Archive for September, 2015

Russia-US talks on Syria

29/09/2015

A report in Foreign Policy notes that in his UN speech yesterday opens the door to a possible US-Iran-Russia deal in Syria “President Barack Obama said Monday he is willing to work with two longtime military foes — Russia and Iran — to end nearly five years of civil war in Syria but stood firm on U.S. demands that President Bashar al-Assad give up power as a necessary pathway to peace. Obama’s olive branch was the flip side of the uncomfortable new reality he now faces in Syria and Shiite-led states in the Mideast. Russia, one of Assad’s longest and strongest benefactors, is boosting its military forces in Syria and doing so with the aid of Iran and even Iraq — a nation the United States has tried to turn into a reliable democratic ally”.

The report notes that “In a lengthy address to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama made it clear that the rise of the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, has overtaken the removal of Assad as America’s primary national security goal in Syria. He conceded that resolving the crisis would require all the international players, presumably including the United States, to make painful compromises for peace. “Realism dictates that compromise will be required to end the fighting and stomp out ISIL,” he said. “But realism also requires a managed transition away from Assad into a new leader and an inclusive government that recognizes there must be an end to the chaos.” Over the last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin has deployed fighter jets, attack helicopters, and Russian forces to Syria to shore up Assad”.

The article mentions that “For weeks, Russian diplomats signaled hope that Obama and Putin would meet during the summit, a proposal that was greeted with U.S. skepticism. However, last week, U.S. officials announced the meeting would occur and focus primarily on Ukraine and Russia’s responsibility in fostering a cease-fire there. But Moscow has its own plans. Kremlin officials said Monday’s meeting would be on Syria, where Russia has sought to assert itself more aggressively diplomatically and militarily”.

Interestingly the article mentions “Over the weekend, Iraq caught the Obama administration by surprise, announcing an intelligence-sharing agreement with Iran and Russia to coordinate military operations against the Islamic State and other extremist organisations. The move comes as the West announced its own plans to step up military activities in Syria. On Sunday, French President François Hollande announced that French fighter jets had carried out their first airstrikes against a purported Islamic State training camp near Deir al-Zor. Speaking to reporters Sunday at U.N. headquarters, Hollande said France would not send ground forces into Syria. But he defended France’s entry into the conflict, saying it was acting in self-defense to stop Syria-based extremists from planning attacks against France”.

 

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“Executed nine men and a boy it accused of being gay”

29/09/2015

The Islamic State jihadist group executed nine men and a boy it accused of being gay in central and northern Syria on Monday, a monitoring group said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the jihadists shot dead seven men in Rastan, a town in Homs province of central Syria, “after accusing them of being homosexual.” IS also executed two men and the boy in the town of Hreitan, in the northern province of Aleppo, for the same reason, said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. He said the executions were carried out in public, but that IS fighters destroyed any cameras that had been used to film the killings”.

Walt learns nothing

29/09/2015

Stephen Walt seems to have recanted his what could only be seen as isolationist views on Syria and the Middle East generally, “I spend a fair bit of time thinking about whether my diagnoses of key world events have been off the mark. (For examples of this sort of “self-criticism,” see here, here, and here.) I’ll stand by the vast majority of what I’ve written in my scholarly work and my FP commentary, but I find it useful — indeed, necessary — to occasionally ponder whether I got something wrong and, if so, to try to figure out why. Case in point: the increasingly awful situation in Syria. Ever since the initial protests broke out, I’ve believed this conflict was not of vital strategic interest to the United States and that overt U.S. intervention was likely to cause more harm than good. What has emerged since then is a relentless and gut-wrenching tragedy, but I’ve uncomfortably concluded that my original judgment was correct. And yet I continue to wonder”.

Walt seems to begin to separate the ability to do something and the Obama administration inept handling of it, “To be sure, the Obama administration has not handled Syria well at all. President Barack Obama erred when he jumped the gun in 2011 and insisted“Assad must go,” locking the United States into a maximalist position and foreclosing potential diplomatic solutions that might have saved thousands of lives. Second, Obama’s 2012 off-the-cuff remark about chemical weapons and “red lines” was a self-inflicted wound that didn’t help the situation and gave opponents a sound bite to use against him. The president wisely backed away from that position, however, and (with Russian help) eventually devised an arrangement that got rid of Assad’s chemical arsenal. This was no small achievement in itself, but the whole episode did not exactly inspire confidence. The administration eventually agreed to start a training program for anti-Assad forces, but did so with neither enthusiasm nor competence“.

Walt seems to grudgingly admit that “is it possible that those who called for swift U.S. intervention several years ago were right all along? If the United States, NATO, the Arab League, or some combination of the above had established a no-fly zone and stood ready to intervene with ground forces, might the Assad regime have fallen quickly and spared Syria and the world this bleak and open-ended disaster? Or might these steps have given outside powers greater leverage over the situation, put some serious teeth into the early diplomatic efforts, and made some sort of brokered political solution more likely? Maybe. We cannot replay the past to see where a different course of action would have led, but one cannot rule out a priori the possibility that a prompt, forceful, and committed international response would have produced a better outcome in Syria than what we observe today. If everything had gone just right, we might be viewing a pacified Syria as a big success story, much as proponents of humanitarian intervention now view NATO’s role in the Balkans in the 1990s”.

Walt sets his reader up for a change of mind but then seems to refuse to face the evidence, “I take no pleasure in my conclusions; it would be more comforting to think that even seemingly intractable problems can be solved”.

He argues that his refusal to change his mind is based on several points, the first of which is the limits of air power, “Proponents of “no-fly zones” typically exaggerate their impact and in so doing overstate the capacity of air power to determine political outcomes. The U.S. Air Force and U.S. naval air power can do a lot of impressive things, but air power remains a crude instrument and is not very good for controlling events on the ground. Remember that the United States operated “no-fly zones” over Iraq throughout the 1990s, and Saddam Hussein remained solidly in power until we invaded in 2003. Similarly, the United States has flown thousands of sorties in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade or so (not to mention drone strikes), and these efforts didn’t allow Washington to dictate terms to those on the ground or shape their political futures in any predictable way”.

Walt here is confusing the point of no-fly zones. They are not to overthrow regimes. They are largely humanitarian in purpose and are not intended to be offensive in nature. Thus the comparison to Iraq, and Walt’s underlying assumptions are not valid. He is correct to argue that air power can be overstated.

His point about a no fly zone being the first in a slippery slope is only partially true. The real question is what is the real purpose and strategy of what the United States is doing in Syria and Iraq.

The next point he raises “Losing power could open the door to violent retribution against the entire Alawite minority. Thus, the Assad regime had little choice but to “gamble for resurrection” — to fight on no matter how bleak things appeared and to use any and all methods to ensure they were still standing at the end of the day or at least were in a position to bargain for survival. Given these incentives, U.S. demands that “Assad must go” fell on deaf ears, and outside intervention (air power, no-fly zones, arms for rebels, etc.) weren’t likely to alter Assad’s calculations very much. The only possibility for ending the war quickly had to include leaving Assad in a defensible position, but the United States had ruled that (admittedly unappealing) option out from the start”.

On the point of terrorists in Syria he argues “To make matters worse, the most effective anti-Assad forces were precisely those groups the United States most feared. That’s the real lesson of Benghazi: Early U.S. intervention might have reproduced the Libyan disaster, reminding us that that only thing worse than a truly awful government is no government at all”.

Here Walt draws a false dichotomy. His suggestion is to leave Assad in power for fear of terrorists. This seems valid but the assumption is that America cannot act to change things. It is really a question of commitment. The danger is that he draws the wrong conclusion from Libya, not that intervention is bad but poorly planned intervention is bad. Walt seems to think the choice is either poorly planned intervention or nothing. This is patently false.

Following on from this he writes “In theory, early U.S. intervention might have been accompanied by a sustained effort to build up pro-Western or at least moderate Syrian forces, thereby creating the kernel of a new and more benign Syrian regime. And in theory, I have a chance to win a gold medal in the 2016 Olympics. The problem here is two-fold. It was impossible to find very many Syrians who fit this job description, and the Pentagon doesn’t seem to be very good at training foreign forces anymore. Something seems to have gone badly wrong with U.S. military training efforts over the last 15 years. The Pentagon has poured tens of billions of dollars into training Afghans, Iraqis, and, more recently, a few friendly Syrians, but all we seem to get for it are foreign forces that lose battles, desert at a whim, and remain dependent on U.S. logistics, command advice, and other kinds of support”.

Walt then argues “There is a clear humanitarian interest in ending the Syrian civil war. But neither great nor minor powers typically run big risks or bear large costs for strictly humanitarian reasons. For most leaders, convincing their fellow citizens to make significant sacrifices usually requires a strategic justification as well. As noted above, for the United States, the strategic issues were complicated and do not point directly or unambiguously toward deeper involvement. After all, neither Democratic nor Republican administrations ever cared very much that a thuggish minority was running Syria before 2010, and the United States did business with Assad — père et fils — when it seemed useful. In this sense, U.S. strategic interests in Syria are limited (and all the more so now that Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal is gone). By contrast, the interests of other states, including the Europeans, are much more deeply engaged. The problem, however, is that hardly anyone else has the capacity to exert a decisive impact on the war. Even Russian goals seem limited to preserving Assad for as long as possible and giving him an escape route if he needs one in extremis. Even as Russia increases its support for the Syrian regime, Moscow still hasn’t sent nearly enough arms or Russian forces to tip the balance in Assad’s favor. Perhaps the refugee crisis will convince the EU that it can no longer sit disarmed in its post-modern Garden of Eden and that it needs to rebuild a more serious military capability, but that task will take years and I wouldn’t bet on it happening anyway”.

He ends “Politics, it is often said, is the art of the possible. This maxim is especially true in foreign policy and especially when dealing with the chaos of civil war. There are some problems for which there are no good solutions, only lesser evils. Back in 2011, I thought the most important tasks in Syria were caring for refugees and finding some way to end the bloodshed. I think I was right back then, and I think that’s the right course now. But am I 100 percent certain? No, and you shouldn’t be either”.

Less than 50% support for Palestinian state

27/09/2015

More than half of Palestinians no longer support a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel, a survey released on Monday showed, rejecting the goal that has underpinned four decades of international diplomacy. The poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, a leading research group in the Palestinian territories, found that 51 percent of Palestinians oppose the two-state solution while 48 percent support it. The figures were down from 51 percent support and 48 percent opposition three months ago. The survey was carried out on 1,270 people in the occupied West Bank and in Gaza from Sept. 17-19. The two-state solution – an independent Palestine existing side-by-side with Israel – has been the broad objective of negotiations since the mid-1970s and the overriding focus of U.S.-led diplomacy for the past 20 years. Perhaps more worrying from a sentiment point of view is that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed (65 percent) said they did not believe the two-state solution was any longer practical because of Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank”.

Boehner, unseated by the GOP

27/09/2015

A piece from the New York Times reports that House Speaker John Boehner is to resign, “Speaker John A. Boehner, under intense pressure from conservatives in his party, announced on Friday that he would resign one of the most powerful positions in government and give up his House seat at the end of October, as Congress moved to avert a government shutdown. Mr. Boehner, who was first elected to Congress in 1990, made the announcement in an emotional meeting with his fellow Republicans on Friday morning.  “My first job as speaker is to protect the institution,” Mr. Boehner said at a news conference at the Capitol, adding, “It had become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution.”

The report mentions “Looking poised and sounding rehearsed, Mr. Boehner, who stunned the capital with his news, became emotional as he recalled a moment alone with Pope Francis, who had been his guest the day before at the Capitol and who had asked the speaker to pray for him. Reflecting on his decision, he said, “This morning, I woke up, said my prayers, as I always do, and thought, ‘This is the day I am going to do this.’ ” House Speaker John A. Boehner announced his resignation on Friday, saying that he would leave Congress at the end of October”.
Pointedly the piece remembers that “Boehner, 65, from Ohio, had struggled from almost the moment he took the speaker’s gavel in 2011 to manage the challenges of divided government and to hold together his fractious and increasingly conservative Republican members. Most recently, he was trying to craft a solution to keep the government open through the rest of the year, but was under pressure from a growing base of conservatives who told him that they would not vote for a bill that did not defund Planned Parenthood. Mr. Boehner’s announcement lessened the chance of a government shutdown next week, because Republican leaders will push for a short-term funding measure to keep the government operating and the speaker will no longer be deterred by those who threatened his job.  It will be up to a majority of the members of the House now to choose a new leader, and the leading candidate is Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the majority leader, who is viewed more favourably by the House’s more conservative members. The preferred candidate among many Republicans, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has said he does not want the job”.
Not surprisingly, the piece warns “Representative Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania, said: “The next speaker is going to have a very tough job. The fundamental dynamics don’t change.” Mr. Dent said there had been “a lot of sadness in the room” when Mr. Boehner made his announcement to colleagues, and he blamed the House’s hard-right members, who he said were unwilling to govern. “It’s clear to me that the rejectionist members of our conference clearly had an influence on his decision,” Mr. Dent said. “That’s why I’m not happy about what happened today. We still have important issues to deal with, and this will not be easier for the next guy.” “The dynamics are this,” he continued. “There are anywhere from two to four dozen members who don’t have an affirmative sense of governance. They can’t get to yes. They just can’t get to yes, and so they undermine the ability of the speaker to lead. And not only do they undermine the ability of the speaker to lead, but they undermine the entire Republican conference and also help to weaken the institution of Congress itself. That’s the reality”.
The report ends “President Obama said Friday that Mr. Boehner’s resignation took him by surprise. He said he called Mr. Boehner moments before holding a news conference with the Chinese president, and he praised the speaker as a “good man” and a “patriot” who cares deeply about the House of Representatives. “We have obviously had a lot of disagreements, and politically we are at the opposite end of the spectrum,” Mr. Obama said. But, he added, Mr. Boehner “has always conducted himself with civility and courtesy with me.” And, the president said, Mr. Boehner is “somebody who understands that in government, governance, you don’t always get 100 percent of what you want.” The president declined to speculate about Mr. Boehner’s replacement, but he warned that the next speaker should not be someone willing to shut the government down if policy demands were not met”.
Worryingly for the future of the governance of the United States the article mentions that “Addressing reporters after his remarks at the conservative summit meeting, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas spoke harshly of Mr. Boehner. “The early reports are discouraging,” Mr. Cruz said. “If it is correct that the speaker, before he resigns, has cut a deal with Nancy Pelosi to fund the Obama administration for the rest of this year, to fund Obamacare, to fund executive amnesty, to fund Planned Parenthood, to fund implementation of this Iran deal, and then presumably to land a cushy K Street job after joining with the Democrats to implement all of President Obama’s priorities, that is not the behaviour one would expect from a Republican speaker of the House.” Mr. Cruz declined to offer his view of Mr. McCarthy, saying only that he hoped House Republicans “select a strong conservative.” Mr. Obama said he expected Republicans to debate who would be their next leader, but he was sanguine about the decision bringing significant change, saying, “It’s not as if there’s been a multitude of areas” where Republicans in the House have worked with him in the past”.
Pointedly the author notes “Senator John McCain of Arizona said that he was taken aback and that Mr. Boehner’s resignation had perilous implications for Republican prospects going into next year’s elections. “It means that it’s in disarray,” Mr. McCain said in a brief interview. “Basically, he has been unseated. And that’s not good for the Republican Party.” His advice? “We’ve got to unite and recognize who the adversary is.” For decades, Mr. Boehner legislated as a stalwart Republican institutionalist. He became speaker after a Tea Party wave in the 2010 election swept Republicans into the majority in the House on a call to drastically curb federal spending and the role of government”.

Russia’s surveillance drones

27/09/2015

Russia has started flying drone aircraft on surveillance missions in Syria, U.S. officials said on Monday, in what appeared to be Moscow’s first military air operations there since staging a rapid buildup at a Syrian air base. The beginning of Russian drone flights underscored the risks of U.S.-led coalition planes and Russian aircraft operating within Syria’s limited airspace, without agreeing on coordination or objectives in Syria’s civil war. The former Cold War foes have a common adversary in Islamic State militants in Syria. But Washington opposes Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, seeing him as a driving force in the four-and-a-half year-long civil war. The Pentagon declined comment at a news briefing when asked about the Reuters report on Russian drones, saying it could not discuss intelligence matters. But it said the U.S. Department of Defense was “keenly aware” of what was happening on the ground in Syria”.

 

Francis, pressing for economic justice

27/09/2015

Daniel Altman writes that Pope Francis is a great economist, “a quick look at his speech to Congress and other remarks this week reveals that his true strength may lie in the dismal science — and there’s much American politicians could learn from his understanding of the economy. One of the biggest themes of the pope’s visit has been helping people in need. “A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk,” he told Congress. And in economic terms, these comments could not be more pertinent to the United States. The workforce is essentially stagnant in size, with virtually zero growth in the number of people in their prime working years and a low participation rate to boot. As a result, increasing the economy’s output means raising productivity”.

Altman goes on to make the argument that “It’s easiest to raise the productivity of people at the low end of the scale; a bit more education or training makes a much bigger difference to a burger-flipper than it does to a medical device engineer who already has a doctorate. And when productivity rises a lot, so do income and tax revenue, while demand for social services falls. This boost to the government’s budget is exactly what helps society to satisfy those common needs. So those people in vulnerable and risky situations — typically poor, handicapped, or lacking social support networks — are the right ones to think about as the source for future growth. The pope’s speech also drew a parallel between the global refugee crisis and mass immigration to the United States. “On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities,” he said. “Is this not what we want for our own children?” As a guide for dealing with incoming migrants, he suggested the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If future growth is the goal, economists would probably offer an identical prescription”.

