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Monthly Archives: December 2011

The World As It Turns

December 22nd, 2011 - 1:12 pm

The Pentagon expresses regret over Pakistani border incident: “It admitted that poor coordination between US and Pakistani military officers operating through the border coordination centre, including reliance on ‘incorrect mapping information shared with the Pakistani liaison officer’ resulted in a misunderstanding about the correct location of Pakistani units.”

It said that a “fundamental lack of trust” between the two countries was a big factor in the incident. American and Afghan troops believed they were being attacked by militants and called in an airstrike. However, two Pakistani border posts were destroyed. …

Pakistan has been pushing for an apology from President Barack Obama as the first step for rebuilding the awkward alliance. In the meantime, it has closed all land crossings into Afghanistan to Nato supply convoys and launched a review of relations with Washington and Nato. American officials believe diplomats could face expulsion if the matter is not resolved soon.

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Patriot Games

December 22nd, 2011 - 11:47 am

Fireworks: “Finland has impounded a ship bound for China carrying 69 surface-to-air Patriot missiles. The missiles, produced by US firm Raytheon, were discovered following a customs search on the British-registered Thor Liberty, owned by Danish firm Thorco, at the port of Kotka, about 120 kilometres from Helsinki. The BBC is reporting the missiles were found in containers marked fireworks.”

Finns detain crew: “‘The ship’s captain and the first mate have been detained,’ the head of the Finnish customs anti-crime unit, Petri Lounatmaa, told AFP. … Lounatmaa said the Thor Liberty’s first officers and crew of about 30 were all Ukrainians, and that interrogations were under way.”

German Defense Ministry says shipment was theirs: CNN reports, “A shipment of Patriot missiles that Finnish authorities found and seized was legal and authorized, the German government said Thursday.”

A Germany Defense Ministry official said the missiles, found on board the Thor Liberty, were part of a German delivery for South Korea under a longstanding agreement. … This was to be the last such delivery, said Lt. Col. Holger Neumann. Earlier, a customs official familiar with the case told CNN the shipment departed December 6 from the German port of Emden. “The exporters had all necessary permissions, including an export authorization and a special authorization for the export of war weapons,” the source said.

The Washington Post traced the route of the vessel:

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The Syrian Problem

December 21st, 2011 - 6:23 pm

The Struggle For Syria lays out the military situation facing the Assads in Syria.  Basically current regime is facing too many challenges at once to put them all down at the same time. “The scale of unrest in Syria has made it impossible for the regime’s security forces to simultaneously garrison all of the country’s key terrain. The regime has maintained control over Syria’s armed forces, despite limited defections. Therefore, the regime’s strategy has been to maneuver elite forces to key centers of unrest and conduct large clearance operations, using selective brutality in an effort to end the crisis.”

From the beginning of the uprising, the regime has deliberately consolidated its control over the Alawite homeland of Syria’s coastal region. Clearance operations in Latakia, Baniyas, and Tel Kalakh targeted Sunni enclaves and shored up regime lines of communication. …

Security forces have avoided direct confrontation with the Sunni tribes of Deir ez-Zor, while Syria’s Kurds largely refrained from joining the opposition movement in 2011. …

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Missing the tide

December 21st, 2011 - 3:47 pm

HotAir notes that time and time wait for no man. Not even for the One.

Canada has patiently waited for Americans to help themselves improve our energy policy by installing a pipeline from Canada’s oil sands to our refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, but this week Prime Minister Stephen Harper signaled that their patience has limits. Speaking to CTV, Harper reminded the US that they have a very thirsty China as a potential customer, too.

Saudi Arabia, long the acknowledged King of Oil, is prepared to acknowledge America as an energy superpower.

Unconventional oil shifting the energy balance of power. … The speech by Saudi Aramco’s Chief Executive Khalid Al-Falih was the first from the oil exporter to acknowledge that unconventional oil was set to shift the energy balance of power and cut US dependence on Middle East crude. … A technology-led surge in North American shale gas production has created a global glut over the last few years which has reduced US reliance on Middle Eastern gas imports, forced exporters to look for new buyers and cut their revenues.

