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November 30, 2011

Uphold Western Civilization Through Collective Punishment

In response to the Iranian takeover of the British embassy, National Review's Charles Cooke thinks it would be a good idea to emulate Lord Palmerston and kill thousands of innocent Iranians until they capitulate:

Having fumed for a while that Tehran was not close enough to water for a quick naval bombardment, Henry John Temple would have sent a blockade to the Caspian Sea and knocked out coastal towns one by one until an apology was forthcoming and a restoration assured.
Very civilized.

What Just Happened in the Eurozone?

James Pethokoukis has a good rundown on the move by several major central banks to provide liquidity to Europe's cash-starved banks.

Is IMF Assistance to Italy Moral?

Matthew Lynn's doesn't think so:

According to calculations by the London office of the investment bank Daiwa, that amount of money would consume 64% of the IMF’s available resources. But Italy contributes just 3.1% of the IMF’s money. So just to get this clear, a country that chips in 3% of the money in the pot gets to take out 64% at the other end, roughly 20 times what it put in. Does that strike you as fair?

Next, pause to think about some of the countries that are making the contributions.

Many of them are significantly poorer than Italy. According to the World Bank, Italy has a GDP per capita of slightly under $34,000. China contributes 6% of the IMF’s funding, but it has a GDP per capita of $4,393. India and Russia contribute 2.3% each, but they have GDP’s per capita of $1,447 and $10,440 respectively. Indonesia is nobody’s idea of a wealthy country (its GDP per capita is $2,946) but it pays 1% of the IMF funds so it will be subsidizing a country more than 10 times richer.

Europe's Debt Circle


Via the BBC, a look at what countries owe to one another and to lenders beyond the Eurozone.

Global Economy: Bad News Ahead

The above, courtesy of the OECD, provides a forecast for the global economy. To sum it up for the non-economists among us: it's bad.

Pew Poll: A Swing Toward Dems on Foreign Policy?

A Pew poll parses American views on foreign policy and national security. It's being presented as a generation gap - and that's obviously there - but it seems the bigger story is that the general public's policy preferences on foreign policy line up much closer to the Democratic party line than the more hawkish quarters of the GOP. Take a look at the responses:


Perhaps this is why Ron Paul is faring well in a GOP field that's otherwise tripping over itself to sound hawkish.

Whistling Past World War III

I still cannot bring myself to believe that we are heading back to the 1930s. First, the very knowledge of what went wrong 80 years ago may help politicians to avoid the same mistakes this time around. China’s continued emphasis on the need for a "peaceful rise" owes something to a knowledge of the terrible errors of Imperial Japan.

Second, there is a plausible argument that the 66 years of peace between the major powers and developed nations since 1945 reflects the progress of civilisation, rather than a lucky cycle in world history.

Finally, the developed world is starting from a much higher level of affluence than it did in the 1930s. In an economic crash, people might still lose their savings, their jobs and their homes — but they are less likely to be reduced to utter destitution. - Gideon Rachman

I don't know about you, but losing my job, home and savings would be a fairly devastating experience. In fact, I suspect that were this unfortunate outcome to befall even more Americans and Europeans than it has already, it would indeed be very radicalizing, particularly when contrasted with the solicitousness shown large financial institutions. We see the contours of this already in the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements but I think Rachman is being a bit too complacent here about the potential for more volatile social upheaval and political reaction if things do take a turn for the worse.

Does this mean World War III? If I had to bet my (meager) savings, I'd wager no, if only because nuclear weapons have foreclosed that option for many of the world's great powers, but I think the probability of a large scale military catastrophe grows the more people's expectations of a positive future are dashed.

November 29, 2011

Greek Crisis Explained

A video explanation for the Greek debt crisis.

South Korea's New Prison Guards


It's a well known fact of technological progress that machines have been taking a gradually larger share of human work. South Korea is going to push the boundaries of this trend with robot prison guards. This robot, above, will do duty for a month-long trial in the city of Pohang.

As the BBC reports, it's part of a larger, country-wide effort to promote the Korean robotics industry. This particular model looks like it could take a shank or two, but its designers told the BBC it was designed to "look more friendly" to the inmates.

How Stuxnet Crippled Iran's Nuclear Program

Speaking of secret war, here's an interesting video via Thomas Rid on the Stuxnet Virus.

Why the Secret War Stays Secret

Roger Cohen is concerned about President Obama's proclivity for covert war:

So why am I uneasy? Because these legally borderline, undercover options — cyberwar, drone killings, executions and strange explosions at military bases — invite repayment in kind, undermine the American commitment to the rule of law, and make allies uneasy.

Obama could have done more in the realm of explanation. Of course he does not want to say much about secret operations. Still, as the U.S. military prepares to depart from Iraq (leaving a handful of embassy guards), and the war in Afghanistan enters its last act, he owes the American people, U.S. allies and the world a speech that sets out why America will not again embark on this kind of inconclusive war and has instead adopted a new doctrine that has replaced fighting terror with killing terrorists. (He might also explain why Guantánamo is still open.)

But it's clear why Obama does not do this. Consider Cohen's obvious assertion - that covert war invites repayment in kind. Washington has, to a remarkable degree, ring-fenced this idea from polite discussion. (Exhibit A - this Bob Schieffer interview with Ron Paul.) Common sense dictates that a sustained bombing campaign in places like Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia - or a sustained campaign of assassination and sabotage in places like Iran - will provoke a response. Even if the policy is justified on the grounds of an imminent threat (and in some discrete cases I think it is), it's obvious that people not associated with al-Qaeda or Iran's nuclear program will resent, perhaps violently, having their country bombed or assaulted from afar.

Staying silent about these activities not only preserves operational secrecy but inhibits a real debate about the costs and benefits of covert war so that the next time a terrorist does manage to do something awful his (or her) justifications can be reduced to banalities like a "hatred of freedom." Consider the curious assertion from the administration's counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan that absolutely no civilians have been killed by American drone strikes since Obama took office. It is a dubious claim, to put it mildly, but sustaining this illusion is critical to shielding Washington from any culpability for its action.

Starving the Beast, Defense Budget Edition

In making the case for sustaining a huge defense budget and large ground forces, Nathan Freier argues that the unknowns of the future make it imperative that the U.S. retains the capacity to intervene:

What options should the United States retain to respond to contagious violence in the Middle East? What might the United States have to do in case of civil war in Mexico or Cuba, regime collapse in nuclear-armed North Korea or Pakistan or the violent disintegration of Russia? Further, what role, if any, might U.S. forces play in containing unfavorable turns in the Arab Spring -- an Egyptian civil war, resurgent violence in Iraq, or an Iranian proxy war against the Gulf Arab states? Finally, what if the Arab Spring itself is only the vanguard of a more generalized global trend where other important governments prove more vulnerable than many expect to sudden social and political unrest.

OK, what if this happens? Does Freier think the U.S. military is going to start patrolling the streets of Moscow or Berlin if "sudden social or political unrest" occurs?

