-year-old former defense contractor, who fled first to Hong Kong and then Russia, said he did what he believes was right to go public with information on the National Security Agency’s surveillance and data-gathering networks in an effort to ‘correct this wrongdoing.'”

The case for drones

13/07/2013

An article has appeared in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs. In it, Daniel Byman writes a piece, “Why Drones Work”. He opens noting Despite President Barack Obama’s recent call to reduce the United States’ reliance on drones, they will likely remain his administration’s weapon of choice. Whereas President George W. Bush oversaw fewer than 50 drone strikes during his tenure, Obama has signed off on over 400 of them in the last four years, making the program the centerpiece of U.S. counterterrorism strategy. The drones have done their job remarkably well: by killing key leaders and denying terrorists sanctuaries in Pakistan, Yemen, and, to a lesser degree, Somalia, drones have devastated al Qaeda and associated anti-American militant groups. And they have done so at little financial cost, at no risk to U.S. forces, and with fewer civilian casualties than many alternative methods would have caused”.

He argues that “drone warfare is here to stay, and it is likely to expand in the years to come as other countries’ capabilities catch up with those of the United States. But Washington must continue to improve its drone policy, spelling out clearer rules for extrajudicial and extraterritorial killings so that tyrannical regimes will have a harder time pointing to the U.S. drone program to justify attacks against political opponents. At the same time, even as it solidifies the drone program, Washington must remain mindful of the built-in limits of low-cost, unmanned interventions”.

He goes on to write “The Obama administration relies on drones for one simple reason: they work. According to data compiled by the New America Foundation, since Obama has been in the White House, U.S. drones have killed an estimated 3,300 al Qaeda, Taliban, and other jihadist operatives in Pakistan and Yemen. That number includes over 50 senior leaders of al Qaeda and the Taliban — top figures who are not easily replaced. In 2010, Osama bin Laden warned his chief aide, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, who was later killed by a drone strike in the Waziristan region of Pakistan in 2011, that when experienced leaders are eliminated, the result is “the rise of lower leaders who are not as experienced as the former leaders” and who are prone to errors and miscalculations. And drones also hurt terrorist organizations when they eliminate operatives who are lower down on the food chain but who boast special skills: passport forgers, bomb makers, recruiters, and fundraisers. Drones have also undercut terrorists’ ability to communicate and to train new recruits. In order to avoid attracting drones, al Qaeda and Taliban operatives try to avoid using electronic devices or gathering in large numbers. A tip sheet found among jihadists in Mali advised militants to “maintain complete silence of all wireless contacts” and “avoid gathering in open areas.” Leaders, however, cannot give orders when they are incommunicado, and training on a large scale is nearly impossible when a drone strike could wipe out an entire group of new recruits. Drones have turned al Qaeda’s command and training structures into a liability, forcing the group to choose between having no leaders and risking dead leaders”.

He fights back against the point made by some that “in war zones or unstable countries, such as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, arresting militants is highly dangerous and, even if successful, often inefficient. In those three countries, the government exerts little or no control over remote areas, which means that it is highly dangerous to go after militants hiding out there. Worse yet, in Pakistan and Yemen, the governments have at times cooperated with militants. If the United States regularly sent in special operations forces to hunt down terrorists there, sympathetic officials could easily tip off the jihadists, likely leading to firefights, U.S. casualties, and possibly the deaths of the suspects and innocent civilians. Of course, it was a Navy SEAL team and not a drone strike that finally got bin Laden, but in many cases in which the United States needs to capture or eliminate an enemy, raids are too risky and costly. And even if a raid results in a successful capture, it begets another problem: what to do with the detainee. Prosecuting detainees in a federal or military court is difficult because often the intelligence against terrorists is inadmissible or using it risks jeopardizing sources and methods. And given the fact that the United States is trying to close, rather than expand, the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay”.
Byman goes on to rightly dismiss “critics of the drone program, such as Ben Emmerson, the UN’s special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, have questioned the lethal approach, arguing for more focus on the factors that might contribute to extremism and terrorism, such as poverty, unemployment, and authoritarianism. Such a strategy is appealing in principle, but it is far from clear how Washington could execute it. Individuals join anti-American terrorist groups for many reasons, ranging from outrage over U.S. support for Israel to anger at their own government’s cooperation with the United States. Some people simply join up because their neighbors are doing so. Slashing unemployment in Yemen, bringing democracy to Saudi Arabia, and building a functioning government in Somalia are laudable goals, but they are not politically or financially possible for the United States, and even if achieved, they still might not reduce the allure of jihad”.