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Mirror, mirror on the wall

December 21st, 2011 - 12:59 pm

Politico looks at President Obama’s assessment of himself in a 60 Minutes interview. His achievements, he said, can only possibly be exceeded by three modern Presidents. “The president’s claim didn’t air in the show’s Dec. 11 television broadcast but was included in the full interview video that CBS posted on its website that day.”

The “60 Minutes Overtime” video shows Obama telling correspondent Steve Kroft:

“The issue here is not going be a list of accomplishments. As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history. But, you know, but when it comes to the economy, we’ve got a lot more work to do.”

Whether or not President Obama is really the fourth greatest chief executive in modern history is for posterity to judge. The interesting thing, however, is that he thinks he is. Winston Churchill once said of Clement Atlee “Mr. Attlee is a very modest man. Indeed he has a lot to be modest about.” But where do people who think they are the greatest get the idea of their superlative excellence?

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Iraq on the edge

December 21st, 2011 - 11:21 am

Iraqi’s fugitive Sunni Vice President told American journalist Eli Lake that he would support a Sunni breakaway from Iraq”, a development which could spark a civil war. Asked if he believed Iraq could disintegrate into three countries—Sunni, Shiite and Kurdistan—as many analysts feared at the height of the Iraqi civil war in 2006, Hashemi said, “I hope not, but believe it or not, all options are in front of Iraqis.”

Hashemi was one of America’s closest political allies in Baghdad, but he blames the Obama administration for failing to act more forcefully. “I talked to the ambassador,” he said. “We are really disappointed and frustrated with the Americans, they have done zero in terms of these problems. I am not betting on them doing anything. They tell us they will try their best, but we think this means nothing.”

The vice president has been on the run since the weekend warrant was issued. “Unfortunately I cannot go to Baghdad right now, my office is occupied, all of my computers have been seized by authorities loyal to Maliki,” he told the Beast. “My house is being investigated and all my computers and papers have been seized there. My office staff has been asked to leave.”

The Washington Post says there may still be time to salvage the situation and urged President Obama to reconsider its past policy and lean on Maliki.

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What happens next in North Korea?

December 20th, 2011 - 2:12 pm

Bruce Cumings, the University of Chicago academic who is the “left’s leading scholar of Korean history,” believes that “North Korea is a misunderstood land.” He thinks the terrible state of the northern half of the peninsula is at least partly America’s fault and no one can escape the “significant responsibility that all Americans share for the garrison state that emerged on the ashes of our truly terrible destruction of the North half a century ago.”

The problem with that assertion is summarized in a graph of per capita GDP in the Washington Post which shows that the divergence of the two Koreas actually occurred in the early 1970s. Prior to that time “the two countries were roughly comparable — in fact, AEI’s Nicholas Eberstadt argues that, at the time of Mao Zedong’s death, North Korea’s workers were more productive and better educated than China.”

Self-inflicted

So you can forget the effects of the Korean War. The disaster in the North was entirely self inflicted; it was a catastrophe written and directed in Pyongyang by the Kim family.

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The Last of the Old

December 19th, 2011 - 8:02 pm

Michael Gerson writes that Havel’s passing reminds us that we are losing the giants:

As the heroes of the Cold War walk off into the mist — Ronald Reagan, then John Paul II, now Vaclav Havel — each departure makes that world more distant and foreign.

Make way for a different breed — the self-acknowledged bystanders, the perpetually surprised:

Kim Jong-il, the enigmatic North Korean leader, died on a train at 8:30 a.m. Saturday in his country. Forty-eight hours later, officials in South Korea still did not know anything about it — to say nothing of Washington, where the State Department acknowledged “press reporting” of Mr. Kim’s death well after North Korean state media had already announced it.

And:

On Monday, the Obama administration held urgent consultations with allies but said little publicly about Mr. Kim’s death. Senior officials acknowledged they were largely bystanders, watching the drama unfold in the North and hoping that it does not lead to acts of aggression against South Korea.