I think a useful way to think about this is to ask the question from the vantage point of a Chinese, Russian, British, Indian or Scandinavian strategist. Are they worried about these things? Are they building armies capable of inserting themselves into Cuba or Mexico and the like? Probably not. What every other country on Earth is doing is looking at core interests - usually border states and immediate regions - and budgeting accordingly. It's obviously sensible for Washington to plan for contingencies both near and far, but the basic problem for U.S. strategy, as Freier helpfully elucidates, is that it has wrapped its arms around everything.

This is obviously a great business model for those who profit from large defense budgets, but it doesn't make for a sustainable framework for the U.S. in a time when it's drowning in a sea of red ink.

The other issue is having this excess military capacity on hand promotes irresponsibility. What we saw in the previous decade was not simply the use of the U.S. military in an unexpected contingency on 9/11(one which, incidentally, it was unprepared for despite its mammoth budget and for which the CIA took the initial lead in responding to) but the use of the military for an unnecessary war in Iraq. In other words, having a huge military on hand didn't provide the U.S. with a useful hedge against future uncertainty - it gave a free hand to irresponsible bureaucrats to go abroad in search of demons to slay.

In an ideal world, the U.S. would retain decisive military superiority but rarely deploy it. "Starving the beast" is a very irresponsible, indeed dangerous, way to impose a less interventionist policy on Washington, but it's increasingly looking like the only way to provoke a serious discussion about priorities.

November 28, 2011

Sorry Interpretative Dance Majors

China's not interested:

Much like the U.S., China is aiming to address a problematic demographic that has recently emerged: a generation of jobless graduates. China’s solution to that problem, however, has some in the country scratching their heads.

China’s Ministry of Education announced this week plans to phase out majors producing unemployable graduates, according to state-run media Xinhua. The government will soon start evaluating college majors by their employment rates, downsizing or cutting those studies in which the employment rate for graduates falls below 60% for two consecutive years.

The move is meant to solve a problem that has surfaced as the number of China’s university educated have jumped to 8,930 people per every 100,000 in the year 2010, up nearly 150% from 2000, according to China’s 2010 Census. The surge of collge grads, while an accomplishment for the country, has contributed to an overflow of workers whose skill-sets don’t match with the needs of the export-led, manufacturing-based economy.

How China Curbed Drunk Driving


According to Jon Russell, a video campaign from the authorities coupled with stricter policing have cut drunk driving accidents in China by a third. Above, an image from the campaign that reads: "Driving after drinking is deadly."

Egypt, Israel and U.S. Interests

Ever since tens of thousands of protesters converged on Tahrir Square in Cairo for the first Day of Revolution exactly 10 months ago, the Obama administration has struggled to strike the right balance between democracy and stability. In the early morning hours on Friday, President Obama came out on the side of the Arab street, issuing a call for the Egyptian military to quickly hand over power to a civilian, democratically elected government.

In so doing, the president opened up a litany of risks, exposing a fault line between the United States and the Egyptian military which, perhaps more than any other entity in the region, has for 30 years served as the bulwark protecting a critical American concern in the Middle East: the 1979 Camp David peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. - Helene Cooper

Ultimately, it's hard to see what choice the administration had. At the end of the day, it's not like the U.S. could hold back a democratic tide in Egypt if it wanted to, and why should Washington align itself with a military junta when it doesn't have to? To the extent any new civilian (or Islamist) regime in Egypt wants to abrogate its peace treaty with Israel, it will pay a lot higher price than the $1.5 billion in U.S. aid.

November 23, 2011

Huntsman & Egypt

Yesterday I wondered how the GOP candidates would handle a question about Egypt in last night's debate. Andrew Sullivan didn't think they'd be up to addressing it substantively:

Does Greg think that any of them save Huntsman has a clue? The whole notion of making prudential judgments like this in changing circumstances and unknowable futures is alien to the current crop. If they cannot fit it into an ideological structure, they are at a loss.
Unfortunately, we didn't find out as Wolf "Blitz" Blitzer declined to ask them and no one in the audience had the opportunity to bring it up.

But Huntsman did give us some inkling of where he stood, proclaiming emphatically that America's "interest in the Middle East was Israel." Not Israel's security or military edge, just Israel itself. On its own, it's a somewhat curious statement - like a politician declaring America's "interest in Europe is France."

Taken seriously, I would interpret it to mean that Huntsman would take a somewhat dim view toward democracy in Egypt, since Egyptian sentiment writ large is far less accommodating to Israel than the military dictatorship currently in place.

Spanish Voters Punish Incumbent Zapatero

By Alex Berezow

Voters in Spain soundly rejected the center-left Socialist Party led by Prime Minister Jose Zapatero in elections held Sunday. While some Americans may interpret this as Europe’s rejection of leftist policies, the reality is much more complicated.

Europeans are angry and frustrated with the economic and political situation the region faces. In particular, voters feel disenfranchised—mostly because they are. The Parliament of the European Union is the only directly elected body, yet it must share power with several other powerful institutions, none of which are directly elected. Because of this, Europeans feel that they do not have a voice in European policy, as indicated by a recent Eurobarometer poll. More than 60 percent of Europeans believe their voice simply does not matter in Brussels.

Such a belief, combined with the ongoing euro crisis, has led to a deep anti-incumbency movement. Incumbents across Europe, regardless of political affiliation, face defeat. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union has suffered recent electoral defeats. Center-right French President Nicolas Sarkozy would likely lose to Socialist challenger Francois Hollande if the election was held today. And just days ago, Italy’s center-right Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was ousted from power.

The message is clear: Incumbency is a risk factor for electoral defeat. Americans, take note.

Dr. Alex B. Berezow is the editor of RealClearScience.

November 22, 2011

GOP National Security Debate Live Blog

RealClearWorld will be cosponsoring a live blog with the American Enterprise Institute during this evening's Republican national security debate.

Be sure to join us tonight as foreign policy experts analyze the debate and answer your questions.

Scheduled participants include:

Carl Cannon, Washington Editor, RealClearPolitics
Daniel Larison, Contributing Editor, The American Conservative
Greg Scoblete, Editor, RealClearWorld
Jeremy Lott, Editor, RealClearBooks
James Joyner, Managing Editor, Atlantic Council
Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of Research, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Justin Logan, Director of Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute
Richard Cleary, Research Assistant, American Enterprise Institute
Sally McNamara, Senior Policy Analyst for European Affairs, Heritage Foundation

State Capitalism: Good for Jobs?

Charlie Szrom thinks the Obama administration's foreign policy has failed to create jobs because, in part, the administration has not engaged in the same kind of state-capitalism that marks the economies of China and Russia:

The second policy set consists of those government actions that directly influence the sales, bids, and operations of American companies. In regions such as Central Asia, Africa, and Latin America, American companies often face steeper odds in winning new business than firms from countries whose governments provide more support.[Emphasis mine]

I'm confused. I thought conservatives believed that private enterprise would flourish if the government just got out of the way.

How Would the GOP Handle Egypt?


The escalating protests in Egypt have underscored the extent to which the removal of Hosni Mubarak - historic though it was - was a far cry from instituting a truly democratic government under civilian control. Egypt's military rulers appear to be back-peddling but it's unclear just how far they're willing to go to meet protester demands for full civilian control of the government.

