Archive for May, 2016

“Killed Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the leader of the Afghan Taliban”

30/05/2016

An American drone strike in a restive province of Pakistan killed Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, the White House confirmed on Monday. Calling the death “an important milestone,” President Obama said in a statement, released just as he was meeting with top officials in Vietnam, that the United States had “removed the leader of an organization that has continued to plot against and unleash attacks on American and coalition forces.” “Mansour rejected efforts by the Afghan government to seriously engage in peace talks and end the violence that has taken the lives of countless innocent Afghan men, women and children,” Mr. Obama continued in the statement. “The Taliban should seize the opportunity to pursue the only real path for ending this long conflict — joining the Afghan government in a reconciliation process that leads to lasting peace and stability.” At a news conference with President Tran Dai Quang of Vietnam, Mr. Obama said that targeting Mullah Mansour did not represent a shift in strategy for the United States mission in Afghanistan.

Advertisements

“National sovereignty will trump European solidarity”

30/05/2016

An important piece asks if the EU can survive.

It opens “The European Union is locked in a perpetual state of crisis management. It has had to head off the collapse of the eurozone, deal with waves of undocumented migrants, and now come to terms with a renewed terrorist threat, underscored by the recent attacks in Brussels. On top of all this, the EU confronts the real possibility of a British exit, or Brexit, which depends on the outcome of a public referendum in the United Kingdom in June. The European idea, which has helped to inspire the continent’s integration since World War II, may be the next casualty. Over the past seven decades, European political leaders have seized on crises to propel European integration forward, advancing toward the goal of “ever-closer union” that is codified in the 1957 Treaty of Rome. But they have not been able to do so with the latest challenges, which have revealed practical tensions and unresolved contradictions in the European project. They have exposed European integration to be an elite-driven endeavour lacking adequate democratic legitimacy, and the EU itself as an awkward and unsustainable halfway house between intergovernmentalism and supranationalism—that is, between a loose cooperative arrangement in which states retain full independence and a federal union in which they transfer those national authorities to a superior central body. Europe’s chaotic response to recent events suggests that when push comes to shove, national sovereignty will trump European solidarity”.

It notes “The so-called European idea is a cosmopolitan vision of a united Europe. Its antecedents go back centuries, but it emerged in full force following World War II, which had discredited nationalism and the nation-state throughout most of Europe. Early expressions of the European idea could be found in 1949 in the Council of Europe and in 1951 with the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The onset of the Cold War—as well as vigorous U.S. support for European unity—gave the efforts an important geopolitical boost. Even among elites, however, there has never been a single idea of Europe. That seemed not to matter as long as the general trajectory—however incremental and uneven—was toward ever-closer union, inspired in part by Jean Monnet, the French political economist and diplomat. His vision of an increasingly federal, even supranational, Europe included horizontal ties among member states and vertical relationships of authority that subordinated European states and citizens to Europe-wide institutions. To that end, from 1945 onward, European leaders have repeatedly exploited crises to advance integration. In May 1950, for example, Monnet used the specter of German economic and political resurgence and the deepening Cold War to persuade French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman to announce the European Coal and Steel Community”.

It makes the point that “The Treaty of Rome, which aimed to integrate Europe economically, was also born of crisis. During the early 1950s, several western European countries struggled mightily to create a European Defence Community that would unite their military might. Despite strong U.S. pressure, the EDC initiative failed catastrophically in 1954. Monnet responded by founding an “Action Committee for the United States of Europe,” which sought an indirect approach to overcoming European sovereignty. European leaders went along, focusing not on defence integration but on the less controversial economic goal of creating the European Economic Community (EEC)”.

It adds that “In 1989, when the sudden opening of the Berlin Wall raised the inevitability of German reunification, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President François Mitterrand took decisive steps to bind Germany into Europe. The resulting 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which formally created the European Union, began the countdown to a common currency and central bank among the (now) 19 countries of the eurozone. The eurozone meltdown and the more recent migration crisis have exposed the EU as deeply flawed. After years of flailing, eurozone countries have restored some stability to the currency bloc, including by creating a banking union. But European leaders have yet to address the fundamental contradiction between the existence of a monetary union, on the one hand, and the retention by member states of national fiscal policy authority—an arrangement that poses enormous limits on the bloc’s ability to respond to financial and economic problems”.

It goes on to note “The federalist version of the European idea was premised on the notion that cooperation among states would breed a common European identity alongside, and ultimately supplanting, national loyalties. But this prospect is still distant in a heterogeneous bloc of 28 nations with diverse histories, values, and experiences. Although past crises have led Europeans to join forces against external threats, today they blame one another for creating—or at least abetting—them. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel threw out the welcome mat for Syrian refugees last summer, she invoked the humanitarian ideals of the EU. But she quickly provoked resistance from eastern European neighbours, who do not share Germany’s sense of historical responsibility or western Europe’s (admittedly mixed) experiences with large populations of overseas immigrants. She also faced resistance from sovereignty-minded EU members—not least the United Kingdom—to the idea of a mandatory “quota formula” for apportioning the refugee burden”.

The writer adds, “As if the eurozone collapse and migrant surge were not enough, the real possibility of Brexit poses another serious threat to the survival of the union. The United Kingdom has always been ambivalent about its relationship to the continent. It was late to the party—joining the EEC only in 1973—and has always been more comfortable with the EU’s free market than its political solidarity. But the country now appears seriously disillusioned. Twenty-five years ago, Prime Minister John Major declared that he wanted the United Kingdom “at the heart of Europe.” Today, no Conservative leader wants to be there. The Conservative Party is evenly divided between those, such as London Mayor Boris Johnson, who want it out of Europe entirely and those, such as Prime Minister David Cameron, who want the country to be safe on Europe’s margins. When he promised his countrymen a referendum on the question in 2013, Cameron was confident that the “remain” camp would win. The neck-and-neck polls suggest he may have miscalculated. In an effort to salvage British membership, Cameron has secured a package of concessions from his EU partners. They include excluding the United Kingdom from any commitment to “ever-closer union,” extracting an EU pledge to cut regulatory red tape, and giving the United Kingdom a voice in eurozone policies that might affect the pound sterling”.

Naturally he writes that “Brexit would be an economic and political catastrophe for everyone. The ensuing divorce would be messy, as an embittered EU strikes hard bargains on access to the continental market. Many multinationals could flee London, undermining its position as a leading financial center. The United Kingdom would need to negotiate its own bilateral trade deals with the United States and other trading partners. Its international influence, as well as its special relationship with the United States, would wane. Brexit would inevitably hasten the dissolution of the United Kingdom itself, as Scotland would surely proceed with another referendum on independence. As for the EU, it would lose its second-largest economy, including one-fifth of its GDP, and much of its diplomatic and military heft in the world”.

It ends “Still, the EU will survive, albeit in an altered form. The EU will likely have to cede some of its authority back to member states. The rise of populist forces has accelerated the renationalisation of European politics. As a growing number of EU countries assert their sovereign prerogatives, the result will be a Europe of variable geometry. As some EU states make border controls permanent, a “mini-Schengen” could arise among a core group of western European states. The eurozone could lose Greece—and potentially other states, if their governments conclude that they need a central bank and a currency of their own to control their economic destiny. And one of Europe’s proudest achievements, the EU human rights framework, could come under challenge from populist and nativist forces in many EU countries. The renationalisation of Europe would not be a pretty picture. While a return to war among its members seems inconceivable, a looser EU will be a weaker EU. It would be even less capable of handling the migrant crisis or robustly resisting Russian aggression, to say nothing of shouldering its share of the burden of maintaining global order”.

“U.S. plans to send up to 250 additional military personnel to Syria”

30/05/2016

The U.S. plans to send up to 250 additional military personnel to Syria to help local forces fighting Islamic State, significantly expanding the small American footprint”

“Raise the spectre of a fearsome crash”

30/05/2016

A piece from the Economist argues that China needs to “free up” its financial system in order to “save it”, it opens, “Decades of heady growth had put money into the pockets of Sheyang’s residents. But China’s big banks had little time for the countryside. Farmers who wanted to buy homes or start companies struggled to get loans. Illegal lenders stepped into the gap; they collected cash from those with idle savings and lent it out, often at double-digit interest rates. Business boomed. As locals put it, the lenders sprouted up like bamboo shoots after a spring rain—until a few years ago, when a harsh wind uprooted them. The economy was slowing and investment plans relying on superfast growth fell apart. Borrowers could not pay back what they owed. The unregulated lenders started defaulting on their depositors. Panic spread. In March 2014 it was rumoured that even Sheyang Rural Commercial Bank, which is owned by the government, was low on cash”.

It goes on to argue “This was enough to spark China’s first bank run in years. Crowds gathered outside its branches, waiting for hours in the drizzly chill to get their money out. Bank managers stacked up bricks of 100-yuan notes (China’s largest denomination) to show they had sufficient cash. Yet fear travelled like a virus, infecting another nearby bank. On the third day of the panic the China Banking Association, an industry group, entered the fray and declared the rural banks to be healthy—in effect, pledging to stand behind them. That ended the run. It had taken the full weight of the nation’s banks acting in concert to restore calm. One county’s travails might not seem worth making a big fuss about. After all, the deposits at Sheyang Rural Commercial amount to just 13.5 billion yuan ($2.1 billion), barely 0.01% of the total in banks nationwide; and the problems were successfully contained. But the run raised troubling questions. How could the authorities have let so many illegal lenders operate? Why were they suddenly collapsing? If they were in such bad shape, were proper banks safe? Was China on the brink of a financial crisis? Sheyang’s bank run is just one of a series of problems to reveal cracks in the Chinese financial system in recent years. Others include a cash crunch in 2013, a wave of shadow-banking defaults in 2014, a stockmarket collapse in 2015 and a surge of capital flight at the start of 2016. Underlying it all, China has seen a dramatic rise in debt, from 155% of GDP in 2008 to nearly 260% at the end of last year, according to an estimate by The Economist. Few countries have gone on borrowing binges of that magnitude without hitting a crisis”.

The article goes on to argue “The scope for potential trouble in China is immense. Its banking sector is the biggest in the world, with assets of $30 trillion, equivalent to 40% of global GDP. China’s four biggest banks are also the world’s four biggest. Its stockmarkets, even after the crash, together are worth $6 trillion, second only to America’s. And its bond market, at $7.5 trillion, is the world’s third-biggest and growing fast. A cocoon of regulations limits direct foreign involvement in China’s financial system, but connections are deepening by the day. Given its economic heft, serious problems could easily dwarf the global consequences of any previous emerging-markets crisis. Even the mild yuan depreciation at the start of this year (1% against the dollar in one week) sent shock waves around the world, upsetting stocks, currencies and commodities. Just imagine the effects of a big one. Still, it is worth recalling that predictions of financial doom in China have long been wrong. Because of the nature of the system—the state owns both the banks and their biggest borrowers—the government is in a much better position to dictate outcomes than those in most other countries. Until recently the financial system has been very conservative. Plain-vanilla bank lending is the dominant form of credit; exotic products such as securitised loans that caused havoc in rich economies barely exist in China. Moreover, liquidity buffers are strong: residents have historically had little choice but to stuff their cash in banks, and a semi-closed capital account has made it hard for them to send money abroad”.

Yet it notes that “China’s status quo cannot be sustained for ever. Returns on capital are declining. It now takes nearly four yuan of new credit to generate one yuan of additional GDP, up from just over one yuan of credit before the global financial crisis. As the population ages and the economy matures, growth is bound to slow further. At the same time, bad debts from the past decade’s lending binge are catching up with banks. Given slower growth, it will be tougher to clean them up than it was 15 years ago, when the country was booming. Moreover, the edifice of control is getting shakier: shadow finance is eating away at the power of state-owned banks, and the capital account has sprung leaks that regulators are struggling to plug. China has, in other words, reached a level of development where it needs a more sophisticated financial system, one that is better at allocating capital and better suited to the market pressures now bubbling up. The government pays lip service to this, and indeed some reforms point in the right direction: it is deregulating interest rates; the exchange rate, though still managed, is more flexible; defaults are chipping away at the notion that the state will guarantee every investment, no matter how foolish”.

It mentions that “This report will argue that China is faced with two unpalatable options. One is that it moves more boldly to free up its financial system. That would be the right thing to do for the future but would release pent-up perils now; defaults would climb, banks would rack up losses and many shadow lenders would go bust. The other is that China eschews reform and instead tries to patch up its current system. That would be easier in the short term, but the inexorable accumulation of debt would sap the economy’s vigour and raise the spectre of a fearsome crash. In practice, the government has wavered between the two options. In good times, when the economy behaves as it should, it plods ahead with reforms. But at the first whiff of trouble it tends to lose its nerve, building up much bigger problems a few years hence. China needs to move faster, even at the cost of greater turbulence today”.

It ends “Some good at least came of the Sheyang bank panic. China introduced nationwide deposit insurance last year, trying to reassure savers that their money is safe, no matter what happens to their bank. Banks have also raised their game, as demonstrated by the car giveaway at Sheyang Rural Commercial Bank. People again line up at its doors, only this time to put their cash in the bank, not take it out. But financial fragility is surfacing nearby. Grass encroaches on the lot of a textile company that defaulted on a bond last year. And on the county’s outskirts, apartment blocks stand empty, totems to the debt that looms over China’s financial system”.

Arming Libya’s government

28/05/2016

In a move fraught with risk, the United States and other world powers said Monday they would supply Libya’s internationally recognized government with weapons to counter the Islamic State and other militant groups gaining footholds in the chaos-wracked country’s lawless regions. Aiming at once to shore up the fragile government, and prevent Islamic State fighters and rival militias from further gains, the U.S., the four other permanent U.N. Security Council members and more than 15 other nations said they would approve exemptions to a United Nations arms embargo to allow military sales and aid to Libya’s so-called “Government of National Accord.” In a joint communique, the nations said that while the broader embargo will remain in place, they are “ready to respond to the Libyan government’s requests for training and equipping” government forces.  “We will fully support these efforts while continuing to reinforce the UN arms embargo,” the communique said. With support from all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the plan is unlikely to face significant opposition from any quarter. The communique was issued at the end of the talks that gathered U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and top officials from more than 20 other nations to discuss ways to strengthen Libya’s fledgling government. The aim is to give the internationally recognized administration more muscle in fighting Islamic State radicals and end its rivalry with a group to the east claiming legitimacy. The step will boost the government’s efforts to consolidate power and regain control over Libyan state institutions like the central bank and national oil company. However, it also comes with risks, not least of which is that the arms may be captured or otherwise taken by the Islamic State or other groups.

“Britain has proved especially willing to look the other way”

28/05/2016

A relevant article notes the links between London and corruption, “British Prime Minister David Cameron was caught on video describing Nigeria and Afghanistan as “fantastically corrupt” and “possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.” Many Nigerians were outraged by his comments, which came on the eve of an anti-corruption summit in Britain to be attended by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Some demanded an apology from Cameron. But Buhari was phlegmatic. “I am not going to demand any apology from anyone. What I am demanding is the return of assets,” he said, referring obliquely to the tens of billions of dollars in stolen Nigerian money thought to be squirrelled away in London bank accounts. “What will I do with [an] apology? I need something tangible.” It’s no secret that corruption is a problem in Africa. Some $50 billion in illicit finance flows out of the continent every year, according to the United Nations. In the first 40 years of independence alone, Nigeria’s leaders stole or squandered an estimated $400 billion. But as the barbed comments from Buhari imply, these leaders had accomplices in the West. Britain and other developed countries are not the cause of Africa’s corruption, but they are certainly an impediment to its eradication. Cameron didn’t loot Nigeria’s coffers himself, but his government has provided thieves financial getaway vehicles to ferry stolen riches out of Africa”.

The report goes on to note “Buhari knows better than most how this white-collar mugging goes down. Back when he ruled Nigeria as a military dictator in the 1980s, he went after former ministers and civil servants from the previous administration in a wide-ranging anti-corruption probe. Some of them fled to Britain — in itself an indication of the benevolent treatment they expected to receive there. The response of Buhari’s government was to send agents to kidnap former transport minister Umaru Dikko from his home in London. They got as far as snatching him off the street, drugging him, and stuffing him into a shipping crate. But the plot was foiled at the last minute by British security forces as the agents prepared to load Dikko onto a flight back to Nigeria. The episode resulted in a major diplomatic crisis during which Britain refused multiple extradition requests from Nigeria, leaving the former minister to grow old with his allegedly ill-gotten gains. It’s understandable, if not excusable, that Nigeria resorted to kidnapping former ministers on European soil. At best, legal avenues for repatriating stolen wealth from abroad are infuriatingly slow. At worst, they are dead ends that come with hefty legal fees”.

