Archive for August, 2013

The Qatari view of Syria

30/08/2013

An article discusses the complicated relationship between the United States and Qatar with reference to the Syria.

He writes that “Qatar emerged after 2011 as arguably the most important external supporter of the Syrian opposition to the Assad regime. Qatar has spent, according to news reports, over $3 billion on aid to the opposition. Qatar has been among the opposition’s primary suppliers of arms and ammunition and may have the most influence of any external actor with the fractious Syrian opposition. Many allies pose difficulties for the United States in the Syria context, but Qatar has proven the greatest obstacle to forging allied unity on Syria policy. As in Libya, the Qataris have used their influence to frustrate the efforts of the United States and others to foster unity within the Syrian opposition that is the prerequisite for a negotiated solution to the war. According to press reports, Qatar’s actions — its tendency to support multiple Islamist factions, its willingness to engage with Jihadist actors, and its refusal to channel aid solely through the Syrian Military Council (SMC) — have exacerbated the divisions within the opposition and contributed to the opposition’s refusal to negotiate”.

He goes on to argue ” According to Mehran Kamrava of Georgetown University, Qatar seeks the prestige that comes from playing a role on all of the big issues of the day. But, judging from its pattern of activity of the past few years, Qatari activism is also clearly part of a larger Qatari strategy that has been playing out across the Muslim world. As Brian Katulis explains, Qatar sees the Arab Awakening as an opportunity to spread Qatari influencethrough the establishment of Islamist governments that look to Qatar (and not to Saudi Arabia or the United States) for support and guidance. It is this dual interest in promoting influence and ideology that informs Qatari foreign policy from Libya to Palestine. In many places, this strategy has meant fostering a government made up of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) related groups”.

Naturally, this conflicts not just with US interests but its values also. A Middle East dominated by a Qatar backed Muslim Brotherhood, however unlikely is antithical to US interests. If Qatar wants a seat at the table then it should certainly have one, but when this conflicts with Saudi interests America must choose which is the safest long term strategy, however difficult. Things are complicated by the fact that America has military bases in Qatar (the Fifth Fleet) and as such must treat Qatar with the respect it craves.

He continues, saying that there are two reasons why Qatar supports the Muslim Brotherhood, “First, Qatar thinks that it can exercise greater control over the MB than other political movements. When the emir took power in the mid-1990s, the MB was a client without a Sunni Arab patron. This enabled Qatar to position itself as a unique and indispensable ally of the MB, with all of the leverage that entailed. In contrast, Salafi movements, for instance, have long enjoyed the patronage of Saudi Arabia. Should Qatar choose to back Salafi groups, it would find itself in a competition for influence with its regional rival, undermining Qatar’s control of its client. Second, Qatar probably assesses that the MB is the wave of the futurein the Middle East, a movement that resonates with pluralities — if not majorities– in many Arab countries, despite its recent setback in Egypt. While Qatar may be able to acquire comparable influence over secular and liberal groups, which also badly need external support, the Qatari leadership likely believes these movements would not afford it much influence abroad. The former emir’s record of supporting MB organizations throughout the region (with Qatar, itself, being the notable exception) and the emirate’s long-standing relationship with the influential MB-affiliated cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi have given Qatar an enormous advantage in cultivating alliances with emboldened Islamist groups throughout the Middle East”.

The result of this he says, “This Qatari strategy implies that U.S.-Qatari divides are not simply a difference in tactics, as U.S. officials often assert. Nor is Qatar simply filling a U.S. leadership vacuum. As the Libya example demonstrates, Qatar has the capacity to frustrate U.S. goals even when the United States is deeply engaged. Rather, the superficial similarity in U.S. and Qatari goals masks much deeper and more abiding differences about the two countries’ visions for the Middle East. At times, these visions coincide and allow effective cooperation. But when they don’t, Qatar has proven willing to work actively to frustrate important U.S. policy goals”.

He ends the piece “while Qatar is not necessarily an enemy of the United States, it is certainly not an ally. The usual U.S. government response to such deviationism among partners is to advocate “high-level engagement” to make known U.S. displeasure and to convince the ally of the errors of its ways. But in the Qatari case, engagements at the highest levels on both Libya and Syria (as well as on efforts to get the Qataris to cut off their support to Hamas) have failed to alter Qatari behavior. It is time to recognize this and consider whether the United States needs to reconsider its approach to Qatari activism. The recent leadership transition in Qatar, in which the emir stepped down in favor of his son, might present some new opportunities for the United States to turn Qatar from its present course. But most analysts agree that there is little indication that the new emir would seek to change Qatari foreign policy. In his maiden speech as emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani seemed to be at pains to demonstrate continuity in foreign policy, vowing to follow his father’s “path” and strongly asserting that Qatar would continue its “independent behaviour.” Indeed, Tamim is widely regarded as one of the architects of Qatar’s Libya and Syria policy over the past two years, including his country’s patronage of the MB. The United States should certainly be open to a more cooperative relationship if Tamim agrees to alter the pattern of recent Qatari policy. But it would be imprudent to assume that the new emir will fundamentally change what Qatar views as a successful policy. If the pattern persists, it will be time to accept that U.S.-Qatari differences do not result from failures to communicate. They are differences over goals in Syria and elsewhere. Accordingly, the United States should cease trying to convince the Qataris that their actions are undermining shared goals and accept their objectives in these cases are not the same as those of the United States. Instead, it is a question of changing the cost-benefit calculus that Qatar faces in its Syria policy. This would be very difficult in the case of Qatar because of its wealth, its role in U.S. basing in the Persian Gulf, and its value to the United States on other geopolitical priorities in which U.S. and Qatari interests are more alignedand Qatar is working well with the United States”.

Repent over homophobia

30/08/2013

Justin Welby told an audience of traditional born-again Christians that they must ‘repent’ over the way gay and lesbian people have been treated in the past and said most young people viewed Christians as no better than racists on the issue. Archbishop Welby, who as a young priest once opposed allowing gay couples to adopt children, said the church now had to face up to what amounted to one of the most rapid changes in public attitudes ever. While insisting that he did not regret voting against same-sex marriage in the House of Lords, he admitted that his own mind was not yet ‘clear’ on the wider issues which he was continuing to think about. And he admitted that, despite its strong official opposition to allowing same-sex couples to marry, the Church is still ‘deeply and profoundly divided’ over gay marriage”.

Cameron, blocked

30/08/2013

In a narrow minded vote, the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, has voted down a motion that would have made it much easier for the UK to join America in the extremely limited military that will be taken against Syria.

The Washington Post reports that “After a marathon eight-hour debate, Cameron lost a vote that was initially seen as a symbolic motion setting up a final vote in the days ahead authorizing force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime for allegedly using chemical weapons. But the surprise loss of even the weaker piece of legislation — by a vote of 285 to 272, including a group of rebels from Cameron’s Conservative Party in opposition — appeared to cost the United States its centerpiece ally in a still-forming coalition. The rejection additionally signaled what analysts called the biggest rupture in the U.S.-British “special relationship” since the 1982 Falklands war”.

Importantly the piece adds “Technically, Cameron could still authorise military strikes over the objection of Parliament, but top government officials — including the prime minister himself —  indicated that was not an option following Thursday’s defeat”.  Although the possibility of this happening is limited for both political and credibility reasons.

Other reports in the Telegraph note that “The Prime Minister has now said he will wait for a report by United Nations weapons inspectors before seeking the approval of MPs for “direct British involvement” in the Syrian intervention. Downing Street said the decision to wait for the UN was based on the “deep concerns” the country still harbours over the Iraq War. MPs had been recalled to vote on a motion on Thursday expected to sanction military action. Instead, after a Labour intervention, they will debate a broader motion calling for a “humanitarian response”. A second vote would be required before any British military involvement. This could now take place next week. In a statement on Wednesday night Downing Street said that it only wanted to proceed on a ‘consensual basis’ and was now wary about becoming embroiled in another divisive conflict in the Middle East in the wake of Iraq”.

The piece goes on to note that “during a tense telephone call between the two party leaders at 5.15pm Mr Cameron ‘totally ruled out’ giving MPs a second vote – which would have left Downing Street’s plan for a weekend offensive in tatters. Labour then immediately announced that it would order its MPs to vote against the Government’s motion authorising military strikes. Just minutes before 7pm Downing Street was forced to redraft the planned motion saying that ‘before any direct British involvement … a further vote in the House of Commons will take place’. On Wednesday night, a senior Conservative source said: ‘Labour has been playing politics when they should have been thinking about the national interest. Their position has changed continuously over the last 24 hours — finally ending in demands they had never even hinted at before.’ The Americans were consulted before Mr Cameron’s decision was announced and senior White House officials are said to have made it clear that they ‘respect the British Parliament'”.

France has said that it may join the United States in any attack, however limited, irrespective of what the French Parliament votes next week. However, much of this should be viewed through the lens of President Hollande’s deep unpopularity domestically coupled with the extremely limited nature of the attack than through any affinity for the mission.

Examining the military consequences of the decision John Reed argues “While there may be political fallout from Britain’s decision not to participate in an offensive U.S. military campaign for the first time in two decades, the loss of its military muscle won’t severely hamper America’s ability to hit Assad. Yes, the Royal Navy could send a submarine to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syrian targets as it did to help oust Muammar al-Qaddafi from Libya in 2011. But let’s put things in perspective: HMS Triumph fired six Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya during the month of March. Meanwhile, the American guided missile submarine USS Florida fired more than 90 Tomahawks at Libyan air defenses, clearing the path for American, British and French jets to drop bombs on Libya without fear of being shot down. Speaking of aircraft, British Typhoon and Tornado strike fighter jets — the former being one the of the world’s most advanced fighters — did destroy targets throughout the Libyan campaign. In fact, European fighter jets took the lead in bombing Qaddafi’s forces in the months after the Americans kicked down the doors to Libya with Tomahawks and strikes by B-2 stealth bombers. Still, the U.S. had to provide its allies with $24 million worth of ammunition and spare parts after it was revealed that NATO forces were running out of guided munitions in the middle of the campaign. The French were even dropping GPS-guided concrete training bombs at one point in Libya”.

Proven to be Assad

30/08/2013

in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people. Those conversations were overheard by U.S. intelligence services, The Cable has learned. And that is the major reason why American officials now say they’re certain that the attacks were the work of the Bashar al-Assad regime — and why the U.S. military is likely to attack that regime in a matter of days. But the intercept raises questions about culpability for thechemical massacre, even as it answers others: Was the attack on Aug. 21 the work of a Syrian officer overstepping his bounds? Or was the strike explicitly directed by senior members of the Assad regime? “It’s unclear where control lies,” one U.S. intelligence official told The Cable. “Is there just some sort of general blessing to use these things? Or are there explicit orders for each attack?”

Trying to save his credibility

28/08/2013

The as American and UK forces prepare for a strike against the regime in Syria the, Telegraph reports that “plans for possible action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime have been drawn up for weeks, if not months at Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood, according to military sources. What those plans need to include will depend on the extent and objective of the action to be taken, neither of which are yet clear. They must include not only what Britain, France and America will do, but also how Syria might respond. The most likely course of action according to most observers is a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles from warships in the Mediterranean, possibly with added air strikes from warplanes. These punitive, but largely symbolic strikes would be designed to show the Syrian government it cannot gas its own people with impunity, but would do little to change the overall picture in Syria. Such a strike would need little planning. Both the Royal Navy and America are believed to have submarines in the area and the Mediterranean-based US Sixth Fleet also has four destroyers capable of firing missiles. Military sources said these are already armed and ‘good to go'”.

Different reports note that Cameron “said he understood the growing concerns among MPs, former generals and the public over the prospect of Britain becoming embroiled in another costly war in the Middle East. However, he insisted that the world could not “stand idly by” when confronted with a breach of a 100-year-old global agreement that the use of chemical warfare was “morally indefensible and completely wrong”, in a statement recorded by a television crew at Downing Street. Mr Cameron insisted that any military action would be ‘legal, proportionate and specific’ to preventing further gas attacks causing death and suffering. Last week’s gas attacks on Damascus killed hundreds and wounded thousands more”.

Of course the question of legality is irrelevant. The UN will not authorise any action and to expect so would be laughable. Cameron has the power to order military action and the parliamentary debates that are imminent are merely a political smokescreen to give him cover, nothing more.

David Rothkopf writes that Obama’s actions are too little, “The reason it is now commonly assumed that it’s only a matter of time before the United States and its allies launch an attack against the Syrian regime is that President Bashar al-Assad has left President Barack Obama with no other choice. He must either attack or lose what little remaining influence he might have both in the Middle East and with potential enemies and friends worldwide. While the rhetoric around the attack has been — and will continue to be — about the intolerability of chemical weapons, that is hardly the only reason the United States will finally take action. Given that, according to reports like those in today’s Washington Post, the U.S. and allied military initiative is almost certainly to be both brief and narrow in scope — and therefore of limited effect as a deterrent against future WMD use — one can only conclude that the effort must also serve another purpose”.

He goes on to argue cuttingly, that the only reason for Obama acting is to save his reputation, “The pending action is as much intended to protect the president’s credibility as it is the people of Syria. Months ago, Obama declared the existence of a “red line” with respect to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. Then, despite repeated evidence that such weapons had been used, Obama failed to act as he had implied that he would. As the red line faded, so too did his standing. Now, with the evidence surrounding the most recent attack, in Damascus, as strong as it is and the death toll significantly higher than in past attacks, were he not to act, the president might as well publicly acknowledge that the United States is accepting a role in the balcony of the theater of global affairs, as a spectator and no longer a player”.

He adds correctly that, the “chorus of criticism over the pending action from those who argue that it will not resolve the conflict in Syria and fear that any action taken will lead to the kind of protracted on-the-ground involvement that has proved so costly and fruitless in Iraq and Afghanistan. These critiques are misguided. There is no reason why targeted and carefully proscribed, but nonetheless potent, air attacks could not effectively deliver a message to Assad that these abuses must stop. His air defenses can be targeted. His weapons stores can be targeted. Economic assets associated with his closest associates, upon which his regime depends, can be targeted. This last approach — targeting the financial backers and cutting off money stream — is what ultimately proved to tip the scales most effectively in the former Yugoslavia during the 1999 bombings known within NATO as Operation Allied Force. This was an example of successful but limited use of air power without ground support that advanced a specific goal — in that case, the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo. (Ironically, tellingly, the rationale President Bill Clinton’s administration gave for the bombing included the fear that failing to undertake it could be a disaster in Kosovo that could claim some 100,000 lives — the same total lost to date in Syria.)”