All of this puts Washington in something of a bind. On the one hand, there remains a fear of what a truly democratic Egypt will produce (i.e. the empowerment of the Muslim Brotherhood). On the other, there are concerns that backing the military's attempt to crush democratic reforms will only fuel a dangerous long-term resentment among Egyptians.

The Obama administration hasn't really broken clearly in either direction, but it seems like there are three broad choices: 1. continue to send American tax dollars to Egypt's military, even (or perhaps, especially) if they maintain their grip over Egypt's political and economic institutions - the better to keep the Muslim Brotherhood out; 2. refuse to send American tax dollars to Egypt's military rulers until they release their grip on those institutions; 3. refuse to send American tax dollars to Egypt irrespective of what they do.

Tonight the GOP nominees are holding a debate on U.S. foreign policy and it will be interesting to see what position, if any, they'd endorse. I think you'd get a hardy endorsement of number three from Ron Paul but it's not clear to me how the others would break on the question. (And a shameless in-house plug, we'll be hosting a live blog tonight for the GOP debate with a number of foreign policy analysts and journalists. You can tune in here at 8pm EST.)

(AP Photo)

November 21, 2011

Contradictions in U.S. Policy Toward China

The Obama administration made a very large show of confronting China this past week. But as Clyde Prestowitz argues, even as Washington pushes forward toward "containment" on the security side, they're completely undermining their strategy on the economic front:

Now the military agreements and statements in Australia and Manila are part of a much ballyhooed campaign by the Obama administration to demonstrate that it is pivoting in its foreign policy away from Iraq and Afghanistan and toward Asia where it is loudly telling everyone that it is "back."...

But if that is the case, why is the United States pursuing trade and globalization policies that tend to undermine its own economic competitiveness while feeding the Chinese dragon? If he thinks the threat of China is sufficient to justify increasing U.S. military deployments in the Pacific, why does the president (who also presumably is interested in creating new American jobs) not call his friend Jeff Immelt out on moving avionics production to China?

The president said in Honolulu that China is purposely undervaluing its currency in ways that are incompatible with free trade. He knows that China is manipulating its currency in violation of its IMF and WTO commitments. Why doesn't he direct his officials to file formal complaints and seek redress?

Or for that matter, why is he "back" in Asia with more military deployments? These deployments serve primarily to dampen conflicts between the various Asian countries, to calm region wide fears, and to make Asia safe for investment by global companies engaging in labor arbitrage by off-shoring their production to the Pacific. In effect, the U.S. military makes Asia safe for off-shoring and out-sourcing of production and jobs. One of America's great competitive advantages is that it operates under a rule of law with strong property protection and is a safe place to invest. Why do U.S. policy makers want actively to negate that advantage?

I was tempted, after reading this, to conclude that the Obama administration is merely doing what powerful stakeholders want. There are large constituencies eager to see a Cold War-style arms race heat up in the Pacific - the better for the defense budget. There are also plenty of well-heeled corporate interests who are seeking labor arbitrage. Opposition to both measures is very scatter-shot and not as effective.

So while the administration's strategy might appear incoherent intellectually, it makes perfect sense politically. Just follow the money.

Alternatively, and more charitably, you can look at the administration's strategy as a bit of a carrot/stick approach. The thrust of Washington's efforts toward China for at least the last two decades has been to convince the Chinese that it is in their economic interests to work with the institutional structures designed by Western powers after the second World War. Deepening economic ties is a way of incentivizing China to play by those rules (even though, as Prestowitz documents, they regularly flout them), while upping the military ante serves as a reminder that the U.S. is still willing to project power to protect its interests.

I'm open to more (or less) sympathetic interpretations of what the administration is getting at here, but both interpretations above strike me as eminently plausible.

Ruling Libya

One of the leaders of Libya's emerging government has an interesting resume:

It was one of the most overtly political declarations by Mr. Belhaj, who is competing with militia leaders from the towns of Zintan and Misurata to become the formal head of the new army. Having fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union and been detained for a time at the American base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, he would seem a strange partner for Mr. Keeb, an American-educated electrical engineer who is considered moderate in his religious beliefs. Mr. Belhaj is known for his Islamist ideals and ties to the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, which has independently armed some military units, to the consternation of more secular leaders.

The good news, if we can call it that, is that the various armed militias contesting for power may violently block Belhaj's bid, throwing the country back into a state of anarchic civil war.

As Iraq Went, So Goes Syria

The administration cannot imagine a post-Assad Syria because its vision is obscured by a post-Saddam Iraq. The Obama White House wants to avoid the sectarian bloodshed that split Baghdad. More than anything else, it wants to steer clear of anything that smacks of George W. Bush. Accordingly, the administration has petitioned the opposition to stay peaceful and include minorities in the Sunni-majority movement. A White House wary of Bush-style nation building has taken on the role of opposition building. - Lee Smith
A harrowing sectarian war has spread across the Syrian city of Homs this month, with supporters and opponents of the government blamed for beheadings, rival gangs carrying out tit-for-tat kidnappings, minorities fleeing for their native villages, and taxi drivers too fearful of drive-by shootings to ply the streets. - Anthony Shadid

I would say the Obama administration has this right.

November 20, 2011

Azerbaijan Buys Chinese Planes, Russia Disses Own Tanks

Azerbaijan recently announced that it is purchasing Chinese-made JF-17 Thunder fighter jets. This is a bold move by China into what was, up until recently, a Russian-dominated military sales market, and the geopolitical space that Moscow considers its own and which Washington considers as vital to its interests both in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Given how sales of military equipment can solidify alliances between nations - such as between the U.S. and Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Israel and many other states - this purchase has the potential to alter security dynamics in the Caucasus and beyond. On its own, Azerbaijan demonstrated that it can reject a wide variety of military aircraft - such as American F-16 and F/A18, EU's Eurofighter, French Rafael, Swedish Gripen, Russian Mig-29 and Su-27 - in favor of a plane that is untried and untested in military combat.

This purchase binds Baku to Beijing's military industry, since supply parts, service, maintenance and training would have to be done by China, at least initially. At this point, only Pakistan operates JF-17, which is close to combat performance than Russian-made Mig-29 or American F/A-18 fighter planes. However, Azerbaijan may have simply been buying smart - the cost of a each Chinese fighter jets is only $20 million.

Further to the north, there is official evidence as to why Russian military equipment is continuing to lose out to international competition. General Nikolai Makarov, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, recently stated that certain examples of Russian military equipment are lagging behind their Western analogues. In particular, General Makarov cited T-90 main battle tank's much weaker performance compared to the Israeli-made Merkava MBT, while Russian rocket-launching system "Smerch" can fire only half as far as the American-made HIMARS system. The General lamented the fact that modern Russian equipment is not fully capable of defending the operating crews from enemy fire. Makarov also stated that Western space-based intel satellites can stay in orbit for up to 15 years, while Russian system can operate for no more than 5 years.