Byman then goes on to support drones as a result of the unpalatable alternatives, “First among them is an unacceptably high level of civilian casualties. Admittedly, drones have killed innocents. But the real debate is over how many and whether alternative approaches are any better. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that in 2011 alone, nearly 900 noncombatants, including almost 200 children, were killed by U.S. drone strikes. Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic also cites high numbers of civilian deaths, as does the Pakistani organization Pakistan Body Count. Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation oversees a database of drone casualties culled from U.S. sources and international media reports. He estimates that between 150 and 500 civilians have been killed by drones during Obama’s administration”.

He then mentions how America has begun “launching ‘signature strikes,’ which target not specific individuals but instead groups engaged in suspicious activities. This approach makes it even more difficult to distinguish between combatants and civilians and verify body counts of each. Still, as one U.S. official told The New York Times last year, ‘Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbours don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs.’ Of course, not everyone accepts this reasoning. Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani, who runs Pakistan Body Count, says that ‘neither [the United States] nor Pakistan releases any detailed information about the victims . . . so [although the United States] likes to call everybody Taliban, I call everybody civilians.'”

Of course the problem with the point made by Usmani is that it is too broad. In the same way that John Brennan’s claim that there was one year of no civilian deaths, his claim that “everybody” were civilians is patently false. Byman goes on to add depth to this point when he willingly admits, “The truth is that all the public numbers are unreliable. Who constitutes a civilian is often unclear”, he adds later that “although the New America Foundation has come under fire for relying heavily on unverifiable information provided by anonymous U.S. officials, reports from local Pakistani organisations, and the Western organisations that rely on them, are no better: their numbers are frequently doctored by the Pakistani government or by militant groups. After a strike in Pakistan, militants often cordon off the area, remove their dead, and admit only local reporters sympathetic to their cause or decide on a body count themselves. The U.S. media often then draw on such faulty reporting to give the illusion of having used multiple sources. As a result, statistics on civilians killed by drones are often inflated. One of the few truly independent on-the-ground reporting efforts, conducted by the Associated Press last year, concluded that the strikes ‘are killing far fewer civilians than many in [Pakistan] are led to believe.'”

He contiunes on the same point, “even the most unfavourable estimates of drone casualties reveal that the ratio of civilian to militant deaths — about one to three, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism — is lower than it would be for other forms of strikes. Bombings by F-16s or Tomahawk cruise missile salvos, for example, pack a much more deadly payload. In December 2009, the United States fired Tomahawks at a suspected terrorist training camp in Yemen, and over 30 people were killed in the blast”.

He makes the valid point that “drones have earned the backing, albeit secret, of foreign governments. In order to maintain popular support, politicians in Pakistan and Yemen routinely rail against the U.S. drone campaign. In reality, however, the governments of both countries have supported it. During the Bush and Obama administrations, Pakistan has even periodically hosted U.S. drone facilities and has been told about strikes in advance. Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan until 2008, was not worried about the drone program’s negative publicity: ‘In Pakistan, things fall out of the sky all the time,’ he reportedly remarked. Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, also at times allowed drone strikes in his country and even covered for them by telling the public that they were conducted by the Yemeni air force. When the United States’ involvement was leaked in 2002, however, relations between the two countries soured. Still, Saleh later let the drone program resume in Yemen, and his replacement, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has publicly praised drones, saying that ‘they pinpoint the target and have zero margin of error, if you know what target you’re aiming at.’ As officials in both Pakistan and Yemen realize, U.S. drone strikes help their governments by targeting common enemies. A memo released by the antisecrecy website WikiLeaks revealed that Pakistan’s army chief, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, privately asked U.S. military leaders in 2008 for ‘continuous Predator coverage’ over antigovernment militants”.

He argues cogently that “Pakistan is reluctant to make its approval public. First of all, the country’s inability to fight terrorists on its own soil is a humiliation for Pakistan’s politically powerful armed forces and intelligence service. In addition, although drones kill some of the government’s enemies, they have also targeted pro-government groups that are hostile to the United States, such as the Haqqani network and the Taliban, which Pakistan has supported since its birth in the early 1990s. Even more important, the Pakistani public is vehemently opposed to U.S. drone strikes”.