He closes the article writing, “in the case of Syria, we must also consider what the “too little, too late” message sends to others in the region who might consider violating the most important norms of international behavior — like the Iranians with regard to their nuclear weapons development program — if they assume they can act with impunity with very few real limitations. Alternatively, if we recognize that early, effective, coordinated, targeted, tough international responses can be a worthwhile investment and a more humane approach to managing global affairs, perhaps there’s still time to make a useful lesson out of the carnage of Syria. In any event, it must make us hope that our efforts going forward in Syria are not limited to what seems likely to amount to little more than a military gesture, made via cruise missile”.

UK prepares a resolution

28/08/2013

The UK is to put a resolution to the UN Security Council later on Wednesday “authorising necessary measures to protect civilians” in Syria. The resolution will be put forward at a meeting of the five permanent members of the council, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said on Twitter. Earlier a team of UN weapons inspectors resumed work investigating an suspected chemical weapons attack on 21 August. The UN secretary general said they needed four days to end their probe. Ban Ki-moon added that they would need more time after this to analyse their findings”.

Hope for Tunisia

26/08/2013

Amid all that is going on in Egypt and Syria and Libya, James Traub has written that the last hope for the Arab revolutions is Tunisia.

Traub begins his piece “Tunisia’s politics have been almost as fractious and paralyzed in recent months as Egypt’s. Opposition leaders charge that the government, led by the Islamist Ennahda party, is incompetent and unaccountable. The assassination of two opposition leaders earlier this year, apparently by Salafi extremists, has produced a pervasive sense of insecurity and drift. The economy has collapsed: Standard & Poor’s recently downgradedTunisia’s credit rating to near-junk level, predicting continued low growth and high unemployment. “The government is paralysed,” says Abdelwahab El Hani, leader of the secular Al Majd party. “We need a new government of nonpartisan experts.” The secular opposition views the Islamists with the same apocalyptic suspicions that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government provoked. Although Ennahda rules in a coalition with two non-Islamist parties, Zied Miled — a former member of one of those parties, Ettakatol, and now a leading opposition figure — says that the secular partners are window-dressing for an Islamist takeover of the state”

He goes on to write that there is hope behind the manifold problems facing Tunisia, ” the demand that the government and the constituent assembly dissolve themselves, as well as the resort to mass demonstrations and dire predictions of chaos in order to force the issue, demonstrate that the opposition is not much more willing to trust to democratic processes than the government is. Michael Bechir Ayari, the International Crisis Group’s representative in Tunisia, noted in a recent article that both sides have their ‘non-democratic factions’ that must be marginalised if Tunisia is to avoid the ‘Egyptian scenario.’ And yet whatever dangers Tunisia now faces, there is virtually no possibility of a military coup followed by a state-sponsored war on the Muslim Brotherhood, as in Egypt”.

Traub says that the fundmental reason that Tunisia will not slide into an Egypt type senario is quite simple, “Egypt has an overwhelmingly politicised and intrusive army, and Tunisia does not”. From this he says flows the positive sie of the revolution in Tunisia. The army, Traub writes, has no desire to stage a coup.

He mentions that “that Tunisia’s security forces do not constitute “a state within the state,” as Egypt’s massive, and massively privileged army, does. They cannot serve as the deus ex machina of political struggle. Tunisia’s leaders continue talk to each other in part because they have no alternative. Last week, with the fever chart of national crisis spiking, Rached Ghannouchi, Ennahda’s leader and co-founder,  met quietly in Paris with Beji Caid Essebsi, leader of the secular Nida Tounes party and one of his most bitter critics. Returning to Tunis, Ghannouchi conferred with the leader of Tunisia’s largest union, the UGTT. The two agreed to hold a “national dialogue” led by the union. The UGTT insisted on a series of pre-conditions, which included the dissolution of the government, thus holding out the possibility of resolving the crisis. Tunisia has not yet paddled into the clear”.

He concludes on a note of cautious optomism, “Larbi Chouikha, a professor of journalism and the former director of Tunisia’s first electoral commission, says that Ennahda seems to have made a decisive choice to break with the Salafists and accept a “rapprochement” with civil society and secular forces. Others are much more skeptical, and see the deal as a delaying tactic which will only deepen the crisis. The opposition will also have to make concessions. Just as replacing the current government with a committee of technocrats has become a non-negotiable issue for them, so retaining the national constituent assembly, which had been laboring over a constitution for 18 months but has been suspended since August 6, is a bedrock issue for the government. Ameur Larayedh, the head of Ennahda’s political bureau (and the brother of the prime minister, Ali Larayedh), says that dissolving the assembly would constitute “a coup against the will of the people.” The assembly is an elected body in which the Islamists enjoy a plurality. There appears to be room for compromise here if Ennahda agrees to appoint a committee of constitutional experts to propose changes to the current draft, among other measures”.

“Opened fire on a convoy”

26/08/2013

Unidentified snipers have opened fire on a convoy of UN experts investigating suspected chemical weapons attacks in Syria’s capital, the UN has said. One car was shot at “multiple times”, forcing the convoy to turn back. Syrian state media blamed opposition “terrorists” for the attack, though the claim could not be verified. The UN team later resumed its mission, entering the western district of Muadhamiya to gather evidence, before reportedly returning to Damascus”.

Avoiding the curse

26/08/2013

An article in Foreign Affairs argues that the glut of energy discoveries in Africa can be turned into a benefit for the people and not just lining the pockets of corrupt governments.

The writers note “Home to over one billion barrels of oil reserves, Equatorial Guinea has exported as many as 400,000 barrels of oil a day since 1995, a bonanza that has made the country wealthier, in terms of GDP per capita, than France, Japan, and the United Kingdom. Little of this wealth, however, has helped the vast majority of Equatorial Guinea’s 700,000 people: today, three out of every four Equatorial Guineans live on less than $2 a day, and infant mortality rates in the country have barely budged since oil was first discovered there. The president’s family members and other elites connected to the Obiang regime, meanwhile, have prospered. As a result, Equatorial Guinea has become a textbook example of the so-called resource curse”.

They add the sheer scale of the expected developable resources, “Equatorial Guinea’s example will become increasingly relevant over the next decade as a massive wave of new oil and gas discoveries transforms Africa’s economic and political landscape. Over the next ten years, new technologies will allow oil producers to extract billions of barrels of exportable oil from the East African Rift Valley and West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea. If current estimates are even close to accurate, trillions of dollars in oil revenue will ultimately descend on a dozen African countries that have never before experienced such influxes. In East Africa, that list will likely include Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Tanzania, and Uganda; in West Africa, it will probably include Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. (Niger is another possibility, but given the lack of firm estimates of its oil reserves, it is not included in the calculations here.) And this windfall would come on top of the enormous oil revenues that some still-poor sub-Saharan African countries, such as Angola, Chad, Gabon, Nigeria, and Sudan (and South Sudan), have been earning for decades, as well as the new oil revenues that Ghana is beginning to accrue. All told, within a decade, a third or more of African countries may derive the majority of their export earnings from oil and gas”.

Their solution is quite simple, “There is no reason to expect that newly rich oil producers in Africa will meet a fate much different from that of Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, and Sudan, all of which rank in the worst fifth of all countries in terms of bribery and corruption. Unless, that is, African governments embrace a radical policy approach: handing a large share of the new revenues directly to the people as taxable income. The influx of funds from new oil discoveries will be so large that if properly managed, it could catapult developing countries into genuine economic and social development. By taking control of these revenues out of the hands of the political elite and restoring the link between citizens and their public officials, this “oil to cash” strategy offers the best hope for tomorrow’s oil-rich African nations to avoid the fate that has befallen so many of yesterday’s”.

They go on to describe the sheer scale of what is about to happen, “In East Africa, tectonic plates have been splitting apart for millenia, creating a massive rift that runs for roughly 2,200 miles. As the plates have diverged, deep-seated plumes of magma have expelled oil into reservoir sands. Recent technological advances, including extended-reach drilling and long-distance imaging technology, have made the extraction of oil from these sands more economically efficient. Meanwhile, relative regional stability over the past decade has taken much of the financial risk out of long-term investment. As in West Africa, the estimates of reserves here vary. But the best ones available suggest that roughly nine billion new barrels of recoverable oil and gas could be found in the Rift Valley within the next decade: 3.5 billion barrels in Uganda, up to three billion each in Kenya and Tanzania, and at least half a billion in Ethiopia. At current prices, the new sources of oil and gas could inject close to $3 trillion into the economies of some of Africa’s poorest and least developed nations. Consider this: the total annual GDP of the 12 future exporters in 2011 was $181 billion. If $3 trillion flows to these countries from oil over a period of 30 to 50 years, then the total annual increase in economic output would amount to $60 billion to $100 billion — an increase of over one-third”.

They go on to describe how the scheme would work, “Given that reality, it is time to try a new policy approach, one that could drastically alter these incentives: the direct distribution of a portion of oil revenues to citizens as taxable income. In practical terms, this scheme would work as follows: When a government received revenue from oil and gas exports, a certain predetermined proportion of it (ideally, at least 50 percent) would immediately be distributed directly to the bank accounts of the country’s citizens. Then, the government would treat those distributed revenues as income and tax some of it back. Each country could adjust the rate of taxation to transfer only that amount of cash that economists determined could be absorbed by the average poor family without fueling inflation or distorting incentives. This oil-to-cash system should not be confused with those of oil-rich Arab states, such as Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, that lavish on their citizens payments and cradle-to-grave services. These programs lack two key features. First, the money goes to the state and only then is distributed (often at its discretion), as financial payments, social services, increases in public salaries, and so on. Second, citizens in these countries do not pay any income tax, so the crucial bond of accountability never materializes. Instead of increasing citizen participation and strengthening accountability, state-to-citizen distributions in these countries simply use oil revenues to keep the people satiated while further entrenching the power of elites. In doing so, these payments serve to increase citizens’ dependence on the state, rather than increasing their ownership of it”.

Rightly the accept the largest block is political, “The greatest obstacle to oil-to-cash programs is, of course, political. Why, many wonder, would any politician ever willingly give up control of oil money? Indeed, in developing countries, control over natural resource revenues fuels the patrimonial ties and patronage networks that keep leaders in power. And it is true that an autocrat is very unlikely to give up this vast opportunity to accumulate wealth and perpetuate his rule”.

Sciacca moved

26/08/2013

Pope Francis has begun to move people in the Curia. He appointed Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca, who was secretary of the Governatorate of the Vatican City State as adjunct secretary of the Apostolic Signatura. Thoughts that Cardinal Bertone would push to have his ally Sciacca sent to Palmero to replace Paolo Cardinal Romeo are now effectively over. The move lends credence to the discussion that Cardinal Filoni will be appointed to Palermo and Cardinal Maradiaga will take Propaganda in place of Filoni.

“If military action is approved”

26/08/2013

In an apparent co-ordinated response following the evil gas attack in Syria it appears that the United States, France and thr UK are preparing for action against the regime in Syria.

Reports from the Daily Telegraph note that “Britain is planning to join forces with America and launch military action against Syria within days in response to the gas attack believed to have been carried out by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against his own people”.

It goes on to mention that “Royal Navy vessels are being readied to take part in a possible series of cruise missile strikes, alongside the United States, as military commanders finalise a list of potential targets. Government sources said talks between the Prime Minister and international leaders, including Barack Obama, would continue, but that any military action that was agreed could begin within the next week. As the preparations gathered pace, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, warned that the world could not stand by and allow the Assad regime to use chemical weapons against the Syrian people ‘with impunity’. Britain, the US and their allies must show Mr Assad that to perpetrate such an atrocity ‘is to cross a line and that the world will respond when that line is crossed’, he said”.

The piece goes on to note “The possibility of such intervention will provoke demands for Parliament to be recalled this week. The escalation comes as a direct response to what the Government is convinced was a gas attack perpetrated by Syrian forces on a civilian district of Damascus last Wednesday. The Assad regime has been under mounting pressure to allow United Nations inspectors on to the site to establish who was to blame for the atrocity. One international agency said it had counted at least 355 people dead and 3,600 injured following the attack, while reports suggested the true death toll could be as high as 1,300. Syrian state media accused rebel forces of using chemical agents, saying some government soldiers had suffocated as a result during fighting. After days of delay, the Syrian government finally offered yesterday to allow a team of UN inspectors access to the area. However, Mr Hague suggested that this offer of access four days after the attack had come too late”.

It concludes, noting that Cameron “is believed to have abandoned hope of securing any further meaningful response from the UN amid opposition from Russia. Labour said Parliament must be recalled if Mr Cameron was considering a military response, but Downing Street sources said this may not be necessary as the Prime Minister retained the right to act urgently if required. Mr Cameron will face criticism for any British military involvement from many MPs, who believe the Armed Forces are already overstretched and must not be committed to another distant conflict. Any retaliatory attack would be likely to be launched from the sea as the Syrian air force is judged to be strong enough to shoot down enemy jets. A Royal Navy nuclear-powered submarine is said to be in the region while a number of warships recently left Britain for exercises in the Mediterranean. Comanders may also need to make use of the RAF base at Akrotiri, Cyprus for air support. If military action is approved, the first wave of missiles could start within a week”.

“Told Syria to cooperate”

24/08/2013

Russia has said it told Syria to cooperate with UN experts investigating reports of a deadly chemical weapons attack that is believed to have killed hundreds, and called on rebels to allow access to the area. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his US counterpart John Kerry in a phone call that immediately after the reports first emerged about the attack on Wednesday, the “Russian side called on the Syrian government to cooperate with the UN chemical experts,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday. “It is now up to the opposition to ensure safe access for the mission to the site of the alleged incident,” the statement from Syria’s strongest ally said”.

Encircling China?

24/08/2013

A debate has sprung up over the recent visit of the minister of defence of China to America. It has been noted before that America is encircling China in an attempt to tie it down.

Some have argued that “The U.S. military is encircling China with a chain of air bases and military ports. The latest link: a small airstrip on the tiny Pacific island of Saipan. The U.S. Air Force is planning to lease 33 acres of land on the island for the next 50 years to build a “divert airfield” on an old World War II airbase there. But the residents don’t want it. And the Chinese are in no mood to be surrounded by Americans. The Pentagon’s big, new strategy for the 21st century is something called Air-Sea Battle, a concept that’s nominally about combining air and naval forces to punch through the increasingly-formidable defenses ofnations like China or Iran. It may sound like an amorphous strategy — and truth be told, a lot of Air-Sea Battle is still in the conceptual phase. But a very concrete part of this concept is being put into place in the Pacific. An important but oft-overlooked part of Air-Sea Battle calls for the military to operate from small, bare bones bases in the Pacific that its forces can disperse to in case their main bases are targeted by Chinese ballistic missiles”.