Altman notes “The pope also condemned homelessness in the United States during remarks at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Washington. “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing,” he said. This rings true for economists as well. Does it make sense never to provide housing to someone who can’t pay for it? It’s illegal for most hospitals to deny medical care to people with emergency conditions, regardless of their ability to pay. Housing somehow doesn’t fall into the same category, though it can be just as important to safety and well-being — and possibly to being productive in the economy. By comparison, any disincentive to work that might arise from access to free housing would likely be of minor economic importance. Despite his discussion of poverty, hunger, homelessness, and other byproducts of the American economic system, the pope never mentioned the word inequality. Yet he did warn against the “polarization” that fed a “simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners.” This us-versus-them dynamic has a long and unfortunate history in American economic policy, from the demonised welfare recipients of the Ronald Reagan era to Mitt Romney’s deadbeat 47 percent. It’s the sort of dynamic that leads Congress to cut food stamps for 850,000 households at a stroke — they didn’t earn that food, even if their state governments think they need it and should get it. When members of Congress themselves are mostly millionaires, it’s not hard to figure out why the concerns of poor Americans are so far from their minds. And so polarisation feeds greater inequality, which pulls us and them still further apart”.

He ends the piece “It’s a recipe for economic ruin, especially in a nation that needs to harness all of its talents to grow. The creation of an economic underclass does nothing for the social stability that an economy needs to function, and wasting the potential of smart kids who happen to be born poor just means that productivity and economic growth will continue to lag. The pope gets this, and he delivered his sermon in language that was allegorical but still rather easier to grasp than the testimony of most Federal Reserve officials. Hopefully, his audience was paying attention”.

 

Fanning as Army Secretary?

27/09/2015

Just four years after the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the Pentagon reached another milestone in its campaign to better integrate gay, lesbian, and transgender personnel into its ranks with the nomination of Eric Fanning, an openly gay official, to the Army’s top civilian post. If confirmed to be the next secretary of the Army, Fanning he would become the first openly gay civilian to head a branch of the U.S. armed forces. Fanning has been serving as acting undersecretary of the Army since June, after a brief three-month stint as Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s chief of staff earlier this year. In a relatively short career, Fanning has amassed an impressive multiservice résumé, having served as Air Force undersecretary and acting secretary from 2013 to 2015, and deputy undersecretary of the Navy from 2009 to 2013. “Eric brings many years of proven experience and exceptional leadership to this new role,” Obama said in an announcement Friday.

Francis on immigration

25/09/2015

A report in Foreign Policy discusses the recent address of Pope Francis on the subject of immigration, “Pope Francis’s historic address to Congress on Sept. 24 was wide-ranging, covering topics from racial justice to the plight of refugees to the environment, but it repeatedly returned to a surprising refrain: Addressing the packed chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives, he called himself “the son of immigrants.” He reminded his audience, composed of lawmakers, Supreme Court justices, and White House officials, of the thousands who make their homes in the United States from Latin America and elsewhere. He asked them to “view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories.” He repeatedly urged his audience to “enter into” dialogue with the poor, the elderly, and, of course, with immigrants. Time and again, his words were met with standing ovations and rapturous applause”.

The report adds that “The pontiff had delivered a similar message the previous day — but before a very different audience. Addressing the United States bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Francis acknowledged their efforts to “welcome and integrate” immigrants. He also told them to “step back, away from the center,” and be “promoters of the culture of encounter.” In his comments, he reiterated his often-stated notion that the place of the church is on the edges of society, where it can stand up for the poor and the marginalised. Many of the bishops remain hesitant over Francis’s decision to make his central message one of mercy — of listening and being present to those not always listened to — rather than focusing on issues of sexuality. (In his address to Congress, the pope barely hinted at Catholic teachings on marriage, briefly mentioning the importance of “fundamental relationships,” before turning again to focus on the poor and vulnerable.) Some have raised the question of whether the so-called “Francis effect,” a phrase used by Catholics to describe the potential impact he might have on the global church, will ever fully take hold among American bishops. Their public perception is often one of being culture warriors, staging a long and ultimately unsuccessful campaign against same-sex marriage and battling the Affordable Care Act over access to birth control and abortion. They have alienated enough American Catholics that half of the laity have left the church at some point in their lives, and the vast majority cannot imagine returning”.

The Church, at least in the United States has little credibility on these issues and is widely ignored. Cardinal Burke’s statement that the Church can never speak enough about gay marriage not only flies in the face of what Pope Francis has said but also done little to either attract people to the Church, or persuade people to come back.

Crucially the writer notes “there is one issue on which the bishops and the pope have been able to find common ground: the importance of church outreach to immigrants. The tone and language of American bishops have often been in extreme contrast to Francis’s focus on mercy. In an interview just prior to the pope’s arrival in Washington, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco referred to same-sex marriage as “the ultimate attack of the evil one.” The conservative Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who heads the Philadelphia archdiocese where the pope will travel later this week, also opposes same-sex marriage and is known for taking a harsh tone with Catholics who disagree with him”.

Incorrectly the writer notes of Pope Benedict that “The American church hierarchy was overwhelmingly appointed by Francis’s predecessors. It is mostly white and rapidly aging. Popes John Paul II and Benedict spent much of their papacies focused on issues of the body and sexuality, and the American bishops’ theology reflects this. These bishops heard and absorbed that message and expected Francis to carry it forward, which he surely has — but not as his primary focus”.

The author goes on to mention “As the first Latin American pope, Francis has obvious appeal to Latino Catholics. The fact that he has chosen to deliver several important addresses in his native tongue demonstrates that he knows his audience. The United States is now the fifth-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. And yet, only about 3 percent of American priests identify as Latino, according to CARA, the Georgetown University center. Evangelical churches have been aggressively reaching out to Latinos for decades, and younger Latinos are almost as likely as their white peers to be religiously unaffiliated — members of the so-called “Nones.” To reverse the pull of Latinos away from the church, both the pope and the bishops must help immigrants not only feel safe, but welcomed”.

He ends “The pope has asked the American bishops for dialogue and “encounter.” Dialogue implies deep listening and meeting people where they arrive, rather than drawing a line and placing the hierarchy on one side and the people on the other. The pope modeled this encounter as he drove through the streets of Washington on Wednesday. When 5-year-old Sofía Cruz, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, made her way through the barricades surrounding the pope, he told security to “let her come to me.” She handed him a note, which began with the words, “I am [an] American citizen with Mexican roots.” It also told the pope that immigrants like her parents deserve to live with “dignity” and “respect.” Francis embraced her”.

 

“The Taliban have announced the resolution of a potential split”

25/09/2015

Senior members of the Taliban have announced the resolution of a potential split within the group’s leadership following Mullah Omar’s death, with previously divided factions pledging their allegiance Tuesday to the group’s new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. In a Pashto-language statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the agreement to unite behind Mansoor’s leadership came during a meeting of prominent clerics and elders. Omar’s eldest son, Mohammad Yaqoob, and his brother Mullah Abdul Manan announced their full support for Mansoor, who also was present at the gathering on Tuesday.  Jarrett Blanc, the acting U.S. government’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told reporters in Islambad that he is optimistic that peace talks between the Taliban and the government in Kabul can resume soon. “I have every hope that the Taliban will soon return to the dialogue,” Blanc said after meeting with Pakistani civilian and military leaders. Afghanistan’s government is ready to resume talks with the Taliban, the U.S. envoy said, and no other “irritant” should derail the peace process once the Taliban decides to resume negotiations.

Francis speaks to Congress

25/09/2015

A report in the New York Times notes the speech given by Pope Francis yesterday, “Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, challenged Congress and by extension the mightiest nation in the world on Thursday to break out of its cycle of paralysis and use its power to heal the “open wounds” of a planet torn by hatred, greed, poverty and pollution. Taking a rostrum never before occupied by the bishop of Rome, Francis issued a vigourous call to action to lawmakers who have spent years stalemated over major issues and even now are days away from a potential government shutdown in a dispute over the moral boundaries of federal spending. “Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples,” he told a joint meeting of Congress in an address that cited American icons like Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.” If his words of unity struck a lofty note, though, his choice of issues effectively fed the very divisions he assailed.

The piece adds that “He emboldened liberals with a passionate defense of immigration, an endorsement of environmental legislation, a blistering condemnation of the arms trade and a plea to abolish the death penalty. For their part, conservatives chose to focus on his defense of religious liberty, the traditional family and the sanctity of life at “every stage of its development.” In the end, both sides could walk away taking vindication from parts of his message. But the liberal references in his speech were explicit and extended while the conservative ones were more veiled and concise. As a result, Democrats cheered and led standing ovations more often in a somewhat more dignified version of a presidential State of the Union address. Afterward, liberal groups wrapped themselves in the glow of Francis’ speech and claimed momentum for their initiatives, while Republicans largely focused on the majesty of the event and played down policy implications”.

The writer mentions that “Despite the spectacle, there are limits to any pope’s ability to move an entrenched political system, and there was little sign that he had done so here. Within hours, the Senate was back to business, conducting another stalemate vote as Republicans failed to break a Democratic filibuster of a measure to cut off federal money from Planned Parenthood. Francis’ address, delivered in slow and heavily accented English, may have lost some of its power as lawmakers strained to make out his words. Vatican officials said that the Argentine-born pope wanted to speak the primary language of the United States in the people’s house and that he spent much of the summer practicing. But afterward, he switched to his native Spanish when he appeared on the Speaker’s Balcony of the Capitol to wave and share a prayer with tens of thousands of people who had gathered on the West Lawn to watch his address on jumbo televisions”.

The piece mentions that “Wrapping up his visit to Washington before flying to New York, the pope visited St. Patrick’s Church, a short distance from the Capitol, to address the plight of the homeless.  “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing,” Francis said. “We know that Jesus wanted to show solidarity with every person.” He waded into a crowd of mostly homeless men and women, including felons, mentally ill people, victims of domestic violence and substance abusers. He stopped to lay his hand on the heads of children who had kept quiet for hours of waiting with special pope colouring books. With his speech to lawmakers, Francis became the first pope to address a joint meeting of Congress, a milestone in the journey of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, and it generated enormous interest. Lawmakers, aides and invited guests jammed the historic chamber of the House of Representatives. Sitting behind Francis were Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and House Speaker John A. Boehner, both Catholics. Flanking the aisle at the front were Secretary of State John Kerry and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and not far behind them was Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, all Catholics. Francis, who spoke with Mr. Kerry at the White House on Wednesday, stopped to shake his hand. Mr. Boehner, who invited the pope earlier this year, wept repeatedly”.

Poinetly the author notes “Francis devoted the greatest share of his speech at the White House on Wednesday to climate change, but he made immigration the most pronounced part of his remarks to Congress, alluding to his own family’s history of moving from Italy to Argentina. “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners,” Francis said. “I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.” He cited “do-unto-others” and then added, “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” While that represented typical code for abortion, Francis segued immediately and at length to a call for the abolition of the death penalty. “Every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” he said”.

The author mentions that “He was less restrained in calling for an end to the arms trade. “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?” he asked. “Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money — money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.” While he never used the words abortion, homosexuality or same-sex marriage, he offered a strong statement supporting those who share the church’s views of those issues”.

 An related piece notes that Francis has told Congress of Catholic doctrine which has resulted in his speech was used “to subtly tweak both Democrats and Republicans, with Pope Francis framing some of the most explosive political issues of the day in starkly moral terms. Speaking in English, a language the pope has never mastered, Francis gave a speech that touched on many aspects of American politics but did not come off as overtly partisan. It created some awkward moments to be sure, with Democrats applauding when the pope spoke about doing more to help immigrants, while many Republicans sat motionless. When Francis reiterated his anti-abortion views and spoke about the sanctity of marriage, by contrast, Republicans reacted more enthusiastically than Democrats. Francis, a 78-year-old Argentinian who assumed the papacy in 2013, called on U.S. lawmakers and the American people to do more to assist the poor and to combat environmental degradation caused by “human activity.” He invoked the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” calling on lawmakers to do more to help immigrants, though he offered no specifics. He also criticised the pursuit of wealth and linked it to climate change, something the pope wants the United States to do more to combat. Many Republicans, in a break with Francis, refuse to acknowledge that mankind contributes to climate change”.

Interestingly the piece notes that “Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants who is also running for president, stood and applauded when the pope called for compassion for those trying to enter the United States. At the same time, the pope made a point of saying he supported the sanctity of life at every stage of its development, an anti-abortion remark that doesn’t sit well with pro-abortion rights Democrats. And without explicitly saying so, the pope took a veiled swipe at same-sex marriage, a right most Democrats, including President Barack Obama, support. The pope met with Obama for 40 minutes in the Oval Office on Wednesday in a closed-door meeting”.

The power of the words of Francis were seen when the article adds “Even members of the Supreme Court were swayed by Francis. The justices typically don’t applaud during joint sessions of Congress. But when Francis called the United States “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” they stood and clapped. Although Francis challenged Republicans and Democrats on key issues, lawmakers departing the speech sought to downplay those differences and offered praise for his message. “It was really very historic. I really enjoyed it,” Sen. Ron Johnson, a conservative Republican from Wisconsin, told Foreign Policy on the steps of the House chamber. Despite the pope’s explicit references to environmental degradation “caused by human activity,” a point Johnson is skeptical of, he found a way to comfortably interpret the pope’s message into his own worldview. “We share the goal; we want a clean environment. How we achieve it there are some differences of opinion,” he said”.

Obama: Implementing the Iran deal

25/09/2015

The Obama administration began carrying out the Iran nuclear deal Thursday as time expired on Republican efforts to derail it, appointing a senior diplomat to ensure that Tehran moves further away from bomb-making capability and outlining a months-long process before Western nations will start easing economic sanctions. Senators failed to reach the threshold for a measure to keep all sanctions in place on Iran until it recognizes Israel and releases all imprisoned Americans, and then on a resolution expressing disapproval of the nuclear agreement. Two previous votes in recent days against the Iran deal also failed, and a 60-day window in the Republican-controlled Congress to prevent President Barack Obama from implementing the seven-nation pact was set to close Thursday night. Shortly after the votes, the State Department named Stephen Mull as “lead coordinator for Iran nuclear implementation.” Mull, who has served as ambassador to Poland and in other top diplomatic posts, takes on the “crucial” responsibility of shepherding an agreement “which will make the United States, our friends and allies in the Middle East, and the entire world safer,” Secretary of State John Kerry said”.

“The West could show its teeth more directly”

25/09/2015

A piece from Foreign Affairs posits that sanctions are not working on Russia and a new strategy is needed, “Whether or not the West’s sanctions against Russia have been a success depends to a considerable degree on what one thinks the sanctions were meant to achieve and how quickly. More than a year on, Crimea remains occupied, Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, and the longer-term goal of forcing the Kremlin to accept and abide by the accepted norms of international behaviour remains out of reach. The Russian economy is suffering, but more because of low oil prices and structural economic weaknesses than the impact of sanctions, and Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have concluded that the costs are bearable”.

From these assumptions the authors asks what is to be done “One of the reasons that the sanctions regime has not been more effective is that Moscow believes it can easily strike back at the West, dividing the allies and undermining their will to maintain the current restrictions. So long as Moscow believes an end to sanctions is on the horizon, it will not be tempted to enact any substantive change. The West should ensure not only that it is as resistant as possible to Russian manipulation, but also that it is seen as such. Measures such as accelerating the development of the European Energy Union can minimise Russia’s ability to use its oil and gas supplies as leverage against the West. The energy union may not exist fully until 2030, but by simply giving it priority, Europe can communicate its commitment to denying Moscow markets and options. This is, after all, a war of signals and symbols as much as it is one of concrete action”.

This suggestion, though correct from a policy perspective is so devoid of any political nous as to make it laughable. Firstly the EU remains mired in the never ending eurocrisis, neither able to go backward nor forward, neither able to admit defeat and dissolve the euro or march ahead regardless of the will of the vast majority of those on the continent. The second element is the migrant crisis which has, as usual, paraylsed and divided the EU. To then suggest that the EU could push through, or even begin to push through a massive energy unification plan is bizarre.

The writer does make the valid point that “The rest of Russia’s leverage comes from propaganda and the buying of influence—especially through Moscow’s often-covert support for political movements abroad that undermine Western unity, from anti-federalist parties in Europe all the way to Texan separatists. It is crucial for the West to bring greater transparency to the flow of money into and out of Russia and to counteract Moscow’s information warfare. The latter will require not fighting propaganda with propaganda, but discrediting biased media, challenging outright lies, and cultivating a climate of skepticism toward Russian disinformation”.

He adds that “The West will also need to counter Russia’s political use of military force, from launching long-range bomber patrols in NATO airspace to Putin’s regular boasts about Russian nuclear capabilities. Contrary to recent hyperbole, these actions do not presage a military attack. Rather, they are meant to distract, dismay, and divide the West. Although NATO and EU resolve has been greater than Moscow seems to have expected, on- and off-the-record many politicians and observers wonder how long this can last. Two can play at that game, however, especially because the Kremlin knows that NATO can outman, outmaneuver, and outgun Russia’s forces. The West could show its teeth more directly, making explicit that it is not in Russia’s interests to provoke a match of military capabilities. Beyond existing plans to pre-position U.S. heavy armour in the Baltic states, the West could establish a permanent NATO forward base in the region for a rotating force of U.S. and European combat troops”.

Interestingly he makes the point that “Given that Moscow seems to have a penchant for heavy-handed geopolitical games, perhaps the best tactic is to concentrate on its vulnerabilities. Above all, Russia is dependent on Western capital and financial systems, and Russia’s elites are globalized and eager to enjoy the security, facilities, and lifestyle of the West. Although the Kremlin appears willing to let ordinary Russians pay the price of sanctions, it is hard to believe that the Russian elite will bear such burdens willingly. The first round of sanctions targeted not whole sectors of the Russian economy but key individuals responsible for the annexation of Crimea and incursion into Ukraine, blocking their ability to travel abroad and freezing their assets. Many more names could be added to the lists—every parliamentarian who voted for the annexation of Crimea, for example—and the sanctions could be made broader and more draconian, complemented by a more aggressive push to punish gangsters and kleptocrats. Adding the names of spouses and children to the lists poses legal challenges, of course, but would also end an obvious loophole, as potential targets of sanctions often transfer assets to relatives. Of course, the tougher the line, the more the West plays into Putin’s own nationalist narrative: that Russia is a beleaguered fortress in a hostile world, and that to compromise with the West is to undermine the country’s sovereignty and betray its history and destiny. Backing Putin into a corner and alienating Russians who seek compromise with the West are dangerous moves. The West must balance confrontation with reassurance. After all, Russia needs support, both moral and political, as it adjusts to its new, reduced place in the global order”.