It adds “This is sadly typical of African efforts to recover stolen wealth. Some have argued that African governments bear some responsibility for not aggressively prosecuting offenders at home. One oft-cited example is the so-called chickengate scandal in Kenya, where British companies paid bribes – codenamed “chicken” — to Kenyan officials to obtain contracts to print election materials. British authorities prosecuted their country’s offenders, but Kenyan authorities did not. What can Western countries do if their African counterparts lack the political will to root out corruption? This argument obscures the fact that African governments are fighting a battle on two fronts. Even when they successfully prosecute corruption at home, they often have to restart litigation in foreign countries to have any hope of accessing the stolen funds. In other words, they must litigate every crime twice: domestically to secure a conviction, and abroad to recover the money. This all but ensures that the stolen funds won’t be repatriated in full, since foreign lawyers typically collect a percentage of the money they recover. For African governments, illicit financial flows are lose-lose. But for Western firms, they’re win-win: There are profits to be made whether or not the money is eventually recovered and returned”.

Not supursingly the piece mentions “Leena Koni Hoffmann, an associate fellow at Chatham House’s Africa Program, described these flows as “integral to the economies of” recipient countries. London’s booming housing market, for example, has been artificially inflated by money laundered from abroad, according to Britain’s National Crime Agency. Not surprisingly, Western enforcement of international anti-corruption treaties has been lax. As Cameron admitted at the summit last week, “When it comes to tackling corruption, the international community has looked the other way for far too long.” Of the 41 industrialized countries that are signatories to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention, only four actively enforce it, according to the Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.  Britain has proved especially willing to look the other way when foreign officials arrive with suspiciously large sums of money. Although British banks are supposed to conduct anti-money laundering checks when receiving funds from foreign politicians, a 2011 report from the country’s Financial Services Authority revealed that many had repeatedly failed to do so. For example, former Nigerian Gov. James Ibori managed to deposit more than $2 million over several years at a single British bank branch, largely in over-the-counter cash deposits, before anyone raised an eyebrow. He was eventually convicted of money laundering in a British court in 2012, but the fact that no one caught on sooner speaks to the absurd laxity of the system”.

The piece ends “After last week’s summit, Cameron announced the formation of a Global Forum for Asset Recovery that will convene next year to discuss returning corruptly acquired funds to four countries, including Nigeria. He also announced that he would introduce new regulations that will make it more difficult for foreign shell companies to launder money in Britain by forcing them to declare their holdings in a public register. All this talk of cracking down on illicit finance is commendable, but unless Western governments get serious about enforcing anti-corruption regulations — remember, there are conventions in place that many signatories simply disregard — it won’t lead to anything. One way to improve enforcement would be to internationalise it, removing the fox-and-henhouse-like incentive structure that prevails when nations are expected to prevent illicit funds from flowing into their own pockets. This could be done either by empowering existing international enforcement bodies, such as the International Court of Justice, to prosecute transnational corruption or by establishing a stand-alone international anti-corruption court. Sadly, I don’t see Western countries leading the charge to do either”.

“King Salman has removed the country’s veteran oil minister”

28/05/2016

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has removed the country’s veteran oil minister as part of a broad government overhaul. Ali al-Naimi has been replaced after more than 20 years in the role by former health minister Khaled al-Falih. Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude exporter, unveiled major economic reforms in April, aimed at ending the country’s dependence on oil. About 70% of its revenues came from oil last year, but it has been hit hard by falling prices. The government shake-up, announced in a royal decree, sees a number of ministries merged and others, such as the ministry of electricity and water, scrapped altogether. A public body for entertainment is being created, and another for culture.

Hillary Clinton, the hawk

26/05/2016

An interesting article poorly titled, How Hillary became a hawk, was published in the New York Times. Aside from the problems of hawks and doves it is noteworthy given the election.

It opens, “Clinton sat in the hideaway study off her ceremonial office in the State Department, sipping tea and taking stock of her first year on the job. The study was more like a den — cozy and wood-paneled, lined with bookshelves that displayed mementos from Clinton’s three decades in the public eye: a statue of her heroine, Eleanor Roosevelt; a baseball signed by the Chicago Cubs star Ernie Banks; a carved wooden figure of a pregnant African woman. The intimate setting lent itself to a less-formal interview than the usual locale, her imposing outer office, with its marble fireplace, heavy drapes, crystal chandelier and ornate wall sconces. On the morning of Feb. 26, 2010, however, Clinton was talking about something more sensitive than mere foreign affairs: her relationship with Barack Obama. To say she chose her words carefully doesn’t do justice to the delicacy of the exercise. She was like a bomb-squad technician, deciding which color wire to snip without blowing up her relationship with the White House. “We’ve developed, I think, a very good rapport, really positive back-and-forth about everything you can imagine,” Clinton said about the man she described during the 2008 campaign as naïve, irresponsible and hopelessly unprepared to be president. “And we’ve had some interesting and even unusual experiences along the way.” She leaned forward as she spoke, gesturing with her hands and laughing easily. In talking with reporters, Clinton displays more warmth than Obama does, though there’s less of an expectation that she might say something revealing”.

The piece continues “Clinton singled out, as she often would, the United Nations climate-change meeting in Copenhagen the previous December, where she and Obama worked together to save the meeting from collapse. She brought up the Middle East peace proc­ess, a signature project of the president’s, which she had been tasked with reviving. But she was understandably wary of talking about areas in which she and Obama split — namely, on bedrock issues of war and peace, where Clinton’s more activist philosophy had already collided in unpredictable ways with her boss’s instincts toward restraint. She had backed Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation to send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, before endorsing a fallback proposal of 30,000 (Obama went along with that, though he stipulated that the soldiers would begin to pull out again in July 2011, which she viewed as problematic). She supported the Pentagon’s plan to leave behind a residual force of 10,000 to 20,000 American troops in Iraq (Obama balked at this, largely because of his inability to win legal protections from the Iraqis, a failure that was to haunt him when the Islamic State overran much of the country). And she pressed for the United States to funnel arms to the rebels in Syria’s civil war (an idea Obama initially rebuffed before later, halfheartedly, coming around to it). That fundamental tension between Clinton and the president would continue to be a defining feature of her four-year tenure as secretary of state. In the administration’s first high-level meeting on Russia in February 2009, aides to Obama proposed that the United States make some symbolic concessions to Russia as a gesture of its good will in resetting the relationship. Clinton, the last to speak, brusquely rejected the idea, saying, “I’m not giving up anything for nothing.” Her hardheadedness made an impression on Robert Gates, the defense secretary and George W. Bush holdover who was wary of a changed Russia. He decided there and then that she was someone he could do business with. “I thought, This is a tough lady,” he told me. A few months after my interview in her office, another split emerged when Obama picked up a secure phone for a weekend conference call with Clinton, Gates and a handful of other advisers. It was July 2010, four months after the North Korean military torpedoed a South Korean Navy corvette, sinking it and killing 46 sailors. Now, after weeks of fierce debate between the Pentagon and the State Department, the United States was gearing up to respond to this brazen provocation. The tentative plan — developed by Clinton’s deputy at State, James Steinberg — was to dispatch the aircraft carrier George Washington into coastal waters to the east of North Korea as an unusual show of force. But Adm. Robert Willard, then the Pacific commander, wanted to send the carrier on a more aggressive course, into the Yellow Sea, between North Korea and China. The Chinese foreign ministry had warned the United States against the move, which for Willard was all the more reason to press forward. He pushed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, who in turn pushed his boss, the defense secretary, to reroute the George Washington. Gates agreed, but he needed the commander in chief to sign off on a decision that could have political as well as military repercussions”.

Not supursingly the article goes on to mention that “As Hillary Clinton makes another run for president, it can be tempting to view her hard-edged rhetoric about the world less as deeply felt core principle than as calculated political maneuver. But Clinton’s foreign-policy instincts are bred in the bone — grounded in cold realism about human nature and what one aide calls “a textbook view of American exceptionalism.” It set her apart from her rival-turned-boss, Barack Obama, who avoided military entanglements and tried to reconcile Americans to a world in which the United States was no longer the undisputed hegemon. And it will likely set her apart from the Republican candidate she meets in the general election. For all their bluster about bombing the Islamic State into oblivion, neither Donald J. Trump nor Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has”.

The importance of Clinton’s belief in the military is stressed, “Unlike other recent presidents — Obama, George W. Bush or her husband, Bill Clinton — Hillary Clinton would assume the office with a long record on national security. There are many ways to examine that record, but one of the most revealing is to explore her decades-long cultivation of the military — not just civilian leaders like Gates, but also its high-ranking commanders, the men with the medals. Her affinity for the armed forces is rooted in a lifelong belief that the calculated use of military power is vital to defending national interests, that American intervention does more good than harm and that the writ of the United States properly reaches, as Bush once put it, into “any dark corner of the world.” Unexpectedly, in the bombastic, testosterone-fueled presidential election of 2016, Hillary Clinton is the last true hawk left in the race. For those who know Clinton’s biography, her embrace of the military should come as no surprise. She grew up in the buoyant aftermath of World War II, the daughter of a Navy petty officer who trained young sailors before they shipped out to the Pacific. Her father, Hugh Rodham, was a staunch Republican and an anticommunist, and she channeled his views. She talks often about her girlhood dream of becoming an astronaut, citing the rejection letter she got from NASA as the first time she encountered gender discrimination”.

The piece argues that “Political conversion came later, after Vietnam and the ’60s swept over Wellesley College, where she spoke out against the establishment at her graduation. But even in the tumultuous year of 1968, she was still making her transition from Republican to Democrat, managing to go to the conventions of both parties. As a Republican intern in Washington that summer, she questioned a Wisconsin congressman, Melvin Laird, about the wisdom of Lyndon B. Johnson’s escalating involvement in Southeast Asia. It was after law school that she had her most curious encounter with the military. In 1975, the year she married Bill Clinton, she stopped in at a Marine recruiting office in Arkansas to inquire about joining the active forces or reserves. She was a lawyer, she explained; maybe there was some way she could serve. The recruiter, she recalled two decades later, was a young man of about 21, in prime physical condition. Clinton was then 27, freshly transplanted from Washington, teaching law at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and wearing Coke-bottle eyeglasses. “You’re too old, you can’t see and you’re a woman,” he told her. “Maybe the dogs will take you,” he added, in what she said was a pejorative reference to the Army”.

Crucially the writer goes on “Some reporters have cast doubt on the veracity of this story, which she repeated in the fall of 2015 over breakfast with voters in New Hampshire: certainly, there’s no concrete evidence that it happened, and Bill gave a different account of it in 2008, substituting the Army for the Marines. Why would a professionally minded Yale Law graduate, on the cusp of marriage, suddenly want to put on a uniform? It’s impossible to decipher her possible motives, but Ann Henry, an old friend who taught at the university after Clinton moved to Little Rock, offers a theory: During those days, she recalls, female faculty members, as an exercise, would test the boundaries of careers that appeared closed to women”.

The writer notes that many of the staff in the White House are derived from the military, “In March 1996, the first lady visited American troops stationed in Bosnia. The trip became notorious years later when she claimed, during the 2008 campaign, to have dodged sniper fire after her C-17 military plane landed at an American base in Tuzla. (Chris Hill, a diplomat who was onboard that day and later served as ambassador to Iraq under Clinton, didn’t remember snipers at all, and indeed recalled children handing her bouquets of spring flowers.) But there was no faking the good vibes during her tour of the mess and rec halls. With her teenage daughter at her side, she bantered and joked with the young servicemen and women — an experience, she wrote, that “left lasting impressions on Chelsea and me.” When Clinton was elected to the Senate, she had strong political reasons to care about the mili­tary. The Pentagon was in the midst of a long, politically charged process of closing military bases; New York State had already been a victim, when Plattsburgh Air Force Base was closed in 1995, a loss of 352 civilian jobs for that hard-luck North Country town. New York’s delegation was determined to protect its remaining bases, especially Fort Drum, home of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, which sprawls over a hundred thousand acres in rural Jefferson County. In October 2001, a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Clinton traveled to Fort Drum at the invitation of Gen. Buster Hagenbeck, who had just been named the division’s commander and would be deployed to Afghanistan a month later. Like many of the officers I spoke with, he had preconceptions of Clinton from her years as first lady; the woman who showed up at his office around happy hour that afternoon did not fulfill them. “She sat down,” he recalls, “took her shoes off, put her feet up on the coffee table and said, ‘General, do you know where a gal can get a cold beer around here?’ ” It was the start of a dialogue that stretched over two wars. In the spring of 2002, Hagenbeck led Operation Anaconda, a 16-day assault on Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters in the Shah-i-Kot Valley that was the largest combat engagement of the war to date. When the general came back to Washington to brief the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Clinton took him out to dinner on Capitol Hill for her own briefing. They also spoke about the Bush administration’s preparations for war in Iraq, something which Hagenbeck was following anxiously. The general, it turned out, was more of a dove than the senator. He warned her about the risks of an invasion, which was then being war-gamed inside the Pentagon. It would be like “kicking over a bee’s nest,” he said. Hagenbeck excused Clinton’s vote in 2002 to authorize military action in Iraq. “She made a considered call,” he says. And “she was chagrined, much after the fact.” For him, what mattered more than Clinton’s voting record was her unstinting public support of the military, whether in protecting Fort Drum or backing him during a difficult first year in Afghanistan”.

Interestingly the writer mentions that Clinton, during her Senate years chose the Armed Services Committee instead of the Foreign Affairs Committee and “after 9/11, Clinton saw Armed Services as better preparation for her future. For a politician looking to hone hard-power credentials — a woman who aspired to be commander in chief — it was the perfect training ground. She dug in like a grunt at boot camp. Andrew Shapiro, then Senator Clinton’s foreign-policy adviser, called upon 10 experts — including Bill Perry, who was defense secretary under her husband, and Ashton Carter, who would eventually become President Obama’s fourth defense secretary — to tutor her on everything from grand strategy to defense procurement. She met quietly with Andrew Marshall, an octogenarian strategist at the Pentagon who laboured for decades in the blandly named Office of Net Assessment, earning the nickname Yoda for his Delphic insights. She went to every committee meeting, no matter how mundane. Aides recall her on C-SPAN3, sitting alone in the chamber, patiently questioning a lieutenant colonel. She visited the troops in Afghanistan on Thanksgiving Day in 2003 and spoke at every significant military installation in New York State. By then — 30 years after she recalled being rejected by a Marine recruiter in Arkansas — Hillary Clinton had become a military wonk”.

The author then explores the relationship between General Jack Keane and Clinton, “Keane first got to know Clinton in the fall of 2001, when she was a freshman senator and he was the Army’s second in command, with a distinguished combat and command record in Vietnam, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. He had expected her to be intelligent, hard-working and politically astute, but he was not prepared for the respect she showed for the Army as an institution, or her sympathy for the sacrifices made by soldiers and their families. Keane was confident he could smell a phony politician a mile away, and he didn’t get that whiff from her. “I read people; that’s one of my strengths,” he told me. “It’s not that I can’t be fooled, but I’m not fooled often.” Clinton took an instant liking to Keane, too. “She loves that Irish gruff thing,” says one of her Senate aides, Kris Balderston, who was in the room that day. When Keane got up after 45 minutes to leave for a meeting back at the Pentagon with a Polish general, she protested that she wasn’t finished yet and asked for another appointment. “I said, ‘O.K., but it took me three months to get this one,’ ” Keane told her dryly. Clinton exploded into a raucous laugh. “I’ll take care of that problem,” she promised”.

It later adds “He and Clinton continued to talk, even after Obama was elected and she became secretary of state. More often than not, they found themselves in sync. Keane, like Clinton, favoured more robust intervention in Syria than Obama did. In April 2015, the week before she announced her candidacy, Clinton asked him for a briefing on military options for dealing with the fighters of the Islamic State. Bringing along three young female analysts from the Institute for the Study of War, Keane gave her a 2-hour-20-minute presentation. Among other steps, he advocated imposing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria that would neutralise the air power of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, with a goal of forcing him into a political settlement with opposition groups. Six months later, Clinton publicly adopted this position, further distancing herself from Obama”.

The piece mentions that “On Clinton’s first trip to Iraq in November 2003, Petraeus, then a two-star general commanding the 101st Airborne Division, flew from his field headquarters in Mosul to the relative safety of Kirkuk to brief her congressional delegation. “She was full of questions,” he recalls. “It was the kind of gesture that means a lot to a battlefield commander.” On subsequent trips, as he rose in rank, Petraeus walked her through his plans to train and equip Iraqi Army troops, a forerunner of the counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. It worked to their mutual benefit: Petraeus was building ties to a prominent Democratic voice in the Senate; Clinton was burnishing her image as a friend of the troops. “She did it the old-fashioned way,” he says. “She did it by pursuing relationships.” When Petraeus was sent back to Iraq as the top commander in early 2007, he gave every member of the Senate Armed Services Committee a copy of the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, which he edited during a tour at Fort Leavenworth. Clinton read hers from cover to cover. Although Clinton’s reservations about the surge were valid — the stability that the additional troops brought to Iraq didn’t last — her opposition to it, like her vote for the war, came back to haunt her. This time, it was her ally Bob Gates who summoned the ghost. In his memoirs, Gates wrote that she confessed to him and the president that her position had been politically motivated, because she was then facing Obama in the Iowa caucuses. (Obama, he wrote, “vaguely” conceded that he, too, had opposed it for political reasons.) Clinton pushed back, telling Diane Sawyer of ABC Newsthat Gates “perhaps either missed the context or the meaning, because I did oppose the surge.” Her opposition, she told Sawyer, was driven by the fact that at that time, people were not going to accept any escalation of the war. “This is not politics in electoral, political terms,” Clinton said. “This is politics in the sense of the American public has to support commitments like this.” The next time she found herself in a debate over sending troops into harm’s way, she voiced no such reservations”.