This is not the first time that Russian military leadership delivered a sharp critique of their country's military products. In March of this year, General Aleksander Postnikov, commander of Russian Land Forces, said that modern Russian military equipment lags far behind NATO and even China. He noted that the Russian T-90 battle tank is actually the 17th modification of a much older T-72 tank, developed in the 1970s, and costs 118 million rubles each. "At this point," said Postnikov, "it would be easier for us to purchase three German-made Leopard tanks."

Add this to current plans by Russia to purchase Israeli-made UAVs, French-made landing ships, Italian IVECO armored vehicles and even German Rhine Metal armor, and the picture for the Russian indigenous military industry begins to look more and more clouded.

November 18, 2011

Hypersonic Weapons

According to Noah Shachtman, the U.S. military "is a small step closer to its dream of hitting a target anywhere on Earth in less than an hour."

At a certain point, we're just going to have to build a Death Star.

Poll: American Exceptionalism in Decline

This finding (pdf) from a large new Pew Research poll will no-doubt raise some eyebrows. In short, the idea of American exceptionalism is slowly falling out of favor:

However, the current polling shows the American public is coming closer to Europeans in not seeing their culture as superior to that of other nations. Today, only about half of Americans believe their culture is superior to others, compared with six-in-ten in 2002. And the polling finds younger Americans less apt than their elders to hold American exceptionalist attitudes.

Relatedly, Pew found that the further you go up the education scale, the less likely it is that you'd buy into exceptionalism:

In the four Western European countries and in the U.S., those who did not graduate from college are more likely than those who did to agree that their culture is superior, even if their people are not perfect. For example, Germans with less education are twice as likely as those with a college degree to believe their culture is superior (50% vs. 25%); double-digit differences are also present in France (20 percentage points), Spain (18 points) and Britain (11 points), while a less pronounced gap is evident in the U.S. (9 points).

Pakistan Leadership Woes

More good news out of Pakistan:

A growing storm over a confidential memo is laying bare the profound division between Pakistan’s powerful army and its civilian government, and the nation’s relationship with the United States is again at the center of the gulf.

At issue are allegations that the government of President Asif Ali Zardari asked for U.S. help to prevent a military coup after the Navy SEAL raid in May that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. The claim is thought to have enraged Pakistan’s army, and the resulting controversy prompted Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, to offer his resignation this week.

The Cable's Josh Rogin has been all over this story.

The Case for Intervening in Syria

Matthew Brodsky makes it:

The goal of U.S. policy, therefore, should be an end to the violence, the fall of the Assad regime and the creation of conditions for a stable democratic system that protects the rights of the Christian, Kurdish and Alawite minorities. American strategy should aim to weaken those that support the regime within and outside of Syria while encouraging the opposition to demonstrate its goal of a nonsectarian and democratic country.

All nice things, to be sure, but how does the U.S. create those conditions? Brodsky doesn't say, but any U.S. strategy toward regime change in Syria should be able to spell out in concrete terms what levers the U.S. can pull to ensure that Washington ends up with something better on the other end of the effort.

November 17, 2011

Haqqanis on Tape

According to the Long War Journal, the Haqqani Network has taken a page out of the al-Qaeda playbook and released a video of its fighters doing the jungle-gym routine.

The Journal quotes a source saying that the camp is located in Pakistan.

As America Went, So Goes Europe

The above video, courtesy of James Delingpole, isn't all that surprising (the Goldman Sachs stuff, not the "Free Masonry" nonsense).

In fact, what's occurring in Europe is eerily identical to what occured in the United States during its own financial crisis in 2008. Those directly responsible and complicit in the corruption and incompetence preceding the fall were not only spared punishment, they were rewarded by taking plum positions in government where they proceeded to transfer additional taxpayer wealth to make the banks (their former and future employers) whole. It's particularly odd that the man who cooked Greece's books to get the country admitted into the Euro is now the man charged with repairing Greece's balance sheet.

The added twist is that in Europe, unlike the U.S., a much harsher dose of austerity is being administered to the population. The likely result is that desperately needed economic growth will be all but impossible, causing even higher unemployment, much higher debt and intense political tumult.

None of this, I should add, hinges on any kind of grand conspiracy. It's all rather run-of-the-mill corruption and influence peddling.

Would Iran Play Coy With Its Nuclear Program?

Jeffrey Lewis passes on some thoughts on Iran's nuclear program that are worth considering:

Why, exactly, is there an insistence that Iran is racing up to some sharply defined point where its adversaries, Israel included, must either strike preventively or accept an uneasy relationship of mutual (nuclear) deterrence? If Iran is racing, so were Achilles and the Tortoise. It’s more like tiptoeing.

Shavit is now the umpty-teenth commentator, Israeli or otherwise, who apparently cannot imagine that nuclear opacity or ambiguity could apply to states other than Israel. Of course, at different times, it has applied to a number of other states: India, Pakistan, Iraq, South Africa, North Korea. Perhaps others as well. So why not Iran?

I wonder if remaining somewhat vague about the nuclear program is helping Iran. They're being harshly sanctioned and are running a serious risk of being attacked by Israel and, possibly, the United States.

November 16, 2011


This pretty much speaks for itself. [Hat tip: the Cable]

Obama's Pivot to Asia


On the whole, I think the Obama administration's plan to rotate U.S. Marines in and out of a base in Australia is sensible. The U.S. should be slowly but surely removing military assets from Europe and especially from the Middle East and diverting some of those assets into Asia (as well as pruning back the defense budget overall). Not everyone sees it that way, of course. Here's the Washington Post:

Yet it was telling that the first question Mr. Obama fielded after summing up the 21-nation summit he hosted was not about the trade deal or the summit or even China. It was about Iran’s nuclear program, which is threatening to trigger yet another war in the Middle East. The message to the president was unintentional but fitting: “Pivoting” to Asia won’t make the threats to U.S. security in the Near East — or the urgency of addressing them — go away.

I don't know anyone who thinks that a U.S. pivot to Asia would suddenly make the Iranian nuclear program "go away." The point is not that such a pivot would solve the problems of the Middle East, the point of the pivot is that the Middle East's problems aren't America's to solve.

Justin Logan does raise a more substantive, longer-term issue: the potential for Asia to take a free-ride on U.S. defense assistance in much the same way Europe does.

The U.S. is seeking to replicate, on a somewhat smaller scale, the strategic dependencies it fostered in Europe. This has led to a deep and damaging imbalance, whereby the U.S. foots an enormous defense bill while Europe uses the savings to invest elsewhere. It makes absolutely no sense today - in an era where Asia is projected to enjoy strong economic growth and America isn't - to underwrite the defense of any Asian state, much less a constellation of them.

But there's a conundrum - the more the U.S. moves military assets into Asia, the more "credible" its commitment to regional balancing. Yet the more credible America's commitment, the greater the potential for free-riding. I suspect the Obama administration is far more concerned about establishing U.S. credibility than it is concerned about the potential for free-riding, but it needs to balance both. The U.S. doesn't have the resources - and China is far from a Soviet-style threat - to simply reprise the Cold War playbook.

