Belmont Club


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.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic reminds its readers that while Syria and Egypt may be grabbing all the headlines, discriminating analysts know what the next Global Hotspot is. It’s where the world’s major trade lifelines flow, an area which is now, on paper at least, being claimed by China.

Where the Heavy Hitters Meet

If you’re worn out worrying about Syria, Gaza, Iran, you name it, I give you: the announcement today by police on China’s large southern island of Hainan that, starting on January 1, they will assert a right to stop and board any vessel they consider to have violated China’s very expansive claim of territorial waters in the South China Sea.

Take a look at this rendering of the area over which China asserts territorial sovereignty. More details below, but the red line encloses what China considers its own sovereign area; the blue shows Vietnam’s claims; the purple shows those of the Philippines; the yellow is Malaysia’s; and the green is from Brunei …

Now let’s add the detail that the faint white lines on the map show major shipping routes — whose importance is even greater than the map suggests. Obviously lots of commerce in and out of China goes through Hong Kong and neighboring ports. But shipping lanes that have nothing directly to do with mainland China, including the export paths from Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan to Europe, pass through these waters toward the Indian Ocean. Half the world’s oil-cargo traffic comes back the opposite way, from the Middle East, through this same route.

Surely nothing could go wrong. But thanks, Atlantic, for that piece of soothing news. It’s a welcome change from the Middle East. A timely reminder that there’s no point worrying about the Middle East when there’s no point worrying. And to complete the tonic, let’s listen to a nice brass band play some calming strains.

In 1937 the BBC covered the Royal Navy’s review at Spithead. The announcer, Thomas Woodrooffe, accidentally manifested the careless, brain-dead attitude which paved the way for the tragedy to come:

At the present moment, the whole fleet is lit up. When I say “lit up”, I mean lit up by fairy lamps.

We’ve forgotten the whole Royal Review … we’ve forgotten the Royal Review … the whole thing is lit up by fairy lamps. It’s fantastic, it isn’t the fleet at all. It’s just … it’s fairyland, the whole fleet is in fairyland.

Now, if you’ll follow me through … if you don’t mind … the next few moments … you’ll find the fleet doing odd things (indistinct, but that’s my best guess). At the present moment, the New York, obviously, is lit out … and when I say the fleet is lit up … in lamps … I mean, she’s outlined. The whole ship’s outlined. In little lamps.

I’m sorry, I was telling some people to shut up talking.

Umm.. what I mean is this. The whole fleet is lit up. In fairy lamps, and … each ship is outlined.

Now, as far as I can see is about … I suppose I can see down about five or six miles … ships are all lit up.

They’re outlined, the whole lot. Even destroyers are outlined. In the old days, y’know, destroyers used to be outlined by a little kind of pyramid of lights. And nowadays … destroyers are lit up by … they outline themselves.

In a second or two, we’re going to fire rockets, um, we’re going to fire all sorts of things (indistinct). And … you can’t possibly see them, but you’ll hear them going off, and you may hear my reaction when I see them go off. Because … erm … I’m going to try and tell you what they look like as they go off. But at the moment there’s a whole huge fleet here. The thing we saw this afternoon, this colossal fleet, lit up … by lights … and the whole fleet is in fairyland! It isn’t true, it isn’t here!

And as I say it …

It’s gone! It’s gone! There’s no fleet! It’s, eh, it’s disappeared! No magician who ever could have waved his wand could have waved it with more acumen than he has now at the present moment. The fleet’s gone. It’s disappeared.

I’m trying to give you, ladies and gentlemen, (indistinct) the fleet’s gone. It’s disappeared. I was talking to you … in the middle of this damn (cough), in the middle of this fleet … and what’s happened is the fleet’s gone, disappeared and gone. We had a hundred, two hundred warships around us a second ago, and now they’ve gone, at a signal by the Morse code, at a signal by the fleet flagship which I’m in now, they’ve gone, they’ve disappeared.

There’s nothing between us and heaven. There’s nothing at all.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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