It then continues “It was early October 2009, and she had just returned from a meeting in the Situation Room. Obama’s war cabinet was debating how many additional troops to send to Afghanistan, where the United States, preoccupied by Iraq, had allowed the Taliban to regroup. The Pentagon, she reported, had used impressive, colour-coded maps to show its plans to deploy troops around the country. The attention to detail made Gates and his commanders look crisp and well prepared; the State Department, which was pushing a “civilian surge” to accompany the troops, looked wan by comparison. At the next meeting, on Oct. 14, the team from State unfurled its own maps to show the deployment of an army of aid workers, diplomats, legal experts and crop specialists who were supposed to follow the soldiers into Afghanistan. Clinton’s fixation with maps was typical of her mind-set in the first great war-and-peace debate of the Obama presidency. She wanted to be taken seriously, even if her department was less central than the Pentagon. One way to do that was by promoting the civilian surge, the pet project of her friend and special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke. “She was determined that her briefing books would be just as thick and just as meticulous as those of the Pentagon,” a senior adviser recalls. She also didn’t hesitate to get into the Pentagon’s business, asking detailed questions about the training of Afghan troops and wading into the weeds of military planning. She resolved not to miss out on anything — a determination that may have been rooted in a deeper insecurity about her role in what was to become the most White House-centric administration of the modern era. On the morning of June 8, 2009, she emailed two aides to say: “I heard on the radio that there is a Cabinet mtg this am. Is there? Can I go? If not, who are we sending?” On Feb. 10, 2010, she dialed the White House from her home, but couldn’t get past the switchboard operator, who didn’t believe she was really Hillary Clinton. Asked to provide her office number to prove her identity, she said she didn’t know it. Finally, Clinton hung up in frustration and placed the call again through the State Department Operations Center — “like a proper and properly dependent secretary of state,” as she later wrote to one aide in a mock-chastened tone. “No independent dialing allowed.” The Afghan troop debate, a three-month drama of dueling egos, leaked documents and endless deliberations, is typically framed as a test of wills between the Pentagon’s wily military commanders and an inexperienced young president, with Joe Biden playing the role of devil’s advocate for Obama. While that portrait is accurate, it neglects the role of Clinton. By siding with Gates and the generals, she gave political ballast to their proposals and provided a bullish counterpoint to Biden’s scepticism. Her role should not be overstated: She did not turn the debate, nor did she bring to it any distinctive point of view. But her unstinting support of General McChrystal’s maximalist recommendation made it harder for Obama to choose a lesser option”.

The piece is brought up to date when it goes on to mention “In October 2015, the persistent violence in Afghanistan and the legacy of Karzai’s misrule forced Obama to reverse his plan to withdraw the last American soldiers by the end of his presi­dency. A few thousand troops will stay there indefinitely. And for all of Clinton’s talk about a civilian surge, it never really materialised. For Clinton, the Afghanistan episode laid bare a vexed relationship between her and Eikenberry, one of the few generals with whom she didn’t hit it off. A soldier-scholar with graduate degrees from Harvard and Stanford, Eikenberry was brilliant but had a reputation among his colleagues for being imperious. Clinton had a similarly chilly relationship with Douglas Lute, another Army lieutenant general with a graduate degree from Harvard, who also fought with Holbrooke. “She likes the nail-eaters — McChrystal, Petraeus, Keane,” one of her aides observes. “Real military guys, not these retired three-stars who go into civilian jobs.” “There’s no doubt that Hillary Clinton’s more muscular brand of American foreign policy is better matched to 2016 than it was to 2008,” said Jake Sullivan, her top policy adviser at the State Department, who plays the same role in her campaign.  It was De­cem­ber 2015, 53 days before the Iowa caucuses, and Sullivan was sitting down with me in Clinton’s sprawling Brooklyn headquarters to explain how she was shaping her message for a campaign suddenly dominated by concerns about national security. Clinton’s strategy, he said, was twofold: Explain to voters that she had a clear plan for confronting the threat posed by Islamic terrorism, and expose her Republican opponents as utterly lacking in experience or credibility on national security. There were good reasons for Clinton to let her inner hawk fly. After the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., Americans’ concern about a major attack on the nation spiked. A CNN/ORC poll taken after Paris showed that a majority, 53 percent, favoured sending ground troops to Iraq or Syria, a remarkable shift from the war-weary sentiment that prevailed during most of Obama’s presidency. The Republican candidates were reaching for apocalyptic metaphors to demonstrate their resolve. Ted Cruz threatened to carpet-bomb the Islamic State to test whether desert sand can glow; Donald Trump called for the United States to ban all Muslims from entering the country “until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses.” Yet such spikes in the public appetite for mili­tary action tend to be transitory. Three weeks later, the same poll showed an even split, at 49 percent, on whether to deploy troops.”

The piece ends “In showing her stripes as a prospective commander in chief, Clinton will no doubt draw heavily upon her State Department experience — filtering the lessons she learned in Libya, Syria and Iraq into the sinewy worldview she has held since childhood. Last fall, in a series of policy speeches, Clinton began limning distinctions with the president on national security. She said the United States should consider sending more special-operations troops to Iraq than Obama had committed, to help the Iraqis and Kurds fight the Islamic State. She came out in favour of a partial no-fly zone over Syria. And she described the threat posed by ISIS to Americans in starker terms than he did. As is often the case with Clinton and Obama, the differences were less about direction than degree. She wasn’t calling for ground troops in the Middle East, any more than he was. Clinton insisted her plan was not a break with his, merely an “intensification and acceleration” of it. It’s an open question how well Clinton’s hawkish instincts match the country’s mood. Americans are weary of war and remain suspicious of foreign entanglements. And yet, after the retrenchment of the Obama years, there is polling evidence that they are equally dissatisfied with a portrait of their country as a spent force, managing its decline amid a world of rising powers like China, resurgent empires like Vladimir Putin’s Russia and lethal new forces like the Islamic State. If Obama’s minimalist approach was a necessary reaction to the maximalist style of his predecessor, then perhaps what Americans yearn for is something in between — the kind of steel-belted pragmatism that Clinton has spent a lifetime honing”.

“A U.S. navy ship sailed close to a disputed reef in the South China Sea”

26/05/2016

China scrambled fighter jets on Tuesday as a U.S. navy ship sailed close to a disputed reef in the South China Sea, a patrol China denounced as an illegal threat to peace which only went to show its defense installations in the area were necessary. Guided missile destroyer the USS William P. Lawrence traveled within 12 nautical miles (22 km) of Chinese-occupied Fiery Cross Reef, U.S. Defense Department spokesman Bill Urban said. The so-called freedom of navigation operation was undertaken to “challenge excessive maritime claims” by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam which were seeking to restrict navigation rights in the South China Sea, Urban said. “These excessive maritime claims are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention in that they purport to restrict the navigation rights that the United States and all states are entitled to exercise,” Urban said in an emailed statement. China and the United States have traded accusations of militarizing the South China Sea as China undertakes large-scale land reclamation and construction on disputed features while the United States has increased its patrols and exercises”.

Clinton, hurt by her experience?

26/05/2016

Stephen Walt writes that Clinton’s experience may hurt her, “Barrring a bizarre and unforeseen turn of events, next November American voters will have to choose Hillary Rodham Clinton or Donald Trump to be the nation’s 45th president. The two candidates could not be more different: female versus male; longtime public servant versus self-absorbed private businessman; Democrat versus Republican; unapologetic liberal internationalist versus xenophobic nativist; uber-cautious, poll-driven politico versus vulgar and impulsive bomb-thrower. It’s quite a choice. Their campaigns could not be more different either, especially when it comes to foreign policy. The Clinton campaign has already assembled a “massive brain trust” of policy wonks and former government officials, including Michèle Flournoy, Nicholas Burns, Madeleine Albright, Jake Sullivan, Derek Chollet, Tamara Wittes, Phil Gordon, Michael McFaul, and many, many more. As befits a former secretary of state, former senator, and former first lady, her foreign-policy machine is the living embodiment of the mainstream Foreign-Policy Establishment”.

Walt goes on to mention “By contrast, Trump’s foreign-policy views seem to spring out of his own impulsive id, and the handful of foreign-policy advisors he’s revealed are hardly bold-faced names with glittering resumes. Indeed, such is Trump’s alienation from the foreign-policy establishment that some 120 Republican foreign-policy gurus recently released an open letter denouncing his candidacy and declaring him “utterly unfitted to the office.” Trump can’t even win the backing of conservative humorist P.J. O’Rourke, who might have been expected to support him for the comic value alone. You’d think this disparity would give Clinton a big advantage in the general election, and that may in fact prove to be the case. But I’m not so sure. For one thing, most Americans don’t care that much about foreign policy, and they rarely choose presidents on that basis. Economic conditions drive presidential elections more than international events do, so even if voters believe Clinton is the sounder choice on foreign-policy grounds, it may not matter that much. Furthermore, the public seems to be in a pretty rebellious mood this year, and a lot of that resentment is directed toward the “establishment.” Both the Trump and Bernie Sanders campaigns have been sustained by populist anger at well-connected fat cats whom voters believe have sold the country down the river, and that discontent appears to include foreign policy. An April 2016 Pew Research Center poll found that 57 percent of Americans believe the United States “should deal with its own problems and let other countries deal with their problems as best they can,” with 41 percent saying the country did “too much” in world affairs and only 27 percent asserting it did “too little.” Needless to say, such sentiments sound a lot more like Trump than Clinton”.

Walt derides the unipolar moment arguing it accomplished little going to a slew of ad hominium attacks, “it is also an establishment that rarely holds its members accountable. If you’re a respected member of the foreign-policy elite, you can plead guilty of lying to Congress, receive a pardon, get rehired by another president, screw up again, and then land a nice sinecure at a prominent think tank. You can lobby for an ill-planned intervention in Libya, help create a failed state there, and subsequently get promoted to the position of national security advisor or U.N. ambassador. You can help lead the nation into a disastrous war in Iraq, mismanage the postwar occupation, and fail upward to become president of the World Bank. You can get caught making false statements to the public and press and still retain the “full confidence” of the president. Or you can repeatedly fail to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East and then get rehired to try again and achieve exactly the same result”.

Walt eventually gets to the point by arguing that “Hillary Clinton is intimately connected to this community and cannot help being linked to its recent performance. By signing up all those experienced foreign-policy insiders, she reinforces her association with some of the good things the United States has done in recent years. But it also means that she owns the past 25 years of foreign-policy missteps. Clinton was in the White House when her husband embraced “dual containment” in the Persian Gulf, when the United States led the charge for NATO expansion, and when it bungled the Oslo peace process. She was in the Senate when the United States went to war in Iraq, and she voted for that foolish war with apparent enthusiasm. She was running the State Department when the United States unwisely escalated in Afghanistan in 2009 (to no good purpose) and when it helped oust Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011 (ditto). She has little choice but to defend the strategy of liberal hegemony pursued by all three post-Cold War presidents: If anything, she is more enthusiastic about it than President Barack Obama has been. Her problem is that this record is not easy to defend”.

He ends “Trump is under no such burden. Because his only responsibility over the past 25 years has been mismanaging the fortune he inherited, cultivating celebrity, courting a series of wives, and presiding over a reality TV show, he is free to criticize Clinton and her phalanx of advisors and appeal to the voters’ worst instincts with vague and wildly optimistic promises of his own. Knowledgeable foreign-policy experts have been quick to attack his various proposals, but these experts may not have much street cred this year. To be clear: I’ve no desire to participate in a vast and risky social science experiment, and I won’t be voting for Trump next November. To the extent Americans care about foreign policy, they may prefer to stick with the familiar nostrums of liberal hegemony, and they may find the support Clinton gets from foreign-policy experts (including some prominent Republicans) reassuring. But if I were in her shoes, I wouldn’t write him off just yet”.

“Aramco is finalising proposals for its partial privatisation”

24/05/2016

Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil giant Aramco is finalising proposals for its partial privatisation and will present them to its Supreme Council soon, its chief executive said about the centerpiece of the kingdom’s efforts to overhaul its economy. The company has a huge team working on the options for the initial public offering (IPO) of less than 5 percent of its value, which include a single domestic listing and a dual listing with a foreign market, CEO Amin Nasser said on Tuesday. They will be presented “soon” to Aramco’s Supreme Council, headed by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is leading an economic reform drive to address falling oil revenue and sharp fiscal deficits by boosting the private sector, ending government waste and diversifying the economy. Nasser stressed that even after the listing, the Saudi government would retain sole control over Aramco’s oil and gas output levels. “Production is sovereign,” he said. Riyadh has traditionally kept an expensive “spare cushion” of excess production capacity, allowing it to raise or reduce levels to influence prices according to the government’s market strategy. Private oil companies, by contrast, do not hold back output for strategic gain”.

TTIP, bad for Europe and America

24/05/2016

An excellent piece by Hans Kundami argues that the TTIP is bad for both the EU and America, “For the last few years, almost everyone invested in Europe’s relationship with the United States, and vice versa, has become fixated on the free trade agreement known as TTIP. (For the uninitiated, that’s the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.) The deal, a counterpart to the now-concluded but not yet fully ratified Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between the United States and 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific, aims to further integrate the European and U.S. economies, which together account for around half of the world’s GDP and nearly a third of world trade flows. Supporters of the project in Germany, Britain, and the United States often give the impression that the West’s entire future — the very concept of the West — hangs on its success”.

Crucially he argues “In truth, TTIP is just as likely to cause transatlantic friction as demonstrate transatlantic unity, as illustrated by media coverage in Europe of the leak by Greenpeace of papers from the treaty negotiations. Amid the fallout from the leaks, TTIP is as likely to discredit the idea of the West as revitalise it. Supporters of the project see it as a way to “renew and confirm” the transatlantic relationship, in the words of European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, the lead negotiator on the European side. Some, including former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, have even referred to TTIP as an “Economic NATO”: a complement to the military alliance that guarantees the security of its members. Thus, Atlanticists — those who believe in the importance of the relationship between Europe and the United States — have largely bought the argument that TTIP is essential in order to maintain its relevance in the 21st century. Meanwhile, the treaty’s critics generally see the idea of “the West”as outdated, incoherent, or offensive. Thus, to be pro-Western has, in recent years, increasingly come to mean favouring TTIP. It is possible, however, to be a pro-Western sceptic of TTIP — especially if one believes, as I do, that the idea of the West should be defined by the common values, not just the common interests, of Europe and the United States”.

He continues “TTIP’s problems start with the hardly overwhelming case for its passage. In the early going, supporters claimed it would generate growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2013, the European Commission, for example, claimed that an ambitious deal could produce boost growth in Europe by €120 billion, and in the United States by €95 billion. But independent research done since then by various think tanks has concluded that the macroeconomic effects of TTIP would be lower than these claims suggested. Most serious studies, in fact, suggest it could increase the size of the European economy by between 0.1 and 0.5 percent of GDP over a 10-year period — in other words, by a modest to negligible degree. Many of the other pro-TPP arguments do not apply to TTIP either. For example, Adam Posen has argued that TPP could strengthen the democratic and market-based development of Asian economies, but EU member states are already democracies with market economies, so the same argument does not extend to TTIP. Similarly, one cannot claim that TTIP will raise environmental or labour standards in Europe as TPP could in Asia — what Europeans fear, in fact, is that their high standards will be lowered by the treaty. One can also hardly claim that an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism — a system of tribunals to adjudicate on disputes between companies and states — is needed to protect U.S. companies from expropriation in Europe as one could argue in the case of Asia. (ISDS is one of the most controversial aspects of TTIP in Europe, where citizens worry that the tribunals lack transparency and force governments to make concessions to corporations.) Moreover, while the upside of TTIP is questionable, there is a downside that should worry Atlanticists”.

He points out that “Fears about TTIP, whether rational or irrational, are already fueling anti-Americanism in Europe — particularly in Germany, where there is a massive “Stop TTIP” movement. Critics say the so-called TTIP papers have confirmed their worst fears about genetically modified food and a lowering of consumer protection standards in Europe are likely to further strengthen opposition. In particular, the papers showed U.S. negotiators putting their European counterparts under pressure to ease restrictions on genetically modified food in exchange for a reduction in barriers to the export of European cars — hardly surprising, but alarming to Europeans who distrust GMOs. According to a new poll, 70 percent of Germans oppose TTIP. If American and European negotiators reach the ambitious, comprehensive agreement they insist they want — which would include ISDS — this could be just the beginning of the transatlantic tensions to come”.

Interestingly he argues that “Europeans are likely to blame Americans for any lowering of consumer, health, and environmental standards, particularly in sensitive areas such as food safety. Americans, in turn, are likely to blame Europeans if they experience job losses in the automotive sector, and others, as a result of increased competition from Europe, regardless of the size of the overall boost to the economy on both sides of the Atlantic. In short, there is a real risk that TTIP will backfire and actually increase animosity between Europe and the United States”.