What this means concretely he writes is that “the Air Force wants to expand the existing Saipan International Airport — built on the skeleton of a World War II base used by Japan, and later the United States — to accommodate cargo, fighter, and tanker aircraft along with up to 700 support personnel for “periodic divert landings, joint military exercises, and joint and combined humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts,” according to Air Force documents on the project. This means the service plans on building additional aircraft parking space, hangars, fuel storage tanks, and ammunition storage facilities, in addition to other improvements to the historic airfield. And it’s not the only facility getting an upgrade”.

In a sign of American strength he mentions that “The U.S. military is encircling China with a chain of air bases and military ports. The latest link: a small airstrip on the tiny Pacific island of Saipan. The U.S. Air Force is planning to lease 33 acres of land on the island for the next 50 years to build a “divert airfield” on an old World War II airbase there. But the residents don’t want it. And the Chinese are in no mood to be surrounded by Americans. The Pentagon’s big, new strategy for the 21st century is something called Air-Sea Battle, a concept that’s nominally about combining air and naval forces to punch through the increasingly-formidable defenses of nations like China or Iran. It may sound like an amorphous strategy — and truth be told, a lot of Air-Sea Battle is still in the conceptual phase. But a very concrete part of this concept is being put into place in the Pacific. An important but oft-overlooked part of Air-Sea Battle calls for the military to operate from small, bare bones bases in the Pacific that its forces can disperse to in case their main bases are targeted by Chinese ballistic missiles. Saipan would be used by American jets in case access to the U.S. superbase at Guam “or other Western Pacific airfields is limited or denied,” reads this Air Force document discussing the impact building such fields on Saipan and nearby Tinian would have on the environment there. (Residents of Saipan actually want the Air Force to use the historic airbases on Tinian that the U.S. Marinesare already refurbishing and flying F/A-18 Hornet fighters out of on an occasional basis.)”

Others argue that China is not being encricled and that the rest of Asia does not want America to take this action. He writes “Many Chinese military officers and commentators misinterpret the Obama administration’s rebalance to Asia as part of a U.S. effort to contain China. I tell them that if the United States were really trying to contain China, it would be seeking to isolate it internationally and cut off trade and investment ties, not working to expand China’s role in international organizations and increase U.S. access to China’s market”.

While it is certainly true that America is trying to encourage China to be responsible equally America is rightly suspicious of China’s consistently agressive behaviour in the region, to India, to ASEAN, as well as a host of other tactical moves that do nothing but re-enforce the view that China is out of regional control, if not more.

He goes on to write “The United States is not trying to contain China. Rather, the rebalance seeks to increase U.S. diplomatic, economic, and military resource commitments to Asia in order to bring them into balance with America’s expanding political, economic, and security interests in the region. Yes, U.S.-China relations have grown more competitive over the last few years, especially in Asia, where China’s growing influence and expanding military capabilities are challenging U.S. dominance. And yes, Washington is concerned about China’s increasingly muscular military, which is developing anti-access/area-denial capabilities that might challenge the U.S. military’s ability to operate in Asia. Some of these capabilities are defensive, like improved air defenses and anti-ship cruise missiles”.

He adds “more importantly, both American and Chinese leaders recognize that a U.S. attempt to contain China would damage their hugely important and mutually beneficial relationship. Bilateral trade between the two nations rose 5.6 percent in the first half of 2013, reaching $244 billion. U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping (and his predecessor Hu Jintao) have sought to build a U.S.-China relationship that expands cooperation on regional and global interests, not one that dwells on differences and threatens to divide the region. The rebalance hasn’t increased tensions; instead, it has prompted Chinese leaders to redouble efforts to build a stable, cooperative relationship with the United States as a means of managing strategic tensions. This is borne out with recent events. Since the U.S announced its rebalance, the two militaries more regularly use their hotline and have agreed to set up an important new dialogue mechanism between the U.S. Joint Staff Strategic Plans and Policy directorate and its counterpart in the People’s Liberation Army. The Chinese have proposed negotiating a method for advance notification of major military activities, and discussing protocol for how U.S. and Chinese ships and aircraft should operate when they are in close proximity. The two sides have also establisheda cyber working group and a strategic security dialogue to discuss contentious strategic issues”.

Yemen wants drones

24/08/2013

Yemen has asked the United States to supply it with drones, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi said on Thursday, to help it fight an al Qaeda threat that recently forced Western countries to temporarily close diplomatic missions in Sanaa. State news agency Saba also quoted Hadi as telling police cadets that 40 suspected al Qaeda militants had been killed in recent counter-terrorism operations and vowed to keep fighting the Islamists until they laid down their weapons”.

Decline due to Syria?

24/08/2013

David Rothkopf writes a piece arguing that America is in decline soley as a result of Egypt and Syria.

He opens “With regard to America’s approach to the world today, the version of my father’s maxim would be: ‘If you can do little, do little. If you can do nothing, do nothing. And if you can get the heck out, get the heck out.’ It used to be that America distinguished itself from every other nation because we were the only country in the world that when almost anything happened, our response would be ‘What should we do?’ While for most other countries, the responding question would be ‘Should we do something?’ Today, however, the idea of taking action is so anathema or difficult or risk-laden or all of the above, that when something happens, the question America seems to grapple with is ‘What should we say about this?’ The United States has gone from being a hyperpower to becoming the equivalent of a mere commentator on world affairs”

The problem with this is that It is based on recent events and not long term trends. He writes that America would always ask itself what should it do. Yet this is not based on historical fact. America did nothing in Rwanda and East Timor and a host of other countries where people were, and in some less publicised cases are, being killed. Rothkopf draws an either/or mentality that America is either doing everything and helping, or nothing and is therefore in decline. Both of these positions are patently false.

He goes on to write that “In our hugely president-centric system it looks like the president and his views are our primary foreign policy deliverables. He disapproves. He approves. He imposes a red line in Syria. He moves the line, and then he moves it again. He seems to forget about the line even as evidence of repeated use of chemical weapons by the Syrians seems to mount. This is how America throws its weight around these days.  How do we deal with a problem like Egypt? Lay on the adjectives. Russia got you down? Throw in a crack about Vladimir Putin’s posture. Oh sure, we can take modest action. In Russia, for instance, we cancelled a meeting with our president. In Egypt, we pull the plug on joint military exercises that seemed likely to be cancelled anyway. I’ve seen more meaningful gestures in a conversation between two old Jewish guys on a bench in Miami Beach”.

Ignoring the sniping of the author, he again falls into the same trap. America because it is not all powerful now does not mean that it was all powerful before and therefore is now in decline. There have been countless times when other coutries have done things America does not approve of and at the same time when America could not get its allies to assist it, notably UK intervention in Vietnam was requested but refused.

He continues “That said earlier examples of our “less is more” foreign policy helped create the dilemmas we have with both Egypt and Russia. Both instances illustrate how strong action was called for and its absence exacerbated serious problems that dog us today. In the case of ousted president Mohamed Morsy, we were comparatively quiet as he ran roughshod over the Egyptian constitution. Had we had a serious conversation about revoking aid or had we, in concert with our allies, applied greater pressure on him, perhaps we could have influenced events so they wouldn’t have deteriorated to the point that a military overthrow of his government”.

His point about Morsi is correct, America should have acted sooner but then there was no great indication that Morsi would have backed down, let alone changed policy, which presumably would have made America seem weak also.

The piece concludes, “America is very nearly immobilized by guilt, risk aversions, the president’s naturally cautious nature, lessons learned (and some mislearned), financial distress, and political dysfunction. And though we are still the most powerful nation on earth, power is nothing without the will or the know-how to use it. That doesn’t mean we should engage in a new wave of military adventures. As one Middle Eastern leader said in a meeting I attended, “We don’t need America to be on the playing field. But we would welcome them as a coach with a clear plan and position.” First and foremost the answer lies in reasserted presidential leadership. In addition, it requires an adjustment in attitude and a level of administration-wide effort as well as the discipline and high-level commitment to develop and implement strategies, delegate authority appropriately, listen to and work more effectively with our allies, and all the other elements required by actively managing a multidimensional foreign policy. In the near term, many of our closest allies are concluding they can no longer expect this of us. Just like our president who made a quick statement on Egypt and immediately returned to the golf course last week, this is one superpower that is on vacation. How long the break will last will go a long way toward determining whether the decade ahead will be seen as a period of protracted U.S. decline or a time of rebound, one that so many of our allies (and even some of our rivals) recognize the world needs if it is to be a safer, more stable, more prosperous place”.

Another gas attack

22/08/2013

Syrian activists claim that government forces have carried out a “poisonous gas” attack in suburbs of the capital, Damascus, leaving hundreds of people dead. Activists said regime forces fired “rockets with poisonous gas heads” in the alleged attack early on Wednesday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the shelling was intense and hit the eastern suburbs of Zamalka, Arbeen and Ein Tarma. It said at least 100 were killed, while the Local Coordination Committees said hundreds of people were killed or injured in the shelling. The attack coincided with the visit by a 20-member UN chemical weapons team to Syria to investigate three sites where chemical weapons attacks allegedly occurred over the past year. Syrian authorities dismissed reports of a chemical attack on Wednesday as “baseless”, and said the reports were intended to hinder the mission of UN inspectors”.

Still Maoist

22/08/2013

John Garnut has an article arguing that the ongoing trial of Bo Xilai does not mean that the CCP is moving away from Mao.

He writes that “The downfall of Bo Xilai — the Chongqing Communist Party boss who will almost certainly be convicted on charges of bribery, graft, and abuse of power in a trial that opened Thursday in the provincial capital of Jinan — was supposed to move China away from its Maoist past. And yet, judging from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s evolving political platform, Bo’s Maoist-flavoured agenda has its attractions — even for princelings (the sons and daughters of top officials) whose families suffered horrifically during the chairman’s disastrous Cultural Revolution”.

He goes on to mention “He re-popularised “red culture” — songs, poems, and iconography popular in the third quarter of the 20th century, when Mao Zedong ran China — across the city and then the nation, becoming the pin-up boy for the new left, the old left, the Maoist left, and, to a degree, all those attracted to the allure of rising power. Together with his police chief Wang Lijun, he tore up the colorless template of Chinese politics by waging war against the Chongqing underworld, exposing a hidden mass of corruption, violence, and decadence beneath the Communist Party’s shiny veneer. Bo and Wang waged war against the party in the name of saving it”.

Garnaut adds that “resistance to Bo’s red-tinged agenda started soon after, when liberal lawyers, journalists, and intellectuals began speaking out against the repression that followed his political campaigns. When Bo arrested prominent lawyer Li Zhuang in December 2009, civil society leaders started framing the debate over Bo’s political experiment in Chongqing as a proxy battle for the future of China: Would it move right, toward economic liberalisation and universal values, or left, to the ideals of Communism? Those on the left believed that only a stronger Communist Party could solve the country’s problems of corruption, inequality, and moral torpor. Those on the right believed unbridled state power was actually the problem, as China had learned during the Mao years. Li’s re-arrest, in March 2011, prompted his lawyer Chen Youxi to warn publicly that Bo’s disregard for law recalled the Cultural Revolution”.

Interestingly, Bo’s model was nothing more than a grabbing of criminal assests, “Wen’s intervention and Bo’s dismissal prompted other princelings to break their silence, as the elite descended into factional warfare. Wang Boming, publisher of the pathbreaking investigative magazine Caijing and son of one of Mao’s most important diplomats, told me that Bo’s “Chongqing Model” was funded and enforced by a mafia-style shake-down of the city’s entrepreneurs. “Basically, the twenty richest guys in Chongqing, he sent them all to jail and confiscated all their assets,” he told me in April, in an interview for a book I was writing, The Rise and Fall of the House of Bo.

He ends the piece noting “At a broader level, Bo offered a powerful legitimising story at a time when the Party was in desperate need of one. Earlier than any other leader besides Wen, Bo affirmed the country’s growing crisis of injustice and inequality, and shifted the blame to faceless apparatchiks who lacked his inherited revolutionary credibility. ‘Corruption is the Party’s mortal wound and degeneration of its working style is its chronic disease,’ Bo said on television in December 2009, echoing the words of Mao. ”Without help the disease will become fatal.” Bo, like Xi, grew up in a household steeped in the communist ideals of equality, personal austerity, and the emancipation of all mankind. Resurrecting Mao symbolised old ideals while reminding people of the contributions their own families made to the founding of the People’s Republic of China.  And while Bo’s methods were not pretty, they certainly worked. His control over propaganda, ability to mobilise the masses, and disregard for legal process and institutions kept the Chongqing population in check. “He’s trying to mobilize society like Mao did during the Cultural Revolution, and to do that you usually have to brainwash people first,” said Wang, the Caijing publisher, in our 2012 interview. Bo’s resurrection of Maoist iconography and methods offered a way of preserving the power of the ruling families, in a post-communist nation that was growing more cynical and fractious by the day. Similar patterns can be seen across the Xi administration as it battles to preserve uncompromising one-party rule over an increasingly pluralistic nation”.

He concludes, “Bo’s case has split the princeling elite. In 2012, Wen was winning converts as he sought to frame Bo’s downfall as the last opportunity to set China on a smooth transition toward accountable governance and rule of law. But then the Hu-Wen faction hit its own political turbulence — compounded by an October 2012 New York Times article revealing that Wen’s family members have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion — leaving Bo supporters to ask why he was singled out for treatment. It seems the families dominating Chinese politics abide by Benjamin Frankin’s warrior’s code: they can hang together or hang separately”.

Supreme guide arrested

22/08/2013

On Tuesday, the new government installed by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi provided the latest signal that it was breaking the old rules. Security forces armed with automatic rifles hunted down even the supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, 70, in a nondescript apartment where he had taken refuge, and then provided footage of the arrest to a friendly satellite network. It was the capstone of a sweeping campaign of arrests and shootings that has damaged the Brotherhood’s core organisation more than any crackdown in eight decades, sending the group into a confused retreat deeper underground than ever before”.

A federal EU?

22/08/2013

An article in Foreign Affairs argues for a federal EU.

The plan the authors envision consists of firstly,  “developing an economic growth strategy, to escape the union’s current debt trap and to create breathing space for the tough reforms that can make Europe as a whole competitive again. As former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has said, “Structural reforms can only work in conjunction with a growth trajectory.” Then, to sustain reform, the union needs a clear path to legitimacy for a strong but limited European government, one that resembles today’s Swiss federation. This will entail creating an executive body that is directly accountable to Europe’s citizens (emerging from the current commission), strengthening the parliament as a lower legislative house, and turning the council (a committee of the leaders of the member states) into an upper legislative house. Along the way, France will have to yield more sovereignty than its historic comfort zone has so far allowed, and Germany will have to realise that its own self-interest calls for it to bear the burden of resolving the current account imbalances within the eurozone”.

