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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Snapshot

November 30th, 2012 - 10:41 am

The Obama administration sent Hillary Clinton aloft in a trial balloon signaling the willingness to get behind the Syrian opposition to Assad:

A decision to recognize the group could be announced at a so-called Friends of Syria meeting that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to attend in Morocco on Dec. 12. It is the most immediate decision facing the Obama administration as it considers how to end the government of Bashar al-Assad and stop the violence that has consumed Syria.

There’s was always some danger to the course, thus the wisdom of allowing time to leave her holding the bag if it provokes a sharp reaction from Russia:

President Obama has not signed off on the move, and the meetings to decide the issue have yet to be held. Debates within the administration concern legal issues about the implications of diplomatic recognition, how such a move might affect efforts to enlist Russian support for a political transition in Syria and, most importantly, the state of the opposition.

But if the Russians don’t object, the administration can always claim “it was not on the wrong side of history.” When was it ever? It follows the lead of “Britain, France, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council,” who “have already recognized the opposition, which was enlarged and overhauled at a meeting in Doha, Qatar.”

This development came as Egypt’s announcement of a new Islamic constitution had all the calming effect of a bucket of gasoline poured on a fire. The Washington Post’s Stephanie McCrummen writes:

If anything, the new charter — which passed after walkouts by liberal, secular and other non-Islamist assembly members and in theory will now be put to a public referendum — seems only to have plunged Egypt deeper into turmoil.

The document appeared to function as a battle line between two intractably opposed parties, with some objecting to its Islamist provisions and others outraged that it was not Islamist enough:

Analysts said that the constitution itself — or at least the portions of the text made public so far — appears to be neither the deeply Islamist document that Morsi’s critics had feared nor the inclusive, progressive charter that liberal and secular revolutionaries had hoped would guide the world’s most populous Arab nation.

The document will spawn “all kinds of controversy — political, legal and dueling confrontations on the streets,” said Nathan Brown, a Middle East scholar at George Washington University. “At this point, things seem to be escalating in all ways, and there are no real attempts to contain them. It raises concern about the stability of the political system.”

But as Syria has demonstrated, the administration has a foolproof method of resolving such dilemmas. It simply remains paralyzed until it is clear which bloody set of hands has reached the topmost rung. Then it reaches down to shake them. However, if events in Egypt are any indication, the administration has copious quantities of hand sanitizer available — just in case.

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(Free ||Freeze) Syrian Army

November 29th, 2012 - 1:22 pm
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The Washington Post says “Syrian rebels have acquired as many as 40 shoulder-fired missile systems in recent weeks to counter assaults by Syrian military aircraft, introducing a possibly decisive new weapon into the conflict, Western and Middle Eastern intelligence officials say.”

The Obama administration has steadfastly opposed arming Syrian opposition forces with such missiles, warning that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down commercial aircraft….

At least some of the missiles were supplied by Qatar, which has provided most of the weapons smuggled to Syria’s rebels across the Turkish border, according to two Middle Eastern intelligence officials briefed on the matter. The officials, along with others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information …

“It should be worrying to everyone,” said one of the Middle Eastern intelligence officials, whose government closely monitors events in Syria. “When Assad is finished, terrorists could end up with these, and commercial flights would be at risk.”

Good point. Or maybe the terrorists could wind up with Syria itself or parts of it along with Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal.  Why settle for a few rockets when you can have a whole country?

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But the levee was dry

November 28th, 2012 - 8:21 pm

The Associated Press reports that the Corps of Engineers, responding to the political pressure of the Katrina disaster, has built the Rolls Royce of flood protection for New Orleans and turned it over to municipal officials. However the town fathers have neither the capability nor the inclination to do anything but let it rot.

Engineers consider it a Rolls Royce of flood protection — comparable to systems in seaside European cities such as St. Petersburg, Venice, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Whether the infrastructure can hold is less in question than whether New Orleans can be trusted with the keys.

The Army Corps estimates it will take $38 million a year to pay for upkeep, maintenance and operational costs after it’s turned over to local officials.