(AP Photo)

November 15, 2011

Austerity vs. Recovery

More bad news from Europe:

The eurozone is closer to falling into recession after the region’s escalating debt crisis triggered a sharp drop in industrial output in September.

Eurozone factory production decreased by a much larger than expected 2 per cent compared with August – the biggest monthly fall since September 2009, according to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical office. Italy and Portugal saw particularly steep monthly declines.

Squeezing demand still further by imposing strict austerity measures now seems guaranteed to reinforce this negative cycle, rather than break it...

Why "Osirak" Won't Work on Iran

Via Larison, Paul Pillar provides details here and here why an "Osirak-style" military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities is based on an erroneous understanding of what actually happened. After Israel attack, Pillar notes, Iraq really got serious:

The Iraqis instead responded by redoubling their nuclear efforts using an alternative route to the production of fissile material; a decade later they were far closer to having a nuclear weapon than they were in 1981.

Pillar also pointed to recent research that took advantage of documents discovered after the U.S. invasion of Iraq:

One of the articles, by the Norwegian scholar Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer, revisits the Israeli attack against the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, making use of materials unavailable before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Braut-Hegghammer's conclusion is that the Israeli attack was counterproductive, for two sets of reasons. One concerned the state of the Iraqi nuclear program at the time of the attack, which was basically drifting and, although providing some of the technological base that possibly could have been used in the future toward acquiring nuclear weapons, was not geared up to produce such weapons. The political momentum to develop a weapons option was “inconsistent at best.” The Osirak reactor itself was not well designed for purposes of supporting a weapons program. The International Atomic Energy Agency later assessed that visual verification and materials accounting would have detected any diversion to a weapons program. On-site French engineers constituted an additional safeguard. Saddam Hussein had not “secured the basic organizational resources or budget.” Iraqi pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability was “both directionless and disorganized.”

The other set of reasons involved the Iraqi response to the Israeli attack, which was to establish for the first time a nuclear weapons program that not only had direction and organization but also was clandestine and kept away from international scrutiny.

In other words, a military attack galvanized Hussein to proceed with an actual, ambitious nuclear weapons program where before the steps were tentative and ineffectual. Of course, that doesn't mean that the Iranians won't react to a military strike by folding up the nuclear shop and calling it a day, but the evidence doesn't look good.

Turkey Takes on Syria

Turkey on Tuesday canceled plans for oil exploration in Syria, while also threatening to cut electricity supplies after a spate of attacks by supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad on its diplomatic missions,

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz announced that Turkey had shelved plans for Turkey's petroleum company, TPAO, to jointly explore oil with Syria's state oil company in six wells within Syria. Yildiz also threatened that Turkey could review supplies of electricity to the troubled country if tensions continue. - AP

There's been a lot of talk of late about how Turkey is becoming a defacto enemy of the United States, but the events unfolding in Syria are a good reminder of why Turkey is a useful partner. It's far better to have Turkey dealing with Syria than the U.S.

November 14, 2011

If You Were Khamenei's Adviser...

So Mitt Romney did indeed clarify what he would do against Iran's nuclear program if measures short-of-war failed, saying "of course" he'd take military action against Iran.

So you're an adviser to the supreme leader and you hear American politicians promising to bomb your country. Does this make you: 1. recommend an acceleration of the nuclear program in the hopes of deterring such an attack; 2. recommend shuttering the program in the hopes of avoiding one?

Test Your News IQ

Compass readers should breeze through this quiz from Pew Research. The real fun comes at the end, when you compare yourself to your peers.

Can Europe Muddle Through?

Muddling through, kicking the can down the road - whatever cliche you like for the Eurozone's leadership style during this financial crisis, the denouement appears upon us. This discussion from the Economist does a nice job of exploring the future of Europe.

If Israel Bombed Iran...

Jackson Diehl makes the case that an Iranian nuclear weapon poses a different kind of threat to Israel than it does to the United States, then suggests that an Israeli strike is being constrained by concern about America's reaction:

The most interesting calculations of all concern U.S-Israeli relations. The rupture of the U.S.-Israeli alliance arguably would be as large a blow to Israel’s security as Iran completing a bomb — and a unilateral attack might just risk that. The Pentagon might suspend what is now close cooperation; in Congress and in public opinion, Israel might be blamed for any U.S. casualties in Iranian counterattacks. I’ve always supposed that there will be no Israeli attack without a green light from Washington.

Israel, however, has a history of ignoring U.S. opinion at moments like this.

I doubt very much that any of the above would play out like this. Imagine a scenario wherein Israel bombs a number of Iranian nuclear sites and Iran retaliates by blowing up an American civilian airliner. Would the response in the United States be to blame Israel or blame Iran?

I suspect that, to the extent an Israeli attack on Iran does anger Washington, such anger would be localized in the executive branch and wouldn't have any real ripple effects beyond that, even if Iran did respond to such an attack with strikes of its own against American targets.

November 11, 2011

How Far Will Romney Go Against Iran?

Si vis pacem, para bellum. That is a Latin phrase, but the ayatollahs will have no trouble understanding its meaning from a Romney administration: If you want peace, prepare for war.

I want peace. And if I am president, I will begin by imposing a new round of far tougher economic sanctions on Iran. I will do this together with the world if we can, unilaterally if we must. I will speak out forcefully on behalf of Iranian dissidents. I will back up American diplomacy with a very real and very credible military option. I will restore the regular presence of aircraft carrier groups in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously. I will increase military assistance to Israel and coordination with all of our allies in the region. These actions will send an unequivocal signal to Iran that the United States, acting in concert with allies, will never permit Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.

Only when the ayatollahs no longer have doubts about America's resolve will they abandon their nuclear ambitions. - Mitt Romney

There is some evidence to support the argument that Iran will only change course if it feels legitimately threatened, but consider the evidence: in 2003, shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Iran sent feelers out to the Bush administration to begin talks. In other words, just to get the negotiations rolling, the U.S. had to invade another country. That's a pretty high bar!

This suggests that none of Romney's proposed measures could really do the trick, which begs a critical question: what is he willing to do next? Multiple U.S. administrations have declared that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable, and yet none have been willing to use force against Iran to stop it. Surely Iran's leadership is slowly being conditioned to think that such threats are hollow - whether coming from a Republican or Democrat.

To make Romney's "si vis pacem, para bellum" strategy work, you have to actually be willing to go to war - otherwise, you run the risk of having your bluff called. Is Romney willing to do this? Someone ought to ask him.

Leadership in the Afghan Sky

Sgt Maj. Steven Lunsford mans the .50-caliber machine gun on a CH-53E Super Stallion during a recent mission in the Afghan sky. Lunsford is the sergeant major of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464.
-- Photo by Cpl. Brian Adam Jones

By Brian Adam Jones

Boarding a CH-53E Super Stallion at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, recently, I thought a member of the helicopter’s crew looked familiar.

For a recent project I was working in the Helmand River valley, I flew on a Super Stallion from Camp Bastion, a major aviation port in Afghanistan, to a small landing zone attached to a patrol base.

As one of the first passengers on the aircraft at Camp Bastion, I attentively watched a Marine in a flight suit as he attended to cargo being loaded onto the massive aircraft.