The authors go on to mention “Proponents of a federal Europe need to make their case to an increasingly skeptical European public by stressing not only the benefits of a united continent, with the world’s largest market and free mobility of labour and capital, but also the inadequacies of Europe’s existing structures as a basis for success in an increasingly globalised world. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has put the issue squarely: Europe today has seven percent of the world’s population, produces 25 percent of the world’s products, and accounts for 50 percent of its social spending. Without reform, in an ever more competitive international economic environment, it will be difficult to finance the generous welfare state that Europeans are used to”.

Should the euro fail they write that Germany would be badly effected, noting “What never seems to be debated in Germany, however, is how this industrial foundation of German prosperity would be threatened if the euro failed. In that case, Germany would be forced to return to the deutsch mark, the value of its currency would skyrocket, and the competitiveness of its manufacturing sector would plummet. German multinational companies would waste little time before shifting their production out of Germany to take advantage of lower foreign labour costs”.

This of course does not mention Germany’s banking problem as well as the systemic problems faced by its economy. The authors goes on to offer Switzerland as a model for a federalised continent, “Switzerland’s experience, however, offers more, one of which is about slow gestation. “Federation needs time,” says the former Swiss diplomat Jakob Kellenberger. “It took centuries for people living in Swiss cantons to get to know each other, then a long period of confederation before the move toward full federation in 1848. That transition was made only following an historical moment of great tensions between liberals and conservatives, Protestants and Catholics.” The Swiss federation has worked, he notes, because the center has been respectful of the autonomy of the cantons (which were never anxious to hand over their authority) and careful not to abuse its powers. All powers not specifically delegated to the federal government by the Swiss constitution, moreover, continue to be held by the cantons. With decades of step-by-step integration already behind it and an accelerating world ahead, Europe must accomplish its shift to full political union in years and decades, not centuries, but this shift can nonetheless usefully follow much of the Swiss model”.

The writers go on to cite the Nodic countries as thier model, “Asked once how he would account for the prosperity of the Scandinavian nations despite their high tax rates, the economist Milton Friedman responded that it was because their common identity and homogenous culture had enabled consensus to emerge. Free markets, he pointed out, were important precisely because they allowed people without a common identity to work together, even if they hated one another. Such a process of integration has worked well in Europe so far, but in order to lock in the gains and connections, institutions need to follow where markets have already gone. These institutions must be limited to providing public goods that are in the common interest, even as they avoid unnecessary interventions in the autonomous lives of the union’s national units. Like Switzerland, in other words, Europe needs a strong but limited central government that accommodates as much local diversity as possible”.

Yet there are a number of things wrong with this. Firstly taking the Scandinavian countries as a model is not accurate as all four are closely linked not just geographically but culturally aslo. Therefore to take these countries as a model is a false anology that cannot be sustained under the weight of 28 members with each region, to say nothing of coutry, having its own culture and customs. The authors say that this integration has gone well but this too is overstated. The euro is only the “currency” of 17 countries and this excludes the amount of exemptions and opt-outs that EU members are granted on a host of areas. Therefore to say that integration has gone well is simply false. Similarly, their notion of a “strong but limited central government” makes little sense. It works in Switzerland but for it to work on an EU wide scale the Commission would have to return a vast array of powers to countries that it would almost certainly not do when the trend has been almost inexorably in the other direction.

They go on to write that “One area that certainly needs centralized regulation and institutional guidance is finance”, adding later that “Some argue that aligning European states more closely on issues such as wage levels, the social contract, and tax rates should be the task of the European Commission — which represents all 27 member states — rather than of intergovernmental treaties whose negotiation is inevitably dominated by France and, particularly, Germany. This makes sense, but for the commission to take on such a role, it will need to acquire much more popular legitimacy.  This means that the commission’s president will have to be elected directly by European citizens at large, in order to give a face to the political unity of Europe. The parliament and the council, meanwhile, need to be able to initiate legislation (a power only the commission has now). It would also make sense to allocate seats in the parliament in a way that more accurately reflected the populations of the member states and to create the office of a commissioner for savings, who could help see to it that the member states met their various financial and budgetary commitments and obligations”.

There is little indication that this is more than a pipe dream with a whole raft of countries objecting to this, to say nothing of the Commission that has zealously guarded its powers with little indication or historical evidence to say that it is willing to be more democratic.

They propose that “The European Parliament could elect the chief executive of the European Commission, who would then form a cabinet of ministers out of the larger parties in the parliament — including a finance minister with the capacity to levy taxes and formulate a substantial budget on a Europe-wide basis. The finance minister’s focus would be macroeconomic coordination, not microeconomic management. Other cabinet positions would cover the provision of supranational European public goods (defense, foreign policy, energy, infrastructure, and so forth), leaving as many decisions on other matters. Because the parliament would have enhanced power, selecting a chief executive for the union, it would make sense to have parliamentary elections based on Europe-wide lists instead of national party lists. Having more at stake in the elections would lead to more discussion and higher rates of voting, which would mean more legitimacy for the results and the institutions in general. Parties that obtained less than ten or 15 percent of the vote in Europe-wide elections would be present in debate but could not vote. Such a rule would tend to push politics toward centrist compromise and avoid gridlock that might arise from the veto power of small parties in a coalition. The current European Council, in this scheme, would be transformed into the upper house of the union’s legislature. Members would be selected by nation-states for staggered terms longer than the shorter electoral cycle of the lower house of the parliament, thus encouraging a longer-term perspective on governance. Unlike the lower house, which would focus primarily on the short-term interests of its national constituents, the upper house would be a more deliberative body, focused on broader and longer-term questions. Representation would be based on a proportional system according to the member states’ populations”.

Any move toward such a political union would obviously raise myriad thorny issues. The new institutions and their rules would ideally be established from the bottom up through a constituent assembly, rather than by a treaty change — but how could a truly ground-up process ever get traction? The large parties that would win the most seats in the European Parliament would need to hash out a compromise or a common agenda robust enough to make governing possible — but what if they did not? And what is most fundamental, could a political union ever really cohere if not preceded by continent-wide nation building aimed at forging a forward-looking common identity? What is crucial now, however, is recognition that the current system is not working and that closer, rather than looser, integration is the more sensible and attractive option.

In 1789, Alexander Hamilton, then the U.S. secretary of the treasury, proposed a strong federal system of government that would assume the states’ debts from the American Revolution while guaranteeing a steady future revenue stream, further integrating fiscal policy while preserving a large swath of local sovereignty on nonfederal issues. This was the first step in making the United States a continental and, ultimately, global power. So, too, in Europe, debt resolution can be the midwife of a political union that could make Europe a powerful pillar in the geopolitical order of the twenty-first century. The only way to answer Europe’s current challenge in the face of the many uncertainties is for Europe’s leaders, and its public, to at last commit to this transformation instead of remaining paralyzed with hesitancy.

Musharraf charged

22/08/2013

A Pakistani court on Tuesday indicted former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf on murder charges in connection with the 2007 assassination of iconic Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, deepening the fall of a once-powerful figure who returned to the country this year to make a political comeback. The decision by a court in Rawalpindi marks the first time Musharraf, or any former army chief in Pakistan, has been charged with a crime”.

Manning sentanced

22/08/2013

Bradley Manning has been sentanced to 35 years in prison and not the 60 years that the proscution wanted.

A report in the Washington Post notes that “A military judge on Wednesday sentenced Pfc. Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison, bringing to a close the government’s determined pursuit of the Army intelligence analyst who leaked the largest cache of classified documents in U.S. history. The long prison term is likely to hearten national security officials who have been rattled by the subsequent leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Manning’s conviction might also encourage the government to bring charges against the man who was instrumental in the publication of the documents, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks”.

The article goes on to mention that “Manning, 25, was acquitted last month of the most serious charge he faced — aiding the enemy — but was convicted of multiple other counts, including violations of the Espionage Act, for copying and disseminating classified military field reports, State Department cables, and assessments of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. ‘The message won’t be lost for everyone in the military,’ said Steven Bucci, director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation. ‘When you sign a security clearance and swear oaths, you actually have to abide by that. It is not optional.’ Civil liberties groups condemned the judge’s decision”.

Intestingly the report adds, “Manning will receive 31/2 years of credit for time served in pretrial confinement and for the abusive treatment he endured in a Marine brig at Quantico, making him eligible for parole in seven years. He will serve his sentence at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. On Wednesday, Manning stood at attention, with his attorneys at his side and his aunt behind him, as he listened to Judge Denise Lind read the sentence aloud. He did not appear to react to her decision. Lind, an Army colonel, also said Manning would be dishonorably discharged, reduced in rank to private, and forfeit all pay. He had faced up to 90 years in prison”.

The piece adds that “Coombs said at a news conference that he will seek a presidential pardon for his client in the coming weeks. He read a statement from Manning in which the private reiterated his reasons for leaking classified material, saying he had ‘started to question the morality’ of U.S. policy. Manning added that if his request for a pardon is denied, he will serve his time “knowing sometimes you pay a heavy price to live in a free country.'”

Predictably the gasbag saw this as a victory, “In a statement, WikiLeaks called Manning’s conviction ‘an affront to basic concepts of Western justice’ and said his treatment has been intended ‘to send a signal to people of conscience in the U.S. government who might seek to bring wrongdoing to light.'”

24 Egyptian policemen dead

22/08/2013

At least 24 Egyptian policemen have been killed in an attack by suspected militants in the Sinai peninsula. The attack on the police convoy, close to the town of Rafah on the Gaza border, was one of the deadliest on security forces in several years. Interim President Adly Mansour declared three days of national mourning for the attacks, state TV said. A state of emergency is in force amid wider turmoil following a crackdown on Islamists in which hundreds have died. Thirty-six protesters died in a prison van in the capital Cairo on Sunday. Meanwhile, Egyptian prosecutors have ordered the ousted President Mohammed Morsi be detained for a further 15 days while they investigate fresh allegations against him”.

Short term stability

20/08/2013

An article has been published by Gregory Gause noting the stability of the Saudi kingdom.

It opens “Ironically, questions about Saudi stability tend to arise after the Saudi regime has recently demonstrated its resiliency in the face of regional crisis—and the Arab Spring is no exception. There are two central reasons that Riyadh was the major Arab state least affected by the upheavals of the last few years. The first is that it has plenty of money in the bank. Only one major oil exporter, Libya, faced a regime-shaking crisis in 2011, and the regime there fell because of external intervention. Because the Saudis (and other oil exporters) had enjoyed a ten-year period of rising prices, the skids of the patronage state were well greased. To remind everyone of how good they have it, King Abdullah committed to spending $130 billion on such public provisions as education allowances, unemployment benefits, higher wages, and low-income housing—even as demonstrations were gaining momentum around the region. That commitment put a dent in Saudi financial reserves (which total approximately $700 billion), but hardly exhausted them. The second reason explaining Saudi stability is the presence of serious divisions in Saudi society along sectarian, regional, and ideological lines. Disparate groups in Egypt and Tunisia could put their differences aside and come together against their dictators because their common national identity is relatively strong, while postponing the fights for power we see in those countries now. In Saudi Arabia, potential axes of regime opposition do not have the levels of contact and trust to join forces against the regime”.

He writes that “What could change the picture of Saudi stability? Obviously, a dramatic and sustained reduction in the price of oil would eventually lead to a fiscal crisis in the Kingdom, calling into question the patronage base of the regime. A serious split in the ruling family, when power finally passes to the next generation of princes, could also shake the regime. If the two scenarios happened simultaneously, the chances of regime survival would decrease markedly”.

A related article in the series examines the long term stability of the regime, “There can be no revolution without a deep socio-economic crisis. Saudi Arabia hasn’t had such a crisis yet. On the back of its large oil revenues and even larger overseas financial reserves, it can provide enough employment for young male job-seekers—the crucial segment of the population—in the public sector to defuse any large-scale revolutionary anger.  The sustainability of this policy depends on simple arithmetic: oil prices and production levels on one hand, and domestic employment and subsidy costs on the other. The latter have been increasing rapidly and are likely to continue doing so, albeit at a more measured pace, due to continued growth of the working-age population. But even under pessimistic oil price assumptions, the kingdom will not run out of money for at least a dozen years. For the time being, it continues to run significant surpluses, as the oil price at which the government breaks even lies around $80 per barrel, a good deal below current prices”.

However he warns that painful decisions will have to be made if the kingdom is to survive, “In the long run, Saudi Arabia will have to undergo a painful shift away from both public sector over-employment and dependence on migrant labor. Such a shift means short-term pain for both citizens and business. Times are probably too good to impose such pain right now. Once the state reaches its fiscal limits, however, the forced shift away from state dependence would be all the more sudden and violent. This does not guarantee revolution, but it would mean potential for serious instability for the first time in decades”.

Moving west

20/08/2013

As al Qaeda marks its 25th anniversary this month, analysts say the recent security threat in Yemen shows the organisation’s centre of gravity is shifting away from its historic base in Pakistan. US President Barack Obama has cautioned that affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a unit of the extremist group that effectively controls parts of Yemen, still pose a threat despite successful efforts to disrupt the organisation’s core leadership. His warning came after the United States closed 19 diplomatic missions in the Middle East and Africa last week after reported intelligence intercepts from al Qaeda suggested an attack was imminent. Reports indicated the intercepts involved some kind of group communication between Al-Qaeda supremo Ayman al-Zawahiri, and AQAP leader Nasser al-Wuhayshi.

A new drone deal?

20/08/2013

An article from Foreign Policy notes the deal that allowed America to use drones in Pakistani territority has been updated.

The piece mentions that “the U.S. drone program in Pakistan is unlikely to survive much longer in its current form. Less than a week after his election on May 11, Pakistan’s new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, reportedly declared to his cabinet that “the policy of protesting against drone strikes for public consumption, while working behind the scenes to make them happen, is not on.” This fall, Pakistan’s national and provincial assemblies will elect a new president, likely a Sharif loyalist, and the prime minister will also select a new army chief. It is safe to say that these men are unlikely to follow their predecessors in offering tacit endorsements of the United States’ expansive counterterrorism efforts”.

While he is correct to say that the president will be a Sharif loyalist there is no such guarantees with the new head of the army. Indeed, the ISI has for at least a decade ran its own foreign policy albeit with the tacit consent of the Pakistani government. There is no reason to be quite so sure that a new army chief will bow to Sharif’s word.

He goes on to write that the result of these predicted “the United States is going to have to hammer out a new drone deal with Pakistan in the years ahead, one that is sensitive to Pakistan’s own concerns and objectives. This will likely mean that Washington will face new constraints in its counterterrorism operations. But managed with care, a new agreement could put the targeted killing campaign against al Qaeda on firmer political footing without entirely eliminating its effectiveness”.

The problem the United States faces is that it wants to bridle the Pakistani army but at the same time it knows it needs its support or at least tactic approval for the drone strikes.