Local flood-control chief Robert Turner said he has questions about where that money will come from. At current funding levels, the region will run out of money to properly operate the high-powered system within a decade unless a new revenue source is found.

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The role of trust in politics

November 28th, 2012 - 1:24 pm

Treachery and perfidy are supposed to be war crimes. “Bosnian Serb soldiers wearing stolen UN uniforms and driving stolen UN vehicles announced over megaphones that that they were UN peacekeepers and that they were prepared to oversee the Bosnian Muslims’ surrender and guarantee they would not be harmed.” How dastardly.

Disoriented and exhausted, many Bosnian Muslims fell for the lie. It was only after they had surrendered that they discovered their fatal mistake. For in surrendering, they were going to their deaths. Those whom the Serbs got their hands on were killed by firing squad …

Article 37 of Protocol I states that “acts inviting the confidence of an adversary to lead him to believe that he is entitled to, or is obliged to accord, protection under the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, with intent to betray that confidence, shall constitute perfidy.” And Article 38 explicitly prohibits the use of “the distinctive emblem of the United Nations, except as authorized by that organization.” It also prohibits the “improper use of the distinctive emblems of the red cross, red crescent or red lion,” which, if used perfidiously, is a grave breach.

They are crimes, that is, however, unless they are legitimate ruses of war. Then they’re alright. “The protocol states explicitly that ruses of war are not prohibited. A ruse is an act that is intended to mislead an adversary or to ‘induce him to act recklessly’ but which infringe no rule of armed conflict and do not attempt to gain his confidence by assuring protection under law.” The difference is something that lawyers can distinguish. Operationally the dead from the one are as dead as from the other.

Truth and war are hard to reconcile. Consider the Paris Peace accords, for which Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho received the Nobel Peace Prize. Less than four months after the signing treaty the North Vietnamese politburo made the decision to return to war.

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The Land of the Rising Sun

November 27th, 2012 - 8:15 am

In the first months of 2012 I was asked if I would consider a private commission from a company to write a report on the question of whether the nations surrounding China could resist Beijing’s pressure to advance its ambitions in the South China Sea, and a short preview of what my conclusion might be. My short reply is below and there the matter ended:

I think the short answer to the question you pose is “Yes, The Outer Asian shore—Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, Singapore—will be secure and more than capable of resisting Chinese attempts to pressure them one-by-one”. The reason for this, is in a nutshell — Japan, and to a similar extent, the United States. It’s is in Japan’s existential interest to keep China from being overly dominant, and it can and will play a role similar to that played by Britain during the Napoleonic wars; keeping the balance of power. The alternative is to submit to long-term Chinese dominance; and it will not do so without a fight.

 

The confirmation of this was captured in a New York Times article on Japan’s growing military and security role in Asia. It encapsulates  the decline of America as the Pacific hegemon and Japan’s return to regional power.

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To Win or Not to Win

November 26th, 2012 - 9:46 am

Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice writes in the Washington Post that “the civil war in Syria may well be the last act in the story of the disintegration of the Middle East as we know it. The opportunity to hold the region together and to rebuild it on a firmer foundation of tolerance, freedom and, eventually, democratic stability is slipping from our grasp.”  She warns that the victor of the Syrian civil war will be Iran — even if Assad loses.

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Metamorphosis

November 25th, 2012 - 3:03 pm

One of the hottest news stories in Britain was a decision by a local government unit to take away foster children from members of the UK Independence Party on the grounds that the adoptive parents were ipso facto ‘racist’.

The decision by Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council has provoked widespread criticism, with campaigners representing foster parents describing the decision as “ridiculous” and warning that it could deter other prospective foster parents from volunteering.

But Joyce Thacker, the council’s Director of Children and Young People’s Services, today said the three ethnic minority children had been placed with the couple as an emergency and the arrangement was never going to be long-term.

She told the BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “We always try to place children in a sensible cultural placement. These children are not UK children and we were not aware of the foster parents having strong political views.

“There are some strong views in the Ukip party and we have to think of the future of the children.”