He concludes, “Western policy needs to be more imaginative and multivectored. The sanctions regime can be sharpened, but it needs to be supplemented by a range of additional measures if it is to have any measurable impact other than to accelerate the miserable and counterproductive slide into bickering and mutual suspicion. By every objective standard, Russia is vastly weaker than the West. Its greatest strength, though, is that as an authoritarian state, it can mobilize a unified political will that an alliance of democracies cannot match. Western policy, therefore, needs to focus on those sanctions that will most affect the Kremlin—rather than on those that are easiest for the West to enact—and consider them part of a much broader strategy that not only provides Moscow with positive reasons to engage with the West, but also reduces its ability to retaliate. The real battle will ultimately be won in the hearts and minds (and perhaps bank accounts) of Putin and his closest cronies and allies”.

al-Qaeda’s financier arrested

23/09/2015

Pakistani police have arrested a former air force pilot who allegedly helped finance Al-Qaeda’s newly formed South Asian affiliate and high-profile terror attacks, officials said on September 16. Counterterrorism official Naveed Khawaja announced the arrest of Syed Sheaba Ahmad in the southern port city of Karachi. Khawaja described Ahmad as a businessman with two chemical companies in Karachi and Iran who financed militant groups “on a large scale.” He said the suspect made large donations to the Afghan Taliban before supporting Al-Qaeda’s South Asian affiliate. He provided financial support to militants who killed 50 members of Pakistan’s Ismaili Shi’ite minority when gunmen stormed a bus in May”.

Obama threatens sanctions on China

23/09/2015

Having openly accused China of hacking, President Obama, just before the visit of the Chinese president is warning that if it continues he will impose sanctions on Chinese companies.

It opens “Barack Obama has a blunt message for Beijing’s hacker army: You’re good, but we’re better. “If we wanted to go on offense,” he boasted to a group of business leaders last week, “a whole bunch of countries would have some significant problems.”  The tough talk reflects Obama’s insistence that the United States has ways of retaliating for what he has described as the rampant theft of American intellectual property by Chinese state-sponsored hackers, an issue likely to dominate the president’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, later this week. But Obama’s bluster underlines what has become a depressing reality for the president as he approaches the end of his tenure in office: Despite years of threats, cajoling, and indictments aimed at deterring China from stealing American commercial secrets, Washington has made little progress in developing a set of tools that would deter Beijing’s cyberspies from breaching the networks of major companies like Westinghouse and then passing on their trade secrets to Chinese state-owned enterprises. As a result, the administration is considering rolling out a limited set of sanctions against Chinese firms suspected of benefiting from economic espionage — and perhaps the hackers who carried out the operations as well”.

The report makes the point that “Lacking the tools to force China to give up its commercial espionage, Obama and his top spy, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, have spoken in recent weeks of the need for a “basic international framework” to establish “rules of the road” for cyberspace. With Xi in town, Beijing and Washington are negotiating what the New York Times reported on Saturday as an arms control agreement for cyberspace that would bar either country from waging a hacking campaign against the other nation’s critical infrastructure”.

Of course, just because there are rules does not mean that they will be obeyed. This is especially the case with China who have continually bullied and harassed its neighbours in the seas around China.

The piece adds that “The White House refused to comment on the news, which would reportedly involve both countries endorsing a U.N. experts group report that Chinese and U.S. officials were involved in drafting and that lays out a set of basic principles for states’ use of cyberweapons. That report recommends that states “should not conduct or knowingly support” any “activity contrary to its obligations under international law that intentionally damages critical infrastructure or otherwise impairs the use and operation of critical infrastructure to provide services to the public.” By endorsing that message, the United States and China would appear to rule out peacetime attacks on things such as power grids and financial systems. Moreover, the U.N. report, dated June 26, 2015, urges states not to support proxies who carry out malicious activity online and to ensure that such activity does not take place within its borders. According to U.S. claims, China has in the past used hackers working as proxies for the state to shield its responsibility for online attacks”.

It has become so open that the piece notes, “In a speech Monday at George Washington University, National Security Advisor Susan Rice called on China to halt what she called “state-sponsored, cyber-enabled economic espionage.” “This isn’t a mild irritation,” she said. “It puts enormous strain on our bilateral relationship, and it is a critical factor in determining the future trajectory of U.S.-China ties. Cyber-enabled espionage that targets personal and corporate information for the economic gain of businesses undermines our long-term economic cooperation, and it needs to stop.” But the report that is the basis of this alleged diplomatic accord between China and the United States says nothing about outlawing the theft of intellectual property”.

The writer argues that “At the heart of that conflict lies a very basic disagreement between Chinese and American spies as to what constitutes legitimate intelligence activity. Both Washington and Beijing are willing to accept that their opponent will carry out a certain amount of digital espionage — penetrating military computers, for instance, or eavesdropping on official communications — but the United States argues that China violates the unwritten rules of international espionage when it takes the information it steals and passes it on to Chinese state-owned companies”.

Interestingly the piece adds “When Obama talks about establishing some “rules of the road” for cyberspace and the competition there between China and the United States, he seems to imply that there are currently no limits whatsoever on cyber-related behaviour. And that isn’t quite true. Although commentary and punditry on the nature of warfare in cyberspace often approaches the hyperbolic — then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s 2012 warning that the United States was facing an imminent “cyber-Pearl Harbor” is a classic example of a dire prediction that hasn’t come to pass — there are in fact several categories of attacks that state-hackers on both sides of the Pacific have so far forsworn”.

The piece ends “Confronted with a limited set of options to influence Chinese behaviour, the U.S. government has in recent weeks been locked in an intense debate over whether to hit China with one of the few tools on hand: financial sanctions. Last week, Obama himself hinted that sanctions directed at China are in the pipeline. “We are preparing a number of measures that will indicate to the Chinese that this is not just a matter of us being mildly upset but is something that will put significant strains on the bilateral relationship if not resolved,” he said during an appearance at the Business Roundtable. “We are prepared to [use] some countervailing actions in order to get their attention.” According to three former senior administration officials familiar with the contents of the internal debate, U.S. intelligence and military officials generally pushed hard in the run-up to Xi’s visit for sanctions that would likely target companies that have benefited from economic espionage and perhaps the hackers who carried out the operations. Diplomatic and economic officials resisted that move and cautioned against a measure they believed would blow up a summit with China’s top leader that will also feature discussion on a range of key issues besides cybersecurity, among them climate change and the global economy”.

He ends “In order to have a chance at successfully deterring Chinese intellectual property theft, such an effort would likely need to be sustained over some time. “The way you really get impact on sanctions is having meaningful actions on a serial basis,” said a former National Security Council official who worked on sanctions policy during his time in government. “You do one entity and then another. It’s a trunk and branch approach.” Moreover, using sanctions as a deterrent tool in cyberspace presents some unique challenges. Sophisticated actors obscure their physical location by technical means and commandeer third party networks to carry out their attacks. “Finding the ‘parent,’ so to speak, is harder and harder. It’s possible, but it’s a heavier lift,” the official said”.

Walker drops out

23/09/2015

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker dropped out of the GOP presidential race Monday evening, urging other candidates to do the same so voters will coalesce around a candidate who can topple front-runner Donald Trump. “The Bible is full of stories of people who were called to be leaders in unusual ways,” Walker said in prepared remarks at a press conference in Madison, Wis., recalling when he sat in church the previous day. “Today, I believe that I am being called to lead helping to clear the field in this race so that a positive, conservative message can rise to the top of the field,” Walker said. “I encourage other Republican presidential candidates to consider doing the same, so the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive, conservative alternative to the current front-runner,” he said. “We need to get back to the basics of our party,” the Wisconsin governor said. Walker is the second major Republican presidential candidate to end his campaign, following former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who suspended his White House bid on Sept. 11. There are 15 candidates still in competition for the Republican presidential nomination”.

Francis meets America

23/09/2015

As Pope Francis begins his first full day in the United States a report from the New York Times notes why how the pope has avoided the United States until now, “During his first private meeting with Pope Francis in the Vatican two years ago, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said, the pope took out an atlas with a map of the United States and asked Cardinal Dolan, the archbishop of New York, to point out the various regions and cities and talk about how they differed. Francis seemed to recognise that he had some homework to do: When he travels this month to Washington, New York and Philadelphia, the visit will be his first to the United States. Both of his most recent predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, traveled to the United States before rising to the papacy. Other Catholic prelates from around the world have come for fund-raisers, speaking engagements or global Catholic events, like World Youth Day in Denver in 1993″.

The report goes on to mention “Francis, a former archbishop of Buenos Aires, had steered clear of the United States, which has the world’s fourth-largest Roman Catholic population. Something of a homebody, preferring to hang out with the poor than the rich and powerful, he has waited until 78 to visit the economic giant that likes to think of itself as the center of everything. “He’s a little nervous about coming,” Cardinal Dolan said at an interfaith event in New York in May. “Not that he lacks any confidence in the reception of friendship that he knows he’ll get, but he readily admits he has never been to the United States.” Those who have known Francis, both before and after he became pope, say the reasons for his absence have everything to do with his distinctive identity. He is a Latin American critical of the United States’ economic and political hegemony, a Jesuit of Italian ancestry who looks more to Europe than to North America, a Spanish speaker who is not all that comfortable speaking English, and a pastor who disdains “airport bishops” — his term for prelates who spend more time jetting around the globe than serving in their dioceses”.

The article adds that “He is not opposed to all America represents. But he is troubled by privileged people and nations that consume more than their share and turn their backs on the vulnerable. The message he will probably deliver when he comes, they say, is that the United States has been blessed with great gifts, but that from those to whom much is given, much is expected. “I think what he criticizes in the U.S. is the absolute freedom and autonomy of the market,” said the Rev. Juan Carlos Scannone, a professor emeritus of philosophy at Colegio Máximo, a prominent Jesuit college near Buenos Aires. He taught the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would become Francis, as a seminarian and became a friend. “We should admire the U.S.’s democracy and the well-being of its people, but what Bergoglio would criticise is the consumerism: that everything is geared toward consumerism.” Francis has long been troubled by what some Argentines of his generation call “savage capitalism.” They see the United States as the home of mining companies and agribusinesses that chew up natural resources, as the military power that propped up dictators during the Cold War and as the neighbour that tries to close its border to migrants fleeing hunger and violence”.

Not surprisingly the piece adds that “The Rev. Richard Ryscavage, a Jesuit who is the director of the Center for Faith and Public Life at Fairfield University and has met Francis twice, said Francis’ views should be seen “in the context of many Latin Americans who see the United States as really a problem, not actually a positive force in the world.” “I’ve seen this among Latin American Jesuits who have similar approaches,” Father Ryscavage said. “And it’s often rather difficult for the North American Jesuits to completely accept their perspective on things, because we come from such a different angle.” The United States will be the 15th country Francis has visited in his more than two years as pope. His travel priorities have been a demonstration of his motto: “Go to the peripheries” to encounter those who are marginalised. His first official trip outside Rome was to Lampedusa, a Sicilian island where he greeted migrants who had survived their exodus from Africa”.

The report rightly mentions that “He has also frequently denounced a global economic system that values “profit at any price,” and a colonialist structure that “reduces poor countries to mere providers of raw material and cheap labour” — a critique widely interpreted to include the United States. And yet, those who have studied him and know him say Francis has also expressed an appreciation for the United States — for its lively democracy, its religious diversity and its identity as a nation formed by absorbing successive waves of immigrants. Francis himself is a son of immigrants: His father moved from Italy to Buenos Aires in 1929. Austen Ivereigh, the author of a biography of Francis, said last weekend at a conference of the Religion Newswriters Association, “He could easily have ended up in Philadelphia or Chicago, as well as Buenos Aires, and he can easily relate” to the American experience”.

Pointedly the piece goes on to note that “And many Americans relate to Francis. In a poll conducted last month by the Public Religion Research Institute, two-thirds had a favourable view of him. Polls also reveal, however, that he has work to do to persuade Catholics to adopt his views on combating climate change, ending abortion and welcoming immigrants. At the Vatican, he has welcomed many prominent American visitors, including President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. But for a pope who speaks through his gestures, his itinerary in the United States conveys his message. After Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress in Washington on Sept. 24, he will be driven directly to a lunch with homeless, mentally ill and immigrant clients of Catholic Charities, which will be held under tents set up on a street. Instead of lunching with legislators in the halls of power, he will break bread with the poor”.

Intelligence on ISIS altered

21/09/2015

More than 50 intelligence analysts working out of the U.S. military’s Central Command have formally complained that their reports on ISIS and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria were being inappropriately altered by senior officials, The Daily Beast has learned. The complaints spurred the Pentagon’s inspector general to open an investigation into the alleged manipulation of intelligence. The fact that so many people complained suggests there are deep-rooted, systemic problems in how the U.S. military command charged with the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State assesses intelligence. “The cancer was within the senior level of the intelligence command,” one defense official said. Two senior analysts at CENTCOM signed a written complaint sent to the Defense Department inspector general in July alleging that the reports, some of which were briefed to President Obama, portrayed the terror groups as weaker than the analysts believe they are. The reports were changed by CENTCOM higher-ups to adhere to the administration’s public line that the U.S. is winning the battle against ISIS and al Nusra, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the analysts claim”.

Francis in Cuba

21/09/2015

As Pope Francis visits Cuba, John Allen writes that he has to walk a fine line, “Greeting him on the airport tarmac was the country’s communist president Raul Castro, who offered that in Cuba, “we exercise religious freedom as a right consecrated in our constitution.” They were doubtless welcome words for Francis but incongruous for many Cubans, who consider it’s a right more honoured in the breach than the observance. The arrival ceremony marked the beginning of a 10-day odyssey, the longest foreign trip of his papacy to date, featuring three days in this island nation before moving on to Washington, New York, and Philadelphia Sept. 22-27. It’s the first time Francis has visited either country, and there’s poetic justice in his combining them in one trip since he’s been credited by both sides with helping heal Cold War tensions”.

Allen goes on to write that “despite the enthusiasm, Francis faces skepticism among dissidents and exiles worried he won’t press the Castro regime hard enough on human rights and religious freedom. They certainly won’t approve of the way Francis went out of his way to send greetings to Fidel, for instance, immediately upon his arrival. Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio, a Cuban American, on Saturday urged Francis to “use his moral authority … to bring us closer to the day when freedom can finally take root on the island country.”

He makes the point that “What’s behind such commentary is a sense that past papal outings here — John Paul in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012 — have been disappointing, producing terrific photo-ops for the government, but little concrete change on the ground. The status of religious freedom here remains a mixed picture. It’s not like the early years after the 1959 Socialist revolution, when scores of priests, nuns, and Protestant pastors were either forced to flee or thrown in jail. But there remain real pressures, including surveillance and harassment, workplace discrimination, and raids on unregistered “house churches.” Just last Sunday, some 50 members of the “Ladies in White” Catholic protest movement were arrested, marking 22 consecutive Sundays that members have been hauled away”.

Interestingly he reports that “Francis indirectly invoked those tensions on Saturday, saying he hopes the Church will have “the freedom, the means, and the space” in Cuba to pursue its mission. Berta Soler, head of the Ladies in White, isn’t holding her breath. “Cuba needs a change, but the pope is not a liberator, nor will he change Cuba,” she said just before Francis arrived. The Vatican’s approach to Cuba dates to the 1960s, and really hasn’t changed much since. The basic take is that Cuban Communism is less menacing than the Soviet version, and hence the goal should be to engage Cuba rather than confront it”.

Allen’s key point appears to be that “Francis becomes simply the latest religious leader to walk a fine line in Cuba — wanting to foster what he called on Saturday “bonds of cooperation and friendship,” but without seeming to blink at the still-oppressive regime. All this, in turn, is prologue to the even bigger challenges awaiting Francis in the United States. The pontiff makes his American debut on Tuesday amid high approval ratings and keen media interest, but also ambivalence among some Americans who wonder if his critiques of unfettered capitalism, of what he calls “extreme and selective consumerism,” are to some extent directed at them”.

Allen ends “If nothing else, Francis can take comfort that he’s already avoided one unfortunate happenstance that marred John Paul’s Cuba trip in January 1998. Back then, American media outlets were set for saturation coverage and flew their A-list talent to Havana. Just before the pontiff touched down, however, those star correspondents all turned around and flew back to Washington, consigning the pope to relative obscurity”.

“Saudi Arabia has stepped up its attacks”

21/09/2015

A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia has stepped up its attacks on Iranian-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen’s central province of Marib, as its forces draw nearer to the capital San’a. Since the deaths of 67 coalition soldiers in a Sept. 4 Houthi missile attack in Marib, Riyadh and its mostly Arab allies have escalated their assaults on rebels in the province, according to a coalition member and pro-coalition Yemeni security officials. Coalition forces now control several installations in the province formerly held by the Houthis and have captured a hill overlooking Marib’s capital, located just 100 miles east of the Yemeni capital, the officials said. Saudi Arabia and its allies appear to have gained the upper hand in the nearly six-month war since recapturing the southern port of Aden in late July. Since then, they have driven back the Houthis in several southern provinces”.

Pakistan, friendly with China

21/09/2015

An interesting article details China-Pakistan relations, “Moments after landing at Lahore’s international airport one ordinary day in September, crowds of Chinese professionals jockeyed for position in an immigration line that was as long as it was slow. For airport officials in Pakistan’s second-largest city, the sudden influx of Chinese nationals was unremarkable: The same thing is happening in cities and towns across the country. In the southwestern town of Gwadar, Chinese nationals run a deep-sea port offering direct access to the Indian Ocean. In the Gilgit-Baltistan region near Kashmir, Chinese labourers just finished the restoration of five tunnels on a critical 500-mile highway that connects Pakistan to China. And at a hill town resort near the capital of Islamabad, Chinese diplomats recently dove headfirst into the kind of messy internal politics they’ve long sought to avoid, rolling up their sleeves and taking part in peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban”.

He writes that “Both economically and diplomatically, Pakistan has become the focal point of China’s ambitious plan to expand its influence westward in a policy known as One Belt, One Road. Through the initiative, Beijing has pledged tens of billions of dollars in investments for new roads, pipelines, power stations, rail lines, and ports to create a network of trade routes that link China to South and Central Asia, and then on to Europe. The flagship project is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a $46 billion endeavour that will link northwest China to the Pakistani port of Gwadar”.