He continues that “since its inception in 2004, the U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan has been stumbling along shaky legal and strategic ground. At various points in time, Washington and Islamabad constructed different fictions to enable the drone campaign. Before launching the first drone strike that killed Taliban leader Nek Muhammad in June 2004, Washington sought personal authorization from then President and army chief Pervez Musharraf. For several years thereafter, the Pakistani army claimed responsibility for all drone strikes, publicly denying (however implausibly) American intervention. But the program’s remarkable success in killing al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, combined with the otherwise largely unaddressed problem of sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal areas, encouraged U.S. officials to expand their list of targets. As the program grew, and especially as Washington killed militants with suspected links to Pakistan’s own military and intelligence services, such as members of the Afghan Taliban–affiliated Haqqani Network, Pakistani officials shed the fiction that the strikes were their own. Islamabad instead bowed to what it perceived as a powerful domestic consensus against the drones and criticised the United States in increasingly shrill terms for violating Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty. Privately, however, Musharraf and his immediate successors — including the civilian government led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the army under General Kayani — continued to greenlight the drone program”.

He goes on to mention that “the hypocrisy of the official Pakistani position became ever more difficult to hide” but the world is full of hypocrites and is a natural result of human nature. In this specific instance, the drone strikes served both Pakistani and US interests, he goes on to write however that “in early 2012, the Pakistani parliament unequivocally denounced the drone strikes and called for them to end. This unmistakable sovereign act called into question oft-repeated U.S. claims that Pakistan actually provides “tacit consent” for the drone campaign. Pakistan’s current and future leaders, starting with Nawaz Sharif, will have little reason to implicate themselves in the drone hypocrisy of their predecessors”.

Yet this position while valid ignores the fact that it is a countries right and even duty to protect itself, where this be by preemption or preventive measures is almost irrelevant but to say otherwise would be naive in the extreme. Secondly to think that Pakistan would not, and is not acting in this way by meddling in Afghanistan as a result of a paranoia over India.

He adds that “One step in this escalation has already happened, with Pakistan taking its case against drones to the international community by way of the United Nations. If Pakistani frustration mounts without yielding results, one can imagine Sharif’s new army chief threatening to shoot U.S. drones from the sky, just as past Pakistani leaders have threatened to take down helicopters that cross into the nation’s airspace. At that stage, Washington would likely pull the drones from normal operation rather than play a high-stakes game of chicken”.

Yet such a drastic move by the Pakistanis would be foolish as it would threaten the fragile good will that currently exists between the two countries to say nothing about the military and domestic aid the Pakistanis get.

The crux of the issue he writes, is “whether Washington and Islamabad can find a deal that addresses Pakistani concerns without depriving the United States of a counterterrorism tool that has been more effective, at least in a tactical sense, than any other. Short of ending the drone program altogether, the only way that Pakistan’s leaders can credibly claim to assert their sovereign authority — and thereby prove their nationalist credentials to political allies and adversaries alike — is if Washington cedes to Islamabad a greater degree of control over the program, especially when it comes to target selection”.

He goes on to describe what this would mean “one extreme, this would mean doing what a number of Pakistani leaders (including General Musharraf) have requested for years: placing the drones under Pakistani command. Of course, given the highly sensitive nature of drone technology, along with the fact that U.S. officials do not adequately trust their Pakistani counterparts to deploy the drones in ways that would effectively eliminate top terrorist leaders, this solution remains off the table in nearly any conceivable future. Somewhat less pie-in-the-sky, if still unrealistic at this stage, would be the idea of disarming U.S. drones and leaving Pakistani forces to act as the “trigger pullers” whenever terrorist targets are identified. Strikes would then be launched by Pakistani Air Force jets, helicopters, or perhaps even artillery, and would use U.S. intelligence for target selection. This solution also has an assortment of practical problems, from the time lag between identifying targets and shooting at them to, once again, U.S. officials’ lack of faith in their Pakistani counterparts’ ability and desire to act on that intelligence in the first place”.

The third solution he writes is “the option of crafting a ‘dual-key’ authority at the operational level, perhaps by informing Pakistani officers in real time as drone strikes are launched and by implementing a mutually acceptable mechanism through which Islamabad could veto a specific strike, or at least raise it up the chain of command in a timely manner. Versions of a dual-key approach have been tried in the past, with some success. But given the fraught terms of cooperation between Washington and Islamabad in recent years, it is hard to imagine U.S. officials accepting this sort of arrangement”.

He goes on to mention the “final option — and the only realistic compromise at present — would be for Washington to seek Islamabad’s pre-authorisation for specific targets and zones for strikes. The United States would retain full operational control over drone missions, and unlike the earliest stage in the drone program, when Musharraf’s explicit approval was required to kill Nek Muhammad, this process could provide blanket authority for a much longer (mutually agreed, if not publicly disclosed) target list. In return, Pakistani leaders would acknowledge publicly the terms of the new arrangement”.

He adds that “The new drone deal would be premised on the assumption that the United States is prepared to accept less frequent drone strikes than it has become accustomed to. So one potentially insurmountable stumbling block to this compromise would be if Washington planned to use the drone campaign as a primary tool for shaping the battlefield in Afghanistan, for instance by intensifying strikes against the Haqqani Network in the FATA’s North Waziristan agency. Pakistani leaders would almost certainly reject this strategy. Under such conditions, however, it is hard to imagine anything other than a tense and conflict-prone relationship between Washington and Islamabad, whether or not any new drone deal has been negotiated.But officials in Washington would be wise not to let relations with Pakistan deteriorate to that point. The United States faces potential challenges in Pakistan that are even more daunting than the war in Afghanistan or the fight against al Qaeda.”

He ends the piece noting the row between State and CIA  “has already seen several heated rounds, including the 2011 dustup between Cameron Munter, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, and Leon Panetta, the CIA director at the time. As far as is possible to discern, the CIA has won every important round of this debate. Within the Obama administration, the State Department’s concerns over the damaging political fallout from drone strikes have never held much weight relative to the CIA’s demonstrated ability to remove top terrorists from the battlefield”.

He concludes “an interagency compromise is possible. Rather than pressing for an end to the drone campaign along some preordained timeline with nothing comparable to replace it, critics within the U.S. government should appreciate that the drones will likely retain their tactical value for the foreseeable future. A more realistic goal would be to change the drone program in ways that make it at least marginally more politically palatable in Islamabad and, by extension, more sustainable for the United States over the long haul”.

Secretly suspending aid

20/08/2013

The U.S. government has decided privately to act as if the military takeover of Egypt was a coup, temporarily suspending most forms of military aid, despite deciding not to announce publicly a coup determination one way or the other, according to a leading U.S. senator. In the latest example of its poorly understood Egypt policy, the Obama administration has decided to temporarily suspend the disbursement of most direct military aid, the delivery of weapons to the Egyptian military, and some forms of economic aid to the Egyptian government while it conducts a broad review of the relationship. The administration won’t publicly acknowledge all aspects of the aid suspension and maintains its rhetorical line that no official coup determination has been made, but behind the scenes, extensive measures to treat the military takeover of Egypt last month as a coup are being implemented on a temporary basis”.

Germany’s banking problem

18/08/2013

An interesting piece in the New York Times notes the problem of the eurozone that have been made worse by Angela Merkel. The piece lays the blame for much of the current German response to the crisis, and German inactivity, notes the sheer scale of the problems facing Germany’s banking system domestically.

It opens “While the country’s economy is often held up as a model, German banks are among Europe’s most troubled. They required a bailout bigger than the one American banks received, and many are still struggling to recover. But there is remarkably little discussion about fundamentally changing the structure of the German banking system. On the contrary, Europe’s economic leaders criticize Germany for slowing progress toward unifying the Continent’s patchwork system of bank regulation, an effort seen as crucial to restoring faith in the euro zone and averting future globe-threatening crises. Ailing German banks are also a dead weight on the euro zone economy as it struggles to crawl out of recession”.

The piece goes on to write that “Banks in Germany invested in seemingly every bad asset that came their way, including American subprime assets and Greek bonds. “There is no sense of pride that Germans were especially thorough or prudent,” said Sven Giegold, a German who is a member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee in the European Parliament. Some 646 billion euros, or about $860 billion, was spent or set aside to rescue German banks from 2008 through September 2012, according to European Commission figures. That is the second-highest bailout in Europe after Britain and more than the $700 billion authorized for the Troubled Asset Relief Program in the United States, of which $428 billion has been spent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. In one recent example of German banking dysfunction, German authorities indicted Bernie Ecclestone, the chief executive of the Formula One auto racing series, in connection with a $44 million bribe said to have been paid to the former chief risk officer of BayernLB, a so-called landesbank owned jointly by the state of Bavaria and community savings banks”.

The author writes that “The landesbanks, typically owned by state governments and local institutions, have a long history of corruption and mismanagement. BayernLB already required a 10 billion euro bailout from state taxpayers, and several other of its former top managers were under investigation for insider trading. Six former top managers of HSH Nordbank, a landesbank in Hamburg, are on trial for charges that include fraud and illegally concealing the bank’s true financial state, including losses on loans to the depressed shipping industry”.

The scale of the problems facing Germany are shown when the writer mentions “The landesbanks and the country’s roughly 400 local savings banks, known as sparkassen, are controlled by state and municipal politicians. All told, about 45 percent of the German banking industry is in government hands. That is not counting a 25 percent stake in Commerzbank, the country’s second-largest commercial bank, acquired by the federal government in the course of a bailout”.

It ends “Unlike their counterparts in countries like Spain or Italy, though, German banks have benefited from a strong national economy. They have not had to cope with as many bad home loans and have generally not had trouble raising money to lend to their customers. While the bank bailout in Germany was the largest in the euro zone in absolute terms, it equaled only 25 percent of gross domestic product. Ireland’s bailout, while smaller, equaled more than three years of economic output and effectively bankrupted the economy. Unlike many of its neighbors, Germany could afford its banking crisis”.

“The solution can only be political”

18/08/2013

The solution can only be political. The Muslim Brotherhood leadership fully realises Morsi’s presidency will not be restored. Yet their supporters and militias continue to chant that tune, in the hope of improving their bargaining position. The stellar rise in violence in the ranks of Morsi’s supporters makes it almost impossible to defend them — when they attack and set fire to houses of worship, offices, subway stations, clashing with inhabitants and with the police with heavy weaponry. The army leadership, too, both in its capacity of army and government — let’s not begin to pretend we have anything that resembles civilian decision-making at this point — should know that brute force doesn’t disperse a large sit-in: it merely displaces it, galvanises it, radicalises it; it potentially gives it more support from otherwise undecided people. It offers direct support, by validating their confrontational position, to the most radical elements within it”.

Blame the drones

18/08/2013

Rosa Brooks again stretches a point of comparison beyond belief in an attempt to equate the events in Egypt and the drone operations. She opens her piece defiantly, “I can no longer keep track of all the ways the United States has lost the moral high ground when it comes to Egypt”. Such a facile statement reveals much about Brooks. Foreign policy is not about the “moral high ground”. Her characterisation is of total morality or totally immorality which is patently false. Her statement also ignores not only the complexities of human nature but also of the Egypt, to say nothing of the international system as a whole.

She goes on to castigate the Obama administration, “There was our initial namby-pamby response to the popular uprising against Hosni Mubarak in early 2011: We made vague noises about the virtues of democracy, but we dithered over calling for Mubarak to step down, because we’re Dictators R Us — Mubarak might have been a bastard, but he was our bastard. After Mubarak’s ouster, we continued to sit on our hands as Egypt’s interim military government grew ever more repressive in the run-up to elections”.

Brooks, like others who have written recently, ignore the alternatives. She says that Obama should have pushed Mubarak sooner than he did, and perhaps this is true but what comes after is equally important. She makes no reference to the problems after Iraq were no one was in charge and those that were had too few resources. If America had acted as she suggests Egypt would in all probability be almost exactly where it is today with a military backed regime the only possible difference would that Morsi would not have been elected at all, which could be a good thing or a bad thing.

Shes goes on to make the valid point tthat “When the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsy won the presidency in the summer of 2012 and began rapidly consolidating power, we remained dithery, coupling the occasional pious call for increased political freedom with expressions of faint support for the entirely unlovable Morsi and faint distaste for the burgeoning secular protest movement”.#

The reason for all this “dithering”, not the complexity of the situation or America trying to work quietly no, the answer bizarrely is drones, apparently, “All that’s ample reason for shame. But we’ve also lost the moral high ground for another, less obvious reason: Given the disgraceful lack of transparency surrounding U.S. drone strikes, we no longer have any principled ground on which to stand as we condemn the killings in Egypt. That’s because the Egyptian government’s rationale for its recent killings is unpleasantly similar to our own government’s rationale for drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere”.

Her argument makes no sense due to the fact that she conflates the drone strikes, in which America protects itself when other countries refusal or inability to strike at where there is an obvious existential threat. Her point that America has therefore lost all credibility is garbage. A country that admittedly has flaws and is not perfect, is in an infinitely better place because it has a free press, judiciary as well as a thriving civil society is just better and therefore more moral as a result. Brooks ignores all of this, or worse, places it at naught.

She attempts to justify her position by writing that “To the international press, the hundreds of Islamists killed in Cairo this week are protesters exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. True, some among those protesters may have committed acts of criminal violence, assaulting police stations and attacking members of Egypt’s security forces, but that’s no excuse for shooting people down. The security forces should use lethal force in self-defence only and should otherwise respond to the ongoing protests using only non-lethal methods”.  In no way praising or minimising the way the protesters were cleared, they were warned on a number of occasions to clear the area and make way for a return to normal life but their refusal was something of an act of civil disobedience. The way they were cleared rather than the clearance itself is under question.

She goes on to mention “When the United States uses drone strikes to kill alleged terrorists — strikes that have killed thousands of people, not hundreds — it doesn’t show the world the evidence that led to those targeting decisions. It doesn’t offer specifics about the past bad behaviour of those it kills, or details of the future damage they would likely inflict if left unmolested. It doesn’t acknowledge mistakes or offer a public account of any civilian deaths unintentionally inflicted. On the contrary, the United States does exactly what the Egyptian authorities are doing: It asserts the existence of a threat to national security, asserts its right to use force to counter it, asks the world to trust in the good faith and good judgment of its officials, and otherwise tells critics to buzz off”.

While her general point is true her comparison bears no resemblance to reality.

Better than Karzai?