Crew chiefs or aerial observers aid with the operations of the helicopter, manning .50-caliber machine guns and managing passengers and cargo. This post is frequently stood by young, junior Marines and noncommissioned officers, but from what I could see of him from under the visor on his helmet, this Marine was older, and I knew him from somewhere.

He was Sgt. Maj. Steven Lunsford, the sergeant major of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464, and I’d worked with him a few times before. A squadron’s sergeant major serves as its senior enlisted Marine and advises the commanding officer. Sergeant major is the top enlisted rank in the Marine Corps.

As a combat journalist with 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) I had gone out to the squadron a few times to write stories on the Marines or facilitate interviews with their hometown newspapers. I had always had a great impression of the lanky sergeant major with a screaming flat top and a Kentucky drawl.

On one occasion, I saw him address the noncommissioned officers in his squadron, jumping onto a cargo box and reassuring them, “Don’t worry, if I fall, my catlike reflexes will kick in.”

As I sat in the aircraft’s canvas seat, watching him ratchet cargo down and man the machine gun, I thought of what a fantastic demonstration of leadership this must be for his Marines. According to his biography, he never served with an aviation unit before checking in with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464 in 2010, 21 years into his Marine Corps career.

Flying on missions with his Marines sends the right message to them, and also gives him firsthand understanding of what they go through.

A Marine once told me that the best relationships you build in this gun club are with the Marines you sweat alongside, the ones you did pushups in the sand with in boot camp. It is in that spirit that I encountered Sgt. Maj. Steven Lunsford in the Afghan sky that day.

As always, I appreciate feedback. I hope you all stay posted as I chronicle my experiences as an enlisted Marine in Afghanistan over the next several weeks.

Super Stallion with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464 departs from a landing zone in Helmand province, Afghanistan, with Sgt Maj. Steven Lunsford as a part of the crew.
-- Photos by Cpl. Brian Adam Jones

Cpl. Jones' first entry - My Path to Afghanistan
Cpl. Jones' second entry - A Glimpse at the Future of Afghanistan

To contact me with feedback or questions, email me at brian.adam.jones@gmail.com. To learn more about the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), visit the Facebook page.


The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the author are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the Department of Defense or United States Marine Corps.

November 10, 2011

How China Handles Corruption

I bet Bernie Madoff's happy he doesn't live in China:

Chinese official dubbed the "land granny" was executed after amassing 145 million yuan ($23 million) in bribes and illicit wealth, media reported on Thursday, offering a glimpse into the country's underground economy in land deals.

Luo Yaping was head of a land sub-bureau in a district of Fushun, a city in northeast China -- not an especially high position -- and yet she was able to use her power over land development and compensation to accumulate a fortune in bribes and embezzled compensation, the China News Service reported.

Luo, 50, was executed on Wednesday, the report said.

The Truth About Afghanistan

Army Major General Peter Fuller was relieved of his command for telling the truth Politico that Hamid Karzai was an ungrateful ally. Joshua Foust makes the case that it was the right call and that to the extent that Karzai is a problem, he's one of America's own making:

Complaining about Karzai's zealous regard of Afghan interests over American interests is something of a tradition in both the military and the pro-military commentary class. And in almost all cases, those complaints miss the point entirely. Karzai's failures have little to do with who Karzai is as a person, but are rather tied up in the fundamentally unworkable institution of the Afghan President -- an institution we, the United States (including the United States Military) created for him. His failure is our failure, and complaining about his failure should also imply complaining about our own failure.

Tom Ricks pitches in with a list of 19 true things that insiders and veterans of Afghanistan agree on but that a General shouldn't say. The list should be read in full but a few, in particular, stand out:

Even non-Taliban Afghans don't much like us.

Afghans didn't get the memo about all our successes, so they are positioning themselves for the post-American civil war.

And they're not the only ones getting ready. The future of Afghanistan is probably evolving up north now as the Indians, Russians and Pakistanis jockey with old Northern Alliance types. Interestingly, we're paying more and getting less than any other player.

Speaking of positioning for the post-American civil war, why would the Pakistanis sell out their best proxy shock troops now?

This last point in particular is something I have yet to understand. It seems that every month, Secretary Clinton pops into Pakistan to deliver a "tough" message about how this time, Pakistan better get its act together or else. But the incentives for Pakistan to do this are very weak next to the stakes involved (although there have been hopeful signs of Pakistani rapprochement with India of late). As with Iraq and Iranian influence, the interests at play are geographical ones that no amount of American "will" or rhetoric can surmount.

Obama & Iran

Larison offers some good dissents to my "Five Reasons" piece on Obama's unwillingness to bomb Iran. He specifically takes issue with the idea that America's terrible balance sheet would dissuade the administration:

While an Iranian war would be fairly expensive, and could become even more so if it escalated, there are far fewer fiscal hawks than there are foreign policy hawks. The latter would point to the war with Iran and say, “We can’t possibly reduce military spending in the middle of a major war,” and they would probably insist that the military spending needed to be increased instead. The administration has hardly been eager to make real cuts in military spending as it is, and they will be even less interested in that if they started a new war. Fiscal constraints are not as binding on U.S. action as opponents of an attack would like to think.

November 8, 2011

YouTube - a Global Hub

Via Daily Dot:

YouTube, the six-year-old video-sharing site based in California, has an undeniably large International footprint. But just how much traffic visiting the site comes from outside the United States?

“70 percent of [all] traffic comes from outside the U.S.,” a YouTube spokesman told the Daily Dot via e-mail.

And 60 percent of users access the site in a language other than English, a YouTube spokesperson told Gigaom last week.

The Sarko-Obama Flap


French President Nicolas Sarkozy branded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "a liar" in a private conversation with President Barack Obama that was accidentally broadcast to journalists during last week's G20 summit in Cannes.

"I cannot bear Netanyahu, he's a liar," Sarkozy told Obama, unaware that the microphones in their meeting room had been switched on, enabling reporters in a separate location to listen in to a simultaneous translation.

"You're fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you," Obama replied, according to the French interpreter.

The technical gaffe is likely to cause great embarrassment to all three leaders as they look to work together to intensify international pressure on Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

Suffice it to say this is likely going to be seized on by the administration's critics as proof of Obama's insufficient fidelity to the state of Israel, but it shouldn't be: Netanyahu is not the state of Israel. He's a politician. No one is under any obligation to like him. I suspect Netanyahu would have a less-than-flattering appraisal of President Obama were the mic on the other lapel.

November 7, 2011

Bombs Away

If you haven't yet read the Wall Street Journal's piece on the U.S. drone program, it's definitely worth your time. In it, we learn about the two-fold nature of drone targeting:

The March 17 attack was a "signature" strike, one of two types used by the CIA, and the most controversial within the administration. Signature strikes target groups of men believed to be militants associated with terrorist groups, but whose identities aren't always known. The bulk of CIA's drone strikes are signature strikes.

The second type of drone strike, known as a "personality" strike, targets known terrorist leaders and has faced less internal scrutiny.