He goes on to argue that “Given the risk that it may prove impossible to pass TTIP, it is a mistake for its supporters to suggest it is essential to the future of the West. As the economic case for TTIP has failed to convince people, its supporters have increasingly sought to make a “strategic” case for it by invoking the concept of the West in this way. Although it is true that the transatlantic relationship needs to be reinvented, and that Europe and the United States must deepen their ties, a trade agreement is the wrong vehicle for this project. The danger of forcing TTIP to carry this weight stems from the fact that it redefines the concept of the West in terms of the economic interests of the EU and the United States. At a time when power is shifting from west to east, Europe and the United States will increasingly need to cooperate with other like-minded states, especially “global swing states” like Brazil and India. In this context, the West cannot stand for the particular, exclusive economic interests of Europe and the United States. Rather, it must stand for universal, inclusive values — above all, democracy – and not simply be measured by prosperity”.

He concludes “Those who try to make a strategic case for TTIP often insist it is about values because it will allow the West to “set the rules for the 21st century.” It is not clear that other countries — those in Asia, for example — will really follow the rules set by Europe and the United States in TTIP (as opposed to the different rules in TPP). But even if they do, it will be only in limited areas like phytosanitary standards. This is surely not so much “revitalizing” the West, as trivializing it. The biggest threats to the West in the 21st century come from authoritarian and revisionist powers. It is difficult to see how TTIP will be of much help in responding to those threats (though TPP may be). Supporters of TTIP should take a step back and think more carefully about the West, as both a geographic and a moral concept. In order to reach out to rising powers that are not part of the West in a geographic sense, Americans and Europeans need to emphasize the moral definition of the alliance and de-emphasise its geographic definition. But this is the exact opposite of what those who invoke the West in order to make the case for TTIP are doing. By identifying the West with the economic interests of Europe and the United States, they are as likely to discredit it as “revitalize” it”.

“50 percent of its military purchases toward local industries”

24/05/2016

The world’s third largest military spender, Saudi Arabia, is to direct 50 percent of its military purchases toward local industries. According to Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud, the kingdom will launch a government-owned military holding company by the first quarter of 2017 to oversee the development of the local military industry. In 2015, Saudi Arabia’s defense spending grew by 5.7 percent to $87.2 billion, making it the world’s third-largest spender, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, over taking Russia. “Does it make sense that we are the world’s forth largest military spenders in 2014 and third in 2015 and we do not even have a local military industry?” the 34-year-old prince said during his first televised interview on Al Arabiya television Monday, revealing the Saudi economic vision for 2030″.

“Extend a crisis that began in 2010 into the 2050s”

22/05/2016

A short but important article notes a German-Greek deal on the euro, “Hours after Europe and Greece appeared far apart on the latest bailout payment to Athens, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble late Monday signaled a readiness to make some kind of deal on Greek debt. His acquiescence came after a meeting of European finance ministers in Brussels. It remains to be seen what Schäuble’s admission means, and details are short ahead of a May 24 deadline to deliver Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras the money he needs to make a $4 billion debt payment in July. Germany has ruled out a haircut for Greece, which would have allowed Athens to pay back less than what it owes its European creditors. However, Berlin is apparently willing to explore some nontraditional options that would give Greece leeway”.

It goes on to note “This includes extending maturities on loans to Greece, limiting annual repayments, and capping interest rates on money lent to Athens. According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, under a European Union proposal, Greece won’t have to pay back what it owes for more than 37 years. Interest on this money would be capped at 2 percent until 2050. The latest bailout totals 86 billion euros, or $98 billion. “Today was about opening the debate, exploring options, and giving political guidance to the technical people,” said Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, chair of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, after the Brussels meeting ended”.

The piece mentions “This essentially pushes the crisis off the shoulders of Tsipras, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande, and other European leaders — and onto their grandchildren. It allows Europe to give Greece sharp debt relief without actually having to cut the amount of money Athens owes. It would also extend a crisis that began in 2010 into the 2050s. It’s not clear whether this will be enough to pacify the International Monetary Fund. Its chief, Christine Lagarde, has repeatedly said that the emergency lending bank would not participate in the continuing bailout without forgiveness of Greek debt. It’s also yet to be determined if Greece can institute the spending cuts and tax and pension reforms it promised in exchange for the latest bailout. Tsipras pushed through some of the reforms on Sunday amid violent protests on Athens’s streets. But Greece will not reach the agreed-to surplus of 3.5 percent of GDP within two years. The IMF and the EU both want Tsipras to find an additional $4.6 billion in cuts, something the prime minister says is impossible”.

It ends “In other words, Schäuble’s concession is another stopgap in the debt crisis that began in 2010. But it was enough to boost confidence in Greece’s future. On Tuesday, as Greek lawmakers began consideration on another round of austerity, the Greek stock market almost erased losses on the year. Yields on Greek bonds dropped to their lowest 2016 levels, at 7.47 percent”.

“It’s more a fight for fish than for oil”

22/05/2016

The simmering maritime disputes and land grabs in the South China Sea have long been seen as a battle over its potentially vast undersea deposits of oil and natural gas. That’s not quite true: There is a sometimes violent scramble for resources in the region, but it’s more a fight for fish than for oil. The latest evidence came Tuesday, when Indonesia blew up 23 fishing boats from Vietnam and Malaysia that it said were poaching in Indonesian waters. It wasn’t the first time Indonesia’s flamboyant, chain-smoking fisheries minister, Susi Pudjiastuti, has literally dynamited her way to international headlines: The country demolished 27 fishing boats in February and has scuttled more than 170 in the last two years. But the move is significant all the same, because it underscores how central fishing is to the simmering territorial disputes that are turning the South China Sea into a potential global flash point — and how far countries are willing to go to defend their turf, or at least what they claim is theirs.

“What makes strategic sense may flout political reality”

22/05/2016

James Holmes writes about US-Indian naval relations with China as the obvious mutual threat, “Negotiations on sharing logistics and military bases in the Pacific Ocean have exposed the sturm und drang plaguing recent U.S.-India relations. In mid-April, during U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s trip to South Asia, he and Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikarannounced that the two countries had plans to sign an agreement known as a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) “within weeks.” Though details on the agreement remain scant, Carter declared that the Indian and U.S. armed services are now “operating together by air, land, and sea, collaborating on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and maritime security.” And by agreeing “in principle to share and exchange logistics,” the two countries would have the capacity to “do even more” in such missions. This agreement would, presumably, grant each country’s navy access to the other’s naval bases and allow for expedited refueling and reprovisioning. But more than a few weeks have now elapsed since Carter’s trip — and there have been few signs of movement toward consummating a deal between the two administrations. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has come under fire from political opponents who object to any pact that might grant U.S. forces access to Indian soil. And thus it appears that New Delhi may have backpedaled on LEMOA in an effort to placate them”. 

Holmes goes on to write “From a practical standpoint, the deal makes good sense for both the United States and India. Both have interests spanning maritime Asia. Both find it sensible to work together to contend with an increasingly brawny and bellicose China. And over the past few years, the United States and India have been collaborating on aircraft-carrier design, debating manufacturing fighter aircraft on the subcontinent, and generally expanding the scope of their high-seas cooperation. Pooling logistical support — thus extending both armed forces’ reach and staying power in distant seas — is part of that new spirit of partnership. Good things are happening. Why not then sign LEMOA? But what makes strategic sense may flout political reality. Each action to tighten diplomatic or military ties between India and the United States summons an equal and opposite pushback from the Indian body politic”.

He asks the question why is naval logistics seen as so important, “Both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations have wanted to conclude a logistics pact with New Delhi. Such an agreement would represent an important token of closer partnership between the world’s two largest democracies and a platform for bigger undertakings to come. For the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, known collectively as the sea services, the case for pooling logistics is self-evident. Warships need fuel and stores every few days to remain at sea. Yet the U.S. fleet of combat logistics ships — oilers, ammunition ships, cargo ships of all varieties — is woefully small: Just 30 of these workhorse vessels support U.S. naval operations throughout the seven seas. And even that figure exaggerates. Factor in the rhythm of training, routine upkeep, and major overhauls, and U.S. Navy task forces can count on, at most, about 17 logistics ships”.

He later makes the point that “Without permanent bases, naval forces can improvise, however. During World War II, for example, the U.S. Navy built a massive fleet of logistics vessels, including not just replenishment ships, but also destroyer and submarine tenders: floating repair shops capable of conducting all but the farthest-reaching repairs to damaged hulls. Thus equipped, the Navy could create mobile fleet anchorages such as Ulithi, an atoll along U.S. naval forces’ route to the Philippines and the southern Japanese island of Okinawa. Planting new logistics hubs along the U.S. lines of advance helped the U.S. military surge across the Pacific Ocean toward the Japanese mainland. This approach is viable during total war. In peacetime, however, naval forces cannot simply seize territory and convert them to refueling bases. Washington must court friendly host nations — like India — to gain access. The Indian Navy likewise needs access to shore installations to voyage beyond the subcontinent’s immediate environs. Look at a map of Eurasia. The U.S. sea services operate mainly from logistics hubs such as Yokosuka and Sasebo in Japan and Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. In other words, they’re positioned at the extreme east and west of the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean theater. India is a peninsula of colossal proportions jutting into the Indian Ocean, occupying a central position along the sea lanes connecting Japan with the Persian Gulf”.

Pointedly he notes “While China’s naval buildup garners most of the headlines, the Indian Navyis a force on the move as well (albeit trailing its Chinese counterpart in numbers and quality of ships, aircraft, and armaments). Indian Navy spokesmen have projected a fleet of 200 vessels by 2027, compared to the 137 they have as of mid-2015. That fleet will include aircraft carriers (ships the Indian Navy has operated for decades); nuclear-powered attack and ballistic-missile submarines; and a growing contingent of high-tech surface combat ships to defend carriers from aerial, missile, and undersea attacks. Yet the infrastructure to support naval operations far from Indian coasts remains minimal. If India wants to operate at the eastern or western reaches of maritime Eurasia, it needs logistical support. If the United States wants to operate between those extremes, its sea services can benefit immensely from port access in that South Asian midsection. Reciprocal benefits beckon”.

He goes on to argue that India is relucant to sign the agreement because “Indians remain palpably skittish about the accord. The document has been in the works for more than a decade, yet New Delhi can’t quite bring itself to close the deal. Indeed, during Carter’s mid-April trip, his Indian counterpart, Parrikar, announced only that “Secretary Carter and I agreed in principle to conclude a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement in the coming months.” “In principle” is diplomatic shorthand for: This ain’t a done deal yet. Indian defence officials, furthermore, were quick to add that the covenant, if signed, would not grant automatic U.S. access to Indian bases. Still less does LEMOA amount to a military alliance. New Delhi telegraphed that it would not sign away its freedom to say no to U.S.-led military enterprises that could ensnare India in regional conflict. And why would it? No one likes to issue blank checks, even to friends or allies. Political blowback follows failure as surely as night follows day: see War, Iraq, 2003. India would not be spared the blowback from a similar U.S.-led debacle”.

He adds that “Indian leaders, in short, fear they could implicate their nation by joining the fray in any capacity. And Indian leaders also probably fret about pressure from China — which would never let them forget it if some operation went awry, hurting Chinese interests in South Asia. An errant venture could hurt New Delhi’s good name, damaging its standing with fellow Indian Ocean states. Worse, it might even embroil India in conflict with its neighbours. That’s why even the appearance of abridging India’s nonaligned posture makes officialdom queasy”.

He concludes “India, moreover, is mindful of its stature as the Indian Ocean’s natural hegemon. The United States may be a friendly, English-speaking, democratic seafaring state. It’s also a non-Asian great power whose navy dominates India’s backyard. That rankles, even as New Delhi welcomes its help in policing regional waters and fending off the rival great power that is China. Neither the partners’ common English language, nor common heritage as scions of the British Empire, nor common form of government, nor common purpose of keeping order at sea will beget a formal alliance soon — if ever”.

He ends “Only a truly overbearing China might overcome this rocky past. Indian leaders have voiced misgivings, for instance, about the presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean, a presence that is becoming more and more routine. They also worry that Beijing will transform its limited presence at places like Gwadar and Djibouti into a full-blown network of naval facilities — a precursor to a standing naval presence that encircles the subcontinent from the sea. Until China’s ambitions come into sharper focus, however, the push-and-pull dynamic between Washington and New Delhi will portend fitful progress and an uncertain outcome. This U.S. administration and the next must keep working toward an entente — but it must work at India’s pace, framing the rationale for naval cooperation in terms of India’s interests as India construes them. There’s no substitute for patient diplomacy toward this reluctant friend”.

New government’s joint military command in Libya

20/05/2016

Libya’s new unity government announced Thursday plans to establish a joint military command to drive the Islamic State (IS) militant group out of the North African country. Its presidential council called on “all military forces” in Libya to await instructions after “a joint command” has been formed and not to launch any unilateral offensive on the IS stronghold of Sirte, 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of Tripoli. Martin Kobler, the UN special envoy for Libya, said in a tweet: “I welcome the initiative of #Libya Presidency Council to appoint a military joint leadership for operations” against IS group. The council fears that separate operations in Sirte could spark clashes between the multitude of different fighting forces in Libya and play into the militants’ hands. IS group has transformed Sirte into a training camp for Libyan and foreign militants since overrunning slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi’s hometown on the Mediterranean last June”.

The generals and Trump

20/05/2016

A piece notes that generals are discussing the 2016 election, “One of Washington’s best-known public figures is warning that politicians are spreading “toxic” anti-Muslim rhetoric that amounts to “blanket discrimination against people on the basis of their religion” — a seemingly clear, if unspoken, jab at Republican front-runner Donald Trump and his calls for banning Muslims from entering the United States and registering those already here. The critique echoes similar attacks from Trump’s chief rival, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and other leading Democrats. But it didn’t come from Clinton or any of her allies. It instead came in a Washington Post op-ed by retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, arguably the most famous military figure of his generation. Petraeus didn’t use Trump’s name in his piece, but no politician has used more inflammatory rhetoric about Muslims than the GOP front-runner. The comments highlight a significant, but little-discussed, new element of the 2016 presidential race: Prominent retired members of the military are stepping into the political arena — or being pulled into it — in ways not seen in decades”.

It goes on to note that “Trump is the implicit target of many of the retired generals and admirals, whose public criticism echoes the private concerns of many still in uniform horrified by the businessman’s talk of torturing terror suspects, killing the families of militants, abandoning NATO, and encouraging allies to develop their own nuclear weapons. Beyond the rhetoric, at least two retired senior officers, including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, have held private meetings with political operatives looking to draft them into the 2016 race as candidates. Mullen was the top vice presidential choice of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was briefly considering an independent campaign, and held multiple face-to-face meetings with the billionaire businessman. A former adviser to Mullen said the retired admiral seriously considered the idea and was formally vetted by Bloomberg aides but never agreed to join a Bloomberg-led ticket. In the end, Bloomberg elected not to run”.

The article mentions that “The other officer who has considered entering the race for the White House is Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who oversaw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan until leaving the military in 2013. Earlier this year, Mattis held secret talks in a Washington hotel with several prominent members of the GOP establishment about mounting a third-party campaign against Trump, though he ultimately opted against throwing his hat into the ring. More recently, Mattis raised eyebrows by publicly slamming President Barack Obama, the former general’s commander in chief during his final years in uniform. During a speech in Washington last month, Mattis blasted Obama for giving an interview that denigrated key U.S. allies. “For a sitting U.S. president to see our allies as freeloaders is nuts,” Mattis said during the April 22 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies”.

The article continues “Whatever the motivation, Richard Kohn, a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has written extensively about civil-military relations, warned that the essay could undermine public trust in the military. Kohn derided the Petraeus op-ed as “really inappropriate” and “unhelpful.” “What you are talking about here is a military intervention in politics,” Kohn said. “He’s using his career, his prominence, and his accomplishments to try to affect the course of the election.” Petraeus told Foreign Policy that he wrote the op-ed because he “thought the sentiments in the piece needed to be voiced” and declined to comment on whether it was motivated specifically by Trump’s anti-Muslim language. “No one asked me to do the piece,” he said. “I had just been increasingly concerned by the rhetoric used by political candidates in the U.S. and overseas. I have been reassured a bit by the recent softening and clarification of some of that rhetoric.” Most of the political rhetoric remains as white-hot as ever, however, and senior officers are routinely feeling compelled to publicly rebut incendiary comments from Trump and other GOP presidential candidates”.

It adds later that “Although many senior officers have been shocked and dismayed by Trump’s statements, it’s unclear how rank-and-file enlisted troops — and veterans no longer on active duty — view the candidate. One survey this month by theMilitary Times, which did not claim to be scientific and relied on voluntary responses from the paper’s subscribers, suggested 54 percent of active duty service members would back Trump over Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. For his part, Trump has repeatedly mocked the military, particularly in the U.S.-led fight against ISIS, for failing to do what it takes to win. In March, he raised eyebrows — and drew the public criticism of many retired officers — when he said American soldiers are “afraid to fight” because of the Geneva Conventions. After saying he gets his military advice “from the shows,” the presumptive GOP nominee nowsays his administration would put top officers above foreign policy wonks when it comes to national security debates. Trump also says he’d consider military generals for cabinet and senior staff posts”.