18/08/2013

President Hamid Karzai has recommended Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf, a powerful ex-jihadi leader, to be declared a candidate in the presidential election slated for April 5. Karzai named his choice during a meeting with political party leaders, including opposition, and former jihadi leaders at the Presidential Palace last week, Syed Fazl Sancharaki, the National Coalition Party spokesman, told a local media outlet. Sayyaf, the Dawat-i-Islami party chief, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, first vice-president, Atta Mohammad Noor, the governor of Balkh, and Ismail Khan, the water and energy minister, were present at the meeting chaired by Karzai, he said”.

Doing too little?

16/08/2013

An article berates President Obama for doing little in Egypt. The piece begins noting that “President Barack Obama, we know, believes in “engagement.” He believes that maintaining ties even with the most hateful regimes holds out the possibility of progress. In his Nobel Peace Prize speechhe mocked moralists — implicitly including his predecessor, George W. Bush — who preferred “the satisfying purity of indignation” to the hard and very impure work of diplomacy. And that, I imagine, is why Obama has reacted so cautiously to the shocking massacres in Egypt, cancelingplanned military exercises but leaving U.S. military aid intact”.

Yet what Truab does not mention is that in the same speech he holds out great idealism, to say nothing of the rest of his speeches that are marked, almost entirely with soaring themes and great, perhaps even too great, optomism.

He goes on to write that “Both Obama and many of the people whose advice he has listened to since 2009 are morally driven figures who nevertheless accept that the world is a fallen place which cannot easily be changed, even with all of America’s might.  Samantha Power, a senior White House official before she became U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, used to say, “We are all consequentialists now.” We — that is, outside advocates and activists like her who had joined the administration — had an obligation to choose words, and policies, according to their consequences, not according to some abstract moral scale. If praising dictators in Sudanor Burma, as the administration did at times, encouraged them to reconcile with their rivals, then they should be praised. Cutting ties to demonstrate the purity of your indignation, by contrast, is irresponsible”.

He adds, “Obama’s consequentialism was a welcome relief from Bush’s moralism. Perhaps Obama should have more sharply criticized the grossly fraudulent Iranian election in 2009, but he held his tongue for fear of jeopardizing talks on nuclear enrichment. It’s true that the Iranian authorities simply pocketed Washington’s silence and remained intractable; but they would have pocketed American outrage with the same nonchalance. The United States has far more to gain from engaging Iran than it does from issuing ultimatums, even if Israel and most of the U.S. Congress don’t see it that way”.

Yet Traub draws too great a distinction between Presidents Bush and Obama as both rely on both realism and idealism at different times to shape how they see and responsd to the world and the events that ocur while they are in office. He even answers his own question, “In fact, any punitive action would be the purest of moral gestures. First of all, since the new regime’s Gulf backers will probably make up for any shortfall in Western assistance, the threat is almost meaningless.Second, no one’s listening. In the Mubarak era, threatening aid would have signaled to activists and protestors that Washington stood with them. But yesterday’s activists are today’s apologists for mass murder; just read the repellent statement of support for the assaults issued by the National Salvation Front, the aptly named civilian façade for Egypt’s new military rulers. There is no one in Egypt to whom to send a signal. A consequentialist would thus ask: Why bother?”.

Yet the answer to the question he poses is lacklustre, “The answer is that silence has consequences too. To register nothing more than disappointment in the face of a military coup, the arrest and imminent trial of overthrown leaders, and the killing of hundreds of civilians is to make a very blunt statement about the relative importance the United States gives to democracy and human rights, on the one hand, and national interests, narrowly construed, on the other. It is the message the elder George Bush, a master of consequentialism, gave when he restored regular working relations with China soon after the massacre at Tiananmen Square. The signal was meant for the Chinese leadership, but it was heard loud and clear by both dictators and ordinary citizens the world over. What they understood is that Washington was prepared to overlook any amount of bloodshed in order to resume relations with an important ally”.

While his point about supporting democracy is generally correct it in this case lacks any sort of context, despite what others say. This does not condone the actions of the generals but America still has much to dangle in front of Egypt’s leaders both now and in the future. These measures could push them into at least being less violent.

Carrying out their threat

16/08/2013

The Egyptian military finally carried out their threat to remove the pro Morsi protestors “Egyptian security forces crushed the protest camps of thousands of supporters of the deposed Islamist president on Wednesday, shooting almost 200 of them dead in the bloodiest day in decades and polarizing the Arab world’s most populous nation. At least 235 people were killed in all, including at least 43 police, and 2,000 wounded, a health official said, in fierce clashes that spread beyond Cairo to towns and cities around Egypt. Deposed president Mohamed Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood said the death toll of what it called a “massacre” was far higher.

The spirit of Mubarak remains

16/08/2013

A piece in Foreign Policy argues that Mubarak is back, as has been mentioned here before by other writers.

It opens, “Egyptians will go to sleep tonight under a curfew and wake tomorrow under the hated Emergency Law that places the country under military rule. The government claims the measure is temporary — only for a month — but given Egypt’s current circumstances that is not likely to be the case. Supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi have stepped up their mindless campaign against Egyptian Copts and the violent repression of the opposition sit-ins will likely lead to even more radicalisation. How long before the Muslim Brotherhood seeks redress through the force of arms? Spokesmen for the interim government argue that they have extended a hand to the Brothers to join the transition, but that they rejected it. Of course they did”.

Cook goes on to make the valid point that “Just as Egypt’s political system before the January 25 uprising was rigged in favour of Mubarak and his constituents, the Brothers sought to stack the new order in their favour, and today’s winners will build a political system that reflects their interests. This is neither surprising nor sui generis. In the United States, rules, regulations, and laws are a function of the powerful, too. But in America, the capacity for change exists; whereas in Egypt, those institutions are absent. Although virtually all political actors have leveraged the language of political reform and espoused liberal ideas, they have nevertheless sought to wield power through exclusion. This has created an environment in which the losers do not process their grievances through elections, parliamentary debate, consensus-building, and compromise — but through military intervention and street protests. This plays into the hands of those powerful groups embedded within the state who have worked to restore the old order almost from the time that Hosni Mubarak stepped down into ignominy two and a half years ago”.

He goes on to argue that “The pathologies that seeped out of Tahrir produced strains in Egypt’s revolutionary promise from the start. The ardor of late January and February remained, but the sense of common purpose was lost in the seemingly endless Friday demonstrations, unrest in the labor sector, doctors’ strikes, lawyers’ strikes, demands for revolutionary justice, and  sectarian violence — all of which distracted everyone from the important work of building on the uprising to establish effective political organization with appealing, inclusive messages. Yet, across the political spectrum, leaders defaulted to their traditional corners rather than confront the sheer complexity of Egypt’s political, social, and economic problems. Narrow interests triumphed at the expense of what was best for Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood claimed it was perfectly suited for the post-Mubarak moment. Its spokespeople and sympathisers claimed that it was a progressive force for democratic change, but it quickly emulated the ways and worldview of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. The Brothers were in charge, but it was still Mubarak’s Egypt: whoever ruled could do so without regard to anyone who might disagree. Under the Brothers it was not, ‘one man, one vote, one time’ as Islamophobes liked to warn, but rather the imposition of an electoral system that sought to make it ‘one man, one vote, every time.'”

Morsi’s thugs

16/08/2013

Islamic supporters of Egypt’s ousted president Mohamed Morsi launched on  Wednesday arson attacks against churches, resulting in the destruction of at  least three buildings. Muslim Brotherhood supporters wreaked havoc on Coptic  Christian businesses and property throughout the country. There may have  been more than 20 incidents of burning of churches and attacks on Christian  institutions, based on unconfirmed reports on Twitter from Coptic leaders and  organizations who are closely following the outbreak of anti-Christian  violence”.

The end of demand?

16/08/2013

An article in the Economist argues that the demand for oil is starting to slow and may, they say soon be over entirely. The controversial piece begins “THE dawn of the oil age was fairly recent. Although the stuff was used to waterproof boats in the Middle East 6,000 years ago, extracting it in earnest began only in 1859 after an oil strike in Pennsylvania. The first barrels of crude fetched $18 (around $450 at today’s prices). It was used to make kerosene, the main fuel for artificial lighting after overfishing led to a shortage of whale blubber. Other liquids produced in the refining process, too unstable or smoky for lamplight, were burned or dumped. But the unwanted petrol and diesel did not go to waste for long, thanks to the development of the internal-combustion engine a few years later”.

The writer adds, “With billions of Chinese and Indians growing richer and itching to get behind the wheel of a car, the big oil companies, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and America’s Energy Information Administration all predict that demand will keep on rising. One of the oil giants, Britain’s BP, reckons it will grow from 89m b/d now to 104m b/d by 2030”.

Indeed, these figures, although merely projections seem reasonable. The world’s population will contine to grow until about 2050 when it will peak and is thereafter expected to decline. Howwever, before that happens whole continents, notable Africa and Asia will presumably be the primary drivers of demand along with the US as Europe, and the EU, continue to stagnate and decline, both in terms of population and as a share of the world’s economic output.

The article continues, “We believe that they are wrong, and that oil is close to a peak. This is not the ‘peak oil’ widely discussed several years ago, when several theorists, who have since gone strangely quiet, reckoned that supply would flatten and then fall. We believe that demand, not supply, could decline. In the rich world oil demand has already peaked: it has fallen since 2005. Even allowing for all those new drivers in Beijing and Delhi, two revolutions in technology will dampen the world’s thirst for the black stuff. The first revolution was led by a Texan who has just died (see article). George Mitchell championed “fracking” as a way to release huge supplies of “unconventional” gas from shale beds. This, along with vast new discoveries of conventional gas, has recently helped increase the world’s reserves from 50 to 200 years. In America, where thanks to Mr Mitchell shale gas already billows from the ground, liquefied or compressed gas is finding its way into the tanks of lorries, buses and local-delivery vehicles. Gas could also replace oil in ships, power stations, petrochemical plants and domestic and industrial heating systems, and thus displace a few million barrels of oil a day by 2020″.

The second revolution that article mentions is “in automotive technology. Rapid advances in engine and vehicle design also threaten oil’s dominance. Foremost is the efficiency of the internal-combustion engine itself. Petrol and diesel engines are becoming ever more frugal. The materials used to make cars are getting lighter and stronger. The growing popularity of electric and hybrid cars, as well as vehicles powered by natural gas or hydrogen fuel cells, will also have an effect on demand for oil. Analysts at Citi, a bank, calculate that if the fuel-efficiency of cars and trucks improves by an average of 2.5% a year it will be enough to constrain oil demand; they predict that a peak of less than 92m b/d will come in the next few years. Ricardo, a big automotive engineer, has come to a similar conclusion”.

The piece argues that Asia and Africa are becoming more efficient and as a result could leapforg Europe and North America into a post oil age.

He goes on to write that there are a “couple of countervailing factors could kick in to increase consumption. First, the Saudis, who control 11% of output and have the most spare capacity, may decide to push out more, lowering prices and thus increasing demand. Then again, they might cut production to try to raise prices, thereby lowering demand further. Second, if declining demand pushes down the oil price, drivers may turn back to gas-guzzling cars, as they did when oil was cheap in the 1990s. But tightening emissions standards should make that harder in future. If the demand for oil merely stabilises, it will have important consequences. The environment should fare a little better. Gas vehicles emit less carbon dioxide than equivalent petrol-powered ones. The corporate pecking order will change, too. Currently, Exxon Mobil vies with Apple as the world’s biggest listed company. Yet Exxon and the other oil supermajors are more vulnerable than they look (see article). Bernstein, a research firm, reckons that new barrels of oil from the Arctic or other technologically (or politically) demanding environments now cost $100 to extract. Big Oil can still have a decent future as Big Gas, but that will not prove as profitable”.

It ends, “if America is heading towards shale-powered energy self-sufficiency, it is unlikely to be as indulgent in future towards the Arab allies it propped up in the past. In its rise, oil has fuelled many conflicts. It may continue to do so as it falls. For all that, most people will welcome the change”.

“Worst wave”

14/08/2013

A series of bomb attacks killed at least 22 people across Iraq on Monday, part of the country’s worst wave of violence in around five years.  At least 16 people died and 41 others were injured when a suicide bomber targeted a crowded cafe in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad. Two roadside bombs – one planted near a playground and another near a school – also killed six people and wounded dozens, some of them children, in the town of Muqdadiya, 50 miles northeast of the capital.  Those blasts underlined a shift in tactics by suspected Islamist militants, who are increasingly targeting not only military checkpoints and marketplaces, but also cafes and recreational areas used by families and children”.

Ignoring the alternatives

14/08/2013

A article by James Traub, challenges those who support the Army/SCAF over those who support the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He opens his piece arguing that “Of all the dreadful features of Egypt’s coup — or second revolution, if you prefer — the one which has left me feeling most discouraged is the almost universal embrace by the country’s liberal activists of the principle that rule by the military is preferable to rule by elected Islamists — even if that means crushing the Muslim Brotherhood as brutally as the government of Hosni Mubarak once crushed the liberals themselves (and the Brotherhood). A recent report by the International Crisis Group cites a senior member of the left-leaning Social Democratic party on just this Faustian bargain: ‘The new mindset is that ‘yes,’ Islamists may get radicalised, but we are ready to confront that and pay the cost of it…. The state apparatus is willing to deal with a cycle of violence rather than surrender its control over the state.'”

Traub goes on to write that “How can we account for a ‘new mindset’ which looks so utterly self-destructive? If the secular and civil organs of the state — the bureaucracy, the police, the army — had, in fact, surrendered control to the government of President Mohamed Morsy, liberals might have had good reason to reach the paradoxical conclusion that only military force could restore democratic order. But of course that wasn’t so. Morsy ruled with contemptuous indifference to the political opposition, but made very few inroads on the state apparatus, which resisted him to the last”.

Traub is very quick to judge the people of Egypt and seems to have entirely forgotten how bad Morsi was, from his views on Jewish people to spats with the judiciary to his dictatorial policies to say nothing of his economic incompetence and intolerance to other religious minorities that he did nothing to allay their fears as well as his dangerous paranoia. Therefore to say that the ousting of Morsi was “utterly self-destructive” is grossly unfair and ignores what came before.

He rightly argues that “What happened in Egypt was not a second “revolution” against authoritarian rule but a mass repudiation of Muslim Brotherhood rule. This contagion has spread rapidly to Tunisia, where the Brotherhood party — Ennahda — has been far more conscious than was Morsy’s Freedom and Justice Party of the limits of its mandate, ruling in a coalition with two secular parties and soft-pedaling controversial provisions in the proposed new constitution. Yet tens of thousands of Tunisians have taken to the streets in recent days to shout the same slogans against the government that they did against the hated tyrant Zine El Abidine Ben-Ali. If the government doesn’t fall, precipitating a profound crisis of authority, it will only be because Rachid Ghannouchi, Ennahda’s leader, is prepared to make compromises that Morsi would not abide”.