During the 1990s the Clinton administration reportedly agonized over firing submarine-based cruise missiles into Afghanistan to kill bin Laden due to a variety of concerns (the intel was sketchy, there was a high risk of collateral damage, a Gulf prince had parked his jet too close to the target, etc.). This overabundance of caution arguably allowed the 9/11 attacks to unfold. Today, we have the reverse: the U.S. is not only willing to use force against al-Qaeda's leadership (a good thing) but to fire bombs willy-nilly* into Pakistan's tribal region in the hopes of hitting something important.

Without access to any of the intelligence used in targeting, it's impossible to say what's going on but it's telling that the administration is admitting that, in some instances at least, it's willing to kill groups of people inside Pakistan without a firm grasp of their culpability. Is this a strategy that the administration hopes to export into Yemen and Somalia?

Paradoxically, the end result of this aggressive strategy may be the same as the Clinton-era indecisiveness - a heightened risk of a terrorist attack.

*Some poetic license here.

Why Obama Won't Bomb Iran


Here's why I don't think it's probable absent some dramatic development: there would be very little international support for the effort. If the lead-up to the Libyan intervention is instructive, it should tell us that the administration values multilateral cover - in the form of a UN Security Council resolutions and the sanction of the Arab League. It is difficult, at least today, to see either of those bodies signing onto a military campaign against Iran. Russia and China are likely to shield Iran in the Security Council and the Arab League is still smarting over Libya.

So yes, as David Rothkopf writes, the administration is not shy about using force, but it has only undertaken large-scale action against another state when the multilateral stars aligned. Picking off the odd pirate and terrorist via drones doesn't really approach the magnitude of starting a major war with Iran.

(AP Photo)

Irrational Iran

Commuting to work in Tehran is never easy, but it is particularly nerve-racking these days for the scientists of Shahid Beheshti University. It was a little less than a year ago when one of them, Majid Shahriari, and his wife were stuck in traffic at 7:40 a.m. and a motorcycle pulled up alongside the car. There was a faint “click” as a magnet attached to the driver’s side door. The huge explosion came a few seconds later, killing him and injuring his wife. - David Sanger

As revelations of Iran's nuclear capabilities mount, we'll increasingly hear assertions to the effect that Iran's rulers are deranged fanatics who would turn their country into a smoldering ruin just to take a shot at Israel. A more sophisticated version of this argument runs that while Iran's upper leadership may be more rational, they may not have full control over the Revolutionary Guard's more adventurous factions. Either way, Iran can't be trusted not to use a nuclear weapon.

But as the Sanger piece notes, it's very likely that Israel (and possibly Washington) is conducting a brazen campaign of assassinations on Iranian soil, and no one thinks that either government is fundamentally irrational. In other words, if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon (as it appears increasingly likely to do), the U.S. will have to deal with a serious conventional and strategic challenge - not an existential one.

November 4, 2011

Nicaragua: Just How Much Money Is Chavez Sending Ortega?

Nicaragua's general election is scheduled for tomorrow. Voters will elect a president, plus 90 seats in the national Congress and 20 in the Central American Parliament are at stake.

While The Economist thinks that Daniel Ortega is set to win an unconstitutional third term and the Miami Herald's asking if Ortega may be headed for a fall, both agree that it is Hugo Chávez's oil-fueled largesse that keeps Ortega in power. Chávez's bonus, in the form of low-interest, long-term loans for half of the money Nicaragua spends on Venezuelan oil, amounts to 7-8 percent of Nicaragua's GDP. That's after Venezuela sells them the oil at below-market prices, which Nicaragua then sells at full market value.

But, as the election nears, Chávez sent Ortega more. The Miami Herald reports, in Spanish (my translation: if you use this please credit me and link to this post):

Ten days from the election, Ortega announced a number of financial incentives from Venezuela, including 1,700 stoves with gas tanks to be distributed to families, a $30 payroll bonus to 130,000 public employees, and building materials for 25,000 homes.
This means that Chávez, at the last moment, sent Ortega at least $3,900,000 - and this amount doesn't include the cost of purchasing and transporting the stoves and the unspecified "building materials" - if they even exist.

An act of desperation?

Kenya to Bomb Donkeys

War is hell, especially for donkeys:

The Twitter feed of a Kenyan military spokesman, Major Emmanuel Chirchir, who is rapidly becoming the public face of Kenya's incursion into Somalia, warned that his forces had identified a new threat in the war against al-Shabab militants, loaded donkeys.

In conventional wars (if they even exist any more) intelligence is concerned with mass movements of tanks and troops, but Kenya is watching out for mass movements of donkeys, which would be considered an enemy activity.

November 3, 2011

The Failures of Obama

Peter Feaver argues that President Obama has succeeded when he followed in President Bush's footsteps:

What explains the overall pattern? Friedman points to the correct answer: where Obama has continued along policy lines laid out by Bush, he has achieved success, but where he has sought to make dramatic changes, he has failed. The bigger the change, the bigger the failure. Not surprisingly, Friedman presents this as a critique of Bush ("Obama and his national security team have been so much smarter, tougher and cost-efficient in keeping the country safe than the "adults" they replaced. It isn't even close, which is why the G.O.P.'s elders have such a hard time admitting it."). Friedman's sneer about the "adults" is unmistakable and it causes him to miss the obvious: where Obama has embraced that "Bush adult" worldview, it has gone well for him and for America. Where he has not, it has not. Indeed, where he has listened to Friedman and other bien pensant types, it has gone very poorly indeed (cf. Israel-Palestine peace process). And where he attempted a major shift in American grand strategy (elevating climate change to be a national security threat co-equal with WMD proliferation and terrorism) he has made almost no progress whatsoever.

I think a good case could be made that the Obama administration has succeeded in its execution of U.S. foreign policy because it has avoided any massive mistakes. There have been, of course, plenty of mistakes and missteps. But none, I would argue, have set the U.S. back to the point where it would be difficult to recover from.

I think Feaver is right that the Obama administration has borrowed from the Bush administration's playbook with some success, but there's an Iraq-sized hole in this narrative. The Bush administration did not, by any means, get everything wrong. They got some things right. But the mistakes that were made - the decision to occupy Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban and the decision to invade and occupy Iraq - were consequential ones. It cannot truly be said that the Obama administration is simply reading off the Bush playbook, because that playbook involves the invasion and occupation of a large, Middle Eastern country.

"I didn't screw up too badly" isn't a very compelling campaign slogan, but when it comes to U.S. foreign policy at least, there are worse things.

Why Is NATO No Longer Protecting Libyan Civilians?

Tripoli fighters said Tuesday they are concerned about the rising tensions among the various groups, which are increasingly divided along regional allegiances.

"We are concerned, as you can see, every day there is fighting between the rebels, this is something we don't want, we want a united Libya," said fighter Tammam Basheer.

The scene on Tripoli's streets these days -- heavily armed men brandishing guns and racing across the city with no central command and little or no accountability -- has raised concerns among residents.