As to the argument levelled by some that drone strikes are shortsighted, he writes “Many surveys of public opinion related to drones are conducted by anti-drone organisations, which results in biased samples. Other surveys exclude those who are unaware of the drone program and thus overstate the importance of those who are angered by it. In addition, many Pakistanis do not realise that the drones often target the very militants who are wreaking havoc on their country. And for most Pakistanis and Yemenis, the most important problems they struggle with are corruption, weak representative institutions, and poor economic growth; the drone program is only a small part of their overall anger, most of which is directed toward their own governments”.

Byman continues noting that “The Obama administration claims that Awlaki was actively involved in plots against the United States and that the strike against him was legal under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which Congress passed three days after 9/11 and which gives the president broad authority to use force against terrorist groups linked to the 9/11 attacks. Yet with the war on terrorism almost 12 years old and bin Laden dead, critics, such as the Georgetown University law professor Rosa Brooks, have begun questioning whether the AUMF still justifies drone strikes today”.

He goes on to write later on in the piece that “The administration contends that the discussions held within the executive branch and the extensive vetting of evidence constitute a form of due process. Meanwhile, as the legal scholar Benjamin Wittes has pointed out, both Congress and the federal courts have repeatedly reaffirmed the validity of the AUMF since 2001. The U.S. government argues that given how secretly terrorists operate, it is not always possible to use other means to stop an individual overseas from planning attacks on U.S. forces or allies. As a result, the imminence of a threat should be assessed based on the individual’s propensity for violence and the likelihood of being able to stop him in the future”.

Pointing to the use of drones in the future, he argues that “The spread of drones cannot be stopped, but the United States can still influence how they are used. The coming proliferation means that Washington needs to set forth a clear policy now on extrajudicial and extraterritorial killings of terrorists — and stick to it. Fortunately, Obama has begun to discuss what constitutes a legitimate drone strike. But the definition remains murky, and this murkiness will undermine the president’s ability to denounce other countries’ behaviour should they start using drones or other means to hunt down enemies. By keeping its policy secret, Washington also makes it easier for critics to claim that the United States is wantonly slaughtering innocents. More transparency would make it harder for countries such as Pakistan to make outlandish claims about what the United States is doing. Drones actually protect many Pakistanis, and Washington should emphasise this fact”.

He ends the piece on a warning, “Washington cannot and should not directly involve itself in every fight. The Obama administration should spell out those cases in which the AUMF does not apply and recognize the risks of carrying out so-called goodwill kills on behalf of foreign governments. Helping French and Malian forces defeat jihadists in Mali by providing logistical support, for example, is smart policy, but sending U.S. drones there is not. In places where terrorists are actively plotting against the United States, however, drones give Washington the ability to limit its military commitments abroad while keeping Americans safe. Afghanistan, for example, could again become a Taliban-run haven for terrorists after U.S. forces depart next year”.

 

“An air of normalcy”

11/07/2013

Egypt’s interim president on Tuesday appointed a prime minister and vice president, moves designed to lend an air of normalcy to the country even as indications mounted that the president is little more than a civilian face for military rule. The appointments came hours after the interim president, Adly Mansour, outlined a path to quick elections and a return to democracy after the coup last week that overthrew Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi. The plan presented by Mansour drew immediate condemnation from Morsi’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood, but it also elicited a lukewarm response from key players in the loose alliance of politicians and activists who had lobbied for Morsi’s ouster”.

European terrorists

11/07/2013

An article mentions that small number of European Muslims that have come from the continent are are currently fighting in the Syrian conflict.

He writes that “while ministers from these irregulars’ governments say they too are in favor of toppling Assad, these same officials are doing everything they can to stop these fighters — or at least develop new laws to criminalise their activities. The reason: fear that these irregulars will one day return to Europe, equipped with deadly military skills, trained in the tradecraft of international terrorism, and steeped in the extremist anti-Western ideology of al Qaeda and its Syrian brethren, the al-Nusra Front. On a single day in April and in a single country, Belgium, the authorities launched 48 raids on suspected jihadi recruiters believed to be luring Belgians to fight in Syria. ‘It is a ticking time bomb,’ French Interior Minister Manuel Valls told Foreign Policy at a small press breakfast with American reporters in New York. Tallies of these European fighters vary. But by Valls’ count, there are more than 600 of them involved in the Syrian war, including 140 French citizens, 100 Brits, and 75 Spaniards. This new generation of fighters forms a kind of European Union of jihadists, hailing from the traditionally Christian cities and villages of Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Spain, and Sweden. Most are young men from Muslim “.