He continues that “Mass disaffection with new democratic regimes which fail to deliver prosperity or stability is common, and sometimes leads either to an outright coup, as happened recently in Mali, or to the restoration of the ancien regime through an election, as in Ukraine. But that’s not what happened in Egypt, where the same forces that overthrew a military dictator deposed the dictator’s democratically elected replacement. Egypt’s path has, in effect, imparted a democratic gloss to a military crackdown. The army and police have killed several hundred protestors, some of them assassination-style. After a massacre of 83 civilians, the interior minister announced that he was restoring Mubarak’s hated secret police”.

The only reason people supported the Army was that it was the least bad option rather than for any support of Morsi and his band of followers.

He ends the piece “He was a bad president, and an increasingly unpopular one. But nations with no historical experience of democracy do not usually get an effective or liberal-minded ruler the first time around. Elections give citizens a chance to try again. With a little bit of patience, the opposition could have defeated Morsy peacefully. Instead, by colluding in the banishment of the Brotherhood from political life, they are about to replace one tyranny of the majority with another. And since many Islamists, now profoundly embittered, will not accept that new rule, the new tyranny of the majority will have to be more brutally enforced than the old one”.

He concludes, “Perhaps we in the West were confused by the word ‘liberal,’ which we associate with a tolerant and dispassionate attitude towards difference. That kind of attitude presupposes a sense of confidence about the world, and about the political marketplace, which Arab publics have very little reason to feel. When the stakes feel truly dire, as they do in Egypt, liberalism itself can become a form of zealotry. This is the dark place in which Egypt now finds itself”.

Admitting there is a problem

14/08/2013

“Although the ‘war against terror’ was imposed on the country after the attacks in the United States in Sept 2001, it had now turned into ‘a battle for survival of Pakistan’, the interior minister said in Quetta on Sunday. “The entire nation should be on the same page in the `war against terror’ as it has now become a battle for survival of Pakistan even though it was imposed on us,” Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said at a press conference after chairing a meeting on law and order. He said the fight against terrorists would continue under a “comprehensive national security policy” to be unveiled soon. The army would provide 5,000 sub-machine guns (SMGs) to Balochistan and start a training programme for police on an emergency basis, the minister added.He said that despite recent terrorist attacks, the morale of security forces was high and they were ready to take the fight to terrorists. The meeting reviewed the law and order situation in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in the province”.

“Not universally bleak”

14/08/2013

An interesting article notes how the revolution in Libya is stuttering and coming up against further difficulties.

The piece begins “This month, Libya marks the second anniversary of the liberation of Tripoli and the fall of the regime of Muammar Qaddafi with the country mired in chaos: Militia violence stalks the land, strikes threaten to cripple the oil industry, jihadist violence is on the rise in the east and economic stagnation is everywhere. The promised constitution, the cornerstone of the reform process, has failed to materialize, with politicians deadlocked both over the role of Sharia law and bitter regional rivalries. It is a picture that few in this oil-rich nation would have predicted in the heady days of revolutionary euphoria”.

It goes on to make the point “The Road Map made a bright start when Libya held its first free elections for more than half a century, more or less on schedule, in July 2012. Turnout was high and violence low; election observers lined-up to pronounce it free and fair. The voting took place amid scenes of euphoria. Those tricolour flags once again filled the streets.The elections also brought a surprise defeat for the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been victorious in Libya’s neighbours and fellow Arab Spring participants, Egypt and Tunisia. The Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party polled only ten percent of the votes, beaten into second place by the National Forces Alliance (NFA), an unlikely coupling of former rebels and former Qaddafi supporters, united in their determination to keep the Brotherhood out. The Brotherhood suffered from the lack of a tribal base, and because in this conservative Islamic country, there is suspicion towards any party claiming a monopoly on interpreting the faith”.

The writer adds that “But by the time the GNC met in September to elect a prime minister, Jibril’s alliance had fractured, with liberals and civil rights groups accusing him of siding with the apparatus of the former regime. On September 12, with the country distracted by the killing of the U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi the day before, he narrowly lost the contest for prime minister to Mustafa Abushagur, a U.S.-educated former dissident more popular with the former rebels”.

As often happens the country went from one extreme to the other, “Keen to ensure all groups in a tribal society were represented, the architects of the new congress, with much prodding from a United Nations support team, contrived to keep parties weak and independents strong. Just 80 seats were allocated to the parties, with 120 to independents. It is a structure that is highly representative, but also problematic for coalition building; the NFA has 39 seats, the Justice and Construction Party 17, with the balance made up of an alphabet soup of small parties and individuals creating ever-changing alliances”.

The result was predictably, chaos. With no one party being able to govern effectively. The piece goes on to mention somewhat depressingly, that “The prime minister’s problems began once he entered office. Foreign diplomats urged him to avoid the mistake the Americans made in Iraq, where de-Baathification created a large and powerful force outside government. Instead, Zeidan co-opted former members of the Qaddafi regime, keeping most bureaucrats in their places. The price of this policy was to sow distrust among the rebels. Libya’s revolution was one of the periphery against the center. It was led by the militias of Benghazi, Misrata, and Zintan, and ended not with Tripoli rising up, but with the city being captured by those militias, hugely aided by NATO bombings”.

He writes that the problems that faced the Zeidan was almost endless, “Libya’s violence has different dynamics in each of its two main provinces. In western Tripolitania, where most people live, the guns never properly fell silent. The divisions of war continued on into the time of peace, with score settling between those militias and tribes who backed the rebellion, and those who opposed it. Last November the former rebels of Misrata, the most powerful army in Libya, launched a full-scale offensive, backed by the government, to smash former-Qaddafi elements clustered in the desert town of Bani Walid. Elsewhere in the province, it is smuggling rather than politics that causes the violence. Militia gangs battle for the trade in petrol and weapons heading out of the country and immigrants and drugs heading into it. Cyrenaica, in the east, has violence from a different source, in the shape of Islamist militias. Benghazi, its capital, was the cradle of the revolution, with the whole province joining the rebels within 100 hours. Among the rebels that swept to power two years ago were Islamists who had been suppressed by Qaddafi. They played an important part in the revolutionary war, and since then have battled government forces intermittently to keep their own vision of an Islamic state alive. Islamists don’t merely an Islamic state — Libya is already almost 100 percent Sunni Muslim — but one where imams, rather than a secular parliament, hold sway. For many of them, those best qualified to steer the country along the right path are the most learned — the Islamic scholars and imams. Relying on the less schooled population to choose their leaders through elections seems to some Islamists rather like the sheep leading the shepherd”.

He goes on to argue cogently that “All of this left the economy on its knees. Few government ministries have reception desks or press offices. Obtaining information from, for instance, the Justice Ministry, requires turning up in person at the gate and hoping a guard has the phone number for a minister’s aide. Libya has no railway, no public bus service, no postal system, and weak or non-existent commercial law. An added complication for Zeidan is that he has inherited a bureaucracy with neither the skills nor the inclination to embrace modernisation. Corruption under Qaddafi was the norm. Trying to introduce a new set of values was an uphill battle. It was a battle made worse by Zeidan’s slender grip on power. His party in congress, the National Front, holds just three seats, giving him no political constituency. As a new year dawned, the twin ills of violence and stagnation became intertwined”.

Even worse he writes that the commission to write a new constitution got bogged down not in the debates but in the structure of the commission. This alone should send a dangerous signal that without a fresh start to govern effectively the country has little hope of surmounting the other obstacles such as the corruption and lack of basic infrastructure among the other hurdles. He goes on to add that “While all Libyans consider themselves patriots, the gulf between the three provinces, Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan is wide. Tripolitania has two thirds of the population, but this fuels resentment in the other two provinces that they are being neglected. When it came to designing a constitution, members of Fezzan and Cyrenaica demanded the constitutional commission be split 20-20-20. Tripolitanians in turn complained this left them under-represented”.

Worse still he writes and hope of national unity seems to founder on the rocks of an intense tirbalism, “It doesn’t help that the populations in Cyrenaica and Tripolitania are widely separated by hundreds of miles of desert with only a single road linking them. The mutual suspicion that divides the regions is overlaid by distrust breaking along tribal lines. Libya’s tribes are not political entities, in the sense that they have no overarching leaders, but they operate as an extended family, with obligations to help fellow members and a consequent distrust of other tribes”.

He ends the piece on a note of quasi optomism, “The picture for Libya is not universally bleak. On February 17, the country saw unprecedented celebrations to mark the second anniversary of the start of the revolution. Tens of thousands of milling crowds filled the streets across the land, waving their tricolors. It’s a unique paradox of post-revolutionary Libya; division at the top is countered by a broad consensus among the population that a united, democratic Libya is the way forward”.

After releasing prisoners

14/08/2013

Israel‘s latest announcement of more than 900 new illegal settlement units in occupied East Jerusalem “threatens” talks with the Palestinians, a senior Palestinian official has said.The units in Gilo, near the Palestinian town of Beit Jala, are in addition to the 1,200 settlement homes approved by Israel on Sunday. “This settlement expansion is unprecedented,” said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said on Tuesday. “It threatens to make talks fail even before they’ve started.” But on Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the recent flap over illegal settlement announcements likely would not derail talks, which are scheduled to resume this week”.

Trying to fix their mistake

12/08/2013

An news article in the Daily Telegraph describes how China is rolling back on its ill fated one child policy.  It begins “The official news agency Xinhua reported that the Family Planning Commission is studying proposals to lift the ban on a second child, if either parent is an only child. The body’s spokesman said aim is to ‘improve’ family policy, confirming leaks to Chinese newspapers that a major shift is in the works. The new rules are expected to come into force early next year, and may be extended to cover all families by 2015”.

It goes on to write “Jun Ma from Deutsche Bank said the new policies should shore up the pension system and inject stimulus as China’s growth sputters. ‘As tens of millions of sibling-less people in China are now entering their child-bearing age, we expect this policy shift would induce a baby boom,’ he said.The one-child policy dates back to 1971 in its original form and has led to 336m abortions and 222m sterilisations, often badly executed in poor regions. Recent abuses have caused uproar, with photos circulating on the internet of a young mother lying beside a fully formed baby after she had been seized by police for failing to pay the “social compensation fee” for an illegal child. She was forced to undergo an abortion just before her natural birth”.

Interestingly, the piece gives worthwhile context, “The policy has always been a patchwork of measures. Ethnic minorities are exempted. Farmers are allowed a second child if the first is a girl. The urban middle class can usually pay the fine, barely enforced in Shanghai where fertility rates are collapsing for other reasons. The shift in policy may come too late to avert an ageing shock. The workforce shrank by 3m last year, an inflection point that has come sooner than expected. The International Monetary Fund said the working age population will soon go into “precipitous decline”. The “reserve army” of rural poor looking for work peaked in 2010 at around 150m. This surplus will disappear soon after 2020. The IMF said there will be a labour shortage of almost 140m workers by the early 2030s with ‘far-reaching implications'”.

Demographers say it is unclear whether a two-child policy will set off a baby boom. Fertility rates plunged in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong as they became richer, due to a complex interplay of culture and economics.

China is unique in growing old before it is rich, but this may not be a bad thing. Lauren Johnston from Peking University said it was better to get a demographic crisis out the way early. Baby boomers in the West and Japan have swept through like a “plague of locusts”, leaving the next generation to cover a colossal debt burden and gilded pensions. “It is much worse to get rich first. What gets left behind is crumbs,” she said.

“Postponed once again”

12/08/2013

The Egyptian police appeared on Monday to have postponed once again their threat to begin choking off two Cairo sit-ins where tens of thousands have gathered to protest the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, leaving in place a tense six-week-old standoff. The new military-appointed government has promised for more than a week to use all necessary force to clear out the sit-ins, which were established by Mr. Morsi’s Islamist allies in the Muslim Brotherhood upon his ouster on July 3. But so far, a combination of external pressure from Western powers and internal dissent from liberal cabinet ministers appears to have persuaded Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the officer who ordered the takeover, to hold off decisive action”.

Terrorist revolutions?

10/08/2013

There has been much discussion on the Arab revolutions with some arguing plausibly that they are turned from great hope to almost a total disaster.

None, so far have argued that terrorists have gained the most, until now. A piece argues that al Qaeda have gained the most from the revolutions, though it may be too soon to drawn this judgement completely.

He begins his piece “The unprecedented closure of 19 U.S. embassies in response to a communications intercept that allegedly featured al Qaeda leaders planning major operations against American targets has rekindled old debates about whether the terror organisation is effectively dead, or stronger than ever. That isn’t the right question to ask, though — and misses what really must happen in the Middle East to weaken al Qaeda”.

He adds that “The early Arab uprisings offered a glimpse of precisely how al Qaeda could ultimately be defeated. The successful popular uprisings against authoritarian secular regimes left little space for a would-be revolutionary vanguard. That Islamists of various stripes participated in those uprisings should be seen as a slap in the face to al Qaeda’s claims to leadership. While bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and many Salafi-jihadist writers tried to put a brave face on it, the reality was that al Qaeda struggled enormously to justify its stances in the early days of the Arab uprisings. Had the revolutions led to successful democratic transitions, the blow to al Qaeda could well have been fatal. Its own base would have remained committed to the cause and local groups could have carried out occasional attacks — but it would have likely found itself increasingly unable to win over new recruits or spread its ideas into the broader population”.

He goes on to argue “The failure of most of the Arab uprisings has therefore been an extraordinary gift to al Qaeda. It has restored the potency of the terror organisation’s arguments, while the distraction or disintegration of state security agencies has given it more space to operate. The shift to armed insurgency in Syria galvanized its moribund global jihad. The spectacular collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood badly weakened its most powerful Islamist rival. It has found unprecedented new opportunities to reposition itself within the turbulent, hyperactive new Arab politics”.

However, this overlooks the position of Tunisia and Libya. The obvious case for his argument is Syria but at the same time he cannot say, yet that the group has taken control of any of these countries conclusively. That is not to say that they do not wish to but simply that this has not occurred. His argument is therefore more about the context than anything else.

He does mention correctly, that “While Yemen and Libya get most of the attention in the U.S. debate about a resurgent al Qaeda, the chaos in Egypt and Syria have actually been its two greatest force multipliers. Egypt’s military coup has likely finished off the idea that Islamists could achieve their moral or political aspirations through democratic political participation for a generation. Even before the coup, the Muslim Brotherhood’s disastrous experience in power had already soured many Islamist-oriented Arabs on democracy. Jihadist denunciations of the emptiness of the promises of democracy now practically write themselves. The Egyptian military’s crushing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was al Qaeda’s strongest competitor in the arena of Islamist politics, is also a boon to the jihadist movement. A weaker Brotherhood — which has lost confidence in its own ideas and leaders — will be a much weaker firewall against the more extreme groups. The crude anti-Islamist rhetoric that has seized Egypt since the coup, which equates the Brotherhood and al Qaeda as terrorists, blurs the line between the two groups to al Qaeda’s benefit. These effects could be mitigated by a political deal that allows the Brotherhood to remain invested in public life — but if Egypt’s new regime pushes ahead with efforts to fully crush the Brotherhood, as now seems likely, the effects will be even more profound”.