"There are no security forces, everyone is running their own group, their own brigade, and they all control Tripoli," said Tripoli militia member Taha, who did not provide a second name. - CNN

We heard a lot about the Responsibility to Protect when Gaddafi was killing Libyans, but we're hearing a lot less about it now that ordinary Libyans are killing each other. What happens if Libya devolves into a chaotic civil war? All the rationales that propelled NATO to intervene - the endangerment of civilians, the stability of the country's oil exports - would still be in place.

Drawing Lessons from Iraq

America will pay a high price for defeat in Iraq. Our global credibility is seriously damaged—it is surely no accident that the weekend after President Obama announced that we were abandoning Iraq, President Hamid Karzai said that Afghanistan would stand with Pakistan against a U.S. attack. Why not? The Iranian and Pakistani narratives all along have been that the Americans will ultimately abandon their allies to their fate, while the neighbors will be around to exact revenge. President Obama has just reinforced that narrative before all the world. - Frederick Kagan, Kimberly Kagan, Marisa Sullivan

This "narrative" is based on geography and despite the fulminations of our pundit class, geography is what it is. It is very difficult - not to mention costly - to sustain forward deployed garrisons in hostile countries. The lesson various countries no doubt take from American military forays into foreign countries is that ultimately there's a limit to how long the U.S. can stay if segments of the country (and its neighbors) remain violently hostile to that presence.

Moreover, the effort to lay this at the president's feet strains credulity. The architects of America's failures in Iraq (such as they are) are those who urged on the invasion in the first place. It was obvious from the beginning that the war's cheerleaders had hyped the surge precisely because they understood that the ramshackle state they had bequeathed the Obama administration might collapse. The political imperative was blame shifting and lo-and-behold, that is precisely what has happened.

This does not exempt the Obama administration from their fair share of criticism - it's clear that they wanted to retain a large military presence inside Iraq and failed to convince the Iraqis otherwise. By their own standards, they failed to achieve their objective. The post-hoc effort to spin this failure as fidelity to a campaign pledge is ridiculous.

What Would Bombing Iran Accomplish?

The Daily Telegraph's reporting on the IAEA's Iranian nuclear report is worth a read. In it, we learn that the Stuxnet Virus which earlier had wreaked havoc on Iran's nuclear facilities, only succeeded in slowing down their nuclear quest:

Hopes that the Stuxnet computer virus attack by Western powers on Iran’s nuclear technology would prove crippling have faded. The virus succeeded in crippling a number of Iranian centrifuges but analysts now think the effects have worn off and production of highly enriched uranium has accelerated again.

The IAEA will provide indications that enriched uranium production is moving from the long-established Natanz facility to Fordow, an underground plant that is regarded by Iran as bomb-proof near the holy city of Qom. Iran has produced more than 70kg of 20 per cent enriched uranium and would easily increase its output if production shifts to the mountain plant. Scientists say that 20 per cent enriched uranium can be refined to the 90 per cent weapons grade level without design changes in the production lines.

I think this underscores the basic problem with any military option against Iranian facilities short of a ground invasion - it will only delay Tehran, not derail them.

UK Children Dubbed 'Feral'

Via the BBC:

Almost half of Britons think children are violent and starting to behave like animals, a Barnardo's survey suggests.

The children's charity says the research suggests society holds a negative view towards children despite the majority being well behaved.

Of the more than 2,000 people questioned by ICM Research, 44% said young people were becoming feral.

November 2, 2011

Greece Isn't a Victim

There's a lot to say about the Eurozone crisis, but one thing to note contra Robert Kuttner is that Greece isn't some hapless victim in this drama. They deliberately cooked their books (with help from the expert book cookers at Goldman Sachs) to get into the Eurozone. As a result of their fraudulent book-keeping and widespread corruption, they have imperiled the Eurozone (which admittedly was built on a totally unsustainable foundation). Treating them as the victim of banks is far too simplistic.

Military Think Tank: Get Off Oil

According to the Guardian:

An influential military think tank is urging America to cut its oil use by 30% over the next decade, as a national security imperative.

In its report, the Military Advisory Board said the US should aim to drastically reduce its energy imports over the next decade – or else risk exposing the economy to devastating oil price shocks.

"This is a national security threat that grows ever year, and we as a nation need to recognise is at such," said vice admiral Dennis McGinn, a former deputy chief of naval operations, and one of the authors of the report.

"This isn't just about the volatility of gas prices at the pump. This isn't just about big oils vs the environment. This is a national security problem, manifesting itself economically, diplomatically and militarily, and it is not just going to go away."

About That Hacker War...

Looks like Anonymous isn't interested in taking on the Zetas after all:

Plans by the hacker collective Anonymous to expose collaborators with Mexico's bloody Zetas drug cartel – a project it dubbed "#OpCartel" – have fallen into disarray, with some retreating from the idea of confronting the killers while others say that the kidnap of an Anonymous hacker, the incident meant to have spawned the scheme, never happened.

The apparent climbdown by the group came as one security company, Stratfor, claimed that the cartel was hiring its own security experts to track the hackers down – which could have resulted in "abduction, injury and death" for anyone it traced.

Two hacker members of "Operation Cartel", which said earlier this week that it would expose members of the murderous cartel, have now indicated that they are stopping their scheme to identify collaborators and members because they don't want anyone to be killed as a result.

November 1, 2011

Pentagon Shifting to Asia?

According to John Bennett, an ongoing strategic review at the Pentagon is indicating that future defense investments will flow toward platforms to help boost the U.S. presence in Asia (long-range bombers and ships) and away from counter-insurgency/stability missions (i.e. fewer armored vehicles and a leaner Army). Cyber capabilities will also get a boost.

Seems like a step in the right direction to me.

Hackers vs. Drug Gang in Mexico

The hacker group Anonymous, best known for taking down credit card companies and Sony's PlayStation network, have turned their cyber sights on one of Mexico's most-feared drug gangs, the Zetas.

Apparently, a member of Anonymous was kidnapped by the Zetas and the hackers are demanding his release by November 5th or the group will release the names of taxi drivers, journalists and local police who cooperate with the drug cartel. The Zetas, of course, are not to be trifled with - they are responsible for numerous incidents of hair-raising violence throughout Mexico and apparently some members of Anonymous aren't interested in going toe-to-toe with them. Stay tuned.

Creating Safe Havens Where There Were None


Among the things the invasion of Iraq accomplished was the creation of a large-scale al-Qaeda safe haven and insurgency where previously there was none. While al-Qaeda in Iraq is a shadow of its former self, it still poses a threat to the country's security. Meanwhile, in newly liberated Libya, we see some ominous signs of history repeating itself:

The black flag of Al Qaeda has been spotted flying over a public building in Libya, raising concerns that the country could lurch towards Muslim extremism.

The flag, complete with Arabic script reading "there is no God but Allah" and full moon underneath, was seen flying above the Benghazi courthouse building, considered to be the seat of the revolution, according to the news website Vice.com.

Now, this could be a Photoshopped prank or hoax and certainly one flag does not a Caliphate make, but those championing the Responsibility to Protect or cheering the Obama administration's strategic brilliance might want to wait a few more weeks before taking a victory lap.

(Photo: Vice.com)

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