Here’s the lady from the council expressing her deep concern. Nigel Farage of UKIP was interviewed by a radio station to give his views. Note how the radio interviewer argues that for Farage to object is “to politicize” it.

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The Men With No Name

November 25th, 2012 - 12:40 pm

The Economist reports that Syria is looking increasingly like a movie saloon fight where one man swings at another, hits a third provoking a response from a fourth. “The bloodshed in Syria has taken a nasty turn, as Syrian rebels fighting against Bashar Assad’s regime clash with their Kurdish compatriots. Worries of an ethnic war between Syria’s Arabs and its 3m-odd Kurds have increased. Kurds on both sides of the border are pointing the finger of blame at the government of Turkey.”

The trouble began on November 8th when Syrian rebels attacked a small group of Syrian soldiers loyal to Mr Assad in Ras al-Ayn, a town close to the border with Turkey. Despite being bombed by the Syrian air force, the rebels took the town, which lies just across the border from the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar.

Syria’s best armed and most powerful Kurdish group, the Syrian Democratic Union Party (known by its Kurdish initials, PYD), which controls the Kurdish districts of Ras al-Ayn, says it feared retaliation from the Assad forces if it was seen to connive at their expulsion, so it asked the Syrian rebels, who are said to have been Salafists, to leave. When they refused, the ensuing battle left at least five Kurds and 18 rebels dead. Thousands of angry Kurds are said to be heading for Ras al-Ayn to offer support to their kinsfolk.

In such an atmosphere of mistrust things can be misinterpreted. Meanwhile Iran has warned Turkey not to deploy Patriot missiles, “as fears grow of the Syrian civil war spilling across frontiers.”

Syria has called Turkey’s request for the Patriot missiles “provocative”, and Russia said the move could increase risks in the conflict …

Turkey’s missile request may have riled Damascus because it could be seen as a first step toward implementing a no-fly zone over Syrian airspace.

Syrian rebels have been requesting a no-fly zone to help them hold territory against a government with overwhelming firepower from the air, but most foreign governments are reluctant to get sucked into the conflict.

Turkey fears security on its border may crumble as the Syrian army fights harder against the rebels, some of whom have enjoyed sanctuary in Turkey.

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Three’s Company, Four’s a Crowd

November 25th, 2012 - 12:08 am

Haaretz reports information already familiar to the readers of the Belmont Club. “Israeli spy satellites have spotted an Iranian ship being loaded with missiles that analysts say may be headed for Gaza.”

The cargo would travel via the Red Sea, Sudan and Egypt, following a well-established route used by Iran to smuggle arms into Gaza …

“We believe that Iranian warships anchored in Eritrea will accompany the weapons ship as soon as it enters the Red Sea,” an Israeli source told the Times.

Israeli sources added that once the arms are positively identified they will be engaged ceasefire or not. MSNBC examines the plausibility of the story and cites various other collateral stories. MSNBC believes that Israel may have actually attacked transit points in the Sudan already and supplies this photo.

This combo of two satellite pictures released by DigitalGlobe shows the Yarmouk military manufacturing facility in Khartoum on October 12 (L) and on October 26, (R), two days after blasts at the factory, which the Sudanese government blamed on an Israeli airstrike.

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The Pharoah’s Curse

November 24th, 2012 - 12:23 pm

The administration ended its silence on Morsi’s coup in Egypt by saying “the current constitutional vacuum in Egypt can only be resolved by the adoption of a constitution that includes checks and balances, and respects fundamental freedoms, individual rights, and the rule of law consistent with Egypt’s international commitments.”

In a statement, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Morsi’s actions go against the “the aspirations of the revolution” in 2011 that led to the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak …

“We call for calm and encourage all parties to work together and call for all Egyptians to resolve their differences over these important issues peacefully and through democratic dialogue,” Nuland said.

Thomas Friedman, who had visions of Morsi paving a road to a peace agreement with Israel, is cruelly disappointed by the turn of events. “It is impossible not to be tantalized by how much leverage Morsi could wield in the peace process, if he ever chose to engage Israel.”

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