The author goes on to make the point that “The effort is seen by many as Beijing’s response to the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” in the Pacific and a challenge to America’s status as the dominant political power in the region. But in stark contrast to the Asia-Pacific, where an aggressive and resurgent China has sparked concern and resistance from the United States, American officials welcome and champion Beijing’s Western push both publicly and privately. This sudden, surprising convergence of U.S. and Chinese interests, according to U.S. officials, boils down to one mutual goal: security. As U.S. troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of President Barack Obama’s presidency, Washington is desperately looking for stable governments in the region to share the burden of trying to contain terrorist groups. If China wants to play that role to advance its regional ambitions, the United States says it won’t get in the way”.

Naturally the author notes that “Neighbouring powers such as India and Russia are suspicious and, in some cases, alarmed at Beijing’s growing presence in the region. But for U.S. officials, China’s Silk Road ambitions promise to put some flesh on the bones of Washington’s own long-sought — but ultimately doomed — plans to link underdeveloped but resource-rich parts of South and Central Asia with points west and east”.

The danger with this strategy is that it could enhance suspicious of US military withdrawal in the region and leave India and Chinese relations on a dangerous footing. Unencumbered by US military presence both powers could decide that there is little that restrains them with America out of Asia.

The author goes onto mention that “China’s grand vision of an interconnected trade network for South and Central Asia represents the realisation of an older U.S. policy initiative. For the last four years, the U.S. State Department has been trying to foster a similar regional trade network through its “New Silk Road Initiative,” a policy unveiled in 2011 to foster economic cooperation, trade liberalisation, and better ties across South and Central Asia. The economic initiative had a clear security goal: helping set the conditions for a stable Afghanistan after the withdrawal of U.S. troops, a point outlined by Bob Hormats, who was then the undersecretary of state for economic, agricultural and energy affairs”.

He goes on to argue that “The United States also wasn’t prepared to pony up billions of dollars for infrastructure projects that China has already promised to Central and South Asian governments. The most eye-popping figure so far is the pledge of $46 billion in infrastructure spending to Pakistan that Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled in April. For Islamabad, where foreign investment is scarce, but whose “all-weather” friendship with China offers a potential lifeline, the project can’t materialize soon enough. Sitting in a conference room at the Prime Minister Secretariat, a palatial white-bricked office building that also serves as the residence of the prime minister, Pakistan’s Federal Minister of Planning Ahsan Iqbal praised Beijing’s One Belt, One Road initiative”.

The result is that “It’s no surprise that Islamabad is excited about the initiative. In contrast to the roughly $2 billion it receives annually from the U.S. government in foreign and security aid, Beijing’s promise of $46 billion in infrastructure projects over six years could significantly boost the country’s economic prospects if realized. The project involves the construction of hydroelectric and coal-fired power plants, which could help Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tackle the country’s energy crisis. In the electricity-starved country, blackouts are a constant source of frustration and are seen by Pakistani officials as a direct security threat. Beyond power plants, China is also promising to invest billions in pipelines, rail links, and roads”.

Yet how likely this is to take place now that the Chinese economy is imploding remains to be seen. It could be just another unmet pledge to Pakistan.

Worryingly he writes that “For U.S. officials, it’s about time. Since the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001, U.S. officials have tried to bring China into discussions about Afghanistan’s future, only to be jilted by a Beijing that saw little value in taking part in America’s arduous nation-building project. (China’s lack of interest in the Bonn talks, a series of international agreements in 2001 and 2002 aimed at recreating the state of Afghanistan, is often cited as an example.) According to Feldman, that indifference remained the day he started at the State Department’s Af-Pak office in 2009 under the late ambassador Richard Holbrooke. “In 2009, on my first official trip to engage the Chinese, my colleagues in Beijing refused to even have the words ‘Afghanistan’ or ‘Pakistan’ on our agenda,” he said. But that posture began to shift last year amid Beijing’s mounting concerns that instability in neighbouring Pakistan and Afghanistan was spilling into China’s predominantly Muslim northwest. In July 2014, China appointed veteran diplomat Sun Yuxi as special envoy for Afghanistan. Following Sun’s appointment, China hosted secret talks with Taliban and Afghan officials in December and, in July, attended the first official peace talks between Afghan officials and the Taliban in the resort town of Murree outside of Islamabad”.

Interestingly he posits that “China matters in those talks because Beijing has unique leverage over Islamabad. For years, Kabul has argued that the biggest obstacle to an Afghan settlement has been Pakistan’s willingness to play with fire, first by backing militant groups inside Afghanistan and later by offering safe havens in Pakistani territory to violent groups. That includes the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, an insurgent group that operates on both sides of the border. While Islamabad denies those charges, most observers agree that Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban is a critical factor for the peace talks, giving Beijing an important role to play in exerting pressure. “China’s influence isn’t simply that they’ve been willing to play host,” said Markey. “It’s their willingness to push the Pakistanis to play the reconciliation game.” Optimism over a deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government peaked in early July following the breakthrough talks in Murree, Pakistan. But much of that enthusiasm faded on July 29 with the news of Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s death. The next round of peace talks scheduled for July 31 were postponed indefinitely as an internal power struggle ensued between Omar’s successor, Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour, and rivals such as Omar’s son, Yaqub, and Abdul Qayum Zakir”.

Correctly he concludes that “To be sure, while the United States has welcomed Beijing’s more expansive role, other countries look warily at China. Indian officials, for example, have complained that Beijing is only pressing Pakistan to crack down on members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a group of militant Uighur Islamists operating in North Waziristan, and neglecting the other extremist militants such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based group that opposes India’s presence in Kashmir and which both Washington and Delhi consider a terrorist organisation”.

Pentagon rethinks its Syria strategy

19/09/2015

In an acknowledgment of severe shortcomings in its effort to create a force of moderate rebels to battle the Islamic State in Syria, the Pentagon is drawing up plans to significantly revamp the program by dropping larger numbers of fighters into safer zones as well as providing better intelligence and improving their combat skills. The proposed changes come after a Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda attacked, in late July, many of the first 54 Syrian graduates of the military’s training program and the rebel unit they came from. A day before the attack, two leaders of the American-backed group and several of its fighters were captured. The encounter revealed several glaring deficiencies in the program, according to classified assessments: The rebels were ill-prepared for an enemy attack and were sent back into Syria in too small numbers. They had no local support from the population and had poor intelligence about their foes. They returned to Syria during the Eid holiday, and many were allowed to go on leave to visit relatives, some in refugee camps in Turkey — and these movements likely tipped off adversaries to their mission. Others could not return because border crossings were closed”.

Know nothing GOP candidates

19/09/2015

An article criticises the most recent GOP debate as lacking any foreign policy nuance, “There is one thing every Republican candidate for president agrees on: The foreign policy of Barack Obama has been deeply damaging to our country. Each excels at describing the devastation while clamouring for the leader who can “make our country great again.” What has been in short supply, however, including in the ostensible foreign-policy debate Wednesday night, has been credible alternatives that have much prospect of becoming national policy. What I have not yet heard from any candidate is an effective strategy that marries priorities, spending, and action and that fits into his or her larger program for running the country”.

The writer makes the point that “Jeb Bush came closest to providing real answers, exemplifying the steadiness he argued is needed; his judiciousness nearly caught up with his awkwardness this time. Marco Rubio demonstrated the broadest knowledge of world affairs and was incisive in description, but vague in prescription. Carly Fiorina had impressive command of the brief and conveyed an admirable Thatcherian toughness, but her policy prescriptions would be unlikely to produce the intended results. John Kasich argued for multilateralism, a novelty. Donald Trump was expansive on what he would accomplish but provided no basis for plausibility: When challenged on knowing so little, he proudly claimed that by the time he became president he would know more than anyone. But make no mistake: This was not a foreign-policy debate. There was very little actual debate among the candidates; issues hugely important to U.S. national security were never touched on; and no one was challenged to put his or her responses in the context of their other governing priorities. Mostly, what CNN seemed to want was to bait candidates into personal attacks”.

Pointedly the writer notes that “The country’s $18.2 trillion debt was mentioned only in passing. The term “human rights” was uttered just twice, by Rubio and Kasich in their closing statements. Syria’s refugee crisis was not discussed, nor was trade policy or the war we are (still) fighting in Afghanistan. The word “Europe” was mentioned only three times. And when Mexico was, it was only in the context of immigration”.

The author notes that some of the issues that were not raised included Ukraine and Russia, China, ISIS, the national debt, spending on diplomacy, defence spending and the Islam.

The writer goes on to mention that “Answering a messily worded question about both Russia and Syria, Trump claimed he could “get along with [Vladimir] Putin” and then came suspiciously close to suggesting we give Russia free rein in Syria and Ukraine in order to get stability. Fiorina advocated a provocative course: refusing talks with Putin, building up the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet, conducting “aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states,” stationing more U.S. troops in Germany, giving intelligence support to Egypt, selling bombs to Jordan, and arming the Kurds. Rubio brilliantly described Russia’s malevolent influence, but didn’t say what should be done about it. And Rand Paul called for more engagement with Russia. Magical thinking prevailed in discussing Iran: Ted Cruz was stridently unilateralist, Kasich was unrealistic about getting allies to reimpose sanctions, and Trump seemed to suggest that the Iran nuclear agreement was to blame for North Korea’s behaviour. Bush pointed out that tearing up the Iran agreement isn’t a strategy, but didn’t provide one of his own. Fiorina said that unless Iran opens every military site, we should unilaterally prevent it from using the international banking system. Bush, Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Fiorina all bemoaned the effect of the agreement on Israel but made no mention of America’s other allies”.

The piece ends “China was touched on only lightly. Walker was called on to defend his earlier advocacy of canceling President Xi Jinping’s state visit over Chinese cyberattacks. Bush argued for continued diplomatic engagement but more aggressive American use of offensive cyberattacks and other tools against China. Total time elapsed: around 4 minutes. In a three-hour debate.But the best line of the night came from struggling Chris Christie, after CNN had goaded Fiorina and Trump into fighting about their respective business records. “You’re both successful people. Congratulations. You know who’s not successful? The middle class.” He’s right: Average Americans would have heard little addressed regarding their problems in last night’s debate”.

 

UK drone strike

19/09/2015

A British jihadist has been killed in an RAF air strike in Syria after he plotted to carry out “outrageous and barbaric” plots on British soil. In a move David Cameron said was “a new departure” for Britain, Reyaad Khan was last month assassinated in an RAF drone strike after security services uncovered his bid to stage a terror attack in the UK. The Prime Minister said that it is the first time UK forces have killed a terrorist in a foreign country when Britain is not at war and made clear that Britain is now prepared to carry out more strikes on Isil targets in Syria, Iraq and Libya. The Prime Minister authorised the strike without the approval of Parliament but said that it not require a vote because it was an act of “self-defence” for which there was a “clear legal basis”. Two other Isil fighters were killed in the attack on the Syrian city of Raqqa on 21 August. One of them, Ruhul Amin, 26, was also British, Mr Cameron said.The Prime Minister said that a third Briton, Junaid Hussain, 21, was killed by a separate US airstrike”.

Ending the US-Pakistan alliance

19/09/2015

An article from Foreign Affairs argues that America should cuts its ties to Pakistan, “Ever since 9/11, the United States has provided Pakistan with a steady supply of security and nonsecurity assistance. U.S. officials have justified these generous transfers—worth more than $30 billion since 2002—on the grounds that they secure Pakistan’s ongoing cooperation in Afghanistan, bolster Pakistan’s ability to fight terrorism, and give the U.S. government influence over the country’s ever-expanding nuclear weapons program. Failing to deliver this support, the argument runs, could dramatically weaken the will and capacity of Pakistan’s security forces and possibly even lead to the collapse of the Pakistani state. In that event, Pakistan’s nuclear know-how, material, or weapons could well fall into the hands of nefarious actors”.

The writer makes the valid assertion that “Yet that logic is fundamentally flawed. Many of the weapons Washington gives Islamabad are ill suited to fighting terrorism, and continued transfers will do nothing to convince the Pakistani government to end its long-standing support for terrorist groups. In fact, U.S. assistance gives Pakistan an incentive to foster a sense of insecurity concerning its nuclear arsenal and expanding ranks of jihadists. Since the current approach has little chance of aligning Pakistan’s interests with those of the United States, the time has come for Washington to change course. If Washington cannot end Pakistan’s noxious behaviours, it should at least stop sponsoring them”.

The author notes that there has been a long history of this, “Pakistan’s reliance on militant proxies is as old as its very existence as an independent state. As early as 1947, when Pakistan was emerging from the collapse of the British Raj, the new government was backing anti-Indian tribal militias in the disputed territory of Kashmir. In Afghanistan, meanwhile, by 1950, Islamabad was promoting a Pakistan-based Islamist party known as Jamaat-e-Islami. Members of that party would later become prominent mujahideen who, with the backing of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), would go on to fight both Afghanistan’s pro-Soviet leaders and Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1970s and 1980s. After 1989, Pakistan redeployed these battle-hardened fighters to Indian Kashmir, where they displaced indigenous secular nationalist insurgents in their battle against Indian rule in the province”.

The piece goes onto argue “Pakistan has come to rely on nonstate actors in Afghanistan and India because they are relatively inexpensive and disproportionately effective. They shield the state from the risks of deploying regular forces while affording its officials a degree of plausible deniability. Pakistan’s nuclear capacity, meanwhile, has allowed Islamabad to use these actors with the knowledge that its neighbours, particularly India, will hesitate to retaliate. That Pakistan can request foreign assistance to contain the menace of its wayward proxies compounds their appeal. Jihadist organizations are integral to Pakistan’s regional strategy. For the country’s security establishment, the notion of cutting them off is anathema”.

The author correctly makes the point that “Even as they support terrorist groups that threaten U.S. interests, Pakistani officials are wont to claim that Washington has been a perfidious ally. They note, for example, that the United States failed to come to Pakistan’s aid during its 1965 and 1971 wars with India, despite a bilateral defense pact signed in 1954 and shared commitments under the Central Treaty Organization and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. They claim that the United States drew Pakistan into an anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s and then abandoned Islamabad, leaving it to deal with the aftermath of the conflict once U.S. objectives had been achieved. And they claim that Washington unjustly withheld an order of F-16 fighter jets that Pakistan had agreed to purchase, because of sanctions imposed in 1990. Yet in all these instances, Pakistan’s historical retelling is either a distortion of reality or an outright fiction. For starters, the United States was not obligated to help Pakistan in its 1965 war with India, both because Pakistan had initiated that conflict and because Washington’s various agreements with Islamabad pertained only to communist threats. In fact, even though sanctions imposed on both India and Pakistan after the 1965 war legally prohibited the United States from helping Pakistan when conflict with India reignited over East Pakistan in 1971, the Nixon administration nonetheless came to Islamabad’s assistance. Indeed, President Richard Nixon bent U.S. law to authorize military aid even as American officials understood that Pakistan was committing genocide against ethnic Bengalis in East Pakistan”.

The article mentions that “Over the next decade, Washington would repeatedly compromise its commitment to nuclear nonproliferation to the benefit of Pakistan’s military rulers. When Afghanistan became mired in Soviet-backed chaos in December 1979, for example, the administration of U.S. President Jimmy Carter decided to drop the nuclear-related sanctions it had imposed on Pakistan earlier that year and instead sponsor Pakistan’s efforts to oust Soviet forces from Afghanistan. Yet Pakistani President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq rebuffed Carter’s offer of some $325 million in aid as “peanuts,” betting that a Republican president would offer Pakistan a better deal after the 1980 election. He was right. After assuming office in January 1981, Ronald Reagan secured a waiver of the 1979 sanctions, and by 1982, the United States had initiated a six-year aid package worth some $3.2 billion”.

Pointed the piece argues “Past attempts to induce Pakistan to change its behaviour have largely failed, and there is little reason to believe that a change in course is imminent. Indeed, what little convergence of interests existed between Washington and Islamabad during the Cold War has long since disappeared. After six decades of policy predicated on Pakistani blackmail, it should be possible to achieve U.S. interests with a different approach. A strategy of containment is the United States’ best option. Above all, U.S. relations with Pakistan should be premised on the understanding that Pakistan is a hostile state, rather than an ally or a partner. To be sure, accepting that reality does not mean abandoning Pakistan altogether. The United States should maintain its diplomatic relations with Pakistan, and it should address a long-standing Pakistani complaint by providing Pakistani products greater access to American markets, signaling that Washington takes Islamabad’s legitimate concerns seriously enough to risk the ire of domestic business interests. It should also continue training Pakistanis in critical capacities such as peacekeeping, disaster relief, and civil-military relations through the U.S. government’s International Military Education and Training program. And it should continue to provide Pakistan with modest assistance in such areas as basic health care, gender equality, and primary and occupational education”.

Crucially though, “it must delink that help from the failed counterterrorism programs with which many such human development programs are currently bundled. And above all, Washington must end its support for the country’s turgid military establishment, which sustains a perverse strategic culture that has ill served Pakistani and U.S. interests for decades. To that end, the United States should stop supplying Pakistan with strategic weapons systems, and it should prevent Pakistan from replacing and repairing those pieces of equipment that it has already received. The provision of U.S. weapons cannot reshape Pakistan’s will to maintain its militant proxies, but those weapons do equip Pakistan to challenge India. Indeed, the vast majority of the weapons systems provided to Pakistan since 2001 are better suited for a conventional conflict with its neighbour than for internal security operations. These transfers undermine U.S. efforts to cultivate a relationship with India, an important democratic partner on a range of crucial issues, from securing regional sea-lanes to managing China’s rise”.