What Havel had — and which seems to have been forgotten — was the self-possession that comes with an abiding faith in individual man. He did not live in a position of moral inferiority vis-a-vis the bullies of the world. Not Kim Jong Il; not the Soviet Union itself:

In the company of John Paul II and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Havel believed that political renewal starts in moral and personal renewal. In one letter from prison he wrote, “But who should begin? Who should break this vicious circle? The only possible place to begin is with myself. … Whether all is really lost or not depends entirely on whether or not I am lost.”

And Havel was not lost; he was not, as so many are today, scornful of right and wrong. At a time when the Soviet Union was regarded as a permanent reality by public policy analysts; when the Berlin Wall was seen as a fixture as immutable as the Himalayas; when the Cold War was going to be forever — Havel knew it was not so because these things were wrong. The shock of the Soviets at seeing their empire crumble was as nothing to the shock of the pundits who believed in it even more than the Politburo.

Today the dominant mantra is one of “leading from behind,” advancing cautiously behind a screen of multilateral action and international allies. It springs from a fear by a more “enlightened leadership” of any idea they can call their own. Any worthy policy must be a reflected slogan from the Arab street or condemned as triumphalistic, racist, or ethnocentric.  They are alienated from their roots; indoctrinated in the supreme virtue of not knowing what they want. So they react, react, and react:

The death of North Korea’s Kim Jong Il finds the United States with little knowledge of and virtually no leverage over what is to come in a country whose nuclear arsenal and belligerent foreign policy have long made it a leading threat to the West.

In a year when dictators elsewhere have fallen like dominoes and the Obama administration has pressured strongmen still standing in places such as Iran and Syria, North Korea remains opaque and as unyielding as ever to outside influence.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon each contacted their South Korean counterparts on Monday to “synchronize watches” and reaffirm U.S. support, a senior administration official said.

The men of the hour synchronize their exquisitely accurate watches without having learned to tell the time. They scrutinize the compass, while declaring that East and West are all the same to them.

Is it 3:00 a.m. yet? And if the phone rings what should be said? Since Noam Chomsky once likened Havel’s aspirations to an “embarrassingly silly and morally repugnant Sunday School sermon,” one would guess the answer is “anything.” To open the door but never to step through it; to notice the modern Berlin Wall but never to challenge it; to observe the fact of the slavery and never once mention it since that would be judgmental — that is the hallmark of today’s post-Sunday School Man.

With characteristic predictability, the diplomats are now hoping for an “opening” with North Korea: “European countries spoke of the opportunity for change.” But as ever, they are waiting on events and may content themselves to offer gifts (confidence-building measures) in the meantime: “Many experts believe the Kim dynasty would collapse without support from its main ally China. There was initially a yawning four-hour silence from Beijing before it praised Kim Jong-il.” And that opening might indeed ensue. But if it does, it will be by the grace of good fortune or China. Today’s leaders would never dare hope it was on their account.

Now we see that the men of Havel’s generation are well and truly gone. Gone are Reagan, John Paul, Thatcher, and Havel. In their stead stand Barack Obama and Herman van Rompuy. What has vanished along with the greats?

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By the other door

December 19th, 2011 - 1:56 pm

The passing of Kim Jong Il and Vaclav Havel present a contrast in images.  North Korean state TV was on hand to note the effect that news of the Dear Leader’s demise had on persons who regarded him a god. In the case of Havel his death was long expected; and when it came the mourners came to bid goodbye as individuals, not to a god, but to a friend; to someone who reminded them that leaders are only ever human themselves.

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Iraq: The Day After

December 19th, 2011 - 12:55 pm

Only a short time after the last American convoy left Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered the arrest of Sunni vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi, “accusing him of running a personal death squad that assassinated security officials and government bureaucrats.” Analysts fear this may fuel rising sectarian tensions which may eventually lead to a civil war. “Hashimi was in the northern region of Kurdistan, meeting with Kurdish officials.”

This took place as a large parliamentary bloc announced its intention to boycott attendance at the lawmaking body. “The standoff pits Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, against one of his most nettlesome partners in Iraq’s government, the Iraqiya coalition, a multisectarian group with wide support among secular Iraqis and Sunni Muslims.”

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