Such is the scale of concern that “European officials are trying to dissuade these militants from taking up arms — or, failing that, trying to gather as much intelligence in order to monitor them if they return home. European, U.S., and Turkish intelligence agencies have been working together to try to track the individuals seeking to cross the border into Syria from Turkey. In some cases, the Turks have turned them back. Belgium has grown so alarmed about the prospects for blowback that it has already launched raids on suspected fighters in an effort to gather intelligence”.

He goes on to mention the situation in Germany “German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told a gathering of regional interior ministers in Nuremberg, Germany, on July , that there are as many as 60 young Germans in Syria. “Our fear is that they are being radicalized in training camps by organizations close to al Qaeda,” he said, according to the DPA (German Press Agency). The camps, he said, provide training in weapons and explosives, making the young Germans a threat upon their return to Germany”.

He adds “‘Syria is a very profound game-changer,’ said Charles Farr, Britain’s director general of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, according to the Daily Telegraph. “The blunt truth is there are more people associated with al Qaeda and al Qaeda-associated organizations now operating in Syria than there have ever been before and [they are] close to Europe and operating with an intensity that is unparalleled since events in Iraq in 2006. They are much closer to us, in much greater numbers, and fighting with an intensity that we have not seen before.” The greater numbers reflect the proximity of Syria, which can be reached easily through Turkey. Many Europeans don’t even need a visa to get to Turkey. Nor does they need to have a pre-existing relationship with a militant group to cross the Turkey-Syria border and enter Syria. The profile of the fighters changes from country to country. In Ireland, Muslim leaders have compared the country’s fighters to the international brigades that fought the Spanish fascists in the 1930s. Valls, the French interior minister, has portrayed his country’s fighters as social misfits, ‘marginalised … juvenile delinquents. It’s often people who were criminals before.’ For the time being, said Valls, there is no legal basis for arresting the European jihadists or barring them from leaving or entering France — but France is weighing draft legislation that would criminalize French citizens’ links to terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the affiliated al-Nusra Front”.

This response, or lack of it, shows just how far behind Europe, and indeed, the EU itself is, in understanding the scale of the threat faced by America and now Europe. The danger is that the officials in Europe will minimise the risk, or worse, they will have been too late in taking counter-measures to prevent an attack.

He goes on to cover Ireland, noting “Selim said that no Irish mosques have urged young Muslims to travel to Syria and that efforts to discourage them from doing so have picked up following the death of four Irish citizens, including Shamseddin Gaidan, a 16-year-old schoolboy from the town of Navan. ‘Nobody encourages these young lads to go over there.’ Selim said. ‘We understand that sending them to be involved in this battle … is basically sending them to die.’ Mary Fitzgerald, the foreign affairs correspondent for the Irish Times, who has documented the role of Irish Arab fighters in Libya and Syria, said that Ireland’s community of more than 40,000 citizens of Muslims has never embraced the more extremist tendencies that have taken root in more militant mosques on the continent. The returning fighters she has interviewed have not been radicalized. ‘The question of blowback,’ Fitzgerald added,'”is less pertinent in Ireland than in other countries, where they have joined more hard-line groups.’ The European fighters participating in the conflict in Syria bear similarities with the international Arab fighters who supported the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s in Afghanistan, the birthplace of al Qaeda”.

He ends the piece noting that many do not go to Syria to fight jihad on Assad, but the fear is that will will return to their home countries radicalised. If they do, and the authorities are not prepared, everyone will regret the consequences.

Saudi and UAE give money

11/07/2013

Gulf states including Saudi Arabia poured in $8 billion in aid, as the biggest Arab nation sought ways out of a crisis after the army ousted the president last week. Interim head of state Adly Mansour announced a faster-than-expected timetable to hold elections in about six months. Hazem el-Beblawi, a liberal economist and former finance minister, was named interim prime minister. Former UN diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei was named deputy president for foreign affairs. News quickly followed of $ 8 billion in grants, loans and fuel from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Saudi Arabia approved $ 5 billion in aid to Egypt and the UAE has offered $ 3 billion in desperately needed support for the economy . The Saudi funds comprise a $ 2 billion central bank deposit, $ 2 billion in energy products, and $ 1 billion in cash, Finance Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf said. The UAE will make a $ 1 billion grant to Egypt and a $ 2 billion loan”.