The piece concludes “Repairing Pakistan’s civil-military relations, on the other hand, will require reforming the country’s tax system. Today, less than one percent of Pakistanis pay income taxes, and the country’s tax-to-GDP ratio is among the world’s lowest. Only when Pakistan’s tax base is broadened will citizens begin to hold their government accountable for its overinvestment in defense and underinvestment in human development. Washington should therefore encourage the International Monetary Fund to condition new agreements with Pakistan on the completion of promised economic reforms, including an overhaul of its tax system. In the past, Pakistan’s confidence that it was too dangerous to fail has allowed it to renege on its promises to international lenders. Allowing Pakistan to face the consequences of its failures may force it to fix its economic policy in the future. Should Pakistan continue to back nonstate actors, the United States should aggressively use every tool available to sanction Pakistanis—ordinary citizens, military and civilian officials, and militant leaders—who engage in or sponsor terrorism. Many of Pakistan’s elite travel to the United States for medical treatment or to visit family members; Washington should deny visas to those Pakistanis linked to terrorist activity by credible intelligence”.

The writer continues, arguing that “the United States should remove itself from Pakistan’s nuclear coercion loop. It is questionable whether the billions of dollars in aid sent to Islamabad over the past six decades has bought the United States actionable information on the Pakistani nuclear program. What is evident, however, is that Pakistan uses its nuclear arsenal to extract rents from the United States and to deter India from retaliating against attacks by its militant proxies. With this in mind, the United States should make two points clear to Pakistan. First, Washington should tell Islamabad that it will be held accountable if any of its nuclear material is found in the hands of another state or nonstate actors. Punitive measures could well include air strikes on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities. And second, although in the past the United States has pushed India to de-escalate the situation in the aftermath of Pakistani-sponsored terrorist attacks, Washington should tell Pakistan that it will not intervene in any future crises. How New Delhi decides to respond to Pakistani provocations should be its decision, not Washington’s”.

In response to the critics of this proposed policy the writer notes that “Critics of radically reorienting U.S. policy toward Pakistan argue that cutting the country off would be ineffective at best and dangerously destabilising at worst. They claim, for example, that U.S. sanctions in the 1990s failed to prevent Pakistan from acquiring a nuclear weapon and testing it in 1998 and that a punitive approach would be similarly fruitless today. But the chronology of this argument is confused: although Pakistan tested its first nuclear weapon in 1998, the country had assembled the materials for a bomb by the late 1980s, well before U.S. sanctions came into force”.

The writer finishes “Advocates of continued aid to Islamabad often argue that Washington needs Pakistan’s cooperation to bring supplies to Afghanistan via Pakistani routes. But this is not the case. When Pakistan restricted U.S. access to supply routes in 2011, the United States managed to transport goods to Afghanistan by air and through Central Asia. That policy may have been temporarily expensive, but as the United States diminishes its presence in Afghanistan, it should likewise be able to do so without relying on Pakistan”.

Crucially the report ends “Perhaps the greatest concern raised by advocates of the status quo is that discontinuing aid would lead to the collapse of the Pakistani state and the arrival of Islamist terrorists at the nuclear gates. Yet Pakistan is far more resilient than most analysts appreciate, and state failure is not in the offing. When Pakistan became independent, in 1947, it faced a daunting set of challenges. It lacked a functioning national democratic party. Its ministries and armed forces were short-staffed and dysfunctional. Large portions of its population were resentful of Islamabad’s rule. And it was ill equipped to police the dangerous border with Afghanistan that it had inherited from the Raj. At the time, British and some Indian leaders expected the country to collapse and merge with its neighbour”.

She ends “Pakistan will not fail. Under U.S. pressure, it is more likely to undertake crucial political and fiscal reforms. If it does, the result will be better for Pakistanis, better for U.S. interests in South Asia, and better for anyone interested in a Pakistan at peace with itself and its neighbours”.

Islam condemns ISIS

19/09/2015

More than 1,000 Muslim clerics in India have ratified a religious ruling that condemns the Islamic State and calls the extremist group’s actions “un-Islamic,” a top Indian Muslim leader said Wednesday. Religious leaders from hundreds of Islamic mosques, education institutions and civic groups across India have signed the edict, or fatwa, saying the actions of the Islamic State group went against the basic tenets of Islam. The edict was issued by a leading Mumbai-based cleric, Mohammed Manzar Hasan Ashrafi Misbahi, and has been signed by the leaders of all the main mosques in India, which has the world’s third-largest Muslim population. “The acts of the Islamic State are inhuman and un-Islamic,” Misbahi said by phone from Mumbai. “Islam does not allow the killing of even an animal. What the Islamic State is doing is damaging to Islam.” Misbahi said the fatwa — which is around 1,100 pages and labels the Islamic State group “un-Islamic” — has been sent to the leaders of more than 50 countries, seeking their endorsement”.

“Growing Russian military presence in Syria”

17/09/2015

Following on from the earlier report, an article argues that a satellite image means Russian troops are in Syria, “evidence has steadily emerged of a growing Russian military presence in Syria. As Bashar al-Assad’s armies have failed him in the field, he has increasingly relied on outside help. Initially, that help came from Hezbollah and Iran, but now it appears to be Moscow’s turn. And Washington may finally be waking up to what looks like a substantial Russian intervention in Syria. New satellite images, obtained by Foreign Policy, of construction at an air base near Latakia leave little doubt that U.S. policy toward ending the conflict in Syria, such as it is, is now in total disarray. As they say, seeing is believing”.

Interestingly the piece notes “there has long been a Russian military presence in Syria. When opposition forces overran a Syrian listening post in October last year, the images revealed that it was staffed by the Russian military. More recently, analysts have noted pictures and videos that seem to confirm the presence of Russian combat forces fighting in Syria. Russian military vehicles have been sighted, while Russian soldiers have posted images and comments on Russian social media sites like VKontakte and the California-based LiveJournal, detailing their service in the war-torn country. (Some of the best open-source analysis has been on Bellingcat’s website.) It is very strange world we live in, one marked both by the “little green men” of Russia’s “hybrid” warfare who Moscow can disavow and by data ubiquity that allows analysts to mock those disavowals. Still, there has always been a question about how extensive Russia’s support for the Syrian regime has been the past four years. Are those even Russians inside the Moscow-supplied combat vehicles? Open-source analysts have been quite enterprising in suggesting the answer is yes, hearing snippets of Russian in between bursts from the vehicle’s gun”.

He notes that “On Sept. 4, the New York Times published an article suggesting that Russia had shipped prefabricated housing and a transportable air traffic control station to an airfield near Latakia. It was a great scoop, but I was pretty baffled that the New York Times didn’t bother to purchase a satellite image of the facility. Had they done so, they would have realized that they buried the lede. Drag the slider back and forth to compare a Google Earth image of the air base near Latakia with a recent satellite image of the same air base. The satellite image shows far more than prefabricated housing and an air traffic control station. It shows extensive construction of what appears to be a military canton at Bassel al-Assad International Airport (named for Bashar’s elder brother, who died in a car accident in 1994). This canton appears designed to support Russian combat air operations from the base and may serve as a logistical hub for Russian combat forces”.

What the author does not mention is the effect of waging two “wars” of the coffers of Putin’s Russia. Furthermore there is no discussion as to how this might effect the stability of the Russian regime.

The report continues “What is at stake is how to deal with a situation in which Vladimir Putin is going all-in on behalf of the Assad government while our policy is in tatters. Rogin reports that U.S. officials believe Russia will base combat aircraft at the site. That is easy to confirm from the satellite image. In recent weeks, construction crews have completed a taxiway that connects the runway to the construction area. That means aircraft shelters for Russian aircraft. The scale of the construction goes even further. A large area of ground has been cleared in many different parts of the air base. There are pallets and crates everywhere. Trucks are visible driving into the site. (We’ve annotated the image, but I highly recommend following @finriswolf on Twitter.) The image drives home the implication of all those flights and shipments heading to Syria: Russia is substantially expanding its involvement”.

The implications for this involvement is that “There is now little hope of establishing a no-fly zone over Syria, unless Washington wants to be in the business of shooting down Russian aircraft. From a broader perspective, U.S. efforts to arm the opposition to Assad mean fighting a proxy war with Moscow, either by trying to down the Russian planes or helping Syrian opposition forces kill Russian combat troops on the ground. That seems a much tougher task than fighting a proxy war with Iran and Hezbollah”.

He mentions that “What Russia has done, however, is make it clear that it will not let Assad fall. He can’t win, but Russia won’t let him lose. That dooms Syria to what looks like endless war, as Assad fights to the last man. There are those who see Syria as a quagmire for Putin, a kind of matched pair to our own folly in Iraq; just as Washington collectively saw Afghanistan as payback for Vietnam. I am not so sanguine”.

There is another alterative, that Russia knows Assad is finished and is simply using its military force for leverage to create a statelet for Assad to rule giving him a way out and at the same time pleasing Russia and Iran.

Assad to share power?

17/09/2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is ready to hold snap parliamentary elections and could share power with a “healthy” opposition. Russia, along with Iran, has been Assad’s principle international ally in the war that has raged in Syria for four-and-a-half years and has claimed a quarter of a million lives. Moscow has made clear it does not want to see Assad toppled and has seized on gains made by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq to urge his foreign foes, including the United States and Saudi Arabia, to work with Damascus to combat the common enemy. “We really want to create some kind of an international coalition to fight terrorism and extremism,” Putin told journalists on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, saying he had spoken to U.S. President Barack Obama on the matter”.

Europe and the migrants

17/09/2015

A piece in Foreign Policy notes the lack of sympathy within Europe for Germany, “Germany’s Willkommen mat is wearing thin. In a letter posted on his party’s website Monday, German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said his country now expects to receive 1 million migrants this year — up from 800,000 — among the massive wave of humanity fleeing to Europe from the Mideast and North Africa. Gabriel’s missive came as European Union ministers held an emergency meeting in Brussels to plot a way forward in the crisis. By early Monday afternoon, ministers reportedly agreed to take military action against smugglers and human trafficking in the Mediterranean Sea. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and economic migrants have crossed the choppy sea so far this year, many from Syria, Iraq, and Eritrea. Additionally, the Guardian predicted approval for what it described as “internment camps” of refugees in Italy and Greece, as well as others outside of Europe to ease the influx across the continent”.

Needless to say “the EU remains deeply split on how to handle the migrants once they get to Europe’s shores. Britain and Poland made clear Monday their opposition to a European Commission plan for mandatory resettlement of 160,000 refugees among at least 22 EU states. The proposal already has been derided by a coalition of mostly eastern and central European states, but has strong support from Germany as it seeks to shift some of the burden to other nations. For months, Berlin has prided itself as being among the most accepting of migrants seeking better lives in Europe. Gabriel’s letter makes clear that Germany is no longer willing to be the only European port in the migrants’ storm”.

He ends “That EU nations have taken a piecemeal, state-by-state solution to the migration wave has only worsened the crisis, said the United Nations refugee agency. In a statement Sunday, the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees said “the combination of different, individual measures … will find themselves moving around in legal limbo.” The agency also urged the creation of EU-supported reception centers in Greece, Italy and Hungary, where the vast majority of migrants enter Europe”.

White House monitoring Russia

17/09/2015

The White House on Thursday said it was closely monitoring reports that Russia is carrying out military operations in Syria, warning such actions, if confirmed, would be “destabilizing and counter-productive.” “We are aware of reports that Russia may have deployed military personnel and aircraft to Syria, and we are monitoring those reports quite closely,” said spokesman Josh Earnest. “Any military support to the Assad regime for any purpose, whether it’s in the form of military personnel, aircraft supplies, weapons, or funding, is both destabilizing and counterproductive.” The comments come after images appeared on a social media account linked to Syrian fighters purporting to show Russian aircraft and drones near Idlib province. Unconfirmed reports suggested the aircraft may have included a Russian Sukhoi 34 advanced strike fighter, which Syria is not thought to own”.

Saudi Arabia, terrorism and counterterrorism

17/09/2015

An report discusses the relationship between King Salman and ISIS, it opens, “When Saudi Arabia’s King Salman made his first visit to Washington since ascending the throne in January, his goals were simple. The 79-year-old ruler wanted to paper over the disputes that have eroded the U.S.-Saudi relationship for years and extract from President Barack Obama’s administration a payoff for Riyadh’s tepid support of the nuclear deal with Iran. With the White House eager to maintain momentum on the nuclear agreement after securing the Senate votes to block the Republican rejection of the deal, King Salman’s timing was excellent — all but erasing memories of his no-show at a Camp David conference of Gulf leaders in May. Papering over differences is one of diplomacy’s finer and more useful arts. With the Saudis anxious about a possible warming in the U.S. relationship with Iran and sharp disagreements regarding Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and the broader sectarian blood bath in the Middle East, the visit was a solid piece of work in the service of Washington’s ever more schizophrenic partnership with Riyadh — perhaps the most convoluted bilateral relationship the United States has had with any country. The atmospherics around the visit were sufficiently positive that few mentioned the contradictions that seem to be fraying ties between the United States and its longtime friend in the Gulf”.

He goes on to mention that “One commentator who did dwell on the deep dissonance in the relationship was Thomas Friedman, in a New York Times column published just before King Salman’s arrival. Teeing off on some benighted retired Air Force general who opposed the nuclear deal on the grounds that Iran was the leading sponsor of Islamic radicalism in the world, Friedman exclaimed: “Nothing has been more corrosive to the stability and modernization of the Arab world, and the Muslim world at large, than the billions and billions of dollars the Saudis have invested since the 1970s into wiping out the pluralism of Islam … and imposing in its place the puritanical, anti-modern, anti-women, anti-Western, anti-pluralistic Wahhabi Salafist brand of Islam.” Friedman is on target in arguing that Saudi Arabia’s contribution to Islamist extremism has far outstripped Iran’s. Indeed, Tehran’s effort to transcend sect and become the leader of the Muslim world’s radical rejectionist stream has been in tatters since the Arab Spring and the heightening of sectarian tensions because of the Syrian civil war”.

He correctly argues that “Wahhabism has been a devastating invasive species in Islam’s enormous ecosystem — it’s the zebra mussel, the Asian Tiger mosquito, and the emerald ash borerwrapped into one. The consequences have been fateful: A solid line of causation from the slaughter in Islamic State-controlled Iraq and the tragedy of 9/11 traces back directly to Saudi evangelisation and the many radical mosques and extremist NGOs it spawned”.

He does on to make the point that “This is too easy; if oil were the only vital U.S. interest binding it to the kingdom, dealing with the export of extremism would be vastly easier. What Friedman and almost everyone else misses is the increasingly pivotal importance of counterterrorism cooperation in the U.S.-Saudi relationship. That may set heads spinning, but when it comes to tactical counterterrorism — uncovering conspiracies and disrupting them — Saudi Arabia has become an invaluable partner, one of the very best Washington has. Following Saudi Arabia’s apparent epiphany after the May 2003 bombings in Riyadh, which killed 39 people, ties between U.S. counterterrorism authorities and their Saudi counterparts have grown close, collegial, and effective. There is a reason why Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef, now second in line to the throne and the architect of Saudi counterterrorism strategy, is far and away Washington’s favorite leader in Riyadh”.

He notes importantly that “The golden age of this cooperation began in 2009, when the terrorist threat was developing most dangerously in the kingdom’s backyard: Yemen. Saudi counterterrorism cooperation at the time prevented hundreds of American deaths, possibly more. Some of the cases are well-known, like the plot to hide bombs in printer cartridges aboard U.S.-bound planes. Without these tips, one or more aircraft would have gone down. Other operations have helped the United States defend against a new class of undetectable bombsthat might also be used against aviation. Wherever else one might find fault with them, the Saudis did superb work in these cases. The cooperation extends beyond the cloak and dagger stuff. Since 2003, the Saudi government’s work on counterterrorism finance has improved considerably, and its efforts in the area of rehabilitating extremists have been recognised internationally”.

Crucially he writes that “there is an extraordinary paradox here. Because of the large sums that flow from the country’s religious establishment and huge NGOs to institutions that promote Wahhabi-style Islam — with its malignant views of Shiites, Jews, Christians, and the West — Saudi Arabia remains the fountainhead for Islamist extremism. These funds, together with curricular materials, preachers, television broadcasters, religious literature, and the like stoke radicalism in scores of countries, even if they are typically not directly implicated in violent acts. At the same time, Saudi intelligence services are active around the world trying to prevent the terrorism that grows from this activity”.

He mentions that “So why hasn’t the United States pressed Riyadh more effectively to dial back the support for extremism that so clearly affects our security and global interests? There are several reasons. To begin with, counterterrorism cooperation of the kind that Riyadh has supplied is hard to argue with. No president wants to risk alienating a government that is helping safeguard American lives. While some officials have pushed for engaging the Saudis on the export of extremism, many others are averse to starting a tough discussion that could go nowhere. The Saudis, after all, are unlikely to reconceive their polity on our account. Further complicating matters has been what might be called the “Politburo syndrome.” As with the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the small handful of Saudi gerontocrats who are authorized to do anything — either the king or a few of the senior-most princes — are either dying or too intellectually ossified to persuade anyone to adopt a radically different approach”.

He makes the point that “So for all the advances after 9/11 and the kiss-and-make-up atmosphere of the moment, the prognosis for the U.S.-Saudi relationship is not encouraging. The two countries’ priorities are simply too far apart. For the United States, the imperatives are to implement the nuclear deal with Iran and halt the rise of Islamist extremism — above all, contain and diminish the Islamic State without dispatching American combat troops to the region. For the Saudis, the paramount goal is to check and roll back what they see as Iranian advances, especially in Yemen and Syria”.

He concludes “But behind the scenes, Washington has gnawing concerns about the Saudi war effort. The bombing runs are killing civilians in appalling numbers, and a country that hovers on desperation has been plunged into a humanitarian disaster. The United States is trying to refine Saudi targeting, but the carnage remains ghastly, and the Saudi claim that the Houthis are nothing more than an Iranian proxy has also worn thin. This isn’t just bad for the Yemenis. It’s also bad for the United States because terrorist groups thrive in conflict zones and Yemen’s jihadis — especially al Qaeda — are gaining territory and influence, since they face no pressure except from the occasional U.S. drone shot”.

He finishes “Can any of this be fixed? Will our partners of seven decades, as U.S. officials like to refer to the Saudis, join in the fight against extremism and not just its terrorist end-product? Don’t count on it: Saudi Arabia has avoided taking such steps for decades, and there is no reason to think the kingdom can’t stay on its current course for decades more. As for the United States, it will remain saddled with tactical imperatives that prevent it from addressing the bigger mess. And so Washington will muddle forward against the jihadi threat”.