The piece ends “Still, he wouldn’t empower the generals too much. Earlier this month, Trump said that he’d bar them from doing television appearances or speaking with the “dishonest press” because they can’t be trusted to avoid spilling national security secrets or sharing plans with the enemy. “A general should not be on television. … I will prohibit them,” Trump saidin early May in Indiana. “You think Gen. George Patton or Gen. Douglas MacArthur, do you think they’d be on television saying about how weak we are?” he continued. “They wouldn’t be on television because they’d be knocking the hell out of the enemy and they wouldn’t have time.” Trump’s got that one wrong. Both Patton and MacArthur gave frequent interviews and speeches and enjoyed warm relationships with the reporters who wrote about them. They were also each known for saying impolitic things in public. In 1945, Patton stunned many in Washington byquestioning the need for what he derided as “this de-Nazification thing” in post-World War II Germany. The gaffe wasn’t carried live on TV, but it effectively ended Patton’s military career”.

Fewer fighters joining ISIS

20/05/2016

The flow of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria has dropped from roughly 2,000 a month down to 200 within the past year, according to the Pentagon, which says the waning numbers are further proof of the Islamic State’s declining stature. The declining number of fighters is a direct result of strikes that have targeted the terror group’s infrastructure, Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter E. Gersten, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State, said Tuesday. The Pentagon’s assertion lines up with other information that has emerged recently. Last week, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, N.Y., published an article in its journal, the CTC Sentinel, that highlighted the Islamic State’s financial plight. Documents in the journal, and noted in a report published by The Post, show that the Islamic State is having difficulty compensating its fighters and workers while providing basic amenities such as electricity and fuel. Recent defectors from the group have indicated that many fighters are on half pay and some haven’t received salaries in months.

China worries about Trump

18/05/2016

A report from Foreign Policy notes that even China is worried about a Trump presidency.

It begins “China is officially worried about the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency. It’s rare for foreign allies to delve into U.S. domestic politics. It’s even more rare for foreign rivals to do so. But as it became increasingly clear that Trump will sit atop the GOP ticket, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei did just that. Asked during a news briefing in Beijing about the possibility of a Trump presidency, Hong adopted a measured yet vaguely critical tone. “It is worth pointing out that mutual benefit and win-win results are defining features of economic cooperation and trade between China and the U.S., and meet the common interests of both,” he said Wednesday”.

The article goes on to note that “China is Trump’s economic bogeyman. On the campaign trail, he constantly rails against Beijing for stealing American jobs, taking advantage of the U.S.-China trade relationship, and manipulating its currency to make Chinese goods cheaper. (Side note: The International Monetary Fund has determined that this is not the case; according to the bank, the renminbi is fairly valued.) He’s also accused China of militarising the South China Sea and has pledged to build up U.S. military presence in the region. “We have been too afraid to protect and advance American interests and to challenge China to live up to its obligations,” said a statement on Trump’s campaign website, regarding his plans to deal with Beijing”.

It goes on to mention “Perhaps China was responding to Trump’s recent comments on trade between Beijing and Washington. “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country,” Trump said at a campaign rally on Sunday, adding, “and that’s what they’re doing.” At the very least, the comments from leaders of the world’s second-largest economy reveal concerns about their relationship with the world’s largest. It’s just another sign the rest of the world is growing very, very concerned about the possibility of a Trump presidency”.

Bangladeshi gay rights activist murdered

18/05/2016

Bangladesh police say a top gay rights activist and editor at the country’s only LGBT magazine is one of two people who have been hacked to death. The US ambassador to Bangladesh condemned the killing of Xulhaz Mannan, who also worked at the US embassy. Another person was also injured when the attackers entered a Dhaka flat. Since February last year suspected militants have killed several secular or atheist writers and members of religious minority groups. The two men were murdered two days after a university teacher was hacked to death by suspected Islamist militants. So-called Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility – but the Bangladeshi government insists there is no IS presence in the country.

Trump meets Ryan

16/05/2016

A report discusses the recent meeting between Ryan and Trump, “Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House and the highest-ranking elected Republican official, remains on a collision course with Donald Trump on both tone and policy, from the latter’s nativist rhetoric that has alienated minority voters to the constitutional conception of the presidency itself. That spells trouble for the GOP, which is desperately seeking unity ahead of this summer’s convention, especially because polls show Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton would likely beat Trump in the general election. “Look, it’s no secret that Donald Trump and I have had our differences,” Ryan said Thursday in a press conference at the U.S. Capitol after a morning meeting with Trump, his first real sit-down with the real-estate magnate. The 45-minute meeting didn’t seem to resolve those differences — and did not produce an endorsement from Ryan, an unprecedented state of affairs for the Republican Party at this stage of the campaign”.

The report adds “After the meeting, Ryan described Trump as “a very warm and genuine person.” But asked about the two men’s very different definitions of conservatism — they differ on free trade, immigration, and banning Muslims from entering the country, among other issues — Ryan praised Trump for attracting new voters but implicitly criticized his divisive language. “He’s bringing new voters that we’ve never had for decades. That’s a positive thing,” Ryan said. But he asked later, “How do we keep adding and adding voters while not subtracting any voters?” Ryan, like other Republican leaders such as Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who was at the meeting, is charged with restoring a semblance of unity to a party that sorely lacks it. He has shown frustration with repeated calls for him to jump into the presidential race, viewing that as a distraction from his attempt to craft a forward-looking agenda for the party that can serve as a foil to President Barack Obama’s legacy and Clinton’s policy proposals”.

It goes on to mention “With the meeting, the House speaker sought to find common ground with Trump and stressed what he called the “core principles that tie us all together: principles like the Constitution, the separation of powers, the fact that we have an executive that has gone way beyond the boundaries of the Constitution.” Ryan, who was Mitt Romney’s running mate in the 2012 presidential election, has long railed against the Obama administration for what he views as abuses of executive power, from health care and immigration reform to efforts to close the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State. In dealing with Trump, though, Ryan might find that the power of the presidency doesn’t offer much common ground after all. In Trump’s bombastic campaign trail pledges, he has promised almost unprecedented aggression in wielding the powers of the presidency against adversaries and allies alike, from scrapping decades-old alliances to toying with default on the national debt. And he’s doubled down on policies — such as barring Muslims from the United States — that observers have criticized as likely unconstitutional, illegal, or unworkable”.

Importantly it notes “Crafting a winning GOP platform despite these differences ultimately may elude the two men. Last week, after Ryan had declined to endorse him, Trump said, “I am not ready to support Speaker Ryan’s agenda. Perhaps in the future we can work together and come to an agreement about what is best for the American people.” Trump has alienated a broad swath of minority voters, including Hispanics, African-Americans, and women, helping him notch record-high unfavorability ratings. That divisive language appears to be driving minority groups to mobilise against him, which is a huge concern for Ryan and his Senate colleagues who worry that having Trump at the top of the ticket could lead to a bloodbath in House and Senate races this year. Trump met with some of those senators on Thursday. While many have begun to fall in line behind their nominee, they still struggle to give a full-throated endorsement of his more controversial policies, especially on national security. Trump’s “America First” isolationist take on foreign affairs, in particular, has rattled party leaders”.

It ends “Ryan’s spokeswoman AshLee Strong said his office and Trump’s team will hold more in-depth policy conversations. But she also said that Ryan’s blueprint for GOP policy — dubbed “Confident America” — will be unveiled this summer, independently. That could put the two men on a collision course over potentially dueling party platforms, just in time for the convention in Cleveland that Trump hopes will be his coronation. “We just began the process,” Ryan said. “And going forward, we are going to go a little deeper into the policy weeds to make sure that we have a better understanding of one another.”

 

 

Ending war in Yemen?

16/05/2016

Talks aimed at ending Yemen’s war opened in Kuwait on Thursday, with Kuwait’s top diplomat appealing to both sides to “turn war into peace” after more than a year of conflict which has killed more than 6,200 people and caused a humanitarian crisis. Yemen’s foreign minister warned against high expectations from the U.N.-sponsored talks, which brought together the Houthi group and its General People’s Congress party allies with the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The talks, originally scheduled to start on Monday, were delayed over accusations by the Houthi group of truce violations and disagreements over the agenda for the negotiations”.

“Worried by what they see as potentially threatening moves by China”

12/05/2016

A report notes that China is pushing India and America together, “China’s aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea has complicated the U.S. pivot to Asia. But those same antics, plus some Chinese muscle-flexing off the coast of the Indian subcontinent, may well give the pivot a new lease on life — in a different ocean. Indian military officials and policymakers, for decades obsessed with Pakistan, are now growing increasingly worried by what they see as potentially threatening moves by China. Beijing’s growing blue-water navy is becoming more active in the Indian Ocean, with bigger ships spending more time there than ever before. China is inking port deals across India’s watery backyard, from Sri Lanka to Djibouti, that many in New Delhi see as a threat to Indian security. With a still-unresolved border dispute simmering between the two countries, and with recent Chinese moves in the South China Sea providing an alarming glimpse of what a rejuvenated Beijing is really after, India seems closer than it has in years to embracing closer ties with the United States by jettisoning decades of non aligned foreign policy“.

The article adds “closer ties are finally being realised after an April visit to India by U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. After years of frustration seeking to turn New Delhi into a strategic partner, plagued especially by bogged-down talks on increased defence cooperation between the two countries, the U.S. and India at last reached agreement in principle on a deal to allow each nation’s militaries to use the other’s naval, land, and air bases to resupply and pre-position hardware. The accord will likely open the way for other deals on sharing nautical data and arranging secure communications. And following years of discussions, the two governments have launched joint research and development projects, collaborating on aircraft carrier and jet engine designs. India and the United States are now working together in particular to hone anti-submarine warfare techniques, given the pace of Chinese sub deployments to the Indian Ocean. In the meantime, defence trade between the two powers reached $14 billion last year”.

The author notes that “For years, India foot-dragged over the completion of some of the accords, such as the logistics-sharing arrangement which would, in the near term at least, will be more beneficial to the U.S. Navy than the Indian Navy.  Spooked by the specter of an expansive China, though, India is shedding decades of diplomatic standoffishness. “The deals are very significant, because they indicate that Indian policymakers are beginning to realise that there could be more benefits elsewhere, namely strategic deterrence against China,” said retired Indian Capt. Gurpreet Khurana, who since 2003 has run India’s National Maritime Foundation. Tellingly, Carter’s visit marked the first time ever a U.S. defence secretary visited India’s Eastern Command, the slice of India’s Navy most focused on China, and which is home to the bulk of India’s most advanced ships, including nuclear submarines and an aircraft carrier”.

The article adds that “China’s behaviour in the South China Sea — including the construction of artificial islands, expansive territorial claims, and the dispatch of advanced military equipment to disputed rocks and reefs — has spooked nearly all of its Asian neighbours. Some Indians, still scarred by the 1962 war with China, point to what Beijing is doing there as proof that China can’t be trusted. But what’s really got New Delhi worried is Beijing’s seemingly more-innocent behaviour in the Indian Ocean itself. Beijing has after fits and starts reached a long-term deal for access to a deepwater port in Sri Lanka, right on India’s doorstep. That deal alone was a wake-up call in India, especially as a Chinese submarine paid Sri Lanka a very public port call in the middle of negotiations. The Indian government reportedly encouraged a change in Sri Lanka’s leadership in early 2015, in part to ensure that the tiny island was ruled by a government less friendly to Beijing”.

Interestingly the article notes “Since then, China has for the first time ever arranged for an overseas base, in Djibouti. In between, China has steadily increased its footprint with port accords in Pakistan, basing agreements in the Seychelles, and outposts on the Comoros Islands; late last year, a Chinese firm started work on a new port in Mozambique. Those are not military bases of the sort which the United States maintains all around the world, and are nominally more about developing China’s commercial reach through the world’s main shipping lanes; China has an ambitious plan to recreate the ancient “silk road” by land and by sea. Nonetheless, such “dual-use” facilities cause concern across the whole region. New Delhi worries about what China is trying to achieve with its “string of pearls” across the Indian Ocean, Greenert said”.

Pointedly the piece mentions that “And now that Beijing has openly declared its intent to build and deploy a blue-water navy that can operate far from home, Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean is visibly ramping up. For eight years, China has maintained an anti-piracy flotilla in the Indian Ocean, and the ships comprising that fleet are getting bigger and more advanced, though attacks by Somali pirates have fallen dramatically. Chinese submarines and much bigger ships, like amphibious docking ships that can carry troops and aircraft, are routinely present in the area”.

Interestingly the article notes “plenty of analysts take a more sanguine view of China’s activities. The anti-piracy patrols, for example, have for years been heralded by U.S. and European naval officials as China’s contribution to protecting the global commons, notes Nilanthi Samaranayake, a South Asia analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses, a think tank. The submarine visits are public and transparent, not sneaky. And any rising power with a growing navy will naturally operate further from home. The Chinese port deals, including one as a far away as Greece, are more about the world’s biggest exporter protecting its economic interests, many stress, than preparing secret naval-bases-in-waiting. That’s one reason that many in India are still cautious about openly bandwagoning with the United States, despite the recent bilateral defense deals. “India is always going to be hedging a little bit, because they don’t want to be seen as antagonizing China too much,” Samaranayake said. Still, if China exports the same kind of behaviour to the Indian Ocean that it’s been inflicting on neighbours in the South China Sea — from dispatching oil rigs to disputed waters to ramming fishing vessels from other countries– then India could jump off the fence in a hurry”.

“Drones fired more weapons than conventional warplanes for the first time in Afghanistan”

12/05/2016

Drones fired more weapons than conventional warplanes for the first time in Afghanistan last year and the ratio is rising, previously unreported U.S. Air Force data show, underlining how reliant the military has become on unmanned aircraft. The trend may give clues to the U.S. military’s strategy as it considers withdrawing more troops from the country, while at the same time shoring up local forces who have struggled to stem a worsening Taliban insurgency. U.S. President Barack Obama said in 2013 that the Afghan drawdown after 2014 and progress against al Qaeda would “reduce the need for unmanned strikes”, amid concerns from human rights groups and some foreign governments over civilian casualties. On one level, that has played out; the number of missiles and bombs dropped by drones in Afghanistan actually fell last year, largely because the U.S.-led NATO mission ceased combat operations at the end of 2014 and is now a fraction of the size. Yet as the force has shrunk, it has leant on unmanned aircraft more than ever, the Air Force data reveal, with drone strikes accounting for at least 61 percent of weapons deployed in the first quarter of this year.

Clinton’s VPOTUS pick

12/05/2016

A piece notes the problems Hillary Clinton will face in picking a running mate, “In the last two decades — and much of modern American history — the candidate who would go on to be president has chosen an elder statesman with foreign-policy chops to balance out the ticket. In 2016, Hillary Clinton is that elder statesman. Unlike President Barack Obama, a community organizer, law professor, and freshman senator from Illinois, or his predecessor, George W. Bush, a Texas governor with presidential pedigree but a reputation for being uncouth, Clinton carries her own foreign-policy credentials as a candidate, significantly broadening her vice presidential possibilities”.

The writer goes on to make the point “This campaign cycle, the veepstakes are starting early. Primary wins have put both Clinton and Republican front-runner Donald Trump on a nearly unobstructed path to their parties’ nominations months ahead of the conventions. Even Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas jumped into the game on Wednesday, naming former rival Carly Fiorina as his VP pick in a move widely seen as a last-ditch bid to derail Trump despite being mathematicallyout of the running for the Republican nomination.  From Jimmy Carter to Obama, few presidents have had extensive foreign-policy or national security backgrounds, with the notable exception of George H. W. Bush. “So they look for a vice president that really comes in with a huge national security credential,” said Joel Goldstein, a scholar on the vice presidency and professor at Saint Louis University School of Law. Obama chose then-Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, a Senate foreign-policy fixture, in large part to give the ticket some foreign-policy credibility. But Clinton herself covers most of the areas that VP picks are meant to shore up. She served eight years as a national security-focused senator before joining Obama’s cabinet as secretary of state. She’ll likely be the first woman nominated for president by one of the two major parties, ticking the gender box herself. She is already carrying the Latino and African-American vote and is getting an inadvertent assist from Trump, her likely Republican opponent, who is actually mobilizing minority voters to come out against him. And she is leading Trump in head-to-head matchups in the general election, including in the key swing states. With all those boxes checked, Clinton has nearly unparalleled freedom — and pressure — in choosing her running mate”.