China’s new normal

11/07/2013

An interesting article has been published arguing that China’s slowing economy is going to be the new norm for it, and the rest of the world.

He writes that “six years ago, China’s then premier, Wen Jiabao, posed a paradox that came to be called the “Four Uns”: though China’s economy looked strong on the surface, Wen argued it was increasingly “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and ultimately unsustainable.” The debate those remarks sparked is now over, and a new Chinese growth model is at hand. China’s 12th Five-Year Plan, enacted in 2011, calls for a shift to an economy driven increasingly by domestic consumption, rather than one driven largely by exports and investments. China’s new generation of leaders, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, are now focusing on implementing this daunting structural transformation. During the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue on July 10-11, an annual meeting between high-ranking officials from the two countries, the opportunities and the risks of this rebalancing will feature prominently in the discussions”.

Roach goes on to make the point “China’s new leadership is committed to rebalancing. With GDP growth slowing to 7.7 percent in the first quarter of 2013, and data for April and May pointing to more of the same, previous Chinese leaders would have quickly announced a new infrastructure program or other stimulus policies to spur the economy. By not introducing new spending initiatives, the government of Xi and Li has sent a strong signal that Beijing is now willing to accept slower growth. That conclusion was reinforced by last month’s liquidity squeeze in the overnight bank funding markets. Because the People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank, didn’t intervene as it normally does in such circumstances, the interbank lending rate shot up on June 20, reaching a record of 13.4 percent — more than four times the average over the last 18 months (it dropped back a few days later.) This lack of intervention sent a strong signal to banks, especially China’s “shadow banks,” that the days of risky and undisciplined lending must end.

However, he goes on to argue that “China is at an important juncture in its development journey. It’s determined to move away from the quantity dimension of growth to a new focus on the quality of economic development. This is not only about a downshift in GDP growth: it is also a critical shift toward the long dormant Chinese consumer, opening up one of the largest consumer markets in the world to anemically growing Western countries. This is especially important for the United States, which continues to languish in a weak recovery with unacceptably high unemployment. Washington needs to push hard for free and open access to these markets, an issue that will undoubtedly be high on the agenda for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. While China’s previous administration recognized the importance of structural change, they made disappointingly little progress. Slower growth doesn’t work for China unless its economy undergoes a fundamental transformation. The new policy discipline of Xi and Li is important because it effectively ups the ante on China’s rebalancing agenda”.

Yet, it must be asked, why did a group of official who have almost supreme power fail to do anything to rebalance their economy to a more sustainable growth model. One of the answers must, inevitably be political. The leaders knew that to do so would mean accepting a “lower” growth model which in turn would mean fewer jobs being created and from there, the distinct possibility of further unrest on a greater scale.

He writes that “For consumption to play its proper role in China’s economy, three sets of reforms are essential: services-led job creation, urbanization, and a well-funded social safety net. The objective is to boost the consumption of Chinese citizens from its current share of 35 percent of GDP (by contrast, it is 71 percent in the United States) to 40 percent over the next three to five years, and to more than 45 percent by 2023. The emphasis on services and urbanization should help increase personal income — the mainstay of consumer demand for any economy. But a services-led China also holds the key to a sustainable slowdown in GDP growth, because services require roughly 30 percent more workers per unit of Chinese output than manufacturing and construction. In other words, China can accomplish the same labor absorption (i.e., employment of poor rural workers) with a services-led economy growing at 7 percent as with a manufacturing- and construction-led economy growing at 10 percent. With services comprising only about 43 percent of the economy — the lowest share of any major economy in the world — there is plenty of room for this sector to grow”.

He concludes the piece “Second, services-led growth means a move away from resource-intensive manufacturing. While this may pose problems for countries in China’s resource supply chain — especially Australia, Brazil, Canada, and Russia — it offers the possibility of reduced environmental degradation and pollution, making for a cleaner and greener Chinese GDP. Third, the emergence of the Chinese consumer is a potential windfall for the developed world. That’s especially true in services, where China has little experience or expertise. China’s embryonic services sector could increase from $3.5 trillion in 2012 to $15.9 trillion by 2025. Increasingly tradable in a connected world, this $12.4 trillion surge could translate into a $4 trillion to $6 trillion bonanza for foreign companies. The transition won’t be seamless, nor will it happen overnight”.