“The Pentagon is finalizing a $1 billion arms agreement”

15/09/2015

In a move meant to reassure a vital Persian Gulf ally about the Iran nuclear deal, the Pentagon is finalizing a $1 billion arms agreement with Saudi Arabia that will provide weapons for the Saudi war effort against the Islamic State and Yemen, senior administration officials said Thursday. Details of the pact are being worked out ahead of a visit by King Salman of Saudi Arabia to the White House on Friday, the officials said, adding that the deal must be approved by Congress before it is final. The two leaders are also expected to discuss additional military training that the United States can provide for Saudi Arabia as it adopts a more muscular stance in the region. The weapons deal, although not the largest between the United States and Saudi Arabia, comes at a time when the Obama administration is promising Arab allies that it will back them against what many Arab governments view as a rising Iran. It also comes as the Middle East is descending into proxy wars, sectarian conflicts and battles against terrorist networks”.

Iran gives up Khobar bomber?

15/09/2015

An article posits that Iran has given up a terror suspect, “The capture of Ahmed al-Mughassil, the prime suspect in the June 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, was particularly and personally gratifying for me, a former FBI agent who spent years investigating and disrupting other terrorist attacks. But it’s unlikely that a lucky intelligence break alone led to Mughassil’s apparent capture in Hezbollah territory. That’s not to take anything away from the impressive ability of intelligence agencies around the world to coordinate and track those like Mughassil, who’ve successfully evaded detection for years. Indeed, the “how” of his capture, which involved the intelligence and security services of Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, is the stuff of spy novels. But the question of why Hezbollah allowed Mughassil to be plucked from its own backyard — without any retaliation or even a tangible response — may be even more fascinating”.

He goes on to write “That “why” likely stems from the shifting self-interests of both Iran and Saudi Arabia — specifically, from the realities posed by the soon-to-be-enacted Iranian nuclear deal. With the historic accord now in Tehran’s back pocket, it will make less and less sense for the regime going forward to offer safe havens to wanted terrorist suspects (with American blood on their hands, no less), who present glaring political and diplomatic liabilities. To prove its skeptics wrong, Iran must continue to show a willingness to change its stance on harboring terrorists”.

He posits that “Mughassil’s capture fits squarely into this equation. A Shiite born in al-Qatif, Saudi Arabia, in 1967, he was a state-sponsored and then state-sheltered terrorist — the “state,” in each case, being Iran, working with its proxy Hezbollah. The bombing of Khobar Towers, which killed 19 U.S. Air Force personnel enforcing a no-fly zone over parts of Iraq and wounded hundreds of others, involved actors in four countries — Saudi Arabia, Iran, Lebanon, and Syria — working with the Iranian-supported Lebanese Hezbollah and the Iranian-supported, but Saudi Arabia-based, Hezbollah al-Hejaz (a separate group from the Lebanese Hezbollah but still ideologically aligned with them and Iran). After parking a massive truck bomb near the tower’s housing complex, Mughassil left the scene, remotely detonated the bomb with an explosive yield of 20,000 pounds of TNT-equivalent explosives, and fled to Iran, beyond the reach of U.S. and Saudi security and intelligence services”.

The writer adds that “Riyadh feared retaliation from Tehran if the United States attacked Iran based on information gathered from Saudi Arabia. The kingdom also feared being embarrassed by the revelation that fully capable terrorist cells, funded and trained by foreign powers, were operating within its borders. Even as new terrorism cases took the spotlight, Khobar remained an FBI priority. During the East Africa embassy bombings in 1998 and the USS Cole attack in 2000, cases in which I was directly and deeply involved, the bureau never stopped collecting evidence or cajoling Saudi officials to turn over evidence in their possession. That the United States finally secured indictments in June 2001 — five years after the attacks — was a testament both to the geopolitical roadblocks and the determination to find a way around them. Mughassil was one of those indicted, yet he remained at large. Then, three months after the indictments, al Qaeda brought down the World Trade Center and crashed a plane into the Pentagon”.

He goes on to make the point later that “After all, life for a state-sheltered terrorist can be pretty good — until politics change dramatically, that is. Historic regional rivalries and entrenched power dynamics rarely shift significantly in one’s lifetime, affording someone like Mughassil relative security and freedom within certain geographic and geopolitical boundaries. Yet such shifts do happen. Sabri Khalil al-Banna, the feared Palestinian terrorist also known as Abu Nidal implicated in hundreds of deaths across the globe, found relative sanctuary in Libya in 1987 after his expulsion from Syria. Only after Libyan operatives were extradited in 1999 to the Hague and convened before a Scottish court as part of a deal over the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 did then-Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi decide Abu Nidal was no longer worth his trouble. He was kicked out in 1999 and ended up in Iraq, where he was shot and killed in 2002″.

He concludes “The challenges facing this case — from a reluctant Saudi Arabia to subsequent terrorist attacks of a far greater scale — made it a perfect one to remain perpetually “under investigation.” The combination of shifting regional dynamics and the FBI’s unwavering focus likely brought about the capture of a terrorist who believed he had gotten away with his murders. Mughassil’s capture and arrest should be a lesson to state-sponsored terrorists everywhere: They are being played as pawns and are only safe as long as they are useful. Whether or not Iran will shift away from using state-sponsored terrorism as a tactic remains to be seen. But the country must be ready to pivot in its relationship with longtime foes like the Saudis. The nuclear deal has forced Tehran to confront the obvious: Its sponsorship and arming of proxies like Hezbollah and its meddling across the Middle East — from Lebanon, to Iraq, to Syria — will increasingly come at cross-purposes with its mission to reengage with the world. As history shows, once the liability of harboring a state-sponsored terrorist like Mughassil outweighs the utility, the state will gladly turn him out. Just ask Carlos the Jackal”.

 

Sweden joining NATO?

15/09/2015

A powerful voice in Swedish politics has for the first time come out strongly in favor of joining the NATO alliance, a move that Russian officials have already warned against in no uncertain terms. The leadership of Sweden’s Centre Party said Tuesday the time had come for a more serious consideration of joining the military alliance in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine and increasing fears in the Baltic States about Moscow’s intentions. In an opinion article in the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, a group of party leaders wrote, “We lack the ability to defend ourselves” if Russian forces attacked. Additionally, they wrote, “NATO is very clear about the fact that Sweden cannot expect military support if we are not full members of the organization. We can no longer close our eyes to that.” The NATO alliance has taken on a renewed importance for Washington since Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014. The Defense Department has sent small numbers of American troops, along with fighter planes and Predator drones, to Eastern Europe and the Baltic states this year to deter further Russian aggression”.

“This Chinese crisis is far from over”

15/09/2015

An article with great forethought notes that the Chinese stock market collapse could get more worse “After two weeks of “Made in China” havoc, share prices in established and emerging markets alike had made a comeback — at least until this morning. But to judge by the major indices, plenty of traders seem to think the worst is over and that the problems on Chinese exchanges have been or will be contained. I disagree. First, let’s examine investors’ recent behaviour and its context. On Aug. 11, China began to devalue its currency — or allowed it to lose value in the market, if you prefer — which pushed other Asian currencies downward, too. The reasons were twofold. First, with Chinese exports becoming cheaper, China’s competitors need their exchange rates to fall as well in order to keep up. Second, the weakness in China’s economy and the tumult in its stock market also lowered expectations for its own import demand. This hurt China’s suppliers in East Asia and beyond, leading foreign investors to sell these companies’ stocks and bonds, and often their countries’ currencies along with them. Lower exchange rates and lower asset values across the region meant that investors there were losing money. But they also meant that investors had smaller holdings in these markets as a share of their portfolios — and, all other things equal, smaller holdings of emerging markets overall”.

He goes on to mention that “As I wrote last week, and as Robert Shiller, the Nobel Prize winning economist whose work I cited, has since reiterated, stocks may still be overpriced in markets around the world. But more germane to the current situation in China is the fact that the crisis that started in its stock markets may be far from over. Over the past several days, Beijing has been all over the map: It apparently tried to find the bottom for share prices in its markets and failed, extracted a confession of causing a run on markets from a journalist, and arrested hundreds more people for allegedly spreading rumours that hurt the economy. These are not the actions of a government with its markets under control; they are the actions of a government used to having its people under control”.

He argues that “Options markets, which depend on investors’ expectations for future prices and volatility in stocks, suggest that the Chinese markets have further to fall. There’s a substantial chance that they’re right, since any more downside moves will have a snowball effect. Even more of the money plowed into stocks through margin lending and shadow banking — investment funds managed by banks that promise a high fixed return — will have to be pulled out and not gradually, either. There’s a chance that the crisis could metastasize to the banking system, too, if stock sales don’t raise enough money to cover the high returns promised to investors in shadow-banking products. If that happens, Chinese banks will have to pay investors out of their own capital — and they may not have enough, especially after Beijing eased capital requirements last year. If the banks come up short, Beijing will have to bail them out again, this time directly — rather than by trying to support share prices. Most likely, the government would do so by cashing in some of its reserves of assets denominated in foreign currencies, such as U.S. Treasury notes”.

He notes that “China is already selling Treasuries from its reserves to stop the renminbi from plunging further, after the abortive devaluation shook traders’ confidence in the currency. Only a few months ago, this would have been no big deal. During roughly two decades of export-driven growth and trade surpluses, China built up $4 trillion worth of foreign reserves, far more than it needed merely to protect its currency (which didn’t float freely on global markets, in any case) from speculative attacks. But from July 2014 to July 2015, China’s reserves shrank by more than $300 billion, and the past month is likely to have eroded them even more. So how much would Beijing be on the hook for if shadow banking blows up? Recent estimates vary widely, but the shadow-banking system was probably worth between $6 trillion and $8 trillion at its peak, so let’s call it $7 trillion. The returns owed to investors may have been about 7 percent on average, or $490 billion. Not all of the shadow-banking funds were invested in stocks, but the other uses of the funds — often loans for municipal construction or infrastructure projects — may also be running losses of as high as 24 percent“.

He concludes “So if the government had to cover a quarter of the promised returns, the cost would be about $120 billion. If it had to cover some of the principal, too, then the cost would be much higher. And when construction projects don’t pay off, and stocks take a nosedive, that outcome becomes a genuine possibility. I’m not saying that China is on the verge of a full-blown fiscal and monetary crisis. But at the very least, these developments would slow down the economic reforms on which China is pinning its hopes for growth and jobs in the next several years. After all, Beijing won’t be so keen to float its currency when its reserves have taken a huge hit, or liberalise its capital markets when stocks have just emerged from a period of sustained chaos, or let go of state-owned enterprises (like banks) when they’ve already overextended themselves”.

He ends cautiously, “In short, the strong likelihood is that this Chinese crisis is far from over. Investors with money in China could soon be in a whole new world of pain, to say nothing of journalists and foreigners, the government’s favorite scapegoats. Falling asset prices will breed discontent in China, too, and as political risk there rises, so will uncertainty in global markets. Economic growth in China will eventually suffer, and economies everywhere that depend on Chinese demand will struggle as well. It’s not a sure thing, of course, but it’s a risk that too few investors appear to be taking seriously”.

 

PLA shifts emphasis

13/09/2015

President Xi Jinping of China announced on Thursday that he would reduce the country’s military personnel by 300,000, using a parade marking 70 years since the end of World War II to present the People’s Liberation Army as a force for peace and regional stability. The Chinese military has more than two million members, and Mr. Xi has embarked on an accelerated modernization of the armed forces, which would shift spending from the traditional land forces to more advanced sea and air forces, which require fewer but better trained personnel. Speaking on a platform overlooking Tiananmen Square, he described the cut as a gesture of peace — at a time when China’s neighbours have grown increasingly worried about its territorial claims and military strength. “I announce that China will reduce military personnel numbers by 300,000,” he said, after declaring that the military was “loyally committed to its sacred duty of defending the security of the motherland and the peaceful life of the people, and loyally committed to the sacred duty of safeguarding world peace.” The cut would shrink military forces to two million personnel, the China News Service, a state-run agency, said”.

Egypt, gas superpower

13/09/2015

Keith Johnson notes that the recent discovery of gas in Egypt is bad news for Israel, “The discovery of a giant natural gas field off the coast of Egypt is great news for that energy-starved nation, but it threatens to upend the grandiose energy dreams of neighbours like Israel and Cyprus. Eni, an Italian energy firm, announced this week that it had discovered the largest gas field ever found in the Mediterranean, a “supergiant” basin that could hold as much as 30 trillion cubic feet of gas. If those early estimates are correct — and optimistic appraisals often give way to more sober analyses — it would be even larger than Leviathan, the giant offshore gas field that has fueled Israeli dreams of becoming a regional energy exporter. The new field, known as Zohr, will take at least three years to come online — and potentially longer if the country’s security situation continues to worsen — but it could then meet Egypt’s energy needs for decades and provide both an economic and political boost to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi”.

Johnson goes on to make the point that “Finding new sources of energy is critically important for Egypt, which until a few years ago exported natural gas to Europe and neighbours like Israel and Jordan. But soaring domestic consumption and underinvestment in production forced Egypt to stop exports and begin importing; earlier this year, it started buying cargoes of natural gas from Russia and signed a deal to eventually import gas from Israel. Now, none of those imports may be needed. More importantly, fresh supplies of natural gas could help Sisi keep power plants and factories running, no small matter in a place where electricity blackouts sparked the political turmoil that helped bring down two of Egypt’s former leaders”.

He adds “Eni’s new discovery, coupled with an announcement earlier this year by BP that it will invest $12 billion to develop existing Egyptian gas fields, amounts to a corporate endorsement of the economic reforms that Sisi has steadily pushed through. That includes paying off debt to foreign energy firms and starting to overhaul the domestic energy market by, for example, rolling back politically popular but ruinously expensive fuel subsidies. It also represents a vote of confidence in the Egyptian leader’s ability to quell a violent uprising by militants linked to the Islamic State, who have carried out deadly attacks in Cairo and throughout the Sinai Peninsula”.

Pointedly he argues “if the gas find is potentially great news for Egypt, it could represent a blow to Egypt’s neighbours. Israel still has plans to turn its own massive offshore gas resources into a source of energy for the rest of the region. Israel and Egypt signed a deal last year under which Israel would export gas from the huge Leviathan field to Egypt; Israel inked similar deals to export gas to Jordan. Now those visions are fraying: Shares in Israeli energy firms tanked in the wake of Eni’s announcement. Noble Energy, the U.S. firm helping develop Leviathan, insists that it is still well-positioned to meet the region’s energy needs despite the rival discovery”.

Johnson mentions that “Cyprus, which had grand plans of its own to tap offshore gas fields and export fuel to Egypt and others, is putting a brave face on the news. Cypriot leaders, burned by disappointing drilling results in their waters so far, figure the massive Egyptian discovery augers well for the island’s own energy future because the Zohr prospect is just a few miles away from Cypriot waters and likely shares the same geology. And the Zohr discovery won’t slam the door shut on Egyptian imports right away, leaving a few years of juicy prospects for other suppliers. Though Eni and Egyptian officials pledged to fast-track development of the field, it will take years to finance and build the infrastructure needed to fully tap it. Even that timeline could grow longer if Egypt’s security situation worsens, which could put a damper on foreign investment”.

Interestingly he mentions “Even before Eni’s announcement, Israel had struggled to turn its energy potential into energy power. Israeli regulators, wary of creating a monopoly, put the kibosh on the firms developing Leviathan late last year and sought to force them to divest some of their holdings. After the Egyptian find, recriminations are flying inside Israel about the pace and shape of that country’s energy development. Seen in the larger context, though, Eni’s recent discovery, coming after another smaller find earlier this year and BP’s big investment, indicated that Egypt was getting its house in order sooner rather than later, dampening the long-term appeal of Israeli gas”.

He ends “One final ripple from the Egyptian discovery could be a revival of talk about eastern Mediterranean countries supplying Turkey with natural gas. Both Cyprus and Israel looked at Turkey as a potential market, but politics as much as economics seemed to doom any deals. Turkey recognizes the northern part of divided Cyprus and has strong-armed recent Cypriot energy development with aggressive naval patrols. Turkey, still smarting from Israel’s foreign-policy moves, especially in Gaza, also seemed to rule out any energy trade with the country. But a gusher of gas in Egypt could push those two countries to search for a new-old export outlet”.

US drones in Syria

13/09/2015

The CIA and U.S. Special Operations forces have launched a secret campaign to hunt terrorism suspects in Syria as part of a targeted killing program that is run separately from the broader U.S. military offensive against the Islamic State, U.S. officials said. The CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) are flying drones over Syria in a collaboration responsible for several recent strikes against senior Islamic State operatives, the officials said. Among those killed was a British militant thought to be an architect of the terrorist group’s effort to use social media to incite attacks in the United States, the officials said. The clandestine program represents a significant escalation of the CIA’s involvement in the war in Syria, enlisting the agency’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) against a militant group that many officials believe has eclipsed al-Qaeda as a threat”.

The China meltdown and the Economist

13/09/2015

An article in the Economist discusses China’s stockmarket collapse and wants it both ways, saying it is serious but also unimportant.

The report opens “ONCE the soundtrack to a financial meltdown was the yelling of traders on the floor of a financial exchange. Now it is more likely to be the wordless hum of servers in data centres, as algorithms try to match buyers with sellers. But every big sell-off is gripped by the same rampant, visceral fear. The urge to sell overwhelms the advice to stand firm. Stomachs are churning again after China’s stockmarket endured its biggest one-day fall since 2007; even Chinese state media called August 24th “Black Monday”. From the rand to the ringgit, emerging-market currencies slumped. Commodity prices fell into territory not seen since 1999. The contagion infected Western markets, too. Germany’s DAX index fell to more than 20% below its peak. American stocks whipsawed: General Electric was at one point down by more than 20%. Rich-world markets have regained some of their poise. But three fears remain: that China’s economy is in deep trouble; that emerging markets are vulnerable to a full-blown crisis; and that the long rally in rich-world markets is over. Some aspects of these worries are overplayed and others are misplaced. Even so, this week’s panic contains the unnerving message that the malaise in the world economy is real”.