Interestingly the piece notes that “Among the names on her not-so-short list of possible picks are Rust Belt senators like Sherrod Brown of Ohio, populists closer to the Democratic Party’s left wing like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and swing-state party stalwarts like Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine. “She’s so strong on foreign policy, I think it’s less important,” Brown told Foreign Policy. “I think you look at [capability] and you look at who helps her carry states or win the election, or whatever.” But he reiterated that “I don’t really want this job.” “Everybody would like to have an African-American five-star general who is from Ohio and is beloved in the state because he was an all-American football player at Ohio State before he went off to get his Ph.D. at Harvard for something and comes from a working-class family and had to wait tables in college to pay for it,” Goldstein said. “You’re going to pick from the real-world possibilities that present themselves.” The Clinton campaign did not respond to an interview request, but of the list of some 20 names that the campaign will reportedly be vetting over the next several months — many of whom have been swirling for years — few have any national security experience”.

The article mentions that “Of the potential picks from Congress’s upper chamber, Brown represents a Rust Belt state to blunt Trump’s momentum with frustrated blue-collar voters. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is a dynamic politician whose pick would speak to the African-American community, a bedrock of the successful Obama coalition, but one that Clinton is already winning over handily. Warren is popular among the more progressive crowd backing Clinton rival Bernie Sanders, but there’s believed to be little love lost between the two women; Warren has not yet endorsed Clinton. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar could also mobilize the base with an all-woman ticket and help in a Great Lakes region of Republican governors and state houses. The problem with picking a senator: Democrats could lose a potential seat right as they are trying to win back control of the upper chamber, hopes that are fueled in part by Trump’s toxicity down ticket”.

It continues, “From Obama’s cabinet, the Clinton camp is reportedly looking at Thomas Perez, labor secretary and a Hispanic lawyer known for his civil rights work, as well as Julián Castro, the young Latino federal housing secretary and former mayor of San Antonio. Outside of Washington, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is another prominent African-American Democrat and potential pick. That whole crowd has one thing in common: very little foreign-policy experience”.

Crucially the author notes “Both Castro and Perez are little-known, and their cabinet jobs are strictly domestic. Among the senators on the list, only Booker and Kaine have committee assignments related to foreign policy: Booker serves on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee but isn’t known for his work on national security. Kaine serves on both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees and has emerged as a rising Democratic leader on the issue. When Kaine was governor of Virginia, he was one of the first to endorse Obama against Clinton ahead of the 2008 election. This time around, Kaine was one of the first to endorse Clinton. He has been elevating his profile as a Clinton surrogate, excoriating Trump for his nativist rhetoric against minorities and for insulting the U.S. military. If Clinton faces Trump, “someone who wants to be commander in chief [and] who says the American military is a disaster,” Kaine said, “I think you will see that repeated ad nauseam in Virginia,” a state with a sizable military population”.

Pointedly the author mentions that “Since 1952, Goldstein noted, there have been only two governors who have been nominated to the vice presidency: former Maryland Gov. Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon’s No. 2 who was forced to leave office, and Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and Arizona Sen. John McCain’s running mate for the Republican ticket against Obama in 2008. McCain, now the Armed Services Committee chairman, is the last nominee with foreign-policy experience to rival Clinton’s, as a decorated veteran and longtime senator. He gambled on Palin, a young governor with no foreign-policy experience, and after numerous and infamous gaffes, she became something of a cautionary tale. McCain said he’s trying to keep his distance from the race but gave this advice on picking a vice president: “It depends on the top of the ticket, but this would be the first election since 1980 that national security or foreign policy has been one of the top issues.” Post-Palin, choosing an untested vice president who isn’t also “presidential” is a mistake, Goldstein said — especially now that debates and media appearances are a substantial part of the job audition”.

Correctly the writer makes the argument that “George H. W. Bush — a congressman, ambassador, head of the CIA, and vice president himself — may be the best parallel to Clinton’s foreign-policy experience and emphasis, Goldstein said. The elder Bush chose the relatively unknown Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle, by some accounts an ineffective vice president, in part because Bush was perceived as being too focused abroad and detached from everyday Americans who shop in grocery stores. In contrast, in 2000, George W. Bush picked his father’s defense secretary, Dick Cheney, as his vice president in order to bolster his national security gravitas. Cheney became one of the most aggressive — and arguably disastrous— vice presidents”.

Not surprisingly, “Gilberto Hinojosa, the chair of the Texas Democratic Party, made an impassioned case for Castro, arguing his precocity proves he could get up to speed quickly. He noted Latin America historically plays a large role in American foreign policy. But perhaps most importantly, he said, “What will excite Hispanics more than another Hispanic who will be VP? You don’t win by getting a majority of the Latino vote that votes; you win by getting a large majority of Latinos who don’t vote.” For former Sen. Ted Kaufman of Delaware, Biden’s chief of staff for 19 years, electability takes a back seat to the grueling demands of the office itself. “The president-elect should pick a vice president clearly based on their ability to help govern,” he said. Even candidates like Clinton who have extensive security backgrounds still tend to choose running mates who have considerable foreign-policy experience, Goldstein said”.

“Abdullah II is set to consolidate his powers”

10/05/2016

Jordan’s King Abdullah II is set to consolidate his powers through constitutional amendments that would give him sole constitutional control in areas of security, defence, foreign policy and the judiciary. The move, which triggered controversy in the past few days, began earlier this week with the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour submitting a bill to Parliament, requesting approval of several constitutional amendments. The proposed changes will grant the king absolute powers to appoint his crown prince, deputy king, the chief and members of the constitutional court and the head of the paramilitary police force. They also include lifting the ban on Jordanian citizens with duel nationalities from holding public office. Although Jordan is officially a constitutional monarchy, where the king enjoys wide powers granted to him by the constitution, all of the current major appointments and decisions require the recommendations and the signatures of the prime minister and certain ministers. With the constitutional amendments, the king would no longer need the government to recommend nominees, or the signature of ministers or the prime minister.

Changing ideology

10/05/2016

An interesting article argues the traditional ideological questions are disappearing with dangerous consequences for democracy, “This year’s U.S. presidential election is pretty extraordinary. Who would have possibly predicted the stunning rise of Donald Trump and the shrewdly calculated provocations of Bernie Sanders? But the United States isn’t the only place where the politics of liberal democracy have taken an unexpected turn. Just read Pierre Briançon’s sharp take in Politico Europe on the recent collapse of Europe’s traditional left-wing parties. He makes a compelling case that they’ve hit rock bottom. The dismal economic situation, the challenge of terrorism, and the refugee crisis all pose problems to which Europe’s traditional leaders — and, above all, those on the Left — have no coherent answers. As a result, he concludes, “The European Left often looks divided into two camps: One loses elections, the other doesn’t seem interested in winning them.” True enough. And yet the European Right isn’t doing itself any favours either”.

The piece adds “As British journalist Freddy Gray points out in the Spectator, traditional conservatives are also in disarray. “Everywhere you look, in country after country, batty nationalists are winning and conservative pragmatists are running scared,” he writes. “The victory on [April 25] of Austria’s Freedom party candidate, Norbert Hofer, who likes to carry a gun, is just the latest in a series of gains for this new right-wing populism.” The new generation — which includes Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage — has knocked establishment conservatives for a loop”.

Yet the problem with this is the definition of these people as “traditional conservatives”. Traditional conservatives seek to slow change rather than accelerate it. They are sceptical of human nature and thus grand projects. Thus, the worship of deregulation and the free market are not “traditional conservative” principles. Furthermore the notion of the organic society has been lost leading to ignoring the poor with no thought given to the moral or social consequences for the state’s withdrawal. 

The piece adds “Gray notes that Boris Johnson, the Conservative Party mayor of London, has begun positioning himself as a kind of Trump-in-waiting. Johnson aims to undermine his rival (and, technically, boss — as head of the same party), Prime Minister David Cameron, who is desperately working to stave off a potentially disastrous defeat in next month’s referendum on whether Britain should stay in the European Union. In case you haven’t been following the Brexit controversy, Johnson wants the U.K. to leave, while Cameron wants it to remain. That divide, which appears to be growing increasingly bitter, reaches all the way down through their party. Just like Republicans in the United States, British Conservatives are — to quote Gray — “tearing [themselves] apart.” Even as political conflict intensifies, there’s a sense that the old ideological divides are breaking down”.

Importantly the author notes “We still categorise our politicians as “right” or “left,” usually without remarking that this is a distinction that dates back to the French Revolution. Yet the “conservative” Trump, who spent much of his life flirting with Democrats, doesn’t look at all like someone intent on preserving the status quo. He’s an aggressive insurgent, openly waging war on his own party even as he dumps its once-sacrosanct principles of free trade and open borders. (Which perhaps helps to explain why American über-conservative Charles Koch recently hinted that Hillary Clinton might make a better president than The Donald. After all, she started off as a Goldwater Republican, and she has shifted positions so many times since that it’s hard to tell what she really believes.) For his part, Trump even has admiring words for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin — a weakness he shares with his European counterparts like Farage, Le Pen, and Orban. For 20th-century conservatives, defending freedom was the sine qua non, the indispensable belief. Now it’s an accessory”.

The author rightly notes “Indeed, some of these profoundly un-conservative conservatives openly flirt with authoritarianism and racism in ways that would have appalled their Christian Democrat ancestors who helped build the EU in the decades after World War II. Needless to say, those pro-European conservatives of the 1950s and 1960s were motivated by an all-too-fresh awareness of where such flirtations could lead. Orban has candidly expressed his preference for “illiberal democracy” of the sort supposedly embodied by Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If Orban were to make good on his statement by rolling back Hungary’s democratic institutions, that would amount to a revolution from the Right, not a conservative defense of the status quo. Meanwhile, amid a refugee crisis that has seen tens of thousands of Muslims transit through Hungary, Orban has boosted his political profile by describing himself as a stalwart defender of Europe’s “Christian values” — at a time when Europeans are more secular than they’ve ever been. Meanwhile, Sanders describes himself as a “democratic socialist,” though neither he nor his fans seem to have a very clear understanding of what the term means. Historically, socialists were the people who believed that the state should own the means of production, or at least control the “commanding heights” of the economy. Sanders’s vague promises of free college education or moves to “break up the banks” are thin gruel by comparison. He may love to rant about Goldman Sachs, but even he’s never proposed nationalising it”.

The piece goes on to mention “It’s particularly ironic that Sanders has assumed the socialist mantle just at the moment when his European counterparts, whom he often holds up as models, are abandoning it. As Briançon points out in his article about the malaise of the European Left, “Politicians such as France’s reformist economy minister Emmanuel Macron hardly hide the contempt they have for a bureaucratic party system where the traditional notions of ‘Right’ or ‘Left’ have lost their significance.” Meanwhile, Britain’s Labour Party finds itself embroiled in a controversy over anti-Israel remarks — some of them with clear anti-Semitic overtones — made by leading functionaries. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been forced to OK an independent inquiry into allegations that his party abides intolerance. Surely nothing shows how far the party has drifted away from its original values of internationalism than this”.

The report notes “The Labour scandal is all too indicative of the general confusion in which we now find ourselves. The old ideological poles of Left and Right once reflected an important social reality, the fundamental divide between the industrial and agricultural working class and the people who ordered them around. Western societies are no longer so straightforwardly organized. The number of people who work on assembly lines and farms has diminished sharply and will continue to do so. The trade union movement, once the backbone of left-wing political parties, has faded. Many members of the modern underclass perform services rather than making things. Manufacturing is steadily becoming the province of small and highly trained elites. Is a Google programmer better represented by the Left or Right? What about a farmer who depends on federal subsidies? Or a super-skilled worker who assembles sophisticated medical equipment? Is someone who works at a peer-to-peer lender a member of the ruling capitalist class? Class distinctions obviously still exist, but they’re far more complicated than they used to be. Today’s big political challenges — gay marriage, Black Lives Matter, the integration of Muslim immigrants — often turn on culture as much as economics. Over the past few decades, both American Democrats and British Labourites have defined themselves as the defenders of the minorities produced by increasingly multicultural societies — only to discover that their old core constituency, the white working class, has turned away, shifting its loyalties to the Trumps and the Farages. But the intellectual blurriness of those new populists, whose popularity owes more to tribalism and gut feeling than coherent programs, leads one to wonder whether they’ll really manage to come up with better answers”.

He ends “What we’re seeing right now, throughout the West, is a political system that is lagging dramatically behind these complicated social realities. (“Is the U.S. Ready for Post-Middle-Class Politics?” one recent headline from the New York Times Magazine asked.) I’m not sure what the answer is. But the problem is definitely attracting attention. A conservative think-tanker proposes coming up with a new name for capitalism. (Good luck with that!) An academic calls for the creation of an American social democratic party — a suggestion that, given the stagnation of Europe’s social democrats, feels a lot like a 19th-century response to 21st-century problems. Yet another public intellectual suggests the founding of an entirely new “Innovation Party,” on the assumption that Silicon Valley will find all the answers. The dismal state of civic culture on Facebook and Twitter suggests that we shouldn’t hold our collective breath. These would-be visionaries could be on the right track, of course. It’s possible that we’re facing some sort of fundamental political realignment, some profound shift in the balance of societal forces, and we just don’t yet see where it’s going to go. But there’s also a more radical possibility: that Western liberal democracy is witnessing nothing less than the end of politics as we know it — to potentially tumultuous effect. Judging by the current convulsions the West’s political system is enduring, I’m not sure that we can entirely rule that out”.

Of course such hyperbole should be dismissed. Ideology will remain but will change. There will still be the haves and have nots, there will still be the rich and poor. So while the lines will blur, the problems will remain. The question about the “free market” and the role of the state have not, and will not, be answered and are thus perennial questions that need to keep being asked, if not answered. They will remain the basis for ideology albeit under a difference guise for years to come.

 

“Syrian peace talks in Geneva were plunged into crisis”

08/05/2016

The U.N.-sponsored Syrian peace talks in Geneva were plunged into crisis Monday after opposition negotiators announced they are delaying involvement in the formal negotiations until the Assad government agrees to discuss the establishment of a transitional administration in Damascus. Their announcement came as the U.S. and Russian brokered “cessation of hostilities” agreement appeared to be fraying fast, with both the government and rebels violating the truce. The Western-backed Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups issued a statement saying they had set up a joint operations room to respond to the violations by government forces and allied Iranian, Lebanese and Iraqi Shi’ite militiamen. As fighting intensified in the Aleppo countryside, international humanitarian organizations warned that the already desperate plight of an estimated 100,000 refugees trapped in northern Syria will worsen. For months, the Turkish government has blocked Syrians fleeing the war from crossing the border”.

Benedict the Great Reformer

08/05/2016

John Allen has written a piece arguing that Benedict XVI was a great teacher and reformer, he opens “By consensus, while emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was a great teaching pontiff, ecclesiastical governance on his watch often left something to be desired. Space does not permit a full listing of meltdowns and crises, but here are a few highlights:

  • The appointment in 2007, followed by the swift fall from grace, of a new Archbishop of Warsaw who had an ambiguous relationship with the Soviet-era secret police.
  • The eerily similar appointment in 2009 of an Austrian bishop who had suggested Hurricane Katrina was a punishment for the wickedness of New Orleans, and who was likewise gone within days.
  • Lifting the excommunications of four traditionalist Catholic bishops in 2009, including one who denied that the Nazis used gas chambers, with little apparent regard for how that move would be perceived.
  • The surreal “Boffo case” from 2010, pivoting on the former editor of the official newspaper of the Italian bishops. (If you don’t know the story, it would take too long to explain, but trust me … Hollywood screenwriters couldn’t make this stuff up.)
  • The Vatileaks scandal of 2011-12, which featured revelations of financial corruption and cronyism, and which ended with the conviction and pardon of the pope’s own former butler for stealing confidential documents.

Less spectacularly, there was a chronic sense during the Benedict years that the pope’s administrative team, led by Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, was occasionally out of its depth. Decisions were delayed, and when they came, the logic for how things shook out was sometimes opaque”.

Allen goes on to note that “Frustration over a perceived “management deficit” helped pave the way for election of a new pope in March 2013, with a reputation as someone who could clean out the stables and get the Vatican under control. (Whether or not that’s actually happening today is an utterly different conversation.) Australia’s George Pell, today Pope Francis’ finance chief, was among those calling for a house-cleaning three years ago. “I think the governance is done by most of the people around the pope, and that wasn’t always done brilliantly,” he said after Benedict’s resignation. “I’m not breaking any ground there — this is said very commonly.” Today, however, marks the 11th anniversary of Benedict’s election to the papacy on April 19, 2005, and to mark the occasion, I want to suggest that over the long run, Benedict will be judged not by his failures but rather the historic reform processes he set in motion”.

Allen argues that Benedict will be remembered as a reformer, for three reasons, the first being financial reforms, “Although Pope Francis has launched an ambitious program of financial reform, it’s important to remember that the long-delayed work of bringing the Vatican into the 21st century vis-à-vis financial administration actually began under Benedict. Perhaps the single most important move Benedict made was to choose, for the first time, to subject the Vatican to independent secular review in the form of the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering agency, Moneyval. Never before had the Vatican opened its financial and legal systems to this sort of external, independent review, with the results made public, and to say the least, the decision encountered some internal Vatican blowback”.