The piece concludes, “Egypt and Syria have therefore helped to galvanise a movement that had been facing profound, nearly existential challenges. The emergence of local movements, such as the Ansar al-Sharia branches across North Africa, attest to the ability of Salafi-jihadists to learn from their mistakes and adapt to new opportunities. Al Qaeda and like-minded movements have not had a better opportunity to appeal to a broader Arab audience since the first years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The Middle East has changed dramatically over the past several years — and al Qaeda has changed, too”.

A comeback no one asked for

10/08/2013

Several Tea Party-backed GOP candidates who lost Senate races in the recent past are contemplating comebacks this fall. But, this time around, they could face even steeper climbs than they did in their initial quests. Ken Buck has said he is ready to try again to win a Senate seat in Colorado. Christine O’Donnell and Joe Miller are also considering bids in Delaware and Alaska. Back in 2010, Buck and O’Donnell fell to Democrats Michael Bennet and Chris Coons, respectively. Miller vanquished sitting Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the primary that same year, only for her to take revenge by winning the general election as a write-in candidate”.

Seeing no threat

10/08/2013

Terrorism has been discussed here before and a part of the reason for it has been already noted. However the terrorist problem in Pakistan has been particularly violent, partly as a direct result of the ISI and partly because the state is locked in a dangerous paranoia with India.

A blog post discusses another reason why Pakistan is so caught up in the terrorist network. He writes that “Almost 12 years after it joined the rest of the world in fighting terrorism, Pakistan still remains uncomfortable with the idea of confronting the terrorists. Pakistani politicians, clerics, and journalists see terrorism only as a consequence of their country’s alliance with the West, not as Pakistan’s problem to handle.  The high alert in Islamabad follows the recent jailbreak in the country’s northwestern city of Dera Ismail Khan. On July 29, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an al-Qaeda ally, freed 253 prisoners, including 45 top terrorists, after storming a high-security prison. Besides five of the attackers, 24 people were killed, including 12 policemen, 4 prisoners, and 3 civilians. But the brazen attack remained the top story in the country’s media for barely a few hours. Squabbling among Pakistan’s politicians over electing a figurehead president garnered greater attention. Soon after, the antics of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which accused populist cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan of contempt of court, became the focus of the nation’s media attention. Interestingly, Khan’s political party rules the Khyber-Pahtunkhwa province where the jailbreak took place”.

He makes the point that “many Pakistanis remain unconvinced that terrorism must be fought as the greatest threat facing them. It’s odd that this confusion about national priorities persists as at least 5,152 Pakistani civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda and its associated groups since 2008, while the total number of Pakistanis killed by terrorism and the military’s effort to fight it since 2001 stands at 49,000. The Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak could have been averted if lessons had been learnt from an earlier attack almost a year ago on the Bannu Central jail in southern Khyber-Pahtunkhwa province. Around 400 prisoners were freed by over 200 heavily armed Taliban fighters during that assault. In Bannu, the Taliban attacked with 150 suicide bombers and took over the area for more than two hours. Their goal was to set some of their imprisoned comrades free. The Bannu Central jail was located on the outskirts of the city whereas the Dera Ismail Khan jail was centrally located in the heart of the city”.

He correctly adds that “The Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak was one in a series of attacks on prisons, which Interpol suspects involve al-Qaeda. But so far, no Pakistani official has been held accountable for the incident and there has been no public discussion of the inside help the Taliban might have received. Among those freed from both the Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan prisons were several former military and law enforcement personnel who had sided with the Taliban or al-Qaeda in the past, but there seems to be little effort to figure out the extent of the terrorist groups’ penetration of Pakistan’s security services. Over the last year, several U.S. government officials and counterterrorism experts declared that al-Qaeda had been greatly weakened and was no longer a major threat to the United States and its allies; however, recent intelligence about a major threat from the group has revived concern about its rejuvenation. The U.S. reaction to this threat was the immediate temporary closure of dozens of its diplomatic missions in the Middle East and North Africa. In Pakistan, the government’s response has been restricted to the show of force in Islamabad”.

He ends the piece “The claims of victory against al-Qaeda were premature, and the U.S. embassy closures may be the starting point of re-thinking the group’s capacity for carrying out attacks. But in Pakistan’s case, there is still no willingness to recognise that fighting terrorism must be the country’s number one priority. Directly after the Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak and the Islamabad high alert, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif left the country for Saudi Arabia for a non-obligatory religious pilgrimage”.

“The fifth attack”

10/08/2013

Missile-armed drone aircraft launched the fifth attack on suspected al-Qaeda militants in Yemen within 72 hours, as the U.S. stepped up raids after closing its embassy and warning Americans to leave the country. The drone killed three people in a vehicle in Ghail Bawazeer region, according to the al-Sahwa news website of the opposition Islamist Islah party, which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. At least 22 suspected militants have been killed since Aug. 6, according to a tally from reports on the website. The strikes come as the U.S., Britain and other Western countries closed their missions in Yemen and told citizens to leave, while Yemeni authorities said on Aug. 7 they had foiled an al-Qaeda plot to seize port facilities. The Obama administration is keeping 19 embassies and consulates closed because “a threat still remains” from al-Qaeda affiliates, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday”.

Still the oil king

10/08/2013

An article in Foreign Policy has argued, somewhat counterintutively that American energy independence that has been predicted will not be as complete as many argue.

He writes that “Reading the newspapers these days, you’d think that the much-hyped impending American energy boom is about to make Saudi Arabia and the rest of OPEC irrelevant. Recent projections by the International Energy Agency (IEA), for example, have the United States surpassing Saudi Arabia as the world’s top crude oil producer by 2020, a development that would appear to call into question the kingdom’s role as the world’s strategic energy provider. But such projections — based, at least in part, on the rapid discovery and development of unconventional hydrocarbon resources in the United States — are far from ironclad”.

Interestingly he goes on to write that “the IEA’s chief economist, Fatih Birol, noted in November 2012, ‘light, tight oil reserves are poorly known… If no new resources are discovered around the world and plus, if the prices are not as high as today, then we may see Saudi Arabia coming back and being the first producer again.’ The U.S. Energy Information Administration, meanwhile, predicts that U.S. crude oil production will peak in 2020, placing the United States 47 percent below the IEA’s projections. Thanks in no small part to new hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies, “tight,” unconventional oil trapped in rock and sand beds is becoming more and more accessible. These improved production methods are having a major impact on the U.S. energy supply, contributing to a 43 percent increase in U.S. oil production since 2008″.

He goes on to mention that “Many questions remain unanswered about the U.S. unconventional oil story that could have long-term, transformative effects on global oil markets. For example, global demand would have to decline substantially — especially in emerging Asia — in order for U.S. supplies to become omnipotent. The impact of the U.S. unconventional story hasn’t depressed oil prices, which have been fairly resilient to date. Moreover, the IEA’s expectation that North America will become a net oil exporter by around 2030 depends on how much crude oil is produced not just in the United States but also in Canada and Mexico. Under the IEA’s highly optimistic forecast, the United States might surpass Saudi Arabia in liquids — though not crude oil — production for a brief period”.

He warns America that “another reason to be skeptical of the projected impact of unconventional oil in the United States is the sharp decline rate of shale oil fields. More than 80 percent of American tight oil production comes from two sources: the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana and the Eagle Ford formation in southern Texas. But decline from a typical Bakken well is steep, with production slumping to one fifth of its original rate within 24 months. The Eagle Ford wells, meanwhile, could reach the end of their economically useful life within four years. As a result, oil guru and hedge fund manager Andy Hall recently predictedthat U.S. shale discoveries will boost production only temporarily and that oil prices will remain high. Saudi Arabia’s role as the most reliable global oil supplier, meanwhile, is unquestionable”.

He strengthens his argument further when he writes that “Currently, Saudi Arabia has a total capacity of 12.5 million barrels per day, and between 2.5 and 3.5 bpd in spare capacity to meet global energy and supply shortage needs. Saudi Arabia accounts for over 50 percent of global spare production capacity. In other words, U.S. shale oil is far from displacing Saudi Arabia’s role as the world’s de facto strategic petroleum reserve”.

The author balances his article noting that Saudi Arabia has problems as well, “But the future of the kingdom hinges on its ability to curb its domestic appetite for energy. That oil bears the brunt of government and export revenues is undeniable. Encouragingly, however, the contribution of oil to the country’s GDP is falling — from 65 percent in 1973 to under 30 percent last year. Still, Saudi Arabia will have to cut down on domestic consumption in order to preserve its export capacity”. Indeed some have predicted that by 2038, if current trends continue the kingdom will have to begin importing oil.

He writes that Saudi Arabia is implementing efficiencies in its consumption with public transport and other related measures to slow the rate of domestic consumption but at the same time he argues, “But time is running out for reforms. According to Fitch Ratings, Saudi Arabia’s breakeven oil price, the price at which oil revenues cover the cost of expenditures, has spikedfrom just over $40 per barrel in 2008 to $76 per barrel in 2012. And if public spending continues to rise at the present clip, the breakeven price will soar to unsustainable levels. Saudi Arabia could curtail expenditure at a breakeven price of $50 per barrel and still address all its public sector wage obligations and adhere to a conservative spending program”.

The article ends, “The U.S. energy boom is positive and transformative for all, but unlikely to power a shift from a global energy scarcity to a paradigm of plenty”.

“Specific threats”

10/08/2013

The U.S. government ordered the evacuation of non-essential staff from its consulate in the northeastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Friday due to the threat of attack, with the State Department also warning U.S. citizens not to travel to Pakistan. ‘The Department of State ordered this drawdown due to specific threats concerning the U.S. consulate in Lahore,’ said a travel warning posted on the Department of State’s website on Thursday.

In conjuction with

08/08/2013

With the recent problems over the embassy closures and  drone strikes in Yemen the country is back on America’s terrorist radar.

An article now argues that Yemen has been “lost” almost in the same way that China was supposedly “lost” in the 1950s. The piece opens,  “For much of the past four years the United States has been firing missiles into Yemen. Drones, ships, and planes have all taken part in the bombardment, carrying out at least 75 strikes — including an alleged drone attack that killed five on the night of Monday, Aug. 5, bringing the death toll to a minimum of 600 souls, according to the best estimates. for all that, for all the strikes and all the dead, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) continues to attract more members, growing from 300 in 2009 to well over a thousand today. U.S. officials almost invariably refer to it as the most dangerous branch of al Qaeda’s network, a designation that has remained constant since the United States started bombing Yemen in 2009. And the group, as the ongoing terrorism alert that has closed U.S. embassies has shown in dramatic fashion, remains capable of paralysing U.S. diplomatic efforts across an entire region”.

The answer as to America is losing Yemen he says, “is simple, if rather disheartening: Faulty assumptions and a mistaken focus paired with a resilient, adaptive enemy have created a serious problem for the United States. Part of the U.S. approach to fighting AQAP is based on what worked for the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where drone strikes have decimated what is often called al Qaeda’s core (though as al Qaeda’s strength moves back toward the Arab world, analysts will need to start rethinking old categories). Unfortunately, not all lessons are transportable. This means that the United States is fighting the al Qaeda that was, instead of the al Qaeda that is”.

He goes on to argue that the use of drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan worked due to the fact that “In Afghanistan and Pakistan, al Qaeda was largely a group of Arabs in nonArab countries. In Yemen, al Qaeda is made up mostly of Yemenis living in Yemen”.

It would be naive however to totally dismiss the use of drones in Yemen. As has been argued elsewhere they are extremely effective but his point that an over-reliance on them can be damaging is certainly valid.

He argues that “This has two key implications for the United States. First, new recruits no longer need to travel abroad to receive specialised training. For years, men like Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the head of AQAP and the man believed by U.S. officials to be recently promoted to al Qaeda’s global deputy, had to spend time in training camps in Afghanistan to acquire the requisite experience. But since AQAP has developed its own network in Yemen, that is no longer the case. Now young Yemenis who want to join al Qaeda can study with Ibrahim al-Asiri, the group’s top bombmaker, without ever leaving home”.

That is why signature strikes by drones are such an effective, short term weapon in removing those with this knowledge. The danger is that the problems that affect Yemenis are not addressed in the medium to long term.

He makes the valid point that “The second drawback to assuming that what worked in one place would automatically work in another is what Yemenis call thar, or revenge a concept the United States appears to have overlooked in Yemen. The men that the United States is killing in Yemen are tied to the local society in a way that many of the fighters in Afghanistan never were. They may be al Qaeda members, but they are also fathers and sons, brothers and cousins, tribesmen and clansmen with friends and relatives. The United States can target and kill someone as a terrorist, only to have Yemenis take up arms to defend him as a tribesman. In time, many of these men are drawn to al Qaeda not out of any shared sense of ideology, but rather out of a desire to get revenge on the country that killed their fellow tribesman”.

He ends the piece “The Obama administration’s counterterrorism approach in Yemen is primarily concerned with preventing an immediate attack directed at America or its interests in the Middle East. This is a short-term goal that eclipses everything else, from longterm strategy to the stability of Yemen itself. The United States has yet to realize that this is not a war it can win on its own. Only the tribesmen and clerics in Yemen are in a position to decisively disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda. The United States can do a lot of good in Yemen, but it can also do a lot of harm. And right now it is playing a dangerous game, firing missiles at targets in the hopes that it can kill enough men to keep AQAP from plotting, planning, and launching an attack from Yemen”.

The problem therefore is not drones per se, but rather not using drones in conjunction with other tools on the ground to better the people’s lives and make it in their interests to work with America to bring stability to their country thereby helping America at the same time.

Mediation fails

08/08/2013

Egypt’s political crisis entered a tense phase on Wednesday after international mediation efforts collapsed and the army-installed government repeated its threat to take action against supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi. Both sides called their supporters on to the streets on Thursday, while Mursi supporters in two protest camps in Cairo strengthened sandbag-and-brick barricades in readiness for any action by security forces. Acting President Adli Mansour, in a message on the eve of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday, said Egypt was in critical circumstances. The interim government would press on with its own plan to hold new elections in nine months, he said. “The train of the future has departed, and everyone must realize the moment and catch up with it, and whoever fails to realize this moment must take responsibility for their decision,” he said. U.S. envoy William Burns headed home after days of trying to broker a compromise between the government and Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood. European Union envoy Bernardino Leon stayed on in the capital in the slim hope of reviving the effort”.