The writer goes on to make the point that “China, where share prices continued to plunge, is the source of the contagion (see article). Around $5 trillion has been wiped off global equity markets since the yuan devalued earlier this month. That shift, allied to a string of bad economic numbers and a botched official attempt to halt the slide in Chinese bourses, has fuelled fears that the world’s second-largest economy is heading for a hard landing. Exports have been falling. The stockmarket has lost more than 40% since peaking in June, a bigger drop than the dotcom bust. Yet the doomsters go too far. The property market is far more important to China’s economy than the equity market is. Property fuels up to a quarter of GDP and its value underpins the banking system; in the past few months prices and transactions have both been healthier. China’s future lies with its shoppers, not its exporters, and services, incomes and consumption are resilient. If the worst happens, the central bank has plenty of room to loosen policy. After a cut in interest rates this week, the one-year rate still stands at 4.6%. The economy is slowing, but even 5% growth this year, the low end of reasonable estimates, would add more to world output than the 14% expansion China posted in 2007″.

The author only captures the economic aspects of the crisis. It is certainly true that China is heading for a hard landing and that the property market is certainly more important. Yet this overlooks the fact that the property market is collapsing with oversupply and a bubble bursting and secondly, that the equity market is less important but that many small investors are in the equity market so it is not just simply a matter of “market correction” as the Economist would have the reader believe. Both the property market bursting and the stockmarket collapsing would not just be dangerous for the global economy but for the internal stability of the regime itself. China watchers have continually said that China will move its economy to one based on domestic consumption but there is little evidence of this happening with all the attendant political consequences of this.

The writer goes on to argue paradoxically, “China is not in crisis. However, its ability to evolve smoothly from a command to a market economy is in question as never before. China’s policymakers used to bask in a reputation for competence that put clay-footed Western bureaucrats to shame. This has suffered in the wake of their botched—and sporadic—efforts to stop shares from sagging. Worse, plans for reform may fall victim to the government’s fear of giving markets free rein. The party wants to make state-owned firms more efficient, but not to expose them to the full blast of competition. It would like to give the yuan more freedom, but frets that a weakening currency will spur capital flight. It thinks local governments should be more disciplined but, motivated by the need for growth, funnels credit their way”.
The author seems to be holding two contradictory views at the same time, that China is undergoing dangerous transition but this is not a real problem. There is no mention of the political dangers of this for the regime or its long term stability.

He does make the point that “Fears over China are feeding the second worry—that emerging markets could be about to suffer a rerun of the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. Similarities exist: notably an exodus of capital out of emerging markets because of the prospect of tighter monetary policy in America. But the lessons of the Asian crisis were well learned. Many currencies are no longer tethered but float freely. Most countries in Asia sit on large foreign-exchange reserves and current-account surpluses. Their banking systems rely less on foreign creditors than they did. If that concern is exaggerated, others are not. A slowing China has dragged down emerging markets, like Brazil, Indonesia and Zambia, that came to depend on shovelling iron ore, coal and copper its way (agricultural exporters are in better shape). From now on, more of the demand that China creates will come from services—and be satisfied at home. The supply glut will weigh on commodity prices for other reasons, too. Oil’s descent, for instance, also reflects the extra output of Saudi Arabia and the resilience of American shale producers. Sliding currencies are adding to the burden on emerging-market firms with local-currency revenues and dollar-denominated debt. More fundamentally, emerging-market growth has been slowing since 2010. Countries like Brazil and Russia have squandered the chance to enact productivity-enhancing reforms and are suffering. So has India, which could yet pay a high price”.

Counter-intutively he argues that “The rich world has the least to fear from a Chinese slowdown. American exports to China accounted for less than 1% of GDP last year. But it is hardly immune. Germany, the European Union’s economic engine, exports more to China than any other member state does. Share prices are vulnerable because the biggest firms are global: of the S&P 500’s sales in 2014, 48% were abroad, and the dollar is rising against trading-partner currencies. In addition, the bull market has lasted since 2009 and price-earnings ratios exceed long-run averages. A savage fall in shares would spill into the real economy”.

He ends “Monetary policy is just the start. The harder task, in the West and beyond, is to raise productivity. Plentiful credit and relentless Chinese expansion kept the world ticking over for years. Now growth depends on governments taking hard decisions on everything from financial reforms to infrastructure spending. That is the harsh lesson from China’s panic”.

“Admitted covering up longtime leader Mullah Omar’s death”

13/09/2015

Afghan Taliban on Monday admitted covering up longtime leader Mullah Omar’s death for more than two years, saying he died in 2013 as was first claimed by the Afghan intelligence. The group had continued as recently as July to release official statements in the name of Omar, who had not been seen in public since the Taliban were toppled from power in Kabul in 2001. They confirmed on July 30 that he had died but did not say when, deepening internal divisions as many insurgents accused the leadership of covering up his death for two years”.

“The Trump fantasy will fade at some point”

11/09/2015

In this the 4000th post an article from the Economist bursts the Trump bubble, “DONALD TRUMP is not going to be America’s next president. The vagaries of the electoral college notwithstanding, the next occupant of the Oval Office will be someone who wins a lion’s share of the 130m or so ballots cast in November next year. And though Mr Trump has spent weeks leading the field of Republicans with White House ambitions, no survey suggests that 60m Americans, or indeed anything like that number, are willing to vote for him”.

The report goes on to note that “The remarkable thing is not that Mr Trump is not going to be president, but that such a thing should even need saying. This spring it would have seemed self-evident. Mr Trump was then just a rich, oft-married businessman, reality-television star and controversialist. His name conjured up associations such as “arrogant” and “blowhard”—still the words that most readily spring to the minds of voters who are asked about him, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. But since he announced in June, after months of speculation, that he was going to seek the Republican nomination, his fortunes have changed. He has not only gained a lot of support—between a quarter and a third of Republican voters back him in recent polls—but he has also gained it from across the party. It is not just Tea Party folk and whites without a college education who like him; so do a lot of evangelical Christians, who might be expected to look askance, and many self-described moderates. And even those who do not support him see him more favourably than they did. In Iowa, which has an early voice in the process by which a candidate is selected, the number of Republicans who would “never” back Mr Trump fell from 58% in May to 29% in August”.

Correctly the piece notes that “Outspoken populists often disrupt the early stages of the Republican Party’s search for a candidate. In 1996 “Pitchfork Pat” Buchanan nearly won the Iowa caucuses and beat the eventual candidate, Bob Dole, in the New Hampshire primary. In 2012 a series of “anyone-but-Romney” candidates passed through the limelight. But such enthusiasms normally collapse as the party establishment imposes order and the insurgents reveal their flaws. Mr Trump has flaws aplenty, including a thin skin, short temper and a policy platform of bumper-sticker depth and subtlety”.

Importantly the writer adds “This time, though, things look different. Mr Trump is not fighting a single establishment champion, like Mr Dole or Mitt Romney, but a slate of politicians vying for that position. Because of loosened campaign-finance rules it will be much easier for deep-pocketed backers to keep chosen candidates afloat during this election season than it has been in the past, and this means that the field, which includes big-state governors, serving senators and the establishment’s supposed favourite, Jeb Bush, a former governor of Florida and the brother and son of presidents, may be winnowed out only slowly. In the meantime the focus remains on the self-funded Mr Trump. And nothing he says, no matter how outrageous, seems to alienate the voters who see him as a champion”.

Pointedly he argues that “Party grandees still hope that Mr Trump’s campaign will eventually stall or flame out. But they are beginning to accept that they cannot stop him on their own. He remains a long-shot for the nomination, but it is striking that prominent conservatives in Washington no longer dismiss the idea of a Trump candidacy out of hand. And even if it does not come to that, the Trump insurgency has already reopened wounds that party leaders do not know how to heal. Grassroots Republicans and the politicians they elect may be united in their loathing for Barack Obama and the Democrats. But many rank-and-file Republicans do not share the pro-trade, free-market ideology that dominates the party’s upper echelons and the ranks of those who routinely fund its operations. The grassroots also suspect that party leaders could have done much more to thwart Mr Obama, if they were not so cowardly or inept. Mr Trump did not invent those divisions, but he is exploiting them masterfully. And when he goes—if he goes—they will be wider than ever”.

The author writes that Trump “would deport all 11m foreigners living in America without legal papers (though he would try to let the “really good” ones back in quickly), and would end automatic citizenship for children born on American soil to immigrants without legal papers. This plays well with activists incensed that Mr Obama has used his presidential powers to shield millions of migrants from deportation in what they see as a tyrannical assault on the rule of law. It will do nothing to improve the dismal 27% of the Hispanic vote won by the Republican candidate in 2012. Often addressed to large crowds (his record to date, set in deeply conservative Alabama, has been put at 30,000), Mr Trump’s swaggering, ad-libbed speeches describe an America beset by simple problems. If working Americans can no longer find jobs for life in a factory, it is not because emerging markets or robots offer unprecedented competition. It is because the country is being betrayed by chump-like politicians who let ruthless foreign governments roll over them. Mexico is accused of sending its worst criminals to America. China only undercuts America because it cheats”.

The author notes that some of Trumps policies cross traditional GOP ground, he “takes a karaoke-club approach to politics, belting out crowd-pleasing hits from across the political field. His attacks on corporate bosses seeking cheap foreign labour at the expense of unemployed Americans would not sound out of place in a rustbelt trade-union hall. He charges hedge-fund bosses with paying too little tax thanks to loopholes that he would scrap, increasing their tax bills to fund tax cuts for middle-earners”.

It becomes even more interesting when the article reports that “On health care Mr Trump promises to repeal Obamacare, just as the chorus does. But in a televised debate which, on August 6th, delivered Fox News the largest audience in its history, he went on to praise Canada and Scotland for their state-funded health systems—another conservative heresy. Not that he is advocating anything along those lines, or indeed anything specific at all; he just says that he will replace Obamacare with “something terrific”. Mr Trump shows no sign of caring whether he qualifies as a conservative. He is very clear, though, that he does not want to be thought of as a politician. He says that big businesses and their lobbyists bend both parties to their will through corrupting donations”.

Worryingly he goes on to mention “It is a scorn his supporters share. Two-thirds of Republicans in Iowa told a recent Monmouth University poll that the country needs an outsider president, rather than someone with government experience. Add Mr Trump’s support to that of the two other contestants in the Republican field who have not held office, Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, and Carly Fiorina, a former boss of Hewlett-Packard, a technology firm (see Lexington), and they account for more than 50% of the voters likely to make a choice in Iowa and New Hampshire. As befits an anti-politician, Mr Trump has poured particular scorn on Mr Bush. On August 31st his campaign released a video showing mugshots of Hispanic migrants accused of murder over a recording of Mr Bush saying that some migrants entered America illegally in an “act of love” for their families. “Forget love. It’s time to get tough,” the ad concluded”.

Crucially the author notes that “In the past generation, the number of Americans who call themselves consistently conservative or consistently liberal has doubled. Ideology and identity have coalesced, so that partisans do not just think alike about taxes or Iran, but live in the same neighbourhoods and have like-minded friends. Partisanship may yet curb Mr Trump’s rise. An awareness of this may be why Mr Trump’s tactics are becoming more conventional, and more conventionally right-wing. His campaign has started touching on themes from the late 1960s, another era of bitter politics and widespread disenchantment in Middle America”.

The piece ends “appeals to partisan purity may be surprisingly ineffective in peeling away those who admire Mr Trump. His fan-base is characterised not by the fidelity of its conservatism, but by the ferocity of its rage. Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, says he was shaken by a focus group he held on August 24th for two dozen self-declared Trump supporters. They included folk on the hard right but also ex-Obama voters. Unemployed Americans rubbed shoulders with the affluent. But the group had three things in common, says Mr Luntz. They are “mad as hell” about the state of America. Mr Trump speaks their language. And they do not care what anyone else says about him. On August 28th Mr Trump visited the Boston suburb of Norwood for a rally at the home of Ernie Boch, a wealthy car dealer. It was not an obvious stop for a Republican in primary season; Massachusetts last voted for a Republican presidential candidate when Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Several in the throng said that they rarely vote Republican. But they roared at Mr Trump’s jokes, cheered as he condemned Mr Obama’s recent deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and applauded his grumbling about America’s “third world” airports and crumbling roads”.

The report concludes “If Republican leaders do not know how to stop Mr Trump it is partly their own fault. Theirs is a smaller-government, pro-business party that wins elections by posing as an anti-government insurgency. Now they are facing the consequences: millions of voters dazzled by a showman who presents the next election as a hostile takeover, offering to turn America around with his dealmaking brilliance as if Congress, the Supreme Court and limits to presidential power are mere details to be negotiated. The Trump fantasy will fade at some point. It has already revealed a democracy in real trouble”.

Democrats block GOP Iran resolution

11/09/2015

Senate Democrats delivered a major victory to President Obama when they blocked a Republican resolution to reject a six-nation nuclear accord with Iran on Thursday, ensuring the landmark deal will take effect without a veto showdown between Congress and the White House. A procedural vote fell two short of the 60 needed to break a Democratic filibuster. It culminated hours of debate in the Senate and capped weeks of discord since the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China announced the agreement with Iran in July. The debate divided Democrats between their loyalties to the president and to their constituents, animated the antiwar movement on the left and exposed the diminishing power of the Israeli lobbying force that spent tens of millions of dollars to prevent the accord. “Regardless of how one feels about the agreement,” Senator Chuck Schumer, one of four Democrats to vote against Mr. Obama, said on the Senate floor, “fair-minded Americans should acknowledge the president’s strong achievements in combating and containing Iran.”

Using Nusra to fight ISIS?

11/09/2015

A report from the Daily Beast notes that Petraeus says that al-Qaeda should be used to fight ISIS, “Members of al Qaeda’s branch in Syria have a surprising advocate in the corridors of American power: retired Army general and former CIA Director David Petraeus. The former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan has been quietly urging U.S. officials to consider using so-called moderate members of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front to fight ISIS in Syria, four sources familiar with the conversations, including one person who spoke to Petraeus directly, told The Daily Beast”.

The piece makes the point that “The heart of the idea stems from Petraeus’s experience in Iraq in 2007, when as part of a broader strategy to defeat an Islamist insurgency the U.S. persuaded Sunni militias to stop fighting with al Qaeda and to work with the American military”.

Yet, to compare the Sunni militias to al-Qaeda should not be taken at face value. Firstly these Sunni brigades were once an arm of the Iraqi state and thus could have send to have some legitimacy. Secondly, there was some control, however weak, placed over them by the Iraqi state. Therefore there was some chain of command that they could follow. To then transfer this to al-Qaeda seems like a sizable, and perhaps dangerous, leap.

The report continues, “The tactic worked, at least temporarily. But al Qaeda in Iraq was later reborn as ISIS, and has become the sworn enemy of its parent organization. Now, Petraeus is returning to his old play, advocating a strategy of co-opting rank-and-file members of al Nusra, particularly those who don’t necessarily share all of core al Qaeda’s Islamist philosophy. However, Petraeus’s play, if executed, could be enormously controversial. The American war on terror began with an al Qaeda attack on 9/11, of course. The idea that the U.S. would, 14 years later, work with elements of al Qaeda’s Syrian branch was an irony too tough to stomach for most U.S. officials interviewed by The Daily Beast. They found Petraeus’s notion politically toxic, near-impossible to execute, and strategically risky”.

However the piece notes “Yet Petraeus and his plan cannot be written off. He still wields considerable influence with current officials, U.S. lawmakers, and foreign leaders. The fact that he feels comfortable recruiting defectors from an organisation that has declared war on the United States underscores the tenuous nature of the Obama administration’s strategy to fight ISIS, which numerous observers have said is floundering in search of a viable ground force. According to those familiar with Petraeus’s thinking, he advocates trying to cleave off less extreme al Nusra fighters, who are battling ISIS in Syria, but who joined with al Nusra because of their shared goal of overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al Assad”.

Pointedly the piece notes that “How precisely the U.S. would separate moderate fighters from core members and leaders of al Nusra is unclear, and Petraeus has yet to fully detail any recommendations he might have. Petraeus declined a request to comment on his views from The Daily Beast. “This is an acknowledgment that U.S. stated goal to degrade and destroy ISIS is not working. If it were, we would not be talking to these not quite foreign terrorist groups,” Christopher Harmer, a senior naval analyst with the Middle East Security Project at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War, told The Daily Beast. “Strategically, it is desperate.” Privately, U.S. officials told The Daily Beast that any direct links with al Nusra are off the table. But working with other factions, while difficult, might not be impossible”.

The article makes the point that “News of Petraeus’s proposal comes at a potentially opportune moment for the Obama administration as it looks toward some resolution of the civil war in Syria. On Friday, Amb. Michael Ratney, the newly-minted U.S. special envoy to Syria, set out to meet with Russian, Saudi, and United Nations officials in search of a political settlement to the conflict. Like Petraeus, Ratney is in search of partners. He’s “trying to come up with options for some sort of political process, a political process that we know is going to have to include opposition groups and try to work through what that means and what that’s going to look like,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters last week. Kirby stopped short of saying just which opposition groups should be part of the discussion. The U.S. has insisted that any negotiated settlement must not include Assad, even as Russia has hinted Assad must be a part of a deal. Assad himself said in a television interview last week that he will not work with U.S. allies in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. On the ground, the two most powerful anti-Assad forces are ISIS and al Nusra, and the U.S. won’t negotiate with either”.

The report goes on to unpick the proposal “Petraeus’s strategy depends on a number of key assumptions, chiefly that U.S. intelligence and military officials would be able to distinguish who among al Nusra’s ranks is truly moderate and doesn’t share the terrorist group’s goal of replacing Assad with an Islamist government. The former general isn’t the only ex-official who wants to talk to jihadist-linked fighters who share some, if not all, of the United States’ goals. Robert Ford, the former U.S. ambassador to Syria, has called for dialogue with Ahrar al Sham, a jihadist force he has called “probably the most important group fighting the Syrian regime now.” In a recent article for the Middle East Institute, Ford said that the capture of the Syrian provincial capital of Idlib last March, which was attributed by some to al Nusra, really should be credited to Ahrar, which had more fighters in the battle”.