Allen adds “In centuries past, had secular authorities shown up to conduct such a review, they would have been fought off tooth and nail in the name of defending the autonomy and sovereignty of the papacy. For Moneyval, the red carpet was rolled out instead. Benedict was also the pope who created a new financial watchdog unit inside the Vatican, the Financial Information Authority, and hired a serious professional to lead it: A Swiss lawyer named René Brülhart, who for the previous 10 years had led anti-money-laundering efforts in the tiny European principality of Liechtenstein”.

The second element that Allen praises is Benedict’s anti abuse efforts, “When the abuse scandals in the United States broke in 2002, reaction in the Vatican was divided between what one might loosely call the “reformers” and the “deniers.” The fault lines broke down in terms of these debates:

  • Is the crisis largely a media- and lawyer-driven frenzy, or is it a real cancer?
  • Should the church cooperate with civil authorities, or is that surrendering the autonomy the church has fought titanic battles over the centuries to defend?
  • Should the church embrace the use of psychology in screening candidates for the priesthood, or is that smuggling in a secular mentality in place of traditional spiritual principles of formation?
  • Should the church support aggressive programs of abuse prevention and detection, or does that risk “sexualizing” children along the lines of secular sex education?
  • Is the crisis truly a global phenomenon, or is it the fruit of a “moral panic” largely restricted to the West?
  • Should the Vatican sign off on “zero-tolerance” policies, or does that rupture the paternal relationship that’s supposed to exist between a bishop and his priests?

When the American scandals erupted under St. John Paul II, the deniers had control in the Vatican and the reformers were an embattled minority. By the end of Benedict’s papacy, the situation was the exact reverse: The deniers hadn’t gone away, but they’d been driven underground”.

The piece goes on to mention “While he was still at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it was then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who pushed for new rules to weed out abuser priests in the Pope John Paul II years and who wrote those rules into law as pope. It was also Ratzinger who unleashed his top prosectuor, then-Msgr. Charles Scicluna, on Mexican Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado despite the cleric’s powerful network of Vatican allies, and who sentenced Maciel to a life of “prayer and penance” in 2006. Later, Benedict was the first pope to meet with victims of sex abuse, the first pope to apologize for the crisis in his own name, and the first pope to dedicate an entire document to the abuse crisis in his 2010 letter to the Catholics of Ireland. Benedict laicized almost 400 priests in 2011 and 2012 alone for reasons related to sex abuse, which is almost 1 in every 1,000 Catholic priests in the world flushed out of the system in just two years”.

Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, “Although Pope Francis is rightly celebrated for his humility and simplicity, the truth is that Benedict XVI contributed significantly to the “demystification” of the papal office well before Francis stepped onto the scene. Here’s an example. Shortly after his election, Francis returned to the Casa del Clero in Rome where he’d been staying prior to the conclave in order to pack his own bag and pay his own bill, an episode that became part of his “man of the people” image. Yet Benedict did much the same thing 11 years ago, returning to his apartment to pack up and then going around to thank the nuns who lived in the building for being good neighbours. In other words, Benedict was every bit as humble as his successor – arguably, in some ways, more so – even if that wasn’t always clear from his public image. Benedict also humanized the papacy with his capacity to admit fault and to ask for help”.

Allen writes that “His 2009 letter to the bishops of the world after the Holocaust-denying traditionalist debacle is one of the most heart-felt, plaintive documents written by a papal hand you’ll ever see, and in it Benedict candidly acknowledged that he and his Vatican team had dropped the ball – not on the substance of the decision, which he defended, but on the way it was handled and communicated. Finally, of course, there’s the fact that Benedict delivered the single most stunning act of papal humility in at least the last 500 years: His Feb. 11, 2013, decision to resign. Pope Francis has said that in the wake of that act, resignation has now become an “institution” rather than a historical anomaly. That doesn’t even mean every future papacy will end in resignation, because some no doubt will still die in office, either as a conscious choice or simply by dint of circumstance”.

The piece ends “Nevertheless, Benedict clearly answered the question of whether a pope even could resign in relatively normal historical circumstances – in other words, when not facing schism or invading armies – with a resounding “yes,” thereby, in ecclesiological terms, moving the papacy a huge step closer to being reinserted within the College of Bishops. No doubt, Francis and whoever follows him will continue to build on these precedents. The fact always will remain, however, that the precedents were set by the “Great Reformer.””

Saudi Arabia threatens to sell US assets

08/05/2016

Saudi Arabia has told the Obama administration and members of Congress that it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American assets held by the kingdom if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Obama administration has lobbied Congress to block the bill’s passage, according to administration officials and congressional aides from both parties, and the Saudi threats have been the subject of intense discussions in recent weeks between lawmakers and officials from the State Department and the Pentagon. The officials have warned senators of diplomatic and economic fallout from the legislation. Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, delivered the kingdom’s message personally last month during a trip to Washington, telling lawmakers that Saudi Arabia would be forced to sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets in the United States before they could be in danger of being frozen by American courts. Several outside economists are skeptical that the Saudis will follow through, saying that such a sell-off would be difficult to execute and would end up crippling the kingdom’s economy. But the threat is another sign of the escalating tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The Franciscan curia

06/05/2016

John Allen writes that oldtime Curialists are back under Pope Francis, “Contrary to popular mythology, the Vatican is hardly a sprawling bureaucracy comparable to, say, the roughly three million people who work for the federal government in the United States. All in, we’re talking about a work force of under 5,000, which means it’s more akin to a village than an empire. In such a small world, personnel is always policy: Choices about who gets the most important jobs inevitably drive how decisions are made”.

He adds “Pope Francis has been running the show for three years now, and at first blush, it’s tempting to say that almost nothing has changed on the personnel front. As of today, almost three-quarters of the officials who lead important departments are still hold-overs from the reign of emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. If one considers “the Vatican” to include both the Roman Curia, meaning the government of the universal Church, plus the Vatican City State, meaning the 108-acre physical space over which the pope presides, there are perhaps 33 departments that truly matter – either in terms of real influence, public profile, or both”.

Allen writes, “If we eliminate the new outfits Francis himself has created (two secretariats and a commission for minors), that leaves 30 significant department heads Francis could have replaced by now. Of those, 22 are still led by the same officials who did so under Benedict XVI, which works out to 73 percent, while one (Cor Unum) is presently vacant. Here are the only seven cases so far in which Francis has appointed someone to take over from an official named by Benedict XVI:

  • Secretariat of State (Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin replaced Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone).
  • Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea replaced Spanish Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera).
  • Congregation for Clergy (Italian Cardinal Beniamino Stella replaced Italian Cardinal Mauro Piacenza).
  • Congregation for Catholic Education (Italian Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi replaced Polish Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski).
  • Apostolic Signatura (French Cardinal Dominique Mamberti replaced American Cardinal Raymond Burke).
  • Apostolic Penitentiary (Italian Cardinal Mauro Piacenza replaced Portuguese Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro).
  • Synod of Bishops (Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri replaced Croatian Archbishop Nikola Eterović).

Of these seven appointments, five went to Italians, increasing by three the number of top Vatican jobs held by Italians. Notably, all seven positions went to veteran Vatican officials, not outsiders, including four (Parolin, Stella, Mamberti and Baldisseri) who are products of the Vatican’s diplomatic service”.

Allen mentions that “By way of explanation for the lack of turnover, probably the most important point is that the pope’s “C-9” council of cardinal advisors is still pondering an overhaul of the Vatican’s structures. Several departments will be consolidated or eliminated, while in other cases missions will be revised. Francis may feel that until the process is complete, it doesn’t make sense to appoint new leadership. Yet despite the surface impression of business as usual, it’s hard to escape the impression that something important nonetheless has shifted. Arguably, what’s critical is not how thoroughly Francis has shuffled the deck, but rather who has the pope’s ear and who’s been emboldened on his watch”.

Allen makes the point that “In four cases, Francis clearly has opted for a moderate over a conservative: Stella in favour of Piacenza at the Congregation for Clergy; Versaldi in favour of Grocholewski at Catholic Education; Mamberti in favour of Burke at the Signatura; and Baldisseri in favour of Eterović at the synod. In addition, while it isn’t strictly accurate to describe Bertone as a “conservative,” he’s nonetheless close to Pope Benedict, while Parolin is a pastoral moderate in the style of Francis. Those moves sent a clear signal to other moderates inside the system that this is their kind of pope. Certainly there are officials who before probably felt the need to be a bit cautious, who today are sensing the wind at their backs – Cardinal Peter Turkson at Justice and Peace, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz at the Congregation for Religious, and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia at the Council for the Family would be examples”.

Allen then writes that “Perhaps one key to understanding how Francis thinks about his Vatican team came in his first Christmas greeting to the Roman Curia, on Dec. 21, 2013. On that occasion, the pontiff expressed his admiration for “old-time curialists,” describing them as “exemplary persons” who “work with competence, with precision, self-sacrifice, carrying out their daily work with care.” “We need them today!” the pope said. In effect, one could read his preference for proven figures, mostly Italians, with a long background of Vatican service, as an attempt to empower individuals in the system who remind Francis of those “old-time curialists.” Aside from the qualities Francis himself mentioned, the profile of the “old-time curialist” is well documented, dating from the Pope Paul VI era in the 1960s and 70s, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio came of age in the Church”.

Allen argues that “They tended to be fairly non-ideological, coming off as middle of the road both politically and theologically. Culturally, they tended to be Latins or southern Europeans skeptical of the “ruthless efficiency” they associated with Anglo-Saxon and German ways of doing things, and leery about Americans in particular over what they saw as our Calvinist-inspired penchant for seeing the world in terms of black and white”.

Yet if Allen is right then where does this leave the reforms and transparency he was elected to put in place? As ever it seems little will change in Rome.

He ends “These were the kinds of officials generally in charge under Paul VI, and it’s hard to escape the sense that many of the senior leaders closest to Pope Francis today would have been at home then too. The fact that Francis has not reached far outside the circle of usual suspects, in other words, doesn’t mean nothing has changed – because what matters, as always, is which kind of usual suspect has the upper hand”.

“Keeping “technical experts” in Geneva”

06/05/2016

The main Syrian opposition group says it’s keeping “technical experts” in Geneva next week to focus on humanitarian aid for the war-ravaged country, a wobbly cease-fire and a stepped-up push to win the release of detainees. The statement by the High Negotiations Committee comes days after it pulled back from, but didn’t formally leave, the main U.N. sponsored effort on Syria: Indirect peace talks between the HNC and President Bashar Assad’s government. The HNC walked off largely to protest alleged government violations of a U.S. and Russia-engineered truce.

Rouhani, between US and Iranian presidential elections

06/05/2016

An article from Chatham House argues that after the elections the clock is ticking for Dr Rouhani’s reforms to take shape, “Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, is under pressure. Two ticking clocks—the 8 November US presidential election and Iran’s June 2017 presidential election—will weigh heavily on his mind as he attempts to build on the momentum of the nuclear deal with the P5+1 and push through needed economic reforms. Regardless of whether Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz or Donald Trump win in November, relations between Iran and the US are likely to become more confrontational, with both candidates seeking to distance themselves from the perceived ‘leniency’ of President Obama”.

The piece goes on to note “Clinton has stated that, ‘As president, my approach will be to distrust and verify. I will vigorously enforce the nuclear deal as part of a comprehensive strategy that confronts all of Iran’s negative actions in the region and stand side-by-side with our ally Israel and our Arab partners.’ Donald Trump last month took an even stronger stance, saying that his ‘number one priority will be to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran. Iran has perpetuated terror attacks in 25 different countries on five continents. They’ve got terror cells everywhere, including in the Western Hemisphere, very close to home. Iran is the biggest sponsor of terrorism around the world. And we will work to dismantle that reach.’ As long as Tehran maintains its commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1, it will be difficult for any American president to walk away from the deal. However, Tehran will undoubtedly come under greater scrutiny and public criticism from Washington for testing ballistic missiles, supporting Hezbollah and Hamas and challenging American regional allies including Israel and Saudi Arabia”.

The article argues “In preparation for this shift in leadership and attitude towards Tehran, Rouhani has a 10-month window before the January 2017 inauguration to push through his economic reforms, encourage a meaningful return of foreign investors and engage the West. His 2013 presidential campaign success was predicated on these promises and now he has a limited time to deliver and maneuverer. Specifically, he is seeking $50 billion in foreign direct investment to regenerate Iran’s energy industry and promote joint cooperation and investment in an array of sectors ranging from automotive to telecoms and petrochemicals. To do this, Rouhani must push through a basket of regulatory policy measures that will demonstrate transparency and stability such as banking reform, exchange rate stabilisation, approval of the new petroleum contracts and anti-corruption measures”.

It ends “At the same time, the clock is also ticking internally ahead of Rouhani’s own reelection set for June 2017. The president is at odds with Iran’s hardliners including members of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps who remain wary of relations with the West and his promises of social, cultural and economic liberalisation. Unhappy with the outcome of the February parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections that resulted in gains for moderates and centrists allied with the president, hardliners are looking to weaken the president’s domestic and international popularity. Frequent ballistic missile tests that have provoked international criticism and US sanctions have thus far proven to be an easy way of challenging the president. Aggressive public statements designed to antagonise Iran’s neighbours have also been successful and will continue in an effort to prevent Rouhani from building bridges between Iran and the Gulf states. This unpredictability could ultimately scare off international business and weaken Rouhani’s domestic support. While Iranians have since the revolution repeatedly reelected their presidents, Rouhani must address the rising economic and political challenges to guarantee a victory. Amidst these mounting pressures, time is not on his side”.

“Start reclamation at the Scarborough Shoal”

06/05/2016

China will start reclamation at the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea later this year and may add an airstrip to extend its air force’s reach over the contested waters, a military source and mainland maritime experts say. A source close to the PLA Navy said Beijing would ramp up work to establish a new outpost 230km off the coast of the Philippines as the US and Manila drew their militaries closer together. An upcoming ruling on territorial claims by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, widely expected to go against China, would also accelerate the plan, the source said. Manila wants the court to ­declare that Beijing’s claims must comply with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the decision could come next month or in June. “Beijing will take action to carry out land reclamation at Huangyan Island within this year,” said the source, who ­requested anonymity, referring to the shoal”.

“Trump’s campaign rests on nostalgia for a bygone era”

04/05/2016

Stephen Walt argues that Trump’s view of America never existed, “If Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had an official theme song, it would probably be “The Way We Were,” or maybe Archie and Edith Bunker’s rendition of “Those Were the Days.” More than anything else, Trump’s campaign rests on nostalgia for a bygone era when America was indisputably “great,” immigrants came through Ellis Island (and only in small numbers), and where everybody (and especially women, minorities, and journalists) knew their place. The fact that his campaign slogan says he’ll make America great again tells you Trump’s gaze is firmly in the rearview mirror. But he’s not alone. All of the remaining candidates indulge in their own forms of nostalgia, defined as “sentimentality about the past, typically for a period or place with strong personal associations.” Hillary Clinton wants Americans to hearken back to the 1990s, when somebody with the same last name occupied the White House. Bernie Sanders would like to take us back to those halcyon days when Glass-Steagall was still in place, and 1 percenters didn’t earn vast sums while tanking the world economy. And Ted Cruz would like you to think he’s the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan — with a bit of Jeremiah and St. Paul thrown in — and that electing him will return the country to its Puritan roots”.

Walt argues that “Nostalgia can be a powerful emotion, and it’s hardly surprising people try to exploit it to get elected or to sell a particular set of policies. The basic method is simple: Construct a mythical past in which today’s problems were largely absent, and then promise to restore (some of) the policies of that bygone era, thereby dispelling our discontents and returning us to that familiar and comfortable world we feel we have lost. Unfortunately, nostalgia is a poor guide to choosing a president or constructing a foreign policy. Human memories are notoriously unreliable, and the past that we look back on with fondness was probably nowhere near as idyllic as we now believe it was. Even the happiness we associate with some bygone era may be wholly illusory; we may well have been just as anxious, insecure, angry, or frustrated then as we are today. We just don’t remember it that way. More importantly, nostalgia can actively mislead us when it comes to choosing policies for the here and now”.

He rightly points out that “nostalgia blinds us to our own misdeeds, thereby making it harder to understand why others see us as they do. All countries sugarcoat their own history, constructing a fictitious past in which the virtuous moments loom large and the mistakes, injustices, and cruelties are airbrushed away. Once this collective amnesia takes over, however, we’ll no longer remember why Iran, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Iraq, and a number of other countries have valid reasons to be more than a little upset at Uncle Sam. And having forgotten it, we are ready to see any acts of opposition on their part as totally irrational and unwarranted hatred”.

He adds that “Gazing solely in the rearview mirror also discourages us from thinking about the actual problems we face today and devising constructive and creative solutions to them. Case in point: The United States is not going to go back to being a society with a comfortable Anglo-Protestant majority, no matter how much some people might want it to be. It’s not going to be a country where gay people are back in the closet. It is not going to have a nuclear monopoly; it’s not likely to turn its back on global trade (and if it does, it will be poorer), and it’s not going to be able to dictate terms to anybody who gets in our way. It will be the world’s more important country for many years to come, but successful statecraft will require playing well with others and not just threatening to take our marbles and go home”.