The piece concludes “Al Nusra has played an arguably helpful role to the U.S. already, albeit indirectly and behind the scenes. In 2014, officials in Qatar reached out to their contacts with al Nusra to help free American journalist Peter Theo Curtis, multiple sources, including former U.S. officials familiar with the negotiations, have told The Daily Beast. Al Nusra elements were operating so closely with the American-backed Free Syrian Army at that time that American warplanes almost hit the moderate rebels as it was targeting the jihadists”.

“Drove Islamic State militants out of 10 villages”

11/09/2015

Kurdish forces backed by U.S.-led coalition air strikes drove Islamic State militants out of 10 villages in Iraq’s Kirkuk province on Wednesday in an offensive to secure their territory in the north, Kurdish military sources said. The assault began at dawn in the Daquq area, around 175 km (110 miles) north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad. By evening, Kurdish forces had taken an area of around 24 square km, the sources said. The Kurdistan region’s Security Council said up to 2,000 peshmerga had participated in the attack and dozens of ISIL fighters were killed. An aide to a Kurdish commander taking part in the offensive said five peshmerga had been killed, most of them by improvised explosive devices. The frontline between Kurdish peshmerga forces and Islamic State in northern Iraq has hardly budged for months”.

Clinton and the rise of ISIS

11/09/2015

Peter Feaver writes about Hillary Clinton and the rise of ISIS.

He begins “To listen to the Hillary Clinton campaign and its friendly surrogates in the media these days, you would think it accomplished nothing. They want to convince voters that the surge failed, so as to absolve Clinton of any responsibility for what happened after she took office: the unraveling of Iraq and the eventual rise of the so-called Islamic State (IS), a threat so great that FBI Director James Comey called it more dangerous than al Qaeda. The case for absolving Clinton from any responsibility hangs on a few claims, none of which stands up to scrutiny. The historical record is clear: Obama and Clinton inherited an Iraq that had serious problems, to be sure, but was on a positive trajectory towards success. Then, choices made while Clinton served as Secretary of State contributed to the reversal of that trajectory, and the ultimate rise of IS”.

Feaver goes on to argue that to begin to absolve Clinton there is a need to diminish the importance of the Iraqi surge, “Serious independent analysts have confirmed that the surge transformed Iraq, though they continue to debate over how much credit to give to which component of the surge. Academic debates aside, the Obama team itself, including Clinton, have repeatedly confirmed that they understand that the surge was successful. Clinton even conceded to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “The surge worked.” Vice President Joe Biden was so confident in the surge’s accomplishments that he boasted that Iraq is “going to be one of the great achievements of this administration.” Biden also dismissed concerns about the return of al Qaeda in Iraq because he saw how decisively the surge had beaten them back. And just this year, President Obama acknowledged that the tribal awakening component of the surge “helped defeat AQI — the precursor of ISIL — during the Iraq War in 2006.” (AQI remained a formidable force in 2006, but by 2009 coalition forces had won decisively.) Finally, it is hard to square the assertion that the surge was a failure with two other inconvenient facts. Obama and Clinton ordered an Iraq-surge-like option in Afghanistan and, when they needed a new commander, pressed the same General David Petraeus, who led the Iraq surge, to lead the new campaign”.

Feaver continues by arguing that if the connection between Clinton and ISIS is to be broken then most of the blame should lie with the Bush administration who agreed the withdrawal timetable with the Iraqi authorities, “Let’s set aside the awkwardness that this line of argument only attained prominence once the situation in Iraq had deteriorated. During his 2012 reelection campaign, President Obama and his campaign surrogates repeatedly claimed that the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq was his great achievement. They were far less inclined to credit or blame Bush for the withdrawal back then. The real problem with this line of argument: it ignores the fact that U.S. and Iraqi officials also agreed to continue negotiating a follow-on deal that would allow a sizable U.S. force to remain, but under new terms. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki wanted the formal acknowledgment of an end to the war phase in advance of his own re-election campaign, and then indicated he would negotiate a follow-on agreement after he had secured another term, which he did in 2010. Obama and Clinton inherited both of those elements — the formal agreement and the intention to negotiate a follow-on deal — and they adopted both as their own policies”.

He continues “If Obama and Clinton were disappointed by their failure to negotiate the deal, I have not been able to find where they said so publicly. On the contrary, President Obama emphasized in the 2012 presidential campaign foreign policy debate with Gov. Romney that he thought it would have been a mistake to leave troops tied down in Iraq. “That is not a recipe for making sure that we are taking advantage of the opportunities and meeting the challenges of the Middle East,” he said”.

To absolve Clinton, you must next assert that the final deal on the table in 2011 was unacceptable and that the administration had no choice but to walk away.

He adds that to minimise Clinton’s role in ISIS there is a need to argue that the final status of forces agreement in 2011 was unacceptable and the administration was forced to walk away, “Another reason negotiations failed was because the administration insisted on an immunity agreement for U.S. troops that would be guaranteed by a parliamentary vote, rather than only by the Iraqi executive, as Maliki was offering. I have some sympathy for this position: if I had been in the administration, I would have pushed for the strongest immunity protections, too. But if that requirement really was the decisive deal-breaker, why did Obama order troops back into Iraq in 2014 with only the same executive-approved immunity he rejected in 2011?”

He does fairly point out that “Obama and Clinton are not to blame for Maliki’s sectarian impulses or the errors of the Iraqis more broadly. Maliki is to blame for his mistakes. But let’s also acknowledge that Maliki’s behaviour was far more conducive to U.S. interests when he believed we “had his back,” and when we were vigourously using our leverage to influence his behavior during the Iraq surge phase. Once we withdrew — both militarily and politically — a vacuum opened in Iraq which the Iranians exploited to further entrench their influence in the Iraqi political scene. Once we lost Maliki’s trust and gave up our leverage, Maliki’s behavior became more toxic. And, finally, you don’t need to take my word for it. One of Obama’s own military advisors conceded that it was a mistake not to stay in Iraq. More tellingly, Obama himself tacitly conceded this fact when he reordered U.S. troops back to Iraq in 2014. How can you say U.S. troops would have been inconsequential from 2012 to 2014, then turn around and say their presence is required in 2014 and 2015?”

He concludes “IS became the threat it is today for reasons beyond Iraq. The failure of Obama’s Syria policy bears at least equal blame. His decision to abandon moderate Syrians to their fate had the predictable effect of destroying moderate rebel factions, paving the way for IS. At a minimum, a more robust effort earlier would have given us more options in 2014 when IS emerged. To her credit, Clinton claims she argued against Obama’s decision and so, while the mistakes happened on her watch, perhaps the fairer criticism is not that she was wrong-headed but that she was ineffective at shaping policy in Syria. But a fair evaluation of her Iraq record would place more responsibility squarely on her shoulders. Every administration has made too many mistakes on Iraq — certainly the administration I worked for did. What is noteworthy about the Iraq mistakes Clinton made as secretary of state is not that she made them, but that she is so far unwilling to admit that she made them”.

Iran extends a military site

09/09/2015

Iran appears to have built an extension to part of its Parchin military site since May, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said in a report on Thursday, as part of its inquiry into possible military dimensions of Tehran’s past nuclear activity. A resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Parchin file, which includes a demand for fresh IAEA access to the site, is a symbolically important issue that could help make or break Tehran’s July 14 nuclear deal with six world powers”.

Sanders as frontrunner?

09/09/2015

An article from the Hill argues that Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is now the frontrunner, “In 2008, Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination to then-Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). In 2015, another senator is giving the Clinton campaign a headache; however, this election cycle has an additional cast of characters that normally isn’t a part of any presidential rivalry. Because of a federal judge, the FBI and Justice Department investigations, and an energized base of progressive voters throughout the nation voting for Sanders, it’s evident Clinton has lost her status as the leading presidential candidate for Democrats”.

The report goes on to make the point that Sanders has passed Clinton in the polls, “Sanders formally announced his run for the presidency on May 26, 2015. Since then, Clinton’s lead in nationwide polls has dwindled. This paradigm shift has been fueled primarily because of scandals, Clinton’s inability to answer questions in a forthright manner, and the energy exhibited by Sanders’s supporters. Furthermore, CNN cites a recent Franklin Pierce University/Boston Heraldpoll that reports Sanders ahead of Clinton in New Hampshire. Even when acknowledging that Clinton still leads Sanders in various other polls, CNN writes that “polling has also shown Clinton’s vulnerabilities as voters question her honesty and trustworthiness.” Echoing CNN, Quinnipiac University issued a report in July titled “Clinton In Trouble In Colorado, Iowa, Virginia, Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll Finds.” This Quinnipiac poll explains that Sanders now performs as well, or even better than Clinton”.

The report goes on to make the point that “Clinton’s numbers have dropped among voters in the key swing states of Colorado, Iowa and Virginia. She has lost ground in the horserace and on key questions about her honesty and leadership,’ said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. True, there is a poll among Democrats where Clinton still has a wide lead, however, this poll doesn’t ask voters about “honesty.” Whenever a poll is narrowed down to issues like trustworthiness, then data from Quinnipiac University’s Swing State Poll and CNN’s findings illustrate that voters in swing states (Democrats can’t win the White House without winning a majority of swing states) simply do not trust Clinton”.

Interestingly the piece goes onto mention that “The Hill’s Brent Budowsky, in his Contributors piece titled “Sanders beats trump by 20 plus points,”explains that Sanders is just as competitive as Clinton against GOP competition: The fact that Sanders beats Walker by six to seven points, depending on whether all voters or likely voters are counted — a near-landslide margin in a general election — makes it clear that the Sanders surge is more than a surge against Donald Trump, but move that makes him competitive with all Republican candidates”.

Pointedly he goes on to mention “Budowsky also dispels the myth that Sanders is unelectable or too extreme, explaining that “giving free college tuition at public universities paid for by a transaction tax on Wall Street firms, and Medicare-for-all healthcare are all popular positions that Democrats should adopt in one form or another.” The fact that Sanders doesn’t need to convince voters to trust him, whereas Clinton continues to battle against FBI investigations of her emails, is yet another Bernie Sanders is rising in the polls”.

The writes continues “It’s important to remember as well that the Iowa caucus is on Feb. 1, 2016. The Sanders campaign is literally just getting started in terms of mainstream media attention and nationwide organization. In contrast, the Clinton campaign is going in the opposite direction, due to the FBI’s confiscation of her email server, and the inability to answer why she had this server in the first place. The disparity between both campaigns could be much wider by February of next year, primarily because Sanders doesn’t have scandals to defend against and can simply focus entirely on campaigning”.

The second point he notes is that Clinton has problems with the FBI “According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan is now part of the ongoing controversy: The judge ordered the State Department to request the FBI alert the department about “any information recovered from Mrs. Clinton’s server and the related thumb drive” that is potentially relevant to the FOIA case and not already in the State Department’s possession”.

The final reason he says that Sanders is the lead candidate is that “questions about security will continue to plague the Clinton campaign. In addition, new information has surfaced indicating that some of Clinton’s emails were classified from the start, not retroactively. A recent Reuters article explains why the Clinton campaign can’t hide behind the notion that Clinton never knew certain emails were classified: The new stamps indicate that some of Clinton’s emails from her time as the nation’s most senior diplomat are filled with a type of information the U.S. government and the department’s own regulations automatically deems classified from the get-go — regardless of whether it is already marked that way or not. In the small fraction of emails made public so far, Reuters has found at least 30 email threads from 2009, representing scores of individual emails, that include what the State Department’s own “Classified” stamps now identify as so-called “foreign government information.” Therefore, if information was always classified, or “born classified,” then there’s no defense for keeping such data on a private server without the protection of government security. This fact alone could lead to numerous issues that eventually undermine Clinton’s chances in 2016″.

He ends “Democrats, and the country, can’t enter the voting booth 441 days from now with the FBI investigating emails and private servers. This fact, along with the millions of Sanders voters around the country filling arenas to hear the senator speak, are reasons why Sanders is the true Democratic front-runner. Over 100,000 people have attended his events thus far, and it’s safe to say that such enthusiasm and energy will continue to grow until Election Day. Democrats in Congress might not admit it at the moment, and Clinton supporters might still believe the email controversy is fabricated, but only one Democrat in 2016 can win the presidency. His name is Bernie Sanders, and the longer Hillary Clinton’s email scandal persists, the more Sanders becomes the only hope Democrats have of winning the White House”.

“Britain’s longest reigning monarch”

09/09/2015

Cheering crowds have greeted the Queen in Edinburgh on the day she becomes Britain’s longest reigning monarch. Bad weather delayed her arrival at Waverley Station, but the 89-year-old monarch and the Duke of Edinburgh later set off on the new Borders Railway. The Queen will have reigned for 63 years and seven months – calculated at 23,226 days, 16 hours and approximately 30 minutes at about 17:30 BST. David Cameron said the service she had given was “truly humbling”. Dressed in turquoise with her trusty black handbag at her side, the Queen smiled and waved to those gathered at the station on the day she passes the record set by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria”.

China’s lack of communication, competence and credibility

09/09/2015

An article argues that the Chinese authorities don’t know what their doing, “What better way for China to cement its role in the global economy than to be the trigger of a global financial crisis? It was the United States in 2008 and Europe in 2011 and 2012; now it is China that is sending shockwaves through financial markets. Just as Beijing insists, the global economy is now multipolar — no longer an American-dominated block with the dollar at its core. And like it or not, China has become one of these poles — perhaps before it was quite ready”.

He argues that “In 2008, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers almost brought to a halt the American banking and financial system — which had significant impact on the rest of the world — China, once again, was to a large degree financially isolated, with a non-convertible currency. Thus, like other developing countries, it managed to keep itself largely immune from the financial contagion, but it experienced second-round effects on the real economy — indeed, the crisis in the United States and then in Europe resulted in a drop in Chinese exports. This time is different. China is no longer at the margins as in 1997, nor is it an innocent bystander as in 2008. It is at the core of the current episode of financial instability. With approximately a 16 percent share of the world’s output, China is a key component of the global economy. And, with many advanced countries in the grips of the new normal of low growth and deflationary pressure, a slowdown in Chinese economic growth spells trouble throughout China’s global supply chain”.

The figures he notes are stark, “The demand for commodities by Chinese companies has dropped — imports of many industrial commodities are down for the first half of 2015,including a decline of 1 percent for iron ore, and 11 percent for copper. Recent figures on economic activity — including year-on-year declines of 0.1 percent on value-added industrial production growth, 0.2 percent in retail sales growth and 2.1 percent in fixed asset investment growth — have also dented investors’ confidence, both in China and abroad. And finally, the deep drops in Chinese stock markets and the badly timed adjustment in the value of the renminbi — allegedly to make the Chinese currency’s value more market-based — have thrown global investors off the rails”.

Correctly he makes the point that “It didn’t take a very big straw to break this camel’s back. Markets have been nervous about China for some time. After all, this is a country with murky governance and a level of indebtedness of more than 250 percent of gross domestic product, unique among middle-income countries. Limited options for savers beyond poorly remunerated bank deposits have fed bubbles — such as in the real estate sector and, more recently, in the so-called “shadow banking” sector, whereby savers are lured into high-risk wealth products by higher interest rates than those provided by bank deposits. In addition, thehuge increase in the market value of Chinese companies between May 2013 and May 2015 — more than 150 percent — appeared in suspiciously stark contrast to the smaller growth in many advanced economies. As valuations looked increasingly unsustainable, market participants were more and more sensitive to bad news that could trigger a significant adjustment”.

The never ending plan to make China consume more is harder to implement as it is “politically complex, and so far it has been messy, often with contradictory policy measures. For instance, the decision early this month to allow more flexibility in trading of the renminbi was so poorly timed that the People’s Bank of China had to intervene repeatedly to support the currency — exactly the opposite of the expected outcome. Possible explanations include a lack of experience in communicating with markets — the bank’s governor didn’t even show up for its press conference on the subject — a lack of credibility, or both. The reality is that China has become an integral part of global markets, but isn’t yet ready to play the market game. As its policymakers struggle to find their way, stock markets in the United States and Europe have felt the effects, and currencies in emerging markets economies — from Malaysia to Russia — have been abruptly punished by the renminbi’s depreciation”.

He makes the valid point that “China has some of the tools to clean up its own mess. With $3.69 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, down from a peak of $3.99 trillion in 2014, Beijing still has considerable scope for maneuvering — either by supporting the renminbi or by buying into securities markets. But this is exactly the problem. Market intervention feeds expectations for more market intervention, down into a self-fulfilling spiral that takes China further away from liquid capital and currency markets capable of solving some of their own problems. Not long ago, the discussion about China centered on its efforts to make the renminbi an international asset and a reserve currency. But how can it be, when the authorities are expected to and regularly intervene in the stock market and manage the exchange rate? China has let the genie out of the bottle and does not know how to push it back in again. So should the authorities just let markets adjust? Such an adjustment might wipe out the savings of many households, as a large proportion of China’s stock market is in the hands of retail savers. Or should the authorities intervene and, for example, put limits on share sales? This would preserve financial stability and the nation’s wealth at the costs of international credibility”.

He ends “There is no easy option. One thing, however, is for sure: China has grown into a key player in the global economy before completing the necessary rebalancing of its economy and financial reforms, and following this new road will be very bumpy for China and for the world”.

Turkey and America, fighting ISIS?

09/09/2015

Turkey and the United States will soon launch “comprehensive” air operations to flush Islamic State fighters from a zone in northern Syria bordering Turkey, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Reuters on Monday. Detailed talks between Washington and Ankara on the plans were completed on Sunday and regional allies including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan as well as Britain and France may also take part, Cavusoglu said in an interview. “The technical talks have been concluded, yesterday, and soon we will start this operation, comprehensive operations, against Daesh (Islamic State),” he said. The United States and Turkey plan to provide air cover for what Washington judges to be moderate Syrian rebels as part of the operations, which aim to flush Islamic State from a rectangle of border territory roughly 80 km (50 miles) long, officials familiar with the plans have said. Diplomats say cutting Islamic State’s access to the Turkish border, across which it has been able to bring foreign fighters and supplies, could be a game-changer. U.S. jets have already begun air strikes from Turkish bases in advance of the campaign. Cavusoglu said the operations would also send a message to President Bashar al-Assad and help put pressure on his administration to come to the negotiating table and seek a political solution for Syria’s wider war”.