He ends “politicians who try to sell themselves or their policy preferences on the basis of nostalgia invariably cook the books in another way. Trump or Cruz promise to restore American military might so that “nobody will mess with us,” and both suggest that the United States will enjoy the sort of military dominance that we supposedly had in earlier periods. But you don’t hear them saying they will also restore marginal tax rates to the same level as those earlier periods, or introduce the financial regulations that existed under Eisenhower and Reagan. In other words, campaigns based on nostalgia are notoriously selective: After describing a mythical past, they also cherry-pick among the policy choices that allegedly produce that earlier Eden. The lesson: When a candidate or a pundit says they have a Wayback Machine that will magically catapult us back to some earlier Golden Age, they are probably hawking something that is long past its sell-by date and more than a little bit rancid. Caveat emptor.

A weakened Saudi religious police

04/05/2016

Saudi Arabia has stripped its frequently criticized religious police of their powers to arrest, urging them to act “kindly and gently” in enforcing Islamic rules. Some Saudis called the move long overdue. Under changes approved by the cabinet, religious officers will no longer be allowed to detain people and instead must report violators to police or drug squad officers, the official Saudi Press Agency said late Tuesday. Officers of the Haia force, also known as the Mutawaa, must “carry out the duties of encouraging virtue and forbidding vice by advising kindly and gently” under the new rules, SPA reported. “Neither the heads nor members of the Haia are to stop or arrest or chase people or ask for their IDs or follow them – that is considered the jurisdiction of the police or the drug unit,” the regulations say”.

Mohammed bin Salman, remaking Saudi Arabia?

04/05/2016

A report from Foreign Policy notes that “Saudi Arabia on Monday unveiled a sweeping plan to diversify its economy and wean its excessive reliance on crude oil exports by 2030, a blueprint that represents the most ambitious effort yet to drag Riyadh and its ruling class into modernity. “The kingdom can live in 2020 without any dependence on oil,” Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Al-Arabiya News Channel in an extensive interview Monday. “The Saudi addiction to oil has disturbed [the] development of many sectors in past years.” Prince Mohammed, a 30-year-old who has rapidly consolidated power in the kingdom nominally ruled by his father, oversees both Saudi economic affairs and defense policy and has aggressively sought to overhaul the oil-dependent and secretive state”.

The report goes on to mention, “Among the reforms he announced Monday are continued reduction in state subsidies for oil, electricity, and water, a hugely expensive drain on public coffers but long considered the birthright of Saudi citizens; raising more revenue from taxes; and opening up the country to more expatriates and tourists, a tough sell given stringent religious restrictions banning alcohol and sharply limiting the jobs and public roles available to women. The Saudi government on Monday laid out in extensive detail its plans for economic and financial rejuvenation, calling them “an ambitious yet achievable blueprint.” The Saudi government on Monday laid out in extensive detail its plans for economic and financial rejuvenation, calling them “an ambitious yet achievable blueprint.” The centerpiece of Saudi Arabia’s economic transformation is the planned public listing of Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company. Prince Mohammed said that the state would list less than 5 percent of the oil giant and that revenues from the sale would help feather Riyadh’s planned $2 trillion sovereign wealth fund. He said the oil company could be valued as high as $2 trillion — though many industry experts believe Aramco will fetch a lower price — and said, in the official launch of the programme”.

The piece goes on to mention, “The plan comes at a delicate moment for Riyadh, which has seen its relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration steadily deteriorate amid deep Saudi concern that Washington is moving closer to Tehran at its expense. The kingdom is also being forced to revisit its connection to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, with U.S. lawmakers in Congress from both parties pressing the administration to release a long-classified portion of the 9/11 inquiry that could highlight greater Saudi participation in the attacks. Closer to home, meanwhile, the Saudi military is locked in a grinding conflict in Yemen that has resulted in significant civilian casualties without accomplishing its stated goal of dislodging the Iranian-backed Houthi regime now controlling most of the country. Prince Mohammed launched and has overseen that campaign, leading some observers to worry that the world’s youngest defense minister may have bitten off more than he can chew”.

It adds “Saudi Arabia has mulled plans to diversify its economy away from excessive reliance on oil for a quarter-century, though crude sales remain the lifeblood of the regime. But cheaper oil puts more pressure on Saudi authorities to make changes. Thanks to a glut of supply — due to continued production by Saudi Arabia, among other countries — oil prices today hover around $35 a barrel. That has cost oil-exporting nations in the region about $390 billion in the past year, the International Monetary Fund said, and helped knock a $120 billion hole in the Saudi budget. “Oil around $30 is a blessing for the kingdom, because it forces them to move from being a rentier state to a regular state,” said Jean-François Seznec of the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center, who has writtenextensively on the looming Saudi economic transformation. Even the public listing of Aramco, which will mean opening up its books to public scrutiny, is part and parcel of modernizing Saudi Arabia’s opaque ruling culture, which is still haunted by the specter of Arab Spring-style protests of the sort that brought down governments in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya and sparked a five-year civil war in Syria”.

The report  notes “Some of the main drivers of the economic overhaul — such as a dysfunctional labour market, unskilled workers, and high unemployment — are also among the biggest obstacles to transformation. Saudi nationals make up less than 10 percent of the private sector workforce and less than half the workforce overall; foreign labour dominates many sectors, especially construction. Labour participation is especially low for women in Saudi Arabia, for religious and cultural reasons: Only about 20 percent of Saudi women work, roughly the same level as in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Those cultural and religious barriers — including prohibitions on alcohol and a strict crackdown on what clerics view as deviant behaviour — are some of the obstacles to Prince Mohammed’s planned opening, making it unlikely that Saudi Arabia will become the next Dubai, a glittering trading entrepôt open to expats and tourists alike. And the financial and banking systems are only now opening up to foreign investors. The Saudi stock exchange, where Aramco will be listed, only just allowed direct market access to foreign investors last summer. The retail sector is still largely closed off”.

The writer adds “there are some reasons for optimism. Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth birthed a vibrant petrochemicals industry, led by Saudi Basic Industries Corp., one of the sector’s global leaders. The country has plenty of potential in mining and has cheap and abundant reserves of bauxite used in aluminum production. It’s also strong in phosphates and fertilizers. The plan also calls for Saudi Arabia, the world’s third-biggest buyer of arms, to domestically manufacture half of its defense needs by 2030, potentially giving it both an industrial boost and geopolitical insurance for future defense procurement needs in an increasingly tense neighbourhood. Consultants at McKinsey & Co. have advised the Saudi government on its economic transformation. And the McKinsey Global Institute, which published a study last year on the Saudi economy, listed eight key sectors — including metals and mining, petrochemicals, manufacturing, and tourism — as vital to doubling Saudi GDP by 2030. Not coincidentally, most feature in the formal plan, and Prince Mohammed explicitly talked up the prospects of many of those sectors in Monday’s Al-Arabiya interview”.

 

Al-Qaeda, back in Afghanistan

04/05/2016

Afghanistan’s top defense official has warned that al Qaeda — the reason the United States first invaded Afghanistan — is “very active” and a “big threat” in the country. A senior U.S. official said they were concerned about al Qaeda leaders in remote areas of the country and there may be many more core operatives in Afghanistan than previously thought. The warnings of al Qaeda’s resurgence come as Afghanistan faces perhaps the most significant summer fighting season in decades, with government security forces facing huge internal challenges, the Taliban both gaining ground and building links to al Qaeda, and ISIS increasing its footprint in the country.

Sanders, influencing Democrats for decades

02/05/2016

An interesting piece argues that Bernie Sanders is changing the way millenials think about politics, “After Bernie Sanders’s defeat in New York last week, his chances of winning the Democratic nomination are dwindling. Yet, even if he loses this campaign, a poll published Monday suggests that Sanders might have already won a contest that will prove crucially important in America’s political future. The poll of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 finds that Sanders is by far the most popular presidential candidate among the youngest voters. This group’s attitudes on a range of issues have become more liberal in the past year. The data, collected by researchers at Harvard University, suggest that not only has Sanders’s campaign made for an unexpectedly competitive Democratic primary, he has also changed the way millennials think about politics, said polling director John Della Volpe. “He’s not moving a party to the left. He’s moving a generation to the left,” Della Volpe said of the senator from Vermont. “Whether or not he’s winning or losing, it’s really that he’s impacting the way in which a generation — the largest generation in the history of America — thinks about politics.” Apparently, Sanders’s popularity with young voters isn’t just some shallow fad or a cult of personality with little connection to substantive questions of politics. Young people, it seems, are taking Sanders’s ideas to heart”.

The piece adds “In one of Harvard’s polls of young people in 2014, the number who agreed that “basic health insurance is a right for all people” was 42 percent. That figure increased to 45 percent last year and to 48 percent in Monday’s poll. The share who agreed that “basic necessities, such as food and shelter, are a right that government should provide to those unable to afford them” increased from 43 percent last year to 47 percent now. The share who agreed that “The government should spend more to reduce poverty” increased from 40 percent to 45 percent. It’s rare, Della Volpe said, for young people’s attitudes to change much from year to year in Harvard’s polling, and even more remarkable for so many of these measures to shift in the same direction at the same time”.

It goes on to mention, “For the first time in the past five years of Harvard’s polls, significantly more young people called themselves Democrats than said they were independent. Forty percent were Democrats, 22 percent were Republicans and 36 percent were independent. On the trail, Sanders has railed against what he called “casino capitalism,” calling himself a “democratic socialist.” A narrow majority of respondents in Harvard’s poll said they did not support capitalism. While just 1 in 3 said they supported socialism, the figures are still an indicator of millennials’ frustration with the U.S. economic system, Della Volpe said”.

It goes on to note “The millennial generation has no universally accepted definition, but one point of departure is the Census Bureau’s projection that by 2020, 36 percent of eligible voters will be adults born after 1980. Young people don’t vote as much as older people, to be sure. Just 41 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 turned out in the last presidential election in 2012, compared with 72 percent of those older than 65. Yet as these millennial voters grow older, pollsters expect that they will begin voting more frequently, and their opinions will carry increasing weight in elections. Della Volpe cautions that it’s impossible to predict how millennials’ views will shift in the future, but people change parties only rarely after about age 30, researchers have found. If that pattern holds for the millennial generation, then Democrats could be indebted for decades to a politician who has rejected a formal association with the Democratic Party for his entire career until now. In Harvard’s poll, Sanders was the clear favourite of young people. Fifty-four percent said they had a favourable view of him, and 31 percent said they had an unfavourable view. With respect to Hillary Clinton, 53 percent had an unfavourable view, and 37 percent said their views of the former secretary of state were favourable. Her gender does not seem to be helping her among young people: even self-identified millennial feminist women in the Harvard poll say that Sanders would do the most to improve women’s lives in the United States, Della Volpe pointed out. Millennials’ opinions of Donald Trump, by contrast, are decisively negative. Seventy-four percent said they view the Republican front-runner unfavourably, including 57 percent of young Republicans. By contrast, 52 percent of the poll’s respondents viewed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) unfavourably, including just 30 percent of millennial Republicans. Among that group, 56 percent had a favourable view of Cruz”.

It ends “There are some moderate Democrats who argue that a more liberal agenda is unlikely to succeed, both politically and in practice. They’ve been pushed to the margins in this primary campaign, as both Clinton and Sanders have competed to establish themselves as liberal stalwarts. The poll suggests that as millennials vote in increasing numbers over the next several election cycles, they could pose another obstacle for moderate Democrats seeking to reestablish their position in the party. In the long term, a major question will be whether these young people newly identifying as Democrats will remain loyal to the party. If so, then today’s millennial liberalism has the potential to create a small but lasting numeric advantage for Democrats. To some degree, the increase in millennial identification with the Democrats could reflect Clinton’s efforts, along with young people’s antipathy toward Trump, the Republican front-runner. Yet Della Volpe said Sanders’s evident popularity deserves much of the credit”.

 

Philippines and Vietnam joint patrols?

02/05/2016

Defense officials from the Philippines and Vietnam will meet this week to explore possible joint exercises and navy patrols, military sources said, shoring up a new alliance between states locked in maritime rows with China. Ties have strengthened between the two Southeast Asian countries as China’s assertiveness intensifies with a rapid buildup of man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago, to which Vietnam and the Philippines lay claim. Both states are also on the receiving end of a renewed charm offensive by the United States, which is holding joint military exercises in the Philippines to be attended this week by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Vietnam and the Philippines would discuss patrols and exercises, but a deal this week was unlikely, a senior military official told Reuters. “These are initial discussions,” he said. “These may take time but we would like to move to the next level.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. The information was confirmed by another defense ministry source in Manila”.

Obama’s half measures in Syria

02/05/2016

Dr Kori Schake writes that Obama needs to authorise ground troops in Syria to truly defeat ISIS, “President Barack Obama authorized the deployment of 217 more troops to Iraq, as part of the fight against the Islamic State. As Secretary of Defense Ash Carter explained: “This will put Americans closer to the action.” Washington will also send Apache helicopters to Iraqi forces and pay $415 million in salaries for Kurdish troops and other “military needs” in the runup to retaking Mosul. If you think this counts as getting tough in the fight against radical jihadis who have unsettled the Middle East and brought violence to the heart of Europe, you’re deluding yourself”.

She rightly argues that “Obama’s strategy for fighting the Islamic State is half-measures, at best: contributing U.S. military force at the margins of efforts by those most directly affected with loss of territory. The president prides himself on a minimalist approach, doing just about as much for Iraqi forces or the Syrian rebels as they could do for themselves. It amounts to an argument that he is preventing the moral hazard of other countries relying on the United States for their security. But that approach treats as costless two very important elements in fighting the Islamic State: confidence and time. One of the emptiest canards in warfare is “there is no military solution.” Unless you fight to complete extermination, war always involves convincing your adversary to stop fighting. That is, to cede their political goals rather than continue using military force to attain them. Usually, that requires doing some fighting. Of course, adversaries tend not to give up if they think they’re winning or could win — which is why soldiers like the Powell Doctrine of committing large forces in order to demonstrate your political will to win”.

She adds “It’s also why Obama’s incremental commitment of small numbers of troops — 300 advisors here, a specialized targeting team there — is so ineffective. It conveys the limits of Washington’s willingness to fight. The Islamic State, Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei all understand those limits and are acting accordingly. America’s allies get the message now, too, especially after the president wrote off Iraq and fought the war in Afghanistan halfheartedly. They will not step forward and commit the ground troops necessitated by Obama’s approach because they lack the confidence that Washington will see this difficult fight through. A strategy suited to its purpose connects achievable political aims with compelling means and employs them in ways that confront the enemy with cascading problems. Obama’s approach of gradual escalation allows the enemy to adjust its activities to each minor increase in our capability”.

She goes on to argue “The way to successfully fight wars is to limit your political objectives and provide decisive military resources to deliver them. Instead, the administration seeks ambitious, if not outright implausible, political aims (hey, Assad: step down!), marrying them to a halfhearted commitment of air power that shows few signs of limiting the Islamic State’s gains, not to mention those of the Assad regime. Obama is not alone in magical thinking about the war against the Islamic State, though: Politicians from both Democratic and Republican parties are deceiving themselves and the American electorate by pretending we can defeat the Islamic State without putting significant numbers of U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State will not last long against a top-notch military. Yet none of the Republican presidential candidates dares to differ substantively from Hillary Clinton’s statement this week that we must defeat the Islamic State, but not with American boots — the Iraq War showed we cannot send troops to the Middle East. Instead, Ted Cruz wants to carpet bomb, while Donald Trump wants tokill their families and go after the oil. They are all guilty of what generals are often accused of: fighting the last war”.

tHE report mentions, “Meanwhile, the Obama administration claims it’s picking off Islamic State leaders, but, to use national security and intelligence analyst Phil Walter’s analogy, that is mopping up the floor instead of turning off the faucet. The Islamic State is still in control of significant territory, still drawing thousands of recruits because it is the only force ostensibly protecting Sunni Arabs, and still boasting that it is holding its own against the world’s strongest military. Many of those recruits are now drawn from allied countries and pose a direct threat to the United States and Europe”.

She ends “Americans are tired and wary of another war in the Middle East. Those who oppose committing ground troops beyond the 5,000 or so U.S. forces Obama already has operating against the Islamic State are hesitant about casualties. They’re worried about mission creep. So let’s not creep in. If this president or the next really wants to defeat the Islamic State, half-measures won’t do it. It’s going to require some hard choices. But we all prefer to accept casualties in our military, among the men and women who volunteer for combat and are trained for it, instead of in our civilian population at metro stations and airports”.

“To eventually recapture the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants”

01/05/2016

Barack Obama says he expects that by the end of the year conditions will be in place for Iraqi troops to eventually recapture the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants. In a CBS News interview aired Monday, Obama stressed the need to support the Iraqi forces who are doing the ground fighting. “We’re not doing the fighting ourselves, but when we provide training, when we provide special forces who are backing them up … when we are gaining intelligence, working with the coalitions we have, what we’ve seen is that we can continually tighten the noose,” said Obama”.